Sunday, 26 June 2011

Golden Glow

  As I mentioned in the previous post, I had been wondering what had been using a hole down just about the high water mark on the beach. Well, by placing the camera there a couple of nights ago, I discovered two things and both for different reasons have put my mind at rest. If you look at the vid' below, you'll see what is using the hole..................


  This did surprise me for two reasons, firstly there are no droppings around the hole or on the grass which is most unusual and secondly, as you can see the hole is at the edge of the beach, so, on very high tides the hole would get flooded - perhaps this their 'summer' residence ! The other thing I learnt from using the camera is how many video clips it can really hold. Over the last couple of weeks, the average maximum number of clips has been around 28 - until this last occasion. From around 8pm in the evening until 8am the following morning there were 250 thirty second videos of these rabbits going about there nightly business, that's a lot of short films to go through.

  With that sorted, I put it back to the usual place around 9pm only to see that an otter had been there early in the evening - as it had left some fresh tracks in the ever diminishing small freshwater pool. However, it did come back again later in the evening...............

Spraint marking

  Finding Otter where otters spraint mark is usually pretty easy - especially in the summer - as the grass is usually much lusher and greener due to the abundance of natural fertilizer !

 On Friday (June 24th) I had a few hours out on my own again and took a look up north to see if the S-t Lark was still around. It was, but due to the sunshine there was an obvious heat haze coming up from the road down to Lamba Ness where the bird likes to feed. I did get a few pics of several other birds including a very close Whimbrel that was feeding close to the track. What was a surprise was that there were 6 birds in total which I thought was unusual for the time of year - they should be well into breeding now. My thoughts were that they were either late returning non-breeders or non-breeders migrating early, a cause for concern either way. There is an RSPB guy doing a Whimbrel survey up here at the moment and apparently the numbers have crashed since last year..........................

Whimbrel full frame, un-cropped, 500+1.4

  As we are now in the 3rd week of June, there are a lot of young birds around. This bird below is a young Wheatear, taken from the car again un-cropped and is a bit  too close................

Young Wheatear

 Later on in the evening, I headed out again as it looked like it could be a good sunset. Going first over to Lamba Ness, I could see there was a large bank of cloud on the northern horizon - no shots of the sun sinking below the horizon tonight then. Coming back, I did stop briefly to take a few pics of the back-lit cotton grass - all it needed was a silhouette of a Bonxie or something to finish it off....

Cotton Grass

  I then decided to head off up to Saxavord hill for the evening glow on some Bonxies or maybe a Golden Plover. Graham had mentioned here of Golden Plover up there so that reminded me to take a look. Sure enough, right by the roadside there was a pair of Goldies in the glow of the evening sun. Once I'd stopped the engine, the birds went back to feeding etc and didn't seem bothered by me at all. Eventually the male came right by the car and once again it was too close to get all of the bird in the frame............

'Golden Glow'

Full frame, uncropped

  Whilst sitting there watching the plovers, I also had a lovely Meadow Pipit close by the car in lovely lighting which I've often heard described as the 'Golden Hour' - this evening it certainly was.......

Meadow Pipit at around 9.45pm

  Alas, I didn't see the sun set as it disappeared into the cloud about 30 minutes before it was due, although it was a cracking evening.


Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Quick Turn Around

    Well that was a bit of a b***er, I'd just spent an hour typing out the blog when it all disappeared (and wasn't saved)! Hey ho, start again.

  After returning from our stay at Sumburgh lighthouse, I had a few hours to sort myself out before heading off the following day to Dunkeld in Perthshire with four pupils and two teachers for 5 nights away. Uyeasound school had been doing some archaeological projects involving Scotland's Rural Past and had been invited to attend the final conferance to give a presentation about their work. So, on Thursday 16th June, we set off for the Northlink ferry for the over night trip to Aberdeen. The sailing went well and arrived at just after 7am on a bright sunny morning..................

 Arriving in Aberdeen

 The journey down to Birnham/Dunkeld went without a hitch thanks to some great travel planning back at Uyeasound during the past few weeks. On arriving there however it was now raining. The following day was spent most of the time at the Birnham Arts Centre however, I did get to the pub to meet up with a good friend of mine for a beer or two...................

