I have just returned from the Shetland Islands, it is a wildlife photographer’s paradise with many opportunities to see and capture the amazing wildlife this island has on offer in beautiful light. I spent sometime on my own before my clients turned up to spend a week with me. Shetland’s 1200 mile long shoreline with its very varied habitat is the main reason why wildlife finds the islands so attractive.
Our photo-tour was timed to coincide with the height of summer where daylight lasts for almost 24 hrs. Sea bird colonies will be frantically feeding their young, waders filling the air with their calls and Otters going about their lives all around us. I also loved the islands Shetland Ponies as captured in the image below.
What makes these Shetland Island sea birds so special is not just the quantity and variety of birds but their spectacular setting. Nowhere else in Britain, and hardly anywhere in Europe, can you get so close, so easily, to so many sea birds in such awe-inspiring scenery. It’s one of the best places also to see Otters playing, feeding all along the shores of this incredible island. The Shetland islands remind me of the Falklands Islands with the open landscape and vast areas of rocky outcrops and high peaks leading to mountains.
Once I had picked up my clients we had a wonderful afternoon firstly at Sumburgh Head to photographing the beautiful Puffins and other stunning sea birds that live on this south coast of the Shetland islands. Then it was on to our cottage and then straight out to encounter the amazing and varied wildlife Shetland has to offer. The pattern of each day was almost the same travelling to the well known areas for Otters, Waders and other amazing wildlife this island has to offer.
Each offering unrivalled views of some of the most amazing nesting colonies of Gannets, Razorbills and other seabirds all clinging to this vast cliffs at both of the places. On the Monday we took the boat to Noss, a small island home to one of the biggest colonies of breeding gannets anywhere in the world.
Once you witness this place you feel dwarfed from your small craft, looking up at the vast cliffs and hearing the noises of these birds all communicating to each other. The smells too are very strong but the sheer size and scale of this place is unbelievable and my clients were completely blown away by it all.
I had an amazing encounter with a female Otter during those first days on the island. She swam around then brought ashore a large fish and the key is to try and work out where and when she would come ashore. This time I got it right and she came ashore some twenty foot to my front. The wind direction was in my favour, blowing away my scent and the noise of the waves broke any shutter noise up. These images capture a magical fifteen minutes with her a really special encounter.
On the Tuesday we took another boat trip, this time to ferries to reach Hermenss nature reserve. After the tough walk to the cliffs what awaits you is just stunning, truly stunning.
You carry on for sometime, carrying your full kit, it does get you warm to say the least. Once you start to reach the cliffs to your front, the noise and pitch of the noise and calls begin to increase, its almost like your getting closer to a massive speaker system. The land to your front starts to level out and you see the sea at first. As you then start to double check where you put your feet as the ground starts to slope off in the direction of the sea. What then comes into view is one of if not the best and biggest breeding colonies of Gannets anywhere in the world and you cannot fail to just stand there and admire what you are now viewing, wondering is this place real.
The sheer size is something you have to see to believe and I walked around the top of these cliffs and came across a lone female sitting on her egg, tucked right up inside a small ledge with the background in a shaded part of the cliff. By under-exposing I was able to throw out the background light and create this dark effect which features strongly in my work and always has done. I waited to see if she would move or change her position and I was rewarded with her grooming and looking around her captured with these images.
Iain who helped my with my trip and lives on the Shetland island took this image of me at the top of the cliffs looking down on this lone female and the view was just amazing.
Both days offered some amazing images for all clients and they duly filled many memory cards with brilliant images from both boat trips I had planned.The rest of the week we looked for Otters and at times the weather was often against us with pouring rain making looking for those Otters just that but more difficult with choppy sea conditions replacing those calm conditions that help you when looking for tale tell Otter signs. My clients did see Otters but getting them ashore proved harder that it looked.
While looking for Otters and laying in wait at several top sites there was an abundance of wildlife around us. This place is just amazing for its wildlife and dramatic coastlines of rugged cliffs and pounding seas. Each day was rounded off with a lovely, home-made three course meal made by Iains wife that was the perfect end to those long days.
