6 Jul 2011

A Fabulous Day on the Saltee Islands off Co.Wexford

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I think the Saltee Islands off the coast of Co.Wexford must be one of Irelands greatest wildlife spectacles and in my view easily rivalling the Farne Islands of Northumberland in England. I went down there the other day on one of my days off and had a brilliant time. We arrived in time for the daily ferry journey to the island at Kilmore Quay, a fairly quaint village where many of the houses having thatched roofs. Infact there were two boats taking people out to the island.

The Saltee Islands are two Islands lying about 3.5 miles from the Wexford Coast and are in the private ownership of the Neale family, who very generously allow the public to visit between 11.00am and 4.30pm. It is famous for its seabird colonies with breeding Gannets, Puffins, Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Black Backed Gulls, Cormorants, Shags, Fulmars, Razorbills and Manx Shearwater.

We took the second boat and below is the boat in front of us.

Ferry to Saltee Island

We travelled past Little Saltee. On the water there were Puffin, Guillemots and Razorbills as well as Gannets feeding.

Puffin on Water off Saltee Island

This Razorbill flew alongside the boat as did Puffins and Guillemots.

Razorbill flying alongside boat
When you arrive at Great Saltee the larger of the two islands you transfer to a rib for the last few hundred metres to the shore hoping that your camera equipment doesn't get soaked before you get there.
You then make your way past the house that is on the Island and onto the main area of the island. There were Sedge warblers singing everywhere. Quite a few Meadow Pipits and Skylark were also in evidence.

On the far side of the island we came across an area that held Puffins and Guillemots and I stopped to take photos. While I was there a family of Choughs flew along the cliffs. There were also Kittiwakes flying into their nests.

Puffins with Tilt Shift

Puffin on Saltee

Guillemot on Saltee
Chough on Saltee
After photographing these birds for a while we headed over the hill towards one of the Gannet colonies passing some Lesser Black backed Gulls and their chicks. I was particularly pleased with this portrait of one of the parents.

When we popped over the hill there were loads of people photographing the Gannets so I decided I would wait until later and had our picnic lunch instead in the blazing heat. After lunch I went to photograph the Greater Black Backed Gulls and their chicks. 
Greater Black Backed Gull Chicks
Greater Black Back Gull Chicks
As I was doing so a number of Gannets were flying by and one bird just hung in the wind and preened for at least thirty seconds. 

Gannet preening on the wing
 The real beauty of this place is the closeness with which you can get to the birds. There were at least twelve photographers photographing the birds and nobody in my opinion was disturbing them.
Photographers at the Saltee Island Gannet Colony
 They seem habituated to having people so close. It was a very similar scene to the one I saw on the Gannet colony on North Island New Zealand. You can really experiment with lenses and I used a 10-20mm, 50mm, 70-200mm and 400mm. So you can photograph them as portraits, juveniles, flying by really close, overhead or even preening each other.
Gannets preening
Gannets preening
Gannet Portrait
Gannet flying overhead
Gannets and Chick
Gannet Chick
Flying close by

Wide Angle Gannet Fly by
Gannet on a Rock

Gannet at 170mm
Gannet Flying into the Sun

When I felt I was done with photographing Gannets I slipped down the back of the Island to photograph some of the Razorbills congregating below the Gannet Colony. First of all there were this loving couple. Then I tried some flight shots before ending up with a portrait.

Razorbill Couple Preening
Razorbill coming into land

Razorbill coming into land

Portrait of a Razorbill
Time had gone fast and with only 45 mins until the ferry came to pick us up we headed to the other end of the island where we met a photographer who said there was a Peregrine just over the hill. No sooner had we crested the hill an adult was calling close by and the reason was fairly obvious a young Peregrine was fifty yards below us.
Young Peregrine on Saltee

Adult Peregrine on Saltee

So we made our way back to the boat and as we were going three Painted Lady's, my first of the year, fluttered around us. At the same time some Herring Gulls were right next to us and I got this portrait.
Painted Lady Butterfly

Herring Gull Portrait

As we made our way back down the hill to the boat a Rock Pipit popped up on some ferns. 

Rock Pipit on Ferns

This was the view of the house as we made our way down the hill. What a fabulous Island and one of the best five and a half hours I have spent in my life. I can't wait to go back. The only drawback I got really sunburnt.

Neales House Saltee Island

We got to the shore and were ferried out to the waiting boat on our journey back to the mainland. On the way there were a few Manx Shearwater flying by the boat.

Rib ferrying passengers from Saltee Island to boat.


NormaPP said...

wonderful trip. i love the gannets preening. hope you can still enjoy killard.

Timothy Belmont said...

Terrific photos; deep blue sky. Heavenly, I'm sure.

Unknown said...

you continually make me homesick with your photos and sightings

Andrew said...

A great series of images - I am so envious. Nice post, Craig.

Dena said...

Fabulous account and great photos Craig!

Millhouse Photography said...

What a stunning set of varied photographs - I really enjoyed the gannets preening and the excllent Peregrine shots.