Another trip to E. Yorks

Posted on 13 September 2011, 16:52

I’ve just spent another week in and around Bridlington. I stayed, as usual, at the Mont Millais – it’s just a nice, comfortable, no-hassle place to lay your head. If you fancy giving it a go, tell the owners that “Keith the Geordie bird photographer” sent you.

One of the things I like about Brid is that there are birds more or less on the doorstep. Assuming you like shooting Turnstones and Knot (and obviously I do!) you can pretty much guarantee birds to point a camera at, at the town’s harbour and south beach: and given the ban on dogs on that beach, it’s actually possible to shoot these birds “properly” – by which I mean lying flat on your belly in wet sand, getting eye-to-eye with the subjects.

I’d decided to give my Kenko 1.5x TC a proper go during this trip – I know it won’t work well on the centre AF point (this with the 7D and 100-400mm), but brief testing had suggested that it was pretty good on the outer points – which I use a whole lot anyway – and I thought this was a good opportunity to see just what the combo could do for real.

As usual I was short of light (God, if I had a Quid..!), so some of these are at four-figure ISOs. I wasn’t expecting miracles, but I have to say that I’m pretty pleased these with results – not too bad for a 600mm, handheld compromise.


Turnstone, Bridlington


Knot, Bridlington


Knot, Bridlington


Knot, Bridlington


Carrion crow, Bridlington

Next day I headed to Bempton – the plan being to get some images of Gannets hovering over the cliffs in the stong winds, to make up for the debacle of my April trip. Well, either there was too much wind, or it was in the wrong direction, because the birds flatly refused to get above the cliffs for most of the day.

So I set myself another challenge instead – to get pictures of Gannets flying in to land, with the cliff as background – because you don’t see many images of this sort.

This was harder than you might think, not least because of the birds’ head angle – hardly a surprise that they’re more interested in watching the cliff than making eye-contact with me – but these are thereabouts:


Gannet, Bridlington


Gannet, Bridlington

I got some “Usual Suspect” Gannet images too:


Gannet, Bridlington


Gannet, Bridlington

I also ended up with what I consider to be my best Gannet yet, and it was all thanks to being a birder!

To explain. Once you understand a little bit about bird behaviour you know – for example – that sometimes when a Gannet “sky points”:


Gannet, Bridlington

It’s about to take flight.

And so it was with this bird. Knowing this allowed me to catch what I think is a really nice image, and one that isn’t like most Bempton Gannet pictures:


Gannet, Bridlington

Very happy with this one.

Although I’m not really that excited about the propects of photographing Herring gulls, this one, shouting the odds, made for a nice image:


Herring gull, Bridlington

Then the heavens opened. I was about a mile away from the nearest shelter, the RSPB reserve building (these Gannets being at the newest, most northerly viewpoint). Because I needed the loo anyway, I headed off in the direction of a toilet and a cup o’ tea.

And the Tree sparrows. I love these little things, and – despite what my photography buddy Mark Mowbray has to say about them – no, they’re not just spuggies!


Tree sparrow, Bempton. Purely by fluke, I got this bird at the precise moment that it lunged at a passing insect, hence the odd pose.


Tree sparrow, Bempton


Tree sparrow, Bempton


Tree sparrow, Bempton


Tree sparrow, Bempton


Tree sparrow, Bempton


Tree sparrow, Bempton


Tree sparrow, Bempton

Having had enough – for now – of “proper” birds, I decided that the next day would consist of a wander around Sewerby Hall – there’s a zoo there (with some birds of prey, maybe?) that would make for a relaxing day.

Funnily enough, I did see a juvenile Cuckoo in the grounds – my first in several years – but aside from that, the zoo didn’t offer that much in the way of photographic opportunities – it’s very pleasant and all, but not really what I’d hoped for.

Still, these are nice enough Barnacle goose portraits, I think:


Barnacle goose, Sewerby


Barnacle goose, Sewerby

It was then back into Brid, where I made the most of the warm late afternoon light to photograph umpteen of these little fellas, some – like this one – still with a hint of breeding plumage about them:


Turnstone, Bridlington

The next day didn’t provide anything special: I had a short trip on the Yorkshire Belle which was fun from a birding point of view – in the hour we were out, I saw Bonxies and Arctic skuas and a couple of Manx shearwaters, but nothing to photograph.

What made the trip for me though, was being engaged in conversation by an absolutely lovely little old lady: she was fascinated by the camera, the lens, and bird photography in general, and asked all sorts of (and I’m not being patronising here, but the public doesn’t usually have the first clue about this lark) really perceptive, intelligent questions about what I was up to.

And I had to bite my lip when – bless her! – she admitted that, as I was getting the gear out of the bag, she thought the lens was a flask!

I had intended to travel home on Saturday morning, but I’d had a hankering to do the Shearwater and Skua cruise so – once I’d established that it was actually on – I quickly organised another day’s accommodation and booked a place on the boat.

Kinda wishing I hadn’t…

The cruise itself was pretty bumpy, but I’d popped a couple of Stugeron and ensured that I was at the front of the boat so that I could keep my eye resolutely on the horizon: I’m someone who can get seasick looking at a bottle of Old Spice but I know that this approach works for me, and sure enough I (just!) made it through the cruise, which was better than the guy sitting just behind me managed to do…

But as we came round the headland at Flamborough Head we hit an unexpected big swell (close to a couple of meters) and as the boat dropped into a trough, a huge wave caught us out, drenching the cameras and lenses of several photographers at the bow.

Now, the 7D is “weather sealed”, but the 100-400mm isn’t. I turned the camera off, dried off the outside surfaces of camera and lens as best I could, and packed them away – it was close to time to head back to Brid by this time.

Once on land I had a look at the gear and – sure enough – the inside optical element closest to the front of the lens was covered in condensation. Sod it!

I dashed back to the hotel and grabbed their hair dryer out of the drawer, and – with the lens shortened, and more in hope than in expectation – started blowing warm air into the camera-mount end of the lens.

Amazingly (to me, anyway), it seems to have worked – the glass is still clear, several days later. But now there’s the worry that in the longer term, the salt in the water might cause corrosion damage that won’t show up for a while, and which the hair dryer treatment won’t have sorted.

And the camera didn’t get off scot-free either… Once I was done with the lens I stuck it back on the 7D, and fired it up. Everything seemed to be fine – until I tried the “joystick” multi-controller. It was dead. The single most important control on the back of the camera, knackered.

But if the hair dryer had sorted out the lens, maybe it’d help with the joystick? So followed more careful hair dryer action, and – again to my surprise – after a while the joystick came back to life.

The same long-term concerns remain though – I don’t know what’s directly behind the joystick, so I don’t know whether the water will have reached anything vulnerable to salt: maybe not, but I don’t know.

I’m not optimistic, though, about the long-term prospects for the lens.



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