Thursday, 31 July 2008

Back on the beach

Back to the regularly-scheduled programming today!

I had an attempt at some arty-farty black and white, but I'm not sure how well it's worked. These three were the best:

Grass and sand

Twigs on sand

Sand ripples

And I took another picture of water rippling over sand, which I like:


There were oyster catchers on the beach this evening, the first time I'd seen them at Armadale. They're a lot less spooky than the gulls, which took off the moment they saw me lift the camera, but with the oyster catchers you get closer:

Oystercatchers (1)

and closer (guess which direction the wind was coming from?!):

Oystercatchers (2)

and finally a bit too close:

Oystercatchers (3)

On the way back up to the house I got macro-happy again, particularly with the insects which were out in force:

Bluebottle (1)

Bee on thistle

And a dandelion to finish:

Dandelion (2)

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Halkirk Highland Games

Halkirk is one of the most traditional of the Highland Games and with a total prize purse of £21,000 it attracts competitors from all over the world - entrants from as far away as Australia, Malawi and the USA took part.

You can't have a proper Games without one of these:

Kirkwall City pipe band (3)

And Halkirk had two, the local band from Thurso and a guest band (the ones in the picture) from Kirkwall in Orkney. The drummers do that wonderful thing where they twirl their sticks:

Kirkwall City pipe band

Every Games has a Chieftain and the one for Halkirk is Viscount Thurso:

John Thurso MP

He's also the MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (which is HUGE territory to cover - basically everything north of Inverness) and despite looking very Scottish, has an Eton accent. He's the only hereditary peer to be elected to the House of Commons having previously sat in the House of Lords and he and his wife spend all summer turning up at charity fundraisers, so despite him being a Lib Dem, I have to approve of him really ;o)

All the action takes place on an oval field. There's a 200m track round the outside for running and cycling events:

Senior cycling (1)

And then inside you have the field events:

High jump (1)

That guy went on to win, breaking the Halkirk record, and then attempted to break the Scottish record (6ft 6" - all measurements are done in feet and inches, no metric here), but just missed it.

Of course, what everyone really comes to see is the traditional Highland sports. The dancing competition went on all day, with the same piper playing for 5 hours non-stop - she was an absolute trooper. Ladies, if you want to have fantastic legs, take up Highland dancing:

Highland dancing (2)

(Funnily enough, of all the Games photos I've put on Flickr, that one's had the most views!)

And just for Mum, who's a teacher and has the same reaction to small children as I do to kittens, here's some of the competitors for the Hornpipe class:

Hornpipe competition

The heavies are the star attraction though and classes include Weight For Distance:

Weight for distance (1)

Hammer Throw:

Hammer throw (2)

Tossing the Sheaf (the bar got to 36ft):

Sheaf toss (2)

And, of course, Tossing the Caber:

Caber (2)

Apparently there aren't that many Games that have caber any more, due to piddling health and safety reasons, so the commentator explained how it all worked. The idea is to run with the caber to the line, with a judge running behind you (this picture is called "Come back with my caber!":

Come back with my caber!

and then lob the bottom of it upwards as hard as you can:

Caber (4)

The bottom of the caber is rounded, but the top is flat so the edges dig into the turf. If the caber goes right the way over its length then that's called a Full Toss. The judge running behind (who's in great danger if the caber starts wobbling backwards during the run-up) judges how straight the caber falls - the ideal is a straight end over end throw that ends up in a 12 o'clock position from the thrower. If it doesn't make a Full Toss, then another judge is standing at the side to see how close the caber gets to going over and the closer it gets to upright, the more points are scored.

Fascinating, eh? If you want more pictures (I took over 200!) then clicking on any of the photos will take you to my Flickr account where there are a dozen or so more.

Friday, 25 July 2008

A plover-free zone

You're all going to get very bored if I continue my plover obsession on my daily walk, so today's post is not only a plover-free zone, I didn't even take a photograph of one while I was down there.

It occurred to me as I was walking back up that I'd shown you the beach, but not the path to it, so here it is:

Path to the beach

It winds through the grass and then up through the trees on the right, which is midge city at the moment. I did try going up the direct way yesterday, over the stile on the bottom of the croft, but the cow parsley is as tall as I am and the thistles and nettles nearly as large, so I think I'll leave that route alone until it starts to die back a bit.

Lots of butterflies about though - this was the best shot I got today, as it was windy and my subjects kept getting blown 20 or 30 yards just as I'd focused:


Still in a macro frame of mind, I went onto the beach and shot ripples on the Allt Beag:

Allt Beag ripples

seaweed in a rockpool:


and rabbit footprints in the dunes:

Rabbit footprints

In fact this would have been an all-macro post if I hadn't found this whopping great rockpool and decided it needed to be captured for posterity due to its size!


Tomorrow is the Halkirk Highland Games, so as long as the weather stays nice (it's looking promising), expect lots of men in kilts pictures over the weekend...

