Friday, 21 February 2014

Guest Blog - Ruth Abernethy's 'Wild Mull'

Ruth has done two seasons on Mull as a wildlife guide for Sea Life Surveys and is currently completing a masters degree in Marine Biology based at Glasgow.

Last summer was possibly the best three months of my life. The Isle of Mull now feels like a second home for me and when it’s time to leave I feel like I’ve left part of me behind. It’s so refreshing to spend each day on the water surrounded by the beauty of the west coast of Scotland never mind what beasties come to pay a visit to Sula Beag. But when they do, it’s always a pretty special experience.

For me 2013 reached dizzy heights on the sightings scale with my first encounter with Scottish orca and Risso’s dolphins. What creatures!  When Jimbo first told me he had got a text from a fisherman friend who was with two orcas not far from us, I was convinced he was winding me up as I’m notoriously gullible (especially when it’s something I want to hear!) But no, it was true and when I first heard that huge powerful blow and saw the big black sail of a male orca’s dorsal fin, there were no words….. Well there was certainly a squeal! But wow. Surely no one who has ever experienced these burly dolphins in their natural habitat could ever think it wise to keep them in bath tubs, what power and yet elegance. They blew my mind.

And Risso’s dolphins, unlike any encounter with bottlenose or commons, were modest and calm, just getting on with their journey westwards. They were stunning and so very mysterious.
And this was in Scotland…. Scotland!! How lucky we are to have such a mysteriously rich expanse of ocean on our doorsteps.

Another highlight of 2013 was of course the return of our good old friend Knobble. Isn’t it nuts that it’s possible to be on first name terms with a whale? A WHALE?! It’s incredible and undeniably turns me into my five year old self every time he makes an appearance. 

Monday, 10 February 2014

Shot at the night

The launch event at RSPB Geltsdale for the Ghostbird Hen Harrier art exhibition was amazingly joined by two female birds showing well on the nearby fell side...
http://www.rspb.org.uk/community/ourwork/skydancer/b/skydancer/archive/2014/02/06/hen-harriers-on-show-at-geltsdale.aspx

Fantastic work by landscape artist Ben Knibbs from the Geltsdale/Talkin/Brampton area. Well worth a look...

http://www.pinterest.com/benknibbs/benjamin-knibbs-landscape-artist/

If you have seen the BBC Natural World program last week regarding the importance of Vultures to an ecosystem then read about Britain's important cleaning species here...

http://raptorpolitics.org.uk/2014/02/03/who-are-the-real-vermin/

Here is the link, Vultures, beauty in the beast...

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b03sfvhd/Natural_World_20132014_Vultures_Beauty_in_the_Beast/

Cain has a new HB blog post...

http://holywellbirding.blogspot.co.uk/

GN Diver in Arinagour bay with the morning light...
Coming to the end of my second week on Coll and a mixed bag of weather was to be expected out here but I am very pleased to be able to take advantage of the windows of clear skies to get some more time lapse sequences done. A new technique of setting my alarm every two hours throughout the night to check on cloud cover definitely increased my chances of tackling the variable weather. My last night is tonight (Monday 10th) and If I can get a sequence shot at two more planned locations then I will have managed twenty sites with starscapes and with it around three minutes of footage (still images from this week are below) 

A weak northern lights display in the early hours of the 7th was a nice sight and I managed to get a hundred continuous frames of the showing as well. 
Female Peregrine hunting waders in Arinagour bay...
immature GN Diver...
During daytime hours (apart from sleeping!) I spent a bit of time working the area around Arinagour bay watching the changes with the tides. A few hours spent watching and photographing the GN divers in the bay. At least two adults and a juvenile recorded and the majority of food source was small crab species most likely shore and velvet's. A single Razorbill was seen on the 6th and a female Peregrine made a brief appearance getting everything going by targeting the local waders. Three Mergansers (two drakes) and up to half a dozen Ringed Plover were other species of interest in the bay. Plenty of Herring Gulls but no sign of white wingers as I understand there has been up to six Glaucous to the south on Tiree. 
Lit up juvenille bird...

Another angle of the obliging young bird
More Barnies at Breachacha...

