• North Gaulton Castle, Orkney

April 2021 Newsletter

Find out all about life in Orkney this month.

Hello and welcome to the April 2021 Newsletter from Orkney.com.

Spring is here and we’re already excited about everything the season has to offer.

We’re also looking forward to welcoming you all to the islands once again when it’s safe to do so. At the moment, travel to Orkney is still only permitted for essential purposes, but we’re waiting for further information from the Scottish Government on when it will be possible for visitors to arrive here once more. Keep up-to-date with the latest news on our website and our social media pages.

In the meantime, we hope you enjoy our latest look at life in the islands.

Latest news

Scotland's ancient sites set to inspire new jewellery range

Orkney jewellery manufacturer Ortak Ltd is set to double its workforce after securing a major licensing contract to produce branded jewellery and giftware inspired by Historic Environment Scotland properties. The deal will see Ortak create around 500 new products over the next five years, with the design of each item reflecting some element of the historic properties and attractions under the organisation’s care.

New horizons with NHS Orkney

After a year like no other, NHS Orkney is starting to think about the future. Orkney’s local health board is launching a recruitment drive to complement its current crop of talented consultants and GPs. So, if you want a change of scene after a tumultuous twelve months, it might be time to look north.

Meet the makers

Over the last year, we’ve been focusing on members of Orkney's talented creative community and finding out what it is about the islands that inspires them. Our latest featured maker is Fraser Anderson from Orkney Hand Crafted Furniture. Fraser has been making Orcadian furniture, including the classic Orkney chair, from his workshop in Kirkwall for the last 17 years, sometimes using driftwood salvaged from the sea to create truly unique pieces.

Photography award win for local designer

An Orkney jewellery designer has won two accolades in a top photography competition. Keen underwater photographer, Alison Moore, took two accolades in this year’s Scottish Nature Photography Awards. Alison won the Scottish Landscape - Sea and Coast category of the awards with her image, Magical Cave, depicting a stunning underwater realm off the Orkney coast. Alison also secured a third place in the Scottish Wildlife Behaviour category of the awards for her photograph of a lion’s mane jellyfish.

Little house, big taste

2020’s COVID-19 lockdown was a challenging time for businesses across the country. Here in Orkney, a number of local entrepreneurs faced the situation head on and launched new products aimed at bringing a bit of happiness into homes across the islands. Stromness-based Little House Larder was one of them, with their delicious grazing boxes proving a huge hit. Now the boxes are available for mail order and it’s hoped the business will go from strength to strength.

Join us on Instagram

Join us on Instagram where we post plenty of stunning shots from the islands. Make sure you follow Visit Orkney to see new images every week, and you can take part too. Tag your own images and use #VisitOrkney and #LoveOrkney to keep in touch.

Wild Orkney

With spring here, Orkney’s natural highlights really begin to catch the eye. Join local wildlife filmmaker Raymond Besant to find out what he has been focusing his camera on this month.

The signs of spring are here but it feels oh so slow! Nature’s gestures are still subtle but they can definitely be seen and heard. The curlew’s bubbling call is now a constant companion on my dog walk, interspersed with a more blatant herald of spring, the song of the skylark.

With the cool wind biting at my neck as I watched the waves roll in at Dingeshowe the other day it felt very much like winter. Yet the flock of black headed gulls dodging the waves and feeding between the sets were very much that, black headed and wearing their summer headgear.

Let’s forget about snowdrops for a minute. For me, the first real colour of spring is yellow, and bright yellow at that! Colt’s-foot, dandelion, marsh marigold and my favourite of the four, the lesser celandine, are all in flower now. Ostensibly the flower of the colt’s-foot looks much like that of the dandelion whilst it is emerging and recently, I saw the two growing side by side. One of the best ways to tell them apart isn’t by the flower but by the plant itself, as the flowers often appear well before the leaves. This can make it look slightly ‘leggy’ - all stalk and flower and no body.

It likes places you might describe as ‘bare’. I recently found numerous good examples at the fourth barrier beach - not so much in the dunes themselves but in the bare open patches between stands of marram grass.

The lesser celandine however prefers damper spots and so is commonly found on the banks of burns, and amongst woodland. All these flowers share a similar strategy in terms of pollination. There are far fewer pollinating insects around at this time of year, so why flower now? The answer is that there might be fewer pollinators around, but there are still pollinators around! So, the flowers that bloom now have fewer pollinators but less competition from other flowers for those pollinators.

Last month I concentrated on the techniques behind using long telephoto lenses to capture birds in flight. Spring is the perfect time to focus on some emerging details and head to the other end of the photographic scale, macro photography.

One of the good things about macro photography is that it’s also on the opposite end of the financial scale. Whilst a long telephoto lens often costs many thousands of pounds, you can get a really good quality macro lens in the low hundreds. In fact, I’m a big believer in second hand lenses if bought from a reputable source. Photographers like kit and so it’s often worth checking the second-hand sections on company websites for used gear. Sometimes a lens barely makes it out of the box, so when described as ‘mint’, it generally is.

My ‘go to’ macro lens over the years has been the Tamron 90mm f2.8, but I also own Nikon 60mm and Sigma 105mm lenses. Bear in mind that these are versatile lenses and the focal length is similar to those often described as being ‘portrait’ lenses i.e., in the 80 - 135mm range. They are essentially short telephotos with the ability to focus very closely. So, once you’ve finished photographing a moss head at its closest focal point, stand back and have a look around you. You can then take a portrait of the trees in the mid distance too.

