Sunday, 29 July 2018

Summer In The Highlands And On Mull

After the financial nightmares of problems with the three most important tools for my job (camera, car and computer) I was relieved to pack the car, now working like new again, thanks to a new turbo, tyres and brakes, and drive north to Oban. The Mull Photography Tours were still a fortnight away, so what was I doing there so early?

Andy Howard, who I co-run the summer tours with, had arranged a bespoke tour with some clients, to see wildlife in the Highlands, and then on the Isle Of Mull, and he'd asked if I could lend a hand, splitting his group in half, hence making guiding a little easier. I wasn't going to pass on an opportunity to visit Mull, so met up with him and his four clients late afternoon. By then, I had already spent a couple of hours watching hen harriers hunting over some marshes, and a ringed plover scuttling busily about on a shingle shore.

My clients wanted to capture images of otters, though they were also happy to see what else Mull had to offer, so while looking for otters, we enjoyed the sights of some of the more common birds, such as oystercatchers with their young, and common sandpipers watching over their offspring from lofty spots, such as rocks and roadside posts, plus special moments with hen harriers, short-eared owls and a golden eagle.

The second day of the tour involved a private trip with Mull Charters, which is never a bad thing in my book. It was sunny and relatively calm on the water, so with the extra space to move around on the boat, I used both my 500mm prime lens, and my new 100-400mm mk2. The latter is so impressive, and offers the chance to compose shots using the zoom, while easily handling it, tracking the eagles. Something nigh on impossible to do with the heavier prime lens.

And we enjoyed several visits from the eagles, something that has become almost the norm for this trip of late, which must be a real blessing for Martin and Alex who run it.

Bespoke tour over, and rather than drive south, I followed Andy back to the Highlands for a week off. And with Andy also not working for a few days, we could enjoy some of the local wildlife together. First stop was Chanonry Point, where we watched some bottlenose dolphins chase down salmon as the tide rose, with the occasional breach to entertain the crowds standing enthralled on the beach. I love this spot - to be able to stand and see these normally elusive mammals at such close quarters is incredible really. Though capturing them as they break free of the water is still tricky!

As a thank you to me for helping with the Mull guiding, Andy had arranged a morning's session down at Rothiemurchus Estate for the ospreys. It meant a very early start, and being in the hide at dawn. Now I have been to this site before, though many years ago, and it has changed significantly since then. Instead of being in a hide beside the main lake, the photographers now view a small pool, from hides sunken into the ground, giving water-level views. As before there's a spotter employed by the estate, to give the photographer some sort of advance warning of when an osprey is circling or diving.

What hadn't changed was the wait for something to happen. It was hours before we heard the radio crackle into life, informing us of a bird circling, and then saw the shadow of it over the trees nearby. Then it was the excitement and tension before we heard one was diving, and after that it was a case of getting the camera focused on the osprey, and attempting to maintain a focus lock as it lifted out of the water, to fly away.

Not as easy as you'd think, with all the spray of water from the wings, but wonderful to watch regardless.

We were fortunate to see at least nine dives by various ospreys during the session, and came away with some great images, in bright sunny conditions. I think I may need to revisit this estate again in the future, as it was an awesome experience.

The remainder of my time in the Highlands saw me observing a local sand martin colony from close quarters, attempting to capture images of the nestlings about to fledge, some of them doing so accidentally when the sand gave way below them and they fell out of the nest area!

Plus some shots of the adults flying to and from the burrows, which involved a certain amount of timing and luck in equal measures.

A trip up the hills one afternoon resulted in a charming encounter with a pair of mountain hare leverets. Initially they vanished under the heather as I approached, but after I waited a while silently, they crept back out, and I watched one snooze in the warm weather, and then both grazed on the vegetation around me, even nibbling on a daisy!

They really are utterly adorable little animals.

The week flew by and towards the end of it, our attention turned to the Mull Summer Photography Tours. This summer saw us running three, back-to-back. Based in the same farmhouse as before, we didn't take long to settle in, once all the contents of the two cars were unloaded. We had just a couple of hours free on the Saturday night before getting some sleep, and welcoming our first clients to the house, on the Sunday.

Now I could detail what happened on each day of each of the three tours, but this blog would perhaps rival War And Peace in terms of length, so I'll try to compress the action somewhat. Without doubt, Andy and I agreed that the highlight of each of the tours were the sailings on the Lady Jayne with Mull Charters, for the white-tailed eagles. For next year's tours, we are changing the itinery so that the public trip we did this summer, is replaced by another private charter, so our clients get two private sessions on the boat.

