Bird wise it's now fairly quiet - if you discount the noise made by the hundreds of Greylags' around the island. There was a Great Northern Diver in Balta Sound at the weekend which I presume was the same one from last week, this time I managed to get it on my garden list - in fact I saw it from the living room. The only other bird of note for me was a Moorhen near the Houb in Baltasound at the weekend. I've seen numerous sightings of Merlin around the island, and all of them were either immature birds or females. I saw two individuals one day, one was sitting on the Uyeasound road sign and would have made a nice photo if only it had been earlier in the day when the light was better - it was at 3pm and the light was going rapidly. In over two years of being here, I think the number of male Merlin I've seen is probably still in single figures.
Last Thursday evening (11th) at around 10pm, I got a call from Brydon to take a look outside as the aurora was starting to show. Sure enough, over behind Baltasound there was a green glow in the sky with faint 'curtains' of white light hanging down. Ten minutes later I was off over to Lamba Ness with the idea of trying to capture something on the camera. For quite a while now I've had several other locations in mind, but tonight I decided to head for Lamba Ness. The only problem with Lamba Ness is that looking north, there is a marker light over on the end of the Holm of Skaw which would ruin any pictures due to it flashing every minute or so. My way around this is to use one of the several ruined buildings at Lamba Ness to block out the light from it and also to provide a silhouette to add foreground interest . So, camera set up on the tripod, continuous 30 second exposures, ISO400, f5.6, lens set at 18mm focal length and then off back to the car. It was really nice to see - the best I've seen yet - but unfortunately I got the exposure wrong! It really did seem a bright sky but sadly the pictures were under exposed by several stops. Also what I hadn't noticed was a bank of cloud that had crept in from the east out of my line of vision (the camera was placed down the hill and out of view) It is a learning process and I learnt quite a lot that evening. As I left at around 12-30am, the light show was fading although there was a final flurry of white 'curtains as I drove up the road. The picture below is one of over a hundred taken at Lamba Ness, not very good but it may give you a bit on an idea - must keep practicing.............
I was talking to a photographer down on Mainland at the weekend and he was saying that when there is a good 'show' he is often able to shoot at around 1/8th second @ 400 ISO as there is so much light. Some photographers who shoot auroras suggest that the norm' would be to shoot in JPEG and not Raw as processing several hundred Raw files would take too long, others say the opposite so I'm going to experiment with both. There a several things that can be done with the results - if they come out :) - either individual still shots, stack all of the pictures together to produce 'star trails' (not so effective for auroras) or combine a series of shots to produce a short avi film. I was experimenting with this last night and 284 images produced an avi of around 17 seconds (this also depends on the 'frame rate) To do these things doesn't take a genius as that's been done already by the software developer who produced this free piece of software called Startrails. As I'm 'grounded' this week - Catriona is away again in Ethiopia (hi Catriona) - I set up the camera outside the house try a different exposure - I changed the ISO to a higher one. It's not an ideal location as there is quite a lot of light pollution from the village (far too many street lights) and the neighbours security light went on and off at the slightest gust of wind, but again it was good to experiment. The 'test' exposure from by the house is here
Like I said earlier, bird wise its pretty quiet and after seeing scores of Snow and Lapland Buntings last month, it's now down to just the odd one or two around the island. There seems to be an awful lot of Greylags around at the moment, a fact which is now causing concern amongst some of the crofters as more and more birds are staying on to breed rather than heading back north. From what I've been told, it is the breeding birds which are eating the fresh green grass in the spring which is normally eaten by the livestock that is causing a problem. There are suggestions now that there should be firstly a systematic count this winter and then, if needed maybe control of some sort.
Greylags on a sunnier day !
Photographically it's been a quiet week as well. The weather has been rather dull, very windy and occasionally wet. There had been a prediction for an aurora a few nights ago but it didn't really materialize - thankfully as it was a fairly cloudy night. Tonight (19th Nov) was the third night there has been no Northlink sailings between Shetland and Aberdeen due to rough weather. The problem has been the wind direction in Aberdeen rather than up here. At Aberdeen, if the wind is in the south-east and there is a large sea swell, getting in to the harbour can be very difficult or even dangerous. I believe that in the last 24hrs, only 2 or 3 ships have been in or out and these were powerful north sea oil rig supply boats. Up here on Unst, off of Lamba Ness there was quite a swell which according to Magic Seaweed was only around 10-14ft but it certainly looked higher than that at times.
A 'nice' Autumnal day at Lamba Ness