Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Monday, 30 July 2018

Friday, 6 July 2018

Going Pelagic with a few Chums!

Today I went on my first pelagic birding trip ever, which for the uninformed means birding from a boat out at sea.  The target birds for the trip were diving Gannets, Manx Shearwaters and hopefully a few Petrels and Skuas.  Although things didn't go exactly to plan I still had a good day out with some great photographers.

The trip was arranged by Wirral birder Richard Steel, who does this kind of thing every year now - indeed I'd been invited on a trip last year which unfortunately had to be cancelled due to bad weather.

So ever since then my sea sickness tablets have been sitting in drawer waiting for another invite! I took one before I went to bed around 9pm and another when I got up at 3am, but luckily I didn't really seem to need them as the sea wasn't pretty calm most of the time.

Last year it was Dave Williams who had kindly put my name forward to be one of the bird photographers on this trip and this year it was his friend, Mike Nesbitt, who asked me.  Although I had never met these chaps in person before, I sort of felt I knew them through reading their posts and seeing their photos in various places on the world wide web.  I'd also chatted with them occasionally on internet forums in the past.

The other bird photographers included Steve Round, who I had met briefly at Barrow Lodges whilst photographing the long-staying Common Scoter there, Paul Foster and Austin Thomas both of whom I'd never met before.  So together with Gary Flint, the skipper of the twin-hulled fishing vessel 'Discovery' and his partner Ian, a total of eight of us went out in to Liverpool Bay at 5:30am this morning.

It took about an hour to reach the chosen location in the bay which was beyond the wind farms that can be seen from the North Wales coast.  It made a change to be seeing them from the other side with the coastline in the background instead of the open sea.  The large gas platform was also on the other side of us.

Pelagic trips like this rely on providing food and a scent trail for the target birds. We were each asked to bring a couple of loaves of bread to throw for the gulls, as once they start feeding behind the boat it attracts the Gannets to come and have a look.  Of course it's not bread that the Gannets are after, it's fish, so we also put out a couple of fishing rods to catch Mackerel which later would be chopped up and thrown out for the Gannets.  I actually caught five Mackerel on my first attempt at fishing - not bad for a beginner!

Richard had made up some 'chum' consisting of cod liver oil mixed up with popcorn. He had also been working on some chemical concoctions consisting basically of of boiled seaweed and cod liver oil (I think) to provide a scent trail which hopefully would attract the Petrels.  This chemical mixture was placed on a small polystyrene raft tethered to the back of the boat so that the fumes could be blown into the air just above the water. A bottle was also hung over the back of the boat which slowly dripped cod liver oil into the sea creating a slick behind us as we drifted.

We were accompanied by a raft of Lesser Black-backed Gulls for most of our trip, with the occasional Herring Gull and Common Gull thrown in.  We did have one or two dives by a couple of Gannets, but the most we saw at once was only four or five of these large magnificent yellow-headed birds.

Catching two large 40lb Tope was one of the highlights of the trip. These shark relatives are pure muscle with sharp teeth and so they are quite difficult to land a release from the hook.  But Gary and Ian are two experienced fishermen and they soon showed us how it was done.

Paul was desperate to catch one for himself and with a bit of help he did it. Apart from loads of Mackerel, the fish that were caught included two Huss or Dogfish, a couple of Launce or Sand Eels and many poisonous Weever fish.

To be continued with a few more photos ...

Sunday, 1 July 2018

A Day Out with the Peregrines

After the disappointment of the Scarborough Peregrines' breeding failure this year, I turned my attention to some other birds which had successfully bred at Malham Cove in Yorkshire. And it's funny how things turn out as this has now just become my new favourite place to photograph Peregrines in a natural environment.

Right from the start I should say that all my photographs of these Schedule 1 birds were taken either from the limestone pavement or from the public footpath at the top of Malham Cove where I was regularly chatting with walkers and day trippers who passed by.  Throughout the breeding season the RSPB have a Peregrine Watch at the foot of the Cove with spotting scopes pointing at the nest site which is widely publicised.

I'm very lucky because there is a Peregrine nest site only 10 minutes from my home, but it's in a town and so although it's great to have them here, most of my previous Peregrine photographs either have them in a nest box or on a building or just in the sky.  And you can only have so many blue sky flight shots before it gets boring.

I prefer taking bird photographs in natural surroundings and the cliffs at Scarborough provide a great backdrop, particularly for flight shots.  But Scarborough is two and a half hours drive for me and you do need to be there in the morning to get the light on the right side of the cliffs. So Malham, which is only one and a half hour's drive from my home now gets my vote for this type of photograph, especially when the sun is shining like it is at the moment.  And better still, you can easily get at eye level and above the birds to get some overwing shots, instead of being underneath them all the time as at most other places.

This year two Peregrine chicks have fledged successfully and they are happily flying around the area around Malham Cove although still under the watchful eyes of their parents.  At times the huge ampitheatre which is the Cove echoes with the sound of the birds screeching for food - a truly wonderful sound.

The chicks are brown compared to their parents' grey colour and so are quite easy to spot once you have got your eye in.  There can be long waits between each flying session when the birds just sit perched on a rock ledge or in a tree and I was there for over six hours to get these shots with less than half an hour total flying time.

So here's a piece of trivia to end on which to end this post. The Peregrine's nostrils were the inspiration for part of the design of modern day jet engines. The air pressure from a Peregine's 200mph stoop or dive could easily damage the bird's lungs so the opening of the nostrils contain small bony tubicles which protrude slightly and which guide the air entering them reducing the pressure and shock waves created.

This enables the bird to breathe whilst in a stoop by reducing the change in air pressure. You can see the tubicles in the photo directly above. Jet engines were later developed with a cone in them just like the Peregrine's nostrils which allows the air to pass through at great speed in a very similar way. Once again, a human invention inspired by nature.

As I mentioned earlier, this is now the 'go to' place for all my Peregrine shots, and next year I'll be getting there even earlier the year to watch the events fully unfold.  But I better let the bird have the last word.