Trip to Galapagos (Arrival at Quito)


Finally, we decided to do a trip to Galapagos. Always in bucket list, but never materialized before. It proved to be one of the most fun trips, not only for the beauty of the place and abundance of wildlife, but for the dingy rides and sea activities.UIO Ecudor000000

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American Airlines flies direct to Quito (UIO), four hours from MIA, which was great. The airport there, although not too big, is one go the most efficient we have visited. Immigration, customs, and baggage claim were fast and smooth. Our reservation was in a hotel a couple of minutes from airport, since out flight to GPS was very early in the morning. We had decided to go one extra day earlier, just in case of any delays because if the boat left, we would be grounded. It was nice to take a tor of the city, see downtown and most important, the “Mitad del Mundo” and the Solar Museum, which proved to be much more interesting than we had anticipated.

UIO solarclock

UIO Llama

UIO souvenirs

We loved everything about our short stay in Quito and los forward to go back and spend more time. Food is delicious, lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, great corn dishes and the typical “canelazo”, warm drink to enjoy and fight the altitude. Fortunately, we didn’t feel any effects, even at the Virgen del Panecillo, at 10,000 ft. Our doctor had suggested a “high altitude prophylactic treatment” but decided against once he realized we would be in highlands only a couple of days and then flying to sea level.

UIO virgen

UIO panecillo

People in Quito are very hospitable and really know how to make you feel welcome.

UIO guard

UIO Matthew

UIO vendor

I will be posting more stuff and pictures about our Galapagos adventure, one we would love the repeat.

Pictures on this post were all made with the Sony a7rii and Sony 24-70 f/4.

 

Sled dogs in Longyearbyen, Svalbard


Meet Lumi, a four months old female in training.

Lumi
Beautiful 4 month old female, in training.

Do not despair, my animal lover friends. She is a happy puppy. Her enclosure is huge, there are other dogs in training and she is very much loved. I was proudly invited by the caretaker to meet her.

The day we went for the sled dog ride, my heart sank when I saw each one chained to their little houses. I really wanted the whole thing to be over and get out of there. DO NOT JUDGE.
These dogs, the majority of them mixed, are working dogs. Nothing wrong with that, I worked all my life and nobody frowned upon that. They are athletes in a way, very strong, (each one can roughly pull 60kg ) and are a very important part of the Arctic life.
A dog that would jump to kiss you and gives you belly IS NOT and abused dog. They are very well fed, their health very much taken care of (if one is sick or in any trouble, the get to be in the main shack and walked around for their bodily needs as any other loved pet).
The care takers know every dog by name, and they are all animal lovers. You couldn’t do the job otherwise.
They get go ride at least once a day and I’m a witness they love it! Their joy is intoxicating.
I visited three kennels and got enough dog love for the rest of the year

Husky love
This beautiful girl was taking a Sunday morning stroll with her family. A bit more relaxed than the one at the kennel, she didn’t jump at me, but accepted and corresponded to my affection.


On our ride with Svalbard Huskies, one of the guides was a beautiful girl from Seattle. She can tell each of the hundred dogs apart and by name.

After they were harnessed, with the riders help, who get to learn, we went on our way. Six dogs to each sled (with wheels for the summer), two guides and four general workers make each team. Guides concentrate in the route which they know by heart and the rest just pull merrily.
We carry empty dishes (I was trying to figure that out) and stop by the clean streams for give them water. We stopped twice for water and a third time by a mine just so we could see it. They did not care for that stop and were hauling to get going LOL


When they got overheated, the whole team went to the side stream of water, took a quick and fun dip and came up to the road. Smart puppies.
We also saw many locals walking their dogs and “parking” them outside the business they were visiting. Got to “talk” yo many of them. I particularly remember “Monster”, with beautiful blue eyes and the female we saw the last day, who shed half her fur into my clothes.

Dogs are the only pet allowed in Svalbard, although the Russians have managed to illegally import some felines into Barensburg, the mining community across from Longyeabyen. Since they are isolated, they are contained there.

