In front of me is the Irish sea; deep, deep blue and so still you can see the tide flowing, making V shapes to the south of each of the small rocky island. Eleven miles away, and clearly visible is the island of Grassholm, uninhabited by humans, but half of it dirty yellow with guano from the 35 thousand gannets who nest there. Barely visible 8 miles further out is the 40 metre high Smalls Lighthouse, but the long lens picks it up.
With scarcely a hint of cloud it would be seriously hot but for the gentle cool breeze from the sea. The only sound is the croaking of the raven family soaring over Carn Ysgubor, and the gentle creaking of my sandals on the rabbit-shaved micro turf. Out to sea a gannet passes, barely moving, sliding along the sea as if on rails until it makes a few lazy movements of its wings. Here, on Ramsey Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, on this summer morning I am almost alone. Up ahead somewhere is another man on his own, and behind me somewhere is a couple with binoculars. I feel the urge to re-write my definition of “at peace with the world.” This is it.
Peace for me doesn’t mean sitting down though. I may take my time, but I’m carrying a fairly heavy pack and wearing my usual harness with binoculars on one side and camera on the other. At present the camera – Canon EOS 80D – is weighed down with my 400 lens, but I don’t mind the mild discomfort. That combination has just secured some cracking shots of one of Britain’s rarest birds – the chough, and some nice images of linnets eating thistledown.
I’m now searching for peregrines. I saw one. It flew out from a behind high rocky outcrop and flew back again. It took me ten minutes of fairly hard climbing and very careful slow movement into the open and I was in the exact place it flew from. I waited. I slowly moved round to see the cliff face. Then the next cliff face. I looked out to sea and inland, but not a flicker of a wing. That’s birds for you.
Reaching some heathland I decided to give the big lens a rest and try my Sigma 105 f2.8 macro lens. Looking into this is like seeing the world made fresh. Every detail sparkles, and with the much wider view it’s easier to catch butterflies. Still not easy though, at least if you want to catch them with wings open. Wings folded is easy as long as you can see them. I’m chasing a pair of common grayling, and their underwing gives them perfect camouflage against the rough, dried, coastal heath plants.
The big challenge though is catching them in flight. Over the three days of my Pembrokeshire trip I spent several hours in rapid-fire shutter clicks chasing the three of four common species here. I then spent several more hours deleting 95% of them. Here are a few of the survivors, Grayling in flight, Wall and Gatekeeper:
On the way back in the afternoon I came across these two stags in velvet. They looked hungry, and like the sheep here they are being fed.
As I was scanning the walled pasture area for little owls, but finding only sheep perched there, I met Lisa and Greg, the resident wardens with Dewi the sheep dog.
They were checking on the pump house and I asked what the water situation was: not good. There had been no rain since May and they would soon have to start importing drinking water from the mainland. There was still just enough ground water to keep the sheep going. There was lots more I would have liked to ask them, but they were clearly busy and worried about the stock so I continued slowly walking along the old stone walls. There were plenty of wheatears and a few rabbits but no Little Owls.
Never mind, I watched a family party of Choughs affectionately grooming each other.
Down at the house the little café was open and a very chatty volunteer lady called Gwyneth served me some juice and a healthy snack. Her accent reminded me a little of our Tredegar friends and it turned out that her first job was there, but she’d lived most of her life in Pembrokeshire. You can take the girl out of Tredegar but . . . . Here she is seeing us off: still joking and chatting with the fashionably hirsute boat crew: