Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Rapturous Years.

   Well here we are on the 27th of Dec and we've just had our Christmas dinner, crackers and hats and all. Late afternoon on Christmas Day, it was blowing a real hoolie (apparently it reached 101 miles an hour down at Sella Ness (Sullom Voe oil terminal) and we had our dinner cooking in the oven - and then the electric went off. It remained that way until around 3 this afternoon. So our dinner on Christmas Day was roast tatties and carrots - as the chicken had only partly cooked before the electric went off. Fortunately we had the gas fire and also the open fireplace to burn wood and coal on (the new fire basket arrived on Christmas Eve). It did certainly make the kids (and us) realize how much we all depend on electricity; even more so for the kids, as they had just had a Wii for Christmas and they couldn't use it. Around the island there were varying amounts of damage to roofs, walls and the like, but we got away with a few slates and a broken gate. It was wild though, most of the time it was F10, but certainly it gusted to 11 or even 12. The short, shaky video below was taken at the bottom of our field looking north, several times as I walked down there the wind caught my legs and almost blew me over......................      (make sure the volume is turned down)

Christmas Day at Ordaal

 So with, the wild weather and not getting out and about very much, I've done a sort of review of one of my favourite families of birds -  birds of prey - that have occurred on Unst since I've been here................

  With the recent sightings of the Pallid Harrier up here on Unst, I began to remember the raptors from this year and then of the ones I've seen since arriving here. In total, including owls, there have been 18 species here on Unst in the last two years - 17 of them I've seen (Goshawk is the only one I've missed so far). Also out of the 18, I've managed to get  pictures (of varying quality) of 14 - not bad for a small virtually treeless island 60 + degrees north in the UK.

  Apart from the 'common' raptors,  ie Sparrowhawk and Merlin these would be then followed by Kestrel and Peregrine; after that, the birds start to become scarcer species. The first 'less common' bird was a Common Buzzard which spent most of the winter around Alma, just west of Baltasound in 2008/09.



  That was followed the following year by a Hobby in Baltasound in July 2009. It wasn't a very obliging bird as it perched on a boulder in the middle of a field so the resulting photo was a big crop and not very good.

   Without doubt, one of 'the' birds for me was an immature Snowy Owl that Brydon and I  found after a tip-off from a local in the early spring of 2010 (early Spring being May !). That bird was only seen well for one day but what a bird it was (there was another here last winter which we didn't get to see) the blog from the day is here..

Snowy Owl

  The next 'goodie' was a cracking immature Sea Eagle over our previous rented house at Voesgarth. I was driving home when I saw this huge shape that looked more like a hang glider than a bird. It turned out to be a one year old bird from a release program in the Montrose Basin on mainland Scotland. Over the following week it was seen quite widely across Shetland.............

'No8', an Immature Sea Eagle over Voesgarth 2010

  The other nice - but brief- view of a new raptor for me on Unst for 2010 was a Honey Buzzard over the cliffs at Hermaess; it didn't hang about and carried on down the west side.

  2011 started with a cracking bird, no in fact two, Rough-legged Buzzards which spent the second part of the winter and early spring over on the west side of Unst. The birds would often disappear for days, leading us to think they'd moved on and then show themselves again. The last month or so of their stay, they were much more helpful in often hunting not far from the road south to Uyeasound around an area called Caldback. Numerous times I would drive along the road and see one soaring or hanging in the wind...................

Rough-legged Buzzard, April 2011

  After the Rough-legs', the next bird was a female Goshawk that Brydon first saw, which, I won't spend too much time on - despite numerous attempts, I didn't get to see it :(

  The next B of P (bird of prey) was a Black Kite during the first week of May. Rory first saw it in the north of Yell and then a few days later it urned up on Unst. I was fortunate to see it a few times but never when the sun was out ! ..............

Black Kite at Burrafirth, May 2011

  Around the same time as the kite, an Osprey turned up and this bird stayed around for almost two weeks - I'm sure of that, as it had a small notch in the 2nd primary of its left wing.........

Osprey at Burrafirth May 2011

  This bird was closely followed by a quite confiding Kestrel at Skaw...................

Female Kestrel at Skaw

  Finally at the end of the 2nd week (for May at least), a Marsh Harrier showed up around Ungirsta and stayed around for around a week. On one occasion, I was watching the perched harrier, I then took my eyes off it for a second and on looking up again, it had been replaced by the Osprey flying past with no sign of the Marsh Harrier.................

Marsh Harrier - big crop

  June, July  and the first couple of weeks of August were quiet as far as B of P were concerned. However, on the 25th things hotted up when I found a juvenile Pallid Harrier at Norwick. Of the birds of prey I've seen so far here (which includes owls) its number two on my list so far (Snowy Owl being 1st and Rough-leg 3rd). Over the next couple of weeks I saw it a few times getting views I could never have dreamt of......................

Pallid Harrier Norwick August 2011
  Over the next few weeks, there was an unprecedented number of Pallid Harriers arriving in the UK, with possibly 7 on Shetland. The Pallid was then joined by several Hen Harriers around Unst (which caused a bit of confusion with the Pallid) and in the end there were 3 Hen Harriers roosting for a while each night at Norwick.

  Even now in December, there have been Sparrowhawk, Merlin, Peregrine, Kestrel, Hen Harrier and Rough-leg' sightings on Unst along with sightings of both Long and Short-eared Owls. So when are we going to get a white-phase Gyr or another Snowy Owl, maybe this winter ? Who knows, but we'll be out there looking.


MarkW said...

What a super set of images, & a record of the variety of Shetland & specifically Unst's BOPs.
Let us hope 2012 is as productive, & have a good one!

robbieb said...

Thanks Mark, hope you and yours have a good one too. Just been out this morning for a hour and had two Peregrines together. Both birds I'd seen before but in separate parts of the island and not together

WPATW said...

A cracking year for you Rob and for us for seeing your images

Happy new year to you and family

Martin and Jacqui

robbieb said...

Thanks Martin, to you and Jac' as well.