Tuesday, 22 March 2016

    Here we are in the last week of March and with a feeling that Spring could be just a few weeks away - although as has happened in the past, there is still time for more storms, gales or even snow !

  2016 started with a fine night and a brief aurora during New Years Eve and into the early hours of New Years Day - a nice way to start the year :)

Auroral glow with a celebratory firework 

  It was not going to last however, as a couple of days later, it was back to strong winds and big seas from the general direction of the east......

From Norwick looking towards Lamba Ness

  Over the next few days, I had several visits down to Easting beach in the south east corner of the island. On the 1st Jan, Brydon found a drake Surf Scoter, (almost certainly the same bird from last year - first found by Mike Pennington at Skaw). The bird spent an awful lot of time a long way out feeding, occasionally coming back in slightly closer, but still too far to photograph. It would often swim almost the entire width of the bay and then go all the way back again. Or it would take off, fly around, look as if it was coming close to the shore and then go back out often over a mile away. (It wasn't because I was visible, as I was well concealed). Finally, after 4 visits of putting up with wind, rain and snow showers and a total of over 6hrs sitting and waiting, it did come in closer - briefly.......

 Easting beach looking north

Drake Surf Scoter

Pair of Red-breasted Mergansers

  On the 16th, we had a light fall of snow; so, when there's a likelihood of more showers during the daytime, I head for Hermaness. On this occasion, the snow showers didn't increase, but it was nice while it lasted.

  A few days later, we had a little bit more snow, combined with several clear(ish) nights and a bit of an aurora. Despite the very bright moon, the glow showed through which enabled me to get out a get a few pictures......

3 shots from Burrafirth

  ... four more pictures from around Unst at the end of January.........

 Uyeasound looking east

 Uyeasound looking south west




  The month started off nicely with a some quality time watching our 'local' family of a mum and two otter cubs which I've been seeing regularly since late August. On this occasion, while mum was offshore fishing, one of the cubs had what looked like a lumpsucker fish - and wasn't going to share it with its brother or sister !.....


  In the middle of the month, we had a few days of intermittent snowfall so it was back up to Hermaness at the first opportunity to try and get some Gannets in the snow. There can  be a couple of problems when trying to do this and they are, 1) if the wind is too strong from a particular direction then it can cause a problem with getting the front element wet which ruins the images or 2) if the snow is too heavy, then it will make the images look 'soft' or un-sharp - a bit like a soft focus effect...... a few from north Unst during the cold snap...........

 Looking south from Valla Field

 Looking south from Hermaness

Viking Longhouse and the 'Skidbladner' at Haroldswick 

Looking southeast towards Hagdale and the Keen of Hamar

  When I was on Hermaness on the 25th Feb, I was walking back around from Saito at the south end of Hermaness, when I glanced down to the cliffs of the Neap and saw something I've been wanting to see for a long, long time - a Brocken Spectre - for a full description you'll have to read this here :)

... a Brocken Spectre - with me in the middle :)

  A few other images from around Unst......

 The cliffs of Clibberswick with a strong updraft.

 The perils of liking seaweed

 Grey Heron down at the shore

 Glaucous Gull at Westing

 Common Seal on our stone jetty


 Hooded Crow

  One very pleasant surprise for me during February, was to hear that an image of a drumming Snipe I took on Fetlar last summer, was commended in the 'Birdguides photo of the year competition' ....


   Finally,  I'll finish off with a few pictures from this years Uyeasound Up Helly Ah.....

The 2016 Uyeasound Guizer Jarl, Christopher Ritch and his daughter Merran


Sunday, 3 January 2016

October 2015

  October started with a 'lifer' for me in the form of a Swainson's Thrush near the Final Checkout found by a visiting birder. I was at home at the time when I got a call from Sula - who was working in the Final Checkout at the time - asking me if Id seen a Swainson's Thrush. When I asked what did she know about one, she said she'd Googled it because there was one behind the garage there ! When I got there, there were around a dozen other birders (the number soon grew) and the bird was quite visible although not particularly close. As more folk arrived, the bird moved a short distance and became much more elusive......

Swainson's Thrush (quite a large crop)

  While we were there, a skein of over 80 Pinkfooted Geese flew over high heading south, a good visible sign that the Autumn migration was well under way.......

Part of the skein of Pinkfeet'

A couple of days later, I got my first 'white-winged' gull of the Autumn in the form of an immature Glaucous Gull briefly at Norwick........

Glaucous Gull

  Even though I see Merlin on a fairly regular basis, it's not very often that I get one so obliging sitting next to to the car, so this one was a real bonus.......

  A few days later, it was time to head off south for the annual 'October Break' trip south. Catriona was away working for a month in the Solomon Islands, so I had the pleasure of taking the kids to Scotland, England and Wales !   The weather for the ferry crossing was, it has to be said, looking grim - wind and a big swell. However, thankfully, the swell was coming from the east so instead of the boat rising and falling through the swell, it rolled from side to side which was slightly less nauseating. The affect of this was I spent the first half of the journey sliding up and down the bunk - a very strange feeling in total darkness.

