Homecoming – the Aberystwyth purple sandpipers

A couple of weeks ago I had a look for the purple sandpipers at Aberystwyth. There has been a wintering flock of these dumpy little waders here since at least 1927, and their high tide roost is always at the same place – on the sea wall, facing north, below the castle. This year a maximum of four birds has been seen, but the size of the flock has normally varied from five birds up to about twenty-five. Perhaps the current cold weather will bring some more in this winter.

I’d like to say that I found them after a couple of hours staggering about across treacherous rocks and seaweed, but it wasn’t like that at all. I parked my van near the right spot, walked over, looked down, and there they were! They were a little jittery at my presence above them and at the waves passing by below, but allowed me to take a nice series of photographs. Later, as the tide began to drop, I found them beginning to feed on the rocks.

What amazes me is how they return to the same spot every year. There must be plenty of suitable habitat for them around the coast. Could there be a suggestion of “culture” about it, rather than ecological necessity? Whatever, Aberystwyth must feel like home to them.

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With seasons greetings ……

Well, it’s that time of year again. After the year we have had – and many people have had a far worse one than me – it doesn’t feel as if we have much to celebrate. Staff in hospitals and care homes who are putting in superhuman efforts to treat their patients deserve, once again, our thanks. And the tremendous efforts made by scientists all over the world to create new vaccines also deserve recognition, and perhaps, in good time, they will officially receive it. Let us hope that the fruits of their labours will allow us to return to “normal life” before too long.

The photograph shows Comet Neowise, taken at Aberystwyth at 12.45 am on July 20th. I’ve done very little astrophotography and my current camera – an Olympus EM1 Mk 2 – is rather ill-suited to this branch of photography. It has a very small sensor and consequently usable ISO’s are limited without introducing high levels of noise. I eventually settled on this composition and took a range of shots at different shutter speeds and apertures. In the end it turned out to be – to adapt a well-known photographic maxim – “8 seconds at f4.5 and be there”.

I had to do more processing on these images than normal: it was basically a case of “try anything and see if it works”. In particular it was one of the first tests I threw at some software I had recently acquired – Topaz Denoise AI. This seemed to be able to distinguish between required detail and unwanted noise, and was able to sharpen the image at the same time. So I’m quite happy with the final result.

So to conclude this short post –

With best wishes to you all and let us hope that next year will be a good deal better than the current one.

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