As the season almost comes to an end on the beautiful welsh island of Skomer, it has been a wonderful year with some great encounters and images of the funny and very comical Puffins. Shortly they depart for the ocean and wont come ashore again until late March early April next year as they spend all that time outside of the breeding season at sea, which is truly remarkable.
Being so trusting you can have really wonderful views of these stunning birds but you always have to remember to put them first and to move out of their way should they wish to cross some of the paths where we are allowed to walk on. The following images have been taken over the session and its a stunning place.
Next years one day workshop dates are up now if you’d like to join me. Also next year I am running a 4 day, 3 night trip for up to 8 people to Skomer while we will still on the island and photograph when everyone’s gone home. For the information on this carry on down the page and please contact me if you’d like to join me in 2016.
Skomer Spectacular 3 night Photo Tour.
Join me in summer 2016 for an amazing experience, living on the island of Skomer alongside its wonderful wildlife. A magical wildlife haven located just off the beautiful Pembrokeshire coast, 3 miles from Martin’s Haven, and covering 750 acres of habitat. Skomer is the perfect place to see and photograph Razorbills, Guillemots, Seals, Short Eared and Little Owls, Manx Shearwater and the star of the island, the Puffins.
DATES & COSTS
Cost for this three night trip is £480
Due to the Welsh Wildlife Trust not announcing island accommodation availability until October of each year, exact dates are not yet known but your 3 night stay will be during the height of the puffin season in May, June or July.
Everyone is welcome on this amazing trip from birdwatchers to photographers why all levels are catered for by myself. Skomer’s wildlife is very accommodating and everyone will have the chances to make the most of their time on this wonderful island
Please register your interest by contacting me on firstname.lastname@example.org I will then send out a booking form and let you know all the details, and answer any questions you may have.
GROUP SIZE AND ACCOMMODATION
this workshop is limited to 8 guests, staying in the islands only accommodation, a beautiful farmhouse set right in the heart of the island.
Catch the first boat from Martins Haven to Skomer at 9am
After a brief boat ride we arrive on the island and then we have a briefing from the wardens on the island. Then we head to our accommodation, unpack and make ourselves at home and have a warm drink and then head out after lunch to start exploring the island.
DAY 2 & 3
The pattern of event for the next two days will be very similarly maximising your time n the island. From sunrise to sunset and all through the night if you wish as it’s amazing on the island once it goes dark, we are free to come and go on the island and I will be showing you and guiding you to some of the best places on the island at both ends of the day and during the day.
We catch the first boat back to the mainland at 9am.
Fraught with danger, and extremely hazardous, it is the precarious life of many young animals as they now turn from a dependent youngster to an adult during this time of the year. The countryside is awash with animals, fresh from the protection of the homes built by experienced parents several months earlier. High pitched calls litter the river banks and woodlands, as birds, and mammals beg for food from their hard pressed parents who spend all of their time being attentive to their off spring.
Witnessing these special moments can be some of the most enduring moments within mother nature, as we watch the high level of dependence unfold before our very eyes, youngsters mimicking their parents, learning the key skills that will hopefully keep them alive in the cruel and often unforgiving world they are about to enter.
Over the last couple of months when time has allowed I have been watching a few of my favourite species, one being the Dipper and the other the Puffin. At the several different sites I’ve been visiting this year, some Dippers have nested early, others quite late and most have been doing really well. During the many trips to these sites either alone or with clients on my ever popular Dippers of the Dales workshop and one to one’s, they’ve been very active.
In most cases the Dipper nests really early in the year around mid to late March/April time. If the first brood is successful the same birds try for a second brood later on, one of the major problems then though is the water height of the river. If it drops the Dippers are forced to abandon the second nest as they follow the river downstream. This has happened this year with one pair of Dippers, where the river has dried up, leaving small pockets of water in which to feed in.
