Photography – what have I got out of it? More importantly what can YOU get out of it?

I can’t ever remember NOT having a camera around, in fact I was brought up in a house where photographs were very important. My Dad was very much into taking photographs on family holidays, developing his own photographs, and making us sit through hours of slide shows. I must admit to not having too much interest in those days though I too would take snaps on those holidays using a cheapie camera… My interest came later as I started to take a camera along to rock concerts that I used to attend in the London area during my late teens.

I remember being handed down a Pentax SLR by my Dad that I somehow managed to lose together with a couple of good lenses – left on a train I believe So from then on I moved into the small pocket camera phase, which was always set on “Auto” allowing the camera to do the work for me. Thinking back to those days of film etc it was always a thrill when you managed to get 25 photos returned out of a 24 exposure film – mainly all blurred but the excitement of getting something for nothing ๐Ÿ˜‰ Nowadays I may rattle of 1000-2000 clicks on the DSLR in one outing and think nothing of it, so imagine how much easier it is now to take unlimited pics and pick your best ones… though the sorting through and deleting stage now in order to sort the wheat from the chaff can be exhausting. Up until 5 years ago I still had compact camera’s and always set to automatic. Then, looking at easing back on work into a “semi-retired” phase of my life I decided to take up a more “serious hobby” and bit the bullet to buy some “proper photography kit”.

Why photography? Well I always felt I had an artistic side to my personality that I had never been able to express. I loved music, collected guitars ( I have a collection of 30 plus) but could not play to save my life. I tried painting, and writing in fact all sorts of things but nothing really pressed my buttons. My parents would say I flitted in and out of interests and hobbies and they would be right – I had not found anything that held a passion for me until I started taking photography seriously…


So I jumped it and the first decision was… Nikon or Canon. I chose Nikon but thought there was at that time not a lot between them. I looked at reviews and in my mind Nikon came out on top. So I bought a D7000 and a couple of lenses off eBay which were I think Tamron. I also enrolled at my local college on a one evening a week for 6 weeks course on basic photography. I had no idea what ISO was, or managing light and shutter speeds as “Auto” had always taken care of that for me. So with DSLR camera now in Aperture Priority I embarked on my journey. My shots were hit and miss so what did I blame? Why the equipment of course !! So I decided on a plan of action – get the best equipment that I “couldn’t” afford so that if the pictures still came out crap I couldn’t blame the camera and lenses. They still did come out poor so I knew it was my lack of knowledge and set about changing that.


I decided that I wanted to focus on wildlife photography so I looked around and came across Danny Green – best phone call I ever made was my first to Danny. So helpful and answered even my most basic ridiculous questions without judging my lack of knowledge. I started going to the hides he was involved with, did some of his weekend breaks also along with Mark Sissons and gradually my knowledge increased. You just have to listen to people that you share hides with, take on board any advice given and don’t be afraid to try new things or importantly ASK QUESTIONS ! ย I am still very much learning now, and don’t think you can ever know everything. There are some great photographic mentors out there, and also a few knob-heads ย so far up their back-sides its unbelievable. But I have made so many good “friends and acquaintances” through this hobby. I have been to places that I would never have dreamt of going before, and seen animals I had only seen on TV. You don’t even need to go far and wide to see them – often they are on your own doorstep.

Greg Coyne 2

Though being up in Scotland in a freeezzzing hide, snow and sleet may not spring to mind as being one of the best situations to be in, but to see a Black Grouse Lek is amazing. To see a fox cub or a diving Osprey from a steaming hot hide on a glorious summers day may not be everyones cup of tea but you put up with the conditions in the hope of “nailing” just one shot. Unless you have seen an Osprey dive and surface with a large trout its impossible to get that adrenalin rush over to someone else – you have to personally experience it. To see a tiger ( albeit briefly) emerge from a forest in India is an awesome sight never to be forgotten. All of these experiences you take in can be recorded and stored not just in your mind but also on the camera.

Greg Coyne 1

Photography has got me out in th countryside, got me walking up and down hills carrying 14-15kg on my back plus the tripod etc. It helps keep me fitter than I would otherwise be. It has opened my eyes to look up rather than walk around looking down – there is another world up in the trees and the sky….

