2019 marks the third year in a row that I have led dedicated photography tours to Skomer Island in Wales for Wildlife Worldwide, focusing on the charismatic Atlantic puffin. This rocky outcrop in the Irish Sea is home to nearly 30,000 puffins and a staggering 750,000 Manx shearwaters.
The weather on my two visits so far this year was pretty varied with sunshine, heavy rain and very strong winds all playing a roll. Sadly, during the evenings (when the puffins are most active) the weather was usually pretty dire – lots of rain, strong winds and sea spray.
Of course, I still managed to capture a few other shots which are worthy of a little attention. So sit back, relax and get your annual puffin-fix below …
I did have the privilege to enjoy one spectacular sunrise though and managed to capture some stunning shots of the birds as they returned to their nests. I also managed to get a few shots of razorbills, oystercatcers and guillemots.
That's right folks, I have been to Skomer once more and it still isn't enough. It is never enough!!!
My third and final visit of the year was leading Wildlife Worldwide's second Skomer's Perfect Puffins tour in 2018. It as a roaring success and I was joined by acclaimed photographer and film maker Ben Cherry - check out his awesome work here.
Now then, normally a visit to Skomer Island coincides with gale force winds, lashing rain or perhaps ice blasts. Well this trip was a little different - it was quite literally like being on an island in the Mediterranean summer. To be succinct, it was sublime.
To top it all off, we had a great group of people and some fabulous wildlife and epic light. You really cannot ask for more than that. So on to the pictures...
When it comes to photographing puffins, it nearly always starts with a classic portrait. It is just good to get yourself warmed up, then you can start to be a little more creative and try a few different types of shots.
For me, having already accumulated thousands of images of puffin, I now try to capture something different and this trip was no exception. What was incredible though, was watching the sun rise over the Pembrokeshire peninsula and setting over the Irish Sea, without there being a single moment it disappeared behind a cloud. So we enjoyed wall to wall sunshine from 4.45 all the way through to 22.00. Remarkable!
It also wasn't just about puffins. When you have guillemots, razorbills and a friendly seal there are near endless photographic opportunities.
After a the magic of being able to photograph the puffins in some wonderful light, our final excursion was out to Grassholm island in search of one of the world's largest northern gannet colonies. Here is just a little taster of what this remarkable place looks like...
Yes that’s right everyone, I have been back to Skomer once again. This time I was leading Wildlife Worldwide’s Skomer's Perfect Puffins trip – a short three day break on this stunning island and our timing could not have been better. It is the height of the breeding season on Skomer for pretty much everything that calls the island home and my clients were spoiled for choice.
We arrived on the island and found one of the resident short-eared owls resting right by the old farm, our base for the next two nights. We immediately got out the camera gear and started taking a few pictures of the owl, which had decided to rest only 20 yards from the path and was surrounded by the stunning floral display of red campion.
If only I had known that the owls would be so cooperative, that way we could have spent all our time at the farm and ignored everything else. Of course I am only joking! Now to some photos, just to whet your appetite…
For most people it is the large colony of puffins that draws them on to the island, but once they arrive they realise there is so much more on offer. We were particularly lucky as we had a whole day on the island to ourselves as the day boats were cancelled – it was heavenly. The island’s carpet of red campion was accompanied by an infusion of bluebells and led to a stunning patchwork display of colour. You really can’t ask for me when you have such a beautiful scene all to yourselves. As well as the owls there were a very obliging pair of whitethroat around the farm and of course the breeding swallows that seem to breed here every year.
Of course, I managed to get a few puffin photos too…
As you can see from the images above, we were blessed with some amazingly cooperative wildlife and the scenery was absolutely stunning.
Having the owls put on a display like this is particularly rare and the whole group made the most of it, but the puffins still seem to be the main draw for most. If you would like to join me on Skomer Island, then you will need to contact Wildlife Worldwide here.
Just to warn you... There is a huge amount of interest in the trip and with limited spaces there is a long waitlist.
All I can do is apologise for the lack of posts on this blog … there is no real excuse. Sadly, I haven’t been out with my camera enough recently and with a very busy year ahead leading a range of tours, I took a few days off and headed to Skomer Island with my old man.
The trip was a Christmas treat for my dad, but it was also an excuse to get out there and try my new 1DX II and the new EF Canon 500mm f4 IS II USM lens.
