Friday, 25 March 2011


  It's been a busy few days in many ways, but at least at the moment it's dry (but still quite windy) . At the weekend - during a lull in the painting in the cottage, I took a walk around the coast at the end of the road. I wasn't expecting to see anything (that thought alone should be a warning in itself) so I didn't take the camera, just the bino's. I don't tend to walk there if there is a strong sw or westerly blowing as it carries any human scent straight out over the rocks and seaward which would give any otter plenty of warning that someone was around. With that wind direction and the shape of the coast, it's very difficult to walk it without  announcing that someone is on the prowl. I think there is a portrait painting where it appears that the subjects eyes seem to follow you around the room. Well, that was just like the wind here on this occasion, as I walked, the wind always seemed to be blowing from me straight on to the water, no matter where I walked. With this in mind, I wasn't expecting to see any otters, wrong ! The wind was blowing from me straight towards them as they played (it was the mother and mature cub) below me in a seaweed filled creek. As they hadn't detected me, I retreated and detoured around the coast quite a way in order to approach them from the side. Finally getting to roughly where they were, I lay down amongst the rocks just as they appeared slightly to one side of me. They came over the rocks and lay down and dried themselves off on the seaweed. The cub wanted to play, but the mum didn't want any of it and headed back towards the water. It was at this point, she lifted her head and sniffed the air - rumbled. But instead of hurrying off, she slowly made her way through the kelp and into the water with the cub not far behind. It must be said though, the cub made hard work of it, trying to stand on the kelp which obviously couldn't take its weight - a bit like a dog trying to walk on deep soft snow.

  Not long after we arrived in 2008, I would occasionally see a small helicopter (different to the oil rig ones or 'Oscar Charlie' the Coastguard copter' ) flying around with a large barrel hanging below it. It didn't take long to find out what was going on from the Baltasound folk and that was, it was moving fish around from hatchery to sea cages or to the ships to take them south etc. To a newcomer, it seemed a very expensive way to do things. Recently however, I was talking to a guy who works on a salmon farm and said it was actually quicker and cheaper than doing it by road and then boat etc..........

  During another brief venture out over the weekend, I headed down to Westing as there was a good south westerly blowing and for some reason on days like this, there is quite often an otter feeding when the sea is rough. As I drove along the road, the sight of a number of Greylags' flying around in a sort of panic caught my eye. Looking up towards the rocky cliff face of Valla Field, I saw a strange shape flying along the skyline. My first reaction was to get a picture, but as to what it was I had no idea. It looked like one of those small aeroplanes that tows a banner behind it with greetings such as 'Happy Birthday xxxx ' or similar. Firing off a few shots, I then realized what it was.............
Is it a bird, is it a plane ?.......

No it's................'Super Goose' !
  This Greylag' had obviously been feeding and had got its head caught up in the wrapping from a silage bale. It was now very obvious why the other geese were in a 'flap'. Not so funny for this goose, I just hope that when it landed it managed to free its self.

On Monday (21st) I did the school run and dropped in  to Westing on the way back home. At the beach were quite a lot of Common Gulls feeding in the breaking waves. The wind was great for slowing them down in the air, but a real pain for blowing salt on to the lens element, can't have it all I suppose............
Common Gull
  Later in the morning I had to go up north to Norwick, so I took the opportunity to check out the beach there. Even though the wind was blowing from the land on to the sea, there were still a number of gulls feeding in the gently breaking waves. Amongst them was this fine Glaucous Gull......

 Back down south again in the afternoon to do the school run, I had half an hour to spare so I stopped off at Westing again. Along at the far end of the beach there was someone collecting large stones to make a temporary path in front of the holiday cottage there; what they hadn't seen, was an otter fishing probably less than 30yds away from them. After a short while, it came up on to the beach for a brief rest and a quick groom, before heading back in to the water..........
  Once I'd checked that it wasn't going anywhere in a hurry, I made my way along the beach towards where it was fishing moving each time it dived. Unfortunately I was now face in to the sea spray again (and in to the light) but at least it wouldn't catch my scent or hear the shutter going off. I spent as long as I dared (school pick up looming)....................
  Returning back to the car, I noticed that it was now moving along the along the shore, taking short dives between short periods of swimming on the surface. I'd seen this before so I was sure it would be coming out of the water onto the rocks near to me. As the otter emerged, it had a rather large crab in it's mouth. I was now almost out of time so if it was going sit and eat it, I didn't have time to stop and watch it for long....................

