Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Dawn of a new day

A 'New Dawn'

  The sunrise last week (19th Jan) was not only a beautiful sunrise on a new day, it was also significant as, while I was taking the shot across Balta Sound, a removal lorry was about to arrive at the house in the centre of the picture with our furniture from storage. After several frustrating months of waiting for surveyors, Christmas holidays etc etc, we are about to embark on new chapter here on Unst. We've bought a large old house (part of it goes back 300 years) with just over 8 acres of land (grassland, wet marshy ground and frontage to the rocky shoreline) Apart from it being a fantastic family home, the wildlife possibilities are going to be great. During the first visit in early October, Catriona and I walked down to the shore, only to see an otter feeding on the small stone jetty totally unaware of our presence - it must have been an omen of good luck. Returning there again just before Christmas with our girls, Sula and I walked down there and saw two otters (a mother and mature cub) which were most probably the two that I see over the other side of the sound at Buness on a fairly regular basis from the roadside. Hopefully over the next few months I'll get some shots off them and then I can compare the facial markings of the animals. Apart from jobs to do on the house, I've got a number of 'projects' to undertake outside in the (very large) 'garden' - I'll post more on these as time goes on.

  The day started with a lovely sunrise, and ended with a beautiful moon-rise - which was full. I'd not heard of it before, but the full moon in January is called the 'Wolf Moon' by some native Americans - from the packs of wolves that howl outside of their villages. Sula had been invited to go back to school to view it through a large telescope that the school had been lent, so I stayed at home to try and get some shots. While it did show quite well, there was a constant drift of thin cloud which reduced the clarity a bit. Unfortunately for the children at the school (which is only 6 miles away) it was totally obscured by cloud.

  It's one of the many great things about Uyeasound school, when anything interesting or exiting happens like this, then the teachers/parents will let them experience what ever the occasion is. Whether it's dolphins in the bay, frog-spawn in a nearby pool of water or even a nice sunny day, they'll often go out and enjoy it - and learn something at the same time. Last summer, the school was inspected by the HMIE (school inspectors) and passed with flying colours - coming out as being amongst some of the very best schools in the whole of Scotland. Now as I write, the school is threatened with closure by the SIC (Shetland Isles Council), sometimes, things just don't make sense ! Please find some time to sign the petition here to try and keep it open .

  As far as unusual birds go, it's business as usual here. The Little Auk and Velvet Scoter are still at Norwick, the Glaucous Gull is still around Lamba Ness (also one at Uyeasound) and the Coot is also still at Uyeasound. At the weekend, the girls and I went out for a while in the car and while we didn't find anything rare, we did come across another one of what is becoming one of my favourite birds - a 'blue phase' Fulmar at Lamba Ness. I saw one there a while ago and this one performed just a well, constantly coming back around past us along the cliff line giving Sula some really good views. The pictures below are from the last sighting a few months ago..........

'blue phase' Fulmar

  This morning (25th Jan) after a meeting at Uyeasound school, I took a quick look at Westing bay. The wind had changed direction so now there were no gulls feeding in the breaking waves and it was quite calm. I was surprised to see a winter plumaged Red-throated Diver fishing in the bay not far from the shoreline. It seemed to have a feeding pattern in that it moved around the shoreline to a certain point and then it would return to the other end and do it all over again. After it had returned to the far end for the 2nd or 3rd time, each time it dived, I made my way down to the kelp on the waters edge and waited hopefully. I've seen before, even out of breeding season, Redthroats' can be quite shy and will move away if it spots you, so I didn't hold out much hope of it coming very close. I was very pleasantly surprised when the bird came and fished not too far away and even though it could clearly see me, wasn't too bothered. How nice it would have been with the sun shining !....................

Red-throated Diver in winter plumage

  As I sat amongst the kelp, a number of Turnstones fed along the shore and a several more were using a regular high tide bathing pool for a 'wash and brush-up'. With these little waders, I've often found that if I'm sitting down waiting as they arrive, they often don't bother too much apart from the occasional little call if they think they've walked too close to me.

  Last week I had to go to Mainland to get a couple of things sorted on one of the cars, when I do take the car in I've always had a courtesy car and that day was no different. What was different however, was that I didn't have anything pressing to do in Lerwick. For over a week a Rough-legged Buzzard had been showing well almost daily near the ferry terminal at Toft so I decided to go and spend the time (over 3 hours) having a look for it. Despite, the weather being quite good, there was a fairly strong breeze blowing and it was also quite cold. I was not alone, as there were 5 or 6 other birders looking out for the bird - the more eyes the more chance of it being seen I suppose. Sadly, on that day it didn't show, but it was seen again several times over the next few days.

  For me, Wednesdays are the best day for going off island, as both girls are at the same school for the day which gives me a bit more time between the school run. This morning (26th Jan) I had thought about going down to Toft again but in the end decided against it. Returning home around 2pm, I had a call from Brydon to say he'd just seen a Rough-leg' below Valla Field over on the west side. Despite a migraine, I didn't need to give it any thought ! The old track up there (which used to go to a radar dome) has now been officially closed as the surface is not in a good state of repair - some very deep pot holes etc - and not a place to be if you're not in a 4x4 with good ground clearance ! Driving some of the way, I parked up and went to the cliff edge to look down into the valley below. I thought that if the bird was perched I'd not have much hope of finding it as the ground and vegetation (heather and rough grass) would easily camouflage a perched bird from this distance. I started to cast the bins' over likely looking vantage points - ie fence posts, boulders etc, finally I found the bird sitting on the gable of a ruined croft hundreds of feet below me and also some way away from the base of the hill. I took a couple of 'record' shots and decided to put the telescope on the tripod for a better look..............

Full frame, 500mm+1.4 converter - it's the blob on the right gable !

  As I looked at the gable through the scope', I could see the bird had gone - blast ! Scanning around again with my bins' I was suddenly aware out of the corner of my eye, of a large bird coming along the hillside to my right, it was a Rough-leg'. Surely it couldn't have gained this much height and travelled this distance in such a short time ? In my panic to get some pictures, I'd not got the focusing set to how I normally use it and so, I kept loosing the focus on the bird as it soared at eye level in front of me - double blast ! The bird flew south along the hillside and fortunately for me, it turned and came back again. By now I'd got the camera on the tripod again and tried to compose myself let alone the camera ! I managed to get a few shots in focus as the bird turned and flew south again. This time it was joined by another bird - another Rough-leg'. The birds soared for a while until one flew south and the other headed off down to the sea cliffs far below............

 I'd never seen a Rough-leg in the UK before so this was an especially good occasion, so many thanks to Brydon (once again) for going back there again to look. For photography the light wasn't particularly good - I was looking and photographing into the light which was fading, so, if the weather is good for tomorrow, I'll certainly go and give it another go.