London 2012: Seven Years Ago

When I look back through my photographs from Summer 2012 one event dominates - unusually for me it doesn't involve time out and about with a camera on a remote island - it was the London Olympics.  And I still get emotional thinking about it.

Way back in 2012 the UK felt like a welcoming, confident, positive, multicultural, inclusive place - the 2012 Olympics was the platform to allow us to celebrate that along with welcome visitors from pretty much every country.

My Olympics started with watching the archery at Lords and the cycling road races in Surrey, and ended with two days on the Olympic Park watching water polo and diving.  My feeling at the time was that this was a special time in the UK's history - the usual busy and indifferent London was transformed into a city filled with smiles and a warm welcome.

My diary at the time says 

28th July 2012.  Today was a wonderful day to be in London. The city was heaving with tourists, supporters, athletes and volunteer guides, everyone seemed to have a smile on their face and the weather was wonderful too. Any Olympic cynicism I might have had has been swept away. Welcome to London 2012.

29th July 2012.  Although the weather didn't match up to yesterday, the crowds were just as good-humoured.

5th August 2012.  Absolutely bubbling with Olympics enthusiasm. Really didn't expect the feel-good factor to be quite so strong.  Am getting excited about getting into the Olympic Park tomorrow - and that's to see a Water Polo group match (that doesn't include TeamGB).

6th August 2012. Spent today around the London 2012 Olympic Park - fantastic atmosphere, huge numbers of people, lovely atmosphere.

10th August 2012. Wonderful day in the Olympic Park again - this time to watch the preliminary stages of the mens 10 metre diving. Also made sure there was lots of time to just soak up the amazing atmosphere in the Park.  The whole Olympics experience over the last couple of weeks has completely blown me away - it's just been so much better than I could ever have imagined. The organisers have thrown an amazing party that everyone has wanted to join in with, the GamesMakers have been fantastic and TeamGB have been awesome.  And of course the Stadium was lit up in red, white and blue when we left the Aquatic Centre.

Part of my emotion looking back is despair at how far we (and very particularly England) has fallen since that summer.

Where we were "welcoming, confident, positive, multicultural, inclusive", England is now hostile, scared, negative, isolationist and exclusive.  Other people have posted much more elegant statements of this over the last couple of days but I was struck by just how positive my diary entries were at the time.

The London Olympics could, and indeed should, have been a stepping stone to allow us to become an even better place instead it's going to appear in the history books as a missed opportunity.

Yes, we threw one hell of a party for 17 days that glorious summer - but at this point I don't see how the UK (assuming it continues to exist) can ever regain the place we had in the world just seven years ago.

Mostly Puffins, July 2019

A few months ago I, perhaps foolishly, lamented that I’d seen every flavour of weather in a few days with the exception of fog.

Last weekend I got the fog.

Quendale Bay - No See View
Quendale Bay - Sea View

It being high summer on Shetland, the temperature had soared into the low teens - and mostly it was entirely safe to venture out without a knitted Fair Isle hat, and for some of the time there were both blue skies and sunshine in evidence.

All calm - looking along West Voe from Sumburgh Head
Calm around Horse Island - from Sumburgh Head
Mists around Scat Ness - Fitful Head just about visible in the background
Quendale Beach - lovely in (almost) any weather
Low cloud over Fitful Head

The calm weather gave plenty of opportunity for puffin action - and since it is definitely peak puffin at the moment there was plenty of that to be seen.  The last few weeks of the puffin season involve a lot of breeding adults bringing food back to the burrows and lots of the non-breeding adults hanging around on the cliffs tops (presuming trying to figure out what they are going to have to do once they are of breeding age, or possibly just scouting out desirable burrows for next year).

Arriving - complete with supplies
Which burrow was I using this year?
Close Formation Flying - puffin style 

One potential risk (or bonus, as some of us might see it) is that the persistent fog can and does disrupt the flights in and out of Sumburgh.  And sure enough on the day I was due to fly off, the fog swirled low around the runways for much of the morning playing havoc with the timetables.  Then, suddenly as my flight time ticked round the clouds lifted and everything went back to schedule.  

Oh well, maybe I'll be stranded on Shetland next time.

If you feel the need of more photos from Shetland - have a look at the latest Flickr album.

