Saltee Islands

Saltee Island: big adventure 2016

puffin

Sweet puffin looks at me with his wise grey eye.  Another hour on the island and the boat will come to pick us up. I don’t want to leave. I want to stay there, on the edge of the cliff, and see what he sees.

puffin

The aquamarine blue water turns a shade darker.

saltee

There is a dark cloud coming from the East, and it means rain.

saltee

Before long it was raining lazily, and the raindrops sat on the puffin’s back and head, like diamond beads.

puffin puffin

I have had a fabulous time and took many photographs. I photographed birds perched on the cliffs, and in flight, from the front and from behind, …

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seabirds

… single and in groups.

saltees

We even saw a family of partridges and a rabbit.

rabbit

It is time to leave.

saltee

Enjoy this short video from Saltee Islands website .

We take the stairs down to the rocky shore, and walk along the water edge taking photographs of everything that lies around.

saltees 2 152

saltees 2 143

Huge thanks to the Neale family who have turned the islands into the bird sanctuary, and set up a shelter for those who might get stuck on the island overnight.

saltee islands

Our boat arrived with more photographers on board. This group will stay until the dark to take pictures of the sunset. The rubber dinghy is speeding towards the shore. It is also named after a bird. Guess which? A Puffin! 🙂

saltees

This is Declan Bates, the captain of  An Crosan, The Razorbill. Last August Captain Bates spotted an overturned boat that capsized near Great Saltee Island. Ten people had been in water for five hours. They were rescued and taken by An Crosan to Kilmore Quay. Nine of them survived.

Thank you for the safe trip, captain!

Captain Declan Bates

I do hope you enjoyed this trip, extended over so many blog posts 🙂

Don’t lose connection with the beautiful things of the world. Everything else won’t last long.

inesemjphotography Have a wonderful weekend!

Saltee Island: lost in the ferns

conmorant

This young European Shag was a juvenile when I saw him last year, almost in the same place, and here is his mama and his new brother or sister. I recognized him because of his distinctive shyness, in opposite to his mama who is bold and ill-tempered 🙂

cormorant

I have never seen a puffin chick. Something to look forward to.

All sorts of  seagulls in the island also have chicks around this time. The parents are standing on the top of the rocks watching their young, ready to swoop and attack an intruder.

Four species of seagulls breed on Saltees. Herring gull is on the Irish Red List of the most threatened bird species. In the 1980s there were about 500 pairs on Great Saltee, and now just over 50 pairs. Good that they can live up to 30 years.

sea gull

This Herring gull clearly enjoyed posing for a portrait.

sea gull sea gull

Two species of the Black-backed seagulls are nesting on the island. We didn’t want to upset the male perched on the rock and took pictures of the chicks from a distance. This is a Greater Black-backed gull, one of the largest gulls in the world. In one of my previous blogs, I have pictures of this gull in flight.

sea gull

Two fluffy Black-backed gull chicks enjoying the sun.

seagull

After leaving the Gannet colony I suggested that we should explore the north side of the island. It looked like a green meadow sprinkled with some white flowers. Off we went, and on our way we came across some nests with the eggs and the chicks wandering around. The eggs belong to different species of the gulls. Later I googled ‘seagull eggs’, and was shocked as all the pages that came up were related to cooking and eating these eggs!

Most of the seagulls lay three eggs. One must be stolen from the nest.

sea gull eggs

These are the eggs of a Great Black-backed gull. The pair of them is nesting in exactly the same place as last year. You can enlarge the picture to see the chick use its egg tooth to break through the egg shell. It might take 24 hours or even longer.

egg

This speckled blue eggshell is quite big which means that it belongs to a seagull.

egg

A chick is hiding in the weeds and playing dead.

seagull

After that, our detour took a bad turn, literally. We turned to the East and gradually entered the area covered with the ferns. In the beginning we managed to keep to the frail path but it led us nowhere. The seagulls hated us. Then the thorns and brambles came into the picture, and the path completely disappeared. My companions suggested that we keep moving along the coast no matter what, but the green sea of ferns might hide dangerous holes and who knows what else – I didn’t want to dive in it again.

