Monday, 15 October 2012

A weekend on the east coast

Last weekend we were invited to my husband's cousin's wedding (congratulations Scott & Kirsten!) up in St. Andrews on the east coast of Scotland. Since it's a good couple of hours drive away from us and Kev had the day off anyway we decided to make a trip of it and stay for a moderately long weekend's break. Obviously, I had my camera with me and although St. Andrews is primarily known for its long, sandy (and windy!) beaches, there are a few rocky parts where a fair amount of wildlife seemed to be congregating, maybe to take advantage of the better feeding under the seaweeds and around the rocks.

It was a cold and windy day when we headed down to the waterfront for a wander around, but despite being dressed in my loudest and extremely lime green snowboarding  jacket, we were still able to get pretty close to a lot of the birds thanks to a handy sea-wall and their obvious habituation to people on the beaches.

A cormorant drying off its wings in the wind and (intermittent) sunshine

And another cormorant flying past.

Carrion crows, like hooded crows are common scavengers around the coasts.
A well camouflaged curlew hunting amongst the seaweeds.

A rather grumpy looking heron waiting to hunt. It wasn't having much luck with the fishing that we saw!
A little redshank hunting in the seaweeds as well. He was less well camouflaged!

Interestingly, all these birds could be seen quite easily from the shore, despite large numbers of tourists wandering around, so it seems to be a pretty good place for a bit of photography if you're passing by. You just need to make sure and avoid the crowds:

I have no idea if this rock is special in some way or not, but in the half-hour we were hanging around here we watched two busloads of people climb up it, take photos of the sea and then head off again!

On the Sunday, feeling a little fragile after the wedding festivities we decided to take the longer, coastal route home to Glasgow, stopping in a couple of towns on the way. Neither of us were feeling particularly patient or stealthy, but the weather was being wonderfully changeable and making some lovely light which I love for photography, so we gave the wildlife a miss and simply enjoyed the views!

Lobster cottage; though the observant will notice that is in fact a spider crab skeleton!

An ancient advertisement in the village of Crail.
The harbour at Crail.
And the harbour at St. Monans.
A break in the clouds illuminated the Isle of May for a few seconds before the rain closed back in again.

In other exciting photography-related news, I am now the proud owner of a Canon G12 compact camera and underwater housing which I have bought simply because I miss being able to take a camera with me underwater whenever I want to! With the amount of SCUBA training I do through the year with the university, it's just not safe to carry the big camera with me most of the time, but hopefully this compact will let me have my cake and eat it to some extent. We shall see how it performs in the murky depths of Loch Fyne this weekend!

EDIT: Or not. Seems this is the time of year for everyone to get sick, so the underwater camera tests will have to wait a little longer.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Field Work in Angola: Part 3


Taking off!

Finally after much fussing about with airports and stubborn bureaucracies it was finally time to head offshore to the inspection vessel 'Ocean Interceptor III' which would be our base of operations for all the servicing and data downloading we had to get done. This was particularly cool for two reasons: firstly, because we were finally able to start getting the work done that we'd gone all the way to Angola to do and secondly because I got to take my first ever trip in a helicopter! I must admit I was pretty nervous about it before taking off; not because of any fear of flying per se, but because before you're allowed to fly offshore with the oil industry you have to complete your 'Helicopter Underwater Escape Training' which involves being dunked repeatedly into a swimming pool in a fake helicopter and spun upside down a lot. So I was probably excessively concerned that that was a frequent way for helicopter flights to end.

A floating, semi-submersible rig.
The 'FPSO' ship, where all the oil gets pumped up to before being moved elsewhere for storage. 

Fortunately (obviously), we didn't crash into the sea. Even better than that, I'm also pretty sure that helicopter flights should be the default method of transportation for more or less much everything. It's an awesome way to travel, and was a brilliant way to get a different perspective on Luanda itself and the offshore oil fields.

Once we arrived on the rig, my two colleagues almost immediately set to servicing the modules so they could be recycled within the week and installed back in the DELOS platforms before we flew back to the mainland. I'm not an electrical engineer, so couldn't be much help without getting under their feet all the time, so I spent most of my time working through the data as it was downloaded. Happily it seems like all the technical issues we struggled with during the early deployments are now sorted out and I've got a decent set of data to work with, and plenty of fish to count!

Some fish spotted by the DELOS observatories

There wasn't a massive amount of wildlife out there, which isn't too surprising, but we did see a lot of fish which I wasn't expecting! I guess they were attracted to the ship, but we had large groups of jacks and yellowfin tuna (which are huuuuge!) circling the ship whenever we stopped as well as the odd shark! Manta rays made occasional appearances around the underwater platform structures which we got glimpses of from the ROVs, and we saw a good few groups of passing dolphins and whales as well (though nothing close enough to photograph).

Some of the deck crews working on the inspection ROV.

Finally, after a short week on the ship it was time to head back to shore again and then home. I'm still not entirely sure what to make of the trip overall - Angola is obviously benefiting greatly in some ways from the wealth it's gained from the offshore oil reserves, but the majority of people in the country are obviously still extremely poor. But as with anything, it's pretty difficult to make too many judgments on
a place you've only really experienced from the inside of hotels and taxis! It's probably easiest to let the photographs speak for themselves.

A street market taking place in a part of Luanda's sprawling residential area

One of Luanda's docks from the helicopter

Downtown Luanda