Monday, April 27, 2009

The city of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

What can I say after a long weekend of sunshine, windmills, tulips, long walks along canal banks and boat rides through the heart of the Netherlands' largest city? Well if I'm to be completely honest I'd tell you that yes there were all of the above idyllic scenes, but they only made up part of the story. Meeting a few friends in the city soon made the relatively simple task of taking photographs near impossible. The city centre is jam packed with bars, restaurants, cafes and shops that seem to swallow up tourists for days on end. This tourist was no exception as I struggled to prise myself from the party atmosphere and get some serious work done. Fortunately I managed this on at least a few occassions, meaning I did manage to get some photography from the weekend!

Yellow and orange flags blow in the wind against a bright blue sky. Orange is Holland's colour just as much as Ireland's is green. This week Queen's day sees thousands of Dutch take to the streets in orange attire for some serious celebrations. I for one have done enough celebrating for one weekend so will leave them to it!

Tulips really are everywhere in Holland, which is just as well. Unable to witness the stunning tulip fields of the dutch countryside, I had to compromise. Amsterdam's parks and gardens? No, Schipol airport in fact!

This picture more or less sums up Amsterdam for me. Narrow city streets lining the canal, trees and lampposts side by side, the slender, geometric architecture of the buildings with their hidden bars and large windows, and of course the bikes, which are simply everywhere! One thing that really struck me on this trip was just how relaxed and easy going a city of over one million people could be. Maybe it's something in the water.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Scheveningen, The Netherlands

I did make it out of Amsterdam for at least one night and travelled the short journey by train to Den Haag (The Hague), then hopped on a tram to Scheveningen which is a small coastal town which somehow reminded me of Scarborough! We stayed at the town's only hostel, Jorplace (Yourplace), which is easily one of the best hostels I've stayed at in a long while. The onsite bar, chilled out atmosphere (they have a hammock, conservatory and camper van in the garden!) and the down to earth staff made our stay very enjoyable. Thanks to Jordy and Sarah.

After a day spent checking out the town, strolling along the beach and feasting in the beachside restaurants and bars we were treated to one of the most beautiful sunsets I've seen in a long time. The sun, the surf, the sand and the sound of seagulls - I'd never have thought I was in Holland and felt a million miles away from the city streets of Amsterdam. Sometimes you've just got to make the effort to travel out of the city and take in something a little different. Scheveningen is one of those places.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Living on the edge, The Cobbler, Scotland

You really can't beat the feeling of being genuinely tired after a good day out hiking in the mountains. Today I hiked to the summit of the Cobbler, also known as Ben Arthur with a few friends. The walk is pretty straight forward from Arrochar up to the peak at 2946 ft, just shy of being a Munro. What makes this such a stunning walk however, is the craggy cliffs and peaks at the top which give the mountain an ominous look.

A brave hillwalker stands at the edge of a sheer drop near the summit of The Cobbler as clouds obscure the summit. If anyone reading this has not attempted this walk I would certainly recommend it, the views from the top are simply stunning. For the more adventurous, the summit also features several good rock climbing opportunities.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Common Lizards, Flanders Moss, Stirling

It's not every day that you run into a wild reptile in Scotland. After all our climate can hardly be described as tropical, despite all our efforts on the global warming front. However there are certain places where lizards and snakes thrive; you just have to know where to look. These shots of Common Lizards, also called Viviparous Lizards due to the fact they give birth to live young, were all taken at a nature reserve about a half hours drive from home. About nine different lizards were seen over an hour or so including some very small, black coloured young.

This lizard was quite happy to sit and pose for the camera, allowing me to get within a few inches. I was quite surprised when this beetle approached and climbed over the lizard without being eaten; I'm guessing they don't taste very good! Some ok shots, although it's a shame most of the lizards were sunning themselves on the man-made board walk instead of a more natural setting. Well worth another visit to perfect on these and search for the ever elusive Adder.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Stinking, Smoky and Spectacular, Grangemouth Oil Refinery

With a clear night and the prospect of a decent sunset on the horizon I jumped in the car and took a short drive to Grangemouth for some evening photography. Grangemouth is home to Scotland's only oil refinery, an expansive landscape of towers chimneys and pipes which makes for some interesting images. The sunset lived up to my hopes and produced a lovely red sky with whispers of cloud.

With clusters of pipes and towers lit up with hundreds of spotlights, the refinery takes on the appearance of a small metropolis which can be a spectacular sight. The only down side is the smell of pollution hanging heavy in the air. It's a sickly smell which certainly didn't make me want to hang around for too long. I feel sorry for the locals!

Environmental pollution is a serious concern to many people living in the vacinity of Grangemouth. There is a constant pillar of steam rising from the various stacks on the site as well as gas flares and countless other chimneys. The refinery is however a major contributor to the Scottish economy with over 2,000 people employed there.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Close up and personal with the birds

I recently discovered a relatively new falconry centre in my local area. The centre features a huge collection of birds of prey as well as a few other key species. Today's visit was more of a scout mission to see what was on offer as the weather proved to be very cold, wet and windy. The plus side was that being the only visitor I was treated to a private display and the chance for some intimate close ups of the birds. The Bald Eagle shown above is a young bird; his full white-headed plumage won't grow in until he is fully mature at around five years of age.

My visit to the falconry centre was also the perfect opportunity to test out some newly purchased camera gear. For anyone interested I'm now using a Nikon D300 which I'm glad to report is producing some cracking results. The image above is a crop of the Bald Eagle shot at 100%, which shows just how much detail is captured in each photograph. This of course means even higher resolution images for Escape Images customers! These stock photos will be available shortly on my Alamy page.

A rather drenched Kestrel was on display, who was more than happy to pose for some photographs on the falconer's glove. These birds are often overlooked by visitors as they are a 'common' species, the crowds being attracted to the bigger, more dramatic birds on show. Personally I think Kestrels are stunning little birds and their hovering aerobatics put them right up there with any exotic species.

It was a pleasure to get some close up shots of this bird as it hovered a few feet from my head, giving a new perspective to what normally goes on thirty feet up in the air. The complexity of their movements in flight is very impressive, every tiny wing and tail adjustment ensuring that the head stays perfectly still, giving the best view possible of the prey below.

This Tawny Owl reminded me of a dog or cat as it was more than happy to be tickled behind the ears. The plumage of these owls is perfectly suited to their woodland habitat and their deep black eyes absorb every slither of light giving them superb night vision.