Monday 30 April 2012

Humpbacks in April (Pt2)

Firstly it is very important to point out that both humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) and basking sharks (Cetorhinus maximus) are protected under European and UK law, so it is illegal to disturb or harass them.

Second, the trip documented here was a research trip where all necessary licences had been obtained beforehand, so as to carry out the procedures described.

Before you get all excited that there has been another wonderful encounter with humpback whales off the West Cork coast, let me stop you there, as this post is the follow-on that I promised, in part, to Padraig Whooley of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group. I did 'pretty' in (Pt1) and now the 'important' stuff is here in (Pt2) I make no apologies for presenting it in a way that is easily comprehendable for those where science may not come naturally.

The Holly Jo that sails from Castlehaven in West Cork.

Top notch skipper, Colin Barnes of Cork Whale Watch
scanning the sea for indications of whale activity.
Seabird activity points to the shoals of herring and
mackerel that show up on sonar. Food for the whales
and birds alike.
Humpback whale located, Conor prepares
a biopsy dart
...loaded into the crossbow...
...ready to shoot - crossbow & cameras!

Dart hits the target.
Followed by a successful retrieval...
...and successful collection of biopsy sample.

Basking shark also observed.

An unsuccessful attempt made to tag the fish.
Meanwhile, not one to miss an opportunity,
Colin cooly casts a rod over the side
...and easily pulls up a line of mackerel and herring
from the fish-rich sea.

Eugene drops a different line down to listen in on whale conversations.
Sadly, nothing distinct apart from lapping water
on the bottom of the boat
Then another basking shark is observed.

To increase chances of success with tagging,
the pole has a make-shift extension added.

326 had tried to be used on the earlier attempt.
It would be a good end to the day to manage to tag
this basking shark.

Basking shark 326 successfully tagged, fin distinguishing points clearly visible.

The tagging will provide scientists with opportunities to gain information regards the otherwise little known migratory habits of the basking sharks.

The Shark Trust has published a code of conduct to be followed in any basking shark encounter. Key points to note are:
  • Keep your distance: keep at least four metres between you and the shark so as not to startle it. If you are swimming with other people, stay in a group, but don't invite others over to take a look.
  • If you're in a boat, turn off your engine (boat propellers are a major cause of serious injury to basking sharks feeding near the surface)
  • If you have a camera handy, take lots of photos of the dorsal fin and any distinguishable features on the shark, as this may help the researchers identify the individual
  • Move away gently and quietly and report your sighting to the Shark Trust
Similarly, sightings of cetaceans anywhere around UK waters should be reported to the appropriate local groups and in Ireland to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group

The biopsy samples taken were part of an important research tool where they will provide a range of genetics and pollutant information, and where it is not possible to obtain this data any other way from healthy specimens.

Conor Ryan is currently continuing a period of humpback whale study in Cape Verde and you may like to keep up with the happenings in his blog

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group will be running whale watching weekends on Cape Clear during the summer details are available on their website.

Colin Barnes runs whale and dolphin trips out into West Cork waters. Details on his website.

Again, my thanks to all involved.

Sunday 29 April 2012


Well, what other title would be appropriate for this post?! After months and months of abnormal rainfall, or rather, of no significant rainfall, we are currently experiencing a bit of a notable event. We have had some rain! Over 80mm of it this month, it appears. That is more than the total for the past five years for April.*

Rain in April is to be expected, is it not? After all we frequently pass comments referring to April showers but that simply hasn't happened for the past few years. Even the rest of the months have fallen short with their totals. I had blogged on several occasions that the East Anglian landscape was starting to resemble a desert, with cracks appearing in the ground that were wide enough to put a hand in... until now. For the past week or so, we have had rain like we haven't seen since, well? It has been the main talking point pretty much everywhere and to boot, as we all know, a drought was officially announced at the beginning of April! However, we mustn't make light of the fact that we are still in a rainfall deficit and the reservoirs still have some way to go to be back to normal. We could be fooled into thinking though that the overflowing gulleys and streams now mean we can disregard the drought?

I have to admit, it was a concept that crossed my mind as I slipped and slid down a muddy track this afternoon, on my way to revisit a location I first posted about back last July.

