We were thrilled to recently receive a very special award from Tripadvisor, an award only given to 1% of businesses across the tourism sector! We were left literally speechless  – what an accolade! We take such pride in our Noss Boat wildlife tour experiences and customer service as well as our original, inspired and expanding business branding. We have been leading the way as the eco-focused, No.1 Noss Boat since our beginnings as a local, family run business back in 2016 and have been amazed at how the business has grown and managed to ride the covid wave to come out stronger than ever. Being owned and run by partners of nearly 20 years, Phil Harris & Rebecca Nason who are both lifelong birders and conservationists has really helped keep us focused and given the business a strong platform. We have thoroughly enjoyed sharing the spectacular marine wildlife around Noss with thousands of passengers each year, and thank everybody for such incredible feedback and support. THANK YOU!

 

“Congratulations to the 2022 Tripadvisor Travelers’ Choice Best of the Best Winners,” said Kanika Soni, Chief Commercial Officer at Tripadvisor. “The Travelers’ Choice Awards recognize the best in tourism and hospitality, according to those who matter most: your guests. Ranking among the Best of the Best is always tough — but never more so than this year as we emerge from the pandemic. Whether it’s using new technology, implementing safety measures, or hiring outstanding staff, I’m impressed by the steps you’ve taken to meet travelers’ new demands. You’ve adapted brilliantly in the face of adversity.”

Tripadvisor, the world’s largest travel guidance platform*, helps hundreds of millions of people each month** become better travelers, from planning to booking to taking a trip. Travelers across the globe use the Tripadvisor site and app to discover where to stay, what to do and where to eat based on guidance from those who have been there before. With more than 988 million reviews and opinions of nearly 8 million businesses, travelers turn to Tripadvisor to find deals on accommodations, book experiences, reserve tables at delicious restaurants and discover great places nearby. As a travel guidance company available in 43 markets and 22 languages, Tripadvisor makes planning easy no matter the trip type.

Shetland Seabird Tours – The Noss Boat, are delighted to see the photographic side of our business really take-off over the last few years alongside our regular, popular scheduled tours. Since we started our boat tours back in 2016, we have collaborated & enjoyed working with some amazing names in the photographic and film industry, honing our skills to be able to offer a professional, knowledgeable boat platform to help others achieve outstanding results. In the 2nd of our showcase posts, we celebrate the wonderful work of Professional Wildlife Photographer, Natural History Author & Tour Leader Andy Howard. Check out his amazing portfolio of images on his website: www.andyhoward.co.uk

 

Andy has been coming to Shetland leading wildlife & photography tours for many years & has been collaborating with us to offer his clients bespoke photo tours to Noss throughout . We were already well aware of Andy & his wonderful photography before we met him, it has been wonderful to help provide a stable, comfortable boat platform to create super imagery from, for part of his bespoke Shetland photographic group experiences. We are enjoying our Early Bird Boat Tours with Andy & guests this week & look forward to seeing more of his Shetland imagery soon. Andy has written 3 highly acclaimed books (shown above), the latest being his Otter book The Secret Life of the Otter published in 2021. Andy is well known for his extraordinary images of Mountain Hare & Red Squirrel, many of which can be seen in his other publications in the same series, The Secret Life of the Mountain Hare (2018) & The Secret Life of the Cairngorms (2019).

Andy says ….

We fell for the charms of Shetland and its friendly and welcoming people a decade ago and have made return visits every year since. Each and every time have returned from our travels with stories to tell and memory cards full of images. It’s without a shadow of a doubt my second favourite destination to photograph wildlife, outwith my beloved Cairngorms”.

Extract from Andy’s Bio on his website:

“A major part of my life as a professional entails running workshops, masterclasses and photo-tours. I love doing this and relish the opportunity to improve and encourage my guests/clients to improve their photography skills whilst at the same time capturing images they can be proud of. Many of my guests/clients have gone on to win competitions with images taken whilst out with me including a category win in the BWPAs!”.

 

© Andy Howard

Check out Andy’s Social Media Pages:

Facebook page: www.facebook.com/Andy-Howard-Nature-Photography

And Instagram: www.instagram.com/hare_whisperer

And Twitter: twitter.com/highland_andy

 

www.henleyspiers.com

Shetland Seabird Tours – The Noss Boat, are delighted to see the photographic side of our business develop so well over the last few years alongside our regular, popular scheduled tours. Since we started our boat tours back in 2016, we have collaborated & enjoyed working with some amazing names in the photographic and film industry, honing out skills to be able to offer a professional, knowledgeable boat platform to help others achieve outstanding results. We have regularly collaborated with the incredible underwater photographer, ecologist and Shetland resident Richard Shucksmith who has brought some outstanding photographers aboard bespoke workshops and tours all catering for different styles and requirements from amateur to professional. In our first of many showcase posts, our first highlights the latest photographic successes of the awesome Henley Spiers, who we welcomed aboard last year for the first time and who will be joining us again in 2022. Henley recently won 1st and 3rd places in the UPY 2021 British Waters Wide Angle category, see below. Henley has also written a fabulous illustrated article on his Shetland experiences last year in this months COAST magazine.

