Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Common Blue

I walked down to the beach again today in late afternoon sunshine, hoping I might find a few butterflies to photograph. Unfortunately, the sun went in as soon as I arrived, and stayed hidden until dusk. All I saw were a few Small Whites, and a handful of Common Blues. I was able to follow one Common Blue to its roost on a grass stem, and, during a brief lull in the wind, was able to get a couple of decent close-ups using a Tamron 90mm macro lens mounted on a tripod:

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Painted Ladies

During sunny periods yesterday, I saw my second and third Painted Lady butterflies of the year; again amongst the dunes at the top of Swansea Beach.
I had gone down there looking for birds (although I didn't manage any decent photos of them), so I had to press my 500mm lens (with extension tubes to allow it to focus close enough) into action for this shot, as the butterfly rested on the sea-wall when clouds pulled overhead:

I tried a different approach here, coupling a 50mm f/1.8 lens to a 2x converter, a combination I hadn't tried before. Sharpness is so-so on the original, although hopefully it looks okay here:

As soon as the sun came out, the butterflies came to life again, mainly feeding on a small group of Red Valerian plants. I was back to the 500mm lens for this shot:

Monday, August 29, 2011

Swallows of Martin's Haven

The small cove of Martin's Haven, from where we set off for our boat trips two weekends ago, has only three buildings, one of which is a block of public toilets, with a small information room next door. Swallows are now nesting in both buildings, with a small hole having been cut in the top of the info. room's wooden door to allow swallows access to their nest. The toilet doors are left open at all times, allowing unhindered access to the several pairs of birds which nest in both the men's and women's toilets, as well as the small porch between the two.
Here's one bird perched on the guttering outside the building:

Turning left into the men's toilet, I managed to photograph this adult feeding its young at the nest:

This bird would sometimes perch on the cistern, before visiting its nest (there was a sign on the side of the cistern indicating that a swallow had recently fallen in there, and that someone had put gauze over the opening to stop it happening again - what a way to go!):

The following three shots are of the well-grown brood which were nesting in the building's porch:

I finally got fed up of hanging around in the toilets (there was hardly anyone around), and went out for some fresh air, where I was able to capture this swallow as it dashed over a nearby cornfield:

Sunday, August 28, 2011


I was strolling along Swansea seafront about 5.30 p.m on Saturday. I wasn't specifically going 'birding' (I hardly ever do these days!), but I noticed it was high tide, so got out my binoculars as I noticed an interesting selection of waders quite close in between Blackpill and West Cross. As well as good numbers of Oystercatchers, and the usual Dunlins and Ringed Plovers, there were a few Redshanks scuttling past, plus a handful of Knots, and a single Greenshank - a species I don't think I've seen here before. I decided to head home and get my big lens to try for a few shots of the latter two species. Of course, by the time I got back, the tide had gone out and the birds had disappeared.
Never mind, and I spotted a migrant Wheatear nearby, which proved quite approachable and allowed a few pictures:

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Bishop's Wood Butterflies

Before I took the sunset photos in my last post, I had been wandering around the Bishop's Wood nature reserve which overlooks Caswell Bay. My main quarry was butterflies, and the first one I came upon, perched on some vegetation bordering the car park, was this rather tatty Comma (it's the small, white, comma-like mark on the underwing, visible in the picture, which gives this butterfly its name):

I then climbed up the path through the woodland which leads to a grassy meadow with fine views over the bay below. I hoped, again, I might see a Silver-washed Fritillary which I've seen twice here before, but I had no luck today. The clifftop was full of flowering Hemp Agrimony and Common Knapweed, both good butterfly plants, and I saw plenty of Gatekeepers, Meadow Browns, Large and Small Whites, Common Blues, a handful of Small Coppers, as well as a couple of Small Tortoiseshells:

I've not had much luck photographing 'Cabbage' Whites (as well as them being so common that I probably tend to overlook them), so I was pleased to get this Small White in range of my lens:

I then saw what I at first thought was another white, but which, on closer inspection, turned out to be a female Brimstone, the first I've had the chance to photograph this year. Unfortunately, it was somewhat tatty, but that didn't stop me taking a few shots as it fed on Common Knapweed:

Finally, one of several Red Admirals which I saw feeding on Hemp Agrimony:

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Caswell Bay Sunset

I was wandering around the flower-filled hilltop meadow above Caswell Bay late yesterday afternoon. After an hour or so chasing butterflies, I took the coastal footpath leading from Caswell around to Langland Bay. I looked back to see some interesting colours developing in the sky:

Hoping a nice sunset might develop, I decided to linger a little longer than I had intended, and climbed up onto the nearby Caswell Bay Golf Course, from where I had a grandstand view of the glorious show:

I didn't have my tripod with me, so had to rest the camera on my camera bag, which led to these grasses appearing prominently in the foreground:

I changed my camera position slightly, and removed a few of the more intrusive grass stems, to give me a clearer view of the changing colours:

I switched from my 17-40mm lens to the 70-200mm for this shot of Cefn Bryn:

It was now pretty dark, so I walked along the golf course, before descending to Langland Point, where I took one more shot - a 30-second exposure looking westwards along the south Gower coastline:

It was certainly one of the better sunsets I've seen in a while!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Rough Ride to Grassholm

