Fulmar flying along the cliff top at West Bay, Dorset; 23 Apr 2015.

How I love Dorset!  And we’ve just been down there for a few days’ break, renting a cheapo caravan not far behind the beach at the tiny “resort” of West Bay, which is on the coast south of Bridport.  I put resort in quotes because, although it is on Dorset’s absolutely totally beautiful coast and it does have a harbour with a few working fishing boats – mainly for shellfish, crabs and lobster I think – West Bay also has some really ugly holiday apartments (which sell for just under half a million pounds each) and other ugly modern buildings, and it really is a cheap and cheerful place.

BUT, that said, this is coastal Dorset, and so all this money! money! money! ugliness is set amongst just totally wonderful natural beauty.  And the little kiosks  round the harbour serve up good fish and chips, and there’s Dorset Apple Cake, and a brewery nearby that’s been churning out the good stuff since 1794, and some really nice bakeries in nearby Bridport, etc etc.  I suppose the bottom line is that its very hard to dent coastal Dorset’s vast appeal – and thank goodness for that!

Anyway, anyway –  it was the afternoon of the final day of our stay, the blast of the bright sunshine had softened a little, and I took it in my head to climb a steep hill east of the harbour, to explore a bit.  Well, OMG, it was steep, but when The Great Explorer eventually puffed and coughed his way to the top, what did he find?  Beautiful natural wilderness?  Well, no, a golf course actually, but you can’t have everything.  And as I set off regardless along the cliff top path, I caught a glimpse of a seagull coasting along the cliffs – but it didn’t look quite right.

And sure enough it wasn’t quite right, because rather than a gull it was a (Northern) Fulmar – Fulmarus glacialis – a seabird, a real denizen of the open oceans that only comes ashore to breed, on steep inaccessible cliffs like those at West Bay.  So, I watched where these birds were habitually gliding past, wound the D800 up on DX format so that my 70-300 zoom became a 105-450 zoom – and started blasting away.

It was difficult going, even with autofocus, and lots of my attempts are, shall we say, “impressionistic”.  But here is one caught above the glare of the lowering sun on the sea – and it does look like a seagull at first glance, doesn’t it – but there’s a little kink and ridge on the top of its bill that houses nasal passages, something that gulls don’t have.

And two points of interest.  Living out on the open seas as they do, and eating things like squid, fish and shrimps, these birds are up to their ears in salt – some of which they manage to get rid of by excreting it as a strong saline solution through their noses.  And, should one of these beauties feel that you’re approaching it too closely on a cliff, they will vomit their foul smelling stomach oils over you –  as a means of giving you a gentle hint.

And, finally, their plumage is white below.  The warm orange tinge to the underparts that you see in the photo was in fact the reflection of the lowering sunlight on West Bay’s beautiful, honey-coloured cliffs.

Click onto the image to see a larger version in a separate window – recommended.

Technique: D800 with 70-300 Nikkor lens used in DX format to give 450mm; 400 ISO.


  1. Beautiful image! Interesting info on the difference between this bird and a seagull. Yes, Dorset – or Darset – as we call it – is a fab place. We used to enjoy visiting many places including Swanage for the Folk Festival and Kimmeridge Bay …….. and so many others!


    • Thank you, M! Yes, a wonderful county, maybe my favourite in fact, although I don’t know its interior well – I really ought to explore its interior more, although whether that will ever happen, especially now, is another matter altogether! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Beautiful capture. And thanks for the warning. I will not get too close to one of these! If you do not yet have your camera set up for back button focus, I highly recommend it. You can Google “back button focus set up D800.” This allows you to follow focus on a moving subject by just mashing your finger down on the Focus button on the back of the camera and holding the button down while holding the shutter down and blasting away as you track. For landscapes you can find a point in your scene that you want to focus on, press the focus button on it and then let go of the button and re-compose for your actual shot and make the shot without the camera altering the focus. In that sense it can be almost more like manual focus. It will probably take a couple days of shooting to get used to, but once you’re used to it you will never look back.


    • Very many thanks for all this info, Michael, but you’re preaching to the already converted! I have been a devotee of back button focusing since D700 days and use it all the time on my Nikons, including the Z 6 – I would simply never think of using the shutter release to focus those cameras. The TG-5 is of course different, and I’ve never really found the back button focus on the Fujifilm X-T2 to be up there where the Nikons are. Many thanks. 🙂


  3. Let’s hear it for blasting away! It’s one of the real bejeweled values of the digital realm. Sometimes nothing useful comes of it, but sometimes there’s one that is, and that’s enough. While we were in the South Island recently, we visited the Royal Albatross colony near Dunedin (I’ve been there before, but CD hasn’t), and the only albatross in residence were two large chicks about 100 meters away. There were other birds too, however, and there may be a post soon to bring them into focus.


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