Dog parking
Sign outside the Radisson Blue Polar Hotel. It was common to see dogs “parked” outside businesses. All patient and well behaved.


Dogs are happy in Longyearbyen, both as home pets and as working dogs.

Husky close up
This beauty was, as most of them were, very friendly and loving. Difficult to get a good pic since they are so active. Wet kisses galore!
Svalbard Husky
One of the dogs at the kennel.

Little Havana: tourist trap?


Little Havana.-
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It all started as an outlet for Cuban refugees to play dominoes and forget about their Caribbean paradise that was no more.

Years have come and gone. Miami is now the beacon for Latin-American refugees seeking the ever elusive American dream.

It is not only us Cubans, it is all new world blood, humiliated, stepped-on, diminished . We are nothing but cheap labor.
The “carrot” of good behavior is paraded in front of our eyes. If we are humble and obey, maybe we will be allowed to reside in Wonderland of Wonderlands.

Big fallacy. We did not grow up to worship the gold coin. We grew up to value family and justice. And we burn our wings to come to a land that promises that, the joke is on us!

But, we are here. Strong, invincible, with roots that go beyond the cortex.
Proud, hard working, forgiving of the culture that we do not understand, not totally believing the false promises, but there is always hope.

What would people be without hope? Annihilated before even takinge the first step forward.

Do we have a chance? Only time will tell.

In the mean time, we are vibrant, alive, full of joy and pride of our heritage.
Hopefully that prejudice will die one day. That our warmer colored skin does not make us target of hatred and intolerance.

One day, maybe, people will be appreciated for what they are, their intrinsic right of birth to be unique ant part of a big collective at the same time. No fake oppressor.

Face value: the way we are born.

I present to you Little Havana, the Latin-American tourist trap in Miami.

All images were captured with Sony a7rii and Sony 24-70/2.8 G Raw capture, converted to B&W in Lightroom.

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But then, there is our music…
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Oaxaca, dance of colors


The celebration of the Day of the Dead could be very colorful, especially on the “comparsa” nights, where there is even a custom contest, with the make-up school participating and having a very animated march of laughter, joy and music.
Here are some of the masquerades, another time I will add anecdotes, which are always there.
Enjoy!
OAX passingmem

OAXmimo

OAX pancho

OAX littlenightmusic

OAX kiss

OAX hairdofromback

OAX greenface

OAX girlyellow

OAX Frida

OAX deathtunnel

OAX Catrinamezcal

OAX catrinacell

OAX bridelastnight

OAX bitchplease

OAX bellecomparsas

OAX Fridadaytime

A Moment in the Life of Tigrito, Oaxaca


I had spotted “Tigrito” close to the Zocalo in the city of Oaxaca, Mexico, following a tall, slender man, in a hurry in the midst of a lazy pueblo morning. The tall stranger seemed to be on a mission. He and the little dog made a striking pair. I took a quick shot and continued on our way to Plaza Santo Domingo.
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A few minutes later, on the side street by the church, a second sighting. This time, the tall stranger saw me and turned his head as not to be in the picture. But that was not to stop him of keep him away from his mission.
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Looking around for things to photograph, we spotted someone lying in the sidewalk, apparently drunk, since no one around him paid any attention. In a provincial town, you do pay attention to things like that.
The guy was collapsed in front of aa Art Gallery, and as we watched (a couple of pics to be had, why not), there we are, face to face with the tall stranger with the puppy.
We said hello and learned he was an artist waiting for the gallery to open so he could deliver some of his work.
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Two seconds later, I was on the ground, trying to establish contact with the puppy and asked the Master if I could take pictures of the dog. The name was Tigrito” (small tiger) and the artiste was looking for a home for him.
Tigrito was very difficult to photograph. Not in the way our puppies are, playfully biting out fingers and turning over for a belly rub. No.

Tigrito was a street puppy. And street puppies grow up in a hurry. His eyes were constantly on his Master (Savior?) and the little eyes followed him with devotion every inch of the way as if his life depended on him. Which actually may just be the truth. The life of street dogs in our Latin countries is not easy, although every street and town has plenty of them and you can see there is a law and structure firmly held in place by the stronger ones, territories clearly marked.

