Tag Archives: Puffin

A Happy Half Dozen

Although I didn’t realise it at the time I think I had some withdrawal symptoms last summer.  It was the first summer in over a dozen years that has not involved at least one days visit to a Puffin colony.  I had made a trip to one in the early Spring to find them in a snowy setting  but the summer itself was bereft of their company although they were never far from my mind as the last stages of The Secret Lives of Puffins book came to fruition.

Well I am just back from nearly 2 weeks in the Shetlands and one of my favourite colonies on Fair Isle, and I have well and truly had my Puffin fix once again and although time is brief as I head off once again tomorrow to the boreal swamps and forests of Finland, I have just had time to process a happy half dozen of my favourite images from the time I spent there.

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I am not short of images of these charismatic birds, and their characteristics are forever to be found on all the social media sharing sites at this time of the year so it is hard to find “different” images of them for sure, but one aspect I have been consciously looking to work on this year is rather than the uniform defocussed background long lenses bring is rather to look for one where different tones and the resultant shapes can compliment the subject such as the image above and below.

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As for the rest of the images in this necessarily brief post – well they are what they are and hopefully reflective of some of the further approaches I try to adopt to working with the well photographed: they also helped make sure that the withdrawal symptoms are no more!!

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The Secret Lives of Puffins

It seems like a long time since I added any content to this blog – and quite simply that’s because I’ve been away for the last 7 weeks.  With images from False Bay in South Africa, across a wide array of locations in Namibia and then the Salmon Run and Grizzly Bears in Alaska all awaiting processing then I can promise a bit more on the update front in the next few weeks though.

During the time I was away though my latest book was formally published.

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The Secret Lives of Puffins is a collaborative work with well-known wildlife writer Dominic Couzens.  Dominic and I actually went to school together (a long time ago now mind) and spent a fair amount of time in our teenage years learning the art and craft of birdwatching together: coach trips to the likes of Dungeness and Pagham Harbour with local RSPB groups still reside in the memory banks.

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He has gone on to make a successful career writing about the natural world and I now do the same but using a camera, so when we caught up a few years back it seemed apt to see if we could work together on a project of some sort – the result is this book.

For me it has been been a labour of love for the last few summers – spending time with an iconic and highly engaging bird in an array of locations, in all weathers and all hours of the day at times – and put simply I’ve loved almost every minute of it.

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What we wanted to achieve was a blend between a pure coffee table book of images and a heavy, fact-laden read about just one species: using images and extended captions to illustrate subtleties of behaviour, fact and science and accessible copy to both inform and enlighten and lots of images to encourage frequent browsing.  Hopefully it delivers on these fronts and you should be able to find it in “all good bookshops” as they say or the usual online retailers too, including the publishers own website:

http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/the-secret-lives-of-puffins-9781408186671/

The content covers a whole host of locations (many familiar, some less so), captures an array of behaviours (and explains just what’s going on) and some less familiar looking Puffins in their non-breeding phases too – hopefully there will be something for anyone who, like me, loves this ever popular bird.

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I’m now in the final stages of pulling together a new talk and slideshow on the book and project which will be getting a number of airings in the forthcoming talk season, so if you are around any of these locations and want more details just drop me an e-mail:

27 September Derbyshire Ornithological Society

1 October Peterborough Camera Club

8 October Shropshire Wildlife Trust: Newport branch

11 December North Staffs RSPB Group

6 January Guildford Camera Club

10 April Gwynfa Camera Club

There should be a feature or two in various magazines to look out for too in the next month or so.

Thanks to all involved who have helped this particular body of work reach this final stage – sharing the same publisher as the Harry Potter books certainly has a nice feel to it!

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Snow and Seabirds

I spent the week running up to Easter in the Varanger region of northern Norway.  I had gone in search of snow only to find that I needn’t have bothered as there was a major last dump of it here (almost as soon as I had left actually).  My target though was seabirds and in spite of being significantly further north than here in the usually gulf stream dominated Britain, the birds in this remote corner of Europe, well inside the arctic circle, had already started to come ashore such is the intense competition for the best breeding spots.