Gannet Success: 

With the @upycontest results just released and now whizzing their way across news outlets worldwide (no joke), I’m glad to report that a couple of my frames made the final collection. Not having left British waters in 2021, it’s great to see a couple of my favourite marine moments appreciated by the judges, picking up 1st and 3rd place in the British Waters Wide Angle category.

The category winner is entitled ‘Gannet Storm’ and as an extra bonus it’s also the cover shot for the UPY 2022 Yearbook:

“A northern gannet swims in an artistic hail of bubbles created by diving seabirds. 40,000 gannets visit the nearby cliffs annually to lay and care for a single egg, fishing for food nearby. Hitting the frigid water faster than an Olympic diver, these incredible birds have evolved airsacs in the head and chest to survive these repeated heavy impacts. From underwater, the sound was thunderous as streamlined, white torpedos pierced the surface. I wanted to create a novel image of these handsome seabirds and resolved to try and capture their movement through a slow exposure. The speed of the gannets led to innumerable failures but in this frame we retain strong eye contact with the gannet, even as the scene is artistically softened. With great thanks to @richardshucksmith , without whom this encounter with the gannets would not have been possible.”

Here’s what judge @alexmustard1 says: “That eye and this moment. A powerful picture. Diving gannets have won this category before, but we’ve never had a portrait like this, that reveals both the personality of this predator and the energy of the action.”

You can read all about Henley’s successful trip to Shetland in 2021 in this months COAST magazine!


ABOUT

Henley Spiers, half British and half French, is a renowned photographer, writer, and trip leader who has fast become one of the most highly decorated underwater shooters in the world.

Starting his professional career in diving as an instructor, working in the Philippines, Indonesia and Saint Lucia, he later fell in love with underwater imagery and made the transition to full-time photographer.

Since then, Henley has amassed a prolific series of award-winning images, including two category wins in the Underwater Photographer of the Year, winning first prize in the Black & White category of Nature Photographer of the Year, and winner of the Ocean Geographic David Doubilet portfolio award.

Henley’s photography has been published in the likes of The Sunday Times, Der Spiegel, and Sierra Magazine, and frequently graces magazine covers.

As an accomplished (and bilingual) writer, Henley’s words often accompany his images, and he is a regular contributor to DIVER magazine (UK), EZ Dive magazine (Taiwan), Plongez magazine (France), and Hakai magazine (Canada). Readers enjoy Henley’s conversational writing style, delivering insight without pretension and usually with a touch of humour. Notably, he has also written for Asian Diver, Outdoor Photography Magazine, bioGraphic, and Black + White Photography magazine.

In 2019, Henley co-authored Black is the New Blue Vol. II, showcasing blackwater diving. His latest book, the Guide to Cebu, co-written with wife and frequent collaborator, Jade, showcases the very best of diving in their former home. Available in the Philippines, the international launch for Guide to Cebu has been delayed due to the current pandemic.

Henley also leads trips to see incredible underwater wildlife encounters, specialising in small-group adventures to rarely seen locations and events. Sought-after as a teacher, Henley’s coaching on these trips has seen a number of attendees go on to become award-winning photographers in their own right.

Although he would be the first to admit that he can still do more to help, Henley has so far enjoyed collaborating in the field of ocean conservation with Blue Marine, Mission Blue, Bertarelli Foundation, Marine Conservation Society, Devon Wildlife Trust, Cornwall Wildlife trust, and Thunnus UK.

In 2019, Henley was honoured to be invited by Blancpain to the Edition Fifty Fathoms Ocean Commitment programme, joining a select group of the world’s foremost underwater photographers.

 

We were thrilled to find out in July that we were named as 1 of the top 10 best boat tours in the UK published in The Guardian & voted for my readers. Please click on the link below to see the article.

https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2021/jul/08/10-great-uk-boat-trips-scotland-cornall-london-chosen-by-readers

 

 

 

 

Shetland Seabird Tours – Wins 2021 Tripadvisor Travellers’ Choice Award!

