October means it’s time for me to head out to the Isle of May, an incredible island off the coast of Fife (Scotland) which is home to thousands of breeding seabirds and seals every year. The puffins may have gone but the seals are just starting to arrive and I’ll be here for the next eight weeks to study them as part of my job at the Sea Mammal Research Unit (for updates on the science happening on the island, check out out science blog here).
The colony is still growing at this time of year, and we have lots of pregnant female grey seals waiting to give birth on the shores of the island. The number of mother – pup pairs is growing daily, and we are out every day looking to identify study individuals from the seals that are on the island who have tags in their flippers to aid in picking them out among the crowds. Soon the seals will be everywhere on the island, especially as the pups wean from their mothers and start to explore the interior of the island, they even come up to check out the old lighthouse keeper’s house we stay in!
In other news, the website has been updated with a review for Cotswold Wildlife Park in Oxfordshire here and I’ve uploaded a load of new pictures from my trip to Edinburgh zoo last weekend in the ‘Latest Photos’ section. Finally, I’ve given into peer pressure and joing twitter (@KJRScience if you would like to find me there), I’m still learning the ropes but everyone keeps telling me how wonderful it is so hopefully I’ll take to it!
While it’s been a shamefully long time since my last update here, at least its not been a year since my previous post like last time! 2014 has turned into quite an eventful year for me, I passed my viva for my PhD at the University of St Andrews and had the privilege of going out to Sarasota in Florida to work with the Mote Marine Lab on the resident bottlenose dolphin’s in Sarasota Bay. I had a fantastic time and got to see so many amazing things, wild manatees for the first time and lots of ospreys, they are everywhere in Florida! Coming from the UK where they are so scarce, I was amazed whenever I saw one, and I got to see them fishing and a nest full of chicks on a ‘no wake’ sign!
Since I came back I’ve been busy with me post doctoral work and moving. So not many trips to the zoo for me this year, and as my PhD work has finished I didn’t get to go out to one of the grey seal breeding colonies this autumn, for the first time in 6 years! so that was very strange, I miss the colonies and seeing all the familiar mothers and their new pups very much. I’ve actually taken more photos of people this year, having photographed my first wedding for some friends and taking lots of shots of my rapidly growing nephew. Hopefully next year I’ll be back to taking lots of animal shots where I belong!
I’m hoping to get a trip to Edinburgh zoo in before the end of the year, but I’ve also put a bunch of my shots from the last three years up on the site under three new galleries, equines, pets and farmyard animals. I love photographing horses, one of the few things I did get to do this summer was pay a visit to the New Forest National Park in the south of England to photograph the ponies there, had an amazing time! I used to take lots of shots of suffolk punches when I lived in Suffolk too, they are an amazing heavy horse breed. In the ‘pets’ section, I’ve got plenty of photos of my own family’s dogs and some that belong to a friend. For some reason its full up of border collies so I should really try and get out and get some different dog breeds!
The only thing left to say is that if you like my photos and live in fife, I actually have some mounted prints going on sale in december! There is an arts fair at the St Andrews Preservation Trust Museum on North Street from the 29th November until the 7th December, and there looks like there are lots of lovely things from paintings to ceramics to come and see and buy. So if you like my photos and would like one to have in your home, stop by and have a look! If you can’t make it to the fair but would still like a mounted print of one of my shots, then just get in touch with me using my email on the ‘contact me’ part of the website and we can sort something out now I know how to get them made!
Happy holidays incase I don’t update before Christmas, but hopefully I’ll be back with an update before the new year!
Has it really been a year already? Time certainly flies when you’re finishing your PhD. In the last year I’ve managed to do all the analysis, write up and hand in my PhD thesis, and I will have my viva (the final examination I guess) this week! Am getting pretty nervous about it but it will all be over soon, and that particular chapter of my life will come to a close.
My thesis has left me few opertunities to get out and take photos since my Northumberland trip. I managed a grand total of three trips to zoos in the year, and didn’t get back to Edinburgh Zoo at all until recently. On the plus side I did get to spend another season out on the Isle of May surveying the grey seals while they breed which is always amazing. I also got to go to New Zealand for about two weeks in december, and I had the time of my life!