I wish I had taken up this hobby/passion more seriously when I was younger. I can’t help but feel I missed out on so much. It can be an expensive hobby but its not the camera and lens that is all important – its the user behind the camera. There are many great photographers who get amazing photographs from their older and less expensive gear.

Are you ready to dive in and really experience photography and all that it can bring? It may just open up another world to you…

Skays Camp Lodge in Tala (Bandhavgarh) – a great place to be based.

I have had a few emails asking where we stayed whilst visiting Bandhavgarh. The trip, which was organised by Natures Images and Danny Green, put us at Skays Camp where Danny had stayed in the past. This really is an idyllic place to stay. Its just 5 minutes from the Reserve Entrance and has everything you could wish for in order to have an enjoyable stay.


When you arrive through the gates you are greeted by a sumptuous garden, with Butterflies all over the place. Beautiful trees, fragrant smells, and the accommodation is either side of the main eating/dining building.


I shared a double room with Pete, which was pretty large. It actually had three single beds in it, storage areas, a large wet room/bathroom including shower, wash basin and toilet. This room was just used to sleep in and clean camera gear in as any other spare time was spent wandering around the garden areas, checking out the numerous butterflies, birds and … spiders. Oh and the room had Wi-Fi access….


The dining area was a separate complex where there was endless cups of T on offer at any time, from 5.30 in the morning before our first drive of the day, through to 11.00 in the evening when Danny and Paul were setting the world to rights. Though I think it was probably beer they were drinking and not tea ๐Ÿ˜‰ When we returned from the first drive each morning we returned to a sumptuous breakfast spread – fruit, toast, juice, freshly cooked omelettes, jam, and the best Samosas that I have ever tasted. I actually thought I would come back having lost some weight but those damn samosas put paid to that idea.


The evening meal was usually between 6.30 and 7.00 and consisted of popadoms, breads, and an array of vegetarian dishes. There really was too much to eat and drink. In fact on one evening Kay finally succumbed to Danny’s wish for an Egg and Chips dinner instead of the vegetarian dishes and it was great. What made the breakfasts and dinners special were the fact that Satyendra and Kay ate with us and kept us informed about all things Bandhavgarh, Tigers, India and many other interesting subjects. The hosts were brilliant and nothing at all was too much trouble.


The staff working with Satyendra and Kay were impeccable – polite, helpful, and always there when needed. Nothing ever seemed too much trouble.


For me this accommodation was ideal for the Tiger Trip and I am already thinking about the possibility of going back under my own steam, maybe with a few photographic mates, to have another crack at those elusive tigers. I can’t think of anywhere I would rather stay than Skays Camp…

Tigers of Bandhavgarh… I know you are in there somewhere! Aren’t You??

Tigers…. WOW !!! India and a different culture and perspective… WOW !!! This could be my trip of a lifetime so way back in the tail end of 2012 or early 2013 I think I booked up for this trip. With two great guys leading the trip it was going to be awesome and I looked forward to getting some of those close up Tiger encounter pics that adorn the web.

Eventually the 4th November 2014 arrived and I met up with the other 6 travellers and our two leaders at Heathrow. We got through baggage control easily – didn’t even bother about our overweight hand baggage – and after what seemed like an age ( well an 8 hour flight with screaming babies/kids) we arrived in Delhi. The first thing I noticed was not the heat but the yellow smog everywhere. Not a very welcoming image at all. We then regrouped and headed off to the Ibis for an overnight stay before catching a morning flight to Jabalpur and then a 3 hour drive to Tala at Bandhavgarh.

The flight was great – about 90 minutes – and the car journey to Tala was my first real view of rural India. It was beautiful scenery, unusual birdlife alongside the road, and the women dressed in their Sari’s working in the fields and building bridges and other labouring work while the men seemed to sit outside cafes, smoking and drinking coffee. Just like home I guess ๐Ÿ˜‰ If I had a ยฃ1 for everytime our driver beeped his hooter or overtook on the brow of a hill or a blind bend I would be a millionaire!


We arrived at Tala, having had to stop to fix a puncture on one of our convoy of taxis, drove through the busy main street trying to avoid cattle just wandering around aimlessly. As we drove in through the gates to our lodge area I was greeted by a beautiful garden, beautiful smells, and our gracious hosts and their employees. We were shown to our rooms – I was sharing with Pete who was a great guy ( but oh could he snore). In fact when we shared at the Ibis I thought I may have been sleeping next to a Wildebeest. Not quite in the Danny Green level but way up there about !!!


