Sunny Cliff Wander

It had been several years since we visited Arbroath for the first time; I remember wearing my trusty blue cagoule, but that’s about it. So, we thought it was high time we paid this beautiful town a second visit.


It was another beautifully hot day, so we abandoned coats during our walk along the cliffs. Due to the sheer drops, we kept Jas on a short lead, as our beautiful but rather simple dog wouldn’t hesitate to do a Tom Daley off the top. She was content sniffing the long grass and trotting along beside us.


There were butterflies and pollinating insects wherever we looked; the sky was alive with flapping wings. Bees wrestled for space on the thistle flowers while house martens snatched flies above our heads. We had to watch we didn’t step on caterpillars that were crossing the path in abundance.


The walk built up an appetite, so when we got back to town we tried the legendary Arbroath smokie for the first time. It was an interesting taste, but definitely something I’d have again. We ate the freshly caught fish on paper plates looking out onto the harbour; can’t get much more traditional than that!

“Drip Drip Drop Little June Downpours”

After staying indoors for several days straight – as a result of both the drizzly weather and the editing I needed to do – Kerr and I decided we should brave the rain and go for a walk somewhere. Naturally, we chose to go to the beach, specifically Bowness on Solway only half an hour’s drive away.

Upon arrival the heavens opened and we sat in the car watching the rain cascade down in thick sheets. It wasn’t your conventional beach weather, but we were determined to get at least a few decent photos. It was the sort of downpour that could only last a few moments – or so we told ourselves – and sure enough it soon eased to a patient drizzle. After donning waterproofs and fitting camera lenses we gingerly left the car and headed down to the sand.



We were greeted by a blanket of cheerful pink thrift (Armeria maritima), a wildflower that’s commonly found in coastal areas and salt marshes. They were in their prime, brightening up the otherwise gloomy landscape.


Hopping off the grassy bank, I made my way across the beach. The tide was far out, uncovering a series of footprints and other treasures from the sea. A grey heron (Ardea cinerea) stood motionless in the shallows, dipping its head to watch for a passing meal. I edged closer and photographed it for a while, finding the dramatic silhouette hard to resist. With obviously no luck stood where it was, the heron took to the air and flew off, gangly legs hanging awkwardly below its body.


With the heron gone the beach was still again. In the gloomy evening light the scene was eerie. The length of the beach was largely empty, aside from some stray driftwood and discarded seaweed. I stood still and watched the rain fall, hitting the damp sand in heavy drops. After a few busy weeks, it felt good to let time stop for a while.


Carna – Day Five

Species seen:  

  • Chaffinch – Fringilla coelebs
  • Common Porpoise – Phocoena phocoena
  • Common Seal – Phoca vitulina
  • Common Shag – Phalacrocorax aristotelis
  • Common Tern – Sterna hirundo
  • Golden eagle – Aquila chrysaetos
  • Grey Heron – Ardea cinerea
  • Herring Gull – Larus argentatus
  • Hooded Crow – Corvus cornix
  • Lesser Redpoll – Acanthis cabaret
  • Oystercatcher – Haematopus ostralegus
  • Song thrush – Turdus philomelos
  • White-tailed eagle – Haliaeetus albicilla
  • Wood mouse – Apodemus sylvaticus

This morning Heather woke us all up with a real treat; last night the Longworth trap had caught a wood mouse. As quietly as we could, we took some brief photos then sexed the animal. The nipples were clearly visible, meaning our mouse was a breeding female.

Heather assured us the use of a plastic bag was standard procedure and it was held open for the very short time the mouse was inside. After releasing the animal back at the trap site, it scuttled away safely and unharmed.

After a few more hours sleep we visited what Heather described as a ‘sweet shop’. The shed beside the house was full of barn owl pellets which we had the opportunity to dissect. After some initial apprehension we got to work and I found myself enjoying pulling apart what a barn owl regurgitated many months previously. In my pellet I found both a mouse skull and a vole’s skull, as well as numerous minuscule jaws and ribs. It was yet another new experience for me and it was fantastic to analyse what an owl on Carna had been eating.

Shortly after we’d finished with the pellets Andy came to pick us up on the boat for a trip around the islands. Unbelievably we had another fantastic day of sunshine, so conditions were great for photography. For a while we watched common terns mating, and their stark white feathers contrasted with the rich colours of the moss clinging to the rock.