With advice and preparation before the eagles arrived, we ensured our clients had their cameras with the right settings dialled in, and everyone managed to capture some cracking images of the eagles diving beside the boat.

Personally, I varied the lenses with each dive, sometimes favouring the flexibility of the 100-400mm mk2, but occasionally trying the 500mm, and even that with the 1.4TC attached. That combo was a little tight in terms of getting the eagle in the shot.

The waters around Mull were unusually warm, and this perhaps had led to the arrival of huge blooms of jellyfish. These at times numbered in their thousands, and from a distance turned the colour of the water pink. Alex dipped his Go-Pro camera in amongst them to record a fascinating video - almost star-field-like. Hypnotic even.

And we were fortunate on one trip to encounter a pod of bottlenose dolphins, which entertained our clients and provided additional photo opportunities.

The downside to the warmer water was the effect it had on the local otters. We guessed that because the shallower parts of the lochs were warmer, the food the otters normally caught had moved out into deeper, cooler water, and that meant the otters swam further out, and generally stayed out, eating prey while they swam. Not great for us as guides to get clients close enough to for images. Also, with the hot conditions, the otters were favouring night-time hunting to stay a bit cooler. And when we did get an individual behaving more like we're used to, heat haze from the rocks was a problem, resulting in soft images.

But we refused to give up, and took to dawn starts to search for these mammals, or looking just before dusk. And as a result of our determination, we managed to get all of our clients some images of otters.

I have to make a special mention to two of the clients during the second week, who showed tremendous generosity to back away from an otter opportunity, to allow the other three clients the chance to bag some images for themselves. With images of otters already in the bag, it was something Andy and I had discussed should the situation arise, thus ensuring everyone left with something. Whilst Andy was searching for an otter, I spotted one close to me and my clients for the day. I asked my clients if they minded giving up the opportunity to Andy's group, so they could get some shots, and they kindly agreed. After managing to get Andy's attention and not spook the otter, I was very relieved to watch from afar, as he guided the group in to capture images of the otter as it rolled around on seaweed.

The other "banker" each week, provided the weather was ok (which it was every week this year) was the Turus Mara sailing to Staffa, and then on to Lunga. We used the Staffa stop off mainly for a picnic spot, though on one of the weeks we crouched beside the steps leading up the cliff-face, to photograph some black guillemots nesting nearby.

But Lunga was the place to be, with its huge colony of seabirds. Puffins galore along the first stretch of cliffs, with a more treats of guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, shags and more puffins further around the coastal path.

With several hours beyond that of the normal public trip to hand, we offered advice when needed to enable the clients to take images of the birds, with some images pre-planned and executed with a bit of patience, and others gained by reacting to what was on offer.

Using different light and backgrounds, subjects being close or further off, stationary or moving, we were able to suggest numerous ideas for images throughout the day.

While the puffins are undoubtedly the crowd's favourite subject, I chose to focus on other birds, particularly the enigmatic shags, that hide away in dark crevices (to avoid overheating), but hiss should you stray too close.

And grabbed opportunities with guillemots, especially a bridled one that was perched on the cliff-top, close by.

The bright, white of the kittiwakes made for a contrasting sight against the darkness of the deep channels below too.

One day perhaps I will get the chance to stay later on the island, to see sunset and sunrise, but during these weeks, we left at around 8pm, and were whisked back on a speedy boat, courtesy of Iain and Sharon from Turus Mara. I always enjoy these days out on the islands, with the wildlife but also the stunning vistas all around. Magical place to be in the summer months.

Our primary species of otters, white-tailed eagles and puffins were all ticked off, but of course Mull has a lot more to offer on top. We frequently saw golden eagles, though never particularly close. Hen harriers remained hard targets, typically turning tail as soon as a camera was raised. But opportunities to photograph birds such as common sandpipers, pipits, swallows and even juvenile cuckoos were gratefully accepted.

And seeing as the Hare Whisperer himself was present, we used Andy's skills to get some of us close one morning, to a trio of Irish mountain hares.

It wasn't the closest encounter though. I had one scamper out in front of me on a beach, as I scanned the rocks for an otter I had "misplaced". Sadly I was carrying only my binoculars, so such images remain only as memories.

