Skomer's Puffins

Sat 1st Aug 2015 @ 3:18 pm

Welcome to the first blog post on my new website!

What better way to start than with a report from a recent trip guiding for NaturesLens (http://natureslens.co.uk) on Skomer Island in Wales.
Most people in the UK will have guessed the target species and if you hadn’t then the blog title probably gave it away! It’s estimated that Skomer has 6000 breeding pairs of puffins with colonies dotted around the cliffs bringing lots of visitors to the island. 
As part of this trip we stay on the island overnight, not only giving us the best opportunity with evening light but also the chance to have the island pretty much to ourselves because the day trippers have departed. On the first evening we weren’t so lucky with the weather but the puffins were all around us and very active. We all took the chance to get our eye in and bag some simple shots. I also put on a wider lens for a different perspective on this much photographed species. 
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At night the 6000 puffin pairs are put to shame by 316000 pairs of manx shearwaters that also nest, in burrows, on the island. Their eerie cries in the dark with the odd bump as they land near (or on!) you is a real spectacle. Manxies are useless on land so coming home around midnight offers them the best chance of survival. Despite this there were always fresh corpses the following morning, courteous of the top predators on the island - gulls! Mainly great-black backed gulls which will eat most of the nesting sea birds on the island if given the chance. The photo below shows one devouring a puffling.
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On the second evening the light was great and the group were very happy to spend as much as time as possible embracing puffin fever. 
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Though it has been done lots before puffins look lovely if you get low to throw out the background and foreground. There’s nothing wrong with getting some simple shots in the bag whilst the light is working for you.
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The puffins work away bringing food back for their young late into the evening and most of the time they make it through the gauntlet of gulls waiting to try and steal their food. The one below managed to escape, meal intact, and scurry away down its burrow!
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As the sun gets lower and lower the number of puffins on the cliffs and swirling around above you increases - it’s a real climax of activity before heading back to the farm house for tea and cake!
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With dark skies above the island and a clear night we decided to dodge the manxies and stay out late for some astro photography. This was my first play with the techniques and it was good fun.
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On the last morning we headed out in flat light and decided to make the most of it by panning with subjects, specifically some oystercatchers that were defending their wandering chick from the gulls. I really like this style of photography and actually disagree with the notion that the subject has to be sharp, for me sometimes they work when nothing is sharp! The photo below of an oystercatcher seeing off a gull was one of my favourites from the trip. 
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I’ll be leading the same tour next year so if you’re interested in joining me please visit the NaturesLens website - http://natureslens.co.uk
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D