After our pleasant outing to Skomer, we were looking forward to Monday's trip to Grassholm, a remote island approximately eight miles off the Pembrokeshire coast, and home to about 39,000 pairs of Gannets. That is, until we saw the weather forecast on Sunday night: heavy rain was predicted for the morrow. Oh dear!
Next morning, we half expected the trip to be cancelled, but a phone call confirmed it was going ahead, so we headed down to Martin's Haven and boarded the Dale Princess along with around ten other hardy souls. I remarked to another photographer on board on how calm the sea was. This fellow, who had been twice before to Grassholm, said: "That's because we're in a harbour. Wait until we get to the open sea." How right he was!
The sea became increasingly rough, with large waves rocking the tiny boat dangerously to and fro. This went on for a while, before we went into a really large swell, and waves began crashing over the boat. About this time, heavy rain began falling, so we were getting soaked from all quarters. (Of course, I'd forgotten my waterproof trousers!) Several people were now taking shelter in the craft's small cabin. It was quite a disconcerting feeling, being adrift in the middle of a vast grey ocean, with visibility down to a few metres, being drenched in torrential rain, and with large breakers washing on board, and the small boat tossing about crazily. Quite frankly, at one point, it occured to me that we might not get out of this alive. This was supposed to be a pleasure trip!
About this time, the skipper announced that if the conditions got any worse, we would be turning back.
Thankfully, within a few minutes, the rain cleared and we passed through the worst of the swell. Suddenly, the sky was clear, and we could see the island of Grassholm ahead. The sea was still rough, but we now pulled alongside the island, where we drifted around the island for about half an hour, allowing a few photos to be taken. Here's the island:

We didn't get very close inshore, so these were the biggest close-ups of the colony possible, taken with a 500mm lens:

I was able to obtain a few closer shots of the Gannets as they flew overhead, although the rocking boat made it hard to stand up and rendered photography very difficult:

After we had turned for home, I looked back towards Grassholm for one more shot of the isolated island under lowering skies:

The journey back to shore seemed to go much more quickly, although we had to endure more heavy rain. We did see a number of Manx Shearwaters and Fulmars skimming over the ocean, as well as small groups of auks - mainly Razorbills. I also glimpsed a couple of fins distantly breaking the sea's surface, which presumably were dolphins or porpoises, although it was difficult to see anything through the rain.
As we arrived at the landing stage, a fellow passenger, looking like a drowned rat, turned to me and said something like: "That wasn't what I bargained for!" I could only agree.
I think we were all glad to be back in one piece!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Trip to Skomer Island

I've just come back from a couple of days in Pembrokeshire in west Wales. We had booked a trip to Grassholm on Monday, so decided to while away Sunday with another boat trip, this time to Skomer Island. Not the ideal time to visit, as most of the breeding seabirds, including the Puffins, had left by the end of July. Also, the Short-eared and Little Owls, which had raised young on the island, had now moved across to the mainland.
Anyhow, as we landed on Skomer, and walked up the landing stage, I looked back to see this Grey Seal bobbing in the water below:

The most obvious and numerous avian inhabitants remaining were the large colony of Lesser Black-backed Gulls:

One of this year's well-grown youngsters:

We walked up towards the buildings at the island's centre, from where we had this view across the swathes of Common Ragwort to St. Brides Bay:

Numerous Swallows were nesting on the old buildings, with this bird perching on a solar heating panel:

We had been told by the warden on arrival that there may still be a single Little Owl around the farm buildings, and perhaps one Short-eared Owl hunting the nearby valley, but all we saw were a few Manx Shearwater corpses, perhaps the victims of the predatory Great Black-backed Gulls:

Continuing onwards to the far side of the island, we arrived at Skomer Head:

From here, we could see the distant form of Grassholm Island, with its white covering of Gannets:

As we sat down to eat, a Herring Gull appeared, no doubt hoping for some titbits:

We decided to head clockwise around the island, soon arriving at somes steep cliffs opposite the Garland Stone:

We had been told we might see Peregrine Falcons here, but we didn't; the Grey Seals laying on the rocks below having to suffice:

I was able to photograph this Fulmar from above, with the dark sea as a backdrop:

Similarly with this Lesser Black-backed Gull:

We continued our clockwise walk, and eventually ended up back at our starting point for the 3 p.m. boat back to the mainland. Having come at the wrong time of year, it wasn't nearly as wildlife- or photographically-rewarding as my visit last year, but it was still a nice way to while away a few hours on a pleasant late-summer's day.

Anyway, last (and definitely least!), once back on the mainland, we decided to climb up to the to the Deer Park (the headland overlooking Skomer) for a spot of Chough chasing. Turning round for a moment, I spotted this long-lens brigade pointing their equipment at some bushes near the Martin's Haven car park:

There was obviously a rare bird about, but what? I went down to investigate after an hour or two's Chough chasing, but everyone had gone home by then.
 It was not until the next day that a birder told me that the bird in question was a Melodious Warbler, which had been in the area for a week or so. We scanned the area briefly, but couldn't see anything unusual, although we didn't try too hard. I'm not really a 'twitcher', but it would have been nice to see it. 
By the way, if anyone knows the identity of those strange creatures pictured above, please name names!