Saturday, 29 October 2011

 After the excitement of the Rubythroat down on Mainland a couple of weeks ago (its still there and is the longest stayer for the species in the UK - 29th Oct) all eyes and ears where looking at the forecast for the following week(s). It was predicted for almost a week of south easterlies and strong ones at that, consequently folk were wondering what might come in on those winds if a Rubythroat could arrive on lesser ones. Well for the first part of this last week it was pretty wild here; however,even though this is only our 4th winter here, I've seen worse. Due to the winds, finding any birds was hopeless either because the vegetation was thrashing about or it was a job to stand upright! Even so, I don't mind wild weather , even if there is not much else going on the sea is often spectacular to watch anyway.....................

 The 'Bears Head' (use your imagination) at Norwick



Lamba Ness looking south west towards Norwick

 On Tuesday I had a trip across to Yell to the dentist again. I suppose it could be an unfortunate place to have a dentist, however as it was at Mid Yell, it wasn't too painfull  :) I didn't have much time to spare due to ferry connections and also as there was only one ferry running due to a mechanical breakdown, the ferry wasn't staying for long at the pier before heading back across. On the way back, the boat was loaded earlier than normal (usually it's five minutes before departure) and then it waited for a few minutes for some reason. As I stood at the stern of the boat, an otter came out on to the breakwater, shook itself, disappeared in to the rocks then reemerging a few seconds later. I grabbed a few shots but as the light was rather poor, I had to push up the ISO to 4000 in order to try and get a half decent hand holding shutter speed for the long lens...............

  By Thursday, the weather had improved no end, slightly less wind (Force6 -F7) and sunshine. There were a few birds around but mostly large numbers of Fieldfares, Redwings and scores of Blackbirds. Also, throughout Shetland, there was an influx of Jackdaws which are thought to originate from Scandinavia. They were mostly in ones or twos but today (29th) I had a flock of 17 here in Baltasound. Some of the birds have a distinct pale collar, which apparently is a sign they are of Scandinavian origin.......................

..... another low light, 4000 iso picture !

 On Friday I was still hopeful that something could have come in on the winds so I headed to Skaw again. Walking around the croft, I put up a pipit which flew on to a nearby fence. Looking at the bird I thought 'well, it's not a Meadow' or  Tree', what is it?'  As it flew off it called and I then thought 'blimey, it could be an OBP' (Olive-backed Pipit). Quickly going and getting the camera, just as I did, the heavens opened, rain, hail and sleet and with a driving wind at that ! Fortunately I managed to re-find it a get a couple of record shots - far more important than any creative portrait type picture in this situation. After the first couple of pictures, it then dived in to the long rough grass in the marsh area, at which point I left it alone. Seeing the pics, I was sure it was an OBP, but later I did contact Brydon - just for confirmation.................

Olive-backed Pipit (OBP)
  There were also a few other new birds in - albeit common ones - Blackcaps, Redpolls, a Goldcrest, Bramblings and several Robins................

Female Brambling

  If you look closely at the eye of the Brambling, there are some black dots. When I zoomed in, I discovered they look like small mites or such like.

For most of today (29th), the weather has been grey and windy again. Sula was off down in Lerwick so Rona and I had a trip up north - but it was more about looking at the landscape rather than finding wildlife etc. We also had a trip over to Westing to take a look at the 'Stenna Carron' which was passing by again - which I have also mentioned here......................

The mobile drilling ship 'Stenna Carron'

 I do quite like this time of year - especially when there is good light. The low angle of the sun can create a lovely atmospheric landscape and one of my favourite locations is on the way to Belmont at the south of the island..................

 In the last couple of days, the media has been 'discussing' a proposal for possibly moving the clocks forward an hour permanently. Several folk - on Radio Scotland - were totally against it for a number of reasons. When we thought about it on a day to day basis, we didn't think it would actually make much difference up here. In mid winter it gets light at around 8.30 -8.45 and is going dark again around 2.45 -3pm, so moving it an hour probably wouldn't affect the normal working day very much at all...............

