Tag Archives: Otter

Wildlife photography, Ardnamurchan, June 2016 (Part 1)

It’s been a dream of mine to visit this area on the west coast of Scotland and this year I finally organised a week in Ardnamurchan followed by a week in Northumberland. I have been up to the Isle of Mull before but flew, and the restrictive nature of flying on the gear I can take saw us agreeing to drive all the way. I live on the south coast (Hastings) so it’s a pretty long trip so an overnight stay was organised for Gretna Green to break the journey.

Now what sums up the days drive from Hastings to Gretna? AAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!. Ok that’s about it.

Leaving Gretna we had a relaxing drive as we skirted Glasgow, then through stunning scenery around Loch Lomond and through Glen Coe, finally arriving at the car ferry at Corran for the short hop across the water. Once across the water we followed the road to Salen (and grabbed some food shopping) and on to where we would be staying for the week. The drive along single track roads (quite safe with passing places) and the amazing scenery was a sign of things to come. With pristine woodland, mountains and lochside I could quickly see this was a nature lovers paradise. Another 30 minutes drive from Salen to just before Ardslignish saw us arrive at our accommodation at Lochside Follies.

There’s always a moment just as you arrive when you hope that where you’ve chosen lives up to your expectations and wow, did it! 4 unique self catering properties, along with the owners house dot the hillside in some of the most beautiful scenery you could hope for. We had chosen “The Folly” which sits alongside a byrne at the bottom of a wooded slope and faces Loch Sunart and the far hills. In front were well kept gardens, then the (very quiet road), across which was a large area of ferns, low trees and marshy areas through which well cut paths led to the water’s edge of the loch.

The Folly, Ardnamurchan

The Folly, Ardnamurchan

The Folly, Ardnamurchan

The Folly, Ardnamurchan

There is a steep walk up behind the Folly – this is the view, well worth it… You can just make out the Ruin (another choice of accommodation but don’t let the name put you off!) towards the bottom of the image.

Ardnamurchan view

Ardnamurchan view

The great thing about this location was the very friendly welcome and that we were free to wander anywhere on the extensive grounds. I’d already checked it was ok to put up camera traps and a hide just in case I wanted to use them.

Wildlife photography was the main reason for visiting and I was really encouraged by reports of Pine Marten in the visitors book. Our first walk down to the shore line (all within the grounds of the property) revealed Common Seals lounging in the bay just offshore and a shoreline that we were told holds Otters. We also spotted Red Deer just outside the perimeter. Birds were calling from all around, some I was very familiar with such as Whitethroat, Yellowhammer, Chaffinch, Pipits and Song Thrush and others took a little investigation to find out what they were, such as Siskins and Redpolls. After a long day there was just time to set up the camera trap and bait an area with peanuts and peanut butter to see what might be tempted during the night.

I couldn’t help but get up early and wander with the camera. I walked slowly down to the shore line listening to the birds and watching for larger animals. I walked quietly along the shore line and onto one of the small peninsulas just in time to see an otter heading inshore with it’s catch and so hastily grabbed a few shots –

Otter with fish

Otter with fish

Otter with meal on the rocks

Otter with meal on the rocks

I think my inexperience with these animals meant that the otter was well aware that I was there and headed straight over the rocks without even having a look back. Not the otter images I had hoped for but a great sighting even so.

I didn’t take many more images that morning but I did grab my trail cam on the way back in and had a quick check to see if it had been triggered. I was delighted to see that there was indeed some clips, and, even more exciting was that when played back there was no doubt of a Pine Marten in the area. Game on! I now knew that I would be setting up my remote camera and flashes that evening to try to get some shots. I’ve included one of the clips below. The quality isn’t great but there’s no doubt about the animal that triggered it. One tip though…If you are going to put out a trap with a view to finding out what visits when, it helps if you actually set the date and time ….DOH!

Trailcam Pine Marten

The light wasn’t the best later in the day but I took some time to photograph birds that were visiting the bird table. There were so many Siskin around, a bird that I tend to only see in winter, and not every year, that I jumped at a chance to get some decent close up shots. It’s surprising just how yellow these little birds are –

Male Siskin on lichen, Ardnamurchan

Male Siskin on lichen, Ardnamurchan

Male Siskin, Ardnamurchan

Male Siskin, Ardnamurchan

There were plenty of the more common birds that I would expect to see such as Chaffinch, Blue, Coal and Great Tits, the odd visit from the Blackbirds and Robins and also the Great Spotted Woodpecker. One other visitor that I definitely don’t get to see in my garden (in fact have ony seen a couple of times at all) was the Redpoll. Another small finch that wasn’t shy.

