Sunday, 22 December 2013

A red squirrel's tail

Here's a tale about a red squirrels tail.
Introducing Stumpy the red squirrel
I am very lucky to have red squirrels visit my garden on a regular basis along with many wild birds, voles, mice and some other less desirable wildlife.  I spend many an hour watching out of my window and have placed feeders in strategic places, where I can see them but the wildlife feels safe to visit - and is also safe from predators such as cats and more exotic hunters such as the sparrow hawk.

Stumpy's tail
Mr Blacks tail
Like a lot of people I give some of my visitors nick names.  I cannot understand why this is frowned upon, arguments being that 'we' are projecting human personalities and traits upon wild creatures or become too involved and attached.  Well I disagree and find it a really useful tool to help me identify different members of the same group and also invest into their welfare.
Stumpy in the box
A full sized tail 

So let me introduce Stumpy.  Now you may notice that it is not a flattering name albeit apt, and that tends to be the nature of how I name my wildlife.  Well that's apart from Scary Fred, the 8 legged beast that occasionally visits my living room, and I know is likely to be female (because of her size) but I digress.
Lack of a tail does not seem to affect Stumpy balance
So Stumpy is one of a group of 4 red squirrels that visit daily, especially at this time of year.  Stumpy is at least 3 years old as this is the 3rd winter of visiting my feeder and he is very easy to identify due to his stumpy tail.  The first time I spotted him I did not have a feeder in place and as he never stayed still or in full sight I was not sure about his tail, but the last couple of years he has sat happily on the table giving me ample opportunity to compare his tail with that of Mr Black, and Red - two of my other regulars. The fourth squirrel, Flash, named for the very bright white flash on his front and the speed he moves is a less frequent visitor and rarely sits on the feeder.
Stumpy defends the feeding box
Stumpy's tail does not seem to impair his ability to survive or move in the trees.  Tails are primarily used for balance but they are also used to keep warm in winter by wrapping them around the body when sleeping and also in summer to keep cool, as the squirrel pumps more blood into the tail to help dissipate heat.  Neither does it make him subservient to the other squirrels and he defends the table should another visit at the same time.

Meet some of my other 'named' visitors....

Fat Controller
Mr White
The love birds
All photo's copyrite of Arran in Focus

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Chipperfields Circus comes to Arran

Aerial Silks high in the big top
It's not everyday that a circus comes to town, and for Lamlash on the Isle of Arran I think this was a first. Organised by the Glenisle Hotel as part of the fabulous 4th Santa's Sparkle event the Chipperfields Circus was the highlight of Sunday.
Aerial hoop
The circus dates back to around 1650, when it was the norm to have performing animals - often of a rare and exotic nature.  Nowadays all the acts are human, even if they seem to be able to perform inhuman feats of contortion and defeat gravity.
Balancing on some rather shaky rods
The first, and for me, most impressive act was that of aerial silks.  Climbing high into the big top the artist performed, climbs, drops and poses, all without a safety rope or net.
Hoola hoop Charleston style
This was followed by a duo performing some amazing balancing whilst raised off the ground, a hoola hoop act, juggling and aerial hoop display.
The clown and his tame tiger!
And of course not forgetting the clown who had his own special animal act.
Plate spinning in the circus skills workshop
At the end all of the children (and some adults) had a go at various circus skills in a mini workshop.
The Chipperfield circus still tours internationally and is probably the most famous in the world.
Photographs copyright Arran in Focus

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Firework Photography

My local bonfire night was originally planned for Saturday 2nd, however high winds and lashing rain resulted in it being postponed to Monday 4th - a day with a good weather forecast.  And so it proved to be. Clear skies, little wind and no rain.  The locals gathered as the fire brigade lit the bonfire and I fumbled with the head torch setting up my camera.

Nightime photography usually means I travel quite light. Minimal kit (its too easy to lose in the dark), a camera with pre determined lens fixed, tripod and remote shutter release: All usually attached in the comfort of my own home or car.  No brollies or rain covers required as it wasn't raining but with the essential head torch dangling from my neck.

The first firework was lit and up it went enabling me to get a fix on what was to come.  Timings can be difficult as can focusing are best done manually for this type of photography.  Once the fireworks start there is little time to start experimenting, so a good understanding of the cameras functions is needed beforehand.

With practice (and there are often several bonfires over different nights - along with Christmas displays) some good results can be achieved.