From now on it would be the same procedure each day as we were booked to visit the Reserve with morning and evening drives. This entailed a wakeup for 4.45, cup of T at 5.30, and off to the Reserve in our convoy of jeeps at 6.00. We would then get back from the drive at 10.30, have breakfast ( which was HUGE and very welcome – and boy those Samosas were good and spicy) at 11.00 and then amuse ourselves until the next drive with a ย 2.00 meet up and finish at 5.15 ish. The only day this differed was Wednesday when the park closed in the afternoon so other “entertainment” would be sorted.

OK so now you know the routine so what about the photography which is I guess why you are suffering my musings on here. Well we had 15 drives booked over the time we were staying here, and we had 3 jeeps going out on each drive. We get allocated a route ( there are 4 routes in all) and it was pot luck which you would get. I had not prepared myself for how uncomfortable these jeeps are when climbing and bumping about of gravel roads and up mountains and also how you had to ensure that firstly all of your gear was covered up ( the dust is awful) and that you held on to your gear tightly. Let your grip go at your peril !! Either you, or your camera, or both could bounce out of the jeep.


The scenery is amazing, the jungle, the mountains, and of course the wildlife. I could go on now and give you a day by day of the trips and what we saw … but I won’t. Basically we saw lots of Langur moneys, Macaque monkeys, Spotted Deer, Samba Deer, Wild Boar, various birds including some amazing owls and eagles, BUT….. where were the tigers? We knew they were there as we saw the occasional pug marks showing the cats had walked to tracks during the early morning, of during the lunchtime break, we could see where they had sat down on the track for a scratch, we could see the occasional scent marks, but where were the Tigers? Well I was one of the “lucky” ones as on Day 3 my jeep which consisted of myself, Helen, Paul Hobson and our driver and guide, tracked one down aided by the alarm calls form the deer and the Langur monkeys. It was a way away but we could hear in in the undergrowth growling/breathing… we waited in the jeep with huge anticipation. We were then joined by 4 other jeeps who like us waited quietly. Then the tiger broke cover and slowly walked across in front of us between trees and vegetation/shrubs. This was a long distance shot but I had the 200-400mm at the ready and cracked off a burst, and then another. Then the tiger was gone, it settled down for a few seconds out of view and then headed off to an area that we had no access to. That was my first Tiger glimpse and it lasted about 30 seconds.


I think for the first 5 days no-one else in our group had any Tiger sighting whatsoever so I counted myself fortunate. So 30 of our 45 drives approximately ( total for the group) and just one brief sighting. If I am honest disbelief and disappointment was starting to creep in. This was not how it was meant to be… would we go the rest of the trip with no further sightings. We now knew which zones stood more of a chance of getting a sighting ย – and that was BD zones. They were more open, more light forest, marshland, and didn’t involve huge climbs over the mountains or along the boundary fences. It was also where I had obtained the only group sighting up to that point. But we cheered ourselves up and knew that at any moment it could all happen for us and it just took one great sighting to fill your card with images!! Our guides were now getting concerned themselves and instead of a Tala drive one morning they arranged an alternative to another part of Bandhavgarh where tigers had been sighted – called Mughdi area. But we even blanked in this area as well. So far since we had been out there we had only heard of three tiger sighting throughout the Reserve in total, just just our drives. But luck was going to change – not for me but for one jeep of our party.


We had drawn zone DB which was not bad, but BD was better. You have to go through the first zone and then on to the second zone in that order. We set off doing zone D, heard a few distant alarm calls, saw a few pub marks, but as we progressed towards the end of our first zone D we noticed unusually we were seeing no oncoming jeeps coming out of zone B and into our zone D. That could only mean two things!! Firstly the five jeeps in zone B had got lost and were driving about aimlessly looking for a Starbucks ORRRR they had located a Tiger. So we tore off in the zone B at a rate of knots ( or bumps) and sure enough around the lake and the dam area were 4 jeeps at least all laughing and training lenses off over the lake.


