Saturday, 21 May 2011

Raptor sightings

  Of the many wildlife (or rather bird) highlights from the last few weeks, it is birds of prey that have 'hit the headlines' here so to speak. We've been lucky enough to have had a female Goshawk (which I didn't see), Black Kite, Peregrine, Sparrowhawk, Marsh Harrier, Kestrel, Merlin and Osprey during the month. So, along with a recent Hen Harrier and the over-wintering Rough-legged Buzzards it makes ten species in 6 weeks that I've seen - not bad for a small island in the far north of Britain. Adding on a Sea Eagle, a Hobby and a Common Buzzard over the last twelve months or so,  Unst has been very good for raptors - much better than I'd have thought. Despite several attempts to catch up with the Gos' I failed and it also seemed as though the Black Kite would go the same way but thankfully it didn't. When I did see it the light was pretty poor - flat, grey sky - but it was a lovely bird to see and watch............

'Record shot' of the Black Kite

  With the Osprey I was lucky enough to see it several times and on one occasion got to see it at eye level. But, yet again, the sun wasn't shinning -  but it's not just about taking pictures is it ? .........

Osprey at Burrafirth

  And a Kestrel at Skaw............

  When ever I go across Bluemull Sound on the ferry, I always stand at the stern of the boat (if the weather is good) with the camera and look for seabirds in flight as they pass by. The Bluemull ferry is good for this as the back of the ship is fairly low in the water which gives a good viewpoint. Occasionally, if the light is right or if the time of day is right I can get some fly-pasts of seabirds - although not always successfully as often there is only a few minutes of opportunity on each crossing...............
Eider Ducks (males, females and immature birds)

  If there are no birds around, then I'll have a go at being 'arty' or 'creative'' and photograph the ships wake..............

  Up here the birds are well in  to the breeding season apart from the Phalaropes which should be arriving any day now. Shetland is well known for its scarce or rare breeding birds and its these birds that lots of folk come to see or photograph. Photographing Schedule1 breeding birds (rare or threatened British species) at the nest requires a license (nest photography is now thought of as being 'old hat' by most anyway) but there are a number of people country wide that still seek out rare birds at the nest without obtaining the legally required license. In a bid to discourage the practice, the 'Birdguides' website (a very respectable and responsible company) have now decided not to publish any photographs taken of Schedule 1 species between March and June each year. See here . While its a step in the right direction, the folk that are intent on getting 'the shot' of a rare bird breeding aren't going to bother about the law anyway.

  Another area that's been highlighted recently is that of 'tape luring' birds, ie playing back a recording of the species either calling or singing. Again it is unlawful if the person is willfully disturbing certain  breeding birds. Dave and Martin mentioned it here and it can cause a lot of distress or even a failed breeding attempt. I know of one photographer that was tape luring a Schedule 1 bird up here a couple of years back (there are only around 70 breeding males of the species concerned in the UK, according to the figures I saw), when questioned about it, his reply was ' I'm doing it sympathetically' - after that day it wasn't heard again. Now that there are a number of apps' for mobile phones with bird songs and calls on, this method of getting birds out in the open for photographic purposes is on the increase. So much so, that some organizations (including the police) are wanting to clamp down on it and persistent offenders will be prosecuted. Read here (thanks Martin for the link).

  Over the last week, I've been planting the willow 'whips' around the property with the hope of increasing the cover for migrating birds that may pass through here in spring and autumn. So far I've put in just over 100, in either small groups or in one area, a strip 3 whips wide (in roughly a 6-8 feet wide and 100 feet long strip of ground ) I also put a rabbit guard around each one and attached it to a small stake to avoid losing them in the first gale (a force 7-9 due on Tues or Weds) Lots of folk had been saying how nice the weather had been and all I could say was I wanted rain - for my trees of course ! (I'll post some pics' next time)

  I had been recently saying how I'd not seen any otters around for a while, well I'm glad to say that I've now seen one again around the sound (a male) and even watched it from our shore one evening last week.

 The garden list of bird species is now at a very respectable 61 species since Jan 28th this year. With, Shoveller, Redstart and Brambling being the latest editions.


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