Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Florida's Burrowing Owls

This weekend we took a trip over to the Brian Piccolo park; a well-manicured park in the middle of Cooper City (FL), which contains a multitude of sports grounds, a velodrome, and cycling tracks. It also contains a whole bunch of Burrowing Owls (Athene cunicularia) who, safe inside their carefully roped-off burrows, don't seem to give two hoots (yes, I'm hilarious) about passersby with cameras.

I honestly hadn't held out much hope of seeing these birds, but I'm starting to get the idea that wildlife sightings in the US are somewhat more reliable than back home, and an awful lot of the wildlife just doesn't care about random people wandering up to them. So, we had a very successful afternoon with the birds before the sun set! They have fantastically expressive little faces too which makes them brilliant subjects.

Burrowing owls make their homes in old rodent burrows, essentially making it a lazy version of the Atlantic puffin which actually digs its own burrow-nest.

Chilling on one leg

A few of the birds seemed to have the posing down to a fine art:

The all-the-way-over-the-shoulder runway pose.

Blue steel.

 Others had less composure:




The rest just seemed happy to relax and enjoy the evening:

Saturday, 22 October 2016

The Florida Mullet Run

Every autumn a phenomenon called the 'Mullet Run' sweeps up the Florida coast, as millions of finger-size mullet head southwards along the Atlantic coast, following the warmer waters and their food supply of algae. It's quite a sight! As these small fish migrate, they form vast schools in order to avoid their predators, which in turn follow along to feed. If you've ever seen wildlife documentaries of the sardine run in South Africa, this is something similar.

Finger mullet in the harbour. The density of fish was this high everywhere!

Mullet being chased (and eaten) by jacks

This year's mullet run happened to pass my work last week. Overnight, the water in our boat dock became literally packed with mullet, as predatory jacks and pelicans chased them around the seawall at the entrance. Unfortunately, I only had my phone with me to take pictures with, but they at least give you a bit of an idea of just how many fish were all jammed in there together!

By the next day, I had my big camera in work with me, but it was all over and the majority of the fish had moved on (of course!). Hopefully next year!

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Snorkelling at John Pennekamp Coral State Park

Well it only took nine months, but we finally sorted ourselves out for long enough to take a snorkelling trip off the Florida Keyes and it was beautiful!

John Pennekamp park at Key Largo

We booked a trip with a tour operator in the John Pennekamp Coral State Park and headed about five miles offshore to the Key Largo Dry Rocks reef where we were treated to an awesome array of fish (as well as a sadly not-photographed 2 m-long nurse shark!) and a beautiful reef of corals and a TON of soft corals (like seafans and black corals).
There were a TON of soft corals forming the reef

The reef at Key Largo Dry Rocks

Seafans everywhere!

Oh aye - Jesus was there too! This is a bronze statue called "Christ of the Abyss" and it sits at around 6 m depth just off the reef. Apparently it was placed there in 1965 and has been gradually accumulating marine life ever since. It's also become a tradition for snorkelers and divers to touch the statue's hands.

Christ of the Abyss at Key Largo Dry Rocks


Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Islamorada & The Blazing Mako Fishing Tournament

Our team, braving the ridiculous heat.

Last weekend the Oceanic Ecology team headed south to Islamorada in the Florida Keys to represent the DEEPEND project at the Blazing Mako Fishing Tournament. We took along a bunch of cool activities for people to do (all made up by our intrepid MSc students), as well as a tons of postcards and stickers featuring some of Dante's deep-sea fish photographs and (of course!), the temporary tattoos I designed:

It totes glows in the dark!

When we weren't working on the stand, I had a bit of time off to take some photos. It was stupidly hot during the day, so we didn't exactly go very far! Luckily, we had plenty of iguanas-in-trees to keep me entertained (and slightly pooped on) during the middle of the day while we were hiding out in the shade!

An iguana in a tree.

The evenings were a lot more pleasant, and I headed back to the tournament after work to see them lighting the bonfire (the 'Blazing Mako' itself!)

The blazing mako!

It also gave me a chance to try out my new Manfrotto BeFree tripod. I've never really done much low-light photography and there's not a lot of need for a tripod when you're on a boat, so it was fun to have a play around with it on the beach. If I can catch one of the lightning storms off the coast this summer with it I'll be a happy photographer!