The Uyeasound free standing display

  The whole day went very well and the Uyeasound kids did themselves proud, with well over a hundred people at the conference, their DVD presentation received a long and loud applause.

  The following day was spent on the Blair Atholl estate doing what I would call a cross between orienteering and an archaeological walk. The route was just over 6 miles and at each check point were clues and a grid reference to the next one. Each check point had something of an archaeological interest etc and although I must admit to neither not knowing much about, or having and interest in archaeologically found it very interesting and enjoyable. Below are a few views of the day.....................

  The trip back home was as easy as the trip down (including an almost totally flat calm sea) and I arrived home late morning on 21st June. Only home for an hour, I then went out with Ian (my father in law) to see if the Black-throated Diver had returned to Norwick. (I'd got a text the day before to say it was there), sadly it hadn't returned.  We then headed off over towards Lamba Ness to see if the 'Blue' Malee (|Fulmar) was around. Not long after turning down the old road towards the head, I spotted a very pale lark fly up from the road in front of the car. It landed not far away, giving me a chance to both take a record shot and check the bird through the scope. It was as, I thought, a Short-toed Lark. Much plainer and also a more sandy brown than our own Skylark, with a distinctively different flight action or jizz. By carefully placing the beanbag on the hinge area of the open car door and then the camera on top, I could slowly drive towards the bird and, hopefully, get some better shots - which fortunately I did..........

Short-toed Lark

I've been using the 'trailcam' quite a bit, with varying amounts of success - I always get something, but not always what I'm after. Recently the subjects captured in various states of illumination have been Hedgehog, Hooded Crow, Starling, cat, rabbit - and several otter shots. Also lots of false triggers caused by the water rippling on the pool. I've now moved it for a couple of nights to try and capture what's using a hole along the beach. It doesn't look quite big enough for an otter but as there are no rabbit droppings near by, I've got an open mind about it. I'll post a couple more vids' next time.


Wednesday, 15 June 2011

A few days at Sumburgh Head

 Sunday 12th June

  Well after a late night as Graham mentioned here , I also got up early to see Graham and Sue off (thanks guys for coming up) and also to get ready for a trip down to the old Sumburgh Head lighthouse keepers cottage for 3 nights. We stayed there before as I mentioned here and at the time thought about staying there in the late spring. Thankfully, due to the refurbishment  work there starting later than planned, they took some more bookings and so we were able to go there for 3 nights again.

  The trip down was uneventful but we had planned a short trip over to the island of Mousa. On arriving at the ferry jetty just before 1 o'clock, it started to rain and the wind got up. Neither I or Ian (my father in law) wanted a soaking so we headed on down to Sumburgh while the others went to Mousa.

  Unfortunately the cottage wasn't quite ready but a least there were plenty of birds around to keep us occupied. Shortly after unloading the car, I took a look over the cliffs which are only a few seconds walk from the cottage. As I passed a spot where the wardens put food out for the local Twite, I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw a cracking male Common Rosefinch feeding with the Twite. Rosefinches are regular autumnal passage birds up here but they are usually rather tatty juveniles. (the bird was still there today 15th June)...................

A male Common Rosefinch

  There were also a number of Twite around including a recently fledged family of young birds.........

 A young Twite

  As well as the finches, there were a number of other birds around including several pairs of Wheatears. The ones below had a nest in an old rabbit burrow and would retreat in to it if a gull or Bonxie flew over too close.........

Male Wheatear

  There were also quite a lot of Puffins around and some, like this one, still gathering nest material (quite how it would get it down the hole I don't know) and one or two were bringing in food........

a variation on the theme of 'bird on a stick'
  All in all it was a great few days despite the wet weather on one of the days and having to drive back up to Unst for the girls school sports day and then drive back down again all in one day. I hope that in several years time when the work has been completed, it still retains a bit of the charm that Sumburgh has although it probably won't. As it is a listed building, it will have to be done in keeping with what's there already, that said, it does need restoring.