My guess is that in a struggling artist life, the sudden presence of a puppy could be too big a responsibility. But I feel that in this case, the deal is sealed. Those two depend on each other and that is the way it will stay for a long time.
It was a treat to get to meet the Tigrito and his friend.
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Oaxaca in B&W


We came to Oaxaca for the second time to enjoy the Dia de los Muertos celebration as part of Raul Touzon’s photo workshop. Arriving a couple of days ahead of time gave us the opportunity to hang around town, enjoy the great food and hospitality of the locals.
It is a beautiful, colorful city, with all the Mexican flavor you can expect in a provincial town. Very interesting architecture, vendors, clothes typical of the holiday, even street musicians and kids going on the Halloween part of this, which is just gathering candies and or small coins.
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Getting busier by the day, the city is beaming with tourists here for the occasion,the locals getting the supplies for the home altars and one or two political demonstration, if small are peaceful.
The people here are quick to smile, easy to talk to and fiercely proud of their culture. I would be too.

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On our small explorations, we were in the big church by Plaza de Santo Domingo, not the Museo de toas las Culturas yet, since it was closed Monday, and yesterday, the Benito Juarez market.
That was an experience in itself and although considered a bit “touristy”, a feast for the eyes and senses, with flowers, vegetables, fruits and the local drink of choice, mezcal, a close relative to tequila, but not yet produced commercially in a big scale because of the difficulty in carrying the plant down the hills, where they like to grow. It is produced by artisans and a big chunk of the local economy.
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Chocolate is a big thing here and so are is the “quesillo”, a white cheese great for warming up, sold in balls of long threads. Mole is another big thing here, having various colors. Very typical are the “chapulines”, grasshoppers.
I will prepare another post showing the colorful market.
Today, the first project here, B&W photos.
This make not make sense at all and I need to run it by my on-line mentor, Sean Duggan, but I have been converting in Lightroom, using the color filters to get the tones precisely as I like them, then taking the resulting image to Silver Efex Pro 2 for the extra punch. IF I try to do it straight to Nik, the results feel different to me. No scientific proof of this though.

So here are some of the images, the subjects have all agreed to let me take their picture, except one or two obvious cases, no asking for compensation from any, but, the question of what do I want the picture for, which makes sense to me. I just tell them that because I like their look or smile. And being the truth, it works like a charm.

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Tonight we will have the welcome cocktail, and then crazy schedule I hope to be able to comply with. Last year I could not make to all field trips because of fatigue. But I feel stronger, at least mentally 🙂 and hope I can keep up.
I don’t want to miss the night at the graveyard, a mystical experience despite the party-like atmosphere.

Click on the images for a larger view.

Be back soon and enjoy!

Ceiba speciosa is blooming!


So alfred talked me into using a point and shoot camera.
I have never been a fan but he always has one with him, even in trips with full load of equipment. Lots of candids and behind the scenes he had.
So he got me the Sony RX-100 mkIV, really small and powerful. A real pocket camera, but it sits in a velvet pouch on my purse and goes with me anywhere now.
The last two photo expeditions, it is what I’ve used, fir the sake of portability. The sensor is a 20 mgs CMOS, and lens equivalent of 24-70, with a wide aperture of f/1.8-2.8. Even if it is a relative small sensor, you can get great bokeh.
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Ceiba Speciosa-5

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I have the feeling I will be using this a lot!
The ceiba is a beautiful tree with personality problems. It blooms in the fall instead of the spring. Creative little thing LOL
But it is refreshing for us in South Florida, where we don’t get fall colors for the most part, to have something beautiful to photograph, plant wise, this time of the year.
Although there is a Royal Poinciana in fresh bloom around Ponce and Alhambra. Another one with timing issues.
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Ceiba Speciosa-1

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So those are a few from yesterday, processed in Lightroom. There are some more, but not worked on them yet.
Have a great day y’all!

What do you do on a rainy day in Brickell Avenue?