Midday Christmas Eve 2008

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Bad news, good news

  Well firstly I'll start with some sad (but unfortunately expected - as far as I'm concerned) news. After months and months of consultations and waiting, the Scottish Minister for Education has agreed with the Shetland council that the school in Uyeasound should close. My thoughts are that it had nothing to do with the supposed saving of £100,00 pounds per year (it would most likely have been a lot less than that), but probably more to do with politics - which I prefer to keep away from. However, I still think that the shear amount of time and effort that has been put in by parents,staff and many many other folk was still worth the fight. Despite the result, I personally think it has highlighted how disorganized and (in some cases) badly run the council is - the 12 months to repair the Uyeasound bridge being a good example. The consultation paper seemed to have more holes in it that a well used sieve - they probably spend even more on council meeting lunches and dinners etc. So I was told, there was supposed to have been a risk assessment for the routes that the children would have to walk (or be driven) in order to get the Baltasound school bus (ie pass the loch, sea etc etc) but, so I was told, it was done from a desk in Lerwick ! It  will be great loss to the village, which no longer has either a shop or post office and now after Christmas will have no school. It is a ridiculous situation that, even though the school will not be open, it will still have to be maintained etc. Last year when the council produced the blueprint for education, they said that in the event of the school closing, they would then employ a development officer to try and encourage job opportunities and growth in the village - without the school the village is not going to grow ! What a mad world we live in !

  Last week, the kids were off school (two and half weeks school holiday) and also Catriona was away in Ethiopia again. The weather forecast didn't look too good for the week so we made the best we could of whatever it threw at us. So while the kids were making their own mini broch on the beach at Norwick, I got to look around Valyie and the surroundings. We had several trips over to Burrafirth and on one occasion I found three Goldfinches feeding alongside the burn there. Coming from down south where I used to have over forty feeding in the garden, to them being an Unst scarce bird is taking some getting used to. In fact, there are certainly many more Barred Warblers, Yellowbrowed Warblers and the like on Unst each year than Goldfinches so to have a flock of three is a a red letter day..................

Goldfinch at Burrafirth

  While at home on Wednesday evening (19th Oct), I was running the bath for Rona and while it was filling, I had a look one of the daily bird sightings webs sites. When it loaded, I couldn't believe my eyes - 'male Siberian Rubythroat at Gulberwick, Mainland' . Blinking heck, that was one bird that I (along with probably hundreds of other folk) have always dreamt of seeing. Fortunately, it just so happened, that I was going to Mainland with the kids to meet up with Catriona the next day. Time to change our plans slightly. Returning to the bathroom, the water had now run cold - one wasted bath :(

  Fortunately the following morning the bird was still there. So instead of staying in Lerwick, we took the bus down to the airport, 'borrowed' Catriona's car (she wasn't due back until 3.15pm) and went and saw the rubythroat'. Despite the fact for most of the time the bird (when it did show) was several hundred yards away in someones rather large garden, it was well worth it. It was just stunning in the midday sunshine. On the whole, everyone was generally well behaved and just enjoyed seeing the bird; apart from one occasion when it appeared close by, when it became a bit of a scrum as folk serged forward to get the 'shot of a lifetime' - and we were at the wrong end ! The two pictures below don't do the bird justice really. As it was so far away, I stacked both the 1.4 and the 2x on the 500 in order to get a record shot, resulting in very low quality pictures......................