  Our first stop was in Glasgow. This was so the girls could go to a 'concert' featuring two guys from Radio 1 - Radio 1, whats' that ?  They also do a load of stuff on Youtube and, so it seems, they have quite a following. So basically, I had no intention of sitting through an hour and a half of screaming kids and two slightly less mature versions of Any and Dec, so I decided to sit and have a beer or two in the lounge area - or so I thought. Just after I'd bought my first pint, they started to close the bar - at 7.30 in the evening ! I quickly asked for another but the bar manager said the till was closed, so unless I'd got the right money I was out of luck. Well I didn't have the right amount, so I told him to keep the change - about 50p.

  The following day, it was most of the day on the train heading down south to the Cotswolds which would be our base for the next week - and for a change, the journey ran like clockwork; no delays, trains on time and book bookings etc all in place.

Over the next 10 days, we shopped, visited folk, shopped, went to West Wales, shopped, I went to the New Forest for a day, shopped, got the train back to Aberdeen and, believe it or not we shopped - or rather the girls did !

  Apart from seeing family and friends, the highlight for me, was revisiting the Red Kite feeding site at Bwlch Nant yr Arian Forest Visitor Centre east of Aberystwyth. I've been there a couple of times before and like it for the backdrop of the lake and forest behind. There aren't as many kites coming in to feed compared to Gigrin, but its worth calling in if passing - feeding time is 3.30 in the summer months, 2-30 in the winter months......

  No, Rona hasn't been in an accident, she was being 'artistic' with the sunset over our old village of Longborough.

Bwlch Nant Arian 

 Red Kite at Bwlch Nant Arian

 Batsford Aboretum

 The girls at Batsford

About to leave Aberdeen

  A few days after we'd got back home, I was up at Norwick with Brydon and Alan (Conlon) when Alan found a cracking Firecrest at Vaylie. I saw the one at Clingera last year - but only just as I didn't get particularly good views, this one however, was very obliging and fed right out on to the ends of the small conifer branches.....

Firecrest at Vaylie


  On the 7th of the month, we had quiet a nice aurora so I headed off to Lamba Ness to get a few shots. Unfortunately it didn't stay clear or fine for long, but any aurora is a special sight.....

Looking north from Lamba Ness

  A few days later, I was lucky to find a nice male Black Redstart up by 'Saxavord Resort'. A couple of days after, I briefly saw another down by Haroldswick Pools which was probably the same bird.....

  During the month, we had a few days of strong winds and storms and during one, a dead Grey Seal was washed up high on the beach at Skaw. Shortly after, the wind direction changed to the west which meant the beach was now sheltered from the worst of the swell. With the hope (or maybe a dream) that maybe an Ivory Gull could get blown in and find it after the westerly gales, I set up my camera to do some time lapses. Sadly no rare gulls, but daily there were up to 15 Ravens feeding on it. The birds were very wary however and no matter how well I hid the camera - it was covered in seaweed (with a waterproof cover first) - the birds seemed to have their distance at which they'd accept the end of the lens showing through the seaweed - I even set up a dummy lens using a brown bottle for a few days ! .....Just one of a number the camera took in my absence....
Ravens at Skaw

During the month I had both Iceland and Glaucous Gulls at Westing and a few casual sightings of Otters around Unst including a mature cub which came ashore with a fish and then misplaced its mum and brother or sister.....

 Glaucous Gull

 Iceland Gull

Mature cub


Grey Seal at Skaw

  December was a month of 'weather' so to speak, a mixture of everything. From gales to still calm days, wet cloudy nights and even a light covering of snow and several auroras - winter in Shetland :)
  On the bird front, the highlight for Unst for the month was almost certainly the Glossy Ibis over near Burrafirth first see by Brydon. My first view of it was a fleeting glimpse of it as it took off from the roadside......
  The following morning, I headed off over to Burrafirth again and quickly found it again, back feeding in the same roadside flood pool. The bird was quite flighty, but after a couple of quick flights, it settled back to feed in one of the larger roadside pools. The bird appeared to be in good health and was feeding well - and preening, often a good sign. Approaching the pool in my car, I cut the engine and slowly rolled to a halt with the passenger window down and the camera ready. Unfortunately I'd misjudged how far the car would roll to get off the road, so I had to quietly open my door, put my leg out and push the car the last 10 feet ! The bird was totally at ease and so I was lucky to watch it at very close quarters for 3/4s of an hour until a walker came past and the bird flew off again.....

Glossy Ibis nr Burrafirth

A few images to finish off the month/year.....

 Sand of Inner Skaw



 The cliffs east of Norwick nr Saxa's Kettle

 Aurora over the road from Lund

 Looking north from home.


  And finally to finish off the year, a New Years Eve aurora.....

Happy New Year