On the 19th June I had the extreme privilege to visit the beautiful island of Skomer, just off the Pembrokeshire Coast in Mid Wales. This is a trip that me and my friend Daniel McNeil have been planning and waiting for for a long time not only because of the incredible scenery that this part of the British coast has to offer but also for the reason that everyone visits Skomer (whether they admit it or not) - Puffins!
For myself, it was the first time seeing these characteristic birds and even though they have become somewhat of a cliche'd image, I was transfixed by their antics and their comical habits that has made them so popular among photographers and bird watchers alike.
Even before we left Martins Haven on the 11:00am boat (having missed a spot on the earlier boat despite arriving at 8am!) we were treated to Linnets, Kestrels and even one over friendly Razorbill.
Skomer Island takes it's wildlife very seriously and as you land upon the small jetty, surrounded by tiny black birds peppering the bright blue sky, you will be given strict but fair instructions from the wardens. If there is one thing you walk away remembering from that island - it is to stay on the paths. The Island is covered in warrens and tunnels belonging to Puffins, Rabbits and Manx Shearwaters. One step off the path could lead to your leg disappearing into the undergrowth and right on top of a Puffling sleeping below!
After the talk we hung back and allowed the school trips and other holiday makers to shoot off to The Wick - the best spot to get within inches from the colourful little Puffins. We decided, after a little friendly guidance from the wardens, to head instead for the old farm buildings in the hope of spotting the resident Little Owl and Long-eared Owls - No such luck unfortunately, however, we did manage to spot hunting Kestrels and Peregrine Falcons.
After a wonderful picnic lunch accompanied by an extremely loud Wren - we continued around the island in the scorching heat to spot Great Black-backed Gulls feeding on an unfortunate rabbit, a few Oystercatchers and took in the glorious landscape.
We eventually arrived at The Wick and as hoped - the school trips had long gone. It was still rather crowded but there was plenty of space to spread out. The next hour or so will always be a highlight in my photographic life. These birds are infectiously characterful and are full of charm. I found a comfortable spot to sit down with my Sigma 50-500mm on my monopod and sit and wait for the shots I had already planned in my head. I was particularly after a head-on shot of a puffin coming into land. However, the spot I had chosen was also the spot that the gulls had chosen to try and nab any sand-eels coming in via Puffin beaks. This meant that most of the puffins either aimed directly for their holes, or came in at extreme speeds out of the blue! It was a wonder to watch even if I didn't get a record of it.
As the crowd of people began to disperse as it came closer to the time of the last boat, I shunned my long lens and took out my Nikkor 16-85mm and settled myself next to a puffin hole. The hole I had chosen was luckily quite active and two puffins allowed me to get within inches of them which allowed me to shoot wide-angle shots at 16mm to give the puffin context of their habitat. The 2nd joy of being so close to the entrance to their nest was the fact that I could hear one of the pair down below calling out to the other in their characteristic moaning voice.
I hope you enjoy the images as much as I enjoyed taking them!
Click images to enlarge.
I would like to thank Daniel McNeil, Diane McNeil and Tim Collier, all of whom made this trip both possible and enjoyable.
Work by Daniel McNeil can be seen here... Daniel McNeil Photography
Work by Tim Collier can be seen here... Tim Collier Photography