We love the buildings in Brickell Avenue, even more so than the ones downtown. It is also easier to navigate, since we do, or have done, the work from the car.
This time we did not take the mirrorless system, since it was raining. Not nice to walk around in the rain on a hot day, at least for me.
I know you can get great stuff in the rain, but I prefer to do it from a sheltered location, rather than participate in the wet humidity.

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SO all of this images were taken from the car, from behind the windshield or out of the closed window. It was an interesting game, because of the blue polarized or whatever top part of the glass, trying to avoid it. The camera used was the Sony RX-100 mk IV, at f/4, Auto ISO, Aperture Priority and most with a 1+ Ev.

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They were all distorted and colorized to taste, exaggerating, to get a modern look to them. All work was done in Lightroom.
I hope you enjoyed them as much as I did.

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Night Life at Mango’s


We have been visiting the disco bar at Ocean Drive lately. It is a rather informal cabaret, with a few tables downstair and others on the balcony upstairs. The shoes start at 8:15Pm and keep going until 2:30AM. Great stuff, folks. You can see it from the bars or reserve a table, where cover charges and minimum comp. are required.
It is a great atmospheres, with very friendly personnel and beautiful decor.
Parking we soul advise to use the garages close by, since valet is really expensive in SoBe. You do not want your night end up with a surprise.
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SInger

We used the Sony a7Rii with a few lenses, mostly one at a time, out of laziness. Unless you are at a table as we have been, it becomes awkward to be changing lenses. The mirrorless ISO and AF capabilities have not let us down yet. Lenses used are the Sony/Zeiss 55 f/1.8, Sony/Zeiss 16-35/4 and the Sony/Zeiss 35 f/1.4
They all AF, and we have tried different settings. I have to admit that the rotating color lights could work against you or make your shot. Just be patient, use you continuous drive and be flexible.
On the floor

Joy!

Samba 2

Samba

Giving the performers and occasional print will make them very happy and you will probably get eye contact the next time around. What goes around, comes around. Spread the joy and you will get some back!

So here are some the things that are available there, nothing difficult.
Salsa mia

SoBe pixelcropsinger

SoBe mojitoroomBatman

MJ coming in

Epa!

Second jump

The light

I am the one

Good place, good time

Mango's dancers

MJ impersonator

Are you OK Eddie?

Puffin Stravaganza


Puffin Extravaganza

Although we rarely do any birds anymore, we remain fascinated by the Auk family, especially the Puffins.
Since our son Rodrigo and his wife live in England, we decided to visit the rookery islands while spending time with the kids. There are a lot of cottages available for rent in Seahouses, base for the birding trip boats.

Seahouses is a small coastal town in Northumberland, pretty harbour and fairly busy with birders, photographers and beach lovers. A few decent restaurants, nice bakery, supermarket with great prices and fresh food and charming tea houses here and there. There are local fishing boats, so fish will be fresh and abundant.

Staple Island close up
Staple Island close up

The Farne Islands are a group of islands off the coast of Northumberland, England. There are between 15 and 20 islands depending on the state of the tide.[1] They are scattered about 1½–4¾ miles (2.5–7.5 km) from the mainland, divided into two groups, the Inner Group and the Outer Group. The main islands in the Inner Group are Inner Farne, Knoxes Reef and the East and West Wideopens (all joined together on very low tides) and (somewhat separated) the Megstone; the main islands in the Outer Group are Staple Island, the Brownsman, North and South Wamses, Big Harcar and the Longstone. The two groups are separated by Staple Sound. The highest point, on Inner Farne, is 62 feet (19 metres) above mean sea level. (source: Wikipedia)

Staple Island
Staple Island

There are a few boats that offer half-day and full day birding trips. The most popular being Billy Shiel, with a fleet of over half a dozen boats. There is also Serenity and maybe a couple more. They offer pelagic and landing trips, as well as sunset and other short trips. All of these are weather dependant, and even if you sail, you may have to come back in a hurry because of an unexpected storm, as it happened to us on Thursday June 25th, with some friends. We made the morning safely (Staple) and two minutes after landing in inner Farne, we had to re-board and got totally soaked while waiting for the queue to disembark in the small harbour. Sense of humor and friendship saved the day!