Once in open water we saw two more porpoises breaking through the waves. The tide was choppy and negotiating tripods and telephoto lenses while the boat tilted from side to side was a challenge we had to overcome. Once again Lequane was first to notice the white-tailed eagle far up in the sky, but almost immediately after we noticed a different bird above the hills. As it descended and came within binocular range we saw the rich hazel hue of the golden eagle’s wingspan. It dipped low and landed amongst the trees so we lost it, but this bird was near the top of my wish list and it was so satisfying ticking it off.


On the way back to the house we spotted some of the wild goats that had made the rocky coast of Carna their home. We also stopped off at the shag’s nesting site again. Not many people are aware of these birds but I find them extremely handsome with their sharp yellow eyes and the green sheen in their feathers.


When we got back Cain and Heather had gone to pick up the camera traps and we all gathered at the kitchen table to see what we’d captured. It was nothing short of a success. In the first trap we had several clips of an otter trotting in and out of a small cave mouth and sprainting at the entrance. In the same spot a few hours later the whole frame was filled with two pricked up ears and a pair of antlers that were unmistakably a roe deer’s. Heather and Cain informed us that this was the first official footage of a roe deer on Carna so this was fantastic news. By using the camera traps we can find out new information about just how diverse Carna is.

Footage from the next trap showed a vole that we were unable to identify. It could have been either a bank vole or field vole sub-species. Either way, it was great watching the rodent feast on the apple and seeds we’d left, although it did manage to shift the trap so we could no longer see anything but out of focus rock.

Yet more treats were to follow. The next trap had been set in the bluebell wood and a fox had visited late one night. Though it didn’t linger, we still got to see the mammal’s gorgeous fluffy tail as it trotted through the bracken.

Seeing the wildlife on the Isle of Carna on the camera traps was a great end to an unforgettable experience. In only four and a half days I have learnt so much about tracking and field craft and got an insight into the ecology of an island rich in wildlife. It was so refreshing being around people who get as excited as I do when I hear a cuckoo or glimpse an otter swimming across the loch. By being separated from technology I have had the chance to enjoy the outdoors even more. I’ve been out of breath on numerous occasions during our hikes and scrambles but it’s been worth it every time. I even did some sketching, a pastime I haven’t enjoyed in years.

Everybody should spend time in a place like Carna, especially those who don’t fully appreciate the natural world. Sharing a loch with seals, otters and porpoises is something everybody should experience. While I am the last person to criticise books, sometimes the best way to learn about wildlife is to be a part of it. Get your hands dirty lifting rocks to see the starfish underneath, wade ankle deep in mud to set a camera trap and get a crick in your neck gazing at eagles. It really does change you.

Carna – Day Four

Species seen:

  • Barn Owl – Tyto alba
  • Bladder-wrack – Fucus vesiculosus
  • Butterfish – Pholis gunnellus
  • Chaffinch – Fringilla coelebs
  • Common Blenny – Lipophrys pholis
  • Common Hermit crab – Pagurus bernhardus
  • Common Pipistrelle – Pipistrellus pipistrellus
  • Common Sandpiper – Actitis hypoleucos
  • Common Tern – Sterna hirundo
  • Eurasian Otter – Lutra lutra
  • Eurasian Rock Pipit – Anthus petrosus
  • Flat-wrack – Fucus spiralis
  • Grey Heron – Ardea cinerea
  • Hare’s Tail – Lagurus ovatus
  • Hooded Crow – Corvus cornix
  • Knotted-wrack – Ascophyllum nodosum
  • Lesser Redpoll – Acanthis cabaret
  • Saw-wrack – Fucus serratus
  • Sea-mat – Victorella pavida
  • Serpulid worm – Serpulidae
  • Shore crab – Carcinus maenas
  • Small winkle – Littorina littorea
  • Song Thrush – Turdus philomelos
  • White-Tailed Eagle – Haliaeetus albicilla
  • Willow Warbler – Phylloscopus trochilus
  • Wren – Troglodytes troglodytes
  • (Cuckoo – Cuculus canorus)
  • (Robin – Erithacus rubecula)

We were woken at the tender hour of 5am this morning for a wander through the dew-soaked grass. Tiny droplets clung to the hare’s tail and made them look like teasels instead of their usual fluffy tops. There was a fine mist rolling over the hills which looked beautiful with the weak sunlight shining through. We spent some time listening to birdsong and trying to untangle the many different voices. Cain described the descending tone of the willow warbler and the drilling call of the lesser redpoll. I would love to improve my knowledge of birdsong; it’s at the very centre of the morning routine for all wildlife.