This was probably best demonstrated by the presence of the ever noisy, but nevertheless my personal favourite from the gull family – the Kittiwake.

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I have photographed these delicate birds on the ice and glaciers to be found even further north in Svalbard, but their nest-sites on the huge cliffs there are snow-free in the summer months.  Here though they were still going through the pairing and bonding rituals that always start their breeding season but doing so in locations that were clearly not ready for nest building yet: they just knew they would be in a few weeks time and were staking their claims now – generally in their usual noisy manner!

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Kittiwakes prefer narrow ledges for breeding and act as very independent couples, but Guillemots are much more social in their approach and during the day were gathering in vast numbers on the flatter more open areas of cliff – again though still covered in snow but increasingly compacted and dirtied by their presence.

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The late evening light and the presence of some deep icy blue shadows on the cliffs across the nearby inlet provided both the light and background to work on a few flight shots, but as you’ll see from the second of these images the sky was so full of birds it was really hard to pick any individuals out!

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The weather was typically variable and when some of the occasionally very squally arctic storms blew in from the north the birds were increasingly reluctant to come ashore and spent their time wheeling around and around the cliff faces.

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Other than the resident Shags that is who took it on themselves to sit out said atrocious weather (the wind whipping the snow around was a bit like having an army of kids armed with peashooters aiming at your face).  Mind you the idiot with a camera trying to take their picture was probably just as bedraggled by the time the conditions cleared!

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When conditions were calmer then the main reasons for my visit became increasingly comfortable setting foot ashore in isolation and these images of Razorbills sitting in pristine white snow were very much what I had in mind when venturing here.

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Some of you will be aware that I have been working on a Puffin focussed project for a number of summers now and when the chance to capture some of them in these really unusual conditions finally arose then for me the trip was made!

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My thanks to friend and colleague Paul Hobson for his company on this trip – one that in spite of the conditions here at home really did the miles to be travelled to find the unusual combination of seabirds and snow.

Heavenly Hermaness

There are few places in Britain for which it’s really worth sleeping in my car for, especially for a number of nights.  Situated at the top of Unst, the most northerly of the Shetland Isles, Hermaness is one of those.  Dozing off in the passenger seat with the call of Red-Throated Divers flying overhead and waking a few hours later the gentle call of a Golden Plover I would even say that just being there can be a genuine pleasure.

It can be harsh though – on my last visit the mist was so thick I could hardly see more than 10 feet in front of me and the long walk across the classic peat moorland that sits between the car park and the distant cliffs was a very grim and foreboding place indeed: and not much good for photography.

This time conditions were generally helpful though and the deep dark pools that intersperse the cotton grass speckled moorland were at their most picturesque.

It’s a habitat that houses the largest breeding population of Great Skua’s (or Bonxies as the locals call them, a name that has stuck with most birdwatchers) and at this time of the year, then end of the breeding season parental birds in ones or twos were to be seen dotted all around, making their usual loud calls as a warning to each other.

Every time another bird would fly anywhere close to their spot then up would go the wings in a threatening display and 90% of the time this would suffice although the occasional scuffle did occur, birds thudding into each other with great power.

Although they were still small in comparison even the youngsters seemed well practised in wing-raising behaviour too!

The real drama of Hermaness comes at the end of the moorland walk though, and the cliffs that lie there are among the most dramatic to be found in Britain: I’ve already left instruction for some of my ashes to spread there when I pass away so much does this place inspire me!  Nestling at the far northerly end of the sweeping coastline the lighthouse on the small island of Muckle Flugga represents the furthest north you can go in Britain.

Here other seabirds dominate proceedings and the large white areas on these outlying rocks represent huge and seemingly ever-expanding colonies of Gannets.  Getting closer to some of these on a bleak and windy evening really gives a sense of drama, the power of the sea and the fantastic isolation of this fabulous place – the streaks in the images are the constantly gliding Gannets moving through the slow shutter speed taken shots.

