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.


Sunday, 11 May 2014

Lost and Found

   Our Easter holiday this year was going to be a return trip to North Zealand, Denmark to the farm owned by Catriona's step-sister, Selma. It's been around ten years since I last visited and were going to stay there for almost two weeks from the end of March.
  The journey to Lerwick and the overnight ferry was fairly uneventful apart from a short period as we passed the south end of Shetland. An announcement was made that the outer 'smoking deck' would be closed due to an exercise by the coastguard helicopter, 'Oscar Charlie' who would be lowering a crew member down to take an ill or injured 'person' off from the moving ship. In fact the injured person was a stretcher, whiched back to the helicopter that was hovering very close to the rear port side of the ship.
  The following morning we took the train to Edinburgh and then bus to the airport for the late afternoon flight to Copenhagen. Not only did we change our watches/phones to BST, but also an extra hour when we arrived in Denmark.
  A short while before we landed, I had that horrible feeling when you feel like you've lost something - this time it was my wallet. Despite there not being much cash in there, there were numerous plastic cards for one thing or another but  also personal bits and pieces that were irreplaceable. As we left the plane, I asked the cabin crew if one had been handed in and apart from a short sharp 'no', they weren't very helpful. Not a good start to the holiday.
  Selma met us at the airport and by the time we'd reached the farm, it was quite late - time for bed ( and trying not to think about my lost wallet).

  The following day, the good news was, my wallet had been found. Fortunately it had been handed in to a member of the security staff and thankfully I'd left some of my cards with my contact details in it. She then phoned for me to confirm it was mine etc. I still had a bit of hassle  getting through to lost property, but thankfully it had arrived back at home by the time we had returned.

  The flat at where we were staying, has a lovely large picture window looking roughly north east over farmland and over the following two weeks I saw a number of birds including Hen Harrier, Osprey, Merlin, Buzzard, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and Green Sandpiper as well as lots of commoner species. One species of bird that the farm has in abundance is Tree Sparrow. I would think most days there were 20+ around and so I'm told there has been up to 70 in the past. In England, flocks of that number are sadly now a thing of the past in most places.

Tree Sparrow

  One other nice sight to see at the farm, was a number of Brown Hares (5) out on the recently ploughed fields. Again, hares used to be a much more common sight in Gloucestershire where I'm from but thankfuly numbers are increasing in some areas. Both of the pictures below, were taken from the flat window.....

 Brown Hare

  Most of the time we were in Denmark we were visiting various sites and tourist attractions. Including several visits in to Copenhagen, to Roskilde and its Viking museum, Legoland and Tivoli Gardens amongst others. Below are a few pictures from our trips out.....

 Roskilde Viking ship museum

'Sea Stallion'
  In 2007, the Sea Stallion sailed from Denmark to Dublin around the north coast of Scotland via Orkney. In 2008 it returned to Roskilde via the south coast of England. There is a huge amount of info about the ships and the museum here.

  Also at Roskilde, we visited the magnificent cathedral which was one of - if not the first - to be built using brick.

 One of the highlights for Rona was our trip to Legoland - I also found the Lego creations amazing; but wasn't too bothered by the theme-park side of it.

  The last afternoon/evening was spent at Tivoli Gardens in the centre of Copenhagen....

  Tivoli is a large park with amusements and rides, restaurants etc. I did like visiting even if it was to just try and comprehend why folk would want to endure some of the rides. In the ride pictured above for instance,  not only does the big arm rotate, but the plane on the end, also rotates  - at a fair rate of knots too - it made us feel ill just watching it.

  I did get a bit of time to myself however, one particularly enjoyable day was spent at a large lake on the edge of a forest at Alsonderop. Lots of birds - numerous migrating Ospreys, Marsh Harriers and even a small flock of Common Cranes passing over. There is also Sea Eagle breeding in the forest, but that part was obviously out of bounds, although I did hear one call several times.......

