In search of Gannets, Puffins and much more.. Part 2

02nd August 2013
Apologies for the delay but here's Part 2 of my trip to Ireland and Pembrokeshire.
Having left Ireland and landed back at Fishguard in Wales on the midnight ferry, a quick overnight stop near the harbour and about 4 hours sleep saw us leaving at 0600am for the drive down to Marloes on the south west tip of Pembrokeshire to catch the first boat across to Skomer. The sunshine continued and in the hot weather , whilst the crossing was easy the offload of all our camera kit and overnight bags and tripods proved challenging.
Here's a view looking up from the landing point over towards the Warden's House and Research Offices. I feel I have to mention one little incident where one of my fellow photographers whilst sitting at the bottom of the steps with me and another as the three of us waited to take a trip to Grasholm to see the Gannets on our first afternoon dropped her beloved Canon camera body into the 25ft crystal clear blue water as she changed lenses whilst perched on the rocks! (I won't mention her name to avoid embarrassment but Shelly S-Kn you know who you are !!)

For those who have been to Skomer they all remember the heady ascent of the endless high stone steps zigzagging to the warden's hut where a temporary respite and glug of water then saw us finally crawl up to the flatter section on the top of the path where a tractor with a trailer would meet us and take all our luggage to the farmhouse accommodation in the centre of the island about a mile away! Our sense of relief turns to despair on being informed "Sorry, tractor's out of action for two weeks!". Like a re-enactment from the Falklands when somebody said said "sorry no Chinooks!" we face the yomp across the island in increasing temperatures with an assortment of wheeled airport bags, oversize sailing bags and holdalls. Indeed some of us had to make two trips. An hour later and 3 lbs lighter we could settle in to the basic but comfortable farmhouse seen below.

With rooms at a premium I'd booked in for the deluxe option. Just sharing with 3 other blokes! Anyone who'd done time inside or been to private school would have felt at home! I'm being slightly unfair as all was clean and just fine.

But after a combination of tea/biscuits/wagon wheels/roll ups/water and with the weather stunning, a walk around the island just reaffirmed my opinion of it's amazing wildlife and scenery.

The main subjects were of course the puffins but with the 2013 wildlife season running anything up to 4 weeks late we weren't even certain they would be present in any numbers yet. By arriving in early May we were hoping to see the bonding and nesting behaviour of the pairing birds. And two consecutive starts at before dawn (together with the sunsets) certainly gave us a few opportunities even though bird numbers were low.
The birds spent a lot of time gathering nest material.

The bonding of the birds was constant and reaffirmed the ties with birds that can live up to 30 years. Here the setting sun highlights the wonderful colours of their beaks that emerge during the breeding season

While it's been done many times before it's tough not to take some behavioural photos that show why Puffins are one of our most loved and iconic seabirds.

Trying to catch decent photos in flight proved tough as always and wind etc could have been more favourable and with not many birds it meant I had less opportunities but I'll be back to try again next year but here's one where I just about got the effect I was after with the setting sun backlighting the bird and using a slow enough shutter speed to keep some movement in the wings.

A male does his best to impress his mate after a lengthy evening romantic dance where she managed to show a remarkable degree of indifference. We've all been there !!

A bird having returned to it's nest near sunset sits overlooking The Wick on Skomer and makes his presence known.

It's funny how different images effect you. When I took the photo below it didn't think much of it but once it was on the computer back home I realised it's one of my favourites. The early morning mist rises up over the slopes. It reminds me of the wonderful light I experienced this trip to the island and the joy of staying overnight on the island is that along you can experience the sunrises/sunsets along with just 15 or so other people on the whole island.

Not satisfied with just impressing their mates, some Puffins felt the need to spread the word to a bigger crowd.

Anyone who knows Skomer will be aware of the hundreds of thousands of Manx Shearwaters that fly in at night to return to their burrows and their chicks. They do this to avoid predation by the numerous large gulls. Whilst we ventured out at night and saw the magical sight of hundreds flying around our heads and listened all night to their haunting calls, I hadn't expected to see the rare sight of one emerging during the daylight hours as we watched Puffins near the Wick . It was c.6pm and in fact two birds emerged but this second one I managed to get on camera as he crept out of his burrow and just before he took off. A wonderful sight.

And finally two images again showing the wonderful light. Here an early morning Puffin stretches his wings as he gazes at the rising sun and prepares for his day !

And another of my favourite images. I'd noticed some light coloured rocks on the far side of the Wick caught the light as the rising sun crept higher and I positioned myself hoping a Puffin would position itself with them almost providing a halo effect. I took about 45 images before he just seemed to settle in the right spot and with the dew on the grass at his feet again I think it has some atmosphere that does credit to the wonderful island.

And finally a simple picture of a local Rabbit at sunrise. I hope I've help to show just some of the natural wonders Skomer holds. We're lucky to have such a place within the UK.

ps..for those interested, all pictures were taken on my Nikon D4 (a few on my D300), with 24-70mm f2.8, 70-200mm f2.8, 500mm f4 Nikon lenses

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