Shetland Seabird Tours today announced on Saturday morning that it has again been recognised as a Travellers’ Choice award winner for 2021 The Noss Boat. This achievement celebrates businesses that consistently deliver fantastic experiences to passengers from around the globe, having earned great traveller reviews on Tripadvisor over the last 12 months. As challenging as the past year was, Shetland Seabird Tours stood out by continuously delighting its customers.
Congratulations to all the winners of the 2021 Travellers’ Choice Awards,” said Kanika Soni, Chief Commercial Officer at Tripadvisor. “I know the past year has been extremely challenging for tourism businesses. What has impressed me is how businesses adapted to these challenges, implementing new cleanliness measures, adding social distancing guidelines, and utilising technology to prioritize guest safety. The Travellers’ Choice Awards highlight the places that are consistently excellent – delivering quality experiences time and time again even while navigating changing customer expectations and new ways of working. Based on a full year of reviews from customers, this award speaks to the great service and experience you provided guests in the midst of a pandemic.”

“We are delighted to be be recognised again for this award. We take trip advisor as a benchmark for good, honest feedback by our valued customers & our consistent No.1 place since we began in 2016 is testimony to our hard work & dedication in giving our passengers a top Shetland wildlife boat experience. Thank you to all our passengers. We hope to continue giving the best boat, the best wildlife experience, the best guides & the best value for money for years to come” …… Quote by ©Rebecca Nason 2021

PURPLE PROS  with OLYMPUS

Purple Sandpipers or ‘purps’ as birders affectionately call them, are gorgeous and rather enigmatic waders that are a regular feature of Shetland’s coastline in the autumn and winter months…….

Purple prose, as Wikipedia describes, is often referred to it a literal sense as “text that is so extravagant, ornate, or flowery as to break the flow and draw excessive attention to itself. Purple prose is characterized by the excessive use of adjectives, adverbs, and metaphors. When limited to certain passages, they may be termed purple patches or purple passages, standing out from the rest of the work. Purple prose is criticised for desaturating the meaning in an author’s text by overusing melodramatic and fanciful descriptions.

Olympus E-M1X with M.Zuiko Digital 300mm F4 Pro Lens & 1.4 converter, hand-held. ISO 1600, 1/800 sec, F5.6. with C-AF (continuous mode).

Ah, okay, my lightbulb moment of naming this post Purple Prose will hopefully not flagship the meaning of the term in a literal sense…and yes, I am the first to admit I can be a little flowery in my writing at times and stray from the point in question. But in this instance, my purple patch is the current arrival of the delightful Purple SandpiperCalidris maritima, a wader that has been migrating to & through the Shetland Islands from their high arctic breeding grounds in the last couple of weeks. The storm battered beaches, strewn with seaweeds ripped from their sandy beds, and peppered with Dunlin & Turnstone, are now joined by subtly mauve-toned birds heading south, many for the first time, to escape the harsh winter ahead – my ‘purple passage’.

Olympus E-M1X with M.Zuiko Digital 300mm F4 Pro Lens & 1.4 converter, hand-held. ISO 1600, 1/250sec, F5.6. with C-AF (continuous mode).

In fact around 7% of Britain’s Purple Sandpipers actually over-winter on Shetland, not that you would realise this when out in the field, with so many areas of suitable habitat for these waders in inaccessible remote rocky islets & geos. Many high arctic breeding waders travel a long way south for the winter, but Purple Sandpipers are not known as long distance migrants, remaining as far north as possible in the winter months. They are very conspicuous on the sandy beaches where they loosely associate with other tideline shorebirds, though less so on their favoured rocks where they become incredibly camouflaged.

When time has allowed & with social distancing not a problem on these wild Shetland beaches in November, I have enthusiastically headed out, camera on shoulder, to face the challenges of finding & then photographing the hardy, tidal zone dependant Purple Sandpipers. In the last two weeks I’ve encountered small groups from just a couple to over 20 on beaches in South mainland Shetland. Weather conditions of late, have not been pleasant to put it mildly; our neutral, overcast skies have been good but the heavy rain & very strong gales really put me off wader photography (actually any kind of photography) as I’m not too keen on sand in my face or my equipment!

Olympus E-M1X with M.Zuiko Digital 300mm F4 Pro Lens & 1.4 converter, hand-held. ISO 1600, 1/400 sec, F5.6. with C-AF (continuous mode).

