Our Bespoke Photography ‘Birds in Flight’ workshop was a day out for Max and Nigel – Max’s prize for winning the ‘Young Person’s’ category at last years North East Wildlife Photography Awards.
We met up at Newbiggin and drove up the coast to Seahouses. Before sailing across to the islands, we had a session covering ‘birds in flight’ techniques and camera settings, with Kittiwakes and Fulmars as the guinea pigs for Max to practice various techniques. In a stiff breeze, the birds were proving quite challenging – passing a few feet above our heads into the breeze and then racing back with the wind at their tails Once on St Cuthbert II we were soon surrounded by an almost limitless supply of photographic subjects; Grey Seal, Shag, Cormorant, Razorbill, Guillemot, Gannet, Puffin, Kittiwake, Fulmar, Common, Arctic and Sandwich Terns and, the most surprising sight of the day, a Rock Pipit dripping with water and holding a small fish! It was a great day out with two talented photographers, and I’m hoping to see more of Max’s images displayed at the wildlife photography awards evening on July 9th
Sunday dawned bright and breezy, but thankfully not quite so breezy as Saturday…
I arrived in Seahouses and met Greg, John and Lee for their bespoke Farne Islands photography workshop. We were booked on an afternoon sailing to Inner Farne, but we started on the clifftops around Seahouses, practicing techniques for photographing birds in flight. Kittiwakes and Fulmars make great subjects for practicing techniques, prior to landing on Inner Farne – which is a little bit more hectic
Sailing on Glad Tidings IV we were soon surrounded by Puffins, Razorbills, Guillemots, Kittiwakes and Grey Seals. The cliffs were a hive of activity and once we landed on Inner Farne we braved the Arctic Terns as we explored the varied photo opportunities that the island offers. ‘Puffin with beakful of sandeels’ was top of the photography target list for the day, and that was soon ticked off, before we enjoyed an extended stay on the island before leaving on the last boat of the day.
Our Farne Islands Beginners Photography Workshops on June 28th and July 11th still have spaces available so give us a call on 01670 827465 to book your place, or get in touch if you’d like a bespoke photography day
It’s been a cold windy spring, and a few of our summer visitors seemed a bit tardy; we found our first Sand Martin and Chiffchaff later than we would have expected, but the day has been coming when things would start to happen…
I collected Jan and Peter from Church Point and we set out to spend the day exploring Druridge Bay. It was, unsurprisingly, cold and very windy again but that didn’t impact on our day birdwatching. Skylarks soared and sang, Marsh Harriers drifted over reedbeds and fields close to the coast and an impressive range of waders performed obligingly; Oystercatcher, Curlew, Ringed Plover, Avocet, Turnstone, Dunlin, Sanderling and Black-tailed Godwit – the latter three species resplendent in breeding plumage – demonstrated why this is such a popular group of species with birdwatchers. The godwit in particular stood out; clothed in chestnut and a vision of elegance to rival the Little Egret that was stalking along the water’s edge nearby. Moorhen and Coot crept furtively along the edge of reedbeds, Stonechat and Meadow Pipit flicked their tails nervously at the tops of bushes in the dunes and an eye-catching fly-catching adult Little Gull was easily picked out from amongst Black-headed Gulls. Seawatching over lunchtime is a regular feature of our Druridge Bay trips and Eider, Gannet, Manx Shearwater and Common Guillemot could all be seen offshore as Fulmars soared and arced along the clifftops a few metres way from us. Wheatears and a Whinchat flitted from tussock to tussock, strikingly beautiful as they always are at this time of the year, and then a sign that the summer is nearly here; hundreds of Sand Martins were flycatching above every pool on the coast as a group of six House Martins flew in, battling against the strengthening breeze with the imperative to head north driving them on. Then, a Swift, and another, then six more. Eight of these scythe-winged masters of the air flew by us, rocking from side-to-side into the wind as they headed to join the feast above the water.
I love those days when we concentrate on looking for a single species, but a day birdwatching with clients and just enjoying, and marvelling, at everything that comes along is pretty much as good as it gets for a birdwatching guide As Jan and Peter headed across to Bellingham, and I took the shorter journey back to the office, I was wondering if perhaps the summer weather was on the way…
Friday and Saturday saw a two day bespoke safari for Fran and Georgia, arranged by their mum back in early December.