Apparently two tigers were spotted on this nearside bank in the undergrowth. Not close up but close enough to get some half decent picures. They had then decided to swim across the lake over to the far side, climb up the bank, move off in to the sparse undergrowth and then roll about drying themselves off. By the team we had arrived in our jeep the action was over. I could hardly get any view at all of what the others were seeing way in the distance as the one remaining tiger messed about sunning itself and rolling around playfully. Eventually I caught a glimpse, rattled off half a dozen very very long distance shots, as the tiger got up and moved off into another no access area of the reserve. So now I was feeling lucky – well sort of! At least I had now had TWO tiger sightings even if they were just record shots. Some of our party still had seen nothing….


The day before we were due to come back home there was one other sighting that I had. We were first on the scene having followed tracks and alarm calls. But it was not to be my lucky day… again! This day I was in a jeep that had horizontal bench seats rather than the cross way seats. So when the guide shouted Tiger as we were listening to alarm calls I was facing the wrong way. I jumped up with camera/lens and Monopod moving in to position quickly but too late – the tiger had gone and the sighting lasted just a few seconds. Long enough for Helen who was facing the right way and sitting on the facing fence to rattle off a couple of shots and they were pretty good. Still long distance but she really did well with a few really sharp images in the undergrowth. The tiger was walking slowly across the hillside so our driver decided an intercept may be possible. He stuck the jeep in first and moved off… not a good idea as I was still standing up in the jeep hanging on to my gear. I fell back – almost on to Helens lap – banging my shin and twisting my knee as I collapsed on to the bench seat behind. Thankfully my gear was still all in one piece even if I was suffering a bit ๐Ÿ˜‰ ย The tiger meanwhile had started to head up the hill so another victory to the Tigers of Bandhavgarh….


We saw no other tigers for the rest of the trip, not just our jeep but the rest of the group. Others in our group did manage to see Leopard, and also Jungle Cats ( including cubs) but for me it was just Langur Monkeys and Spotted Deer.


So why was it this bad? Why no tiger sighting where others who have visited the Reserve this year had achieved great photos and sighting? Well there is an answer – at the tail end of August apparently two new tigers, males, moved in to the area. They had one thing on their mind, like all men, that is to get a territory, get a mate, and get laid ๐Ÿ˜‰ So these tigers moved in, and they drove out the parks dominant male. Now this male had a family that had grown up over 10 years being used to jeeps, photographers, noise, and so were their cubs. The park had been in a relaxed state for a long long time. But things were now changing!! With the dominant male now driven out to find a new territory the new tigers did what is expected of them and proceeded to kill the cubs ย – I think there were 3 or 4 cubs. The female tigress refused the advances of the incoming male tiger(s) and tried in vain to protect her cubs. Unfortunately she too was killed by the new tigers. So the reserve is now in a state of flux – two new male tigers who have a fear of jeeps etc and prefer to stay hidden, just wandering the paths in quiet periods and overnight, and what is becoming an increase now of male cubs which all eventually get thrown out to find new territories. Apparently research shows that stressed tigress produce more male cubs. Not good news for Bandhavgarh and its future. If you also add to that the huge increase in Leopards in this area it could be worrying times ahead….


In terms of tiger sightings this was a disappointing trip – but nature doesn’t usually play ball fairly. But the trip as a whole was great as it was a totally new experience for me . The company was great and the leaders, guides and drivers couldn’t have done more or worked harder to put us on tigers. Would I go back or has it put me off? No its not put me off at all BUT I would not go back until I knew things had settled down again and it has made me think seriously about future trips. Of course I could go back in the hot season and just stake out a watering hole – shots almost guaranteed. I like a bit of a challenge so not sure that would be for me ( though I may have easily settled for that after 10 days of virtually no sightings this trip), I just think that the timing was wrong for us on this trip due to these unusual circumstances, and while hugely disappointed I would still like another crack at it sometime.

AddendumI have now been back 2 weeks and I have this really strong feeling gnawing away at me of failure and – for the first time – not coming back with shots I wanted. Sometimes nature sucks!! I have now seen recent pictures this week coming out of Tala and the Tigers have now been showing. In fact my guide sent me an email last night 1.12.2014 saying that had spent 2 HOURS with a tiger yesterday… ย Not really sure how you can reconcile this disappointment as its not like you can just take yourself away for a weekend to “try again”… oh well!!

