Our Wild    Life

Nature photography by John Langley ARPS & Tracy Langley ARPS

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Hebridean Islands May 2019

We spent almost all of our time on the isle of North Uist searching for corncrake. We timed our visit so that the vegetation would be low enough to be able to see this beautiful bird that is barely larger than a blackbird, but even at this time of year the small bird had to be in an open spot to be seen well.

We managed to see them every day, sometimes for hours at a time, and we soon learnt how these shy birds avoid predators. If they were in a small field they spent most of their time by boundary fences or hedges and if they were in a large field they were happiest out in the middle with a good field of vision. They were very difficult subjects to photograph.

A pair of birds kept us busy much of the time, watching them at a distance and occasionally photographing as they came nearer.

The male’s courtship display

Followed by a loud rasping call

In the field by our cottage there was another pair of birds. The male called from the middle of the large field by a telegraph post that echoed his resonating call.

Sometimes we’d loose him in the vegetation, only finding him again when he called. Occasionally he would call from cover very near and make us jump with fright. Once he popped out right in front of us.

One day we saw him make his way towards a small lane that ran alongside our cottage, so we got into position in case he crossed the road. Despite a passing tractor, he managed to make it safely to the other side.

Marshy areas are favourite feeding places of corncrakes.

Last year on North Uist we spent a lot of time with the short-eared owls. This time, because we were concentrating on the corncrakes, we only saw a few owls when they hunted over the marshy areas. We willed the corncrakes to keep their heads down.

We found a small group of dotterel pausing during their migration to the Scottish highlands. These beautiful birds are known to be quite confiding so we lay down and waited for them to come closer to us.

Arctic terns were displaying.

The wader breeding season was just getting under way so there were not as many birds sitting on fence posts.

We managed to spot just a few perching redshank and snipe.

For the second week we moved to the isle of Mull in the Inner Hebrides.

We were primarily focusing on White-tailed Eagles and Puffins, so we took boat trips most days.

On our first eagle boat trip there was thick low cloud and it rained incessantly.

None too pleasant, but it resulted in some atmospheric shots.

On our second eagle boat trip the weather was sunny.

We had a couple of all-day boat trips out to the island of Lunga, the largest of the Treshnish isles.

We passed a grey seal colony on the way out to the island.

Our main focus on Lunga was puffins. It was early in the breeding season and we were especially looking for behavioural shots such as gathering grass for burrows and courtship bill-tapping. The island was covered in bluebells, so we tried to capture the puffins in these iconic flowers.

The puffins tugged at the grass so hard that occasionally they fell over when the grass came away.

They returned to their burrows with beaks full of nest material.

The number of birds fluctuated. At times there were none to be seen with large rafts of birds out on the sea.

Then they would fly back in groups and the cliffs would be lined with them.

Courtship was in full flow, with lots of bill tapping and the occasional territorial dispute.

Some of the puffin burrows were in the bluebells.

There were also razorbills, guillemots, fulmars, shags and other seabirds on the island.

But the puffins took up most of our time.