Sunday, 26 April 2015

Its been a while :)

  As the saying goes something like this 'time and tide stands by for no man', it certainly hasn't over the last few months. It's certainly been a winter of weather - although not much in the way of cold, clear days - we've had a lot of rain and also quite a lot of wind and gales. As its been quite a long time since the last post, its been quite difficult to remember everything that's happened since the ends of last year - but I'll try. One of the things that hasn't made it easy, is the way I now edit and save my pictures. I used to do most of the converting, editing and saving using one program and these were saved on the pc's hard disc; this just ate up the space and slowed the computer down a lot. I would then, every so often, back the files up to an external hard drive. Now, I use two programs and back up the files straight away to the external drives which I find quite tedious at times.

  Anyway, enough of that, what about the last few months ?

 Over the Christmas period, we had several couples staying in the cottage - here - the first were a Chinese couple and these were  followed by Jason and Marie who stayed for several nights which included New Years Eve. The only downside to their stay, was that on the evening before they left, the shower in the cottage decided to leak through the ceiling in to the living room below ! We'd decided to replace the shower anyway as it was looking pretty 'tired' and were waiting for an opportunity to do it, now I had to !

  So, very soon after they had left, I started to take out the old shower. Within no time at all, I could see why it had leaked - dodgy DIY again ! The shower try had only about 2 mm of silicone sealing against the plasterboard so this, combined with the fact the whole floor 'bounced' was the reason the water leaked out. I also discovered that both the shower tray and the floor were around 5/8th inch out of level - in two feet !!!!!  Anyway, apart from the fact it took almost 3 weeks to get the replacement sent to Shetland (well were are a LONG way from mainland UK aren't we ?) we now have a nice new shower which hopefully, won't leak.

  Early in January, we one or two nice evenings with an almost full moon. I headed out one evening and took a few pictures and below are two.....
 Skaw by moonlight in B&W

The Houb, Baltasound by moonlight

   This seal below, was hauled out at Uyeasound around same time and even though it was early January, the sun had a very, very small amount of heat in it.........

Common Seal, Uyeasound
   At the end of the 1st week of Jan', we had another period of strong winds/gales. If they are westerly, I love spending some time at Westing as often it will bring in lots of feeding gulls and hopefully a less common one - on this occasion it was an immature Glaucous Gull and a week or so later an adult Iceland Gull

Glaucous Gull, Westing
Adult Iceland Gull, Westing
  With the sea throwing up lots of seaweed on to the beach, it was a good place for Turnstones, Starlings and Purple Sandpipers to forage.......
Turnstones
Purple Sandpiper

I also find it good for seeing feeding otters in this kind of weather - and from the comfort of my car :) ...


  It was also around this time we had another short power cut - something that happens from time to time and is 'just one of those things'. It didn't stop Sula from doing her homework though.......


  The drake Smew (assuming it was the same one) had returned to Loch of Snarravoe again and I wanted to try and improve on the pictures I'd taken last winter. It wasn't going to be easy as this bird - unlike some Smews - was a very nervous and flighty bird; so, just waking down to the loch side and waiting wasn't going to be an option.So with by watching its behaviour and a bit of careful 'field-craft', it was possible to get down to the loch side and lie in wait. It didn't always work though, sometimes the bird was too far out and other times it would spend the time down at the far end of the loch. Fortunately there were other birds that would pass from time to time.......


 Goldeneye

Drake Teal



Drake Smew

  Another nice bird - and one that I found - was a Black-bellied Dipper at Skaw (the Continental race of our Dipper). On the first day, it was just below the bridge at Skaw and fortunately it sat long enough for me to go back tot he car and get the camera. The second day was a bit more of a waiting game however. Relocating it some way up the burn, it took off and flew over my head and went down stream a short way. I knew where it had landed but I thought if I approached it from below, it would see me at the same time as I saw it and would possibly take flight. I decided to sit and wait as I thought it would probably fly up from the stream and hopefully land on some nearby rocks opposite. After 20 mins or so, it suddenly flew up and landed around 20ft away - and started singing. I kept very still - the bird could obviously see me, but didn't seem bothered. After a few more minutes, it flew and landed on a fence post even closer - which was just about on the minimum focusing distance for the camera (around 14ft)......



The last two are full-framed, un-cropped images

  Another nice bird that was around Skaw for a week or so during the winter was a female Black Redstart, although it was never easy to get any close pictures of......

Fm Black Redstart at Skaw

  Also in December, Jan and February there was an unseasonal Puffin out in the bay. Whether or not it was the same bird I'll never know, but it was still nice change from the ever present Shags....

 
Puffin at Skaw

 February and in to early March is the tradition time for the Up Helly Ah Viking festival throughout the isles. This year Uyeasound was on the 13th February and Norwick was a week later on the 21st. Below are few images from both events.......

 



Uyeasound



Norwick
My first visit to Hermaness of 2015 was on the 22nd February - which coincided with a fall of snow, and gave a covering to the north west corner of Hermaness.....

Gannets and snow

Despite there being a number of good auroras over the second half of the winter, frustratingly we didn't get to see many of them on Unst due to cloud cover and this one was the only one I photographed in Jan/Feb........

'Star trail' from Ordaal Jan 2015

  During March was quite busy at home but still getting an hour or so out from time to time. Some of the resident birds were showing signs of breeding and on days with out the wind, it actually felt warm ! .......




..... and the first of a few migrants......

