Visit to Bass Rock June 2009

26th June 2009
My Visit to Bass Rock June 2009

Oh to have to get up in the middle of the night!

I am glad to report that getting up at 3.30am to travel to Dunbar was well worth it.

We arrived at Dunbar harbour a little before 6.00am with plenty of time to get the gear checked, walking boots on and memory cards loaded. We met with our Scottish Seabirds Centre Guide and clambered aboard our boat and we were off for our one hour steam to the Bass Rock in search of Britain’s largest seabird the Gannet (Sula bassana).

Not far from the Bass Rock the dawn broke and we were treated to the sight of Gannets heading back to the rock crossing some wonderful light from behind thin clouds…..and with a huge oil tanker also on the horizon it was time to start to make a few “arty” images!

A little way further we stopped to “chum” for the Gannets with fish and squid offerings that had the Gulls attention first, but very soon followed by the target species.

Our guide explained how to identify a Gannet that was about to take the plunge, he explained the bird first gives a call then folds its wings and crash dives in normal Gannet fashion!

The trick is to photographing diving Gannets is to identify a potential target bird and follow it whilst firing the shutter all the way down. Easier said than done in a rocking boat with countless other birds and Gannets diving for the same fish offering! I found out it does not take very long for you to fill a 4GB card with out of focus images!

This is the most difficult photography I have ever had a go at. To say it is fast and furious is an understatement!
Out of the many hundreds of images only a few were good enough to keep.

The taster over, we headed on to the Bass Rock and what a sight it was 150,000 Gannets and countless other Gulls, Guillemots’, Shags and the odd Puffin.

Jumping from a moving boat onto a slippery stair step was cushioned by our expert guide and no accidents were encountered. We then made our way up the steps through the lighthouse area and then a winding path of yet more steps until we came to “our patch”. This was a patch of ground that the Ornithologist from the Scottish Sea Bird Centre had cleared of non-breeding Gannets for us. After half an hour of just watching these fantastic birds preening, landing, pair bonding and of course getting used to the smell and sounds I settled down for four and a half hours of flight photography practice par excellence! In the end I became quite choosy as to which bird to photograph and selected those with either bills filled with seaweed or nesting materials and those birds that had the potential to provide the image of “defining moment” quality. I had to do this as otherwise I would have filled my 8 x 4GB cards very quickly.

At lunchtime we made our way back down to the landing stage and helicopter pad and awaited the boat to take us back to Dunbar. Hardly anyone spoke as we were so sad to leave this huge piece of granite rock in the Firth of Forth.

To be so close to such engaging and enthralling birds was a very an extremely humbling moment in my bird watching and photographic career and one that I will never forget. Bass Rock is a “bucket list” experience site that you just have to visit before you kick it!

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