Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Scottish Seabird Centre Boat Trip to the Isle of May


Well worth the wait! That was the thought when we got off the RIB on the Isle of May.  We'd originally booked the Scottish Seabird Centre's Isle of May landing trip in May but it was cancelled the morning of the trip due to bad weather, so we had rebooked for the 28 June.  The weather forecast was looking decidedly 'iffy' but we arrived at the SSC's North Berwick Harbour office to find that the trip was on - phew.



The skies were grey and overcast as we headed out into the Firth of Forth and our first stop was Bass Rock.  

I'd done a landing trip on The Bass in June 2014 and this time we sailed slowly around the base of this monolith with 150000 Gannets covering every nook and cranny.  It is a spectacular sight and the smell of fish was quite pungent.   



Our skipper Colin then gunned the engines and we off skipping across the waves towards the Isle of May.



As we approached the island the weather had improved and blue skies were seen above the island and we approached the mooring.  All around us were seabirds, including the reason for the trip, Atlantic Puffins.

Here is a short video of the crossing from North Berwick to the Isle of May via Bass Rock (Apologies for the autofocus issues in this video)





We were greeted on the quayside by members of the Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) who run the reserve.  After a quick briefing, we followed our guide James, who walked us up to the visitor centre to take off the heavy waterproof suits we had been issued for the crossing. We then headed up the pathway to the western side of the island. 



We also received a very warm welcome from the Arctic Terns nesting in the area by the Visitor Centre.  The small birds are highly protective of their nests and chicks and they will swoop and fly at any threat they perceive.  James informed us the trick is to hold something above your head, a hat or leaflet as the Terns go for the highest point.  I decided to use my camera instead and using a wide angle and the X-T1 set to 8 frames per second, I managed to grab some dramatic shots of a Tern 'attack'.







The reason for this defensive nature is the chicks that were on the ground behind a roped off area.  These hatchlings were waiting patiently for mum or dad to return with lunch from the sea.




We set off up to the north end of the island to see some of the seabirds and we hadn't gone far before we saw Puffins sitting all around us.






In addition to the Puffins there were plenty of Razorbills, Shag, Cormorants, Gulls and Kittiwakes.




As we walked back around to the south side of the island we could see the rain clouds approaching from the East Lothian coastline and it wasn't long before we had to don our waterproofs.  However it was a typical Scottish rain shower, it lasted 10 minutes and then it was gone, with the sun returning soon after.


There are several structures on the island.  The south side Fog Horn a prominent white tower on the island with a huge horn attached to the top.  There is a similar structure on the north side of island.



The oldest surviving lighthouse in Scotland, The Beacon, is seen below.  This coal fired lighthouse was built in 1636 and survived after there was moves to demolish is when the Stevenson lighthouse, The Main Light, was built in 1816.  The Beacon was saved by Sir Walter Scott who wanted it preserved for the country.



The Low light is on the east coast of the island and is no longer used as a lighthouse but houses volunteers who come to island to help catalogue the birds that visit the Isle of May.




The Abbot of Reading built a priory on the May in 1145, and as many as 13 monks lived there, supported by lands and tithes from the surrounding countryside - theirs was no subsistence existence. St Adrian's Priory lasted until the 1548 when the Priory was sold and the Monks moved away. The ruins can still beset not far from the jetty.





As the sun came out we headed back along the eastern side of the island to meet one of the wardens who was going to show us a Puffling, a baby Puffin.



This Puffling was used to being handled and wasn't in any distress as David showed us the downy feathers and how they are ringed so they could be identified.  When asked if the parents would reject the handled chick he said that didn't happen and the chick was perfectly safe.  The ringed birds provide data and apparently Puffins live for around 40 years.




We then headed back to the boat to take the 30-minute crossing back to North Berwick.





The trip out to the Isle of May was a wonderful experience and one I am sure we will repeat over the coming years that we live in East Lothian.  we can see the Isle of May from the end of our road every day (when it isn't covered in sea mist).

At £45 per person the Scottish Seabird Centre trip is great value for money and as we are supporters of the SSC we received a 10% discount on the trip.





CLICK HERE for more information on the Scottish Seabird Centre boat trips

CLICK HERE for more information on the Isle of May

CLICK HERE for more shots of Puffins in flight on yesterday's blog

All images taken on a Fujifilm X-T1 with a 10-24mm f4, 50-140mm f2.8 or 55-200mm f3.5/4.8 / X-Pro1 with 18mm f2

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Monday, 29 June 2015

X-T1 Autofocus Test on Puffin Island



Yesterday we took a Scottish Seabird Centre boat trip out to the Isle of May in the Firth of Forth to photograph some of the 200,000 seabirds that live on the island, including some of the many thousands of Puffins that breed on the Isle of May each year.

Today Fujifilm launch Firmware Version 4 for the Fujifilm X-T1 and I have been testing a beta version of the new software for Fujifilm that significantly improves the autofocus on the Japanese manufacturers flagship Compact System Camera (CSC).  

The trip to the Isle of May gave me another opportunity to test the Zone and Wide Tracking Focus on the updated software and photograph these small birds in flight with the XF50-140mm f2.8.

Atlantic Puffins (Fratercula arctica) are only 32cm (13 inches) long and fly low with their wings beating at 400 times per minute.  They are very difficult to track with the camera because they fly so quickly but there are so many of them on the Isle of May I had plenty of chances to point the X-T1 and start the focus test.  The hit rate was acceptable at around 60%.  Once the AF had locked on it was able to track but I had more success tracking and taking a single shot than using a continuous burst at 8 frames per second.




Once again the flaw in the X-Series system is the lack of a fast long lens, but we know that Fujifilm are working on this. The addition of a 1.4x converter that is already on the roadmap will be welcome news for anyone with the 50-140mm and the new superzoom will also be a great addition to the XF lens line up when it arrives for anyone interested in wildlife photography.  That said, the 50-140mm, and the 55-200mm f3.5/4.8, performed extremely well on the Isle of May.













More images from the Isle of May trip will be posted on tomorrow's blog.

CLICK HERE for more information on Puffins


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ALL IMAGES ARE THE PROPERTY OF MACLEAN PHOTOGRAPHIC AND CANNOT BE USED FOR ANY PURPOSE WITHOUT PRIOR PERMISSION

MacLean Photographic run Tours and Workshops in East Lothian and the Borders of Scotland.  CLICK HERE for more details and availability

If you like what you see on this blog please visit our Facebook page and click 'like'