Wednesday, 20 August 2014

  As I sit here near the last week of August, I'm thinking 'blimey what's happened to Spring ? Then, when I look back over the last couple of months, the reason it seems to have flown by is that things have been pretty busy. As well as the usual jobs around the house and garden etc, I've had a few days guiding for Brydon's Shetland Nature tour company. These are usually just around Unst, but this year there were also several trips to Fetlar.

  For one of the Fetlar trips, I decided to take the 7.05 ferry from Unst  and then the 7.25am ferry from Gutcher. This would give me almost 3 hours on Fetlar before I was due to meet the clients as they drove off the next ferry to arrive at the island at 10.50am. It was a beautiful flat calm sunny morning as the ferry went down Bluemull Sound. I was the only passenger, and as I chatted to one of the ferry crew at the stern of the boat, he pointed down at the wake at the starboard side of the boat. Looking down, I saw a Porpoise riding the wake of the boat. I don't normally expect anything to be this close to the boat, so I had the 500 attached to the camera - far too much magnification. Dashing to my car, I quickly changed the lens to the 70-200 and returned to the stern of the ferry. Thankfully it was still there and continued riding the waves for what seemed like ages but was probably only 5 minutes or so.....


  As well as my visits to Hermaness to see and photograph the Gannets, I also spent time exploring the coastline looking for different viewpoints and possible locations for getting views of Guillemots etc. I did find a few places I'd not been to before and so over the next week or so, I visited at different times of the day - although some of the pictures could have been taken anywhere around the cliffs of Hermaness .........

  It was on one of these visits, that I was right at the north end of the reserve taking pictures over-looking Flugga. As I climbed back up out of a gully, two people (who turned out to be French) came hurrying over looking 'relieved'. Firstly, they asked me if I was the warden and on replying 'no', they then went on to tell me that they had seen and Gannet caught up in a fishing net and could I possibly help. Following them a short way to the cliff top, I asked where was it and they then pointed to a bird some 200yds away - out in the sound between Flugga and where we were standing ! I then asked what they were expecting me to do - 'can you get a boat?' came the reply. I then had to explain that dozens of Gannets probably die like this here every year and that with the number of Bonxies around, it wouldn't last long. Also it would take at least half and hour to get a boat and, in the unlikely event that someone was willing to come, by the time they had arrived, the bird would have been taken out a long way on the strong current that was going through at the time. They weren't convinced and continued to want something done about it for at least ten minutes - by this time the bird was almost opposite the entrance to Burrafirth. I left them looking a lot sadder than when we first met.

Flugga 10.15pm 5th August 2014

 From the last week of July, until the 3rd week of August, I was 'home alone' so to speak for most of the time - unless you include 4 chickens and 2 cats. Catriona and the girls had headed south (youth camp, theatres in London, Commonwealth Games, Scottish Youth Theatre in Glasgow to mention just a few !). While I was still getting stuff done around home, I also made the most of the hours by getting up and going out early and also by staying out late. We did have some cracking weather, with lots of still, calm days - and sunshine ! I did a few sunsets with the gannets (more of that in another post) but also continued looking at different locations. One of these was below and to the north of Saxa Vord hill to have a slightly different view of Flugga. The usual view of Flugga from Saxa Vord is cut off by the cliffs at the end of Hermaness, However, venturing just a little further, I got this view...
Flugga from near Ruska Kame
Out Stack
High level Noctilucent Clouds over Baltasound

  Black Gullimots - or Tysties as they are know as here - are a common sight all year round, but here on Unst can sometimes be difficult to photograph on the cliffs. One well known place to do this, is over on Yell and for several years, I've been meaning to go to the site. Five weeks ago I was going down to Mainland, so decided to have a couple of hours photographing them. Below are three of my favourites from the session......


  A few months ago, on our trip to Denmark, I had the misfortune to lose my wallet. As I have said in a previous blog post, a kind person handed it in and eventually I got it back. Recently the role was reversed and on two occasions I found some lost property. The first occasion was on Lamba Ness when two visitors drove off leaving a small rucksack behind. I saw it after they'd driven a mile up the road, but decided to take chase anyway. I finally caught them up near Saxavord Resort and pulled along side holding the bag up. One of the guys said 'yes, its mine, its got my phone and wallet in it' - and that was it ! I wasn't expecting anything more than maybe a quite appreciative 'thank you', it wasn't even that, some folk eh? 