The main reason for going to Skomer is to spend time with the puffins. However, this year has been unseasonably cold and all of the seabirds seem to be a little behind their usual breeding cycle. The island’s plantlife has also been delayed, so we spent a few rather cold days in a pretty brown landscape. Let’s just say I wasn’t left disappointed as this provided something completely different to what you usually get on this rocky outcrop in the Irish Sea.
I must say that the first day was a little wet. Scrap that, the rain was relentless and after only an hour out in the sodden landscape I was soaked through. We beat a hasty retreat back to the relative warmth of the island’s accommodation. I only took a few photos in the evening but the light was, well it was awful.
The fact it was easier to photograph the island's large rabbit population, rather than the puffins, speaks volume as to the day's activities.
The second day on the island was a completely different story – the Sun shone for the day’s entirety. And the photography opportunities were almost limitless. It wasn’t just the puffins that cooperated either, there were a myriad of other species who were keen to get their moment in the spotlight.
The puffins were particularly quiet during the day, but as they are either sitting on an egg, or ready to lay said egg, or perhaps out fishing it wasn't a complete surprise. However, as the sun started to set I was blessed to an hour's worth of exquisite light, obliging birds and countless photographic opportunities.
The above are some very low res version of the images I managed to capture in that glorious golden hour. They are only a sample of what I was able to capture, but I hope it gives you an idea of what you can do by playing around with light and trying out different ideas.
I will be back in Skomer in May and June this year, leading trips for Wildlife Worldwide, so keep your eyes peeled for more images in the coming months.
Next week I am leading a trip to Slovenia's Dinaric Alps with Wildlife Worldwide - you can find out more about the tour here.
Towards the beginning of June I was fortunate enough to lead a small group of photographers to the island of Skomer. This rocky outcrop, which sits just off the Marloes Peninsula, is one of the UK’s seabird strongholds and supports around 6,000 pairs of breeding Atlantic Puffins.
These charming little birds are what most visitors come to see on Skomer Island and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. It has to be one of the UK’s finest wildlife experiences – quite simply it is hard not to smile when you see your first Puffin. Only about the size of a pint glass, these small birds are one of the world’s great ocean wanderers, their tenacity and dedication to their chicks is truly inspiring. They provide the perfect focus for this short photography break.
I spent 3 nights on Skomer, having only planned on staying for 2. It turns out that my clients (and me) were experiencing some of the worst low pressure systems for many a year, we were stranded on the high cliffs of the island for an extra 24 hours. Although it was a little inconvenient it provided further opportunities to enjoy the island’s varied birdlife including 300,000 pairs of Manx Shearwater (only possible to see in the dead of night), thousands of gulls (Greater and Lesser Black-backed as well as Herring), Guillemot, Razorbill, Kittiwake, Short-eared owl and the list goes on.
I thought I should give you a little taster of what this exciting trip is all about, so here are some of my favourite images from the trip.
After arriving on the island around 1pm on the first day and then having a hearty lunch, we set out to photograph the Puffins at 'The Wick'. The Wick is famed for its large colony of Puffins, all along the top of a dramatic coastal inlet on the southern side of Skomer. As the afternoon went on the skies cleared and provided us with some spectacular light for photography (see below).
The second day started quietly, as most of the Puffins had already left their cliff top burrows, they spend as much time as they can catching fish for the pufflings (yes that really is the name of the chicks). The light was already pretty bright, but the group managed to get a few images of a Raven and of course a few Puffins here and there.
I was lucky enough to capture one image as a bird flew in across the water in the blustery conditions, capturing it all in a muddle in mid air.
The afternoon proved to be another puffin bonanza, and many of the group tried their hand at bird in flight photography. This is known to be one of the hardest skills sets any wildlife photographer can learn, but photographing a bird this small in gusting winds is near impossible. However, a few of us got lucky and their persistence paid off.
But there were also opportunities to photograph an obliging Oystercatcher and the Rabbits were about as tame as you can get!
Having stayed on the island of Skomer for an extra evening, strong winds and poor visibility meant that no boats would be crossing over from the mainland. So after a morning of horrific weather, not even good for capturing images of Puffin in the rain, we headed out for one final time to add to our portfolios. For the most part, I kept my camera off, going around the group and making sure they were all getting what they wanted.
So even with some of Britain's finest summer weather (by that I mean gale force winds and torrential rain), we managed to spend plenty of time with the 'clowns of the sea'. I hope to be hosting more Skomer photography trips in 2018, all in partnership with Wildlife Worldwide.