A willow warbler high in the trees

After a break we began the scramble up Crachan Chárna, the tallest hill on Carna standing 170m tall. Once again the sun was shining, which we certainly shouldn’t be ungrateful for, but the heat made the climb just that little bit more challenging. Luckily the path up was well trodden, so we didn’t have to battle through knee high bracken or wade through too many sodden swamps.

Partway up we came across a muddy puddle stuffed with grey and black feathers, clearly the scene of a crime. Cain explained how he knew the culprit was a bird not a mammal. When foxes feed they chew the feathers off the carcass, splintering the feather shafts. Birds of prey pluck the feathers so leave them relatively undamaged. It was then a case of determining the exact species; this involved identifying the prey. When viewed in direct sunlight the black feathers glimmered, the dark green sheen of a shag. The size of this bird meant the predator had to be an eagle; a buzzard wouldn’t have the size over seabirds such as shags. It was so interesting deducing what happened based on the evidence; I’m noticing so much more now I’ve got some field knowledge.


In less than half an hour we’d reached the summit, only stumbling a handful of times. After we’d caught our breath we could fully appreciate the beauty of the island. For miles in every direction sprawled the surrounding isles, smaller patches of rocky terrain jutting out of the loch and the open sea to the west. We spent a long time at the summit, eating lunch and twisting and turning to see every view. Common terns swept overhead, turning into the wind and flapping furiously. Far down below a heron stood poised, neck braced to strike. After enjoying some lunch we made our slow descent back to the ground.


In the afternoon we spent time exploring the coast outside the house. While the tide was out we could forage the seaweed to our heart’s content. I discovered many different species including bladder wrack, sea mat and flat-wrack. In addition we saw many creatures beneath the weed-choked rocks such as edible winkles, barnacles and shore crabs. As well as this we saw butterfish, common blennies, whelks and starfish. We all lay on our fronts on the pontoon and watched a common hermit crab creep along the lakebed.

A species in the mollusc family, specifically Nudibranchia
A whelk feeding on a crab carcass


A common blenny with eggs

Later, once the sun had finally set, we headed out to see if we could pick up any bat calls on the detector. We could determine the species by what frequency their call was recorded at. After only a short walk the detector picked up a series of clicking calls at 45Hz, and sure enough a tiny black bullet shot through the night, leathery wings beating the air. Once we’d consulted the identification key we discovered that the common pipistrelle was picked up at 45Hz, so concluded that this was the bat we’d found.

We wandered on and picked up another common pipistrelle further down the path, then suddenly Verity noticed a flash of white above and we all celebrated in hushed tones as the barn owl swept over our heads. By now it was late so we headed back to the house, pleased we’d got the opportunity to use such great tracking equipment.

By The Sea

Recently, England was treated to some incredible weather. After coming back from a walk in the park, I was asked out to the beach with the gang. Initially I was bamboozled at the thought of spending the day at the beach during late British spring, but the day really was lovely.

After a swift trip to the supermarket for sun cream and nearly passing out at the price – £7.50 a bottle (!) – we set off. In an hour we’d arrived and I was breathing sea air!


Almost immediately, we stumbled upon a cormorant’s corpse on the beach. Although slightly grim, it was interesting to see. We wildlife students can’t resist a photography opportunity, even when the subject matter has seen better days.


The rest of the day was spent relaxing. Unbelievably, the sun was so hot I could feel my arms prickling almost immediately. Still, I wasn’t about to complain about British weather being so glorious. I wasn’t quite prepared to dive headfirst into a British sea though, so I had to make do with plenty of water to keep cool.


After spending many hours on the beach we headed back. The sights and sounds of summer are upon us; I just hope they stick around!

Hound at the Beach

St Andrews in Fife, Scotland is one of my dog’s favourite places on Earth. She knows where she is as soon as we enter the car park, and she’s got her paws up on the window, whining with excitement.

We can’t park the car quick enough. Once on the lead, she does her alarmingly good rabbit impression and bunny-hops towards the sea.



It is occasionally very difficult to get a clear photo of my dog – when the tennis ball appears she’s a rocket.


As the afternoon wore on, the sun began to set over the beach. This was a fantastic opportunity to capture the magnificence of the Cockapoo.



Just before we returned to the car, we made a new friend. This was an inevitability; there were dogs running amok every five paces.


The only incentive to get Jasmine back on the lead is to offer something tasty from the treat bag, as this provides a very useful distraction.




Battling The Storm

As a wildlife enthusiast, I am constantly looking to the professionals for inspiration. In the November issue of BBC Wildlife magazine were some of the winning images from Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015. One particular image in the Birds category had a lasting impression on me.

