Sunday, 2 May 2010

A morning out with my daughter

 Saturday 1st May -

After a week of rather mixed weather - a mix of strong wind and rain, it was nice to wake up to a dry day. Dry it may have been, windy it still is, but blimey it has been cold ! The wind is currently coming down from the north and is set to be in that quarter all week - bad news for us birders here waiting for the spring arrivals of small birds moving up through Scandinavia that get blown across on south easterlies.

I had promised my eldest girl I'd take her out this morning to see what wildlife we could find and I was amazed  to find her dressed and ready to go at 7.30am (in a camo baseball hat and camo trousers etc) We headed off down to the south end with the intention of a walk, but on getting out of the car, it felt like the cold wind was trying to cut us in two. Apart from a few Turnstones and a Dunlin on the beach and a pair of Red-throated Divers just offshore there wasn't too much happening so we didn't stay long. I decided to take a quick look at Westing beach as with the wind direction it can often bring a few seals in close to the shore where they 'bottle' in the relative calm of the bay. Not much happening there, we headed back to Baltasound and on to Haroldswick.

The tide was on the fall - a good time for otters, so I hoped. Following the road around the shoreline, I soon saw the tell tale shape of an otter floating horizontally on the surface like a lumpy piece of driftwood. It didn't stay still for long a soon dived to fish and as it did so I moved the car to a passing place so I didn't block the road. In certain parts of the island, I wouldn't normally do this, especially a 'busy' times as I don't like to stop other cars passing one another; here however, there's plenty of room. The water was about 10-12ft below us and the wind was blowing from us to him, so there was no point in trying to get any closer as we would quickly be discovered. Sometimes you realize that trying to get a picture is pointless so it's good to just sit and watch. I did take some record shots despite the distance and the lighting as I try and keep a record of the otters I see as they can be identified by the markings under their chins. We watched it for at least 15 minutes until it got to an area where we couldn't watch from the car so we moved on further around the bay.

At the north end, I spotted a diver close to the shore which turned out to be a Great Northern Diver in full breeding plumage. Again, there was a wide passing place closeby so we pulled in to take a look. I think these birds are almost as nice as Redthroated's when they are like this. Sadly again, the light was still not in our favour so I took this 'for the record'

Great Northern Diver

It was at this very same spot where, a couple of days ago, I saw a Coot on the water. It did look odd seeing a bird normally associated with lakes etc, bobbing around on the sea. I did wonder if it was the same one that has been around most of the winter here on Unst, if so, where has it been ?

As I think I've previously mentioned, there have been very few small birds passing through recently, apart from that is, wagtails. The most numerous one here that passes through (Pied's do breed) is the White Wagtail; in the last few days I've seen loads of them. This one below was on the shingle beach just below the car as we watched the GND.

White Wagtail (male)

Heading off again, we went to Skaw - Britain's most northerly beach. By the burn which runs in to the sea a group of a dozen or so Turnstones rested on the grass. Often, if you pay them no attention, you can walk past only 15 or 20ft away from them, but a pause or a turn of the head will often result in them taking flight. When they're resting like this, I prefer to give them a wide berth and let them be. As we walked back up from the beach to the sheep pens, I remarked to my daughter Sula that there should be migrants around, no sooner than the words had left my lips a Chiffchaff flitted out from underneath a pile of timber. 

The last port of call before our return was to be Lamba Ness. The road down is as I've mentioned before, a rough tarmac track, to my girls however, it is a bit of excitement. As it's not really a public road as such, the girls get to stand up with their heads out of the sun roof and pretend they are on safari ! I don't get to see much as their screams tend to frighten stuff off but it then allows me to have more 'proper birding time!

I had meant to post this last night but due to a late night phone call I forgot all about it - see the next blog later today.


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