Puffins in the “News”

Hopefully not too bad...

Whats the outlook for Puffins this winter?

BBC News today has picked up on a story from last winter in the run up to this year’s first big storm.  The story is that the string of storms last year had a big impact on seabird mortality with large numbers of Puffin, Guillemot and Razorbill dying at sea and washing up on French coasts.  This led to a big drop in numbers on Skomer and Skokholm Islands in Pembrokeshire, with up to a quarter of birds not returning to the islands this year.

 

This one had been sitting out in the wind and had had enough!

Puffins don’t always look their best- this shot was during a pretty gusty day where birds were mostly hunkered down in their burrows or out at sea.

When the thousands of of visitors to Skomer see the Puffins it is by default summer, the only time when they come to land to breed, so it is easy to forget that these stout little birds spend the rest of the year at sea.  Suddenly these jovial birds give up on their land based hi-jinx and spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at sea, often during stormy weather.  Imagine having to spend your days diving in almost freezing waters to catch ever decreasing numbers of fish to survive.  Then imagine that you have nowhere to sleep except on the surface of that chilly water, constantly being thrown about by waves and your feet never leaving the icy waters except for short flights between possible feeding waters.

This is why seabirds are tough.  Not only do they have amazing evolved adaptations such as insulating feathers, heat recovery built into their circulation system and amazing swimming abilities but imagine the mind that has had to evolve inside a Puffin.  This life of battling storm after storm in freezing conditions is the easiest one it knows- returning to land could mean starving or being eaten by land predators. So here are a couple of the more moody shots I have of Puffins, showing their tough side.  Which is every side.

Using an oil gland on their arse... who needs hair gel...?

But a quick bit of preening quickly gets the plumage back in tip top condition.

 

IMG_8338

What are you looking at?!

puffin

Seabirds can look hardy even on a calm day

Puffin Flying

But just hanging out in a gale is where they look toughest.

 

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The end of another season

So for the last few months I’ve been thinking a lot about terns (and posting a lot about terns, and taking a lot of pictures of terns, and writing a lot about terns…!).  I’ve been carrying out a survey of the breeding terns of Rye Bay and although they mostly flew away a while ago I’ve been making graphs, charts and tables about what I saw.  But it’s now the actual end, even though it’s dragged out a little bit over the last few weeks, and the report is all written up.  It will be published online but it’s working its way through the admin. process so I’ll post again to let you know when its up.  Its just left to me to get it all out of my system now, so here are my favourite tern photos of this year…

…Terns!

splash!

It took me a while to get used to the speed of some tern dives…

splash!

…quite a while…

Little Tern with prey

But sometimes the Little terns were fishing so close together that you couldn’t miss getting at least one in shot.

Just before a dive

And watching the moment just before the dive showed the absolute focus of a hunting tern- head locked in position and body wavering in the wind like a cat about to ponce.

Little Tern with lunch

So when you saw a tern with a fish it made you appreciate just how hard it had to try to get every single one.

Little tern decoys and electric fence

When there weren’t any real terns around there were always the decoys on the shingle trying to tempt them to nest.

Adult coming in to land

The Common Terns were much more reliable to watch and produced a reasonable number of little fluff balls this season.

Common Tern with prey

Common Tern often had prey and seemed to find better hunting conditions than the other species.

So there you go, a handful of the hundreds of shots I took showing some of the amazing acrobatic skills of the “sea swallows” around Rye Bay.  This year has given me a new appreciation for the sheer effort it takes to produce a new tern.  Fishing seems to have become much harder for the birds and even then they face the risk of being predated on the ground, if they find a nesting spot on the small nature reserves which try and protect them.  I just hope that in the coming years our management of land and sea help these dwindling breeding populations rather than hinder them…

Longest Day

Well its come to that time of year when the evenings start to draw in, but for a while yet at least we can enjoy some amazing summer evenings.  Over the weekend I spent an evening at Camber Castle and shot this quick timelapse:

Hope you enjoy!