 Chiffchaff
 Wheatear
Goldcrest

  I had another couple of trips to Hermaness during the first week of April and things were well under way for the breeding season and I must admit it was good to back there.........


  The last image is in itself a sad sight, but an all too often one. During the breeding season , I see numerous birds bringing all sorts of rubbish to their nests; bits of fishing net, ropes, banding from packing cases and bits of plastic etc. The image below is another one of those occasions which was taken last year at Saito on Hermaness. I'd seen it fly around several times and as I photographed it,  I did think at the time, that it conveyed a message. So much so, I decided to enter it in the 'Scottish Nature Photography Awards' competition - here - and was very surprised (and very pleased) to get a 2nd place in the Environmental category. Overall, Shetland did very well with the winning entry being taken on Fair Isle and both Richard Shucksmith and Rebecca Nason also getting placed in their categories.........

'Dunna Chuck Bruck'




    Robbie

Monday, 29 December 2014

Last post of 2014

  Here we are, Christmas is almost over and so is 2014, but what a year it has been !

  I have been so, so, lucky to have yet another fantastic year here on Unst. From seeing some wonderful auroras (including one from Hermaness) to spending many, many privileged hours watching the lives of Gannets from only a few feet away. From seeing one of the first eggs, to birds ready to leave the relative safety of their nest it was so easy to get 'lost' in their world. On a number of occasions, I would turn away from the birds and 'wake up' to the reality where I was, feeling I'd been in a different place'. Two posts about the gannets here and here .

 Feb 27th from Ordaal
March 26th over Flugga

  On the bird front, I was quite lucky to have found 3 BBs ( 'British Birds' rarities), two at Haroldswick and one at Skaw (Yellow-rumped Warbler, Citrine Wagtail and Spotted Sandpiper at Skaw) - links here and here .

Yellow-rumped Warbler Haroldwick May 8th 2014

Citrine Wagtail at Haroldswick May 23rd 2014

Spotted Sandpiper Skaw 15th May 2014

 Back in March, there was a stranding of two Sperm Whales down at Muness; in all, it was over three weeks from when they were discovered to when they were finally buried......

Sperm Whale at Muness in March
  ....... more pics etc here

  During the Easter break, we had two very enjoyable weeks in North Zealand, Denmark and for most of it had good weather. One of the highlights for me was seeing good numbers of Tree Sparrows from the window of the farm where we were staying, sadly not a very common sight in the UK now....

Tree Sparrow, Denmark

  Returning home, it wasn't long before I was back up to the Gannets.....
 
  and also by now the Puffins had returned.......


  One very nice bonus was a pair of Slavoinian Grebes (that were in breeding plumage),that spent more than a week in the bay at Haroldswick. Unfortunately for most of the time, they were too far out to photograph, but on one day they were very close to the shore and allowed me to photograph them from the car........


 
  For most of my 'spare' time in June and July I spent down with the Gannets as I mentioned earlier, but I also did squeeze in some birding as well.....
 
 
 Rustic Bunting
 Lesser Grey Shrike
 Pectoral Sandpiper
Oystercatcher

..... although I have to say, I didn't 'find' the first three birds. Also in June and July, I was guiding for my friend Brydons'  tour company 'Shetland Nature'. After the 'first night' nerves so to speak (even though I'd done them before), it turned out to be very enjoyable taking people around Unst (and Fetlar) on day trips - and meeting some nice folk as well. On the way to Fetlar for one trip, I had was very lucky to get Porpoise riding the wake, which is apparently not that common.....

Porpoise
 
 August again was partly taken up with visits to Hermaness - at both ends of the day - and by now things starting to quieten down with the Puffins and auks.The Puffins seemed to be doing well, bringing in lots of sandeels and other quite large fish at times......
 



  Weather-wise, we had a very good summer - not too hot (thankfully) but we did have many, many days without rain and lots of very calm days also.

 'Out Stack'

High level Noctilucent  Clouds over Baltasound

Bonxie sunset

  At the end of August, the nights were getting darker and I saw my first aurora of the 'autumn' on the 28th. A few days later, when the moon was around 'half', there was another. This time I went down to the standing stone at Lund, but sadly by the time I'd got there, it had died down somewhat......

 28th August over Baltasound

Standing stone at Lund 5th Sept.

  September and October was quite good for migrants this year, although not as good as other years - Mainland certainly was much better this year. For some of the highlights the link is here .....

 'Northern' Treecreeper in Haligarth

 Rough'legged Buzzard at Westing

Greenshank at Haroldswick

  November, weather-wise, was a cracking month. Very mild, not too much wind and rain and often it  was just a fleece jumper sort of day. Birdwise, the highlight has to be the Pied Wheatear that Brydon found at Haroldswick; which, after some initial difficulties, was very easy to see and remained for at least a week. It was on one of these days, that I found a lovely Grey Phalarope just a few yards from the shore at Haroldswick which proved to be quite a confiding wader. I love Grey Phals', they are very hardy, spending much of the winter on the open ocean and usually (although still uncommon in Shetland) occur after bad weather.......


 Grey Phalarope

Pied Wheatear

  In December, it was all change. We had a number of gales - storm force at times - rain and even a little bit of snow. Over the Christmas period, the weather settled down to be quite cold, clear and still. On four out of five nights we had mild auroras giving an eerie green glow to the north - sadly no 'curtains' but great to see anyway..........

Westing
Muckle Flugga

Muckle Flugga light-house






     Robbie