2017 highlights of a wilder Orkney life

2017 was a wonderful year for wildlife experiences in Orkney.

In July the seabird city at Noup Head was a whirling, wheeling mass of squawking feathers and fish as Gannets galore made their nests there. We spent days hanging over the top of the cliffs following them:

Gannets at Noup Head - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

The views from the cliffs were breathtaking:

Gannets at Noup Head - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

Sunsets were wonderful with the Gannets still flying along the cliffs until the light was quite dim:

Gannets at Noup Head - photograph (c) 2016 David Bailey (not the)

Here’s the full story:

Gannets at Noup

In 2017 I bought camouflage gear for the first time and obeyed the instructions to ‘make like the snake’ and do a military elbow-crawl towards a Black Guillemot with a Norwegian Topknot. This is how close I got:

Black Guillemot - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

The Norwegian Topknot doesn’t look too impressed.

Then there was the Black Guillemot with the beautifully patterned Butterfish:

Black Guillemot - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

They are beautiful birds in their full breeding plumage:

There was the day of the jellyfish, with Lion’s Mane and the amazing Bluefire Jellyfish. That colour is just so unearthly:

Jellyfish, jellyfish everywhere!

And I stumbled upon a breeding colony of Sand Martins and beat a hasty retreat to a safe distance:

Sandbanks

The most affecting wildlife experience of all the ones I had in 2017 was seeing this badly injured Wren bringing up its family in the back garden of Einar. It was emotional. Here’s the full story:

The Wren who hasn’t been told

I learned a lot from the experience.

July was a wonderful month for Puffins at the Castle o’ Burrian. In the golden evening light I captured their silhouettes:

Golden Puffins - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

We saw them cleaning out their burrows and I could see how the two surfaces of their beak meet in perfect parallel:

Puffin - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

Then they were flying like tiny bullets to their partner and puffling:

Flying Puffins - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

2017 was the first time I’ve had a telephoto lens and the first time I’ve attempted photographs of Puffins in flight. It’s a technical challenge. Here are some of my results:

Technical Puffins

We even saw Puffins yawning like the comedians they are:

The Puffin Roars - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

I learned that the more notches on a Puffin’s beak, the older it is:

Puffins - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

And that their tongue helps them keep Sand Eels safely trapped so they can bring them home:

Puffin - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

We also saw sleepy Puffins full of fish:

Puffin - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

2017 was the year I finally slowed down enough to take up wildlife photography. I’ve always been up, walking and doing things, and staying still for long periods of time has been a problem. Not now; I’m finally old enough to be able to stay in one place for long enough to let the wildlife come to me rather than me going out to find it. So it was that we spent days out on the cliffs, sitting looking at the Puffins coming in to their burrows.

It was also the year that I finally believed The Puffin Whisperer and saw, with my own eyes, her call the Puffins and watched them come to her. Magical.

Here’s a lively, elegant, handsome Puffin, curious at us being there:

Puffin - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

2017 was also the year I finally got a photograph of a flying Puffin on the Castle o’ Burrian with my house, Einar, in the background:

Puffin - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

Job done.

As the sun lowered in a July sky we saw long shadows on the Shags far below:

Shag Shadows - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

And then it was time to head south again:

Knowe o' Skea - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

2017. A year full of wild and wilder experiences on Westray.

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