Good Days

A few days ago, well 1st July to be exact, I was feeling particularly disgruntled that I was sitting in an office rather than being out and taking pictures in cool/remote/wild places.

And I happened to come across a picture that I’d taken on 1st July 2010.

1st July 2010, Svalbard

Suddenly I was back on the Zodiac in the middle of small bay at the northern end of Svalbard  watching a female polar bear dive down to a submerged minke (or it might have been fin) whale carcass to bring up some old meat for its cub.

That was a Good Day.

That set me thinking.  Do I have a memorable picture for every day of the year?  I’ve been taking digital images for about 15 years, so I must have something memorable for most days at least?

So starts my #OnThisDay series - over the next 366 days (we get a leap day next year - not many 29th Februarys to choose from) I’ll aim to post something interesting on Twitter from my photo collection each day.  

I’m already finding that some days have an embarrassment of choice, while others are rather more of a struggle.  Maybe July wasn’t the best month to start, over the years I’ve tended to regard July and August as working months (when everyone else goes on holiday).

30 Days Wild, June 2018: Orca to Orchids, Puffins to Poppies

As the old cliché goes - this years 30 Days Wild was a month of two halves.

The first part of the month was based at the south end of Shetland - which offered the expected assortment of bright sunshine and misty days, and lots of opportunity to watch and photograph the puffins at Sumburgh Head.  It also provided the hoped for (but never expected) delight of seeing a big pod of orca at close quarters.

Back further south (despite the distraction of my desk job) the pictures mostly revolved around wild flowers both in the garden and further afield.  The real bonus this year was discovering places to see wild orchids - I don't know if it has been a particularly good year for orchids, but I've certainly noticed more of them this year - and I don't think they've featured in previous 30 Days Wild collections.

Orcas to Orchids

Wednesday, 5th June 2019
Tuesday, 25th June 2019
Puffins to Poppies

Saturday, 1st June 2019
Saturday, 22nd June 2019

This year I also managed to include a couple of conservation volunteer days during the month - one at Stansfeld Park and one at the Oxford City Farm with work colleagues - both hard work but good fun too.

Sunday, 16th June 2019
Friday, 21st June 2019

I've throughly enjoyed 30 Days Wild again this year, and I fully expect to be back next year.

30 Days - June 2019

Long Days, Short Nights, June 2019

In the winter on Shetland it gets light very late in the morning and dark very early in the afternoon - it's quite possible to set off for a walk at dawn and get back after sunset without getting very far at all.

In June comes the payback - Shetland isn't quite far enough north to see the midnight sun, but it really doesn't get properly dark at this time of the year.  The local name for it is Simmer Dim (the summer dimness) - and unless you're staying somewhere with decent curtains the light will soon start to mess with your body clock.

Over the last few days I've taken quite a lot of photographs (no surprise there, I hear you cry) - the earliest was at 04:50 and the latest at 22:55.

Early Start 04:50 looking out onto Quendale Bay
Late night (22:55) clouds over Quendale Links

So what to do with all those intervening hours?

As with any time on Shetland, you keep your fingers crossed that the weather is going to co-operate.  In the summer you might well get 18 hours of sunshine between dawn and dusk, but you might also get 18 hours of brightly lit fog.

Sunshine and Waves on Scat Ness
Quendale Bay - on a good day you can see Fair Isle 25 miles away

But, assuming the weather co-operates (which it mostly did for the last few days) you're going to want to do things like puffin spotting (lots of other bird life is available), Shetland Pony watching and (if you've got everything crossed) you might get to see one of the passing pods of orca.

Puffin in the sea pinks at Sumburgh Head 
Shetland Ponies - in front of the Sumburgh Hotel
Passing Orca - taken at The Taing, just north of Grutness Voe

The ponies are there all year round - just keep your eyes open as you walk or drive around Shetland - at this time of year there are lots of foals around too.

The puffins appear in mid-April and stick around until late July or early August - there are puffins in lots of places around Shetland, my favourite puffin spotting place is Sumburgh Head at the south end of the Shetland mainland.  Some days you'll see lots of puffins coming and going (and sometimes just hanging about on the cliff-tops), other days you might need to be a wee bit patient.

