Friday, 31 August 2012

Car Park Nesters

Back in July I was fortunate enough to photograph a pair of Oystercatchers that nested in a very odd location, the car park of a children’s day care centre!

The staff very kindly let me visit and take some images between their morning and lunchtime sessions when children, parents and pushchair activity was low. This was a great opportunity to see these usually shy birds up close and to view some interesting behaviour around a nest.

The nest was located on a raised bit of grass/gravel next to the curb where cars drive past and the nest was also directly next to a car parking space that was regularly used. The nest was constantly walked past by people entering the centre and parents sat tight making sure the eggs were well protected.

The staff at the centre were absolutely amazing, not only did they help safeguard these birds but they also put out water for them, informed all visitors to the site to be careful and considerate around the birds and they even constructed sigh boards with Oystercatcher information and spent time educating the children about these special birds, this is a really great example of involving normal people in nature conservation and getting children connecting with wildlife.

The Oystercatcher traditionally nests around the coast but increasingly more birds are moving inland and nesting in urbanised areas such as roofs of factories and warehouses, however a car park is still fairly odd! The bird although fairly numerous did decrease in numbers in 2011 and they are one of 4 wading birds that could come under a number of threats, being a ground nesting bird they are susceptible to disturbance, predation and nests being washed away by rain, with all the rain this year these birds clearly chose a sensible site raised off the ground slightly and with a large gate all around the site they were saved from possible disturbance and the presence of people during the day may have helped deter predators, very clever birds!

Unfortunately I could not return to the site but 3 chicks hatched out a few days later and after a day around the site the parents guided them away to safety, maybe they will return next year and make this a regular nesting site. The centre staff were brilliant and I thank them for letting me have this opportunity, they now have a wonderful wildlife experience and some of my images in their reception area to remind them of this!

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Glorious Gannets

Back in July myself, Daniel Trim and Richard Bowler were due to visit Bass Rock in Scotland, however adverse weather conditions at sea prevented us from landing so we were forced to cancel and make new plans. We decided instead to visited RSPB Bempton Cliffs, a reserve I have been to twice before.

This reserve is an absolutely fantastic sight for the birdwatcher, wildlife enthusiast or anyone really as thousands of seabirds swirl around the cliffs during the busy nesting season, the sounds and smells are amazing and on a glorious sunny day it can be one of the best days out in the UK, the reserve is is England so one of the easiest to reach sites for many people.

Bempton holds a huge Gannet colony as well as all the usual seabirds. For a photographer it can be a tricky site to photograph Puffins, Razorbills etc as these birds do tend to be lower down on cliffs, the Farne Islands does allow you to be more on their level, but nevertheless you can still easily see these species and that in itself is wonderful! However, for Gannet photography this is the top site in England, places such as Bass Rock, Shetland, Saltsee Island are well known and it cannot be denied that these sites are fantastic especially for getting up close to the Gannets but Bempton is reachable and usually rewarding for flight photography with the correct wind conditions.

However this year Bempton has been even better, a small group of "teenage" Gannets, non-breeding birds have taken up residence on the cliff top, literally feet away from the path. Flight shots were not only on the cards but portrait and intimate behavioural images could be achieved from the site which makes the day a more rewarding experience as you can come away with a variety of shots.

The sun rose early, around 4.50am and the sun rises slightly behind/to the side of the cliff dwelling birds giving the opportunity to photograph the birds back and side lit and gives the opportunity for silhouette shots. We made the most of photographing the birds until 11am when we waited out the harsh light conditions to rest and eat lunch and go over our images. The afternoon provides front lit images with the light directly behind the footpath, as the afternoon goes on the light gets softer and helps with flight shots too. Unfortunately we had to leave around 5pm but if you stayed until the last drops of light I am sure it would offer some glorious opportunities.

I hope this short summary has been helpful, we really enjoyed our time at Bempton, it was by far the most productive time I have spent there and with the added bonus of Tree Sparrows, Jackdaws, other seabirds and stunning scenery it makes for a really productive day photography-wise and overall a lovely day out! Enjoy the images....

Monday, 6 August 2012

Fun on the Farnes

This year I visited the Farne Islands twice, first mid-June then mid-July, the second trip was unplanned but still very much rewarding and it was interesting to see the difference between the islands within a month. The main differences were July had less Guillemots and Razorbills but in return Puffins seemed more active, Arctic Terns were bringing in more food for their grown young rather than defending their balls of fluff and the number of people visiting had dwindled making it much more relaxing atmosphere to photograph in.

For those that have never visited it can be a real attack on the senses, for photography it is truly excellent but at first you just feel like taking images of everything you see, you wander around the relatively small islands aimlessly pointing the camera at anything that moves not really sure if what you are getting is decent or not. Factor in the weather conditions (we had rain then dry then rain again so I was constantly removing and then putting my rain cover on) and the other visitors tripping over each other to see the wildlife and you could easily come away not knowing what you have shot and feeling dissapointed that you haven't achieved what you wanted. 

The first thing to remember is that the wildlife must come first on the island, it can extremely crowded and as much as you want to get the shot you have to consider the welfare of the subject. Secondly it is vital to plan ahead what subjects you want to focus on and any particular images you want, this is tricky but is there any point in getting standard images of all of the islands bird's or a great and diverse collection of images of 1 or 2 subjects? Finally plan ahead in terms of yourself, try and visit for a few days which allows for different weather conditions, more time to explore different subjects etc, bring a range of lenses, try doing something different with the subjects and plan for bad weather, bring waterproof clothes and waterproof your camera equiptment. Booking the boats ahead did not seem essential, they usually can fit you on and don't just limit yourself to the actual islands, I had some great fun in around the harbour and further afield. Hope this helps, here are the images:

The Arctic Tern was a great subject to spend some time with, you are mobbed by them as soon as you walk onto the islands and the noise from them is amazing!

Shags are probably my favourite bird on the Farne Islands, it was great for variety as they allowed a close approach for wide angle photography and the adults and juveniles look so different that you could get some variety in the images.

Of course Puffins were everywhere, I really wanted a Puffin in flight with sandeels and also the classic portrait with sandeel shot, in the last image the rain really added to the sense of atmosphere.

Eiders around the harbour were also one of my favourite subjects, one again you could create nice portraits and do some wide angle stuff too as they were partial to some feeding. Unfortunately the male birds were already moulting into eclipse winter plumage so they weren't as photogenic but the females have a subtle beauty.

Here are a few other subjects, the Kittiwake colony around the corner from the harbour is well worth a visit too and we never saw another photographer bothering to do this!