Osprey – the ultimate fisherman….

I had booked a two day weekend with Jo and Gordon up at Rothymurchis in Aviemore to photograph ducks and leaping trout. Actually thats a lie – it was to photograph Ospreys but the trout and the ducks were intent on photo-bombing many of my shots taken.

I travelled up to Edinburgh on the Thursday and stayed overnight before travelling to Aviemore on the Friday afternoon. After a quick meet and greet with the other guys on the trip and our guides for the weekend it was an early night as we had a 4.00 am meet up the next morning at the Fishery. I must admit this trip was filling me with some trepidation. I had seen so many great photographs taken at Rothy’ and I was a bit concerned I would come back home with lots of out of focus pictures. I had heard the stories about how quick these birds plummet on to the trout and then they are off… not sure I felt I would be able to do these magnificent birds justice.

The first morning we met up in darkness and proceeded to the hides. Which hide we would use depended upon wind direction but we settled in to No4 and waited. The light was non existent so ISO was set at very very high and I was unsure how the D4 would cope with high ISO’s. In fairness any shots taken in this light would just be taken as a record and not for quality of photograph. Having said that IF a bird had come up with two trout in its talons I would not have been worried about quality too much lol. Needless to say that didn’t happen. Early on the only visits were from ducks and a resident heron… What was interesting though was the number of trout that were leaping from the water, probably due to low oxygen levels…


We did get an early dive, not in brilliant light, but the lead up to the dive was a real adrenalin rush. We were using a spotter who was relaying by walkie talkie the position and behaviour of any birds overhead and around the fields etc. The birds tend to circle getting lower and lower before tipping their shoulder and plummeting to the Locken/Pond… You have to be very quick to lock on and then track and let off rapid shots to freeze the action..


There is quite a bit of weight in these fish and coming from under the water in the dive great effort is required by the Osprey to get airborne agin – a great reason to have a wingspan of approaching 5 foot!

The wind actually changed direct so when the air was clear we moved over to Hide 2 and this was a great decision as the dives we had and the exit route for the birds was spectacular…. here are some more photographs.



We finished that session at around 9.30 and everyone was buzzing. We had FOUR dives in the last twenty minutes. ย This was incredible action considering it had been quiet for many hours previous as birds were calling, being chased off by the dominant bird, and aborting dive after dive…

We returned in the evening and the action continued. Bad light and rain was not kind to us but the birds continued to dive and we had two fantastic pieces of action before packing up at around 8.00 because of the light and rain.


The Sunday morning was strange as all the torrential rain eased as we entered to hide at 4.30 and within an hour or so we were being bathed in bright sunlight. Good news you would have thought but NO !! It was too bright and this would burn out all of the white on the underside of the birds. So we had to photograph in -2 exposure and lower…

Though the action was slower we still had three great dives – one ended up with no fish so the bird regrouped and came in again and had a successful dive.


Would I recommend this trip? Yes I would in fact I loved it so much I have already booked for another in 2015. I stated in a homely bed and breakfast just 2 minutes from the fishery which was ideal. The Cairngorm Hotel does superb food ( and beer) in Aviemore. It was a great trip from start to finish. I already know what shots I will be trying to acquire next year, what mistakes I made this year, and hope the birds return safely for more of the same in 2015! I would also like to do the Ospreys on Perch next year, with Pete Cairns so will add a couple of extra days to the visit, maybe take in some Dolphins as well near Inverness.


Someone just asked about the hides so here is my view on them…. Superb !!! They are just a 5 minute walk ( if that). They seat 5 comfortably, have great viewing, and loads of room behind the seats for gear etc. There are 4 hides so depending upon wind direction depends upon where you will be placed. All thats missing in these hides is a kettle and your slippers lol


Pine Martens in the Scottish Highlands …

After an overnight stay in Glasgow I met up with Danny at the Corran Ferry. It was then just a 30 minute drive around the coast and then inland to the hidden valley where we would stay for the next 3 nights to photograph Pine Martens. We arrived around 1.00pm…

We were staying in a very small cottage ( when I say we the party consisted on Danny Green and three guests including myself). The cottage was pretty basic and consisted on a kitchen, 2 bedrooms and a bathroom. There is literally nothing else around here other than a log felling facility over the other side of the valley.