Between the tours, Andy and I had just half a day to chill out, before preparing for the next one. And we used this time after the first tour to visit his family's home on the island, strolling along the cliffs amongst the bracken, watching stonechats, pipits and whinchats, crouching close to the ground to watch a distant golden eagle soar over the higher ground, staying low to capture images of a dragonfly sunbathing, and taking in the incredible views.

We even spotted the Lady Jayne sailing out into the sea, and watched a pair of white-tailed eagles fly to meet her, from well over a mile away. The speed they covered the distance at was phenomenal. It is a sight like this that tends to stay with me in memory for years. Something a bit different; impossible to photograph, just there to be enjoyed and inspired by.

The final, third week was unusual in that for once, the unsung hero of the tours, Andy's wife Lyndsey, was joining us. Not just to help with the cooking, but to experience the joys of the tour for herself. Having visited Mull several times before, she was familiar with most of it, but had never visited Lunga, Staffa, or sailed aboard the Lady Jayne.

She wasn't disappointed. While she chose not to join us for the otter days (having already obtained many images from previous visits, and bagged the Scottish Nature Photography Competition Behaviour Category with a stunning image recently), she did tag along on others, enjoying the antics of the puffins on Lunga, the eagles around the boat, and even some of the smaller residents, like stonechats and goldfinches feeding near the roads.

In the blink of an eye, the three weeks were over, we were all gathering up bits and bobs from the accommodation, and then heading north again, in convoy. Not for wildlife this time, though we did watch the dolphins again while I was in the Highlands, but to help celebrate a friend's birthday.

Then it was time for the long drive south, and the task of sorting out several thousand images. The three tours had been a massive success, although tiring for us as guides. The images obtained by our clients spoke volumes for what the tours can provide, and before we'd even left Mull, the places for 2019's three tours had already been filled.

Of course my Mull adventures for this year are far from over, with a holiday there in a few weeks, and the two Otter Photography Tours planned for November. And I can hardly wait...

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Searching For Signs Of Spring

Spring this year has been rather unusual. Initially it appeared it was going to be very late, as winter dragged its heels and the cold weather persisted well into April, finally giving way to some welcome sunshine and warmth during my trip to Norfolk, though even then, some of the more traditional sights and sounds of the season failed to materialise.

Having dipped on even hearing a cuckoo in Norfolk, I chose to head down to RSPB Otmoor in Oxfordshire, to rectify the situation. Several had been reported on the blogs that are so helpful for occasional visitors such as myself, and as I opened the car door in the parking area, I heard a distant cuckoo calling. Excellent, one target ticked off the Spring List. Another might be lizards and grass snakes, though neither showed for me, despite an expansive search. Nevermind, the numerous hobbies hawking overhead were a welcome distraction...

With my 1DX at Fixation being repaired and serviced, I was relying on my 7D mk2 for once, and I realised pretty quickly that I was out of practice with it, in terms of knowing where to point it with the 700mm reach. That extra 1.6 crop means the target area is significantly tighter, and with fast moving targets like hobbies, I kept missing them initially. It didn't help either that I was trying to use a monopod. I ditched that, opting to hand-hold the lens, and soon got back into the swing of things.

And they were such good fun, I visited again a few days later, to find that the 8 hobbies had become over 15. At one point, as I stared skywards, all I could see were birds of prey. Red kites, buzzards and loads of hobbies. Fantastic.

Otmoor really is a fabulous reserve in the spring and I sincerely hope plans for an express-way road (Save Otmoor) don't get the green light, and potentially ruin all the hard work the RSPB have done there over the years. It is also one of only a handful of sites in the UK that attracts turtle doves, and hearing their purring call is simply a delight on a warm day.

After spotting one in an oak tree, but somewhat backlit, it was a treat to see it flutter down to the seed sprinkled out by volunteers, and give great views as it fed from the track.

Another species I try to locate in spring is the adder. I have to admit to being very frustrated and angry when I discovered my normal site for these elusive creatures had been cordoned off by Natural England, to prevent disturbance during the breeding season. Frustrated that I couldn't enjoy the sight of them basking in the sunshine, and angry at the morons who have forced NE to take such action. I heard via several sources that some photographers last year, were seen kicking over piles of logs in search of these snakes.

The mind boggles. These creatures are shy, alert and incredibly sensitive to movement and vibrations. Even standing motionless near one, if the wind takes your scent to them, they often slither away, so such a stupid, thoughtless and potentially damaging approach beggars belief.