butterfly

We were right in the middle of the green area in the picture below. If you zoom it, you will see a stone wall crossing the island, with the seagulls perched on top of it. I suggested we walk to the wall, climb on it, and walk on top of the wall until we reach a surface free of vegetation. So we did. The wall wasn’t flat on top, of course. The rocks were sharp and slippy, I fell, and my backside stuck between the rocks like a keystone. If I were alone I would cry. Thankfully, I was lifted up and put on the straight and narrow again. After a while we reached the main path and thus escaped being consumed by ferns. Lesson learned – keep to the main path because there is no other.

ferns

Beautiful weather had changed and the drizzle started to thicken. Suddenly the dark clouds opened in the middle revealing a perfect rectangle. Was it some sort of a message?

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Another surprise – two pairs of ringed pigeons. How did they make it to the island?

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On our way to the boat we returned to the Puffin cliffs.

saltee

I just cannot stop taking pictures of puffins. This one came running – sweet, funny bird!

puffin puffin

Thank you for sharing the dangers of this trip with me! The last blog about Saltee Islands is coming next Saturday!

inese_mj_photographyHave a wonderful weekend!

Saltee Islands – treasure bigger than money -part 1

Saltee_Islands

“All people young and old, are welcome to come, see and enjoy the islands, and leave them as they found them for the unborn generations to come see and enjoy.”      –  Michael the First

Even after I shared two posts on my Saltee experiences I still have a lot to say. I love this place.

When we arrived to Kilmore Quay to catch our motor boat, the sea looked rough. In the days of sail, the area around the Islands was known as “the graveyard of a thousand ships”.  I cannot tell that I have a brilliant memory, but this sort of information somehow always gets stuck in my head.

We boarded our boats – twelve in each – and off we went.  Not wanting to get soaked in salty wate, I went inside the boat, and it was a grave mistake. The waves were rolling over the boat; a few times the wave hit the bottom of the boat so hard that I though it would break up in pieces. Half way to the island, fighting sea sickness I had to get out, and there I stood another 15 minutes all soaked but unable even to move to make myself comfortable.  I barely remember the short trip on the inflatable boat; I was focused on staying conscious. It took me some six hours to completely recover – right before our trip back.

We walked up the steps, passed by the owners’ house and headed to the Puffin place. The island was wrapped in fog.

Saltee_Islands

The cliffs surrounding the first bay  near the cave known as the Wherry Hole are the nesting place for Atlantic Puffins.

I am very glad to tell you that there were remarkably more puffins this year than the year before.  Knowing that the birds return to their old burrows, I went to check out my buddy who made such a great model for me last year, and there he was – with some more neighbours, possibly his own grown up chicks from the previous years.

Saltee_Islands

Puffins start breeding when they are five years old.  They use their pre-breeding years to learn about feeding places, choosing a mate and nest sites.

I went around for some more shots. The fun will start in the afternoon when the puffins go fishing and return with the bunches of the Sand eels in their beaks.

Saltee_Islands

Saltee_Islands

Saltee_Islands

Saltee_Islands

Saltee_Islands

During winter, the beaks and feet of puffins fade in color, and every spring they turn  bright orange again in preparation for the breeding season.  The beak increases in size as the bird matures.

Here you can listen to a puffin  –  you will love it 🙂  Puffins usually make noises when sitting in their burrows, and the acoustics are very impressive.  I will post the link separately to give a credit to ProjectPuffin : http://projectpuffin.audubon.org/sites/default/files/audio/atpu.wav

In this photograph you can see two cameras set up by the Ornithologists to watch the puffins.

Saltee_Islands

We came a couple of weeks too early: most of the puffins young haven’t hatched yet,  but still we got lucky to see some feeding birds that afternoon.

The puffin’s beak can hold up to 60 fish.  The raspy tongue holds fish against spines on the palate allowing the puffin to open his  beak to catch more fish.