A hut on the pier 

A family fishing under the full moon

Oh - Islamorada also has a sweet diving museum if you're interested in that kind of thing. It's pretty small, but they've got some really cool stuff covering the full history of diving!

Some of the one-person diving suits and commercial diving helmets on display in the diving museum.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Deep-sea (temporary) tattoos

One of the things I love about my job is how varied it can be. We've got an outreach event coming up in the Florida Keys next weekend to promote the research we're doing in the Gulf of Mexico through the DEEPEND project. With most people in the office just back from a cruise, things were somewhat hectic, and I ended up spending an evening last week designing a couple of temporary tattoos for the event!

An anglerfish

And a little squid

What makes them extra cool is that because they're going to be used as part of a 'bioluminscence' theme, the white bits will glow in the dark!

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Florida photographs!

Now that work has calmed down again a little bit I've had time to upload some of my Florida photographs to the website under a new portfolio in the "Rest of the World" gallery on my Wild Ocean Photography website.

The website is where you can see the best of what I've taken so far, or you can also check out the albums on my Facebook page for some extras!

A dragonfly in the Everglades

A female grackle

A dipper by the shore 

A fiddler crab by its burrow in the mangroves

Saturday, 7 May 2016

I moved to Florida and I'm still alive!

Right. I've apparently been out here for three and a half months already so I guess it's about time I told you guys a bit about Florida! So far I've spent most of my time in a state of mild confusion while attempting to function like an adult in a land where "the Simpsons" is my primary frame of reference.

Pretty sure I've been here.

Anyway, despite all the culture shock, I at least have a functioning car, an "apartment", a whole bunch of paperwork to assure the US government that I exist and am legal, and I haven't starved to death yet, been eaten by an alligator or had any run-ins with Florida Man. So far so good. Also, my new job is making me a very happy deep-sea nerd so happy days :)

The zebra longwing butterfly is apparently Florida's state butterfly because apparently states have butterflies. 

On a more wildlife-related note, I've also managed to get out with the camera a few times. I'm living in sub-tropical Fort Lauderdale (on the Atlantic coast just north of Miami), so there are mangrove swamps and white-sand beaches everywhere, and of course, there's the Everglades National park just to the west of us which has fan boats and alligators every few metres. I've not managed to get out scuba diving or snorkelling yet, but the summer is just around the corner for that!

A royal tern in its winter plumage.

I'll set up some separate blog posts for the specific parks I've been to, but for now, here's an alligator from a couple of weeks ago:

An American alligator in the water lilies

I'll be back in a day or two with some more photos to share. Have a good weekend!

Friday, 15 January 2016

My 5 Favourite Photographs: Number 5

Now, bring me that horizon

For my final photograph this week I've chosen this shot of some gannets tagging alongside our research ship (RRS Discovery) as we sailed out into the Atlantic Ocean. I'm not going to lie, the fact that I'm leaving the UK tomorrow has quite a lot to do with this particular photo choice! For me, this photo sums up everything I love about my job - the excitement and anticipation that comes with discovering something new about the world, along with the calmness of just being at sea and away from everyday life for a little while. The next couple of years are going to have some pretty big changes in them, but to be honest, as long as I can get out on the water every once in a while I think I'll be more than happy!

Thursday, 14 January 2016

My 5 Favourite Photographs: Number 4

Cormorant by the Forth & Clyde canal

Considering Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland, it is great for wildlife. With dozens of parks, two rivers and the Forth and Clyde canal running through the city, there is plenty to see if you have a little patience. From garden birds, seabirds and birds of prey to squirrels, foxes and even deer, there is a huge amount of urban wildlife to find in our "Dear Green Place".

This portrait of a cormorant relaxing on one leg was taken by the Forth and Clyde canal has been one of my favourite photographs for years now. I love the gentle autumnal colours of the bird and the background and how they contrast with the bright green in the bird's eye. Part of what I really love about photography is that it gives you a chance to stop and really look at the details in your subject, whether it's the texture of a fish's scales, or, as in this case, the subtle differences in the colours and shapes of a bird's wing feathers.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

My 5 Favourite Photographs: Number 3

Diving the Endeavour

Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands is an amazing place to dive. With seven German warships still lying on the seabed after being scuttled at the end of WW1 and numerous other vessels that were either sunk accidentally or deliberately through WW2, it's an incredible heritage site that very few people get the chance to visit. Scapa is also one of my favourite places to photograph underwater, because it gives the opportunity to take the sorts of naturally-lit, wide angle photographs that I really like. The shipwrecks provide framing and context for the photographs against the natural sunlight coming in from above, and then any divers in the frame provide a little extra colour and focus with their dive lights.