Over the last several weeks we’ve had a good amount of rain and at other sites where the Dippers have nested and were on their second brood several chicks have died due to rising water levels. The nests where sighted just under waterfalls and as the level of water rose, the power of the waterfalls have sweeped a large part of the nests away leaving 2 chicks where there had been 4 youngsters to each set of parents.
This left these small, vulnerable birds homeless and alone on the river bank as the parent birds struggled to find and feed them. The life of a Dipper chick is a dangerous one, as the power of the water calms many of them, then there are the many predators also. With a high mortality rate among their number nature has evolved these birds to have large broods and sometimes two throughout the breeding season but still only a few survive the dangerously insecure and perilous journey they take to become adults.
The young don’t have the trademark white bib yet, instead their plumage blends into their habitat amazing making these birds really hard to spot among the riverbank vegetation. The young I have watched that have lost their home have been well looked after, where the parent birds have hidden the youngsters the best they can in darkened areas of the riverbank, so fingers crossed these last few survive.
I have made a short film just to illustrate just how small and vulnerable this Dipper was, turfed from his nest a little too early due to the nest being damaged through rising water levels. Even this young their “Dipping” behaviour can be seen which was so wonderful to witness. The last remaining Dipper chicks on my last visit had moved further down river, following the flow of water and witnessing how attentive their parents were, so it all looks good for their survival fingers crossed, its one of the most precarious starts though within the natural world with a very high mortality rate.
My other firm favourite also shares that most precarious of beginnings into the natural world and that is the clown of the sea; the Puffin.
I have visited the island of Skomer many times this year and never tire of seeing these beautiful, comical and funny seabirds that come to this little island, off the coast of Wales to breed and rise their young for a short time each year, before returning back to the perilous stormy seas of the Atlantic. They come ashore early to late March and reaffirm their bonds after meeting their partners. Those that have lost or don’t have a partner then set out on the journey to find one as thousands of these birds come ashore during this time. Its a frantic time, lots and lots of action, but everything settles down and then they start raising their young in the underground burrows on the island.
My last visit there was this week on a one to one, after a bright start the heavens opened and we both got really soaked as Skomer can be an unforgiving place when the weather changes. I wanted to try and convey the changing weather conditions that were approaching the island with this image below. It shows the incoming storm and a pair of Puffins displaying a resolve to sit the storm out by staying put as the Puffin here in the foreground clearly demonstrated to us.
If you were a script writer that specialized in comedy you’d find it hard to write the script for these birds as they are just so funny to watch, and I am convinced they love non-threatening human company, once you win their trust and keep that distance, you can enjoy unrivaled humour where I’m often seen laughing as I take photos of these birds. Then occasionally they let out a long moan like call, which is their own way of communicating with each other, again it’ll have you in stitches as its unplanned and often unannounced when it happens.
As it rained we scrambled to cover our cameras and were treated to a few and brief sightings of Pufflings, the name given to baby Puffins. Almost Jackdaw like in appearance with no colour to them. These birds slowly made their way to the edge of the burrows in which they had just spent the previous several weeks living in underground. Really nervous at first, with an adult bird there with them, as a show of support for the appearance.
I could see as I watched they were nervous of which they had good reason as large Gulls always patrol the skies over where these birds breed. Alot of the time the Puffins get robbed of their catch, or even worse the Gulls take their chicks ,so extreme caution is always best. When this chick came out above, the adult bird seemed to be fussing over him, being really attentive towards the young Puffling, eventually he settled down and did a few wing exercises then went back underground. Lovely to see the interaction between the parent and youngsters, very enduring to see and watch.
At another entrance to a burrow a Puffin was cleaning as the rain came down and suddenly the young Puffin appeared, standing a little further out from the burrow, watching his parent clean. Their beaks will grow over time and their colourless appearance is in stark contrast to that of the adult birds. In a few weeks all the Puffins along with their young will leave for sea and not return to land for the next 8 months.
