Saturday 28 March 2009

Hebrides Countdown 2009....

We're not really birdwatchers, as such, or at least, we would not have described ourselves as such until last years trip to the Hebrides. We have always when we have been up there been regular visitors to the Balranald reserve, where the picture above of a Ringed Plover was taken, but more in a "Let's have a nice walk, oh look there's a bird over there" sort of way....rather than in a "Have you got the binoculars, oh, better take the teleconverter for my lens" way. Somewhere along the line though things seem to have changed. Last year the TC spent more time attached to the camera than not. And when we returned from holiday we joined the RSPB......oh, and I bought myself a 300mm lens.....but obviously we're not really birdwatchers......

In the course of last years trip we saw more than 50 different species of birds, many for the first time. The rarest was an Iceland Gull (resting at Balranald in the course of its migration) and the most exciting probably a White Tailed Eagle (seen at too great a distance to photograph). We saw Golden Eagles almost daily, including on our final afternoon watching, from the cottage, a pair of them quartering the hillside opposite.....amazing. It's been wonderful over the past few years to see them becoming more and more plentiful as well - hopefully the Sea Eagles will go the same way - in a weeks time we'll be finding out!


Sunday 22 March 2009

Nifty Fifty - the project continues....

Having done a few days out last year with just the 50mm lens on board, I decided that the project was worth pushing on with. There is no question that it does make you think more....what is interesting though is that I found it an awful lot easier today than previously, so perhaps you get better at being inventive with practise? We stayed fairly local today albeit thanks to taking the wrong footpath to start with we had a longer walk than expected. It was a beautiful afternoon for a walk too - we can only hope that it is here to stay now, or that at the least we can take the sun with us to the Hebrides in a fortnight!

Saturday 21 March 2009

Hebrides countdown 2009...

On arriving home from a day out today we found a little padded envelope on the doormat...containing the keys to Tigh Alasdair  which will be home for the two weeks we will be on North Uist.  We actually saw the cottage before we first stayed there - we initially looked into staying there the year Ben's parents came with us, but dismissed it as although it is two bedroomed, the second room is effectively a single, with bunks, and we decided that both us and the inlaws were a little old for fighting over who gets the top bunk! Anyway, knowing we were going to be looking for somewhere to stay the following year we decided to drive out on the Sidinish road and take a look at it one afternoon.....we almost dismissed it at that stage as from the road it does look very fact from up close it still looks very small as the photo above shows! Thankfully inside is a bit of a tardis - plenty of room for us and our stuff. The two windows you see at the front are the Kitchen (to the right) and the lounge (to the left). Both are a good size - the kitchen is probably more than twice the size of ours at home here.  In addition the main bedroom is big, with lots of storage, and there is a small bathroom as well as the second bedroom which would qualify as a "good sized single" I think. We mainly use that for storage - it saves cluttering up the rooms we are actually going to use with rucksacks, hamper etc. 

Tuesday 17 March 2009


To the start of a new speedway season. We had our press and practise day at Ipswich today - for the first time this was not open to the general public due to Health & Safety restrictions relating to the stadium. As the main photographer for the official website though, thankfully I still got to attend - excellent for me as it means a sneaky-peek at the new riders, racesuits etc as well as the chance to get a bit of practise shooting action stuff before the season kicks off.

Our team has a fairly familiar look to it this year - with Piotr Swiderski, Tobi Kroner and Jarek Hampel all back from last year, plus the return of "old boys" Leigh Lanham, Carl Wilkinson and Danny King, the only true new faces are Pole Dawid Stachyra and Aussie Kozza Smith - both of whom can be seen kneeling at the front of the picture above.  Nice to see the return of a retro-look to the racesuits too, with the red/white/blue flash round the right knee and the stripes round the arms being a nod both to long term promoter John Louis and to the fact that 2009 marks the 40th anniversary of speedway returning to Ipswich. There is a good, positive feel to the team, with everyone speaking of aiming high and finishing higher up the table than last year's fourth place.

Now I've got the smell and sound of this wonderful sport again I'm looking forward to the season - bring it on!


Thursday 12 March 2009

Hebrides Countdown 2009...