Osprey passing overhead

  Returning back home on the 12th April, it felt good to be back to the peace and quiet of Baltasound after the frenetic pace of city life. While I still had lots of jobs to continue with at home, I still made time to have a look out and about and even got a couple of walks up to Hermaness. One of which was taking a photographer up there for Brydon's Shetland Nature tour company. Julian is a French photographer who is especially interested in carnivores - he came to Shetland to photograph otters with Brydon - but also wanted to see the Gannets at Hermaness. I had done a 'recce' the day before and the birds were performing well in the updrafts etc. Unfortunately the day we went, the wind direction had changed which in turn changed the way they used the updrafts. Thankfully, as we returned back along the cliff top, there were a number using the change in the wind direction to their advantage and were gathering grass from one of the cliff top slopes.....


  In the last Gannet picture, I was playing around with slow shutter zoom (not quite perfected yet) and when I saw it, it conjured up a thought of what it might look or feel like if I took one step too many at the cliff edge !

.... and the Puffins had returned :)

  There have been a few nice birds around over the last few weeks, some quite common, one or two less so. One (or rather two) of the handsomest has got to be Slavonian Grebe in summer plumage. We usually see up to six on Baltasound during the winter and occasionally I've seen the odd one that's been starting to moult in to breeding plumage. Just over three weeks ago, two turned up in the bay at Haroldswick; they were pretty nervous however and would swim off out in to the bay if a car stopped and was too close. A week later I was driving around the shore road when I noticed them fairly close to the beach. Pulling the car onto the grass verge, I was really surpised when instead of swimming off, they stayed put just below me in the water. I then spent 3/4 of an hour watching and photographing them.....................

  Just across the road from where I took these pictures is Haroldswick Pool which is an area of shallowish water also with a marshy area and a strip of Rosa Rugosa bushes running back at a right angle to the road. Its a favourite place of mine to pull up for a while as the bushes often attract migrants and this year has been better than usual. Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps, Bramblings and Reed Buntings have been very common but also Wryneck, Hawfinch and Little Egret have put in an appearance over the last few weeks......

 Male Brambling


Female Blackcap

  It was precisely for this reason that I stopped off there last Tuesday (7th May) - to just check it out and see what was there. Within a few seconds of stopping, I noticed a small bird at the far end of the Rosa that 'shouted out' it was something different; I grabbed the camera and got a couple of shots before it dropped back in to the bushes. Looking at the back of the camera, I can honestly say, I thought it was an American passerine , but what ? For the next fifteen minute or so, I sat looking through my 'Collins' book and also at 'Sibley' on my Ipod trying to work it out, thankfully it showed again and I got some more pictures. I now thought I'd narrowed it down to it being a female of either a Cape May Warbler (the species Mike P had found last year) or a Yellow-rumped Warbler - surely the Cape May couldn't have over wintered? Finally the bird showed really well and I saw its bright yellow rump, its got to be a Yellow-rumped Warbler I thought. Firstly I phoned Brydon (and tried in vain to send him some pics from the back of the camera via my phone), then Chris (Roger) only answer phone and then a message and an email to Mike who was at school. 

  After what seemed like ages (probably 20 minutes or so) Chris turned up, totally oblivious to my message and what I thought I'd found; when I showed him the pictures he said  'that's definitely a Yellow-rumped' - brilliant ! Later on in the afternoon the bird went missing, so I headed off to have a look around Haroldswick. I couldn't find the warbler, but I did have a very brief view of  Subalpine Warbler, not long enough to ID the race, but it was re-found and confirmed by Brydon later to be a 'western'.

  Thankfully - for the birders that had come up from Mainland etc - the Yellow-rumped' returned to the Rosa later on in the evening. The bird was still present the following day and good views of it were had by most. Compared to the previous day, it was feeding in a totally different way, yesterday it was quite skulking, today it was 'flycatching' and sitting around on the tops of the bushes and even hopping around on the ground in the open. The bird was a 1st for Unst and a 3rd for Shetland - and I think, the 18th for Britain........

The 1st brief un-cropped view
The following day I had some much closer views as I sat in the car......