Fore Wood Video

Over the last few days I’ve been making another micro-film about a spot near me.  Fore Wood is a small RSPB reserve which is covered in woodland and has some really nice, quiet wooded trails.  I’m still getting used to filming and editing video, which is so much more fiddly and time consuming than taking and editing a photo.  But I think I’m slowly improving and once I get used to hearing my own voice on clips I might like it a bit more (FYI if anyone fancies doing free voice-over work then feel free to get in touch!  It will save me cringing the first five times I see my finished video…).

So here is my latest offering, Fore Wood in 101 seconds. To watch it in HD on the Vimeo website click here or else enjoy the slight blurriness of it below:

 

By the way this is all filmed using my dSLR (a Canon 550D) without a tripod or any other kit except a cheap, digital sound recorder.  I’m amazed at what you can get out of these relatively cheap bits of kit and if you have an SLR I think you should turn it onto video mode and see what you can do!

World Oceans Day

stormy sky

I spend a lot of time looking out to sea searching for seabirds.  A lot of the time there isn’t much out there but it is still mesmerising just looking out at the horizon.
Enjoy world oceans day and go take a look yourself!

Swift

Although I’m spending most of my time looking at seabirds, it’s hard not to notice some of the other visitors to the area at times.  With the recent cold and overcast weather the migrating Swifts have been brought in nice and low, giving an amazing opportunity to observe their acrobatic antics.

swiftThe wings of these birds are surprisingly translucent and they show just how long the outer feathers are- extending the rather short arms into long scythe shapes which slice through the air whilst they hunt for insects.  I would love to get some video of these birds but they are way too fast, at times too fast for binoculars and they leave me stood in the middle of the whirling flock of screeching midge control.

 

Hungry Chicks

It’s a hard life bringing up hungry balls of fluff.  They might look like they have tiny mouths but if you don’t feed them enough then everything starts to look like food to them!  This adult returned to the nest but didn’t feed its young so one of them started to find its own food- unfortunately it was the foot of the adult but it didn’t seem to matter…  It gave up after about ten minutes but still didn’t get any supper.hungry chick

Little Tern Fishing Trip

By far my favourite of the terns at Rye Harbour are the Little Terns.  They are the logo of the reserve and have the most character out of all of them, often heard chattering away over the shingle ridges and seen battling the elements to find food close to the shoreline.  A recent session with the camera gave me quite a few good shots and I just wanted to share some of their fishing exploits with you.

little tern big-4

The small size and buoyant flight distinguish a Little Tern and they are often seen very close to shore, patrolling for fish.

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Common Terns Finally Getting Started

So it’s been over a month now that I’ve been watching the terns around Rye Bay and the Sandwich Terns have been the main show so far.  The Little Terns have even been settling down a bit but the Common Terns have taken until this week to get going.  But they are at last, bringing in food and even laying eggs.

ct eggs

You can see the pair here don’t have much of a nest- the two eggs in the top right of the image are in a small scrape with a few small twigs.  This helps with camouflaging the valuable eggs, along with the cryptic patterning on brown and green on the shells.  Tern eggs are very variable and if it wasn’t for the few twigs and attending birds it would be almost impossible to discover the eggs- something they rely on if a predator approaches as they leave the nest to attack and distract any would be egg thieves.

Luckily this doesn’t happen too often as the birds at Rye Harbour nest on small islands set on inland lagoons which are themselves set within electrified fences and monitored by the nature reserve staff.  So hopefully these two eggs will hatch and grow up to breeding age, and might even be joined by a third as the female only laid the second egg this morning!

Feathers!

So this year is all about the terns for me (if you haven’t had a look yet watch my latest microfilm about them here).  but every now and then something else comes along out of the blue… and it can be really, really blue!

peacock feathers (1 of 5)

Some of my in-laws have peacocks on their farm and this week one of them parted company with a few feathers.  Now feathers are amazing structures but peacock feathers go a whole step further and I couldn’t resist taking a few snaps and putting them up here.

peacock feathers (2 of 5)

The small vanes up the long quills are pretty sparse but still shine an amazing metallic blue-green

More photos after the break.

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