Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Summer's Over ?

 Sorry about the title, but as far as some of the breeding birds here, it is. As I said previously, I'm off away for a while (including a trip to Iceland) and by the time I get back here in August, both the Phals' and Puffins will have gone and also many of the other breeding birds will have left their breeding habitats and gone quiet. 

At the beginning of last week, I was really chuffed to go into the local store and see on the cover of  Shetland Life  one of my pictures. It was the one of a Common Tern food pass which has been on several forums and also was 'Photo of the Week' on the Birdguides website last year. I'd been asked to submit 15 pictures to the magazine for possible inclusion in their gallery section and then got 4 pages. For me personally, what it has done, is for local folk to see what I try and do when they see me out and about in the car, parked up and the camera out of the window.

Last weekend, we took a trip south to Sumburgh firstly to take my better half to the airport then up to the head as the RSPB had an 'open day' there. On the ferry crossing between Yell and Mainland, we were lucky to get distant views of one of the pods of Orcas that have been seen in Yell Sound almost every day in the last week. There are now several pods around Shetland and lets hope that one of them heads north to Unst. (but not when I'm away please)

There were very few Puffins around which didn't really surprise me as it was very warm (by Shetland standards at any rate, 20 degrees !) and any that did come in to burrows in full sunshine, they went straight down. I think it must be another record for me as I only took 2 pictures and they were both of my kids.

A 'tiger' on the loose at Sumburgh

Despite the relative lack of photo opportunities, it was a great afternoon chatting with birders and bird wardens that I know and also putting faces to names of folk I've come across on the web. 

The following day (Sunday) was a total washout. It looked and felt more like November than the height of the summer. Monday morning was much better but I spent most of the morning mounting photographs for a forthcoming exhibition here on Unst for the UnstFest at the Bluefrog Studio at which I did some carpentry and joinery work recently.

Tuesday was spent working as the kids were in the local crèche for the day - although I did manage to get finished early and unwind after a very busy morning. I took a drive up north to my favourite bit of the island to Lamba Ness and Skaw. At Lamba Ness I sat and watched Gannets fishing for a while and then another couple of photogs' arrived so I moved off. On the way down to the head, I'd seen a couple of Bonxies feeding on a carcase, so I had the camera ready on my lap should they still be there on my return along the road. Fortunately they were still there, but on rolling to a standstill, one took off. The other however, after watching me for a short while, continued to feed on what I now saw was a dead rabbit.

From Lamba Ness, I headed for Skaw with the intention of walking out to an area that I have seen Tysties (Black Guillemot) on a cliff face that is easy to get photographs of them. For what ever reasons there were no Tysties but only Fulmars. On the walk back, a male Wheatear landed near by and allowed me to crawl fairly close before it hopped off to catch a fly. Wheatears are one of my favourite passerines here and it really is the end of the summer when they have all moulted and look like females or juveniles and are then soon gone.

male Wheatear

Heading back up the road later (time was now not on my side and kids had to be picked up from crèche) I passed by the area where there has been an Arctic Skua territory close by the roadside (the same one as the pale phase skua I mentioned in the last post). Today there was no pale phase, but a dark phase one sitting on a hillock a short distance away. As I coasted to a stop the bird took off, but instead of flying off some distance, it turned around and came back to the same area. It did this a second time and then a third - this time I was hoping to be ready and pre-focussed on the spot where I thought it would pass. Fortunately for me it did and I got some shots. 

'Dark Phase' Arctic Skua

First thoughts could be that the bird had a nest nearby, but watching the bird for a while, I was pretty sure by its overall behavior, that it hadn't. With all of the Bonxies and gulls around, I don't think any ground nesting bird would leave its nest unattended.

Again, as I mentioned in my last post, I was going to have one last try for Phals' on Fetlar and today was it ! It wasn't going to be just a jolly out birdwatching, I was hoping to go and see someone about some work (although they didn't know I was going). Well, as they say 'the best laid plans o' mice and men' etc etc. Firstly, the 10.20 ferry was fully booked and then the person I was going to see had gone away again for a week (she had only returned home last week after a trip). I managed to get booked on the 11.50am ferry and had a pleasant crossing chatting to the skipper in the wheelhouse about the Orcas that had been in Bluemull Sound last week - and no, I didn't see them !

Getting ashore, I headed straight for Loch of Funzie to check for any Rednecked Phals' but all I got there was a Red-throated Diver not far from the shore and as the light was behind it I didn't bother with the camera. It has been a poor year for phalaropes showing at Funzie, the weather has not been ideal - too windy, not enough sunshine, but no one knows for sure why they haven't been there - they are certainly still breeding, but they're just not turning up to have their pictures taken ! Lots of people (including me) have gone away  disappointed because they've not seen any; I was recently told that some folk have even phoned up the RSPB wanting to know what they are going to do about it. Get real, these are wild birds and we can't do much about the weather. I heard stories from last year of really selfish people and really bad behaviour caused partly by the birds not showing there on cue, maybe these folks should be 'named and shamed' ? Hopefully, this year is just a blip regarding the phals' as Fetlar gets a lot of much needed tourism from these beautiful birds.

Shortly after a tea in the village hall, I headed for Tresta Beach and hopefully a few terns and loads of Bonxies, not to be however. Arriving down at the beach car park, my way was blocked by a gang laying tarmac outside the new graveyard, so off it was to another spot. I parked down on the foreshore not far from Broch Lodge for a time before another car pulled up and broke the tranquility by leaving the engine running for quite a while.

Broch Lodge, Fetlar

Broch Lodge is currently uninhabited but is due to be renovated in the future once sufficient funds have been raised. The first phase however, is due to start fairly soon to make it wind and water tight.

Back on the road again and heading for the ferry terminal, I spotted a snipe sitting on a roadside fence. The only lens I had with me in the front of the car was the 500 so I'd have to 'make do'. I rolled to a standstill, cut the engine and got a number of full frame shots. It is too big in the frame and the composition is wrong but the alternative was to try and get my 300 from the back of the car which would have probably scared the bird off.

After a dozen or so shots, the bird turned around and just dropped down into the field behind.

It wasn't long before I was back at Hamars Ness waiting to board the the 'Geira' for the journey back firstly to Yell and then across to Unst. 

The 'Geira'

By now the wind had picked up as the forecast said it would, I just hope it slackens off before the Northlink boat on Friday ! While waiting for the ferry to leave Gutcher on Yell, I was treated to a number of Gannets diving for food just off of the terminal. Unfortunately, almost all of the dives were either out of sight around the breakwater or too far out to photograph.

It's at times like this, that I wish I had a decent zoom lens, maybe something like a 300-500 (yeh, I know it doesn't exist) and also the money to buy one if it did !


1 comment:

WPATW said...

Great post Robbie - some fab images. Your 'zoom' that you want does exist. I held it yesterday - it is black and is a 200-400f4 VR - and it is very nice :-) Just don't tell the Canon fanboyz though