Stories from the Isle of Mull — Story One

These stories are more detailed versions of what I talk about in my Youtube video titled ‘My Wildlife Encounters on the Isle of Mull’. I often find that the way I talk about experiences with wildlife in a verbal manner differs from how I end up writing about them. So this will be part of a series of stories about how I came to photograph certain images and my thought process at the time. This story talks about one of my first ‘surprise’ wildlife encounters.

I was spending the morning at Calgary Bay, located on the Northern coast of Mull. It was an overcast morning with brief outbreaks of drizzly rain. This visit to the white sandy beach was more to relax and do a spot of beachcombing along the shoreline, as the tide was beginning to go out at the time. But at the very last minute, before I left my accommodation, I decided to take my camera and long lens with me. I often have a recurring thought process, where I intend on visiting a location just enjoying the scenery. But my mind often thinks of what might happen if I see something unexpected. This will then result in me thinking ‘oh, how I wish I have brought my camera with me’. I’m glad I chose to bring my camera along for the following reason.

The rain had just drifted over the bay and headed for the hills behind me, so I donned my green jacket and decided to take a walk along the water's edge, locating near-perfect seashells and finding bits of driftwood as mementos to take back home with me. My gaze was fixated on the sandy floor, as I watched the soft waves lap onto seaweed, often leaving a trail of small bubbles as it was drawn back to the open water. I then lifted my gaze to see how much of the coastline I had left before I would hit the mass of black rocks at the end of the bay. I then spotted amongst the green, red, and golden-orange seaweed, three small white birds stepping over and around the carpet of seaweed. I immediately recognized them as being ringed plovers, of which there were two, and one sanderling. The sanderling appeared to be a juvenile, and the other two plovers seemed happy to have it in their company as they picked out morsels of food together along the shoreline. I froze mid-step and I was so close to them and didn't want to cause them to take flight. At this point in time, I did not have my camera on me, as I opted to leave it where I was sitting further away from the water near the sandbank. I slowly stepped backward and made a mental note of where I saw the birds along the shoreline, and I made a quick walk towards my camera bag. I attached my 150–600mm Sigma lens to the camera body and retraced my steps back towards where I last saw the three birds.

The beach was flat, only broken up by the small piles of seaweed and driftwood that was brought in by the tide. So I took the opportunity of laying down on the ground so I became eye-level with my subjects. I kept at a distance at first, making sure the birds weren’t too deterred by my presence. I took multiple pictures of each of the birds, and I was able to see that one of the ringed plovers was a full adult and the other looked to be a juvenile, not yet sporting the bright orange bill. After taking multiple pictures, I would then move forward on my knees or crawl low to the ground. The birds were naturally making their way towards where I was positioned, still combing through bits of seaweed for nutrients. Each bird would stop momentarily, before almost running to the next patch of seaweed in eagerness. It was in those moments when they paused where I got some of the best pictures of each individual bird, as they easily stood out from the mutli-coloured seaweed with their mostly white plumage.

I enjoy including the surroundings of my subjects, as it provides a story of the environment that the species inhabits; a personal view into their world. As I continue to develop my photographic work, I recognize the importance of perspective. The images created then become so much more than the pictures taken from the eye level of a human. Looking down on your subject can often be seen as intimidating. But by literally getting down to any animals’ level, you noticed the colours become brighter, the textures become more detailed, and the smells are much stronger. It is a personal invitation to experience the world from their eyes, and it can often be a wonderful place to be in.

Juvenile ringed plover — ISO 2000, F/6.3, 1/4000 sec.
Juvenile sanderling — ISO 2000, F/6.3, 1/3200 sec.
Adult ringed plover with a juvenile ringed plover in the background — ISO 2000, F/6.3, 1/3200 sec.