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Back to the beach

In an attempt to shift some weight, I've decided to walk down to the far end of the beach and back every morning. The camera comes with me of course, you can guarantee that the day I don't take it there'll be four otters doing a synchronised swimming display in the burn...

I've often noticed holes in the sand as I walk along the hard sand where the tide's gone out and wondered what made them. Here's the answer - they're air pockets trapped under the sand:

Sand bubbles

Up towards the dunes I saw an earwig:


And I can't go down to that beach without taking a picture of a ringed plover, can I?!

Ringed plover

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Oh what a beautiful morning

It was much too nice to stay inside, so I walked down to Port a'Chinn, because I haven't been for ages. On the way I saw an enormous bird perched on a pile of stones in the field behind the salmon bothy. Got a bit closer and with the lens on full zoom managed to catch it:


I think that must be the buzzard which we've seen hunting over the hill behind our house. I tried to sneak round the house and get closer but by the time the rock pile was back in view again, he'd gone. I climbed up there to see if he was perched on a fence post, because I'd have seen him if he'd gone up into the sky, but not a sign.

The fishermen were out this morning and had left their salmon nets drying at the top of the cliff:

Salmon nets (1)

Salmon nets (2)

And just to be a bit arty-farty, here's the previous shot in black and white, which I think works a little bit better:

Salmon nets (2a)

Then it was down onto the beach. Masses of rock pipits down there this morning:

Rock pipit (2)

Rock pipit (3)

I also found out which cave it is that goes through to the hidden waterfall and since it was low tide crawled through to have a look. It's been dry recently, so the waterfall was less than impressive, but I'll go back once we've had a few days of rain and take some pictures.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Caithness County Show

Some domestic animals for you today - I spent a couple of hours this afternoon watching the working hunter classes at Caithness County Show.

Working hunter class (4)

Working hunter class (2)

Working hunter class (1)

Working hunter class (3)

Working hunter class (5)

Working hunter class (6)

I was expecting pandemonium when this jet screamed low overhead, but nothing so much as twitched an ear!

Jet flying over Caithness County Show

Thursday, 17 July 2008

I'm in

The very first post on this blog, made before we moved house, was about a photography competition run by Scottish Natural Heritage. The closing date is the end of July, so I thought I'd better get my skates on and enter if I was going to.

After much mulling over, one of the dragonfly pictures and the foxglove picture have been entered (or they will be when Outlook Express finishes chugging its way through 12MB of pictures - they wanted hi-res jpegs), so watch this space. There are an awful lot of very talented photographers up here, so if I make the long list of the final 30 I shall be over the moon and if I'm in the top 3 you'll hear the squealing from the other end of the country!

Oh, and in the course of writing the blurb to go with the entry, I discovered that the dragonfly is a Golden-ringed dragonfly or Cordulegaster boltonii - probably a female.

Results announced at the end of August, anyway. I'm going to have to pass on the Countryfile competition this year, I've got nothing good enough that fits the theme (Nature in motion).

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Up the Armadale Burn

I've found a cracking website called A Wild Land, which is all about the area I live in and has what look like some very good walks on it. Today I decided to stretch my legs on the first one: The Armadale Big Burn.

The website says that you can sometimes see buzzards riding the thermals and I could see one circling in the distance as I climbed up the track. A beetle caught my eye on the path and I stopped to try and photograph it, but as I did so I could hear 'Keeeeee keeeeee' coming closer all the time and ended up hurriedly switching the lens out of macro to take these:

Buzzard 1

Buzzard 2

That is as close as I think I'm going to get to a flying one with this lens - I shall keep an eye on the fence posts and see if I can get closer to a stationery bird.

As you can see from those two shots, the sky was a bit washed out, meaning it was a bad day for landscape photography, but a good day for macro. And luckily I came across absolutely the biggest dragonfly I've ever seen in my life:

Dragonfly 1

Dragonfly 2

Those two were taken with the lens at 300mm in normal mode, but this lens has a switch on the side of it that will change it into a macro lens between 200mm and 300mm. This was taken in macro:

Dragonfly 3

I was looking out for a tributary coming down to the burn, because that meant I was getting near the broch mentioned in the walk guide. The ground started to get marshy and this little chap sprang out of the way of my boot:

Frog 2

Frog 1

I finally reached the broch and did the obligatory climb up to it:

View from the broch

The walk guide said to continue following the burn up to the loch at its source and, if you have the energy, to climb the mountain beside it. However, it had taken me an hour to get this far and looking at my map I could see I was maybe two thirds of the way there at best. That's the problem with taking me walking with a camera - I'll happily spend quarter of an hour following a dragonfly around.

I could see a farm track from the broch that I knew crossed the burn a little way on, so I walked down that to the water and then decided to turn back. There's a small copse of trees down there and in their shade, foxgloves grow:


I tried to get arty with the cotton grass:

Cotton grass

And as I got back towards the road, I was rewarded with another buzzard:

Buzzard 3