Monday, 29 July 2019

In Search of Green Woodpeckers

To finish off the day I went in search of Green Woodpeckers in Dunham Massey Park, about half abhor's drive from home. Green Woodpecker are notoriously shy and difficult to photograph without being in a hide, and any good locations for them are closely guarded secrets. Needless to say, I am not 'in' on any of these secret locations (in Liverpool for example), so I have to make do with what is common knowledge.

Green Woodpeckers are well-known at Dunham Massey Park and can often be heard yaffling if you walk round there.  But finding them is very difficult and photographing them even harder.  The best time is in the early morning or late evening during just after the breeding season after the hordes of people have gone home. They come down to feed on the countess anthills which are present at Dunham  and can sometimes stay long  enough to get a shot.

Although I only got a couple of record shots, I did have some great views of them flying across an area which I though might well produce some good flight shots.  But tonight I couldn't stay long enough, so that would have to be for next time.

I don't normally take photograph of rabbits, but these two youngsters were so cute I couldn't resist!

I also saw this albino Fallow Deer which I thought looked quite unusual, so I took a photo.

Saturday, 20 July 2019

The Fabulous Farne Islands

Warning Will Robinson, this post is still a work in progress ...

Last week I took my wife Sarah to see the fabulous Farne Islands and I'm very pleased to say that she was disappointed. We fired up Bessy, our old motorhome and birdmobile, and from the moment we left my fingers weren't permanently crossed that we didn't break down. Thankfully, Bessy performed admirably.  However, the weather could be a different matter I was thinking - from several very hot and sunny days it had suddenly turned to dull overcast skies and heat rain.

I'd booked two nights on Springhill Farm caravan and camping site at Seahouses and, after a scenic detour from the A1 which was closed at one section, we arrived there in just less than five hours, an hour and a half longer the planned.  I'd been to this site in 2017 on my first visit to the Farnes and I was pleased to say that the camp site was still as good as I'd remembered it.

After checking in we took quick look at the harbour area in Seahouses to decide where to park in the morning and I was horrified to see that the whole harbour was cordoned off and undergoing works to prevent it crumbling into the sea. It was still open to passengers for the trips however.  Nevermind, there was more parking up in the village centre which was still within an acceptable walking distance for me and my heavy camera gear.

We had fish and chips at one of the restaurants and then took a drive along the coastal road to the pretty village of Bamburgh and its very impressive castle.  I recanted the tale of Grace Darling and her daring rescue as we drove past the churchyard where she is buried and Sarah got a brief glimpse of her tomb.  She also pointed the Grace Darling museum on the opposite side of the road.

The weather wasn't getting any better and it was quite dark by now, so we decided to head back to the campsite and a cup of tea before going to bed.

After a reasonable good night's sleep we had breakfast and set off for the harbour. I had originally planned to get there very early to secure a price parking space, but with the harbour being out of bounds due to the works, it wasn't so pressing.

I checked in at the Billy Shiels ticket office to get the tickets and then at the National Trust office to get the landing passes, which were in the form of wrist bands.  Landing on the islands costs a staggering extra £34.50 per person if you're not a member of the National Trust, so in 2017 I joined the Scottish National Trust, which is half the price of the (English) National Trust and we've been join members ever since.  The two organisations have reciprocal agreements for allowing member to visit their properties and as yet, we've never been refused entry into a National Trust site with our Scottish memberships.

Soon we were boarding the St, Cuthbert III and on our way to the Farnes.

More text to follow .... 

Friday, 19 July 2019

Things are coming up Roseate!

On our way home from Seahouses and the Farne Islands, we decided to take the coastal route to Amble, where we could go on the short boat trip to Coquet Island in search of Roseate Terns.  We first stopped at the ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle for a bit of cultural history before quickly passing through the picturesque village of Almouth and then on to Amble.

Dunstanburgh Castle ruins

Lunch was taken in a lay-by alongside the River Coquet where this Curlew was feeding briefly before it saw me.  There were also Lapwing, Oystercatchers, Shelduck, Mallards and a variety of Gulls about, and just one solitary Sandwich Tern.


Coquet Island lies about a mile offshore from Amble and is well known for its breeding population of Roseate Terns - it's probably the best (i.e.most reliable) place to see them in the UK. The Puffin Cruises boat trip only lasts an hour or so of which most of the time is spent getting there and back. However, the best shots I got from the trip were of birds flying over the water on the journey including this low-flying Puffin.


The trip route varies according to the tides and weather and on this occasion the sea was too choppy to sail around the island and the tide was too low to get very close to the shore. So I had to make do with some record shots of the adult Roseate Terns, although quite by fluke I managed a good shot of a newly fledged juvenile.

Adult Roseate Tern

Juvenile Roseate Tern
Rows of nesting boxes and walls with holes in them line the low cliff face to provide breeding areas for the birds and it's not possible to land on the island in order protect them. There are Sandwich, Common and Arctic Terns all nesting within close proximity as well as Puffins.

Adult Sandwich Tern taking off

Juvenile Common Tern
Adult Common Tern

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Partial Lunar Eclipse in Tyldesley

I knew there was going to be a partial lunar eclipse tonight, but I wasn't going to bother taking any photographs because the moon was very low in the sky and I couldn't see it from my back garden. I found this strange because yesterday it had been a very clear and bright full moon for much of my late night journey home from Bempton Cliffs in Yorkshire.

But just before going to bed I thought I'd have one last look from the front of my house and there it was, glowing orangey-red in the sky and rapidly getting smaller.  All plans of going to bed were quickly abandoned and I went for my camera, tripod and cable release.

I've never really mastered the art of taking photographs of the moon or night sky and everything becomes a matter of trial and error, which means taking loads of shots on different settings. I set up at the front of my house where anyone in the street could see me and although not many people or cars went past, but I'm sure those that did were thinking, 'What's this nutter doing?'.

After a couple of minutes of taking a range of shots I settled on an ISO, aperture and shutter speed that seemed to work OK.  But although the moon started off quite clear and bright, it was getting smaller as the Earth's shadow on it grew and clouds were starting to appear too.  All this made it very difficult to focus and get a clear shot. These shots don't have the clarity and detail of shots I've taken on clear winter's nights, but they do show the progression of the eclipse quite nicely.

The last shot shows that the moon was indeed almost full and that the Earth cast a shadow on it rotated.  So there you have it, the final lunar eclipse of 2019 as seen from Tyldesley in Greater Manchester.

Monday, 15 July 2019

Bempton Cliffs Practise

In order to help choose which lenses and camera bodies to take to the Farne Islands later this week, I took a long day trip to Bempton Cliffs RSPB on the east Yorkshire Coast. Gannets were to be the main focus here with Puffins, Razorbills, Guillemots, Kittiwakes and Fulmars also prime targets.

Gannet - Look into my eyes!
4th Year Gannet

2nd Year Gannet
3rd Year Gannet

3rd year Gannet




Guillemot in flight