Its hard to do this place and its wildlife justice with these few images but I have chosen a mixture of my favourite ones for you. from Otters, to waders, and Seals to the varied flowers/amazing orchids and fauna this island offers up. All my clients had some amazing images from the week and I would like to thank them all for their company and the many laughs we had along the way.
The seas around the Shetland Islands support so much wildlife too the place is just amazing,
A massive thanks to Iain and his wife Anne who are good friends and live on this amazing island for their help in making my Stunning Shetland photo tour a great successes. I have put up next years dates now and interest has been amazing already from my updates on Facebook and Twitter I posted while I was there. If you would like to join me next year in July where I will show you some of the beautiful islands wildlife during the week long photo tour at the same time improve your own wildlife photography then click on this link for all the details and information, many thanks.
Mull is a magical, raw, unplanned and thought provoking place where you can see and view beautiful wildlife. Red Deer roam the hills, Eagles soar over the skylines, Seals bask on exposed banks and Otters frequent the many bays and inlets along Mulls coastline. Almost every other telegraph pole there’s a lone Buzzard sitting, acting as a physical welcome to the island. Mull’s magic derives from its special blend of mountain and coastal landscape which forms such a tremendous variety of habitats that offer excellent opportunities for wildlife.
For me the most memorable aspect of being on this beautiful island is viewing the abundance of wildlife against the entrancing background of tranquil loch shores and beautiful woodlands, amongst the architecture of amazing mountains, with the mornings being the best to see this island awaken.
I’ve just returned from a wonderful week with clients on my twice yearly photo tour I call “Magic of Mull“. The Isle of Mull lies on the west coast of Scotland and has a breathtaking coastline of 300 miles. The climate is a mixture of rain and sunshine and from the moment you step onto this beautiful island the wildlife is everywhere and the scenery is stunning. Our base for our 6 day adventure was the picturesque village of Tobermory, made famous by the children’s BBC programme Balormory, with its brightly painted buildings. The hotel is overlooking the harbour of Tobermory and facing out to Calve Island and the sound of Mull, which can be seen in the below image, on one of the many sunny days we had there during our stay on Mull.
Mull’s climate is extremely unpredictable and at any time of year you should be prepared for a wide range of conditions. The weather during our time on the island was good and kind to use. There were days that were overcast where we had rain but on the whole the weather was good. After meeting everyone at the port of Oban, we took a short ferry ride over to Mull and then went on to our hotel that we were staying at for the week. We had coffee overlooking the harbour and headed straight out for the day.
The pattern of events for each day were consistant, ensuring that clients get the best out of their time on Mull. An Early start to get into place at one of the Otter sites and hopefully catch them as they wake and start to fish, head back to the hotel for our breakfast at around 8am,then collect our packed lunches and head out for the day. The wildlife on Mull is generally accessible with the few exceptions of specialized birds along with the rare and legally protected birds that are not to be disturbed or approached as they are very senstive to disturbance.
When I have worked alone on Mull in the past I have stayed in one place for some time, getting a feel of the place, getting contacted as I call it. But while leading a tour here for clients you have to juggle the need to see the wildlife along with the time constraints, as alot of the wildlife can be viewed only a short distance from the roads, which for me is ok but the way in which I work is working the land so to speak and this is something I was very keen to show the group.
As a group we covered both methods of approach this during our stay, where everyone enjoyed the fieldcraft tips and advice. I also demonstrated how rewarding it can be on many levels when you blend into the environment, leaving the safety of the car and try to become part of the subjects world, thinking about wind direction, movement, in readiness to take the shot if you come across a chance and other fieldcraft tips and examples I showed and demonstrated. On the first day everyone had seen and captured some lovely images including the very shy male “dog” Otter that would show every so often.
During our time on Mull I had organised two great trips on consecutive days, one was three hours watching White Tailed Sea Eagles on one the Lochs and the other was a full days trip to the Treshnish Isles, a designated site of special scientific interest.
On the White tailed Eagles trip we sailed into the territory of a pair of these magnificent birds. Due to the White tailed Eagle being so protected and looked after, close up views of these birds is almost impossible so this tip offers that chance. We had a Gull escort to the site as they dived for bits of bread that the crew threw out for them. There was no noise as the engine was stopped and a lone dead fish was thrown out. The first real sign the Eagle was coming the Gull’s behaviour changed and they disappeared knowing this beautiful, massive bird was coming our way.
