Tuesday, 20 September 2011

What storm ?

  Last week, we were all getting ready for gales, which, according to the weather folk, were on their way. They were due to come from the south east and so, some folk at least, were rubbing their hands with the thought of some wild weather bringing some wind blown rarities to these islands. Wind, what wind ? It passed us by, heading out in to the North Sea much further south and all we got was a force 5 and a bit of swell. There's another weather warning for this weekend, again from the southeast which is then going to swing around to the northwest, we'll see if that happens or if anything turns up.

  On  the wildlife front it's been a bit of a mixed couple of weeks up here. There has been a few things around but much of it is stuff that's been here for a while. The day my father in law left and Catriona went away for a few days (last Tuesday), I took a quick look around up north for an hour and found a female Pintail in the pool at the end of Lamba Ness and four Snow Buntings (the 1st for me for this winter) and also a few Bonxies sitting around in the rain...........

Female Pintail

  Going on down to Valyie, I found a Yellow-browed Warbler, Barred Warbler and later on in the fading light, I had a Yellow-browed in the garden at home - another garden 'tick'.

  By the following morning, the Yellow-browed had departed from the garden which was a shame as it should have been relatively easy to get some good shots of it. It was forecast for another windy couple of days and the wind was to be in the south east again, so maybe a few more migrants ? While up at Lamba Ness watching the passing Gannets as they sped past in the brisk south easterly, I saw a whale feeding a few hundred yards off from the headland. There was something about the way it was surfacing which didn't seem to be like I've seen Minke Whales behave. Instead of it briefly showing its head and then going 'over' in a quite fast dive, this one seemed to hold its head up and slightly out of the water, leaving it exposed for several seconds before dropping back down below the surface. When I've watched Minke feeding, there often isn't enough time to get a headshot before they disappeared again. There had been a Sei Whale down at Firths Voe, North Mainland a couple of weeks ago, so I'm wondering if this could have been the same one. If it was a Minke however, maybe it was the sea conditions that caused it to surface like it did, I'll have to try and find out...............

Minke Whale ?

  In many parts of the country down south, House Sparrows are in a steep decline; however, the same can't be said for here on Unst. Since I started putting food out for birds in the garden last January, the numbers of House Sparrows coming has steadily risen from just two to over twenty at a time.  The seed feeder I use is a six port one (around 18 inches long) and that often gets emptied by lunchtime - often only 5 hours after  filling it up. Hopefully these birds may bring in a passing Tree Sparrow - they do turn up annually despite the lack of lots of trees. Quite a number of crofters grow oats for their ponies and when it is cut, the oats are stacked in the traditional way in stooks. These also attract quite large flocks of sparrows and other finches and also Skylarks that forage around the bases.

House Sparrow on an oat stook

 Around the garden, the willow 'whips' are doing really well and are growing at a rapid rate of knots. Some of them in the better soil, have now grown between 12 and 18 inches since they were put in back in early May. It's been suggested to me that in October I should cut them back hard in order to encourage growth lower down the stem. The thought of this is quite hard to take on board considering how long it normally takes plants to grow up here, however, seeing how these have done this year, I think I'll give it a go.

  I still get a visit from a solitary otter past the trail cam; at the moment however, it seems to be coming past in the same direction each day so it spends less time in view than if it were travelling the other way. I could move it, but then I'd have to either cross its run to get to the camera or take a long walk around and along the shore to get to it. I think I may try the second approach and leave it set for a week. I saw the otter family again today along the shore. They seemed to be really enjoying themselves playing down in the water but due to the strong southerly wind, I resisted trying to get close as they'd have picked up my scent a long time before I'd got close.

  I was recently talking to someone about some of the large vessels that we see travelling past the island. Apart from some rather large cruise ships (which are usually either going to or from a visit to Lerwick) there are some pretty impressive working craft that we see off shore. Three of the largest I've seen so far have been in the last twelve months or so. The first one was a mobile drilling rig called the Stena Carron, which is one of - if not the - largest mobile drilling rigs in the world. It was this ship that Greenpeace members attached themselves to the anchor chain last year in protest  to drilling exploration - more here, and more info on the ship is here ................

Stena Carron (no apologies for the quality)

 The next one which was around for a while  was the 'Audacia' which was laying gas pipes to both east and west Shetland - more info here ...........................

'Audacia' in Yell Sound

   Finally the last and most certainly the biggest, was here on the east side of Unst on the 1st July this year. It was the Saipem 7000 floating crane and is the 2nd largest in the world. I woke up one morning and looked out over towards The Keen of Hamar and this thing was showing above it (the Keen of Hamar is 89 metres at the top). I then went around to Haroldswick to take a look and to be honest was amazed at the size of the structure.............

Saipem 7000

  I'm not really in to engineering stuff normally, but when I read the specs' and see the scale of these things I find it amazing.  The ship alongside is the 'Normand Cutter' which is 127.5 meters long and is 10,979 tonnes; so to put it in perspective, the Northlink ferry the Hrossey is 125 metres long and is just over 11,000 tonnes and can take 600 passengers and 140 cars. For more facts about this have a look here .


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