I collected the girls from The Swan and we headed towards Druridge Bay. We weren’t too far along the road when Georgia asked if we’d seen any Otters recently. I told them about Thursday’s sightings, and there was an obvious raising of excitement levels in the car…and, with typical wildlife unpredictability, we managed to get right through Friday without an Otter sighting Dippers zipping back and forth along the River Blyth were entertaining, a drake Garganey on the Wansbeck was stunning, Little Egrets and Avocets were elegant, but of the sinuous stealthy predator there was no sign. We returned to The Swan and I started revising our plans for Saturday…
Saturday 05:00 and I stumble sleepily to the bathroom. There’s one thing I really don’t want to hear, and that’s a howling gale. This wasn’t looking promising; our plan for the day was a Seal Cruise around the Farne Islands, and then more time searching for Otters, and neither of those would be helped by the hoolie that I could hear whistling through the trees in our garden. We arrived in Seahouses for our sailing on Glad Tidings V, and the sea was looking ever so slightly lumpy. We did manage to sail though, and were rewarded with Cormorant, Shag, Guillemot, Eider, Kittiwake and the two stars of the morning – Puffin and Grey Seal. Back on dry land we resumed the search for Otters, and the wind strengthened so that we could hear an eerie whistling around trees, bridges and us! With a wind chill factor taking temperatures down to bone-chilling, and a hail storm pinging ice off our heads, we were having to suffer for our wildlife…and still no Otters. Sarah was out and about checking other locations and sending regular texts to let me know where she’d checked. Our final backup plan was an 06:00 start on Sunday, but I don’t think anyone was really too keen on that idea.
18:30 and the wind shifted from west to southwest and weakened slightly, the sun came out and I started to feel more optimistic. I had one decision left to make though, and that was which of our two options for sunset to go for…
Our last couple of evening pelagics each year tend to finish in near darkness as we arrive back at Royal Quays. We have such long daylight hours during the middle of the summer up here, that it comes as a bit of a shock when it starts getting dark by 10pm Yesterday was our final evening pelagic for this year, and conditions weren’t as good as they’d beeen on most of the previous sailings; a reasonable amount of swell, choppy surface and occasional whitecaps don’t make for easy observation. We knew where both White-beaked and Bottlenose Dolphins had been seen on Tuesday though, so that would give us a fighting chance. Guillemots were rising and falling with the swell, Kittiwakes, Herring Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls were following us throughout the evening and Gannets soared majestically on the breeze. A Grey Seal was bottling as we sailed by and, just off Lynemouth, we began making our way south. Then a call from Hector “Martin, over there!”. Three White-beaked Dolphins, then five With a very small calf among them, this was another opportunity to study how their behaviour differs from dolphins without young calves, and our observations will be included in the next report of our White-beaked Dolphin research off Northumberland, and add more to the collective knowledge about these beautiful animals
That may be the end of our evening pelagics for 2014, but we’ve still got a few spaces on our Farne Deeps trips, which are our best trips for encountering White-beaked Dolphin and other marine mammals, on 12th and 28th August from Royal Quays, and our birdwatching-focused trips from Royal Quays on 23rd August, 6th September and 13th September. Our Whale and Dolphin Cruise from Seahouses on 30th August is an excellent introduction to offshore wildlife for all the family too Give us a call on 01670 827465 for more details, or have a look at our North Sea pelagic page.
Our penultimate evening pelagic had near perfect conditions, calm seas, good visibility – and recent sightings of White-beaked Dolphins in our regular search area…
Puffins, Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Gannets and Fulmars were expected, but we had a real surprise in the shape of three Harbour Porpoises. In proper porpoise style they didn’t approach the boat, but they didn’t beat a hasty retreat either so everyone managed to see them. We began making our way back south, closer to the shore, but there was still no sign of any dolphins. An interesting sunset over St Mary’s generated a rainbow over the mouth of the Tyne and a remarkable ethereal atmosphere with the quite flat water.
Then, as we approached the mouth of the river, Allan spotted something splashing between the piers. Might be Harbour Porpoise? Might be Sea Trout or Salmon? No, neither of those, as two White-beaked Dolphins breached at the entrance to the Tyne and then swam across in front of us and back again before heading offshore, as daylight faded to black
Puffins, Guillemots, Gannets, Fulmars, Manx Shearwaters and Kittiwakes came and went in the gloom of a strange eerie evening of long rolling swell, and thickening mist.