Then, water was notable by its absence. Today, I couldn't stand in the same spot for fear of being washed away. I have to say, having been dry there for well over 12 months, I was very pleased to see the water flowing again at this significant spot.

I had been wanting to get back to photograph at this location for a long while and so today, as the sun dared to venture out mid afternoon, so did I. Suitably wellied, me mutt and camera took to the bridleway where a sign warned me...

With mutt keenly leading the way, she carefully negotiated her way around the puddles forgetting me following along apace, and forced through the puddles. That was all well and good until we hit a track-wide muddy 'pond'.

She daintily dabbled her way through whilst I tried carefully to negotiate a safe passage - or so I thought! For one heart-stopping moment - my leg, boot-deep in muddy water (a Dr Foster moment if ever there was one) foot slipping from under me, lead straining in one hand, camera strap clenched in the other - I thought that was it. But for once something was on my side and my other foot made contact with a safe area, the impact splash showering me, mutt and camera with a 'nearly had you' spray.

That was close enough and photographers will always look after no.1!
I will get wet if I have to but noo, noo, noo, not the camera!

*Taken from unverified data

Friday 27 April 2012

UK Release of Disney's African Cats Today!

Sita (aka Shakira)

After a false start and a long wait, the UK general release of the Disney Nature, African Cats documentary film has finally happened! Prior to todays release, the Royal Premier took place on Wednesday evening at the BFI Southbank, with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in attendance, the event also helping raise money for Tusk Trust.

The film has been adapted for the UK market, with Patrick Stewart now providing the narration, in favour of Samuel L Jackson, when it was released for the American market back in October.

I was fortunate to enjoy several sightings of Sita (also know to Big Cat Diary viewers as Shakira) during my visit to the Masai Mara in 2009. This magical evening encounter with her and her cubs, became one of the highlights of my visit to Kenya.

I now look forward to finally being able to enjoy this film, following my premature blog post back in October, and hope that it will recreate the true atmosphere of this special place.

Thursday 26 April 2012

Let's Promote Cambridge Open Studios

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while, may recall postings around July last year, during my participation as a photographer and book artist with Cambridge Open Studios. If you missed it all then, you may be pleased to know that I will again be opening my doors for weekends during July, along with around 200 other artists within the CB postcode area.

"Cambridge Open Studios, is a flourishing community of artists, craftspeople and designer-makers working throughout Cambridgeshire and the CB postcode areas. Our aim is to help bring artists and local people together, providing opportunities for the public to visit the workshops and studios of people working in a wide range of crafts and media, including: furniture-makers, sculptors, jewellers, print-makers, textile artists, graphics and multi-media, potters, photographers and painters – to talk directly to them about the techniques they use and the passions that inspire them."

So, why is it that when I try to explain to people about the Open Studios set-up, they imagine that I am exhibiting in a gallery in Cambridge? Simply, it is because the message still isn't fully getting across, even though Cambridge Open Studios has been in existence for over 30 years. It is particularly challenging for us artists outside the main city, such as the Uttlesford area, and it is why a new approach is being taken to try and raise awareness of what we all do.

Today, I joined forces with a young new graduate from the Met Film School. She and I then embarked on a day of filming various artists from our Uttlesford area, the footage which is to be edited into a short promotional film. It will be produced by this lovely young lady, Kenya Brading (you may recall a photoshoot I did for her back in January) and will initially be shown in Saffron Screen during this years Open Studio season. It is hoped it will then go on to be used in other venues across the CB region and next year too. By focusing the film-making on artist disciplines rather than specific artists, it will allow the film to used in this cost effective way, whilst reaching an otherwise untapped audience.

We must thank the potters, illustrator, chair makers and print maker who have kindly given us their assistance so far. We still have a couple more artist disciplines to film before the final cut.

...Coming soon to a cinema near you!

Tuesday 24 April 2012

Bird Brains

(Taken with handbag-cam!)
So, what are these two lovelies up to?

Trying to build a nest in the prime neighbourhood of the local supermarket carpark, that's what...

...but after this amount of failures on the floor beneath, could someone please put them out of their misery and tell them that it perhaps isn't the suitable des-res location they thought it might be.

