I had arranged to go out for the morning with friend Brydon Thomason, who is undoubtedly one of Shetlands most knowledgeable wildlife tour guides. (Click his banner on the right if you want to find out more) I picked him up at 7am and the biggest decision of the day was where to go. After several possibilities, we decided for Hermaness in the north west corner of Unst as it is home to thousands of Gannets, large numbers of Puffins and over 800 pairs of Bonxies (Great Skua).
Arriving at the car park, I was slightly dismayed to see it was full of crofters 4x4s with trailers and numerous quad bikes. They were there to round up the sheep on the hill to bring them down for lambing.
As we set off, I soon realized that I'd still not recovered from my lung infection and was soon puffing and panting as we made our way up the first part of the path. Crossing a small gully with a burn in the bottom, I was really surprised to see icicles that were at least 8 inches long, hanging down from one of the peat banks - it is the 3rd week in April isn't it ?
Over the last two winters, the old wooden boardwalk has been replaced by a continuous re-cycled plastic one in a subtle chocolate brown colour. Some may not like the idea of a plastic one in a nature reserve, but it is far more environmentally friendly than a wooden one which only lasts a few years sunk in the almost permanently wet peat. The old boardwalk only bridged the hollows and wet areas and this often led to folks then creating new boggy patches as they walked around the muddy bits etc. The new one gets over this by being continuous and also considerably reduces the time it takes to reach the cliffs.Carrying on up the boardwalk, it was now very obvious that the Bonxies were back in force as all around us were numerous birds calling and displaying. Two thirds of the way up, we stopped by a pair of Bonxies that were close to the path. Often if you approach carefully, they'll stay put and some good close-ups can be obtained. However, once breeding gets under way, like most birds, disturbance should be kept to a minimum and away from the pathways its a protected area anyway (although there are some that ignore this) If a Bonxie flies over another pairs territory, the birds on the ground will raise their wings high and call as they throw their heads back. Considering how aggressive Bonxies can be, they have an incredibly feeble call when they dive, just an 'ehck' or similar.
After a considerable number of exposures, we carried on up to the cliff top which was only a short distance away. On the cliffs were quite a number of Tammie Nories (Puffins) sitting around, 'bill tapping' and generally taking it easy - I suppose I would be also if I'd spent the winter out in the Atlantic bobbing around at the mercy of the weather. Unfortunately, even though it was an ideal day for photographing Bonxies, it was far too sunny for photographing Puffins. When facing me into the sun, I was needing almost 2 stops of underexposure to stop the whites being blown, but this then caused problems with the back ground and the rest of the feather details. In situations like this, I prefer to go in very close and get head-shots by either using a long lens or moving in close to these very confiding little birds. We must of spent several hours with the Puffins but unfortunately for me, the only keepers I got were the ones I took with either the 300 or the 500 as my 18-200 wasn't focusing properly - a trip for a service me thinks !
' If I hide behind here, can you still see me?'