The Pine Martens apparently visited the garden of the cottage so we did not have far to travel each day – literally just fall out of bed and grab the camera gear. In fact we had only arrived at the cottage a few minutes before one of the Pine Martens made an appearance at the end of the garden. I guess they must know Danny’s voice ( or smell his ciggies) by now. So without further ado we grabbed the camera gear and set up – no real need for hides here though they were provided if required. This was a very very wet afternoon and evening. In fact it wasnt very long before I discovered that my Paramo jacket was NOT waterproof. By the time we eventually finished the photography and went indoors for some food ( around 9.30) A couple of large Pizza and chips and I was almost feeling human again.


I had taken about 1000 pics, my gear was drenched and I was absolutely waterlogged. The drying facillities were a few radiators, and drip dry. I wish I had brought a second jacket with me as there was no way this Paramo was going to dry out before the morning….


So up at 5.30 next morning, and basically straight out and setting up again in the garden ready for the first visit of the day… The Paramo had not dried so it was on with the wet jacket. Hopefully we would get some sun to dry things out a bit… One of the problems with the small cottage is that Danny was sleeping in the kitchen so no chance to get a cuppa or a bite until he surfaced. Now there is snoring ( I am told I do) and there is mega snoring – like the wife – and then there is Danny snoring! If you are lying in bed, eyes shut and listening you could almost imagine you are in the Serengety surrounded by a herd of Wildebeest… If there were an Olympic medal for snoring then just give it to Danny lol


Weather on the Saturday and the Sunday was much better. No rain, cloudy so poor light most of the time but we were greeted by a number of visits. We were lucky that we were being visited by the mother and her kittens. The kits were great fun – very enquisitive and very playful. Afternoons the light was much better and up here you can easily photograph on high ISO until 9.00 or 9.30…


Danny made sure that the perches were changed frequently to get some great and varied shots and kept some enticement for the Pine Martens ( namely jam and peanut butter) going. The format of this trip is the same for each day, though you can walk down the road and there is a great little river, where you can get some good butterfly photographs. The Scotch Argus was about when we were there, the conditions ideal for them.


The final morning of the trip we were up at 5.00 as the light and sunshine was superb. As I was woken and stumbled in to the bathroom I glanced out of the window to be greeted by a young Pine Marten strolling past the window… We were all out in the garden and all managed some great shots. The garden is also visited by lots of Chaffinch, Siskin and the odd Robin or two. Even a Banded Pupa Wasp made a visit … though I think I could have done without the latter. Again there were perches set up so that in quiet monents you could grab some nice bird pictures…

It terms of what equipment you need up here…

I worked mainly with a 200-400mm F4 Nikon, and occasionally used a 500mm. I took a 70-200mm up as well but didnt use it. Take lots of cards and spare batteries. There is electricity here so you can recharge batteries. The “must haves” are a waterproof coat, head net, and midge repellant. If you have a camera that works well with high ISO then its a real bonus..


It was really a shame that this trip ended so quickly. Everyone had a great trip and managed to get some great photographs. I would recommend this trip to anyone who wants to add the Pine Marten to their portfolio. I suppose I should mention the Midges – they are a real pain up here and a head net and gloves are essential. If you are venturing to this West side of the Highlands dont forget the Smidge, Jungle or Ever so Soft as you WILL need it. Photographing through one of the head nets is not ideal but given that choice or being bitten all over, I will take the head net ๐Ÿ˜‰

Fair Isle Puffins….