  The second occasion was when I was on Hermaness one morning. I sat down on the cliff top, looked down and saw three plastic cards lying in the wet grass. Fortunately one was a driving license with a name on it, one of the other two was a credit card. Later back at home and wondering what to do, I thought about putting the name in to a Facebook search. Thankfully a name came up and also matched the nationality, so I sent him a message. By the end of the day there was no reply, so I looked to see if his travelling companion was a FB 'friend' - Brydon had seen a couple up there that day. I saw that the 'companion' was actually his wife - and there were pictures on FB of Hermaness from the day before - so I sent another message, but again no reply. It was here that luck played a part again, Brydon saw them leaving the ferry at Toft, went over and asked them if they'd lost come credit cards. Needless to say, I think they were surprised that a complete stranger should know this. Now at least we had a contact number.

  Initially, I was going to post them back to them in Norway as they were going to be leaving Shetland on the Saturday lunchtime. However, I did need some timber from Lerwick, so I decided to go down and deliver the cards in person. It did feel (and probably looked) a bit dodgy, several strangers meeting in a supermarket car park and handing over a brown envelope ! I certainly wasn't expecting anything for my 'troubles', so thank you to Oddgeir and Ranveig for your 'gratitude' - and Face Book !

  On any day during the summer months going up to Hermaness, its impossible to go there without passing the Bonxies - Great Skua - as you walk up the board walk. These birds have a fearsome reputation for protecting their offspring - stray too near and you can easily feel the full force of one as it dive bombs you from out of the sun  - if its shinning of course :)  Only recently, I was sitting on the boardwalk photographing a Sundew plant when a mother with her son stopped to ask whether or not it was safe to walk on up to the cliff top because there was a Bonxie sitting on the pathway. Unforunately, for whatever reason, Bonxies don't appear to have had a successful breeding season this year - although some folk will be pleased......

  One species that has been successful on Unst this year was House Martin. I believe that there have been only 3 or 4 breeding pairs in Shetland in the last ten years. The Unst birds raised at least 3 youngsters.....
House Martins
  Last night (20th Aug) was the first aurora of the season to be seen over Shetland now that the nights are drawing in. I had a look out a 11pm and saw a glow through the clouds and that was that. A sure sign the seasons are changing.  Hopefully we'll see a few like these again this winter.........


Thursday, 17 July 2014

Gannets Galore - Part 1

  As I said in my latest post, I've had more than a few visits already to Hermaness this year - and hopefully a few more before the season ends in mid October. I had hoped to try and follow the birds through their season this year, but already there are photographic gaps in their breeding progress. That said, the bits I've missed this year, I already have pictures of from the last one - but there is always the 'need' to improve on the results.

  The 1st visit this year was on 19th Feb and already there were lots of birds on the cliffs; that said, I took a visit a week later and some areas were devoid of birds........

The Neap 19th Feb 2014

   Returning again around a week later, there was a lot more activity and this was to only increase as the weeks went by.....

 Looking north towards Clingra Stack (centre top)

 Gannets over 'The Greing'

 Part of Humla Stack

The top of Clingra Stack

    End of March........

  Due to the Easter hols', I didn't get back to the cliffs until the end of the 3rd week of April........

 .... and by now breeding was well underway.

  Once I knew that the birds were sitting on eggs, I kept well away from the nesting birds as any disturbance by me, could lead to panic in the colony and eggs getting broken or stolen by the ever present gulls. I thought this was a good opportunity to look for different viewpoints and locations for different times of the day and lighting conditions. Going up there on June 24th, I was really surprised how advanced some of the gugas (young gannets) were........

Saito June 24th 2014
A sad 'sign of the times' ?

  Below are few of my favourites from May/June and early July this year......

Gannet and a 'Simmer Dim' sunset on June 21st


Wednesday, 2 July 2014

  I was going to title this post as the 'Beginning of the end' as my posts have been getting further apart and was finding it difficult to sit down for an hour or so in front of the pc, so I'd thought about packing it in. However, doing this one has 're-kindled the fire' so to speak, in that it's great to share a few pictures of this fantastic group of islands - even if they are only glanced at for a few seconds by somebody.

