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
Wednesday’s weather was a complete contrast to Tuesday as I collected Mike and Janet from Dunstan Steads. This was their second trip with NEWT, after a Lindisfarne trip last November, and today we were heading across to the Farne Islands.
Starting on dry land, we watched Grey Seals lazing in the sunshine as Skylarks soared overhead, Sandwich Terns plunged into the sea and Gannets soared by on the gentle breeze. Crossing to the islands on St Cuthbert II, we soon had streams of Guillemots, Puffins and Razorbills passing by as Grey Seals popped their heads up out of the water around us and Kittiwakes called their name around the cliffs. Once landed on Inner Farne we came under attack by the feisty Arctic Terns Common Terns and Sandwich Terns kept themselves to themselves as Black-headed Gulls attempted to rob any Puffins that flew back in with fish, Common Eider and Shags continued incubating eggs and brooding chicks, apparently unconcerned by the presence of so many people, and amidst the mayhem and noise of the tern colony one call stood out. ‘Choo-it, choo-it’ grabbed the attention as a ghostly Roseate Tern flew around the lighthouse and then off towards the mainland, and we had another four encounters with this beautiful species befopre we departed for the mainland
Tuesday was our first landing trip to the Farne Islands this year, with the breeding season well underway for some species, and only just getting started for others.
I collected Sally, Ian, Ben and Hannah from Waren Mill (you’d be surprised at how well hidden a holiday cottage can be in such a small village…) and we headed up the coast towards Holy Island for the first part of our day out, soon encountering Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and Common Buzzard. Grey Seals were ‘bottling’ offshore, Whitethroat were singing their scratchy warble from the tops of hawthorn bushes, Brown Hares were chasing each other in and out of dense crops and a group of Sandwich Terns feeding close to the shore were joined by a single Little Tern.
After lunch it was time to head across to the islands, onboard Glad Tidings IV, and we soon had lines of Guillemots flying past, Gannets soaring effortlessly by, Puffins on the water close to the boat, Ben and Hannah spotting jellyfish in the clear still water and the extraordinary experience of the cliffs on Staple Island, up close and personal with the sight, sound, and smell of a seabird colony. Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Razorbills and Shags may be the staple (sorry, please excuse the pun!) fare of the islands precipitous cliffs, and Grey Seals always grab the attention of everyone on board, but the highlight for many of our clients over the last seven and a half years has been landing on Inner Farne. Female Common Eiders, easily overlooked as they sit quietly on their nests, are remarkably approachable and Puffins are a firm favourite, particularly with clients who are taking photographs, but there’s little to compare with being dive-bombed by an angry Arctic Tern Ben had his camera with him, so we spent a while watching the behaviour of the Puffins, determining what they were about to do just before they did it (the secret to great wildlife photography…) and Ben was soon taking some impressive flight shots as birds flew back towards their burrows after fishing forays out to sea. After returning to the mainland, passing dense groups of terns and Kittiwakes as they plunged into shoals of small fish, we spent some time scanning the mudflats of Budle Bay, as Eiders with ducklings swan along the Waren Burn and Curlew probed in the soft gooey mud.
Always an impressive day out – we’ve lived up here for over 20 years and still marvel at the stunning wildlife spectacle of a trip to the Farnes each time we head across there. It’s Thursday now, so we’d like to say “Happy Birthday Hannah”
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
Whenever I head out for a day guiding clients, I have a plan. Occasionally we deviate from that plan…
I was heading to collect Liz and Mark from the Lord Crewe in Bamburgh, for their Farne Islands prestige tour, and I thought I knew what we’d be doing throughout the day – a walk along the coast in the morning, picnic lunch overlooking the Farne Islands and then the 13:00 sailing on Glad Tidings. Simple, straightforward and a routine we’ve followed so many times with almost military precision.
However, just before I arrived in Bamburgh, Alan P. played a wild card “Hi Martin, the dolphins are in Newbiggin Bay”. This introduced another option for the morning…a drive south to try and catch up with the pod of Bottlenose Dolphins that have been hanging around the north east coast since late March. I presented the options to Liz and Mark and they didn’t hesitate to decide on a wild dolphin chase Alan was sending texts to keep me up-to-date with the location of the pod, so the latest information I had as we reached southeast Northumberland was that they’d headed south. A day earlier I’d tracked them down the coast at the same time of day, so I thought they may well have repeated their movements. It isn’t always that simple though, so I headed for a viewpoint that would give us the widest possible spread of coastline in view. That strategy proved the best one as, away to the north, but further offshore than they’d been earlier in the morning, we could see a dark dorsal fin breaking the surface close behind a small fishing boat Having located the pod distantly, we headed for a much closer viewpoint, and enjoyed prolonged views of ~16 Bottlenose Dolphins as they surfaced, breached, and charged through what was presumably a large shoal of Mackerel. As the pod headed north, it was time for us to do the same so that I could get the day back on track.
