Thursday, 3 May 2012

Home Alone 2

  Well here I am again, 'home alone' so to speak - apart from the two cats that is. Catriona and the girls have gone away again for two weeks, this time to southern Ireland. It would have been nice to have gone as I've never been to either Northern or Southern Ireland but as I had/have, a lot to do here I decided it was best to stay home.

  After the initial 'rush' of migrants the other week, things have slowed down quite a bit to just a trickle of commoner migrants in ones or twos. Two species I was particularly glad to catch up with from a photographic point of view were Long and Short-eared Owls. There have been sightings of LEOs (Long-eared Owl) regularly over the last couple of months at several locations on Unst, but as is often with LEOs they are usually well hidden and then fly out at the last moment. On the 23rd April, I'd gone in to the PO, when Valerie (who runs the PO) told me she had an owl roosting in the back garden. Sure enough, there bold as brass, was a LEO siting in the hedge quite low to the ground. I took some record shots through the window, but due to the glass the quality was pretty poor. Returning later when the light was better around lunchtime, I went on the path around the side and managed the picture below before retreating and leaving the bird be............


  The same day, Brydon had seen a Great-grey Shrike just west of Baltasound so, as I'd not seem one on Unst, I decided to try and find it. Unfortunately the bird had done what GG Shrikes are very good at and that was to disappear ! I did see 8 Ring Ouzels feeding in a field over near Alma which was a pleasant surprise and did manage a picture of one of them - albeit quite a large crop.......

Male Ring Ouzel

  A couple of days later, the sun was shinning, the wind was slight so I took a look up at Lamba Ness - blue sky and a flat sea, good for looking for cetaceans off of the headland - no fins today though but I did get a cracking male Snow Bunting. After seeing a number over the winter in their fairly drab non breeding plumage, it looked totally foreign. It was a very difficult bird to get close to, even using the car as a mobile hide; and, the bright sunshine didn't help with the exposure of its brilliant part white plumage..............

Male Snow Bunting

  On the 26th (April), Sula was due to play at the Shetland Young Fiddler of the Year Comp' in Lerwick. The problem I had was that she was due to play at just after 9am, that would mean leaving Unst at 7am. and as Catriona was away, I had to make sure Rona was ok to get to school etc. For a couple of days there was anxiety all round as we tried to sort it out; fortunately, Sula's music teacher managed to re-schedule Sula's time and Rona was dropped off with friends in Uyeasound at 8am. Sula had the attitude that she knew she wouldn't win, but would still do her best - she did herself proud and I was too.

  Saturday (28th) was a bit hectic again, Sula was going down to Lerwick again for Singing Saturdays (music and dance) so I took her across to Yell where got picked up. Then after lunch, I drove Catriona and Rona down to Ulsta at the south end of Yell; to get the ferry then bus, for them to go to Lerwick and then meet up with Sula. They all then got the Northlink ferry to Aberdeen and the start of their two week holiday. Phew !

  Getting back to Unst mid-afternoon, as it was still such a lovely day, I decided to have a quick visit up to Hermaness. At this time of day, the light has moved around sufficiently enough to light up most of the north facing, south side of the gannet colony. I'm not sure if I've mentioned it before, but during the last 4 years the colony has expanded further up the cliff so that now there are a number of nest sites that are almost at eye level from certain postions

 It looked like it was going to be a nice sunset and I wanted to stay there longer, but to be honest I was feeling shattered after several days of travelling about and wanted to put my feet up. So at 6pm, I set off back to the car which only takes around 30 minutes of steady walking now there is the 'Hermaness motorway' (boardwalk).

  Back at the car, I loaded the stuff in a headed off. Now, one of my general rules is that I always have the camera on the seat when I'm driving around. On this occasion I broke my rule as it was still in the bag from walking down from the cliffs - I hope I don't regret it. Crossing over the burn at Burra Firth bridge, I glanced to my left and couldn't believe it, there in the bracken by the burn was a Short-eared Owl. Pretending to ignore the bird, I drove on past and up the hill to turn around and get the camera ready on the beanbag with the  window down. Several minutes later, I rolled to a halt a few yards from the bird who was watching me with a fixed gaze. It was almost certainly the bird I'd seen last week just along the road at Ungirlsta. I managed to get 9 frames off before it sprung up and over the fence only flying a short distance away. Another one to add to my 'Shetland photo list' - a list of the birds I've seen on Shetland that I also have pictures of (no matter what the quality)...........


  At the start of this week (30th & 1st) I was down in Uyeasound fitting a new replacement staircase as the old one had seen too many pairs of feet going up and down it over the years. Doing this sort of job is often quite an anxious time as any mistake on the measurements up here could be quite costly to put right - I took the measurements and the stairs were made down south. As they come in kit form and are then glued and screwed together on site, if there is an error on the width measurement, that's not too bad as the stairs can be reduced in size. However, if it is wrong in either the going or rise measurement ( 'going' is the forward measurement between two imaginary verticals and 'rise' is the overall height of the stairs between the ground floor and first floor floorboards). Thankfully, after a bit of tight squeeze and pushing and pulling they fitted - phew - and everything was level and upright.
  While down at Uyeasound on Tuesday, Adam (the house owner) got a phone call which was for me (no Orange signal - and there had been no Orange signal in Baltasound  for almost 4 days anyway). It was Mike S, there was a Sea Eagle virtually over Ordaal ! As I had to go home anyway I set off, unfortunately by the time I got there - 10 minutes - the bird was nowhere to be seen, not surprisingly. The bird had been seen at the weekend heading north from Fair Isle and was then seen in south Shetland over the next couple of hours moving north.

  Wednesday (2nd) was a lovely day and if the forecast was right would be the last good one for  a few days. I was hoping that the Sea Eagle might be still around ( the last one a couple of years ago was seen several times over a week) so I decide to head up to Hermaness for a few hours. No Sea Eagle (there'd be pictures here if there was) but I did have a quality couple of hours watching gannets from a just a few metres and a very confiding Bonxie that let me sit less that 10 feet away as it rested by the boardwalk.......

  For those of you that know Hermaness, you may like me, be concerned with the news that SNH (Scottish Natural Heritage) are considering closing the visitor centre at the Shore Station and also after this year, no longer employing a warden during the summer months. The existing centre would be sold and a new un-manned one built in the upper car park. Personally I think it would be a bad move in the name of making savings, the idea would then be to bring in someone to do surveys etc. Watch this space as they say. Also, another of Unst's special places is the Keen of Hamar just to the east of Baltasound. Hamar is a NNR (National Nature Reserve) and has some of Britain's rarest plants growing there - the Edmondson's Chickweed grows nowhere else - and this reserve is going to possibly loose its NNR status. Why do I get the feeling its more about the numbers of feet on footpaths (or the lack of ?) than the wildlife coming first.

  Closer to home, I had number 101 to the garden list today, a Canada Goose down along the shore this afternoon during the rain......



Christian said...

An absolutely beautiful series of images; my favourites being the LEO, SEO and Gannet.

MW said... Warden, you have to be joking!
& the Keen......
It's numbers as you say; I am sure Noss is not threatened the same way yet Hermaness is way the best spot & number one reserve on Shetland!