Technical Specification: Canon EOS 5D Mark III + 70-200mm lens at 163mm; 1/800 sec at f5.6; ISO 500


This image, named Battling The Storm, was taken by Italian photographer Vincenzo Mazza, who predominantly captures Italian and Icelandic landscapes. The location for this image was a lagoon in Reykjavik, the subjects were Whooper swans (foreground) and Greylag geese (background).

What I love most about this shot is how effective the juxtaposition is. Initially, the image looks tranquil with cool, diluted colours and a simplistic composition. However, when viewed more closely, it becomes apparent that the scene is far from tranquil. The birds are caught in a violent storm and the dreamy mist on the surface seems more like froth from the churning tide.

This image is significant to me because it puts into perspective the struggles that migrating birds face each year. The majority of Whooper swans spend winter in Britain or Ireland, flying up to 1400 km to reach Europe. This journey is the longest sea crossing of any swan species.

This shot was captured in January, so it is unusual that these birds were found so far from their winter home so late in the season. This context brings up questions about why the birds were not where they would usually be. In my opinion, that makes this photograph a great one; it has evoked an active response in me, the viewer. That is the ultimate objective for a photographer, so Vincenzo Mazza has produced what I consider a successful outcome.

European Adventure

This post was inspired by a Daily Prompt from 2013 – Come Fly with Me: Share a story about the furthest you’ve ever traveled from home. I took a look at current daily posts but this one was the first to get me thinking.

The furthest I have travelled from home is Samos, Greece. This trip took place in the summer of 2012. It is very memorable for me because it’s the first (and thus far last) holiday I have been on with my parents in a hot climate. My Dad doesn’t get on with the heat so we usually go to Scotland, France or Italy for our holidays. In 2012, however, a trip to Samos was arranged. It makes much more sense to me now, because my parents were in fact planning to get a puppy the following summer but were keeping it as a surprise. Naturally, we couldn’t take a dog abroad, and certainly not somewhere as intensely hot at Greece. So, I was blissfully unaware of the circumstances behind our trip, but was perfectly happy to oblige. (Our Cockapoo Jasmine is now nearly two!)

This holiday was so special to all of us because we relaxed. At home, amongst the stress of work, school and general everyday happenings, it’s not possible (especially for my mum) to sit back and breathe for a moment. But when you’re two thousand miles from home, it’s a lot easier to do nothing because there’s nothing to do.

A Timid Visitor to Votsalakia Bar
A Timid Visitor to Votsalakia Bar

The first thing I noticed when I arrived in Greece was the abundance of cats. I must have stroked about a hundred cats during my stay, which I loved. At the apartment we were staying in, a stray female had set up permanent camp with her new litter of kittens. I was accustomed to opening the door of a morning and seeing her sat outside as if expecting an invitation to enter.

Our Next Door Neighbour
Our Next Door Neighbour

We often saw this feisty one lounging by the pool with her litter, who tended to clamber all over her to get to her milk. Cat instinct told them not to wander near the water’s edge, and they were perfectly happy playing on the Mummy Climbing Frame.

A Cat's Life
A Cat’s Life

Anyway, probably enough about cats. They just featured quite heavily!

The apartment was situated a good walk from the town, and access to shops required a decent trek. During the day, this was a workout, especially in the blistering heat! At night it was magical; we often saw shooting stars, a phenomenon I’ve never seen before or since. Nightfall also treated us to glimpses of bats swooping over the pool for a sip of water. It was warm enough to sit by the bar watching them at 11pm with our legs dangling in the pool. They were far too quick for photos though, sadly.

The path up to the apartment, keeping us in shape!
The path up to the apartment, keeping us in shape!

Most days we lounged at the beach. I spent my sunbathing hours reading Dracula. Not only is it now one of my all time favourite books, but it will always remind me of this trip.

Stunning Grecian Waters
Stunning Grecian Waters

I’d also never seen such dazzling blue water before I went to Greece. The seascapes were a watercolour painter’s paradise. Had I the skill, I would have certainly tried to capture the aquamarine tones. As well as vivid greens and blues, we were treated to salmon pinks when the sun went down. Over dinner we often had a sunset to watch.

Baby Pink Skies
Baby Pink Skies

It seems fitting that I complete this post with a sunset. I’ve enjoyed reliving this happy memory. It’s slightly different to what I’ve been posting up until this point but why not inject a little variety once in a while?