Sunday, 27 June 2010

Whimbrels and Whales

The day after seeing the Dotterel, we headed for Fetlar with the hope of seeing another pretty wader, Rednecked Phalarope. The day was rather windy (too windy for Phals') and also cloudy (also not not good for seeing Phals' on the Loch on Funzie) so I decided to make the most of it. On Funzie, there were four Red-throated Divers which were, as usual, out in the middle; and, just as I'd thought, no Phals' ! After an hour at Funzie, we headed off to Funzie Bay at the east of the island. While the others took a walk south around the bay, I walked a short distance and sat down out of the wind in a brief spell of sunshine. A few minutes later I was treated to a 'walk past' of a Whimbrel which didn't seem too bothered by me siting down just below the grassy cliff edge. Shetland has around 50% of the UK breeding population of Whimbrel with a large number of them breeding on Fetlar.


Moving on from Funzie Bay, we headed for Tresta Beach. The beach at Tresta is usually very busy with fishing terns, bathing Bonxies and Arctic Skuas on the lookout for a relatively easy meal from the terns. On this windy day however, it was rather quiet apart from the ever present bathing Bonxies in the freshwater loch close by. At the loch, it was another one of those sort of days, the light was from behind me but the wind was blowing down the loch towards me. This meant that the Bonxies were flying in from behind me and then landing into the wind, this meant I usually got a rear view as they landed. If I moved my position, I was then shooting into a rather grey, flat light. Finally the sun came out briefly and I managed to get a few shots - but nothing to 'write home about' so to speak.

Bathing Bonxies

The next day, it was a trip to the airport to drop my sister off. The weather was still the same, cloudy with a stiff breeze which didn't make a good prospect for Puffins at Sumburgh Head. Dropping Carol off (which I think and hope was a successful trip) I went up to the head. There were a few Puffins around but not doing much and those that were flying were moving far too fast in the strong wind. Hey ho.

Last Sunday was Fathers Day and I was given (along with the rest of the family) a treat which was an 8hr cruise on the Yell ferry, the 'Daggri'. The trip was organized by my friend Brydon Thomason and so along with around 80 others we set off from Toft on Mainland at around 10am and headed off along the north coast of Mainland towards Ramna Stacks. The original plan was to head down the west coast of Mainland, but due to the previous few days of strong wind (and resulting sea swell) we rounded Ramna Stacks and then made our way back down the south coast of Yell. There were plenty of sea birds to be seen including Gannets, Bonxies, Puffins and also numerous auks (Black and Common Guillimots and Razorbills). From Yell Sound, we headed north up the coast into Bluemull Sound as far as Gutcher where the ship turned and crossed over to the the south side of Unst and then over to the south side of Fetlar.

 We had been hoping for sightings of cetateans and did get a brief view of a dolphin species that was too far to be positively identified but was probably one of the Risso's dolphins that had been seen earlier in the day. As we headed back across from Fetlar towards Yell Sound, the call went out that a Minke Whale had been seen straight ahead. Eventually we saw the creature but it had now travelled some distance away but lots of folk got to see it. Then without warning it re-surfaced a short distance in front of the bow of the ship, unfortunately for me it was too close (I had the 500 on as I'd been trying for some shots of it further away) and so when more of the whales back was visible, I missed it.

Minke whale

All in all, despite the cool breeze and 'only' seeing a couple of sightings of cetaceans, I know everyone had a great time. The biggest thank you must go to Brydon for organizing it in the first place and also my family for booking my ticket.

My whale searching trips weren't over however as the following day, I had been given the chance of going out with one of the researchers from the Sea Mammal Research Group on a boat called the 'Honesta' to look for Orca's. The full team had been out the previous week, but due to a couple days of bad weather, they were given an extra two days. Unfortunately the majority of them had to travel back south, which left just one researcher (whose was researching Risso's dolphins) so I was to be an extra pair of eyes if any Orcas were around. Our route was to go out from Collafirth on north Mainland, past Ramna Stacks, then take a left turn and head down the coast and finally ending up at Voe. We were out around 4 miles from the coast and despite Silvana (the researcher) dropping in a hydrophone (under water microphone) fairly frequently, it didn't pick up any vocalizations from Killer Whales. Silvana said that if they (the orcas) were calling loudly, they could be heard from up to 30 kms away. What it did pick up however, was the sound of seismic explosions which the 'Honestas' crew thought were at least 70 miles away to the east. These tests are to test the seabed during oil exploration and these were thought to have come from the Norwegian sector of the North Sea. If the hydrophone could pick them up (which were quite loud) it makes you wonder what it does to the underwater life nearer to the tests. Despite almost 8 hours on the water, the only sighting we had was a brief view of a Minke Whale.

The 'Honestas'
The rest of the week was taken up with doing a small piece of work - making a number of 'card looms' for a friend of ours that is also a weaver on the island. I did manage an hour or two out despite the fact the weather was still not particularly nice. On Wednesday I had a quick look at Norwick  and came across two Chiffchaffs which were behaving as though they could be breeding. Nothing to shout about down south, but in Shetland there are only 3 or 4 proven breeding records for the species.


In the afternoon, I called in at Westing on the way to do the school run and ended up watching a family of Dunters (Eider Ducks) feeding on the shoreline and also several confiding Ringed Plovers. June hasn't been particularly good this year, lots of cloudy dull days but not too much rain. I saw on the television the other night that Shetland has had only 7% of the usual monthly rainfall, it hadn't occurred to me that Helliers Water (the water supply for Unst) may well be getting low. Heading back along the road, we did have a brief shower of rain which coincided with me passing a Curlew standing not far from the roadside side which didn't fly up as I stopped.


Part of this weekend was spent down on Mainland in Lerwick for the Shetland 'Hamefarin' (homecoming) which was an event to welcome Shetlanders and folk with Shetland origins back home. Look here for a more detailed explanation - . The culmination of the event was to be a procession of around 300 members of various Yarl Squads and then a ceremonial burning of a replica Viking longship on the Clickimin  Loch, followed shortly after by a closing firework display. It was a great - but late - evening, which finished after midnight. I did take a few pictures using my camera phone, but obviously due to the light levels and the distance involved they weren't up to much. I'm certain over the next few days there will be stuff on the internet if anyone is interested.

Today, we headed of to west Mainland to an area we hadn't been to before called Vementry. I must say that it was a beautiful place and must rate as one of the more remote places we've visited on mainland Shetland. The reason we went there in the first place was quite amazing. When we came here on holiday three years ago, we stayed on north Mainland at a place called Nibbon. On leaving, the visitors book was duly filled in etc and that was that. Then, a while ago, we received a post card from a couple who had also stayed at Nibbon who, amazingly had two girls also called Sula and Rona ! Their parents were staying at Vementry at the moment and suggested we should meet up. The few hours we had there were great, which included a walk which took several hours around the coastline. At one spot, we came across a feeding Otter and had some cracking views as it came out of the water and fed on a very large crab it had caught.


1 comment:

Hugh Harrop said...

Love that Whimbrel walking through the Thrift - a unique image. Nice one.