The sheer size of these birds becomes apparent when they soar past you, with a ten foot wing span they were truly stunning to see so close. They soared past, then in a flash dived for the fish, the whole thing was over in seconds. The whole group loved the trip and seeing these birds so close was a wonderful experience for them all. The birds are truly wild and this trip has been passed by all the governing bodies that work to protect this bird with their ongoing work.
To see this behaviour without the fish placed out for them could take days of waiting around etc, so deep down for me from a wildlife photographers point of view it was too staged to pass the photographs off as a truly wild moment captured with my time and fieldcraft, but never the less a great way to see these birds and I can highly recommend the trip.
We visited the small islands of Staffa and Lunga the next day. Staffa is a beautiful, uninhabited island which is home to hundreds of seabirds and set within waters teeming with marine life. The island is best known for its magnificent columns of rock. The best place to see this is in Fingal’s Cave. Lunga is one of the best places in the UK to see Puffin’s and it is teeming with other birds too like Razorbill’s, Guillemots and Seals.
The name Staffa is thought to come from an old Norse word meaning wooden building staves, which look similar to the islands basalt columns. The name is a reminder of the region’s Viking history. People have marvelled at Staffa’s columns for centuries. As you approach the island from the sea, you can see these columns of rock and the very impressive cave known as Fingla’s Cave.
According to legend, Fingal was a Gaelic giant who fell out with a Ulster giant and in order to fight Fingal, the Ulster giant built a causeway between Ireland and Scotland. When the causeway was destroyed only the two ends remained, one at Staffa and the other at the giants causeway in Antrim. The columns you can see today are the remains of this causeway.
Fingla’s cave named after this giant is the most impressive site on this small island, as you enter the smell if excrement is very strong as nesting birds and bats litter the small ledge and over hangs as you slowly walk in using the path people have used for centuries. The shapes in the rocks formed by the sea over time are amazing, they look like they have been made by an experienced stone mason rather than the force of mothernature. A great place and one I would recommend a visit to.
One of the best places in the UK to see Puffin’s, and teeming with other birds too, Razorbill’s, Guillemots and Seals is Lunga the second small island we visited that day. It was a small journey to this stunning little island thats home to my favourite seabird the charismatic Puffin.
We spent over two hours on this lovely little island and from the moment you scale the landing steps and head up onto the flat top of the island the Puffins are not far from you. Their calls can be heard first before they show themselves from the burrows and vegetation hiding them away from view. We all got into place, settled and let the birds relax and over time if you sit still and don’t make too many movements the Puffins accept your presence and go about their lives around you which is wonderful to witness and watch.
As I was watching these birds and enjoying their interactions with each other this little fellow landed not far from me. I was handholding the 70-200mm lens as he was close, he seemed to enjoy the company before flying off and back out to sea. The noises in the background are the other birds nesting along this cliff, Fulmars and Razorbills.
I wanted to portray the habitat the Puffins were nesting in, at the same time capturing one in flight with a wide angled lens to give you a sense of the world they live in. The images below shows the cliff and this coastal habitat on Lunga.
It is one of the best places in the UK to see Puffins that’s for sure, close up views, Puffins going about their lives all in close proximity of you as long as you stay still and make little or no movement. Two great days and two very good day trips and the rest of the week flew by as we all concentrated on photographing Otters.
Each day we saw the Otters fishing far from shore among the different Lochs on Mull. The shot the group wanted was a close up of this beautiful mammal and towards the end of the week and even on the last day those wishes were granted with a mixture of luck and being in the right place at the right time. We were able to watch the same male Otter that had given us the slip most of the week, catch larger fish and come ashore not to far from where we were lying in wait.
He came ashore slightly higher up the beach at first, dispatching the fish he’d caught quickly then heading back out to sea to fish. We thought that would be it as once Otters have had a good feed they tend to lie up somewhere for a sleep and this was late afternoon. But lady luck came again and he came back to shore with a larger fish. He ate the fish and that was the last we saw of him but a perfect end to a great week, underlining the sentence “you only get out what you put in” and the whole group did very well all week with the early starts and long days.
