Friday, 9 July 2010

Have I missed summer ?

Here we are in the first week of July and we are having some unseasonaly strong winds. Saying that, we have had a few nice days where the temperature has soared to a balmy 18 degrees. I don't think I could cope for long in the heat that has been occurring down south recently. I feel that this year again I'm going to miss catching up with the Phals' on Fetlar as I'm running out of time before we go away and by the time I get back they will have gone. I still have a few days left this coming week where I can pop over with my girls should the weather improve.

I don't know why, but many of my casual otter sightings are often when the weather is dull and this was the case early last week. I was driving along the road from Baltasound to the harbour past a usual otter fishing spot, when I saw two otters out on a seaweed covered rock with a large fish. It was the two mature cubs that I've been seeing lately (often with their mother) along this stretch of coastline. I have no idea which one caught the fish, but the other one certainly wanted a share of it !

It wasn't long after this peaceful moment of siblings sharing a meal that one of them decided enough was enough (or not enough to be more precise) and wanted the fish for itself. This was made obvious by several minutes of 'tug o war' before one of them let go and went off in to the water to fish for itself.

I had a good friend on mine visit last week who I have known for over twenty  years who is also a birder. He arrived on the Thursday morning from the Aberdeen ferry and once 'acclimatized' we headed off for an afternoons tour of the island starting at Skaw. On the way there, we passed a feeding curlew in a hay field that was quite confiding.


Continuing along the road, the next 'new' bird for Martin was a cracking pale phase Arctic Skua just by the turning for Lamba Ness. The dark phase are commoner here but the pale phase is also quite widespread. Arctic Skuas, like their cousins the Bonxies (Great Skuas) are also piratical in the way they obtain much of their food by stealing it  from other seabirds - in this case terns. They will also take eggs and nestlings if the occasion arises. The picture below is possibly the same bird, but was taken in 2009 (it was in the same area as this one)

'pale phase' Arctic Skua'

The following day started bright and sunny (but wasn't supposed to last) so we decided to head for Hermaness for Gannets, Puffins and Bonxies - and anything else that wanted to show. Even though it was sunny, it was still quite breezy and this along with the wind direction could affect the way the birds were behaving at the cliff top. On the way up, there were many Bonxies fairly near to the boardwalk  but they weren't reacting much so I didn't bother to take many pictures.

After three quarters on an hour, we arrived at the cliff top and stood and 'drank in ' the view. Having now been up there many times, the arrival at the cliff edge still thrills me. Martin took a few pictures and I started to walk on south towards the Puffins and Gannetry. A minute later I heard a call from Martin - ' Buzzard' , quickly going back, we then realized it was in fact a Honey Buzzard. There had been one a bit further south in Shetland a few days previously so this was probably the same one. It didn't hang about for long (not long enough for pictures sadly) and soon disappeared out of view down the west side of Unst. The rest of the afternoon was spent watching a few puffins and hundreds of gannets. Like I'd mentioned earlier, the wind had affected the birds in that there was virtually no updrafts on the cliffs (due to the wind direction) and so most of the birds were much lower down or just sitting around.

'mutual preening'

I think that this visit to Hermaness, must for me, be a record; - I only filled one 2gb card on my 40D !

Apart from the birds, we also saw a number of Red Admiral butterflies on the cliffs feeding on the Sea Pinks. This was one place that you would definitely not be wanting to get closer with a macro lens. The shot below was taken with the 500 +1.4 converter.

Red Admiral

On returning to the car, the rest of the day was taken up with a trip to the pub for a pint and some food (and we watched some football - even though I'm not a football 'enthusiast') and then to Lamba Ness to see the sun sink into cloud on the horizon at around 10.35pm.

Lamba Ness 10.35pm early July

The following day was still bright and sunny, but it was still very windy. In the morning we went to Norwick and then up to Saxavord to take in the view. Whilst there, we chatted to a friend of mine - who is an artist - who was up there cutting peat. I did have a go and all I can say is that it must be a back breaking task to cut, stack and then cart away hundreds of these brick shaped peats.
Returning to lower ground, we were treated to a cracking Red-throated Diver feeding close in to the beach at Haroldswick

  Red-throated Diver

Later we headed over to Westing to try and get a bit of shelter from the wind direction. But no matter where we walked it seamed to follow us around the coast.

For the last day of Martins visit, we headed for Fetlar, and, just like 3 out of the last 4 visits, it was wet and windy ! (I can't always choose nice days) We had no great expectations of seeing any Phals' and so we weren't disappointed when we didn't see any. We did spend a lot longer in the hide at Funzie than maybe I would normally do and despite the weather it was great just watching the commoner birds - but at least we were dry. Later on in the early evening, we enjoyed a splendid fish supper in Uyeasound village hall. These fish supers are regular events in the summer on Unst and are done by volunteers to raise money for local events etc and as anyone one will testify who has had one will say, they are fantastic.

The following day Martin left for the Aberdeen ferry and I had four days of work ahead of me (it's a hard life) . As I've said before, travelling to and from work here is hardly a chore as there is always something to see on the way - even if I do have to make a slight detour. A couple of days ago, I did just this and went to Skaw where there is a family of Dunters (Eiders) which are quite used to me sitting down by waters edge.

female Eider

After watching the birds for a while, the two females and one duckling, swam past me and then out over the breaking waves. Suddenly, there was panic and the birds flapped and paddled their way back towards the shore.

In the panic, I think the two mothers briefly lost sight of the offspring as it was engulfed by another breaking wave.

 - Fortunately it wasn't long before they were reunited.

It soon became very obvious what had caused the panic - two seals - I had a good view of the water and hadn't seen them coming. I've seen this behaviour several times before by seals - including one occasion where one tried catch a Great Northern Diver by coming up under it.

One of the culprits

It was very obvious that the seals weren't giving up and were still looking for the birds. Again the ducks fled but this time the adults left the duckling behind to fend for itself. I really thought I was going to see the duckling taken as a starter before the main course. Fortunately, the small bird did manage to find some energy and literally ran across the water after its mother which by now was 40 or 50 feet away.

Later  in the day, I took a drive over to Lamba Ness again to try and get a sunset - too few and far between lately. On the way, I passed a curlew territory with one of the pair standing on a fence post. I've seen this ringed bird a number of times but today it had something around the other leg. To me it looks like wool and is something that I've often seen on both waders and gulls and I can only assume that it collects as they walk through the sheep fields looking for food. Very occasionally I've seen it on both legs (tying them together) on birds and wonder if the birds can survive. 

Again, no sunset at Lamba Ness, the sun was going down into a large bank of cloud that stretched far out to the distant horizon in the north. Sadly my idea of doing a time lapse of the sun setting and then rising in the same shot without moving the camera, is now just another idea; as by the time I get back from a trip away, the distance between it will be too great. Hey ho.



Jason said...

Nice blog Robbie. Didn't realise you were keeping one, added it to my list so will keep a check. Fabulous photos, as expected.


robbieb said...

Thanks Jason - don't think I could compete with the House Martin in flight !