Redpoll, Ardnamurchan

Redpoll, Ardnamurchan

Redpoll feeding on ground, Ardnamurchan

Redpoll feeding on ground, Ardnamurchan

Later in the day I again walked down to the shore line to see if I could get any otter images. No luck but a bird call from a small tree close by had me pointing the lens and waiting to see who the culprit was. Eventually I spotted a Yellowhammer making a constant single call and moving about every so often. I stood and watched and eventually it flew into the open and perched perfectly on a flowering floxglove flower. I couldn’t have asked for a better perch….

Yellowhammer perched on Foxglove, Ardnamurchan

Yellowhammer perched on Foxglove, Ardnamurchan

Yellowhammer singing from foxglove, Ardnmurchan

Yellowhammer singing from foxglove, Ardnmurchan

I really struggled to get any good images as the light was pretty poor and for once I hadn’t taken my tripod with me so was handholding the 500mm lens. Even with VR on I only just got these couple of useable images from 10 or so that I managed in the short time he perched perfectly on the foxglove.

Having confirmed via the trail camera that the Pine Marten was about, the next couple of nights I baited an area and set up my camera with a couple of remote flashes and waited to see if it would once again show. I don’t have any experience with these animals but I do know they are mainly nocturnal so made sure all was in place at dusk. I fire my remote setup manually using Pocket Wizard Plus X units. One in the camera hotshoe, and one each attached to the flash units, normally placed away from the camera and facing 45 degrees to where I hope the subject will stop. This should stop any red eye issues. Our second night and once again the Pine Marten showed up at around 10.40pm. I took maybe 30 or so images using the remote in my hand and once the visit was over, retrieved my kit and checked the images. Not so good – subject was too small in the image and the images were fairly dark…I’d set up too far away and had the flash unit power set a little low.

The next evening I moved the setup closer and boosted the flash power. This time the images were better but could still use some work. Distance wise the kit was about right but the images were still a little dark. A few tweaks still needed but I did manage one or two images I was reasonable happy with….

 

Pine Marten eating - Ardnamurchan

Pine Marten eating – Ardnamurchan

Pine Marten - Ardnamurchan

Pine Marten – Ardnamurchan

Next update (soon) – more Marten action, Hedgehog, redpoll and more siskins. And Midges…..

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in D500, Photography, Wildlife Photography Also tagged , , , , , , |

Taking the time (in Pembrokeshire) – part 1

I’m guilty. I know it and yet rarely do anything about it. I’m talking about not slowing down and properly taking time with my photography.All too often I’m rushing from one shot to the next, trying to get the most from the precious little time I get to actually spend in the field. Well a couple of weeks ago I found the antidote.

My wife and I booked a weeks holiday in the Pembrokeshire countryside and our choice of location turned out to be a gem. Called simply “Little Barn” it was exactly as the name suggests, nestled in a valley a little south of Cardigan. After a nightmare drive from Sussex (all problems on the English side!) we were pleasantly surprised (and relieved!) when we took the turn into the track that led down to the barn, about 1/3 mile down through meadows, a small wooded area and then the large pond right outside the property. I knew I was going to enjoy staying here.

Stepping out of the car I was greeted by swooping Swallows, Willow Warblers in song, Whitethroats zipping about busily looking for food and surroundings I knew would be a joy to wake up in. We were then met by Neti, the owner, who showed us to our home for the week. Little Barn looks out over a large pond with fields to the right and a tree line around 300 yards away. Even while Neti was showing us the front of the property a buzzard flew low overhead and a Pied Wagtail was dancing through the air, snatching at flies above the pond (more on that later).

Willow Warbler in full song

Willow Warbler in full song

 

The accommodation itself was like taking a step back a few decades. A simple living area with a log burning stove, a double calor gas ring to cook on (if you didn’t fancy the log burner), table, chairs and a comfy settee. The large bed was extremely comfortable and the bathroom, with underfloor heating was snug and warm. Fashionably short of things you take for granted (TV, fridge, kettle etc) meant that cooking on the gas, or the log stove if you felt adventurous was quite fun. We didn’t realise it immediately but this was another way of making us slow down and appreciate the surroundings. Boil a pot of water and sit outside watching the wildlife. Perfect.

Little Barn, Pembrokeshire

Little Barn, Pembrokeshire

Little Barn, Pembrokeshire, view along the drive

Little Barn, Pembrokeshire, view along the drive

Little Barn, Pembrokeshire, view from pond

Little Barn, Pembrokeshire, view from pond

 

As luck would have it, we picked a perfect week. The next day saw light winds and sun and I spent it getting used to my new surroundings. I wouldn’t be exaggerating when I say there were birds everywhere, the air was alive with birdsong and I spent a while finding out exactly what was going on.