We’ve still got a few spaces on our Farne Deeps trips, which are our best trips for encountering White-beaked Dolphin and other marine mammals, on 12th and 28th August from Royal Quays, and our birdwatching-focused trips from Royal Quays on 23rd August, 6th September and 13th September. Our Whale and Dolphin Cruise from Seahouses on 30th August is an excellent introduction to offshore wildlife for all the family too Give us a call on 01670 827465 for more details, or have a look at our North Sea pelagic page.
Our rearranged Farne Islands photography workshop was a second day out with NEWT for Bryan, and a chance for him to take on the challenge of Puffins in flight We sailed across to the islands on Glad Tidings IV (returning at the end of the afternoon on St Cuthbert III), and amidst the chaos of Arctic, Sandwich and Common Terns, Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Razorbills and Shags we worked on camera settings for action photography, but also on the elusive, almost instinctive skills that need to be developed to capture flight photographs of such a fast moving target. At one point we swapped cameras, with Bryan taking on the physical challenge of the substantial lump of kit that is a Nikon D300s and 70-200mm f2.8 lens As he settled into a smooth panning action, aided by the weight of my camera/lens, and began taking the shot at just the right time, he switched back to his camera with Puffin after Puffin captured through the lens, and I grabbed a couple of shots myself
Saturday afternoon was our Farne Islands Beginners Photography workshop. I picked Peter up from Eshott as I headed north, and we met up with Doug at Seahouses harbour. This was Peter’s fourth trip this week (on his birthday, following his North Pennines trip on Friday – his wedding anniversary!). Doug had been out with me before too, on our Coastal Dawn photography workshop in March, although the weather was a bit more amenable this time round Settings for wildlife and action photography are very different to the settings for extracting a landscape image from the gloom of an early spring morning, so I ran through the settings on Doug’s camera with my recommendations for how to improve his chances of catching ‘the moment’.
Perhaps the greatest skill a photographer needs on Inner Farne is the ability to tune out the chaos that surrounds them. Common and Arctic Terns form an angry buzzing cloud around the heads of visitors to the island, the harsh calls of Sandwich Terns cut through you as they fly to and from their colony, Puffins shoot by with beakfuls of sandeels, so close that you can feel the rush of air from their wingbeats and the clifftops are covered in Shags, Kittiwakes, Razorbills and Guillemots as Fulmars soar by on stiff outstretched wings. Around the Puffin burrows, groups of Black-headed Gulls sit and wait for the return of what should, on the face of it, be an easy meal. It doesn’t always work out that way though, and the melee provides excellent photo opportunities. That chaos is the Farne Islands strength as a location for our photography workshops though. The wildlife is approachable and obliging, so it’s a great place to concentrate on learning, and practicing, new photography techniques.
We’ve still got a few spaces available for our Farne Islands photography workshop this Saturday (July 5th), so give us a call on 01670 827465 if you’d like to come along
Even when you can see inclement weather ahead of you, there’s usually a light at the end of the tunnel
I collected Stephen from home in North Shields, and then Peter from his holiday cottage at Eshott, and we headed north towards the Northumberland coast and the Farne Islands, our destination for the afternoon. The first half of the day was planned to be a walk along the coast from High Newton, but the deteriorating weather made that an unwelcoming prospect and instead we had a ‘car as a hide’ morning of birdwatching. A Spoonbill in Budle Bay was an unexpected find and the eerie calls of Grey Seals carried through the mist and drizzle across the low-tide mudflats.
Then the light at the end of the tunnel appeared, well not so much a light as an incandescent ball of wildlife magic. We were eating lunch, and looking forward to the journey across to the islands, when Peter said “They look like dolphins off the end of the rocks”. I lifted my binoculars and the view was filled with Bottlenose Dolphins We watched as they passed close to the shore, then they settled and began feeding between Bamburgh Castle and Inner Farne. A quick text to William meant that, by the time we arrived at the harbour, all of his skippers knew where the dolphins were and our journey across to the islands included several minutes with them bow-riding our boat. I’ve been studying this group of dolphins for the last three months, and some inital findings are in MARINElife’s press release. Following a cruise around the islands, we landed on Inner Farne. One of the wardens mentioned that the Bridled Tern had been seen, and a quick sacn soon revealed it’s location in amongst the roosting Arctic, Common and Sandwich Terns. Here are a few pictures of this stunning seabird from last year on Inner Farne
After an hour amongst the Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Fulmars, Shags and terns, we crossed back to the mainland and headed south. Miserable morning, magical afternoon