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I confess my inability to carry a long telephoto lens and tripod any longer. As the years and health issues pile up, carrying so much weight around defeats the purpose of enjoyment, and quite frankly, we have been enjoying the freedom and mobility you get from smaller gear. Unless you are going to a place where the wildlife is very spooky and very far, with today’s ISO capabilities and resolution, you can do a killing anyway. I personally work better with less gear, so I can concentrate in making the best out of the situation without deciding what to use.

In our long experience with brands, right now we ended up with Sony gear, after using Canon, Nikon and Leica. Not knocking anything, but it seems Sony works well for us at this time.

Staple Island Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400G 1/1600 f/5.6 ISO 800 @210mm (plus 1.4X crop factor
Staple Island
Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400G
1/1600 f/5.6 ISO 800 @210mm (plus 1.4X crop factor

Since we do mainly travel and macro, the mirrorless bodies are perfect. Since we were coming to do birds, our main (and only) camera was the Sony A77ii, with the battery grip, which was perfect for us, plus the G lens 70-400, f/4-5.6
Sony AF system is very advanced. The Flexible point/lock on creates a box that follows subject, although Puffins are really too fast for this sometimes. Alfred used mostly the Flexible spot center, while I used the wide, equivalentto Canon’s ring of fire.

Staple Island 1/640  f/11 ISO 800 @ 400mm plus biult in 1.4X (mult. 1.4x crop factor)
Staple Island
1/640 f/11 ISO 800 @ 400mm plus biult in 1.4X (mult. 1.4x crop factor)

The camera body has a 1.4X and 2X built in crop factor, that needs to be used in jpg. We had tried the crops in Blue Cypress with very bad light from the pontoon boat and were happy with the 1.4X bur not the 2X. On land, with the support of the knee, the 2X was perfect. The main reason for using the crops is that as you reduce the canvas size, the focus points become active in your entire image, which is convenient for action, if you can handle that focal length. (The smaller the frame, the more difficult it is to find the subject).

Inner Farne Island Sony A77ii Sony 70-400G 1/2000 F/5.6 ISO 800 @300mm (plus 1.4X crop factor)
Inner Farne Island
Sony A77ii Sony 70-400G
1/2000 F/5.6 ISO 800 @300mm (plus 1.4X crop factor)

ISO wise, I kept to ISO 800, easily cleanable is light is flat, and perfect in good light. Alfred ventured to 1600 without any trouble. I would not push the DSLR further than that, although very comfortable suing the mirroless at much higher settings.

Staple Island Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400G 1/1000 f/10 ISO 800 @400mm (plus 1.4X crop factor0
Staple Island
Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400G
1/1000 f/10 ISO 800 @400mm (plus 1.4X crop factor0

Alfred spent most of his time doing flight. I did a bit of everything, since I like behavior a lot and it was so easy with the funny birds so close to us.
The pictures presented here were done with ISO values from 400 to 1600, on manual mode, center weight metering, close focus most of the time, even flight. Aperture settings from f/5.6 to f/14, depending on the DOF/background needed and shutter speed depending on the light, sometimes under or sometimes over 0, depending on the light conditions. We had one day inner Farne, when the sun came out full blast, and the hours of visiting are middle of the summer day, so the contrast and shadows were too frustrating. I put off my bird gear and started playing with Infrared and Lensbaby images.

Inner Farne Island Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400G 1/2500 f/5.6 @400mm, manual focus
Inner Farne Island
Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400G
1/2500 f/5.6 @400mm, manual focus

On this trip we had made arrangements to meet with Geoffrey Baker, who was so absolutely nice and helpful when we visited Skomer 3 years ago, and to meet John Deakin and Karen MacDonald, long time on-line friends. We also met Paul Masterton, and it was great to spend time with them and Geoff treated us to coffee and scones and one of the tea houses when back soaking wet . Thank you again, pal!!! You rock.

