Winging it on Fair Isle

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by Rebecca Nason on August 4, 2011 · 0 comments

in Birding Western Palearctic

Winging it on Fair Isle . . . .

Puffin Flight Photography – July Update.

My favourite image taken on Fair Isle during my whistle-stop visit, a Puffin in flight interacting with other Puffins on land below.

It has been a very hectic July and seems to be looking likely that August will go the same way with the British Birdfair fast approaching! I was on my beloved Shetland from the 10th to the 23rd July and was without internet connection for the whole stay – not a bad thing once in a while! We led a Bird Photography trip (for Shetland Nature) on the Island of Unst for majority of the first week which was a great success with good weather and opportunities for photographing Otter, Arctic Skua, Common Eider, Whimbrel, Curlew to name but a few – it certainly is a magic place for bird photography. We then enjoyed several days in Lerwick where we have our new house and watched the many Tall Ships entering the harbour (Tall Ships 2011 – Lerwick was one of several European ports visited) and partook in the accompanying festivities with excellent live music, good food and plenty of the wet stuff! Of course no Summer Shetland visit could be complete without the addition of 2 of my passions – 1. Fair Isle and 2. Puffins . . . . . . .

Cliff top descent. . . I like this one, pin sharp and with a cliff backdrop.

So we had 2.5 days on Fair Isle, I think the shortest stay to date! This also coincided with my birthday on the 18th (i’ve had a good few Fair Isle birthdays now!) and more Tall Ships entertainment. There was little time for photography on this July Fair Isle visit, the weather was not too kind on the first day, but the second day was dry and bright with a brisk wind developing – perfect for what I had in mind, Puffin flight photography . . . .

Numerous Puffins taking flight!

I had just an hour and a half in the end for my annual Puffin fix, sat amongst these handsome birds in my favourite spot, watching comical Puffin interactions, enjoying the moment and trying desperately to capture individuals on the wing, not an easy task at the best of times!! However, I did manage a good few pleasing results of flying birds, the wind strong enough to hold them in the air long enough to point, focus and then pan as they swept past, I was impressed by the ability of the Nikon 200-400mm VR to keep up with me as I homed in on Puffin after Puffin at what seemed like 100mph! There were 200 or so Puffin on my chosen cliff that afternoon, many were failed or none breeding adults. There was very little sign of food being brought back for chicks, just a couple of bird were noted crashing in to the grassy, hole ridden cliff tops, beaks bulging with Sprats, Gadoids and the odd Lesser Sandeel. These bird sprinted for their nest holes at lightning speed upon landing to avoid having their prized catch stolen from them. Indeed it is turning out to be the worst year for seabird breeding productivity on Fair Isle since records began, over 60 years ago! It was bad in 3003 and 2004 when I was Assistant Warden/Seabird Officer, but apparently this is far worse. . . .and very worrying as seabirds are such good indicators of the health of the wider marine environment. It will be interesting to see how the breeding season develops on Fair Isle and across Shetland this year. . . .

Taking a good look at me!

I like the arched angle of this one above and the others looking on in the background.

What’s with the puzzled expression?  I guess I did look odd lying flat out on the  200ft cliff edge wielding my lens about and launching it skyward at regular intervals. . . .  .

A pair of Puffin . . . .

Puffin at Dusk . . . .to finish!

So only a short time with Puffins this year, when I return next month for my Autumn visit they will all have gone back out to sea for the Winter months. An hour and a half was well worth it though and I got some new flight shot material I was hoping for. I highly recommend anyone to go and sit amongst Atlantic Puffins at least once in their lives, it is a truly special experience and one I will never tire of. . . . .

Some of the very accessible Atlantic Puffin Sites – UK:

Shetland Islands: Hermaness National Nature Reserve, Unst  & Fair Isle.

Farne Islands – Northumberland. NE England.

Skomer Island – Pembrokeshire. W Wales.




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