All of this was a magnificent bonus for me as I was really there for this summers last burst of Puffin photography – regular readers of the blog will know it’s been a project focus this year.  They were there in great numbers too and spending the early mornings and evenings alone with them in this dramatic location really does make Hermaness feel like a little bit of heaven.

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I’m spending every spare couple of days I have this summer working with Puffins – one of my favourite birds – for a specific project I have on the go at the moment.

Alongside picking up some decent images I also thought this short video which I took on a wet grey evening on Skomer last weekend (remember the cold and wet?) was a bit of fun that really sums up the inquisitive personality of these characterful birds.

Hope you enjoy it!

Meeting things head-on!

No, this isn’t a post about an upbeat approach to life or a new form of positivity training, but I was feeling both upbeat and positive when I found that for the second consecutive month I’d had an image chosen from one of my image libraries to be used on the front cover of Birdwatching magazine (thanks again for letting me know Gary).

The interesting thing is that in neither instance were they rare or particularly “difficult” subjects to be looking to photograph – last month it was Long-Tailed Tits and this month (perhaps unsurprisingly) it was a Robin: both photographed at my local feeding setup but could equally have been done so in my garden as they both frequent it quite regularly.

It did get me thinking though as to just why they might have been chosen.  I’d like to say that it was because they were simply so stunning in terms of their execution that they were images destined for great things, but aside from some decent thought on composition and space for the designing process, made even easier by the selection of a nice clean background aided by a long lens, I can hardly claim any unique maserpieces here.

One thing did strike about this Robin shot though and that’s that it’s head-on: not always the preferred approach from a classical photographic or even a natural history perspective but it does give just that bit more sense of personality and character and in this instance the inquisitive and almost cheeky charateristics that Robins undoubtedly possess certainly comes leaping out at you.

It prompted me to have a look back through some old images for a number of other examples of this head-on style appeared that I have liked in the past and in some instances done well for me commercially as well as in competitions too: this haughty looking Hare was selected for the British Wildlife Photography Awards book last year and the Puffin was a cover shot on RSPB’s Birds a couple of years back too.

It’s food for thought in these hyper-competitive times when it comes to making any money at all out of your images, but maybe tackling your subjects head-on might just open up some new opportunities. What price this Black Guillemot somewhere soon?

Looking Forward to Going Back

It might sound like a bit of an oxymoron, but there’s times when looking forward to going back is very apt.  I’m very fortunate in that I get to travel quite a bit with my work, and whether that be locally, around the country or further afield I can honestly say that I look forward to revisiting locations, regions, and countries that I have been to before with my camera just as much as I get enthused about visiting and working somewhere new.  In a week or so I’ll be off to Skomer once again, the first of 2 overnight trips once more this year, this first visit as part of a Natures Images trip I’m running but the second with personal project goals in mind. I think this will be the 6th summer on the trot that I have stayed there this many times, and it’s not simply because I love my Seabirds or that I can’t define my seasons any other way either!

I’ve tried to rationalise it and it’s definitely more than just the familiar or safe that appeals to me; I think it’s more like a birder working or knowing their “patch”, except for me they are multiple and varied in terms of thier location and often visited at certain times of the year only. With the familiar comes complacency though and it’s one of the easiest traps to fall into in wildlife photography as it leads to similar material routinely captured, and I think this is what keeps me on my toes and why I enjoy re-visiting places time and again: I know them well, I know how they work and as a consequence I look for and can spot the subtle changes that inevitably occur over time and can respond accordingly.  As a result fresh material is nearly always achieved, fresh experiences are added to my life and that little bit more understanding of how certain habitats and species work achieved.

One place I am really looking forward to going back to next year is Svalbard.  Last summer I enjoyed an amazing 3 and a bit weeks co-running a trip on the tough ocean-going yacht Jonathan 4.  The habitat and species were all I could have expected and more, and some of the interactions will live long in the memory as well as on the hard drive I filled up from the trip too! We’re running a similar Arctic Adventure trip there again next year and I’m absolutely certain that this too will fall into the Skomer camp in terms of finding the new based on the experience of the old as well, and now that the initial planning is done and places beginning to sell then I find myself looking further forward for sure, but still relishing going back.