Lunch was followed by a trip to Inner Farne in a stiff cold breeze. The cliffs were echoing with the onomatopaeic calls of Kittiwake, Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills were coming off the clifftops like guided missiles as they headed out to fish, Gannets soared effortlessly by on the breeze, Fulmars arced around the cliff faces on stiff wings, Grey Seals were hauled out, soaking up the rays, and Cormorant and Shag seemed to be causing confusion amongst some passengers on the boat. As we waited to land at the Inner Farne jetty, a call stood out from the general background mayhem of a seabird breeding colony; ‘choo-it, choo-it’, so distinctive, and a ghostly pale Roseate Tern flew just above our heads before landing with the Arctic, Sandwich and Common Terns roosting near the jetty. On the island we ducked to avoid the attention of some rather agitated Arctic Terns, and concentrated on Liz’s aim for the afternoon – getting a good photograph of a Puffin There were plenty of obliging models to choose from, and we watched as birds returning to their burrows with beaks filled with sandeel were mobbed by Black-headed Gulls. After the chaos of the island, we finished the afternoon relaxing in the dunes at Bamburgh, eating carrot cake as Meadow Pipits and Skylarks sang and displayed in the sky around us
Seeing a familiar location, in unfamiliar conditions, can be like visiting somewhere for the first time. Over the years nearly all of our trips to the Farne Islands have been in glorious weather. I could never be blase about the islands, but sometimes I hope for a new experience…
I arrived at Seahouses Harbour just after 11:30 to meet up with Melanie and Gustavo. Melanie is a journalist from Germany, currently writing a piece about Northumberland, and I’d been asked to be her guide to the Northumberland coast (Farne Islands, Bamburgh Castle, Holy Island). We hit a snag straight away – they’d been delayed in Alnwick and didn’t arrive in Seahouses in time for our sailing around the islands! A quick change of our booking, and a drive to Bamburgh for the quickest tour of the castle imaginable (thanks to Chris and his staff) and we were back in Seahouses for the 13:30 sailing. The earlier sailing had gone out in fine weather, but this one was cold, densely overcast and drizzly; very, very drizzly. The sea was mirror calm all around the islands, disturbed only by the patter of raindrops, revealing huge rafts of Puffins, Guillemots andRazorbills. Kittiwakes shrieked from the cliff faces, Fulmars glided effortlessly overhead and Grey Seals watched warily as we passed by. Common, Arctic andSandwich Terns were fishing, Shags and Cormorants were standing, sentinel like, on the rocks and Gannets passed by on their way to and from distant feeding grounds.
It really did feel like a completely different experience to usual, and Holy Island in the rain, although it’s a very special place too, was going to struggle to match that strange other-worldliness of a seabird colony in the gloom
Last Thursday should have been a bespoke photography trip to the Farne Islands, but a discussion with William on Wednesday evening confirmed what the forecast had been suggesting for a few days – heavy easterly swell would make it impractical to sail. I was out and about in the drizzle so Sarah got in touch with John, David and Sheila and we rearranged the trip for Saturday instead.
That turned out to be an excellent decision, with Saturday dawning dry, bright, sunny and with only a hint of a breeze. We arrived in Seahouses just after 09:00 and were soon onboard Glad Tidings II, with William at the helm, on our way to Staple Island, passing groups of Grey Seals lazing in the sunshine. Staple can be a difficult island to land passengers on, but it’s always worth the effort. Puffins with beakfuls of sandeels were next to the landing and many photographers from our boat didn’t make it any further on to the island for quite some time. Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Shags, Guillemots and Razorbills are all good photographic subjects, Puffins are the real stars of the island but there were some very accessible female Eiders incubating too. A frequent mantra that I try to instill into our photography clients is to choose their battles carefully – whatever focal length lens you have, there’s always the opportunity to take stunning images. Don’t frustrate yourself by trying to over-reach the performance of your equipment. I had a camera with a 70-200mm lens in my rucksack – not a long focal length, but enough when you’ve got a subject quite close. We explored bits of the island looking for a spot that offered Puffins in flight at reasonable distance, and the best bit of the morning on Staple came during our lunch break, when Puffins were flying so close overhead that you could hear the whirring of their wings, and everyone sat back, relaxed and tried to second-guess which direction each Puffin was going to fly With a lovely group of clients, the day was a real pleasure, and we were soon on Glad Tidings IV, transferring to Inner Farne for the afternoon. Inner Farne offers similar to Staple, but with the addition of Common, Arctic and Sandwich Terns and we explored the island in search of photographic subjects. The first three images below are my own. Puffinin flight, Black-headed Gull tussling with Puffin, Arctic Tern and Common Tern images are all (c) J. Spence. Many thanks to John for letting us use his stunning images in this blog post
Beautiful weather, great clients and the ‘Galapagos of the North’ – what a great end to the month, although for NEWT the month wasn’t quite over yet…