Barra Airport is, you could say, a little unusual. It has two runways, a terminal building, baggage reclaim...nothing too unusual there you would think, until I explain that the runways are, in fact, on the beach! The shot above is a British Airways twin-otter getting ready to take off, and this year we are hoping to take a flight from Benbecula to Barra to experience this unique airport for ourselves.  The flight itself only takes a few minutes, but does have the adtantage of giving some marvellous aerial views of the islands. Oh, before I forget....that baggage reclaim I mentioned earlier? Think "Bus shelter with a conveyor belt inside" and you'd be along the right lines!


Sunday 8 March 2009

Wind in the Willows...

Or at least, one of the characters. This is a water vole - otherwise known by lovers of the book as "Ratty". It was a nice bright day today so we headed out to the RSPB Reserve at Rainham Marshes - first time we'd been. I'd say definitely not the last time though as it's a lovely place. There's a circular trail which runs right the way around - a little over 2 miles apparently and very easy walking - ideal for a day when the ground is wet as the majority of the trails are boardwalk or made up paths.  We encountered Ratty at the very end of our walk - literally a couple of hundred yards from the visitors centre, and had already seen plenty to hold our interest on the way around. First time sighting for us of a Little Egret - although my Mum keeps seeing them all over the place, apparently! Lots of goldfinches on the Nyjer seed feeders, and assorted waterfowl including many Wigeon, shoveller, mallards and others.  I might post up some more pictures over the next few days as I come to them, I got some shots of some of the landscape there too - there are a lot of old Military buildings still there - quite interesting to look at and just begging to be photographed - next time we go I must make sure I take a lens other than the 300mm!

Thursday 5 March 2009

Hebrides Countdown 2009.......

The ferry tickets have arrived, and to our delight they are slightly over half the cost of last years. I should explain that this is not a credit-crunch beating move from CalMac, but is instead a result of something called the Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) which has been introduced as a trial on some of the main Hebridean routes. Our Uig - Lochmaddy route is, thankfully, one of those included in the trial. RET is already making a massive difference to those Island residents who have to commute regularly to and from the mainland for work - to give an idea of the difference the tickets which cost us £125 last year have come in at just £64 this year. Same route, same car, same people, even the same ferry! The theory is that it's likely to significantly boost the Islands economies through the summer with increased tourism also - just how much of a difference this makes however remains to be seen.

The picture above shows the ensign of Calmac Ferry MV Hebrides - taken in brilliant sunshine on our crossing over to Lochmaddy last year. Fingers crossed for such a pleasant crossing this year too!


Monday 2 March 2009

Larry bites the dust....

We have bought a lamb. A whole lamb. Oh, it’s dead you understand, in fact it’s now in our freezer so it’s a good thing it IS dead. I should confirm at this point in the interests of transparency that it’s not one of the beasts in this photo – these chaps are Hebridean sheep and Hebridean sheep, as you can see, have ATTITUDE. No getting eaten for these guys – oh no, nothing that common for them – they’re too busy doing their best impression of nightclub bouncers for passing photographers…….

So – back to the lamb. We’ve been talking about this for a long while as the logical continuation of our quest to make sure that all the meat we buy is the best quality we can, and from animals that have lived as happy lives as possible. So far as we can tell our lamb was indeed happy – he certainly tastes as though he was, although I’m guessing that might have palled a bit in a sort of “uh-oh” type way when the trailer pulled into the abattoir car park……anyway, he turned up, well boxed and packed around with icepacks, on Friday, and a good part of the weekend has been spent cutting bits up and getting them into what are now two VERY well packed freezers……We will be eating quite a lot of lamb over the next little while. It’s a good thing we like lamb. For anyone considering a bulk meat purchase, it certainly seems like a good way of doing it so long as you have the space the freeze that amount. Ours has amounted to around 15kgs of meat I think – possibly a little more, some has been minced, some has been cubed. Every last scrap of the meat from the bones has been rescued and frozen. The slow cooker has been working overtime – it produced a batch of soup overnight on Friday and a batch of curry on Saturday evening. It also cooked the shanks for our dinner last night to perfection.