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


Thursday, 24 December 2015

  I just looked at the date of my last post and it was 26th April ...... I don't believe it!!!!!! So, rather than spend a week writing up this next blog, I'll put up picture highlights from the last few months with a few paragraphs thrown in for good measure.


  The last few days of April produced one or two nice birds, the first being a drake Garganey on Haroldswick Pools and then closely followed by a cracking male Snow Bunting along the shore road by Buness House.........

  On the 29th, I took a drive down the Lamba Ness road with the thought of maybe a Wheatear or two and as I crossed the little causeway towards the end, I also had a thought (or more like wishful thinking) of a Shorelark. Well yes, you've guessed it, only a hundred yards further on and I found one on the grass feeding with Skylarks - what a cracker !.......

Shorelark at Lamba Ness


  The Spring migration this year seemed very late compared to some of the other years and also the numbers and variety of species seemed less. Several  'highlights' were a Hoopoe on the road back from Skaw one morning, a summer plumage Spotted Redshank on the airport  pool, and later in the month, I got to see the very obliging Corncrake on South Mainland.........

  At the end of the month, two of the small races of Canada Goose turned up on Unst, firstly a possible 'parvipes' at Haroldswick, followed by a possible 'interior' at Ordaal in Baltasound......

 'Parvipes' ?

'Interior' ?

  At the end of the month, I had a trip to Hermaness and while its principally Gannets that I go there for, I'm happy to photograph anything. On this occasion it was a displaying Bonxie on the way up, a Shetland Wren gathering nest material and a Herring Gull stealing discarded fish from around the Gannetry...........


  During the first 10 days of the month, there were a few good birds turning up and in particular, there were a few cracking male Red-backed Shrikes around with at least 7 in the northern half of the island........

Red-backed Shrike at Northdale
  and this Turtle Dove stayed around Baltasound for several days...........

  On the 7th, I was driving along the north shore road of Baltasound when I had a big surprise in finding a cracking 'Queen' Eider almost on the beach by Buness House. Not only was I able to get some quite nice pictures, I got it on the 'garden list' too :)   ..........

'Queen Eider'

A 'Queen' with a female Common Eider for comparison

  On the 10th, I got a message from Brydon about a sighting, which for me, is well up there for being one of the 'birds of the year'...... it was a Bee-eater in Haligarth. However, the bird proved to be a bit elusive - and very flighty and so I only got a brief view. It wasn't until the following morning when I was in Haligarth again , that I thought I heard the call. I decided to approach the bird from inside the wood using the trees as cover. This time I was very lucky and got pretty close and had a cracking view of the bird.......

Bee-eater in Haligarth


  July was a very busy month and not just with work around the home. With both of the girls away in Italy with the Unst youth club, Catriona and I had a lovely few days in North Mainland.......

The coast at Breiwick

Fethaland, North Mainland

  Also during the month there was the annual Unst Fest - which was recently voted the best community project (in the whole of Scotland) in the annual Herald Awards. At home I continued working on the living room and on the outside we re-slated the porch roof and also replaced some lead flashing at the back of the house.

  As far as the wildlife goes, I had a couple of visits to Hermaness in the daytime and also several before sunset - it's a magical place any time of the day or night :)

Out Stack

  Right at the end of the month, I had one of four day trips to Fetlar leading for my friend Brydon's Shetland Nature tour company. When I'm due to meet the guests on the island, I will usually go over on the early ferry to suss things out and get a feel for what's about. On this occasion, I spent an hour parked up at the Loch of Funzie, to see if there were any Phalaropes around the loch feeding. At that time there were no Phals' but I had an almost continuous display of drumming snipe overhead. (The drumming sound is created two tail feathers vibrating as the bird dives through the air) They are certainly not an easy bird to get in flight - especially so when displaying and I'm using a 500mm lens - so I was very pleased to get a number of sharp images, the one below is my favourite. I also had one of the regular Redthroated Divers which are seen on the loch, take off and fly straight over my head - and was too close ! .....


  One of my favourite sights and memories (of many) from each summer, are the calm, still evenings when the tirricks hunt over the grass fileds by our house at sunset (and long after) for insects. They must have amazing eyesight as its frequently almost dark before they depart.......

  ... and this was a lovely evening looking north along Valla Field with Collaster below..........

 One August event I look forward to on Unst, is the regular occurrence of Minke Whales off of Lamba Ness as they feed in the tidal race around the headland. I saw several this year but the conditions weren't ideal as often there was a sea swell which makes then a little more difficult to pick up......

Minke Whale

  Despite there being a few of the commoner waders starting to pass through Unst (godwits, knot, etc etc) I would be in big trouble if I didn't mention one of the big events to take place on the island during the month and that was the first Shetland Reel Music Festival which took place over the weekend of 14th - 16th of August. 

  It was even more 'special' because both of the girls were taking part, either solo or with the Baltasound School group. There were a lot of acts from far and wide including Livingston Taylor, Jim Salestrom (who used to play in both John Denver and Dolly Parton's bands) and Daniel Duke and Lisa Ward - who were both on 'The Voice', plus many more. 

  Sula and Rona - a long with the the other Baltasound kids performed on the Main Stage on the Saturday lunchtime, quickly followed by Sula doing a half hour set in the 'Crew room'. On the Sunday afternoon, Sula then did another half an hour solo on the Main Stage. It was rounded off by her doing a duet with Daniel Duke on the Main Stage in the early evening.

  The whole event generally went well - despite the live internet feed dropping from time to time on Friday evening and as parents of two of the performers we were justifiably proud :)      ............

 Sula with Jim Salestrom

 Tom, Sula and Rona

 Baltasound School

Sula in the 'Crew Room'

Main Stage
Sula singing with Daniel Duke

  It was quite a surprise for me to see late on the 16th August, my first aurora of the autumn. I drove down to the end of the track at Saxavord for a view over towards Flugga and Out Stack. Unfortunately there was quite a strong wind blowing and even with the tripod and camera at ground level, it still cause camera shake :(   .......

Muckle Flugga and Out Stack from Saxavord

  and at the end of the month, it even showed through the light of a bright moon at home...

  The last week of the month saw a few nice migrants start arriving around the island; one nice find for me, was a Greenish Warbler at Norwick followed by an Icterine Warbler at Haroldswick. This was then followed by a Melodious Warbler at Norwick found by Brydon and I......

Greenish Warbler

Icterine Warbler

Melodious Warbler

Lesser Whitethroat


  Generally, September was pretty good with a few nice birds around, both common and less common............

Western Bonelli's Warbler at Burrafirth

Longbilled Dowitcher on Yell

Redbacked Shrike at Burrafirth

Otter family at Haroldswick

Rainbow over the Ordale Road

Bonxies causing a Gannet to disgorge its catch

...... and a 'Penguin' at Hermaness !

  It's now Christmas Eve, so I'll do the last couple of months over the 'festive' period and will post before the end of the month....... so have a good one, what ever you're doing.
 Best Wishes from 'The Island Above All Others'