.......a quality bird if not quality pictures, male Siberian Rubythroat

  After staying for a couple of hours we heading down to the airport to meet Catriona. As we left, I saw three guys (who were obviously birders and were travelling light) hiring a car. It wasn't long after, that they sped past us and 4 or 5 other cars through a village - with a 50mph speed limit - driving like idiots. Sula wanted to go back and have another look at the bird and as we arrived, the folk from the car had not long got there also. Later that evening, I looked on the birding forum and one of these guys had made a comment about  the bird not being seen and the situation not being helped by 'noisy local photographers' (not us I hasten to add). I made a comment regarding the driving and the reply was - "time was of the essence dear chap its called twitching don't you know" . Trouble is with this sort of attitude is we, (resident birders here) have to then repair the 'damage' caused by it. Also, the only 'dear' bit is the cost of them getting up here at short notice. I saw on the forum that some folk had been quoted from between £600 and £1300 pounds - just to come for one or two nights, each to their own I suppose. The other thing here is that if it hadn't been for possibly one of the 'noisy local photographers' they'd not have had a bird to come up and see ! End of rant ...............................   :)

  On a much more pleasing note, last week I opened the October issue of 'Birdwatch' magazine to discover that my picture of the Pallid Harrier here on Unst had made ' Rarity Photo of the Month'. I knew it was going to be in there but that was a bonus.............

Pallid Harrier at Nordale


Saturday, 15 October 2011

  Here we are at the end of another week and a week that was pretty poor for birds at that. I've had a birding friend staying here this week and I would guess he's gone home a little disappointed with the lack of both common and less common migrants. I know the feeling only too well, you've gone somewhere for a holiday or break, have a preconceived idea of either what should - or could - be there and for what ever reason, it doesn't really happen. That certainly happened when we went to Spain in the summer, I knew what should be around, but didn't consider the time of year and hey presto, very few small birds around. This has happened to Tim this week, last year at this time was very good, earlier on at the end of September here wasn't bad, then the wind changes to the west and no birds (or a few anyway). Speaking to Brydon yesterday, he says that it's been one of the worst autumn migration periods for years and it doesn't look like it's going to improve over the next few weeks.

  When I went to pick up Tim last Saturday from Sumburgh, there were a few less common birds around. I knew there were a couple he wanted to get, so, with time to spare I went and sussed them out beforehand. The first was a Citrine Wagtail at Fleck, fortunately it was still around and was still there (after a lot of waiting for it to show) for Tim to add it to his 'Life List'....................

 Citrine Wagtail at Haroldswick (from a couple of years back)

  From there, we then headed over to Quendale to try and re-find the Isabelline Shrike. I'd seen it earlier ( a lifer for me) and hoped it was still viewable for Tim. Speaking to others, the bird was still around but was elusive. Finally after half an hour, the bird gave up its location due to a scolding wren and was already settling down to roost for the night in a small garden hedge. The bird must have been so confident in its chosen roost site that it let us approach to with in 5 or 6 ft. As well as this bird, we had several views of a Hen Harrier around the area.............

Isabelline Shrike (from earlier in the day)

  Most of the week that followed, took a similar pattern. Tim would go out for a walk before breakfast, I'd then take him out in the car around the island, trying to cover most off the likely spots for any migrants that may have dropped in; Skaw, Lamba Ness, Norwick, Valyie, Haroldswick, Burrafirth, Halligarth, Westing etc. I think over the week, we saw the same birds at the same locations, Pied Fly' at Valyie, Blackcaps at Norwick and Willow Warbler in Baltasound etc etc. Probably the only surprise for me was a late pale phase Arctic Skua at Lamba Ness midweek.

  For Tim however, unlike many of our other visitors, he was very fortunate in one area, otters. Over a couple of days he had 6 sightings, including a very close one at Westing..................

  While I've said there hasn't been many scare migrants around, earlier on last week, we did have a large number of Redwings and Fieldfares pass through. Most have now moved on south, but there are still a few about. The first one I saw this year was way back in early September in Haligarth.


Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Just a quickie

  Just a big sorry if anyone has received a suspect email/link that has come from me. It appears that I've had a worm or virus get in to my email address book and is sending out a link to a website which has nothing to do with me at all. If I do get any emails with a subject called 'Business Week' just delete straight away,  for the time being I'll reply using my ipod which hopefully will be ok.