We were all sad to leave the island on the Friday but everyone had some great memories of this magical island sculpted by nature. A big thank you to all the group for your company during our time on Mull. I hope I helped you all in seeing nature and learning more about her beauty while learning and showing you real and key camera skills that work on the ground.
I will be back on Mull in October during which time the Red Deer rut will be in full flow along with the amazing autumnal colours and snow capped mountains. I have a few places left so to see the trip or book please click here. We stay in the same hotel over looking the bay of Tobermory, I always try to get clients the best place in which to stay as after a long day in the field comfort and good food is key.
I have just returned from a wonderful week on the beautiful island of Mull in Scotland. The island lies on the west coast of Scotland and it has a breathtaking coastline of 300 miles. The climate is a mixture of rain and sunshine, and from the moment you step onto this beautiful island the wildlife is everywhere, and the scenery is stunning. The island is a wonderful place to see Golden Eagles, White-tailed Eagles, Otters, porpoises and a whole host of Hebridean Wildlife. My main aim was to capture through photographs the UK’s only species of Otter; the European Otter-Lutra lutra that live on this island.
Firstly, I spent two days at Caerlaverock Wetland Centre, a spectacular 1,400 acre wild reserve situated on the north Solway coast of Scotland with clients on one to one’s. During our winter months this area becomes home to the whole Svalbard breeding population of Barnacle Geese, where some of the best views of this great wildlife spectacle can be seen from the hides within this beautiful place on the north west coast of the UK.
The weather was a mixture of cloudy and sunny weather where both days the temperature struggled to pass freezing point, the pools that the birds use to drink from were frozen and many of the Geese were using neighbouring fields to feed from, the centre has two daily feeds. They feed the Whooper Swans and the many other species of birds with a supplement feed consisting of grain, seeds and potatoes. The Whoopers also spend their winters with us before heading back to their breeding grounds in eastern and western Iceland. Whooper Swans are highly vocal, with sonorous bugling calls, used during aggressive encounters, with softer “contact” noises used as communication between paired birds and families.
It was a great two days with lots of good sightings of Barnacle Geese, which were on our most wanted list to see. We had to travel a little away from the centre to catch up with them but were rewarded with a few shots of them feeding in the nearby fields before heading off to their over night roost sites on the Solway. After the two days I then headed north, tackling the 326 miles drive to the port of Oban ready for my morning crossing to the island of Mull.
As I set off for Oban the weather looked fine and I was looking forward my morning ferry to Mull. An hour from Oban and I drove into what was little snow at first, but as the miles counted down on my sat nav the snow became thicker and covered the road in front of me. However, I was so determined to reach my destination. It turned into a blizzard with inches of snow on the roads making driving harder, the ascent into Oban was hard with abandoned vehicles everywhere, motorists were stranded on all the main roads in and out of Oban.
The police were out helping to dig cars out and in general doing a great job in the absence of any gritters. I wanted to help the many people just walking around and stuck in their cars but the police just wanted the traffic to keep moving. In 2 hours, 7 inches of snow fell wreaking havoc and shutting all roads into Oban, I had just managed to get through and finally got to my hotel at around 10pm, a journey that was to take 3 hours and 10 minutes on my sat nav turned out to be over 5 hours. The cup of tea and free biscuits in my hotel room that night never tasted so good.
From the moment you leave the ferry at Craignure the vast space and amazing landscape of Mull is evident straight away. Vast, snowy peaks litter the sky line dwarfing the landscape below, a place I truly love.
The main subject I aimed to work on in the days ahead, was the European Otter, whos population in Britain suffered a significant decline from the late 1950s to the end of the 1970s. By then the Otter was absent throughout England, rare in Wales and was only found in numbers in the north and west of Scotland. The probable cause of this crash in numbers was because of the use of toxic agricultural chemicals which are now banned, this drained into rivers and accumulated in the bodies of the animals through their prey of fish.
