This week saw me visiting one of my favourite places; the island of Skomer. This island has an amazing selection of wildlife from majestic sea birds to stunning birds of prey, but most people will know or have heard of Skomer because of its most comical characters, the Atlantic Puffin. These amazing little birds may be small but they certainly put a big smile on everyone’s faces. I’ve visited the island many times with clients and on my own and have loved every single visit.This time I was taking two clients over to the island for their first encounter with the Puffin; neither of them had ever seen a puffin before so Skomer was certainly going to amaze them. We were slightly concerned as the boat, the Dale Princess, hadn’t been sailing to the island for three days prior to our visit due to high winds and heavy swells in the Irish Sea. When visiting Skomer, its always going to be an early start to the day. This isn’t so that you can catch the boat early as the first one doesn’t leave until 10am, but it’s so you can get down to the Lodge and book your place on the boat. The Dale Princess only takes fifty people at any one time to the island and only makes a few visits throughout the day, and as I like my clients to get the best from their trips, I always make sure we can get on the first boat leaving for the island. With us all booked into our accommodation we were hoping to wake up to a nice calm dry day so an early night was in order, so with tummies full of food it was time to dream of puffins and the amazing day that was to follow.
Over we go
Six am and the sun is gleaming through the blinds. A quick shower and it was time to get kitted up grab our take away breakfast and head off down to the lodge. With us staying in Marloes this was only a short drive of 10 minutes so we got there nice and early. As we pulled into the car park and walked around the corner there it was; the lodge that held those glorious tickets, but it looked like we weren’t the only ones wanting to visit the island as the queue had already started. With an hour and a half to wait for the lodge to open, and around 30 people in the line in front of us we were fairly confident that we would get on the first boat. The sun was shining and the doors opened at 8.30, we looked behind us at the ever increasing line and counted around 120 people now. With 30 people in front that was the 150 allocated seats for the 3 boats to the island. With tickets in hand we walked back to the car trying not to smile to much as we could see there were going to be a lot of disappointed people, the car park was full and more and more people were constantly arriving.With walking boots on, cameras all ready and as many bottles of water we could fit into our rucksacks without tipping us over, away we went to the jetty to catch our boat.
It’s only a 10 to 15 minute boat ride over to Skomer and with my clients looking out for puffins bobbing about on the sea the time seemed irrelevant. I love it when clients are going to see new things for the first time as the look on their faces when they see them is fantastic, and this time was no different. As we got closer to the island we had a couple of gannets flying around and then lots of razorbills and of course the wonderful puffins soon made their appearance. It always seems strange to hear people say that they hope they will see the puffins when they get to the island but if you haven’t been before then you wouldn’t know what you are about to encounter. Skomer has over 6000 breeding pairs on the island and they are always willing to have their photos taken so sightings are never a problem. As puffins were the main reason for the visit, this was what we were going to concentrate on and not the other amazing wildlife on the island. With puffins in the rock faces, and our greeting talk from the warden done, we headed off to the Wick; this is the area of the island where most of the puffins are nesting in their burrows and one of the best areas to get close up views and the obligatory set of images most photographers want.
With my clients settled and my briefing done, it was time for them to start exploring the area and to start getting those images, I always find it best to just sit down and watch the wildlife first so I can see how they are behaving and take in the amazing scenery but having said that I can still remember my first time on the island and it’s very hard to resist taking photos straight away.With puffins all around us I explained to my clients that they would have no problem in capturing the shots and that the puffins can at times be a little inquisitive. Having said that, this little fella decided to pop over to say hello and sat there on my foot for about 10 minutes before deciding to move on.
With my new friend gone and my clients hitting their shutter buttons with glee it was time to get a few images for the blog. First on my list was the sought after sand eel shot, both in portrait and in flight. Now these little birds are amazing fisherman and due to the design of their bills they can hold a large number of sand eels at any one time. As the images show, they have no problem in cramming those bills full to the brim.
As they fly in they tend not to hang about and head straight for their burrows. This is due to the high chance of them being mugged by birds for their catch. With the first set of shots done, it was time for my clients and myself to have a well-earned rest, so time for a bit of lunch and an opportunity for me to look through my client’s images and settings. With us all rested and ready to carry on we had another half an hour at the Wick before we moved on back towards the docking point where I wanted to work on a few more in flight images with my clients.
It’s always tricky capturing birds in flight and for me it’s so important to pick the subject up early from a distance giving your camera chance to lock on, then you need to have, and use a very smooth panning technique to maintain a sharp image (easier said than done). Practice is key to capturing moving subjects, it doesn’t matter what you photograph, whether it’s a dog running around or a pigeon flying, just practice the technique.
With time now getting on and our boat due in it was time to pack the kit up, so having one last look at the breath-taking views it was time for us to say good bye to the island and it’s amazing residents.