Landing into flowers

The Farne islands are protected by the National Trust, and there is a nominal landing fee every time you visit. The breeding islands have biologist present at all time, and they keep count of every burrow in use and other important facts. Unless you are doing something against wildlife, you will not even know they are there. If you need information, they will give it you gracefully and with enthusiasm. I never saw anyone misbehave in the whole week.

Staple Island Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400G 1/2500 F/5.6 ISO 800 @300mm plus 1.4X built in (mult 1.4X crop factor)
Staple Island
Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400G
1/2500 F/5.6 ISO 800 @300mm plus 1.4X built in (mult 1.4X crop factor)

If you want more information in the area, which has a lot of history, please visit the National Trust website.
http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/farne-islands/?p=1356302962366

Staple Island Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400G 1/2000 f/5.6 ISO 1600 @ 400mm (plus 1.4X crop factor)
Staple Island
Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400G
1/2000 f/5.6 ISO 1600 @ 400mm (plus 1.4X crop factor)

Time to visit are the summer months, with June peaking for amount of birds, end of June/July for feeding behavior. You can land in inner Farne up to October (depending on the birds you are interested in) and no trips in the winter.
Weather is very erratic. You definitely need rain gear for yourself and your gear. Sun screen in necessary on rare days and hat is vital in inner Farne because of the Arctic Terns attacks. (Really!)

Staple Island Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400 G 1/2000 F/5.6 ISO 1000 @400mm (plus 1.4X crop factor)
Staple Island
Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400 G
1/2000 F/5.6 ISO 1000 @400mm (plus 1.4X crop factor)

If you get seasick, take precautions because seas could be rough. There are toilets in the islands but no food or water, so be prepared.
Inner Farne ia larger than Staple, with the second being better for Puffins.
Wind is more important than light if you want landing shots. The first couple of days the wind direction was wrong and they were landing with their backs to us and we could only get them sideways at best. The last three days were fine, the Sunday being the best. It was morning, so East wind, very strong, had them suspended in the air. Especially 10 minutes before we left 😦

Staple Island Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400G 1/2000 f/5.6 ISO 1600 @ 400mm (plus 1.4X crop factor)
Staple Island
Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400G
1/2000 f/5.6 ISO 1600 @ 400mm (plus 1.4X crop factor)

If you take the “All day birding trip”, you will visit Stapes in the morning, and Inner Farne in the afternoon. Most people use the boat ride to eat. You will stay around two hours on each island and will be shown around the gray Seals and other rookeries, like the Pinnacles. Noise and scent will be intense at these, especially when you visit the Kittiwakes.

Staple Island Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400G 1/200 f/5.6 ISO 800 @300mm (plus 1.4X crop factor)
Staple Island
Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400G
1/200 f/5.6 ISO 800 @300mm (plus 1.4X crop factor)

Equipment wise, some people carry a lot, some people use the tablet’s cameras. They are very close to the paths (you HAVE to stay in the paths as not to step in the burrows) but some photographers like to use tripods and long lenses.
Looking at it now, two trips under the belt, the ideal would be a stool with a monopod and a telephoto zoom.
If you take the morning or afternoon (half-day trip), you will stay on land aprox one hour, but will get a lot less tired.
Mornings are to Staple and afternoon to Inner. Staple is more difficult to land on because the steps could get wet and slippery at the minimum of rain or moist, and if you land, you need to be extra cautious not to take a fall or twist your ankle on the rocks before you get to the wooden path. The less you take with you, the less you have to worry about. Must: rain gear.

Staple Island Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400 G 1/1600 f/5.6, ISO 800 @150mm (mult. by 1.4x)
Staple Island
Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400 G
1/1600 f/5.6, ISO 800 @150mm (mult. by 1.4x)

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Staple Island Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400G 12500 F/5.6 ISO 1000 @300mm (plus 1.4X crop factor)
Staple Island
Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400G
12500 F/5.6 ISO 1000 @300mm (plus 1.4X crop factor)

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We will be making another post about Guillemots and other Auks.
Photos by Alfred and Fabiola Forns. All rights reserved, do not use without permission, please.