Sunday, 22 May 2016

Windy sea cliffs

A small section of a colony of Kittiwakes Rissa tridactyla 

A few days ago the weather was forecast to turn windy and wet, so I took a day out to visit the seabird colonies on the north-east Scottish coast, where the rain would reach last. I timed it right and I had a great time watching the birds flying in the wind, the clifftop giving me an eye-to-eye view of them in flight. So different from standing low on land or a boat looking up and only seeing their bellies.

A Kittiwake cruises past me at cliff top height, feathers ruffled by the wind

Windy days are also best for watching and photographing them as they often stall and hold themselves stationery in the wind, without any need to flap their wings. From my high perch, I could see how the wind ruffled and tugged at their feathers, flight is obviously not always smooth.

A Kittiwake flying with its feet down - controlling its speed with them|?

Most of the birds were holding their feet down, using them as extra aids to flight in strong wind.

A Fulmar similarly flying with its feet down

The truly specialist fliers on these cliffs are the Fulmars Fulmarus glacialis. One minute, they would cut through the wind at high speed, the next they would float up on an updraft, holding themselves in one spot by the slightest of flicks of wing, tail or feet. They seemed to be inquisitive and deliberately approached me as I sat on the cliff top, watching me eye to eye before slipping off on the breeze.

A Fulmar on wide-spread wings tilts to steer, but holds its head level all the time

The dull grey skies gave low light for photography, limiting the speed I could shoot at, but the positive aspect of the low light was the colour saturation I could capture. Photographing seabirds on sunny days can be very tricky as most of them are black and white. Under bright light it difficult to capture the details of their plumage due to the sharp contrast. The light was growing darker as the clouds thickened, but I managed to grab some shots that showed the feather details; how they lie when in flight, the different shades and colours of the fresh and old feathers, the smudges of dirt and guano on their breasts, and the fine lines on their faces, bills and feet.

Every cloud has a silver lining.

It's not easy for seabirds to keep clean when they are nesting on dirty ledges

No comments:

Post a Comment