Wednesday, 2 June 2010

1690 miles in 7 days......... and then the weekend came

This is hopeless...... I've been back in the land of living for a week now and only now have had time to write up a photo blog of the trip I made for work, 2 weeks ago.

Saving Species is a flagship Radio 4 wildlife programme, and I am a minor cog in a wheel which makes the series turn around with remarkable speed. For the transmission on the 25th of May I was sent up to Scotland to record and live broadcast pieces from seabird colonies. The Isle of May and near Tain. The episode is available as a listen again, plus a blog - click here.

And this is my personal blog of the trip..... little ole me, a car, and a pile of radio equipment. I've decided the best way is to do it as a photo story, so I'll plonk captions underneath each photo. hope you enjoy the trip.

So let me begin. Leaving Bristol at 5pm on Wednesday I drove to Newcastle to stay with my parents overnight. En route in North Yorkshire a fabulous sunset developed and this resulted in this tree. Absolutely nothing to do with my work, I just liked it.

After breakfasting, on Thursday I headed up to Anstruther. Making a fatal error of using the A1 through Northumberland this took an age, so a quick stop, and another photo opportunity from Fenham le Moor and across to Lindisfarne, while I pushed down a sandwich for lunch in a lane.

Eventually I made it to Anstruther by about 4pm on Thursday. As I drove into the town, the Isle of May, my destination for the trip was clearly visible 6 miles out to sea. Tomorrow at 6am, we'd set off there in a hired RIB, the "Osprey". I hope the weather stays calm....

....... actually this part of the Neuk of Fife is very much like Northumberland!

After meeting the scientists the evening before and a fish and chip supper, at 5am on Friday we rendezvous in the B&B, for a 6am set off from Anstruther harbour. What an absolutely fantastic day. Sea like a millpond and as we set off the mist began to lift ever so slowly.... nature in sheer beauty.

I have just put this one is because I like the colours, orange, blue and white.......!!

Eventually the Isle of May came close enough to see (and smell) the seabirds on the cliffs. Rafts of puffin, razorbill, guillemot passed by, shag, kittiwake and fulmar on the cliffs, and out to sea gannets dive bombing the water from nearby Bass Rock. Truly fantastic. And it was only 6.25am.....

Can there be a better sight on a spring morning than calm seas and thousands of wheeling seabirds?

Anyway we arrived and headed off to the Lighthouse which now houses the Scottish Natural Heritage offices and research areas. With me were scientists from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, and as such the first thing we had to do was..... no not check the leg rings, but have a cup of tea and some ginger cake.

Mind you this puffin looks like it won't be breeding this year......

Ahhahh, they're all dolled up for a night out in their best dinner jackets. Everywhere though puffins and guillemots were wheeling about, and down by where the boat berthed, terns screeched their welcome.

One of the things I'd come to record were shags having geolocators attached to their leg rings. So I'd better show a shag pair on the nest...... minus geolocators.
How did that get in here......???? You see some strange wildlife these days on rocky islands.

Oh god there he is again eyeing up this eider duck for a new duvet........ only kidding before you leave a comment about duck cruelty. I was actually setting up an atmospheric microphone here to record seabirds, and she just sat watching me, not a care in the world.

And this is what I was recording.............................

..................................... and this is what I was recording with. so simple, even I can do it, just!! look at that sea though....fantastic, and only 7.30am.
Well all good things have to come to an end and eventually at 12.30 we had to leave as low tide would prevent the RIB leaving the island and we'd be stuck here for another 8 hours. But what a fantastic 6 hours on an island with top seabird ecologists.... a real privilege. the weather was holding too, so we slowly chugged our way back past many grey seals, just lovely.

But then out in the open water, the "Osprey's" twin engines roared into life and we shot back to the mainland, scattering gannets as we went. Such graceful birds, and our biggest seabird.

So that was Friday. Saturday involved another 5 hour drive further north to almost the top of Scotland, Tain. Crossing the mountains on the A9 that part of Sutherland comes as a shock, rich fertile farmland and wide sandy beaches. And, more hooded crows than I could shake a stick at.... it's just a shame I can't photograph them any closer... the clue is in the arrow.

This photo pretty much say it all really................ except I arrived, it was foggy. The fog lifted for 2 minutes. I took this photograph. the fog descended and stayed there. the completely nutty thing about this is that 7 days before I was in Boscastle, Cornwall (see blog entry 17 May). Yes, work out the driving needed to get from one end to the other. Mad, but would not have missed this opportunity for anything.