In response to its fast decline the Otter was given full protection under UK law in 1978, recent studies have shown a significant recovery in numbers, where both government and voluntary organizations are involved with the protection of this species, which has now become a symbol of the great efforts from many conservation movements in saving this beautiful animal. I wanted to spend as much time as I could watching this animal and hopefully document their behaviours during my short trip to this magical island.
Because of the vast size of Mull and the lochs, sometimes the best option for seeing these very elusive animals is to drive around on the off chance you may see a silhouette of an Otter feeding or moving on the rocks. I have done this in the past but on this trip I wanted to find a place they where using and wait, using all my fieldcraft skills to become part of their landscape where their sense of smell and hearing is amazing. On my first day there I vistied two lochs that I know of, where I have previously witnessed Otters and cubs. I chose one of the sites and went back for the rest of the first day.
Whenever I visit a new or old place within nature I always just sit and watch, look for signs, droppings, ensuring that I’m out of site with no camera, no pressure, staying low, placing every foot print carefully so not to make a sound, testing the wind direction, breaking up my appearance with camouflaged clothing and with no white skin exposed, as this reflects light and gives you away, but for me the moment you break an animals horizon its game over, whatever you are wearing, so the need to stay low and present no silhouette is very important and key to my fieldcraft, without using a hide or car in the hope of trying to get a feel of a place.
I settled into a little inlet, where at high tide the sea came in really close and at low tide expose the lovely colourful seaweed covering the jet black rocks forming the coastline. I had seen signs of Otters, broken mussel shells with a single puncture hole and the meat taken cleanly out with great ease leaving the in tact shells littering a high vantage point. I know the Otters can hunt great distances but saw many black droppings and fish bones on this place telling me that I needed to stay here. So I did, getting myself into place before dawn each day, laying on the very slippery rocks for 7 hours a day without moving, my back was protected and covered by a line of rocks behind me, I had a great vantage point out onto the loch with the high tide water just touching my boots.
Tucked into the rocks, presenting the smallest target you could imagine, I waited, bending my frame to fill the steps and contours of the rocks, two days passed after which time you become so tuned into a place every plop, every noise, every dive from a bird you hear you immediately look with great excitement, this for me is one of the best things about wildlife photography, the peacefulness of waiting, the minutes turning into hours, all the time waiting for just that one moment in which you get a view into a wild animals world where the camera enables me to capture what I see, capturing the beauty of the subject, perserving the moment forever.
With every passing hour, sat motionless, you see so many other species of wildlife and over time you become accustomed to their presence and own individual behaviours, they become your friends, keeping you company, ready for the main event should they turn up. With Mull’s famous own micro-climate the weather changes from clear skies to angry skies in a moment, pouring rain gives in to calm, windless conditions, light you dream of as a photographer is replaced with almost zero visibility. I use a layers system when staying put in one place for some time, breathable under garments, covered with warm natural fibres finished of with rustle-free, waterproof clothing, this lets me take anything mother nature throws at me at the same time my camera and lens has two covers.
The first two days were long, traveling the 40 minutes from my accommodation to the loch on snow covered tracks. Great care was needed. Seeing this landscape awaken is so special with each day you witness these dawns really does make you feel alive. I got into place each morning as the new dawn was breaking. In the distance the massive peaks of the mountains looked down on me, the beautiful light choosing when and where it showed up that given day.
Two and a half days had passed when my luck changed, two Otters to my right breaking cover and feeding on something they had caught, slowly I moved my camera, a drill I had gone through many times before practising the turning arch of the tripod, assessing the ground to my front and what I could cover with the least movement as possible. The Otters could not smell me as there was no wind or ripples on the water. As they fed I waited, they dropped down behind a large rock they had come out on. I choose to stay put as chasing wildlife is never an option for me.
Then in a flash she was there, I let off two shots very slowly as not wanting to cause her any disturbance, she seemed to stand her ground for a moment, unable to make out what was making this slight noise made by my shutter. Then she got into the water and began swimming towards me, I could not believe what I was witnessing, two extremes, days with nothing then in a flash a wild European Otter coming towards me.
Never in my wildest dreams did I ever envision a wild Otter swimming towards me so boldly, checking out what I was, nestled into the rocks. She became almost too close too focus on with my long lens, right on the threshold of the minimal focusing distance. I turned to portrait when she popped up from a deep dive, coming up and standing in a real proud stance for a few seconds, smelling the air desperately trying to make out what was making this noise. When things happen this quick you react on pure instinct so my thoughts at the time was that I just wanted to capture something of this magical experience.