Saltee_Islands

Saltee_Islands

Saltee_Islands

We were lucky with the weather also. It was a dry day,  a little bit overcast. It is difficult to take photographs of puffins in the sun because of their black and white plumage.

A few more puffins. The couples stay together all their life. Males are usually slightly larger than females, otherwise there is no difference.

Saltee_Islands

Saltee_Islands

This family is still working on their nest.  Puffins lay one egg per year.

Saltee_Islands

Puffins are very clumsy on the ground and in the flight. They are rather falling than landing, with a thud. In this photograph you can see some spots around the puffin. You might think it is some dirt on my lens, but it is the sand in the air. When a puffin is taking off he beats his wings and lifts up all the dust and sand.

A puffin can fly 48 to 55 mph (77 to 88 km/hr) though.  The wings can move so fast that they become a blur.

Saltee_Islands

Great Saltee Island is some 2-3 km long.  I am leaving the Puffins’ place and start hiking to the Southern part of the island along the well-trodden path.

Saltee_Islands

Saltee_Islands

Saltee_Islands

The islands  were used as a base for pirates and smugglers for centuries. The gain of these folks could very well be hidden in the many caves, like the one in the image above, but there are treasures bigger than money, and they are not hidden anywhere.

More from the Saltees in the end of the week. Hope you loved the puffins.

IneseMjPhotographyHave a peaceful week!

Golden faces, silver eyes and blue eyelids.

saltees

It started raining. Creeping from one rock to another I was finally done with photographing the puffins willing to pose.

I looked around and saw that my peeps took off and started to disappear one by one in the sea of ferns. So I hurried after them.

Saltee islands

Our next destination was Gannet Headland, a nesting ground for the Northern gannets. You cannot see the place before you climb up to the highest point of the island through the high ferns and then walk down to the rugged cliffs. Then you just stop there, speechless.

gannet colony

gannet colony

The gannet is Europe’s largest sea bird with a wingspan up to 2 metres. The adults are white and the young birds are very dark  brown. It takes 5 years for them to reach maturity and start breeding. They say there are two thousand couples nesting there on the island. The gannets make their nests from seaweeds, feathers and human made materials found in the water.

gannet

gannet

gannet

Gannet with a bunch of seaweed to furnish the nest.

gannet

Gannets hunt fish by plunge-diving from a remarkable height into the sea and then using their wings and feet to swim deeper. After returning from the sea they have this gentle ritual of affection with the other partner, preening and touching the bills.

gannet

The young chick reaches deep into its parent’s throat for its meal of partially digested fish.

gannet

The parent birds take turns warming the eggs and protecting the chicks.

gannet

The gannets are very vocal:)

gannet

As you can see, there are some couples with very young chicks, naked and helpless, and some with the older ones, covered with soft white down.

gannet

gannet

Gannets have very interesting features. For example, they have no external nostrils: they are located inside the mouth. Their eyes are positioned slightly up to the front which gives them a better view.

There is my reflection in the gannet’s eye:)

gannet

Clumsy on take-offs and landings the gannets are powerful fliers with an impressive wing span.

gannet

gannet

Now I want to share something sad. Please read this article…

Gold-faced, silver-eyed, gracious birds… Isn’t there anything else to eat in this century?

There are also other species of birds on the island. This is a Herring gull in its flight.

herring gull

This is a Fulmar.

Fulmar

These are the  Blackback gull chicks.

great blackback gull chick

great blackback gull chicks

This angry bird is a Shag. Shags breed colonially between the rocks and in sea caves.

shag

shag

This is the island owners’ house. We were heading to the shelter to hide from the rain and wait for our boat.

saltees

The ferrying boat could not come closer, so we had to  be carried over there by an inflatable boat.

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Little and Great Saltee islands on the horizon.  It was one of the most memorable trips in my life.

saltees

saltees

I hope you enjoyed this trip with me. You can click on the pictures to make them bigger. They are all resized for the web with resolution 72, so you won’t have problems opening them. Same for the previous post about the Puffins.

