Friday, 5 March 2010

Goosanders and Gannets

Well after almost 2 weeks of wintry conditions, it rained last night and a bit of a thaw set in. Mind you, this morning you wouldn't have thought so, even though the temperature had risen to a balmy 4 or 5 degrees, with the wind chill it felt much cooler. The hillside on the way down to Uyeasound was now a patchwork of light and dark where some of the snow had melted and I think, looked more interesting, now it was no longer a blanket of white.

Easter Loch - which is the large freshwater loch in Uyeasound - now had a large ice free area and so the swans and ducks have started to return to feed. Some of the birds had left the island, some had gone on to the adjacent sea to feed and a couple of swans had stayed and found food around the edges and along the grassy roadside. Amongst the Whoopers, Tufted Duck and GoldenEye were a number of  Goosanders, -2 females and 4 males. Slightly larger and 'fatter' looking than their commoner cousins the Redbreasted Merganzers, Goosanders are scare winter visitors to Shetland.

Male Goosander

In the last post, I mentioned briefly about star trails and the aurora, well I did manage to to get both. Even though the view from our bungalow at night is spoilt by the lights of the village, I have now managed to see a green glow of the aurora on two occasions. The other evening I took a large number of time exposures - 30 seconds for each shot over an hour and a half or so - and have done two things with them. Firstly, I stacked them to produce one image which gives the swirl effect of star trails and then secondly using a piece of software called 'Startrails', I combined them all to create a short movie of around 8 seconds which shows the stars rotating around the Pole Star. It was in this second sequence which showed the brief display of the aurora. When I say I did it, what it really involved was a few clicks on the computer mouse and the software did the rest. They tend to look the best when there there is a silhouette in the foreground, unfortunately all I had the other evening was the roof of our neighbours bungalow, but will give you an idea of what it can look like.

Rotating around the Pole Star

A lower angle

It's in this second image that when played as an avi , the aurora shows up. It's early days yet so I'm hoping for some clear skies as it's forecast to be good for auroras during March. Thankfully, all I need to do, is to set the camera up, press the release and then go and watch the box for an hour or so !

With a bit of a thaw set in, I thought I'd take a look over at Lamba Ness in the north of the island as I'd not been there for 10 days due to the snow. The road up from this side and down the other had been blocked by snow and  had been virtually impassable. This was partly due to the fact in places its around a 1:4 gradient and doesn't get snow ploughed due to nobody living over there full time. Fortunately, a JCB had cleared the road yesterday which enabled me to get over there with no problems.  

Down at Lamba Ness, the wind was blowing from the north and was cold ! Lamba Ness is a headland that juts out from the north east corner of Unst where basically the North Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean. Being early March, I knew that there would be lots of Gannets passing the headland on their way around to the gannetry at Hermaness and how right I was. Scores of birds were flying north in to a strong northernly almost as if the wind was behind them, it never ceases to amaze me how well birds adapt to their environment. With the wind in that direction it causes the birds to fly over the headland and provide some great photo opportunities.But this in turn causes a few problems with trying to capture images due to the wind itself. Firstly in anything other than a breeze, both camera and photographer are buffeted about and also the flight paths of the birds are much less certain. I found last year, that getting them in flight at Hermaness was relatively easy due to the predictable flight paths, here however I need a lot more practice!



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