  On the 15th May I was taking a look at Skaw and as the ewes were either lambing or waiting to lamb, I kept away and walked down the burn. Half way down the burn toward the beach I noticed a sandpiper by the waters edge but with its back to me; assuming it was a Common', I carried on towards it. The bird took off and as it did I saw it was heavily spotted on its flanks - surely its got to be a Spotted Sandpiper? I relocated it along the far end of the beach out on some rocks. I didn't even get the bins' on it before it took off again and headed across the bay and towards some rocks several hundred yards along the coast to the south. Going back to get the camera, I took a big semi circular detour to hopefully get the other side of it, so if it flew it would fly back towards the burn. There was no sign of the bird along the coast, but on returning to the burn, I found it feeding. Taking a few pictures, I headed off to get a phone signal in order to 'put it out'; on returning, it appeared that the bird had been disturbed by three visitors walking down to the beach, but was fortunately re-found by Mike later.

Spotted Sandpiper at Skaw Unst

 One evening a few days later, I got another call to say that there was a Red-rumped Swallow over at Burrafirth; I arrived there around 6pm, Mike arrived not long after. After a short search, Mike found it feeding with swallows along the bank below Sotland. It was a nice bird and in good light too......

Red-rumped Swallow

  On the 23rd May my spell of nice finds continued at Haroldswick Pool. I'd just pulled up in the car by the bushes and thought I heard a Yellow Wagtail call. I couldn't see anything, then suddenly a bright yellow wagtail landed right in front of me on the edge of the pool. It took a short while to convince myself that the bird I had in front of me, was in fact, a male (1st summer) Citrine Wagtail - what a cracker. The bird stayed for a couple of days and was seen by a few birders............

1st summer male Citrine Wagtail

  A week later, I was up at Skaw with Ian (my father in law, who was visiting) when Ken Shaw - a visiting birder - came over and was looking rather pleased with himself. It turned out he'd just found a Rustic Bunting, but the bird had flown off. There had been one there two weeks previously, so this one could have been that one or even a different bird all together. After a short search, I re-found the bird up the burn and managed a few shots of it on the fence before it flew off - any closer and the lens wouldn't have found focus !...

Rustic Bunting

 Highlights of other birds included Icterine and Marsh Warblers, Red-backed Shrikes, Mandarin Duck(s -2), Coot (not common) , Quail and Great-crested Grebe, to name just few birds. On the 16th June a Lesser Grey Shrike was found up at the airport by Rory(Tallack) and Paul (Harvey) which was still around until 2nd July at least. When I got the call,  I was heading up the path from the Hermaness car park to spend the morning at the Gannets with our friend Molly, who is staying with us again for her 2nd visit. During her stay she is also working with Brydon and also getting photographs of sea birds etc for her college coursework. More on Molly's visit here -  'simmerdimdiaries'

 The shrike has proved very difficult to get any half decent pictures of as its extremely flighty. If its anywhere near the road when a car drives along, it flies off in to the middle of several large fields which makes getting close impossible........

Lesser-Grey Shrike (in heat haze!)

  The most recent uncommon migrant has been a Pectoral Sandpiper at Haroldswick Pool. There had been concern recently as the Highways Dept had enlarged the drain-off ditch to lower the water level slightly and how this would affect the wildlife that use the pool. There was a worry that water seeping under the road and down the beach could have a detrimental effect on the road so it decided to lower the water level. Several had suggested that the lower level may actually be of a benifit to both resident and migrant waders alike due to more mud being exposed. Maybe the Pec' Sand' is a sign of things to come ?........

Pectoral Sandpiper

A few other pics from during the last month........
 Arctic Turn hawking for Crane Flies

 Arctic Turn food pass



 Mandarin Duck


 Pale phase Arctic Skua

Sun set behind Muckle Flugga and Out Stack

 Quite a lot of my 'photographic time' over the last month or so has been taken up with the Gannets etc at Hermaness. I'll do a specific post shortly just on my visits up to Hermaness.