And there are so few of them left in Worcestershire and surrounding counties, that the utmost care should be taken when attempting to photograph any.

Of course there are other sites around the area, so I tried them, and had varying success. Watching through my close-focusing Kite binoculars, I was able to see one adder keeping an eye on me from a moss-covered hole beneath some bracken, and also a pair copulating, which is something I hadn't seen before. They were locked together and when she decided to move further into the undergrowth, he had no choice but to be dragged along by her. Was quite comical actually.

Social media is a handy way to keep up to date on sightings at some of the local sites, and reports of pied flycatchers and common redstarts from the Wyre Forest caught my eye. Annoyingly, as I arrived at Dry Mill Lane I discovered the car park was closed off, and all the lane-side parking had been taken. No choice but to use the Visitor Centre instead, which was miles away from where I wanted to walk, and also not free of charge.

Maybe I missed the signs, but those that I did see, beside the parking meter were so vague in detail for the mapping of the area. I wanted to head towards Dowles Brook, but the signs just showed the different coloured tracks available for walking, riding or mountain biking. I ended up using Google Maps on my phone to work out the direction to go, but a distinctive and familiar bird song stopped me way before I reached the brook.

A wood warbler, several in fact, and calling not far from the wide, dusty track I had been trudging along. As the woods are so hilly, despite this warbler's tendancy to sing from high up in trees, I found I could stand on a slope and be almost eye-level at times. It was just a case of watching and hoping to get a shot before it flew to the next perch.

Initially I used my 7D Mk2 and 100-400mm lens, but the camera struggled to get a focus lock in time, especially with the contrasting backdrop behind the small bird.

So I swapped to the freshly returned 1DX and 500mm lens for a while, and that fared better.

Wandering down towards the brook, I stumbled upon some bluebell woods, and as they bled into areas of bracken, some vibrant orange-coloured butterflies caught my eye. Pearl-bordered fritillaries, and they were busy fluttering around amongst the vegetation. While the males never seemed to keep still, the females were landing frequently, to deposit eggs under leaves and flattened stems. That gave me the chance to use the 100-400mm as a macro lens, with its incredible ability to focus close up.

Down at the brook, I watched a family of grey wagtails, and glimpsed both common redstarts and blackcaps, as they picked off insects near the water. And as I began the arduous a dipper shot past, skimming above the stream.

After taking in reed-beds, heathland and woods, it was time to visit some lakes. And with a couple of hours free before hooking up with Worcestershire Wildlife Trust and fellow judge Jason Curtis, to review this year's entries for the calendar competition, I took a stroll around a local reserve.

What was noticeable in their absence, was a lack of swallows, martins and swifts. Normally by now, the abundance of insects over these lakes attracts these agile birds by the dozen, but I think in the three hours I was there, I saw just one swallow, and one house martin.

Strange calls from the reeds eventually led me to spotting what I assume is some sort of toad. They were very green, and generally hiding amongst the spawn and algae around the edge of the water. With the herons and egrets around, it wasn't a huge surprise to see them diving for cover when I tried to approach them, though I did spot one lurking between reeds, and grabbed a shot before it too, swam away.

A pair of great-crested grebes drifting serenely across one of the smaller pools provided some photo opportunities, especially when the male caught and offered a small fish to the chicks riding around on their mother's back. Made for a wonderful scene, but with only my 100-400mm lens, and being dressed in "civies" I was limited to what images I could obtain.

Back again the following day, dressed more appropriately this time, and I was soon lying on some polythene sheeting beside the main lake, 1DX and 500mm lens on the tripod, which was flat on the ground, with one tripod leg under water to get as low as possible. It wasn't comfortable, and it got worse when I realised the prickling pain I could feel on my hands, side and rear wasn't from the small thistles under me, but from angry red ants, and they were biting me. Very different to mozzie or midge bites, as they hurt immediately, like being stabbed with a red-hot needle.

But the grebes were still fishing, and the lower angle meant I could get the sort of image I had wanted before.

The adults were catching tiny fish, presenting them to the humbug chicks, but teasing them, to encourage them off of their mother's back, and on to the water to accept the meal.

Was an enchanting scene to see such a tiny stripy chick being delicately fed an equally tiny fish.