All photographys remain copywrite of Arran in Focus

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Outer Hebrides - Part 2

Beach on Harris
Moving on from the Isle of Lewis I travelled down through the Isle of Harris to travel across to the ‘Uist’s’.  This Isle of Harris is actually on the same land mass as the Isle of Lewis although the landscape changes and becomes more mountainous. Harris also has some wonderful beaches and the weather made the water look quite inviting! Don’t be fooled, its freezing!
Fabulous wild and empty beaches
A small ferry was required, taking about an hour to meander around the islands to reach North Uist.  The ferry times were disrupted due to the tides and I was glad I had checked beforehand.
Making the Orasay Inn, at the top end of South Uist, my base for a few days, I enjoyed  the remoteness of the island, often not seeing anyone all day, and indulged in fabulous sea food meals in the evening.
Typical South Lewis scenery on a cold grey day
North Uist, Benbecula and South Uist are all connected by causeways with one long road running down them all. I felt like I was playing ‘chicken’ on these roads as they are predominately single track with what I can only describe as ‘passing bubbles’, where the road widens enough for two cars to pass.  Travelling head on at 50mph to oncoming traffic, timing to meet at a ‘bubble’ became second nature very quickly, however disconcerting it seemed at first!
Storm clouds gather
As could be expected at this latitude the sunny weather did not hold and grey misty rain piled in, shutting down visibility and making it feel more desolate. Trying to capture the essence of poor weather can be a challenge but a storm rolled over the hills behind this cottage and I was torn weather to run for cover or get the camera out!
The rain approached as the wild ponies meander through the heather
As the weather wasn’t quite so nice once I reached South Uist I spent some time on the beaches watching a variety of waders including Sanderling and Bar Tailed Godwits. These were in a variety of stages of plumage. I am also sure I heard a corncrake although I never saw one.
Bar tailed godwits
There are a large number of ‘Sites of Special Scientific Interest’ on the island (I think over 50), the two biggest being in North Harris and North Uist.  A further large area is Loch Druidibeg on South Uist.  Here there are also a large number or Eriksay wild ponies roaming around, some of which appear quite tame.
Wild ponies roaming
Not that I saw them, there are still some hedgehogs on these islands after being brought across in the 1970’s by someone to reduce slugs in their garden.  These non natives, wreaked havoc and enjoyed not only the intended slugs but also the eggs of ground nesting birds.  Eventually culls were undertaken but now they are trapped and returned to the mainland. The island are known to be windy (good to keep the midges at bay), but in reality there were only light breezes.
Godwits in flight
Leaving from Lochboisdale across to Oban, a 5 hour sailing, we were accompanied by large pods of dolphins playing in the wash, had a huge Calmac breakfast and vowed to visit again.
Greylag geese migration

Friday, 27 September 2013

The Outer Hebrides - Part 1

In September I visited the Outer Hebrides or Western Isles as they are sometimes known.  I had always wanted to visit these remote islands but never got round to it, so early in the year I made my plans and kept my fingers crossed for the weather.
Ullapool harbour
The islands cover quite a large area and it’s about 130 miles from top to bottom. Split into islands, some joined by causeways and others requiring a ferry trip.  The large majority of the islands are small and uninhabited, including St Kilda’s which is the most remote point of the UK and can be reached by boat trip from here.
The sun shone as we left Ullapool
The islands I visited were the Isle of Lewis, Isle of Harris, North Uist, Benbecula and South Uist. My journey started by leaving the Isle of Arran on the Lochranza to Claonaig ferry and travelling north to Ullapool; stopping overnight in a little dog friendly motel in readiness for the morning ferry across to Stornaway. This is a lovely fishing town with pretty harbour and I regretted not stopping here for an extra day to take in the views.
In the morning the sun shone, the sky was blue and the sea calm for crossing the ‘Minch’.  The ferry takes nearly 3 hours, so plenty of time for a walk around the decks taking in the views. I used a Calmac Hopscotchticket as it works out quite a lot cheaper than booking single journeys. 
Sunset promise
On arriving in Stornaway, I was initially surprised at how big it was, but then there is no easy access to the mainland and the bulk of the population live here.  The combined population of Lewis and Harris is about 20k. Not stopping I pushed on to my first destination travelling across the Isle of Lewis on a single track road to the rugged west coast and the little village of Gearrannan. This really is remote Scotland and I was glad to be well prepared and have all my supplies with me.
Gearrannan blackhouse village
Gearrannan village has been modernised and now has traditional black houses converted into holiday homes, beautifully done, with under floor heating and simple kitchens.  There is also a small hostel. The stone houses are constructed of double stone walls and a thatch roof.  All very eco friendly and more importantly cosy.
My self catering blackhouse - home for a few days
Thatch roof - rabbits ran along the grass edges!
The economy of the island is based on crofting, fishing, weaving and tourism. The most famous destination of the Isle of Lewis being the Callanish stones.  These date from about 2900 BC and are quite spectacular.  There are actually 3 circles, 2 smaller ones being about 2km away but still easily accessible.  The dank grey day did little to encourage photography, but as any traveller knows you have to make the best of the conditions when staying for short periods in any place.  An early start avoided other tourists to ensure clean shots.
Callanish stones
Callanish stone
Another place to visit is the Butt of Lewis, supposedly the windiest place in the UK; where fish can be blown onto the dunes in high winds – well not on the day I went.  All was calm!
Coastal views 
The weather brightened and the next two days provided coastal walks with views and lots of opportunity for landscape photography.  The evening sunsets showed promise although they never came to full fruition and it was way past my G & T time before it was really going dark!

Blue calm
I was very sorry to leave this little oasis and I’m sure I’ll be back as I really didn’t get to see everything I wanted.
More sunset promise