Most visible and often searching the pond edge close to the front of the barn were a pair of Whitethroat. I could see they were collecting food and nipping back across the drive to an area of scrub and low trees. I crept inside and waited, being rewarded with eventually seeing where the pair were taking food. This was where “taking the time” comes in. I spent a good few hours just watching the birds coming back and forth and was able to find a point away from the nest area that they liked to use as a waypoint and the birds sat there for a quick check before continuing towards their brood. This was to be where I would spend alot of time sat deep in the bushes. As this was the first warm week of summer it also happened to coincide with a large hatch of Damselflies from the pond and, a few days later, a small hatch of dragonflies. The following images show the morsels that the industrious parents returned with. I couldn’t help but be amazed at how efficient they were –

Whitethroat with a beak full of food for young

Whitethroat with a beak full of food for young

Whitethroat with Large red Damselfly

Whitethroat with Large red Damselfly

 

Whitethroat with freshly hatched dragonfly

Whitethroat with freshly hatched dragonfly

 

Whitethroat with caterpillars

Whitethroat with caterpillars

Ok, just a few more small ones

A beakfull of Damsels

A beakfull of Damsels

with a caterpillar

with a caterpillar

Soft dragon sized bites

Soft dragon sized bites

I visited a few times during the week and although I could see when the adults were in the nest area (it was low down in bramble scrub near a fence post) I never did get to see the youngsters fledge (or indeed see them at all). I didn’t see the brambles twitching at all unless the adults were there which suggested that the young were fairly newly hatched and were not moving from the nest. I would have loved to have witnessed what happened when an adult returned with a fresh dragonfly larva!

Picture the scene. It’s about 5.30 on Saturday afternoon. The Willow warblers are zipping about the willow around the pond, singing, eating then singing again. Swallows chatter above, gliding and diving, skimming the surface of the pond in chase of the abundant insect life, often joined by House Martins and the occasional Sand Martin. Fabio, the pony in the field next to the barn, is rolling around loving the sun. A Red Kite soars effortlessly overhead, his presence betrayed by the local corvids noisily voicing their displeasure. We’re sitting watching the (wild) world go by with a fresh cup of tea in hand on the welsh grey slate patio right outside the barn that borders the pond. I take a mouthful and as I do my eye is caught by a movement in the pond, something large just rolled in the margins. I then almost choke on my tea and end up unprofessionally spitting it everywhere as I blurt out “^&$%$^&  there’s an Otter!!! Newbie and overexcited child moment quickly passing, I move as the Otter dives and grab my camera. Maria sits stock still afraid she may scare it off and I kneel behind her, resting the lens on the back of the seat and grab a few shots. The Otter is coming closer along the margins but the horsetails through which it is hunting are playing havoc with the Autofocus. I did manage to get a couple of shots……

Otter hunting amongst the horsetails

Otter hunting amongst the horsetails

I hadn’t seen any fish in the pond but we did see thousands of tadpoles. My guess is that it was hunting frogs and newts and he did manage to catch something…

Otter eating after successful hunt

Otter eating after successful hunt

These images are un-cropped and I would say it was no more than around 30 feet away before I think he got a whiff of us and dived. I followed the trail of bubbles and he quickly moved to the other side of the (very large) pond. I moved round and struggled to get a shot as he stayed in a margin I couldn’t fully see. Suddenly he zipped across underwater and was hunting almost at my feet! I tried to move quietly back for when he surfaced but am guessing that I was spotted from underwater and off went the stream of bubbles. I didn’t see where he left the pond and we didn’t see him again during the week. Such a special sight and very lucky to get such close views. When was the last time you watched an Otter while having tea? Thoroughly recommended!

More soon in part 2

 

Posted in Birds, Mammals, Pembrokeshire, Photography, Wildlife Photography Also tagged , , , , , |

A week in Wales…

I’ve not long returned back from a week in Pembrokeshire, based out in the middle of beautiful countryside, and had a chance to finally slow down a bit and concentrate on my photography. I will be doing a full write up soon but wanted to just pop some of the images up (already on the latest images page) to give a quick glimpse into what it was like. It made me realise that I don’t slow down and concentrate enough!

Anyway, here’s a few examples –

Swallow in flight

Swallow in flight

 

Spotted by a Tawny Owl

Spotted by a Tawny Owl

Dragon sized bite for baby whitethroats

Dragon sized bite for baby whitethroats

Diving Pied Wagtail

Diving Pied Wagtail

An Otter hunts the pond

An Otter hunts the pond

Puffin portrait

Puffin portrait

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Birds, Photography, Wildlife Photography Also tagged , , , , , |