Sunday, 28 July 2019

Isle of May,Scotland. June 2019 Part 7.

To round off this years trip report a look at the remaining breeding  species typically found on the Isle of May. It's a mixed story of success and sad decline so the latter first.
Shags. This year just 389 pairs are nesting on the island compared with 1916 pairs back in 1987. There's been a huge amount of research in to this species on the island. Meticulous counts and ringing exercises are not easy, access to nesting sites often in treacherous spots make life very difficult for research teams. As a photographer the rings or bling as we call them don't make for the most photogenic pose but the ease at which they can be read from distance is very important and a photographers needs rightly doesn't come in to the equation!
Besides, if you position yourself you can avoid seeing too much.
European Shag   Phalacrocorax aristotelis
or make them less obvious at least
European Shag   Phalacrocorax aristotelis
In fact you can eliminate them all together if you wait for the right moment!
European Shag   Phalacrocorax aristotelis
I got to photograph one swimming in amongst the Puffins.
European Shag   Phalacrocorax aristotelis
and to my surprise when it got out of the water I discovered this one hadn't been ringed at all! An Isle of May rarity!!!
European Shag   Phalacrocorax aristotelis
Most newly born chicks are down right ugly but somehow the Shag chicks top the lot.
European Shag   Phalacrocorax aristotelis
The comparisons with the film "Alien" are plain to see.
The Guillemot chick is as cute as they come but the Shags remain ugly until maturity...well in my opinion anyway. No doubt their parents disagree.
Common Guillemot  Uria aalge
My visit this year was probably only days away from the first Guillemot chicks leaving the nest. They literally leap off the cliff and down in to the sea below, sometimes bouncing off the rocks on the way down. It's a perilous time as they are easy targets for predation. There were 15974 nesting pairs this year. I wonder how many survived?
At least this year I found a few opportunities for photographing the adults on the water.
Common Guillemot  Uria aalge
The sea mist descended on one particular day but although it softened the images I quite liked it.
Common Guillemot  Uria aalge
I didn't spend a huge amount of time with the Guillemot, for once I haven't taken a single shot of a Guillemot with a fish in it's bill although I tried waiting for a while at my favourite nest spot.
Common Guillemot  Uria aalge
Guillemots often appear to proudly parade their catch, often for quite some time, before deciding who the recipient will be. This usually happens when a group of adults huddle around a chick or two for protection. Anyway, the only shots I took were of the adults preening and posing.
Common Guillemot  Uria aalge
Things with the Razorbills worked out to my advantage though!
I soon tired of getting them in flight returning to their cliff ledges, been there and done that before and all the shots look pretty similar.
Razorbill  Alca torda
Not the easiest to get but once you get the hang of it it's not so difficult as you might imagine.
There are far fewer Razorbills than Guillemots, roughly a quarter of the number of pairs at 4166. Like the Guillemots though they nest on narrow ledges, actually I should rephrase that. They lay their egg on the bare rock, as do the Guillemot. DIY obviously not their forte! 
This year breeding was well advanced compared to last year when this site still had an egg there on my visit. By a piece of good luck I was there when an adult arrived back with some fish.
Razorbill  Alca torda
I was able to witness feeding the chick, well to a certain extent anyway.
Razorbill  Alca torda
Whilst the returning adult offered the fish that the chick took, one at a time, the other adult stood guard offering protection from attack.
Several days later I timed my arrival to perfection as an adult had just flown in again, but this time with a single fish.
Razorbill  Alca torda
That's a pretty big fish, surely too big for the chick? 
Razorbill  Alca torda
The adult obscured the food pass but one minute the fish was there the next it was gone. Swallowed whole with no bother whatsoever. Bit like me swallowing a 10kg Atlantic Salmon I would have thought!
Anyway, I was pleased to have witnessed the event, a special moment in a special week.
My week was rapidly coming to a close though and it was only on the last full day I even bothered taking some Fulmar shots. 
Northern Fulmar  Fulmarus glacialis
They are still sitting on eggs at this time of year and are amongst the last to leave.They are a joy to watch flying as they seem to do it for the pure love of it. I was happy to watch rather than photograph them.
And that just about wraps it up really. Another week over too soon.
Not necessarily the best in some ways but hugely enjoyable in others. We had been blessed with decent weather. OK the wind did us no favours but we had a good amount of sunshine. As someone pointed out you don't often hear visitors complain about a lack of rain so I won't although ironically the drive home through Scotland was treacherous with incredible downpours and flooded roads. I wondered what it was like back on the island.
Razorbill  Alca torda
I'll just treat it as something to look forward to next time!
In the meantime my thanks to all the people that make my visit possible as well as those who dedicate their time and energies in trying to make sure our native wildlife survives and prospers.
Thank you all.
Dave

Saturday, 27 July 2019

Isle of May,Scotland. June 2019 Part 6.