  Back here on Unst, things are pretty quiet - in fact it's quite poor - with regards to any migrants, the winds have been wrong for several weeks now and so it seems that the autumn migration is over for this year. There is still time for some birds to come through - Waxwings for instance and maybe a few buntings or finches.  For the last two  weeks we've had either relations or friends staying so I've not done much solo wildlife stuff. Hopefully next week things will be back to normal - what ever 'normal' is !


Thursday, 6 October 2011

Far eastern 'Flava'(our) !

  Lots of Shetland birders will tell you that one of the exiting things about being here is that you really don't know what's around the next corner. The other week (29th Sept) was one of those moments........

  I was just off to take Rona to Brownies at 6.30pm; we had only driven 15 feet on to the drive from in front of the house, when I saw a bird out of the corner of my eye. All I saw was a grey and white bird fly off a short way but I had no idea what it was. Quickly stopping the car, I saw it was a wagtail - but not a White or Pied; so the first thought was Citrine. Grabbing the camera, I got some shots in the by now, rapidly fading light. The bird flew off a short way again and landed on our boundary wall to the west. Approaching the bird carefully, I got to within 20ft before it flew off again, emitting a loud 'shreep, shreep' sort of noise. I found it again, this time on the road at the top of our drive, unfortunately it didn't stay there long as a car came along and so it took off and I lost it.

  Listening to the Citrine Wagtail call on my Ipod it certainly sounded similar, but the plumage of the bird didn't quite fit. So I thought it must be a race of Yellow Wagtail, but there was nothing in the Collins book that came close to it. An hour later I managed to send some pics to Brydon and he thought it probably was an Eastern Yellow Wag' but would ask Martin (Garner) for his opinion later. Martin is leading a wildlife tour for Brydon up here at the moment and is an expert in the finer details of bird id. If I'd had the chance to sound record the bird, then a more accurate location of where the bird originated from would have been possible using sonagrams etc. As it is, Martin suggested that this bird could possibly have originated from far eastern Siberia; wow, and it ended up by our front door ! ('Flava' is part of the Latin name for Yellow Wagtail).........

'Eastern' Yellow Wagtail - at 2000 ISO

  A few days later, I returned to Belmont House to try for the Black-headed Bunting again now that the 'crowds' had gone. I had seen it the previous week but had only got a really poor record shot and so wanted to try again. Getting down there around nine on the Sunday morning, the sun was out and still fairly low in the sky and I had the place to myself for a while. While I didn't get the bird on a natural perch I was happy with this as when it was on the ground it was very difficult to see.........

Imm' Black-headed Bunting

  I finally managed to get a short avi sorted of the aurora we had here just over a week ago, it's straight out of the camera - so there's no sharpening etc but I though it would give an idea of what it was like. Again its 174 images, put together at a rate of 8 frames a second approximately......................


  A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned here that the otter family had lost one cub. Well sadly it seems that they haven't been reunited. Yesterday I had two otters pass the trail camera and they are possibly the mum and other cub..............


  Chatting to Brydon about it, he said that anything thing could have happened to it - and often does to young cubs - and that if it was a male, it could easily have been killed by a dog otter who felt threatened by the presence of a young male in the locality.

  Since the sighting of the Pallid Harrier, there have steadily been more and more sightings of Hen Harriers around the island. It now appears that there at least 3 here as they have been seen roosting communally in the north of the island. After a brief view of one across the sound from the garden last week, I had one fly across the field and north over the sound at 6pm this evening (as I was talking to the BT guy) presumably on its way to roost somewhere.


BT or not BT that is the question

Sorry for the lack of posts, I had started one but last Friday our broadband went down and still isn't working. Contacting BT last Monday, they came up with the usual remedies of un plugging wires etc. This was despite me telling the person that there were numerous people here with the same problem (I learnt today there were 30 folk with no Internet ) BT finally came up and fixed the problem at the exchange, but we still have problems with the line. I spoke to the engineer at the exchange who tested the line and confirmed it was their problem. My problem is that I now have to ring the call centre again to report a fault and spend another 30 minutes answering questions to which I already know the answer.