The precarious life of an young Puffin is beset with difficulties, fraught with danger in the waters of the Atlantic where they’ll spend most of that time, eating, sleeping out a sea. It has to be one of the toughest existence’s within the natural world I can think of, where only the strongest will survive and return to land after that period at sea.
Fingers crossed these two make it, many thanks to all my clients who have seen these amazing birds with me over the last several weeks, I know many have learned alot more not only about wildlife photography but also the behaviours of these two charismatic birds, many thanks.
Nature is a wonderful thing, her beauty, the innocence of the subject, and once you are among her you just don’t know what you’ll see or what will turn up as you walk the countryside. Over the last several weeks I have been visiting some of my popular sites within the Peak District, at the same time running my successful Spectacular Skomer one day workshops, where I show the beauty of nature whilst at the same time learning clients many things they take home with them to improve their own work and seeing the beautiful Puffin up close.
With British Summer time now well and truly here, those early starts for that dream light that all wildlife photographers wish for, start really early and sometimes when working late the night before it has paid to just sleep for a few hours as the new dawn is never far away. I normal meet the client(s) before dark and then we head out on the chosen day they have picked. In this case it was the amazing and beautiful landscape of the Peak District. A place I have visited for many years, building up a unique knowledge of the wildlife here but each visit I still get surprised at witnessing something new, such is nature, you just never know what will happen and you have to be among her beauty to get those amazing encounters.
Here the sun broke the horizon as we walked onto the moorland, nothing prepares you for that moment, the light, the freshness of the morning air and the orchestral of birdsong is magical, just pure heaven. We headed up as the sun was breaking through the clouds, fighting for a clear path in which to warm the moors below. We both set up and captured a few images of the Curlew, a large bird so at home on these landscapes, such is their wonderful camouflage. Your only real indicator they are around is their piercing loud, a single note call, which cuts through the morning air. Here he was flying past in the morning light, I managed a nice image of this wonderful bird as he was calling.
After that first few moments of beautiful light the clouds started to consume the beautiful light we had seen rise that morning, the temperature also drops a touch at that time of morning. The landscape of the Peak District is full of different and very diverse wildlife, from beetles to birds, it really has something for everyone. Our aim was to see the moorland birds- Curlews, Golden Plovers, Dunlins, Red Grouse and fingers crossed the Short eared Owls that nest on these moors.
We were greeted by a pair of Golden Plovers, a typical moorland bird, nesting among the thickets and heather of this habitat. They had young nearby so we just sat at a distance and watched ,staying low presenting them with little or no disturbance by our presence, they were calling each other as the female was in one part and the male in another part. Their call really stands out and it was an amazing moment as my client, Ian, on a one to one wanted to see this iconic moorland bird and here we were among them.
When the male Golden Plover had finally broken cover to gain a high vantage point to survey his territory the cloud had filled the sky and hid that beautiful sunlight as seen with the first image. The background is one of the high peaks covered in mist and low lying cloud. We had some wonderful encounters with this pair of charismatic birds as we blending into their habitat and using fieldcraft as the key element. The highlight of the day was an amazing 45 mintues with a pair Mountain Hare in their summer coats, going about their lives and feeding among the fresh shoots of vegetation.
Outside of Scotland, the Peak District is the only place to have a good population of these beautiful mammals, normally seen in their pure white coats. Seeing them in their fluffy Summer coats was a real bonus as they fed on the fresh young shoots after some of this area had been carefully burnt.
Very shy and elusive the Mountain Hare blends so well into their habitat, the prevailing wind was our best friend here as it was blowing our scent away allowing us to both slowly and carefully advance to where this pair where feeding. Even with the strong wind they where very alert, with this image above I tried to captured just how hard it was to see them at the same time capture a little of their character. They settled a little and carried on feeding and moving among the burnt heather treating us both with a window into their lives as we hugged the ground for what little cover we could use to hide behind and use to blend in as we watched this amazing mammal.
The background added a real different element to our images, very different to snow or heather as the different colours contrasting with the stark blacks of the burnt heather.