This particular photo was taken inside the wreck of a small fishing boat in the Northern Isles called the Endeavour, which is an absolutely stunning dive in very tidal waters. The wreck itself is festooned with marine life, and it's open enough that going inside it is fairly safe. This is one of the first underwater photographs I'd taken using natural lighting rather than on-camera strobes, and it came out exactly as I hoped it would (which is particularly unusual considering how blooming difficult underwater photography is!). I love the framing of the wreck around the diver and the little extra warmth he brings in with the yellow light of his torch, but mostly, it's a reminder of why I love diving in the UK so much. With relatively poor visibility and cold waters compared to holiday dive locations, you need a lot of gear and perseverance to do it, and you usually need a bit of luck with the weather too. But every so often everything comes together, and on those days there is nowhere in the world I'd rather dive!

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

My 5 Favourite Photographs: Number 2

Aerial acrobatics

After leaving Oban and going back to University, I spent a lot of time working with the Scottish fishing industry to try and figure out ways of reducing waste in the langoustine trawl fisheries. Not surprisingly, this meant I needed to spend quite a lot of time on fishing and research boats to get good samples of their catches and turn it into the data I needed. It quickly became apparent that one of the few hobbies I could stomach while we were waiting for the catches to come aboard was photography (reading was a DEFINITE no-no!). After hours and hours of watching and practising taking photos of the seabirds following behind our boats, the gannets quickly became my favourites and I really wanted to get a good photograph of one. Unfortunately, they are damn fast and either kept too far away from the boat to shoot or got hidden in amongst the flocks of gulls that also followed us around.

This photograph was taken during a lucky break in the chaos just as we were hauling our fishing nets back into the boat with a full catch. The gulls and kittiwakes made a gap just as this particular gannet jammed its brakes on midair and twisted into some sort of martial-arts pose just before the dive, which is just the moment I caught on camera. I've taken a LOT of gannet photos since, but this one makes the favourites list because it was the first time I'd managed to get a decent action shot of a bird in flight. Also, that pose still makes me laugh!

Monday, 11 January 2016

My 5 favourite photographs: Number 1

A juvenile golden eagle learning to fly

After I graduated for the first time in summer 2006, I got a job as a guide on a wildlife tour boat in the Firth of Lorn on the west coast of Scotland which I absolutely loved. That part of the world is amazing for wildlife, and is a great place to see dolphins, whales, wild goats, deer, seabirds and of course, eagles.

The summer I worked there, we were lucky enough to have found a pair of nesting golden eagles which we could visit without causing them any disturbance. So we got to see this eagle family almost every day over about three months, and watch their chick grow from a tiny fluffy hatchling into a into a demanding young eaglet which was really cool. By the end of the summer, the chick was doing pretty well, and was providing us with a near-constant source of amusement as it learned how to bird! I took this photograph with my boss's camera right before I left the job at the end of the season, and shows the eaglet attempting to land on the clifftop after a short (and not-very-graceful) test flight. The photo is hardly a masterpiece, but for me, it's a reminder of one of the best wildlife experiences I've had in Scotland in a place I absolutely love.

Shortly after, I decided to buy my first DSLR camera and I've been photographing ever since...

5 Days Until the Big Move (and my 5 favourite photographs)...

Happy New Year!

So this year is promising a whole host of new things for me. Back in October last year, I was offered an awesome post-doctorate job which will see me spending the next 2 years of my life right next to sunny Fort Lauderdale, Florida! I'll be joining the DEEPEND project to study how communities of pelagic organisms (stuff that lives in the water column rather than on the seabed) in the Gulf of Mexico vary over time and space in response to changing environmental conditions. It's pretty cool, and signals a definite increase in the number of teeny tiny sea monsters I'll be meeting in the immediate future!

What's not to love about that slimy wee face?

Anyway, although I'll definitely be continuing with the photography when I get to Florida (because holy moly is there a LOT of wildlife out there!), I thought I'd round out my last week in Scotland by sharing five of my favourite photographs with you. These aren't photographs that I think are the "best" from a technical or compositional standpoint, but they're the ones that mean a lot to me because they captured a particularly special moment in time.

So without further ado, here comes my first favourite photo...