I went to New Zealand to present some of the findings from my PhD work, and the conference was held in Dunedin on the South Island of New Zeland. The place was absolutely stunning and luckily enough was right next to the Otagu Peninsula, which has all kinds of unusual, endemic and endangered wildlife on it. While I was there I got to see the world’s most endangered penguin and sea lion species, the yellow-eyed penguin and the New Zealand sea lion. The sea lions were huge! and they were hauled out on the beach, not bothered at all by people unless they foolishly got too close. The penguins were amazing too, got to see them swimming in the surf and coming up the beach to return to their nests in the sand dunes. While we were there we also got to visit an albatros breeding colony! I have always wanted to see albatros, and we managed to see birds on nests with eggs, birds doing their courtship dances and pairs flying in sync with each other, was incredible.
Once the conference was over I rented a car and headed north along the east coast of the south island. There were several wildlife hotspots I’ve been dying to see my entire life along the way and I couldn’t wait to get to them! The first stop was a place called Akora to see the endangered Hector’s Dolphin, a very small dolphin species only found in coastal New Zealand. The company we went out with (Akora Dolphins, http://akaroadolphins.co.nz/) were excellent, they knew lots about the local area and wildlife to tell everyone on the boat and we saw loads of Hector’s Dolphins, they even tried to bow ride for a while! They aren’t really built for speed though so they couldn’t keep it up for long. On that trip we also got to visit a New Zealand fur seal breeding colony that had lots of tiny pups on it, was great watching the colony from the water as the seals weren’t disturbed at all, they make the most incredible noises I’ve ever heard from a pinniped! If you get a chance to go to the south island and are in the Christchurch area, I would really recommend going to Akora, not only is the wildlife amazing but its a beautiful place in spectacular scenery.
All too soon we had to heard north again though, this time to Kaikora. Any one who is a whale watching enthusiast knows that Kaikora is one of the best places to see Sperm Whales relatively close to shore due to the presence of a massive, deep ocean trench not far from the shore there. Its also a great place to see Dusky Dolphins, which I’ve wanted to see since seeing documentaries about their acrobatic antics as a child. The weather conditions were not great, but we managed to get out and see a spectacular male Sperm Whale, he was called Tutu! All the males are resident in that area so the whale watch guides (http://www.whalewatch.co.nz/) can ID and tell you who is who while you’re out there. We did only get to see one whale, spotting and getting on them is really hard work and I felt for the staff on the boat, Sperm Whales are hardly very surface active and they stay under for such a long time, really makes the lives of the boat staff difficult! On that trip we also saw wandering and white-capped albatros too which was great.
The next day I was very keen to try and see some Dusky dolphins. We got up really early and went on a 5am trip out to try and see them, and it was well worth the early wake up call! We went out with a company called Dolphin Encounter (http://www.dolphinencounter.co.nz/) and on the boat you can either get geared up and try to swim with the dolphins, or stay on the boat and watch them (and take photos in my case!). I was very wary of a company that advertises swimming with dolphins, but once we were out there I was pleasently suprised. We were really far from shore in very deep water, and we were on the pod periphery. Any dolphins that swimmers were near were there because they’d chosen to swim over to check the people out, which a fair number did! I personally prefer watching and taking photos to swimming with dolphins, but if that sort of thing takes your fancy then this company have got the right idea for doing it without harassing the dolphins. We found a massive pod of several hundred dolphins and it was an incredible sight, at any one time there were always two or three dolphins in the air breaching or doing somersaults, was hard to know where to look! There were loads of calves around too which was great to see, and loads of the dolphins made a beeline for the boat to bow ride much to everyone’s delight. All too soon it was time to go home, but it was an amazing experience!
After that I was unfortunatly running out of time on the trip. I drove to the northmost point on the island to Picton and got a ferry to the north island and Wellington so I could go visit the Weta cave! I am a massive lord of the rings fan, and didn’t have time to go to any of the actual filiming locations on this trip, but the Weta cave more than made up for it! Then I got on a flight to Aukland, which was where my international flight back to the UK was departing from. I originally wanted to drive up through the north island too but I ran out of time! Ah well, hopefully I will get to come back one day. I had a spare day in Aukland so I went out one more time with a wildlife tour to try and see some Bryde’s whales, which I’ve never seen before! There is also always the chance of seeing orca while you’re out in NZ waters… but I was unlucky on both counts this time, and didn’t see any whales or orcas. We did find a huge feeding aggregation of gannets and common dolphins however, which was an amazing sight with all the diving birds and fast moving dolphins. So that was a lovely way to end my trip, before the horrible long flight back to the UK!