Photography tip of the day: When you are going to take pictures of sea birds, not having a telephoto shouldn’t stop you – the birds let you come close enough.  These pictures were taken with a 70-200, but you can bring any lens you have.  The settings matter, as I wrote in the previous post, and your vision matters. I wanted to get dreamy, a little bit grainy pictures with blurred background. Also watch your white colors. It is important  to see the details on the white feathers,  otherwise they look like burnt-out spots.

inesemjphotographyHave a great week!

 

Saltee Islands, a place where birds rule

Saltees

Our Camera Club had an outing to Great Saltee island for bird photography. Before the trip I did a research as I always do, which helps me not miss anything important and regret it afterwards. There is a website with beautiful photographs where you can learn more about the owners of the Islands. I don’t know if anybody ever met them when visiting Great Saltee, but I am sure they are wonderful and hospitable people. They have a shelter behind their home: a kitchen packed with bottled water and basic utensils for those who might get stuck on the island because of the weather, and two beds upstairs. We used the shelter while waiting for the boat to pick us up: the rain shortened our visit by two hours…

If you plan this trip you might find useful the Trip Advisor comments and Captain Declan Bates’ telephone number to arrange the boat and ask your questions:  353-53 9129684, mobile: 353-87 529 736. The boat leaves from Kilmore Quay, Co Wexford. Late May – mid June would be the best time for the trip.

I found this 1837 report about the Saltees; was surprised to learn that the islands were populated in the past. There  even used to be a church on Great Saltee, but now the island is a home to thousands of sea birds. I have never been so close to any bird except may be some ducks, and this closeness to the beautiful, gracious creatures filled me with sense of awe and reverence.

Some of the  birds are nesting on the side of the path. Great Saltee is a busy place, sometimes about a hundred people are wandering around the island all the day, and having a nest on the side of the path sounds like a strange choice. But it is their island, their nesting ground, and they can do as they like. We are their guests and we are the ones who have to respect their rules.  Earlier this week I had two conversations and one argument about the same subject: tourists/ immigrants/ temporary residents and their behavior in a foreign country. Here is my opinion: 1. If people are rude, stupid, arrogant, selfish, irresponsible, annoying while abroad, you bet they are the same at home. 2. Before judging the locals and their ways remember that you can leave when you please but they will have to stay and keep that country going as did their ancestors. You are not the one to teach them how to, and you would only benefit if you learn something from them 3. They might don’t like you. You can sometimes complain if you are not happy, it is OK, but don’t be a fool, don’t do it on Facebook or any social media! And never over-generalize and call a whole nation names.

So, this is what I was thinking about as I watched a colony of Gannets as they go about their routine. 200 species of birds have been recorded on Saltees, most of them migratory. Many species are nesting there, and I took pictures of some.

I have got many nice shots, so I though I could make two posts instead of one. I leave the Gannets for my Tuesday post.

I will start with the Razorbills, the first birds I saw as we walked towards the cliffs. The smaller, brownish birds in the pictures are Common guillemots.

Saltees

Saltees

Saltees

Saltees

Puffins. My dreams fulfilled! I was dreaming to see a puffin since I was a child. When I saw my first puffin from the boat my heart skipped a beat. Neat little fellas with comical faces and clumsy manner of flying mate for life and dig a burrow where they return every year to raise a chick. They feel more comfortable in the water; flying isn’t their forte. Probably it is why they take as much fish as they can hold.

Saltees

Saltees

Saltees

Saltees

Saltees

A Fulmar photobombing:)

Saltees

Saltees

Saltees

Saltees

Puffin’s  home.

Saltees

Saltees

Saltees

Saltees

Saltees

Saltees

To be continued.

Photography tip of the day: Taking pictures of birds be patient, focus on the eye, use the fastest shutter speed you can ( you might want to increase ISO) or use “Sport” setting.

inesemjphotographyHave a great weekend!