One of the best places in the UK to see gannets up close and personal is the Bass Rock off North Berwick in the Firth of Forth, Scotland – the largest colony of Northern Gannets. So much so that I have been back a second time to take the boat across from Dunbar with a small group of photographers, supervised by the lovely Maggie Sheddon to ensure we respect these amazing birds. If you are lucky enough to have the right weather for landing here, you can carefully pick your way up the slopes to sit amongst the gannets quietly and observe and photograph them for a couple of hours! Such bliss and such a privilege! An amazing spectacle of around 150,000 gannets. They are Britain’s largest seabird and remain on Bass Rock until the end of October when they begin their long journey down the West Coast of Africa. The Scottish Seabird Centre at North Berwick has live webcams situated in several areas of the Rock so that visitors can observe these beautiful birds in the comfort of the centre! They fold their wings back to streamline their bodies for diving, but landing back on the rock is a sight to behold! They fly in like an unwieldy jumbo jet and crash land in an ungainly fashion, sometimes on top of others!!
The Gannet (Morus bassanus). Morus is from the Ancient Greek meaning “foolish”, given to the gannets for the lack of fear shown by breeding gannets, allowing them to be easily killed.I wandered the Northumberland Coast with its spectacular scenery and drove across at low tide to the Farne Islands, another wonderful place for puffins, cormorants, kittiwakes, razorbills, seals and terns, although a hat is a must here as the terns nest on the ground adjacent to the paths and dive bomb visitors aggressively to protect their young and have been known to draw blood!! A tripod comes in handy here to hold above your head! Bamburgh Castle.
THE FARNE ISLANDS
The Puffin. (Fratercula arctica)
The Arctic Tern.(Sterna Paradisaea)The Kittiwake. (Rissa Tridactyla)
The Shag. (Phalacrocorax aristotelis)
Grey Seals (Halichoerus gripus)
Common (or Harbour) Seal (Phoca vitulina)
The Razorbill.(Alca Torda)St.Abbs Head, Northumberland.
ISLE OF MULL
Mull is the second largest island of the Inner Hebrides (after Skye) off the West coast of Scotland. The island has a mountainous core with the highest peak Ben More at 3169 feet. Tobermory is a great base to explore this beautiful island where a wealth of wildlife makes its home including white-tailed and golden eagles, hen harriers, short-eared owls, pine martens, and otters. Off shore, basking sharks, porpoises and dolphins and minke whales can be seen, but the highland cattle also found a place in my heart!!
AIGAS HOUSE, BEAULY
Aigas House, run by Sir John and Lady Lucy Lister-Kaye, is Scotland’s first and foremost centre for nature study and wildlife holidays and education. It is a private family estate tucked into the natural bowl on the sunny side of Strathglass – a beautiful wooded and secluded glen through which the River Glass flows from the high mountainous peaks of Glen Affric to the estuarine mud flats of the Beauly Firth. On the estate itself, there are pine martens, badgers, otters, red and roe deer, foxes and a scottish wildcat captive breeding programme. There is loch in the grounds, into which beavers have been re-introduced from Norway with a loch side hide (built by Johnny Kingdom in 2007) for beaver watching. Another hide created with Laurie Campbell, a wildlife photographer and lecturer at Aigas, draws in pine martens nightly with controlled feeding! The Norwegian expert on beavers came to visit while I was there and we spent time in the hide together watching the entrapment of a young beaver cub for him to be able to determine its sex. After a few hours of the beaver putting its nose into the trap, smelling the apple and carrot enticements, it finally went in! We all cheered, and it was released back into the loch the next morning – a young female!
Beaver (Castor fiber)
Pine Marten (Martes martes)
Scottish Wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris)
Otter (Lutra lutra)
Fox (Vulpes vulpes)
CHANONRY POINT, Black Isle, Moray Firth.
I have visited Chanonry Point several times in the hope of seeing the bottle nosed dolphins that chase the salmon into a narrow part of the Firth by Fortrose. I met Charlie Phillips there on my first visit, a wildlife photographer who works for the W.D.C.S. (Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society), who has captured some remarkable shots through sheer patience and understanding of the dolphin’s movements.
Bottle nose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
The above photograph was one of my best shots, which was awarded a commendation in a WDCS competition! Charlie’s advice paid off! I have met him a couple of time since, he seems to spend all his life at the Point – like me, he is hooked on these wonderful cetaceans!
The following close up images of some beautiful British wildlife were taken at the BBC Wildlife Centre in Surrey, where I spent the day with Heather Angel, a wonderful wildlife photographer and author, who had just returned from photographing the snow monkeys in Japan. Her stories and images made me determined to take this trip too, and by chance, I met with another photographer at Chanonry Point who just happened to be organising just such a trip the following spring and I was lucky enough to take up the last space available!
Barn Owl (Tyto alba)
Little Owl (Athene noctua)