So what is left to share about the islands population? There are a few birds that are totally independent from the sea but not many. Pied Wagtail, Feral Pigeon, even a few Barn Swallows breed on the island but my favourite is the Rock Pipit.
Eurasian Rock Pipit   Anthus petrosus
I spent little time photographing them though, in fact just I only took a couple of shots of the latter and that was that.
Also ind├ępendant of the water is one of the most important inhabitants!
Rabbit!
Yes, the humble rabbit was an introduced species as a food source for the resident monks way back in the 14th century.The monks are long gone but the rabbits do what rabbits do and have thrived. They play an extremely important role in providing the burrows the Puffins nest in and do a decent job keeping the grass presentable too! The island is also host to a unique species of house mouse too but seeing them isn't easy, in fact I have only ever caught a glimpse of one once in all the times I have visited. Like most things on the island they are being monitored and researched though!
The other mammal species are totally dependant on the sea. The Isle of May has Scotland's biggest breeding population of Grey Seals and during the winter breeding months the population is estimated at around 3000. There are far fewer during the summer months and getting a photo isn't always easy either.
Grey Seal
OK, I'll pose if you go away and leave me in peace!
Grey Seal
I suppose I should also mention homo sapiens too. The Low Light usually has six occupants staying, the research centre numbers tend to vary depending on the work being undertaken but it never exceeds more than 20 I wouldn't think, usually far fewer. Maybe a dozen. I have never actually asked the question. Day trippers either arrive on the May Princess, a pleasure boat with a capacity of 100 I believe, there are two rib boats which make daily landings too. That's another 24. The day visitors get about 2.5 hours ashore and sailings are tide dependant too. The boats are often full so pre booking is advisable, oh and there are no day tourist boats on Fridays.
Anyway, back to why they come!!
Without a doubt it's for the Puffins.  We in the UK are lucky to have large populations but most are on islands so getting there does involve a boat trip.
By mid summer most of the Eider Ducks of which there were about 1183 breeding pairs have all gone. This year there were fewer left than usual. I only saw a handful and they were only the less attractive females and their offspring.
Eider Duck
The males are one of the most handsome ducks I have ever seen, I'd love another  crack at photographing them one day but they are very challenging as they have such contrasting colours, brilliant white downy breast feathers being the most difficult part! The female by comparison is a doddle!
Common Eider  Somateria mollissima
There aren't too many Oystercatchers on the island, maybe 20 breeding pairs.
They were not a breed I particularly targeted either but when sat on the harbour rocks I had an opportunity I had to take.
Eurasian oystercatcher  Haematopus ostralegus
This one worked it's way down to the rocks just in front of me.
Eurasian oystercatcher  Haematopus ostralegus
They don't eat Oysters they make do with other shellfish but I have also noticed that land snails play a big part in their diet too.
Eurasian oystercatcher  Haematopus ostralegus
One bird that's regularly seen but never lands on the island is one of my favourite species.
Northern Gannet  Morus bassanus
Gannets fly past in huge numbers, all heading to Bass Rock where a huge breeding colony exists.
Sometimes they fly very close to the Isle of May but I never see them flying over the island and only very occasionally do I see them landing in the sea after an attempted dive for fish.
Northern Gannet  Morus bassanus
They are a big bird and fly many, many miles in their search for food.
Northern Gannet  Morus bassanus
Another bird I'd like to get close to! Bempton Cliffs is the place if you want an inexpensive trip because the cost of visiting Bass Rock is quite substantial although must be very memorable too.
TBC

Isle of May,Scotland. June 2019 Part 5.

So, that's Terns,Puffins and Kittiwakes done and dusted. What else happens on the island?
Well there are gulls. Lots of Gulls. Well, maybe not lots in comparison to the total number of birds resident on the island but still enough to reek havoc amongst the rest of the population. Recent estimates put the number of Herring Gulls as 1685 breeding pairs, Lesser Black-backed at 3398. The are producing lots of mouths to feed and these guys are like living with the worst possible neighbours.
The Herring Gull is actually quite a handsome bird but it has some very anti-social habits.