Good number of Barnies on the south of the isle...
Morning Heron...
A couple of trips to Sorisdale in the north side of the isle with the first visit been very productive in managing a starscape sequence and in the second visit we had some nice wildlife sightings including a grey seal pup lonesome on the shore. A Black throated diver to the east of the Cairns of Coll and a single adult Gannet was also seen. 

Coll Hotel in the early hours...

Welcome to the dark sky community...

Arinagour ferry pier looking east with a captured motion of the stars...
The remainder of my time during the days consisted of developing my new web site, Open Uni work, video editing and general reading. 
Back to good old Cumbria tomorrow and looking forward to covering some wild areas down there as spring creeps up nearer. My main focus in the coming weeks is the search for displaying Goshawk...cant wait.

 Thanks for looking...

Monday, 3 February 2014

A return to the dark island...

Great article about a wildlife photographer focusing on golden eagles back in the early 20th century...
http://raptorpolitics.org.uk/2014/01/30/nostalgic-look-back-in-time-at-scotlands-first-pioneering-golden-eagle-photographer-2/

SNH say no to ridiculous call for eagle control...

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-edinburgh-east-fife-25921453

So called country lovers question Buzzard abundance in the UK...There is defiantly too much of something in our countryside

http://raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/are-buzzards-now-vermin-asks-country-life-magazine/

I have arrived back on Coll for around a fortnight to photograph / time lapse the dark skies. The island was designated a dark sky community in December 2014 and my videography will be used to promote the isle for astro-tourism.

After a drive through the night with stars showing all the way up (and a stunning red fox!) I was hoping it would continue into the next night and I wasn't disappointed as the skies were clear from dusk til dawn and I managed to shoot a time lapse in three locations around Arinagour village. A great start to my second spell on Coll which took a bit of the pressure off for the remainder of my time but I still had plenty of sites to cover along with old sites to improve on.


dark sky community village...

Arinagour church...
On the Thursday afternoon after managing some sleep in the morning myself and Jen headed out to the south west of the isle to cover a long coastal stretch down there as the good weather continued. One point of interest was the amount of GN Divers around the peninsula with a count off 44 made in a 4 hour spell. A female long tailed duck was a good record off Feall bay. Ringed Plover, Redshank and Turnstone, also working the stretch. Two Otters, a female Merganser and a single Porpoise as we stopped for lunch looking out to Gunna. A nice number of Barnacle geese and Greylag geese on the rich pasture inland. The only raptors to be seen were Buzzards and a few Brown Hares as we made our way back round to the car.

GN Diver...
On Friday a short evening walk produced a first year WT Eagle tackling the strong winds with rigid wings. Always a pleasure to see them again and promising signs of breeding birds on Coll in the future with an increase in sightings the last few years. Plenty of food for them here along with skerries and islets to nest on. 

After a two day spell of strong winds and wet spells the havens opened for a short spell on Saturday night and with forecast of a CME hurtling towards earth there was a chance of aurora. After taking some long exposures to the north I managed to pick of faint green before the cloud rolled in solid. As we were walking back to the house we looked behind and with the cloud clearing we noticed a pale glow at a good height of about 45 degrees in the sky which I knew straight away was the lights! It weakened off only a minute later and the cloud interfered for the rest of the night. It was nice to see it briefly any way and fingers crossed for a display in the week to come.


26 Snow Geese taking off... 
In flight...beautiful birds
Barnies in flight...
On Sunday the sun made an appearance so Jen and I headed down to cover new territory on the south coast of the isle around Breachacha. The geese around there were just superb with the first record 26 Snow Geese which have taken up residency on Coll and have been breeding since the 1980s. Mass numbers of Barnies showing well in good light. 30 plus Curlew probing in a grazed field and a Bar-tailed Godwit on Breachacha beach. A good number of Ravens around and a Snipe flushed from the Ling heather along with a dead Snipe which looked like a Peregrine kill possibly. Chocker block with Brown Hares around the castle at dusk as we headed back yam.

Barnies with that classic coll terrain
some spectrum that!
Breachacha castle...
Thanks for taking the time to look at my blog I really appreciate it :)