Years ago I was very fortunate to have an inquisitive pilot whale swim under and around the small dinghy I was in, a magical moment I’ll remember all my life. The day before yesterday Johanna and I took a walk around the pier in Amble and movement at sea caught my eye. There was a pod of dolphin playing in the water just off the harbour mouth. Photographing cetaceans from the shore is not easy as they are usually too far out to get a decent photo. I did run some shots off which I passed to a friend involved in cataloguing whales and dolphins along the coast here . The pictures did not have any photographic merit but they can identify the individuals from the markings on the tails and dorsal fins. The one photo I got that I was (sort of) pleased with was this one.
I really want to take the opportunity to go out on a boat to get close to them.
Yesterday I had my annual trip to the Farne Islands. Speaking to the crew on the boat I found out that this pod of dolphin had been with them a couple of days previously. No dolphins on this trip, but the boat ride between the islands does takes you close to seals both on the shore and in the water.
If you enjoy photographing wildlife and especially birds the Farnes has to be a place to go. You can get really close to the sea birds. I always end up taking rather more pictures than I intend and it takes me almost as long sorting through and developing them in Lightroom as it did taking them.
Most folk go with the expectation of seeing puffin. The organisation BirdLife International and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) announced at the end of last year that the puffin is facing global extinction. That doubles the number of UK bird species considered to be at risk of extinction to eight. Climate change is affecting the populations with their staple diet, sand eels, moving away from the puffin’s natural breeding and feeding grounds. The sand eels are also swimming much more deeply in the cooler water. Puffin are great swimmers but this extra depth is already affecting the tern populations that fish just below the surface.
There are other threats to the puffins too. Although the practice of sucking thousands of tons of sand eels from the sea bed to use as fertiliser has been outlawed, it still happens illegally.
So, although there were 37,000 pairs of puffin on The Farne Islands last year, there might come a time when we no longer see these ‘sea parrots’ in British waters.
Puffin are difficult to photograph on the wing. Although they look as though they are not designed to be in the air and put a huge amount of effort into flapping their stumpy wings, they scoot along at two to three times head height at great speed. A shutter speed faster than 1/1000th second is necessary and spending a little while observing the best place to stand to capture them makes a lot of difference to getting a successful shot. They fly into the wind when taking off to give them the much needed lift, so standing upwind gives you the best chance of capturing them in flight.
They look almost comical coming into land.
Another fourteen UK species are now considered to be “Near Threatened”, this means that any further deterioration in their status is likely to see them added to the red list as well. This includes a cousin of the puffin and the second member of the auk family that nests on the island – the Razorbill. These handsome birds are amber listed. Declining fish stocks and fishing nets along with pollution have severely damaged their population.
Photographing sea birds is not without its challenges. Getting the exposure right when there is the huge contrast between the blacks and whites of the birds adds to the exposure challenges faces with the brightness of the sea and the white guano on the rocks both of which can fool the internal meter into under-exposing. I used spot metering for the majority of the shots and also dialled in +1/3rd – 1 EV extra exposure. Some of the shots were a little over-exposed but not to the extent that they were irrecoverable in developing the raw files.
The shag is a member of the cormorant family. This one had settled down on on eggs and one bird already had hatched a chick. Like the puffin, this is another bird where the UK populations are considered to be globally important and sadly it has also been added to the Red List this year.
Guillemot are another member of the auk family. There were 24,500 breeding pairs on the island last year and like puffin and razorbill they only return to land to breed, spending the rest of their lives at sea. They too are amber listed.
The guillemot front tight of the picture has a ‘brindled’ pattern on its eye. The reason behind this slight genetic variation is unknown.
Nesting on the cliffs with the guillemot are Britain’s smallest gull, the kittiwake. As you’ve probably guessed, this too is red listed; the populations are dropping with the decline in sand eels. You can see them here soaring above the cliffs where they will nest.
The kittiwake gets its name after the sound of its distinctive call. To me it sounds more like a cry of “Let me out! Let me out!”
The arctic tern has the longest migration of any bird; they migrate all the way down to the Antarctic and even to Australia. If you visit in the summer then these birds are nesting right next to the paths and they defend their territories with violent dive-bombing stabs to the head. If you go tp the Farnes, take a hat. I found on my last visit that walking very slowly past their nests made them much less likely to attack. Another Amber listed bird.
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