  Surprisingly, it dropped the crab and made off along the rocks and then climbed up on to a grassy bank where it groomed and dried itself for a minute or so.......................

  All good things have to come to and end so it was off to fetch my daughter. Just as I was heading down the main road to Uyeasound, I met Brydon coming the other way. We pulled up and with great excitement he told me he'd just found a male King Eider in the bay at Uyeasound. Picking Sula up from school, we headed down to the old harbour to scan the rafts of Common Eiders which were about half a mile out in the bay - it was not going to be easy. Thankfully within a very short time, we found the bird (and Sula saw it) - although distant - it was obviously a King'..................... very poor records shots !..........

500mm+1.4, full frame

 Large crop, bird is below the purple line

  It didn't end there however. Brydon had gone across Bluemull Sound on the ferry and then found another one resting on a small island in the sound - or maybe this one had flown across in the 40 minutes time difference, only 2 miles and eiders are one of the fastest birds in level flight.

  The following day (22nd) the eider was still there, but not only that, Brydon had found yet another bird (possibly a 2nd winter bird) further east in Skuda Sound - between Uyeasound and the island of Uyea. On my return from dropping the girls off for sports etc, I then had the two Rough-legged Buzzards over the road as I drove south, what a day....................
Rough-legged Buzzard
23rd March
 
  The eider was still around in Uyeasound, but I also got an Unst 'tick' in the form of a Rook near Buness.

24th March

  Today started off quite nicely with no wind and no rain - would it last ? After taking Rona to get the school bus at the end of the road, I returned home to do a bit of decorating etc. I also had a walk down the field to the shore line and picked out 5 Slavonian Grebes (one in breeding plumage) and 3 Red-throated Divers out in the sound. Up on the hill to the south, Golden Plover were calling, Fulmars were displaying on our chimney pots, it felt like it could be a good day. Later in the morning, I sent a text to Brydon asking if the eider was around, I quickly got a reply saying if I wanted to, I could join him on a boat trip to take a look for it. I'd already booked Rona in to crèche for the afternoon after school (Sula had gone to Lerwick to do her Grade 1 fiddle exam with Catriona ) so it was a big YES !

  Arriving there at 2.30pm, it was pouring with rain but at least the sound was relatively calm. We soon set off with Peter the boat skipper and within no time at all we were looking at a cracking male King Eider in amongst a raft of a several hundred Dunters (Common Eiders). Unfortunately for us, the rain and low cloud kept passing through which made taking pictures not that easy. Combined with the weather conditions and the rocking of the small boat, it called for a high shutter speed + high ISO to try and get some sharp(ish) shots. Despite the photographic difficulties, it was a great opportunity to get fairly close to the 'King' of eiders. We were out for a couple of hours (circumnavigating Uyea Isle) and also saw the 2nd winter male, several 'Northern Eiders' and numerous Long-tailed Ducks. A few pics below.......................

1st Winter/Summer drake King Eider

Common Eider with King Eider

Drake 'Northern' Eider (bird at the back)

Longtailed Ducks

  Later, back home; I got 'the call' from Brydon. There was a Bearded Seal on the slipway of the Baltasound marina - a 1st for Unst. It was now almost dark, but we had to go and take a look. Sure enough there it was looking quite content despite the interest shown by a lot of folk. Apparently it had been there for most of the day and I'd driven past it 3 or 4 times without knowing ! The shot below is a 'record shot' taken at 1/5th second @f5.6 at 6400 ISO..............

Bearded Seal in Baltasound

  As it had been there for most of the day, I had high hopes that it would be still around the following morning (25th) so I could get some better shots, well it was. However, I decided to take the girls to school first so I'd have a bit more time with it. It turned out to be a wrong decision however as 15 minutes before I got there, it was disturbed by a creel fisherman leaving the harbour,  it went in to the water and didn't get seen again until it just after 2pm when it was only seen briefly. Here's hoping for Saturday morning.

    Robbie

1 comment:

MarkW said...

Some superb pictures as usual, & a very good record of man's mess: I too hope it got clear of the rubbish.
As to the bearded seal & eiders perhaps a winter visit would be a sensible idea at some point!