And amusing to watch the chicks then pursue, catch, and clamber back on to the back of the parent bird again. More amusing still, when she decided to stretch her wings before preening, and in doing so, forced both chicks down into the water, as she rose up!

But with the grebes being on the larger lake, they had more water to explore and fish from, and as the sun started to sink behind me, they headed further away. With clouds of midges now surrounding me, and finding parts of skin not doused in Smidge, I chose to make my escape, back home again.

Spring has most definitely arrived, but maybe some of the usual stars are waiting for summer, to make their appearance? One can only hope.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

North Norfolk

Visiting North Norfolk has become an annual tradition, one that allows my father and me the chance to get some much needed fresh air (for him mainly as I'm out all year round) and to celebrate our birthdays in an area we have both grown to love. This year, as with previous ones, had been a late decision, as last summer he'd suffered a heart attack, and after such a hard, cold and miserable winter, he hadn't been entirely confident in his fitness to be able to enjoy such a trip.

Thankfully he agreed in time for me to book somewhere suitable to stay, and we were blessed with a week of weather more akin to mid-summer, than early spring. By the end of it, temperatures had reached 26C and being able to sit outside a pub in hot sunshine, was just the tonic.

For me, I usually have three targets for wildlife from this area: barn owls, brown hares and marsh harriers. The locations for each seem to change with each visit, so early starts and late finishes, coupled with lots of touring round the area simply searching, usually yields some sort of success.

The hares were pretty easy to find, though there were fewer than on previous visits, something confirmed by a local birder I spoke with, who had been witness to one of the many organised shoots of these mammals, something he said was a harrowing sight. I'm glad I didn't see it. But the shooting estates in the area manage almost all the wildlife that lives on their land, and hares breed rapidly without foxes to naturally control their numbers, so the gamekeepers see fit to cull them too.

One of the positives, if such a comment can be made from this management, is that without ground predators, and the abundance of game-birds that shall we say, aren't the best at crossing roads safely, these estates and surrounding farms are now excellent areas for ground-nesting birds to thrive, and also for birds of prey to find food.

The number of red kites, a bird known for its ability to clean our lanes of roadkill, has grown enormously, and whereas before when a large raptor was spotted from afar, it'd almost certainly be either a buzzard or marsh harrier, now a third option is on the cards. And to help prevent these raptors from becoming statistics for road casualties themselves, the land managers and locals often move the roadkill away from danger and into the adjacent fields.

One does wonder though, when the number of these raptors reaches a point where the land managers / gamekeepers will need to control their numbers too, via a hushed licence from Natural England or by other means...

But in the meantime, I was just enjoying the sight of so many birds of prey quartering over the fields each day.

Often, if I spotted a pair of marsh harriers swooping down into a crop field, and rape seed seemed a popular choice for nest sites, then I would also see perhaps a second or even third pair using the same field.

And it was interesting to see that marsh harriers, like red kites and buzzards, are quite content to walk about the fields in search of food if necessary. Too far for images, I watched all three species pottering around one field, like a meeting of raptors to discuss the fine weather, perhaps.

Closer to me, and well within range of my camera were the hares. Early on in the week, when the vegetation was damp from overnight showers or a heavy dew, the hares would look bedragged. But the males at least, had no time for personal grooming - they were on a mission to chase down females, and if not in direct pursuit, they could be seen following scent-trails around the meadows, sometimes comically going round in circles before picking up where the trail led.

I even managed to get some X-rated views of a pair that mated several times, before she kicked him into the air and bolted off at pace!

While I had some close encounters from my car with the hares, the closest was on one morning, when I was watching a barn owl. More on that shortly, but unbeknown to me, where I had chosen to stand was right beside a route used by the hares for crossing fields, and squeezing under a fence. Dressed in some camo, and remaining dead still, I had not been spotted by the owl, nor it would appear, the local hares, and a rustling sound from by my feet made me glance down at the ground.

Sniffing my ankles, was a brown hare. I didn't move a muscle, though stifling the grin from forming on my face was tricky. The hare tilted its head to one side, to look up at the rest of me, then ambled very slowly out of the hedge. It paused again, to have another look at this unusual sight, before climbing under the wire fence, and off into the field. It was only then that I allowed the huge smile to form on my face!

And the same thing happened several times that morning, as more hares crept through the hedge beside me. Alas I was only armed with my 500mm lens, and didn't want to move too much in case I spooked the barn owl hunting nearby.