So I had an eventfull time in New Zeland and was extremely luck to go there and to see so many amazing things. The next stop for me after my viva this week is a trip to Sarasota in Florida to work with the Mote Marine Lab on bottlenose dolphins, which is VERY exciting! In the mean time I have some recent shots from the highland wildlife park and keilder bird of prey center to sort through and upload, so I’ll hopefully get them up before I leave (but definately before another year goes by!).
After two months of not getting out on any photoshoots, I’ve finally got some new shots to share from my fantastic Easter holiday in Northumberland with my family. I was so busy with PhD work in february and march I had no weekends free to go anywhere, not even Edinburgh zoo! So I was really happy to get out with my camera taking pics of my family, the dogs Tess and Colin the Border Collies and the wildlife in the area. I even had a go at some landscape shots! I’m considering adding a ‘Pets’ section to the website to put all my dog pictures into, will see how things go. In the meantime I’ve uploaded lots of seal, lamb and bird of prey shots from my time on holiday.
I’d not spent a lot of time in Northumberland before, the last time I was here was a short visit when I was in primary school, and it was great to explore a new region of the UK, the landscape is gorgeous! We went to Hadrian’s Wall, Bamburgh Castle, Kielder Water and one place I’ve not been to in five years, the Farne Isles! Some of my family are not too keen on boat rides so in the end it was only me and Rich who went on the trip. It was a sail around only, the breeding sea birds are not back in huge numbers so we didn’t think it was worth landing on the islands. We did see some puffins flying around, and a black guillimot! Which are rare in this area so that was neat to see. We also saw thousands of grey seals, which I of course loved! They are all there to moult at the moment so are looking very scruffy but it was still ace to see so many of them, even saw some tagged beasties from the Isle of May!
We went out with an organisation called ‘Serenity’ Farne Isles Boat Trips, and they were fantastic! They had a beautiful boat and the skipper and wildlife tour guide were both lovely and really knowledgeable about the islands and all the wildlife in the area. I had a great time, but I couldn’t understand why they had so few people on their boat compared to the other tour operator going from the Seahouses harbour, who’s boat was rammed. Don’t get me wrong, for us as customers it was great to have so much room on the boat (there were only 8 people on that trip) and so many opertunities to talk to the guide one on one, but I felt bad for them, I hope its not what happens all the time. It may be because when you type ‘Farne Isles boat trips’ into google search the other tour comes out as the top search result, and while the blog for the Serenity trips is at the bottom of the first page of search results, their actual web page with the trip info on it is harder to find. Whatever the reason, they are fantastic and if you’re planning a trip out to the Farne Isles I strongly recommend them! I’ve added their site to the list on my ‘links’ page but I’ll put it here too;
The other place that I really want to talk about is the Kielder Water Bird of Prey Center, which we found on our visit to (no suprise) Kielder Water. This is a fantastic, well designed center with one of the most varied collections of birds of prey I’ve ever seen and one of the best displays (sorry Kielder, I can’t ignore the awesomeness of Banham zoo’s flying display!). It was really windy but the display area is designed so they can still fly some of the owls in a part sheltered by the mews, but also fly the bigger birds in an open area the seating part looks over. I’m not explaining it very well, but it was a great take on a display area I’d not seen before, and despite the wind they flew three owls (barn, ural and european eagle), a black kite and a white tailed sea eagle! I was so excited to see this incredible bird in their mews, and to see them fly her too, was incredible! I’ve seen sea eagles in the wild on both the west and east coasts of Scotland but to see one close up, was amazing. The display was great too, got lots of the audience involved in flying to the glove and throwing bits for the Kite to catch, I was even asked to have some chicken put on my hat for the Kite to snatch off mid flight. Was great fun, yes the kite did steal my hat and then flew off with it for a while but she brought it back eventually, was great! So yeah, if you are in the area and like birds of prey definatly check out this place you won’t be disappointed.
Now its back to Scotland and back to work on the thesis. I have no idea when I’ll next get out to take more photos, maybe will get to go see the moray firth dolphins in may or visit one of the southern zoos (banham/colchester/twycross) then, but it’ll depend on how much work I’ve done, and how much I still have to do!