Saturday, 11 June 2011

  It's been a busy few days again with two of my relations going and then two friends arriving for a week. I've been doing some work in the house (plumbing) which has taken a lot longer than it should have, ie non-standard fittings that had previously been installed. I also wanted to get on top of a problem with leaking out-buildings; again, where the job had not been done properly in the first place. I've managed to fix part of it temporarily until I get get some sand and cement delivered up here.

  Last Monday (6th June) Rona had one of the schools 'occasional' days off - the occasional bit does seem to be quite often though ! So, due to Rona being at home, my friends Graham and Sue, went off on their own for the day while I stayed around the house etc. I set the 'trail cam' up again, and this time I inadvertently set it to the still pictures setting, I got a couple of shots of the otter again, this time during the late evening light.....................

  Obviously with using a remotely operated  camera, I have no control over where the subject is placed in the frame etc, but I do find it interesting to discover what time of day or night the animal is around. There are quite a few false triggers and also a few that are caused by a rabbit running across the field of view.......................

  Last Tuesday (7th June), I spent most of the morning and part of the afternoon with Graham and Sue up at Hermaness. The forecast was supposed to be ok, but on the way up at around 10am I thought hat the Met Office had got it wrong. It was grey and miserable with occasional drizzle, I thought about going back down but then thought that maybe it was just the timing of the weather that was wrong. By the time we reached the cliffs, the cloud was starting to show signs of clearing and in the end it was a quite pleasant day - although a tad cool. The light was quite bright so I was underexposing quite a lot to try and not blow the whites in the Puffins and Gannets, but on this occasion I didn't get it quite right. Anyway, here are a few from that visit............

----- the wrong place at the wrong time !
Bathing Bonxie

  Sadly I didn't get as much time out and about with Graham and Sue this week (apart from a late night dram or two) but one evening we did go up to Saxavord hill to see the sun go down over Muckle Flugga lighthouse. Despite having most of the gear suitable for doing landscapes etc, I seldom do this type of photography seriously apart from a few 'point and shoot' or grab shots as I'm driving around. However, on this occasion I will remember the evening as, despite it being the end of the first week of June, I was wishing I had my gloves on !......................

Bonxie flypast

Muckle Flugga


Thursday, 2 June 2011

Nocturnal visitor

  Some while ago back in February I mentioned here about a trail camera that I acquired from the previous owner.
  Well in parallel with another project I'm doing here, I recently ordered a replacement which is a higher resolution model than the previous one. The camera is a self contained unit that does both stills (8 mpixel) and video (720x480) and also does colour or b&w using infra red at night and is triggered by a PIR motion sensor. With 8 AA batteries and a 16gb card installed it can last for up to 12 months depending on temperature and the in-camera settings. It's the same model that the BBC used in the 'Lost Land of the Tiger' a few months ago. 

  I set it up two nights ago only to discover the following morning that I'd not programed it properly and so had nothing to show for it - the morel there is to read the instruction booklet more thoroughly . It is a bit of a hit and miss affair as the subject may not pass that way for days or even weeks but with a bit of detective work, the odds can be stacked more in my favour. I set it up again last night and this morning was delighted to see that we'd had a visit sometime after midnight. If still images are taken then it will time and date stamp the pictures, however, it seems that when in video mode it doesn't....................


 As you can see the otter looks around nervously as though it senses something there. The post on which the camera is fixed, has been there for 4 months so it would be used to that by now; maybe it was just a very slight different shape of the top of the post which it detected in the semi darkness, as my scent would (or should have) long disappeared. The lighting is infra red so that's not the problem - unless they can detect light from that part of the spectrum. Tonight I may move it again to another post although with this wind it could cause a lot of false triggers due to it picking up wave movement.................

  This was the post that in early February, only had 4 inches of the post showing above the water after some very heavy rain.

On the bird front, things have been quite quiet here. There have been a few birds around but most of the northward migration seems to have passed on. There was a Quail calling in the north of the island a few days ago but unfortunately I couldn't go up to hear it for the 'List'. I saw a Redbacked Shrike again today after a tip off from one of the school teachers. My guess is that its the one from earlier in the week. I found a Stonechat at Skaw yesterday which is a first for me for Unst - and an uncommon one for the island.