High winds often put the waders off their usual feeding behaviour & with the birds on extra high alert, the opportunities to get close are minimal too. With favourable conditions however, waders here can be incredibly approachable given time and patience. Of my recent photo sessions, I ended up being no more than a couple of metres away from them as they soon lost interest in the thing on its knees in the seaweed edging towards them. With no shutter noise at all with my Olympus set up, there was a wonderful silence apart from the waders little peeping notes and the tidal flows.

Olympus E-M1X with M.Zuiko Digital 300mm F4 Pro Lens & 1.4 converter, hand-held. ISO 1600, 1/250sec, F5.6. with C-AF + TR (continuous autofocus tracking mode).

As well as being found searching for food amongst seaweed clad rocks or running the sandy tideline with other waders, Purple Sandpipers will readily take to the water as they did when I spent time with them, virtually swimming in the breakwater and effortlessly running through the foamy shallows, occasionally up to their necks. This provided me with some amazing opportunities to take images that reflected a different side to their behaviour.

Taking to the water…..Olympus E-M1X with M.Zuiko Digital 300mm F4 Pro Lens & 1.4 converter, hand-held. ISO 1600, 1/250sec, F5.6. with C-AF +TR.

Although planned photographic projects have taken a back seat this year, photography for me has in some ways been my most enjoyable for years due to changing to the Olympus mirrorless system back in January. Nature photography brings me such happiness, a strong sense of creative achievement and is a welcome mental sanctuary in a particularly anxious, chaotic world. Perhaps too, I’ve had a stronger awakening to appreciate and enjoy the environment and nature closer to home, on my very own doorstep, instead of hankering for far-flung destinations across the globe.

Purple Sandpipers are a regular feature of autumn and winter on Shetland along much of our wave-pounded rocky coastline.  I moved here in 2014, but it is only now I have found time to concentrate on finding their favoured haunts and on working with them photographically. It’s a reminder that we should take the time to appreciate what’s on our own doorstep  – I live in am amazing place and am surrounded by wildlife. I’m fortunate indeed.

Now for more on taking the shots……..

Olympus E-M1X with M.Zuiko Digital 300mm F4 Pro Lens and 1.4 converter, hand-held. ISO 1600, 1/250sec, F5.6. with C-AF.

The flexibility of the Olympus gear in the field is one of the biggest advantages for me. Walking a couple of miles along the coast to reach shorebirds with the E-M1X,  300mm f4 pro lens & 1.4 converter over my shoulder, I forget I’m even carrying anything. After time stalking through sand & seaweed bent low or on my knees whilst shooting, I feel no discomfort or physical limitations at all. With a rather weak back after years of flogging heavy gear around & with advanced osteoarthritis in my hips & knee, my ‘relatively young’ but worn out body revels in this new gear, allowing me to just keep on going, rather like a duracell battery! The only thing that halted these wader photo sessions was high tide when the birds retreated to offshore roosting spots.

Olympus E-M1X with M.Zuiko Digital 300mm F4 Pro Lens & 1.4 converter, hand-held. ISO 640, 1/2000 sec, F6.3 with C-AF + TR.

With these wader encounters I had quality time with my subjects constantly passing me with repetitive activities and light conditions.  Subjects like this for prolonged periods enabled me, at last, a chance to try out and compare some of the exciting new modes and set ups that my mirrorless, hi-tech camera system has to offer.

You can read up on as many camera features as you like, but nothing beats getting out in the field and practising to really see what works best for you, your subject matter and style.  For bird photography, much of which is very opportunistic on Shetland outside of summer hide work, I shoot in (M) manual mode, often keeping the speed high whilst maintaining a low depth of field, usually around f5.6 to achieve my favoured out of focus, clean backdrops. Both these of course set against a manual ISO choice, depending on any given situation. I try and stay with low ISO’s but, particularly on Shetland, this is not always possible so anywhere between ISO 500-1600 is standard for me. I use Autofocus, with Continuous C-AF MF mode a favourite. However, these wader sessions gave me a chance to enjoy two other options, that of C-AF + TR tracking mode and Pro Capture.

Pro Capture (L) Mode ……Olympus E-M1X with M.Zuiko Digital 300mm F4 Pro Lens & 1.4 converter, hand-held. ISO 640, 1/1600 sec, F6.3.
Pro Capture (L) Mode. Olympus E-M1X with M.Zuiko Digital 300mm F4 Pro Lens & 1.4 converter, hand-held. ISO 640, 1/2000 sec, F5.6.

