Sunday, 12 October 2008

Leaping salmon at Buchanty Spout

I'd been planning this for a wee while, since I think it's a pretty photogenic subject. It seemed to fit my schedule as well, with October and November being the recommended months for best viewing. Even better, Saturday was the first dry day after some typical Scottish autumn rain, which are apparently the best conditions since salmon like high water levels.

For those unfamiliar with what's going on, basically salmon eggs are laid and hatch in freshwater rivers and lakes, and then the fish head downstream to saltwater when they're about three years old. After several years in saltwater, they return upstream to spawn again, even if that means fighting the current, and leaping over waterfalls to get there. The circle of life. Salmon allegedly return to the exact spot from where they hatched, but this very widespread claim would seem to be apocryphal.

Buchanty Spout in Perthshire is a noted spot for salmon leaping. There's a highish waterfall (about four or five feet) which is a bit of a bottleneck in the river, followed by a small but hugely turbulent pool before another, shallower waterfall. Even if they get up the first fall, it's difficult for the fish to get through the second without being washed back down again. As a result the spout is awash with leaping salmon. For the two hours I was there I reckon I must have seen about 200+ attempted leaps.

You'd think that'd make it easy to shoot, but there were a few tricky things. Leaving it up to the AF meant you missed most opportunities while the lens focused, so I found it easier to set the focus manually in advance. Also, the river's in a gully so the light wasn't brilliant. I wanted to shoot as fast as possible, but I didn't want my lens wide open because I needed a deeper DoF. Bit of a balancing act getting shutter speed, f-stop and ISO set up ideally.

It was a treat, nevertheless. When I got there, I'd set up the camera with my 70-200 f/4, assuming that I'd need the telephoto zoom if I wanted to capture the fish in any detail. However, because the spout is in the middle of nowhere it's not really an over-tourist-ified (sic) area, so there's no problem getting really close. In fact, for one or two shots from the top of the waterfall my feet were getting wet because I was almost in the river. If I'd stuck my hands out I reckon I could have caught a fish without a rod...

As a postscript, I'd go back there even if I didn't have a camera. Some of the salmon were huge ~ 2-3 feet long ~ and their jumps were even bigger. I'd guesstimate the best leaps were about ten feet long, and a good four feet out the water. Amazing natural spectacle.

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