(We will watch to see if they have a bright idea to try elswhere or stick it out!)

Mind you, the ducks were non too clever this morning either, choosing a paddling puddle with a cosy view of a rear nearside wheel, when only a matter of a few hundred yards away, there is a perfectly good duck pond.

Monday 23 April 2012

St George's Day

As I left for my daily walk this morning a dreamy thought went through my head. Would I perhaps meet a dragon or even a knight in shining armour today?

Within a minute of leaving home I met a possible knight whose armour had previously been very bright and was now just a little dull by this morning.
It was my neighbour who had valiantly completed the London Marathon yesterday, and that was the nearest I was going to get to a knight!

After about 20 minutes, my walking companion encountered a great beast who reared up snarling, the handler straining at the lines to try to control this act of dominance.
As a large dog was led away by an embarrassed owner, my mutt peeped out from behind my legs.

As I wandered home, I wondered if there might be a symbol of recognition somewhere in the town.
The church?
The town hall?

It was clear. There was not one flag of St George to be easily found.

Why could this be?
Could it be general apathy?
Could it be that St George was not English anyway?
Whatever the reason, it is sad that we are unable to embrace our Englishness in the way our Irish neighbours, for example, seem to be more than happy to do.
I only hope we might be a little more enthusiastic for things English when it comes to the Olympics later in the year.

So, I will finish by making the point of wishing all of my English friends a very Happy St George's Day!

Sunday 22 April 2012

Tit Bonhomme Ceremony

This is a community project.
Dedicated to all those lost at sea from the parishes of Myross, Leap and Glandore"

Today, Irish President Michael D Higgins attended a ceremony in Union Hall, to remember the five fishermen who had died in the sinking of the trawler, 'Tit Bonhomme in January.

During my recent visit to West Cork, I was moved to see that a fitting memorial was already in the process of construction, scarcely three months on from the tragedy. The immediacy of this project clearly indicating the sheer enormity of the effect it had on these communities.

(The likes would still be being discussed three years on, here in the UK!)

It may look calm here but on 15th January it was a very different picture. The proximity to home is all too evident, with Glandore snuggling onto the hillside in the distance and the safety of Union Hall just around the corner. Mariners directions are to 'avoid Adam (the large island front right) and hug Eve' (the small island mid left).
We may never know what happened on that stormy morning but the Tit Bonhomme sadly still lies in the water at the point marked by the buoy.

Wednesday 11 April 2012

Titanic Commemoration Beacon

Titanic 100 Commemoration LE Roisin P51 passing Stag Rocks

Just after 2.30 pm on Wednesday 11th April 2012 the LE Roisin P51 stopped at Toe Head, crewmen assembling on deck, before waving at the well-wishers gathered on the headland. After a sounding of the horns, the Irish Navy ship once again set-off in its way towards Cape Clear.

Departing from Cobh, Toe Head was the fourth point of call on this Titanic Commemoration route. Having already passed Old Head, Kinsale; Seven Heads; Galley Head; it was to pass Toe Head then Cape Clear; Crook Haven; Mizen Head; Sheep's Head; Bere Island; Garranes; Crow Head and finally Dursey Head. These points would have been the last visible sightings of land by the passengers on the ill-fated Titanic after it had left Cobh on 11th April, 1912 on the first and only sailing to America. Sinking after hitting an iceberg in mid-Atlantic with the loss of 1,514 lives, today was the 100th anniversary of the sailing and was being commemorated with a series of beacons at each of these points along the coast of West Cork.

Residents from Toe Head and Castle Haven had been assembling on the Head from early afternoon, setting up a beacon bonfire that would be part of the Paternoster series to commemorate the day.

Toe Head Titanic 100 Commemoration Beacon

On a beautiful sunny day, young and old had gathered for this community event, the like which had not been seen on the Head for many years.

As the LE Roisin P51 steamed off into the West, Castletownshend resident Brendan Neill sang a fitting tribute with 'Home From the Sea' as the last embers of the beacon fire were allowed to die down.

Further images of the event:
All images are copyright Ailec Photography.
(If you would like high resolution copies of these images, please contact me with your requirements)