Getting to Fair Isle…
This holiday I took was held on Fair Isle and involved flights from Birmingham to Aberdeen, Aberdeen to Sumburgh and then Sumburgh to Fair Isle. I’m sure this was a logistical nighmare for the organisers as its a bit hit/miss getting over to Fair Isle by the small plane, and avoiding the small ferry that also goes a couple of times a week… The plane takes just 30 minutes to get over but the ferry… well between two and a half and three hours depending upon weather conditions. It can be rough seas in that part of the world… and if its too rough they just won’t sail. This is not a ferry like a Stena Line ferry, this is a smallish boat similar to a fishing boat ( similar to some of the Farne Islands boats) so sea-sick tablets are probably advisable.
An overnight stay at Sumburgh, in the Meadowvale (part of the Sumburgh Hotel) was pleasant but the trip over to Fair Isle from Tingwall Airport was anything but… A 9.30 departure was thwarted by an aborted flight 5 minutes in air due to fog, the weather closed in over Fair Isle and we were left waiting back at the airport until mid-afternoon for another attempt. The weather in Sumburgh was glorious, but in Fair Isle it was cloudy and foggy… so frustrating. Eventually we had another “scramble” to the plane in the afternoon only for that flight to be aborted half way down the runway due to an electrical problem in the plane. We began to wonder if we would ever get over by plane – there were a few worried faces that we may have to stay over another night and get the Ferry ;-( Well the outcome is that we eventually got 7 of us over that afternoon – eventually – and the other two followed the following day by the ferry. Well done to those two for managing that ferry crossing – it was pretty rough ๐Ÿ˜‰

There is only one place to stay on Fair Isle – literally I think. Thats the Bird Observation Centre. This is a superb base, featuring great accomodation, superb food, lovely people, and fantastic views over the cliffs and harbour. If I had to pick any fault it would be that the rooms were cold, heating is conserved over there, no heated towel rails on in the rooms etc, so any wet clothes struggled to dry – even in the boot room. Thankfully we had a virtually rain free week.
So what about the photography?

Day 1-6 on the Island…

This is truly a haven for Puffins and other seabirds. I had been to the Farne Islands the weekend before – seen my first Puffin – and came away thinking that was really great. But Fair Isle blew Farne out of the water. In fairness Farne is great for inflight Puffin shots as you can track them coming in from Sea whereas in Fair Isle they just pop in over the cliff unexpectedly. Its also great for Shags as well… sure you know what I mean ๐Ÿ˜‰ But that’s where the comparison ends…

The Puffin colonies on Fair Isle are situated in amongst the Thrift, and for those un-initiated the Thrift are small pink flowers that give the setting an almost magical feel in the photographs, beautiful mush…. In Farne you are stuck behind rope and cant get anywhere near the puffins but in Fair Isle … well you can just carefully position your self in the burrow vicinity just being careful not to block a route for the Puffin from cliff to burrow. Puffin welfare ALWAYS comes first. The puffins are very very inquisitive, have amusing and beautifu behaviours and interactions not just with other Puffins but also the photographers. Unlike Farne where the incoming Puffins are harrassed by the gulls here on Fair Isle they are mainly uninteruppted other than a Skua that may patrol up and down the cliffs looking for an easy meal – and they are after the Puffin and not its catch.


We focussed on two main cliff areas – one over the harbour and to the right which was great for afternoon and evening shots and had the towering Sheep Rock as a back-drop, and then another route over to the left past the harbour which was superb for those early morning to mid-morning shots.

The first couple of days were spent very much being shown around – where the best positions were to photograph, what would be desired equipment and settings, and how the Puffins may behave. After that it was very much a case of having the choice to go off with one or both of them or strike out alone and see how you get on.


_DSC8320The days began with breakfast at 8.30, off out by 9.30 and then back for lunch at 1.00 ( or you could stay out if you preferred and take a packed lunch). After lunch it was out again by 2.30 and back for evening meal at 6.00 sharp. Then later out from 7.30 until late for an evening session. It stays reasonably light out here until 10.30 ish and rarely seems to get “dark”. The food is abslutely first class, and the staff more than willing to accomodate any special dietary requests. The food, and in particular the puddings were that good that some people went back for second helpings, and someone in particular had a very sweet tooth lol ( especially for Sticky Toffee Pudding)…


This is probably one of the best, if not the best, venue for Puffins and its such a unique and beautiful setting. The pink Thrift gives every shot a different feel. Its great for portrait, in flight, behaviour, and quirky Puffin shots. You cant fail to come away with cards full of superb shots. The people we were with were always on hand to offer advice, point out “different” shots, so this can be a place for the novice or the more advanced photographer.


When you may feel Puffin’d out there are possibilities to photograph the Oystercatcher, or the Wheatear, or the Terns, Fulmars, and Gannets. Its truly a photographers dream. You have to be a bit careful when walking about the island as the Skua’s at this time of the year are quite aggressive in protecting their chicks/territories and are more than happy to dive bomb and give you a hard slap on the back of the head with their feet/claws. The Terns on the other hand are just prone to attcking your head with their beaks and … well… crapping all over you.