Heather is kept young and vigorous by controlled burning, if left unburned it eventually grows long and reduces in its nutritional value. During this process of burning the heather roots are left undamaged and the whole process ‘shocks’ the heather seed lying in the ground into germinating quickly. The burning cycle creates a pattern of different aged heather, the oldest provides cover for the Grouse and other birds, and the new shoots provide succulent food for birds, mammals and sheep. A skillfully burnt moor will have a mosaic of heather and other moorland plants of differing ages offering a rich variety of wildlife to this special habitat.
We were treated to one of those beautiful moments, spending this long with such a shy animal. I have seen and photographed them in Winter, when I run one to ones here in the same location, but it was a real bonus to see them in their wonderful Summer coats. We had a great day so thanks to my client, Ian, who was amazed also at what the whole day delivered for him and I wish you well.
The next day it was onward to Skomer where I was meeting other clients for my Spectacular Skomer one day workshops, on this amazing island off the beautiful Welsh coast, a stunning part of the UK. The weather can change without warning off this coastline, I have been caught on Skomer as the heavens opened and the cloud base dropped, it can be very testing. Thankfully for my clients it was sunny and very warm as we met early and waited for the first crossing to the island on that sunny morning.
We were the first boat onto the island, the BBC Springwatch team were there all week broadcasting live each evening from the island, so there seemed alot more people around. After the briefing you get from staff on the island, going through information to help your short stay on the island, we then headed to a favourite spot for Puffins. Before the main crowds come you can have a good hour or so here among these “clowns of the sea” as I have always called them, a name that’s becoming quite popular now.
It was a real warm day with bright sunshine making the job of exposing for the Puffins plumage a little difficult. I always try to show and tell people to work with what ever light you have or haven’t got and use it to your own advantage. We arrived at one of the most popular spots for the Puffins and settled down to watch at first, looking for flight patterns, their different ways in which they land and quickly dive down their burrows before the ever present danger of the Gulls who mob them of their catch, as the image below clearly shows. This gives you a good idea of the general movements in a given area and helps with your photography.
In this area there is a large cliff with many different birds nesting on its ledges and I was watching a pair of Fulmars, one bird kept flying off and around in circles, soaring on the air thermals, coming out from the darken area of the cliffs and flying into the direct sunlight, right over my head and then diving down towards the sea then back up onto the nest, amazing behaviour to watch and capture.
Effortless flying at its very best with these beautiful birds that are part of the same family as Albatross, Shearwaters and Petrels. These birds nest and breed in colonies on ledges and steep coastal cliffs, sometimes in burrows on inaccessible slopes. They are masters at exploiting the air currents to travel miles on and hunt all the time conserving their own fuel reserves. Sharing the same cliff ledges are Guillemots, Gulls and the most handsome member for me of the Crow family: the Chough, jet black with bright red beak and legs, its a strking looking bird that gave us a little fly past just enough for us to see this handsome bird at close quarters.
There is so much wildlife on this small island of Skomer, in each direction you look you’ll see something different, from Puffins,Gulls, to Rabbits. The different Gulls, all ranging from the small Herring Gull to the governor of them all, the large Black backed Gull all nesting in the own places, higher up on the island and away from the coast cliffs.
In the centre of the island their is a good population of Short eared Owls but during our visit we didn’t see them, but this little chap turned up and became quite a star during the week, posing really well as people walked past this section of rock this Little Owl had made home. So enduring to see and watch a lovely looking Owl, with real character for its size.
The island, the sea around it all teaming with wildlife giving this island its special status as a crucial island for breeding birds within the UK. The sea is rich with life and having dived this area myself before I know of the riches under its surface. This image I took shows the frailness of the whole area as Skomer and the surrounding islands are on one of the major shipping lanes around our coastline, carrying vital oil/fuel to the nearby refineries up and down this stunningly beautiful coastline.
Thank you to all my clients who have attended my Spectacular Skomer trips, I look forward to meeting those that have booked for the trips in the next month.