The orca are the real lottery ticket item.  Shetland doesn't have a resident pod of orca (much to the relief of the local seals), but it does have several visiting pods who spend time as far north as Iceland and as far south as the Scottish mainland. The orca do often work their up or down the Shetland coast line so you will often get a heads-up that the orca are around via a local Facebook page that a pod has been sighted.  This will result in crowds of both locals and visitors gathering along the coastline hoping that the pod will pass by close to the shore. Last week the pod took almost 8 hours to travel the 20 odd miles from near Lerwick (where they were first spotted) down to Sumburgh Head hunting fish and seals as they went, and providing a wonderful spectacle for lots of people

And if you don't spot any ponies or the puffins are too busy sitting in their burrows or spending time fishing at sea and the orca just aren't around, you'll just have to stick with wandering on the crowded beaches and busy headlands. Which isn't really such a tough call.

Quendale Beach
Scat Ness

There are more pictures from the last few days in a Flickr album.

In Search of Puffins, May 2019

It happens almost every year about this time.  I suddenly get the urge to pop up to Shetland because it’s time that the grass got its first cut of the year.
Actually, this is just a thinly veiled excuse.

The real reason is so that I can check in on the newly returned puffins around Sumburgh Head.

So last Friday morning at 04:00 I was standing at a bus stop in Oxford, waiting for a coach to Heathrow and about 8 hours later I was standing at the lighthouse on Sumburgh Head waiting for puffins to appear.

So, did the puffins appear?  Yes, but only in limited numbers.  

I got the impression that there were quite a few birds around but they all seemed to keeping to themselves rather than gathering in gangs on the cliff tops.  Maybe, despite the bright sunshine, the temperatures just weren’t quite high enough for sun-bathing.  The puffins I generally spotted were either flying straight in to the burrows, or were emerging and heading straight back out to sea.

Puffin and razorbill discussing burrow ownership
Puffin at Sumburgh Head

One observation suggested that there might be another reason for the puffins being reluctant to sit around on the cliff tops at the moment.

As I was packing up on Saturday evening,  I got beckoned over by a local couple to one of the spots from where there are a set of fairly visible burrows - usually a good spot for watching puffins loitering.  

Just outside one of the burrow entrances was a young otter busily tucking in to a freshly caught puffin.  The otter clearly wasn’t happy to have an audience for this Saturday night dinner and he (or she) soon dragged the puffin remains down into the burrow.  I waited around trying to keep sight of the burrow the otter had darted down (hoping that it was one of the simple burrows with a single entrance) and eventually it did reappear to see if the coast was clear, it took one look at me and disappeared again and I didn’t see any further evidence. 

Otter 1, Puffin 0 
Did any one notice?

I gather there have occasionally been otters sighted around the lighthouse but I’ve not seen any other pictures of them around the puffin burrows.  There are also stories of predation around the guillemot colonies, which are generally much closer to sea level, where I’d expect the otters to be found.

I’m willing to travel a long way to spend time with either otters or puffins - but I really would prefer it if the former wasn’t eating the latter.

In between fixes of puffin (and otter) spotting I was able to spend time on some of favourite headlands and beaches at the south end of Shetland.  

As the spring draws on the regular summer visitors are reappearing. 

The  guillemots always get back early and by mid-May they're sitting on eggs, and I was pleased to see more razorbills than remember from this time last year. 

Guillemots at Sumburgh

The bonxies (great skuas) are back patrolling the cliffs (they’re happy to take a puffin given the chance), the wheatears are around and the tirricks (terns) are getting in their early season harassing-visitor practice.  And the air is filled with the sound of bird life too - from the bubbling calls of the guillemots and puffins, to the trill of the skylarks and the endless peeping of the oystercatchers.

The tourist attractions are also getting back into operation - the Sumburgh Head visitor centre re-opened for the season a few weeks back, and there is again coffee and splendid cake on offer (although not yet in the wonderful Stevenson Room, which is still getting some TLC).  I was also delighted to hear that Old Scatness is opening much more regularly this summer - it’s always been one of my favourite bits of Shetland archeology - I’ll get there next time I’m back.

Sunny Scat Ness
All calm at the West Voe of Sumburgh
Low tide at Quendale Bay

And yes, I did get the grass cut.

Half Cut