The Puffins on the other hand are totally non aggressive and more likely to give you a big sloppy kiss. Hmnn now just because I enticed Puffins with waving small flowers at them does not mean anything else – honest!


Its also possible to spend time with the Ringing Team of the observatory, and see what they may have caught in their mist nets overnight ( we were lucky enough to see they ring a Whin Chat and a Blyth Reed Warbler).

So shown above and below are just a few photographs selected from the thousands taken, and probably thousands deleted as well. Any holiday like this is quite often made great or poor by the other “company” on the trip. This was superb! Everyone got on with everyone else, everyone was willing to offer help and advice when needed.



Latest Pics from the “Secret Garden” – Wren, Dragonflies and Damselflies..

Another morning of fun down in the garden. The Greater Spotted Woodpeckers didn’t show so it was a bit of Macro work today…

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The print Wren was feeding chicks today – the chicks so far in the shrubs it was impossible to get pictures. But here are some of the Wren singing…

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The garden is an Aladdins Cave for any wildlife enthusiast…


“Jenny” Wren tending to its nest and young…

Down in the “Garden” I have for many months now been privileged to hear the wren singing away to its heart content. But I was pleased to recently be told that there is a wren’s nest up on the raised patio area behind a piece of wood. As they have now started feeding I was able to sit very quietly, about 10 feet away, camera and tripod at the ready to try and get some photographs.

Last Saturday afternoon when the weather seemed not too overcast I decided to set up and play the waiting game to try and capture the Wren feeding… I had only been there 30 minutes before the heavens opened but I was determined to get something before I had to retreat. These two photos were the only ones I got before the rain became too unpleasant…


The picture above shows the Wren removing the faecal sack from the nest – a very attentive parent will remove many of these during the day – taking them far away from the nest to deposit and get rid…



This picture shows the Wren at the entrance to the nest – no sign of the babies at the entrance just yet.

I will return later in the week as weather improves just to check out developments..



Swans, Birds and Flutterbies…..

Another few hours spent today on the lookout for the local swans down by the river at the bottom of “The Garden”… The last few days had seen them staying well up river but today luck seemed to be on my side. No fly-pasts unfortunately but a couple of nice open wing displays…



With a few Swan shots under my belt I decided to spend a couple of hours just wandering around – butterflies being the quarry. Its still early but the Orange Tips, and Brimstone were about so with the sun going in and out all the time trying to get the butterflies to settle was really hard. The Brimstone continued to stay out of reach but I managed a few nice pics of male and female Orange Tip and their mating display…

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Alast walk around the garden and woodland resulted in a nice Blue Tit and Chaffinch shot. Lets hope warm weather at the weekend brings more life into the garden ๐Ÿ˜‰ Already there are signs of baby blackbirds so it looks like being a very productive Spring…

Canada Geese in Flight…. ready for take off.

I spent a great morning down in the Secret Garden with the sole intention of trying to get the Canada Gees in flight. I have had a few attempts the other day but failed miserably due to birds taking off the wrong way, branches getting in the way of the shots and poor light. This morning though the light was good, there seemed to be a few geese about, and conditions seemed perfect.

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All was set up, camera and tripod ready, focussed on where I wanted the geese to be, and then it was just a waiting game.

They decided at first not to play ball as one exploded in to action from my left flying away but not where I had expected a run to come from..


Then a few “hoots” and the water down river erupted and they few towards me..

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BINGO !!!! Its nice when it comes together ๐Ÿ˜‰

I had also spent a pleasant half hour the other day taking a few pics of butterflies. Now you may be surprised to know I am not the worlds expert on Butterflies so I don’t know what these are BUT I spent an hour moving about the garden at pace ย – which must have looked very amusing – chasing these butterflies for a shot ๐Ÿ˜‰

I have subsequently found out these are Orange Tip, Green Veined White, and Speckled Wood….

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Strangely when I had been talking to Elizabeth today she said that a Great Tit or Blue Tit had yesterday been taking pieces of string for nest building from a bag under the porch and while chasing butterflies guess what I saw…



It turned out to be a pleasant few hours by the river and in the garden…. and quite productive.