Seconds later she went back into the water and started to swim to my left, I followed the trail of bubbles as she dived deep, surfacing only for air. Seconds later she popped up, hanging onto rocks, forcing her body out of the water in a strong vertical line, again to see what I was, just amazing and again acting on pure adrenaline I slowly let off a few shots wanting to capture this moment but at the same time reading her behaviour and not wanting to spook her. This beautiful, sleek, silent hunter, moving with ease and grace through the water was suddenley out and crawling forward towards me on the rocks, just amazing.
My heart beat was bursting, I could feel the beats in my neck as she slowly moved up the rocks where I was able to compose her so that all images are full frame, she was that close. What seemed like minutes was in fact seconds and she ventured no further and went back into the water, heading off to fish, her distance trail of air bubbles leading my eyes off into the distance. I waited until almost darkness but I never saw her again that day. I returned the following day and again no sightings. I still could not believe what I had seen that day, this shy, mainly solitary animal coming this close to me.
Otters are mainly nocturnal and hunt in open, marshy places, rivers, lakes, seashores and estuaries. They will often travel a long way overland, from one river system to another, in search of food. They are strong, agile swimmers and catch fish by chasing them underwater, the European Otters that choose to live in and around our coastline are slightly bigger than their river dwelling ones and have adapted very well to this testing environment appearing bigger when you first see them but they are the same species. For the slightly smaller version that live in our rivers, streams they are mainly active at night which makes sightings of them harder, fishing in and around fish farms, campsites etc, clear evidence can be seen when you walk around and look at the water inlet areas where they regularly patrol their territory, marking it here and there with droppings called ‘spraints’. These have a scent which tells other Otters that the territory is already occupied.
As the days passed, looking and waiting to see Otters, I decided to change tack and the following day I went walking. I wanted to try and capture wild Red Deer as they are very hard to get near to outside of their park habitat where you can witness and see them during the year. The morning mist was heavy as I set off walking towards a few of the peaks that dominate this islands skyline. As I ascended further up the mist seem to become even more thicker I did however see a lone Red Deer Stag but he vanished as quick as he appeared.
I went into nearby woods hoping the mist would clear alittle and photographed the different sizes and shapes of the large majestic conifer trees, using a slow shutter speed capturing the different colours and patterns of the straight lines of countless trees all in rows.
Giving a very arty effect from a simply technique. The mist was clearing a little, so out came my OS map, and I carried on walking up on the path, now able to make it out again. With the thawing of the snow and the temperatures rising above freezing, there was a lot of water heading down bank causing waterfalls. I’d often come across many waterfalls bursting with rain water, their power and size truly inspiring within this landscape.
I could see a natural clearing in front of me, the light was really poor, so I decided to get my flask out and have a cup of tea, upon taking my bag off I heard a noise, so I got my camera out and just stopped and listened, tuned into the habitat, listening to any alarm calls from wildlife to tip me off to what was about. In the next breath this young male Red Deer appeared from the mist, standing there for a few seconds, making powerful eye contact with me, a couple of images and he was gone quicker than I could blink. I cannot see or make out where he had gone so carried on making the all important, morale boosting hot, sweet cup of tea and a kit-kat my treat for the walk.
Another beautiful encounter I had been privileged to see and come across. As the mist was clearing I carried on but found no more wildlife until I was descending, again coming a cross a lone Red Deer stag just below me, again a few shots in the poor light and this big fellow went and disappeared.
The week was almost over, time does fly and I would be sad to leave Mull so on the last day I spent 7 hours at the Otter site again. The trip was well worth all the effort for that one magical encounter I had. A special and magical moment I will never forget. I have many encounters with wildlife using my fieldcraft etc but this one will never be forgotten as my time on the island was coming to an end.
I will be returning to the island again before my Magic Of Mull photo tour in June with a second trip added in October for the autumnal colours and the Red Deer rut. Many thanks to the lovely people I met during my stay there and a big hello to you all.