One of the advantages of the 105mm over the 60mm is that you don’t need to get as physically close to your subject in order to achieve the same picture. So, if you have a slightly ‘flighty’ insect that you want to photograph then perhaps think about the longer lens. Of course, if the insect or creature keeps moving away then just choose a different subject - creature comfort comes first!

The lesser celandine flower head can prove to be something of a challenge in macro photography. I got around it partly by chance and partly by design. Once fully open, the flower head has between eight and twelve narrow petals. The texture of the petals is slightly waxy and so in bright sunshine they reflect a lot of light creating some quite ugly blown out highlights. Wait for a duller day with softer light to avoid this. The downside to this is of course less light and so the triangle of aperture, depth of field and ISO comes into play so really, it’s a case of experimenting to end up with an image that you are pleased with.

Take the picture of the flower head for example. I had the 90mm lens set to manual focus and turned all the way to its minimum focal distance. This means that I could move the camera in and out to gain focus rather than having the lens on auto focus. No matter what kind of lens you use, depending on its capability, in lower light lenses tend to ‘hunt’, literally going all the way though its focusing range in order to find the focal point. Frustratingly once in this ‘hunting’ mode sometimes they can never find their way out of it! You can avoid this by using manual focus but just see how you get on, there’s no right or wrong.

I then experimented with apertures between f7.1 and f16. At this close focusing point I could see there wasn’t enough detail visible at f7.1 but by f16 I could see more ‘shape’ in the background, detracting from the flower head. So, I compromised somewhere in between at around f11 giving me the slightly abstract look I was after and allowing the flower to stand out from the background. But even then, I couldn’t really get the level of magnification I wanted so used a cheap and simple piece of kit to remedy this - extension tubes. That’s literally all they are, generally a hard plastic ring that fits between your camera and lens. The wider the ring the greater the magnification. Be warned though that they significantly reduce your depth of field and so you’ll have to change some of the settings in your ‘triangle’ in order make the most of the picture. A set of three Kenko extension rings are always in my camera bag.

I photographed the lesser celandine amongst the willow trees at the Papdale burn near to where I grew up. In the 1980s this was simply a field, one we used as a dirt track for our BMXs, but now it’s a place which is perfect for listening to willow warblers later in the spring and to look for waxwings in the autumn. One of my most vivid childhood wildlife memories from the house was opening the front door during the pouring rain and there being numerous toads in the garden, but I haven't seen one there now for decades.

Toads now have a somewhat localised and limited range in Orkney, with Hoy being something of a stronghold. The common frog however is now widespread, no doubt helped by peedie hands transporting buckets from pond to pond. Luckily for me, the Papdale burn next to my lesser celandines is full of frog spawn. The spawn itself makes for some great macro images but in this case, shooting from further away looked better, allowing a frame-filling image but keeping it recognisably frog spawn all the same.

By April these adult frogs have all but ‘disappeared’, but just wait until the summer months to have a chance to photograph the froglets. Now that really is a challenge, trying to get a close-up image of a tiny jumping jack.

Find out more about Raymond’s work via his official website. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

His new book, 'Naturally Orkney Volume 2' is out now, focusing on Orkney's coastline and all the sights and species that can be found there. You can order your copy online.

Focus on photography

Our featured Orkney photographer of the month is Scott Desmond, who has been using his drone to capture views of the islands from an alternative perspective.

I have always enjoyed viewing other people’s aerial photography on the likes of Instagram and such like, and then it got me thinking that maybe I could do it as well.

After having a go with a friend’s drone, I was hooked! I was amazed by the photos and videos that can be captured from angles that a normal camera simply would never be able to reach.

Viewing Orkney’s fantastic coastline and wartime history from a different perspective was just something I felt I had to share. Most of us pass these on a daily basis; the Churchill Barriers, for example, viewed from above are just a completely different sight.

I started taking photos in January this year shortly after I was gifted a DJI Mavic Mini. I had no previous photography skills whatsoever until this purchase. I shared a few images on my personal Instagram and Facebook accounts for fun and had an amazing response, so I decided to set up my Orkney_by_drone Instagram page, shortly followed by a Facebook page as well. I decided to explore photography through online resources from that moment on and have never looked back.

Orkney can be a rather challenging place to take drone photos, the weather being the biggest challenge - especially the wind! This limits when and where I can actually fly, but it does give me time to think of future locations. I’m hoping later in the year I can get out to some of the outer isles and share some of the fantastic scenery and history they have to offer.

Orkney’s coastline has to be my favourite thing to photograph at the moment. The view changes every day and never gets boring. Taking photos from above really shows off how clear Orkney’s waters are and the colours are just breath-taking. The cliffs around Orkney are also amazing - from the seabirds nesting along them to the waves in bad weather smashing over them.

I would recommend any photographer to grab a camera or a drone and visit Orkney. The options for amazing photos are endless and I can't wait to explore some more.

See more of Scott's work on Instagram and Facebook.

And finally...

Thank you for taking the time to read our latest newsletter. Hopefully it has helped keep Orkney in your minds until you can visit us once again.

We’re always keen to hear from you too - share your news, views and comments on the newsletter, Orkney.com and your Orkney experiences with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or E-mail.

In the meantime, it's cheerio from Orkney for now.

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