Monday, 22 August 2011

'The best is yet to come'

17th August

 Getting back in to the 'swing' of life here, I spent most of the afternoon cutting grass and doing a spot of strimming. While I want to keep a lot of the land around the house fairly wild (some would say abandoned) I still need to keep some of it under control otherwise the front lawn etc will soon be back to how it was. During a quick trip to the garage, I came across a rather nice Ruff near Buness. At first it was quite nervous but soon started feeding again and came relatively close to the roadside....................

  By Unst standards, it was now quite warm - at least 17 degrees! - so even some of the birds were 'taking some sun', the two birds below were quite un-bothered by me......

Immature Blackbird

Immature Wren

19th August

  I can't remember who sang it, but I can remember a pop song with a tag line something like 'it can only get better' or words to that effect. Well at the moment it'll take some beating. I went out mid morning and watched an otter at Haroldswick that just seemed to be enjoying in the water, it was rolling around and just lying on its back in the still, blue sea without it seemed, a care in the world. Returning home, I got a text from my friend Brydon, 'did I fancy a boat trip?' , too right I would. So, getting my 'pass out' for the afternoon from Catriona (thanks Catriona), I met up with Brydon at just after two pm. I then had a shock to find I'd lost two 8gb cf cards, I couldn't believe it as I'm usually so careful about such things. Oh well, looking for those will have to wait, we were off to Burra Firth.

  Brydon had arranged for the two of us to go out with Peter Hunter from Uyeasound for a few hours off of Muckle Flugga and try and get some shots of the Gannets/Bonxies etc and maybe Minkie whales which had been feeding there over the last couple of days.

  At around 2.30 we set off out from the Shore Station jetty and across to the east side of the firth. Across there is a very large sea cave/tunnel that in very calm conditions can been sailed through and today was one of those days. It wasn't our intension to go through it, but on arriving at the larger entrance, Peter decided to go for it, all I can say is WOW. Putting the wide angle on, upping the ISO to 1000, I thought it would do the trick. I was wrong and hadn't allowed for how long the tunnel was, so the shots were a little shaky to say the least.

Going in, we were already under a large overhang

Coming out the other end

  I can't begin to imagine what the force of the water must be like coming through there during a winters storm. From here we rounded the Hermaness headland and headed down the west side to the gannet cliffs around The Neap. As far as I'm concerned, these gannet cliffs are only bettered by those of the St Kilda group, so these are pretty good. Seeing them from the sea gives a totally different perspective and this alone makes trying to capture them in a picture even more difficult..................

  A couple of shots of the west cliffs, the place most photographers go to get in-flight shots is the right hand end of the lower picture (do you recognize it, Graham and Sue ?)

  I took this using the 500 from the boat (not easy). Overall I was unhappy with the pictures of the birds in flight as the pictures looked almost blurry despite the fact I was using at least 2000 second shutter speed with the 70-200. Dave C mentioned on his blog a while ago that he was wondering about the image stabilizer sometimes making images un-sharp. I'm wondering if this was the case here, combined with being on a boat as well. Peter had brought along a large bucket of fish to try and get the gannets to dive near the boat but unfortunately they were quite reluctant and only the odd one or two dived. Bonxies however weren't quite so shy..............

  The experience of hundreds of gannets and scores of Bonxies overhead is impossible to convey here so here is just two pictures taken with the wide angle...........

  After the best part of an hour, we headed back up past 'the Flugga' to have a look in the area that the Minkie's had been feeding the previous evening. Sadly they were nowhere to be seen. We headed back towards the lighthouse to have look around that area.............

Muckle Flugga lighthouse

  This is where another line from a song comes to mind - 'the best is yet to come' (from a Clifford T Ward song I think). As we got closer to 'the Flugga', Peter asked if I'd ever been on there, 'no' was my obvious reply. We then headed for a rusty vertical ladder on the side of small rough concrete wall that descended in to the calm(ish) blue water. Double Wow !

  Landing would have been a lot easier if I'd had the use of both hands as my right hand was holding the camera - I don't usually use a neck strap, preferring a hand strap. Once up the ladder, it was a short walk along a concrete pathway, down a 5ft rocky step, another short walkway and then a climb of over 300 steps up a galvanized stairway to the top. Landings on Flugga don't happen too often due to the weather and any swell from almost any direction can make things quite tricky. In the days when it was occupied and before helicopters, men could be stranded there for several months if the conditions were against them. The task of building it must have been a colossal undertaking, more info about it can be found here . We only had around 15 minutes on there, but it will be 15 minutes I'll remember for the rest of my life............

The landing point with Out Stack in the background

The route up (marked red)

Looking back to Saxa Vord and Hermaness

  In no time at all, we were soon down and back on the boat and heading away from Flugga, Peter opened the throttle of the engine and we started to speed back towards Burra Firth. Suddenly he shut the engine down and shouted to us, there was a Basking Shark just next to the boat. We grabbed a few shots as it swam towards some rough water between Flugga and Out Stack and it was then soon lost. A brief encounter but a great way to end the day. Thanks guys...........

Basking Shark



MarkW said...

Wow,I have always thought the way to see the gannets was from the sea beneath those super cliffs, so to get the chance to go down the west side was brilliant, & then to land on Flugga too; yes I guess one has to say, what next?

robbieb said...

Thanks Mark, it was a real treat to get out on the boat and land on the Flugga. A couple of days previously some friends on mine landed on Out Stack - that really would be the 'icing on the cake'


Suze said...

Yes Robbie, wish I was sitting up there now. Lucky you getting up to the Lighthouse, as you say pretty tricky,glad you got the opportunity, great images and brings back some super memories. Will chat soon about my trip to the US and your trip to Spain.Love to all.

Graham said...

Dead jealous that you made it on to lighthouse Robbie - dead jealous !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

ports cc said...

Robbie hi
I found a super image of yours which we would love to use in our Portsmouth Canoe Club magazine. 4 of our members paddled around Shetland last year and your image would be great if possible as an illustration of attacking bonxies

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