As is so often the case, finding barn owls involves chance encounters. Sure, I know of territories of these ghostly hunters around the area, but some are more fruitful than others each time I visit. One morning, as I navigated the twisty main road from the village where we were staying, I clocked a barn owl perched on a post beside the road. Great you might think. Unfortunately it was between two blind bends, on a short stretch of the road, in a 60mph limit. And there was nowhere safe to park.

I drove past, turned round, returned and parked up past it, at the entrance to a field. Switching off the engine I listened. Silence in terms of traffic, so I chanced it. Typically, the owl refused to look in my direction and no sooner had I parked, it flew away. I didn't wait for it to return!

And on another morning, I spotted one hunting beside some woods, and there was somewhere safe to park up. I grabbed my gear and waited, but it had vanished. I scanned the fields, the woods, and even the roadside with my bins, but no sign of it. Bizarre, so I packed up my camera, turned round and sighed as the barn owl flew right past me, and off into the woods.

But my luck would change for the better, and late afternoon, I saw a familar white bird flying along another road, allowing me to follow, at a safe distance to watch where it went. Turned out that there was a pair using some rough meadows for hunting grounds, and there was sufficient cover for me to use to watch them without disturbance.

My fortune seemed to waiver over the initial encounters. I had some good luck when one of the pair started to use a line of fence posts to perch up on, and it landed pretty close to me. But there were small stalks of dead wildflowers between us, so the closest images weren't ideal. Still, it looked gorgeous on the posts further away.

Another occasion, the owl spent over an hour at the far end of the meadow hunting, and didn't seem like it would ever come closer. So I chose to move, and hadn't gone more than 20 metres when the owl suddenly appeared at speed, and flew right past me, to perch up on a post right beside where I'd just left!

But persistence often yields results, and where I had been watching the hares chase, I would have a close encounter of the barn owl kind. Using another line of fence posts, the owl was perching up and watching for movement. Then it flew closer to me, and I chose not to take an image of the owl in flight, hoping it might land closer if I didn't give my location away. It did.

The light was golden, with barely a breath of wind. The owl looked stunning, and was looking right down my lens. I cautiously took a shot. The owl continued to study me, but didn't seem bothered. It looked away, and back to the ground around the post it was perched upon. I took some more images. Then it took flight, and landed even closer!

Now, I have been photographing wildlife for way over a decade, and while I wouldn't say that I'm numb to such encounters, I would like to think that I can keep a lid on my buzz of excitement having been there, done that, got the printed t-shirt. But this experience reignited the flame again, and I had to adjust my stance to stop me from shaking. The owl still didn't seem to notice me, and continued to scan the area for movement or sounds.

Finally it took flight, and moved further down the fence. Awesome. I had frame-filling images of a barn owl, in perfect light. I couldn't ask for more. But more came, and the barn owl again flew towards me, and perched up on a post to the side of me, so close I could only fit half of it in the frame.

Because I had had to move the camera round a bit to point it at the owl, and because it was so very close, it wasn't a huge surprise that after just three images, the owl decided it wasn't sure the shape infront of it was something it wanted to be close to, and flew a bit further off.

Amazing encounter, and one that will live with me forever.

Aside from the main targets, I had hoped to see some cuckoos, but the weather patterns of late had prevented them from reaching the UK in time for my trip. Wheatears had started to arrive though, and Thornham harbour proved to be a good spot for seeing one. After watching where it was favouring to hunt for insects, I moved in, spooking it initially, but after half an hour of sitting still, the wheatear returned, and I was able to get some great shots as it perched on some old weathered wood, to watch for grubs.

Shooting such images against the clear blue sky should have been a cause for celebration, but I noticed an overexposed line across the top of some of the shots. It wasn't always there, and varied in thickness. An internet search confirmed my fears... the shutter was on the way out. Another expense to add to the recent woes with the car (Xenon headlight, thermostat and then turbo failure). But the old workhorse, like the car, continued to work long enough to serve its purpose, and thankfully the images of the hares, harriers and owls weren't affected.

When we left Norfolk, the temperature had just started to fall from the heady heights, and while we were sad to leave (we always are), we had enjoyed a fantastic week of weather and wildlife, bagged many images, enjoyed quite a few pints of ale in and outside some fabulous pubs, met up with old friends and made new ones, and Dad had gone from barely able to walk a few metres, to being almost back to normal walking speed again. And was noticeably happy with life, which is more than I could have hoped for from the trip.