European Herring Gull  Larus argentatus
They have been getting some bad press in the UK recently with one national newspaper actually demanding a mass cull after an alleged incident involving a disappearing Chihuahua. Well that particular newspaper hasn't been dubbed "The Scum" without good reason but there are a lot of people who actually agree. Herring Gulls, often referred to as 'seagulls" are now spread right across the UK, both on the coast and inland too. They are extremely resourceful and have learned to adapt to the loss of traditional feeding and have become scavengers on rubbish tips and bins or simply have learnt to beg from seaside holidaymakers eager to feed them. We all know what happens when wild animals associate people with food. It all ends up rather badly.
Anyway, on the Isle of May, a more traditional breeding ground, the Herring Gulls also have a more traditional diet which involves stealing eggs, mugging birds for the catch they have in their bills or stealing chicks.
European Herring Gull  Larus argentatus
The Herring Gull isn't enjoying the view in the evening sunshine but plotting a raid.

European Herring Gull  Larus argentatus
On a ledge down below a Guillemot chick is being protected by it's parent bird. The Gull flew away but 5 minutes later swooped in at speed to try and knock the adult off the ledge, perhaps the chick too. It failed on this occasion but I have witnessed it happen with a rather different outcome in the past.
You can't blame the Gull really. It's the way they are. The slightly smaller Lesser Black-backed Gull isn't nearly as dense in numbers around the UK but on the Isle of May they outnumber the Herring Gull 2-1. They too take the easy option for food preferring to steel than find their own. They are usually lurking ready to pounce on an unsuspecting Puffin trying to reach it's burrow with a bill full of Sand Eels.They will also take eggs and chicks too.
Lesser Black-backed Gull  Larus fuscus
The Lesser Black-backed Gull is distinguishable from the Great Black-backed not only by size but the colour of it's legs, which also help distinguish it from Herring Gull too.
The Great Black-backed Gull has pink legs.
Great Black-backed Gull   Larus marinus
It's also top of the local food chain. It has no enemies on the Isle of May but it's the enemy of everything else including its cousins.
Here it's being seen off after an attempted raid on the Lesser Black-backed Gull's chicks. 
Great Black-backed Gull   Larus marinus
The GBBG is a monster predator and if it wants to it can swallow a whole adult Puffin or reasonable sized Rabbit, maybe even a Chihuahua although there are none on the island. Fortunately there aren't too many GBBG's either. I think perhaps no more than 10 pairs but that is a guess.
The GBBG spends much time just flying around the cliffs looking to strikeout an easy target.
Isle of May
Not a bad life on a nice day!
Isle of May
But it's not always the best of weather so even they don't have it all easy.
TBC

Friday, 26 July 2019

Isle of May,Scotland. June 2019 Part 4.

As previously mentioned Mark and I fed off each others ideas. Each evening we'd review our days efforts whilst having a beer and it was great fun laughing at the failures, encouraging the nearly ones and admiring those that were worthy. I had arranged with Mark that he could use my laptop to transfer his images on to a portable hard drive he'd brought but it wasn't compatible with my Apple machine, hence we began looking at our shots together. Without a doubt this increased my enjoyment of the week tremendously, it was going to be  a learning curve to add to the usual challenge. We were competitive in the most friendly of ways but from Day One I knew I was on a hiding to nothing for "Photo of the Week". Yes you have to have luck to be in the right place at the right time, but you need to be ready to take advantage when it happens and that takes skill.
To my mind this shot of Mark's ,which he kindly allowed me to share, is awesome. Now awesome is a totally overused description of many average photographs, but in this case I don't think so.
Kittewake by Mark Medcalf
The bad news for me was it couldn't be beaten in my opinion, the bad news for Mark was it was taken on the very first day ! Still, no harm in setting the bar high right from the off.
Kittiwakes had been on my wish list as second favourite subject after the Terns as I'd spent little time with them in the past. I have witnessed aerial disputes many times but never managed anything remotely as good as Mark's shot. I mean he has the feather in the bill of the chasing bird. Perfection!
Well, with a week to get something similar the challenge was on but in truth I never came anywhere near but I did get a couple of shots I was happy with. 
Black-legged Kittiwake  Rissa tridactyla
Straightforward flight shots but the evening light was nice.
Black-legged Kittiwake  Rissa tridactyla
I found a spot where the birds were flying directly towards me as they returned to their nests.
Kittiwake
but it didn't produce anything of any great excitement. 
Black-legged Kittiwake  Rissa tridactyla