Trying to be clever and arty here as the fog rolled in...... so never saw the Orkney's just 18 miles away!

But everywhere in this part of Scotland was gorse in full bloom. The heady scent was everywhere and it was apparently a good season after the severe winter up here. There was still snow on the Cairngorms as I drove through.

Monday I met up with another ecologist and we did a recce and trial broadcast from a cliff near Tain. Just 140 meters of near vertical grass and gorse to negotiate with my equipment. Did I falter? Did I fall? Yep! But we did find a pine marten scat, sadly no animal, but that's another animal I've always wanted to see. During the pre-broadcast as we sat on the cliff talking to Bristol, dolphins broke the surface of the sea and from out grandstand view we were both just enthralled at their grace and agility. It was sad to pack up for the day, the weather remained kind, so after slogging down, and gasping my last back up, in the evening after a tip off from Bob (the ecologist) I popped out to see a local Osprey nest. It's in these trees.

And here is an award winning photo of the male coming in, minus any fish.......

And then back to the hotel to spend an evening ringing Julie back in Wiltshire and watching two satellite transmitters recharging themselves near the trouser press in my room. It doesn't get much better than this for entertainment in the Highlands.

Tuesday dawned fair of face and so Bob and I headed back down the hill, sorry near vertical cliff. sun was shining off the sea and again dolphin broke the surface for us to watch.

And there's that strange bit of wildlife again with that satellite thingy talking to Bristol. And he's doing something to that fluffy thing too. Shouldn't be allowed. The slope here doesn't look very steep, but believe me every time we had to move one of us went bustle over apex down the slope. Cracking views though, absolutely cracking.

The broadcast over, Bob asked me to help him do something I've always wanted to do. No not morris dancing, but to see barn owl chicks. So as he had to do this on a farm we passed anyway, in we popped to a dilapidated barn and well....... 4 little bundles of fluff in Quickslivers arms... go on, you'll say ahh ahh now... I know you will. And before any comments flood in, Bob is a bird ringer for the BTO, so that's why they were removed from the nest. I was just there to provide the eye candy for the ladies.


And that was that. Lunch in the Co-Op cafe in Tain, then into the car and Tuesday afternoon I drove back to Newcastle, just 8 hours this time. Wednesday back to Bristol. A mere 6 hours. And then Thursday and Friday were rest days for me......... okay, let me rephrase this......

On Friday I had a large garden to grass cut for Julie. No that's not true, I offered because the lady who's garden it is is wonderful and well over 90. Tea and cakes made the job easire, but it was a hurculean task. It's the third time I've cut the grass here, it never gets any easier, but I love it as the views from this garden are spectacular. And my fee paid for a wonderful meal at the Cross Keys in Gt Bedwyn, a regular haunt of the two of us.

And this being a Bank Holiday and a time for rest, I offered to look after a friend dog for 2 days. Meet Fredi, 1 year old and impossible to exhaust, no matter how many walkies were undertaken. On Saturday evening Julie and I were recumbent on the sofa watching a video, and Fredi hurled toys backwards and forwards in front of us, until we relented and he lay ontop of us for the rest of the evening.

And finally....... we'd had 2 weeks apart, and although I had seen some absolutely spectacular sights, barn owl chicks, dolphins, ospreys and the like. Seen magnificent scenery. Been priveledge enough to visit places normally not accessible to the public. One thing crept in my mind.......... I was missing someone. And the phonecalls each night made it worse. Home is definitely where the heart is and glad to be home and say hello to a Wiltshire steeplechaser (it's a long story - one day I may explain).
But for now, that's all folks !!!!!!!


  1. What a wonderful trip Andrew. And to hold the baby owls, what a feeling that must have been. The pictures are wonderful. That lovely lady in the last picture has one beautiful smile.

  2. Well yes, aaahhhh! They are very cute. Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a kind comment. Your own looks full of interest and I will listen to the broadcast later. Good luck with your new blog!

  3. Thank you Oldcrow - it was a very speciel trip and possibly one of the best in my life.

    Thank you too Chris, I'll do my best to maintain the level of interest which the last 2 blogs I had hopefully conveyed.

  4. Great post. What a trip and what an amazing experience. Back from USA now, hope you got my email. Talk soon. Jane

  5. Hi Jane, thank you and glad you got back safely. I did get the e-mail, a reply in the offing very soon