Just after Christmas - fortunately due to a cancellation by someone else - the four of us headed off down to Sumburgh Head to stay in the self-catering, old lighthouse keepers cottage. Sumburgh is well known for its breeding birds in the summer (particularly Puffins) but what would it be like in the depths of winter ? Well, thankfully, the snow had thawed just a day before we were due to go there which enabled us to actually get up to it - a very difficult task if there is snow or ice on the very steep hill towards the top. The cottage was very pleasant, warm and cosy and once inside there was virtually no feeling of a gale going on outside. It sleeps seven (2 per room and 1 single) and during the season is very popular due to the puffins and other seabirds being literally just outside the cottage windows. Reading through the visitors book, there were generally many favourable comments but several did stand out. One was saying that the facilities were very basic (not at all), another was bemoaning the lack of a pub (I reckon they put that in for a joke) and another was complaining about the lack of puffins - in NOVEMBER !
We had three days of quite good weather (it was the end of December after all) and managed a walk every day. Bird wise, I had two Woodcocks, a flock of Fieldfare and a Waxwing heading southwards out to sea (towards Fair Isle) Down below, there were the every present Fulmars, a few Gannets flying past and around 40 or 50 Guillemots both over the sea and on one of their nesting stacks (apparently they normally start to return in January).
Whilst there, I got the usual call from Brydon, he'd found a good bird on Unst, typical ! This time it was a Rough-legged Buzzard. They are pretty uncommon up here and I'd never seen one in Britain let alone Shetland although I have seen them in Denmark and Sweden. Lets hope it's still around on the 1st Jan which will be the first chance of getting out to look for it. Whilst at the lighthouse, we had a number of 'drop in' visitors which was really nice and added to the festive season.
Returning home on New Years eve, it was a fairly quiet evening with just two friends coming around to see in the New Year along with the four of us (even our girls managed to keep awake until midnight).
Jan 1st arrived and off I went in search of the Rough Legged Buzzard. Up at Valla Field (a high ridge on the west side of the island) it was blowing a hoolie and very cold. I had a quick walk around the top (only a solitary Snow Bunting) and then decided to head down to Westing and maybe look at the hill from below. There was nothing much doing and time was running out so it was off back home just before lunch time. Just as I arrived back home I got a call from Brydon, he was now watching TWO Rough-legged Buzzards from below Valla Field. Sula and I headed off back up there and within 20 minutes we were standing at the edge of Valla Field high above the coast looking down on Brydon who was giving us directions to where he last saw the birds. Sadly, despite much searching, we didn't see them; the birds had 'melted away'.................
Somewhere out there ? Looking south from Valla Field (camera phone)
Over the next couple of days I spent a number of hours up there - including one day where I got very, very wet. I was always led to believe that raptors don't like flying in the rain, so maybe it was hunkered down somewhere watching me. In the end, the only birds of note from several days of wandering around up there and looking were 3 Woodcock and a Snow Bunting......................
Sunset towards Bluemull Sound
Wandering around the coastline it never ceases to amaze me at the power of the sea. On this particular occasion along a cliff top north of Westing, I came across a piece of timber about 10 feet long and about 6 inches in diameter (like a short telegraph pole) It was high on the cliff top and had clearly been thrown up by a storm. I don't know the height of the cliffs there but from the camera phone pictures below, it may give you an idea..........
This morning (4th Jan) looked promising, beautiful clear sky and a frost. There was a solar eclipse forecast but due to cloud on the southern horizon we couldn't see it. At 9.30am, Sula and I went to fill up with fuel before heading up the hill again. With the fuel increases recently - and another one due in the near future - we are now paying £1.45 ltr for petrol and diesel is a bit more ( and people think it's steep down south) such is the price to pay for living in 'paradise' !
Up on the hill it was a relatively windless morning, but cool. Sula and I sat down on amongst some rocks with a good view up and down the coastline for around an hour and a half and nothing showed. All we say was another Woodcock as it rose up from a track-side ditch. Along the escarpment, lots of Ravens called as they displayed to one another and chased off intruders who ventured into their air space. Sadly it seems like the buzzards have moved on, maybe just a bit further up or down the coast. Over the next few days, I'll have a look around the north west corner of the island and who knows I may come across one. Fingers crossed.