maybe a few verbal exchanges but that was about it.
Black-legged Kittiwake  Rissa tridactyla
It did provide me with an interesting shot though.
Black-legged Kittiwake   Rissa tridactyla
This bird is wearing a tiny GPS transmitter.
Black-legged Kittiwake   Rissa tridactyla
The information is only picked up when they return to the island as the signal is fairly weak.
GPS receiver
but the researchers can follow were the birds have been on a regular basis. I guess there are only a handful of birds amongst the 250,000 wearing these devices so I was lucky to find one that did.
But as far as outstanding shots went, well it wasn't to be, well not for me anyway.
TBC

Isle of May,Scotland. June 2019 Part 3.

So, with the Arctic Terns as number one priority, what would be number two?
I'd sworn it wouldn't be Puffins! In fact leading expert Mike Harris who happened to be in residency during my visit exclaimed "not after more Puffin photos are you?!" when we bumped in to each other. He's a right one to comment as he's spent a lifetime dedicated to the species!
Anyway, within minutes of arriving I'd taken my first photograph of a Puffin with Sand Eels in it's bill and over the week I was to take a lot more too!
Atlantic Puffin  Fratercula arctica
I think as a UK wildlife photographer it's probably top of most peoples list of images they want to take. I have many such images now but still can't resist a few more if I happen to be in the right place at the right time. I wasn't too bothered about flight shots, well not like the ones I have taken in the past, but the combination of Puffin and water appealed greatly and was something still to experiment with.
Atlantic Puffin  Fratercula arctica
The only accessible spot would prove problematic though as it was either backlit by the sun or in deep shade. Still, the light does interesting things with the feet!
Atlantic Puffin  Fratercula arctica
The Puffin is a gold medal swimmer but when it comes to flying, especially landing, they are far from being the best.
Atlantic Puffin  Fratercula arctica
That might look promising but....
Atlantic Puffin  Fratercula arctica
elegant it isn't!
However, most of the time they are simply adorable to photograph
Atlantic Puffin  Fratercula arctica
A bit of sea mist gave a softer image even if they were just metres away.
Atlantic Puffin  Fratercula arctica
Change the water colour for something a bit different
Atlantic Puffin  Fratercula arctica
Enough's enough!
Atlantic Puffin  Fratercula arctica
Watching them clamber out of the water was fun as they had a game of "King of the Castle" trying to keep the one space on a newly revealed ledge as the tide went out.
Mark decided this was the best shot taken all week but I have to disagree. 
Isle of May Puffins
It could have been but I should have used a smaller aperture to get a better depth of field. There are lots of elements that make it interesting but technically it's not as good as it should have been. Besides, Mark had taken an image I could only dream of, and he has given me permission to show it to you but that will be later!
Meanwhile he and I compared photographs and ideas , each feeding from the other although I ate better than he did !
Getting shots of birds in the rain was something we both had decided would be a bit different. The only problem was lack of rainfall! Well, except for just a short downpour one morning.
From our bedroom window I took a couple of shots.
Atlantic Puffin  Fratercula arctica
before deciding to get out there myself.
Atlantic Puffin  Fratercula arctica
Initially I chose the position for the background not realising a foot was obscured, and besides the lighter background doesn't pick up the rain as well.
Atlantic Puffin  Fratercula arctica
By the time I was where I wanted to be the rain had eased off! Ah well, one for next time.
Mark had shown me some shots of a Puffin with it's bill illuminated by the setting sun. I tried to copy the idea.
Atlantic Puffin  Fratercula arctica
Just as I did when I saw his take on group photos.
Atlantic Puffin  Fratercula arctica
I failed to get anything like the ones he had taken, it takes a lot more skill and luck to get them. Much depends on how the group is standing, anyway, again something to work on in the future, meantime I decided to try with smaller numbers of birds and see what I could achieve.
Atlantic Puffin  Fratercula arctica
Again, something for the future too.
Atlantic Puffin  Fratercula arctica
But that's enough of Puffins.
Atlantic Puffin  Fratercula arctica
Well maybe just one last one?!
Atlantic Puffin  Fratercula arctica
A bit of Puffin interaction. More likely to be seen during the courtship period...now there's a thought. I must try a different time of year, who needs Sand Eels anyway.
Atlantic Puffin  Fratercula arctica

TBC