The C-AF Tracking mode produced many good, fast, sharp hits, particularly with running tideline waders, see this purple sandpiper in action. As long as the backdrops are pretty clean and uncluttered, this feature works very well and stays glued to the subject, tracking it seamlessly without being distracted. This feature takes the pressure off the photographer tracking the subject and makes the camera do most of the work. You can also select a subject to help your autofocus tracking within the cameras customised menu. The subject list is found by navigating through the custom menu to A3 Tracking Subject. (Intelligent Subject Tracking). Up to now I have practised using the airplane mode or having the tracking subject feature turned off. BUT . . . .Olympus has just announced an exciting new ‘bird’ tracking option to be added to the list through upgraded firmware available this coming winter!  There are already options for Trains, Motorsports and Airplanes but a new Bird tracking feature is bound to send professional and amateur nature photographers alike clambering for the upgrade.

Pro Capture (L) Mode. Olympus E-M1X with M.Zuiko Digital 300mm F4 Pro Lens & 1.4 converter, hand-held. ISO 800, 1/2000 sec, F5.6.

I like to think I’m quite quick on the draw with tracking my subjects after years of practise, but there are always times when you just miss that moment, maybe the sudden unprovoked attack of one wader to another as they pass each other on the shoreline, or the sudden perfectly still, raised-head-side profile pose between frantic head-lowered feeding. The Pro Capture mode allows you the ability to capture those moments which has already gone by holding images in a buffer zone whilst you half press the shutter and follow your subjects around. What a feature, a camera that can act faster than my brain can react and take shots I would otherwise have missed!  Fully pressing the shutter from half way to full down as soon as you see the action happening captures those shots from that instant as well as the images held in buffer from before you reacted. A massive bonus, especially with action and behavioural wildlife photography. I use Pro Capture Low which allows for continuous autofocus, a must when photographing birds on the move.

P.S Card Alert: Watch out for your memory cards filling quicker than they ever have before. Is there anything worse than an incredible photographic situation and the ‘card full’ flashing on the monitor? Even with space for two cards in the camera, you are not safe in Pro Capture mode and its whopping 60 images a second capabilities.  I’ll be ordering a couple more cards to add to my day bag ……

By Rebecca Nason – November 2020

Striking a Pose. Pro Capture (L) Mode. Olympus E-M1X with M.Zuiko Digital 300mm F4 Pro Lens & 1.4 converter, hand-held. ISO 640, 1/2000 sec, F5.6.

 

I have not yet had too much opportunity to enjoy or put my new Olympus gear to the test, after switching from Nikon to Olympus at the end of January. With appalling weather in February and the world health coronavirus crisis and lockdown since…time spent behind the camera has been minimal. Plans are afoot to resurrect my garden hide set up before species other than House Sparrow and Starting start to move through as well as concentrate on more macro work in the short term at least. In the meantime, I’ve just been looking back at a couple of pre-lockdown Olympus sessions out into field on Shetland. The first early opportunity was on the westside of mainland Shetland, where, after a couple of failed attempts at approaching a very nervous Mountain Hare, I found another more confiding individual. Mountain Hare in early spring are still white, beacons against the harsh browns and dark peatlands of rural Shetland which rarely has any serious snowfall so little need for white camouflage ( or indeed any camouflage as predators are few and far between here). Given the culls of Mountain Hare on mainland UK, I think Shetland’s populations are probably the luckiest in Britain.

The upright-hoping-she-can’t-see-me approach, before settling a little lower in the heather. My first ever wildlife shot using the Olympus E-M1X with 300mm pro f4 lens & x1.4 converter hand-held. The conditions weren’t great, but I took this at ISO 640 at 1/400sec, f5.6. My initial thoughts I remember were being delighted to be able to take shots with such a lightweight set up which enabled me to nimbly move across boggy peatland to approach my subject. The set up actually felt almost toy like to hold and shoot with after lugging around my Nikon DSLR for so many years.
What a beauty…. The other immediate benefit was that I could so easily feel confident in my manual exposures (I always shoot manual) in a situation which was a little tricky with a white subject on a dark background. The ability to look through the lens and visibly watch my exposure changes and tweaks on the image in front of me – in LIVE exposure meant that when I took a shot – what I saw is exactly what I got – no need to check after or worry about over exposure (EVF).  The resultant image was as I had seen it when I took it. What a benefit.
The level of detail was astounding I thought at ISO 640 and with the 1.4 converter…..here is a similar shot to the image above but at 100%.

The changing topography of my approach to the hare meant that actually I ended up a little closer than I had intended to achieve a clean shot. In hindsight I’d have removed the 1.4 converter and given my fury subject a little more space – but in this instance I took what I could in the given opportunity. Mountain Hare are numerous and often approachable on Shetland. I can’t wait to go to a few of my hare hotspots after the lockdown finishes.