Sunday, 29 January 2012

  Today  (January 29th)  is our anniversary so to speak, exactly a year ago we put down some firm roots here on Unst and moved in to Ordaal. I could do a review of the year here but that might be a bit boring to some; so, all I will say is that it's been a very good year. Time for a celebratory dram !

  This last week I spent 3 days working installing a new kitchen for a couple on the island which was a nice change and also as on one of the days it was rather foul outside. The day before (Tuesday), I had to go to Yell so, as I had a bit of time to spare, I went via Fetlar ! The 11.50am ferry goes to Fetlar and then on to Yell - after a 40 minutes stop at Fetlar for the ferry crews lunch break. Brydon had suggested that if I wanted to try for the Whitebilled Diver that is wintering in Bluemull Sound, then it I should get that ferry as it is only a short time to hang about before the ferry departs again. Well, I did get to see the diver albeit at some distance...........


BIG crop !

  ........... and here's what it should look like - taken in Cornwall in March 2007.............

White-billed Diver

  Well like I said, I was working last week so didn't do much photography which as it turned out was a pity as, unbeknown to me, there had been one heck of a swell coming in from the south east on Wednesday night. I had to go over to Haroldswick on Thursday and then saw the result, the shore road had been blocked by stones and rocks thrown up by the sea and was in the process of being cleared by the council JCB. At Norwick there were some huge breakers coming in but alas I didn't have time to stop for long. Up on the top of the beach (which is normally a good 10 or 12 feet above high tide) it was covered in rocks and even a piece of concrete which was about 18 x 10 x 4 inches in size, now that would make a mess of the car !

  On Friday I got 'the call' from Brydon, unfortunately I was unable to phone him back for an hour and then discovered he'd had two Little Auks down at the pier, hopefully they'll be there tomorrow.

  Going over to the pier around 10am, I was delighted to find a 1st winter Little Gull and also a fly past of a Little Auk. When I say flypast, it was at eye level lest than 15ft from me as I sat in the car, what a cracker. Unfortunately it flew off out in to the sound - maybe I could get it on the garden list ? - yes I did. Returning back to the pier again later, I spent a while watching the gulls again and also two Shags that fished just off the pier. By watching the birds behaviour, I managed to get the timing just right for when they dived - if not the placing in the frame...............


  They are all the same bird, I've just cropped them differently. From 'launch' to 'landing' was about a second. I also took quite a few more pictures of the gulls amongst which were two Glaucous Gulls.........

1st winter Glauc'

  Passing by the pier again later, I dropped in to see if the Little Auk had returned, it had but by now the light had dropped off considerably - 3200 ISO sort of lighting ! I still took a number of 'record' shots...................




Little Auk

  It wasn't all birds however and I was glad to be able to watch the mum and full grown cub at the bottom of the field, as they fed on a large fish out on some rocks called Longa Taing which get exposed at low tide. The wind wasn't in my favour and in spite of being 150yds away she could obviously sense someone was around..............



        Robbie

Monday, 23 January 2012

'Mirrie Dancers'

 For most of last week and into the weekend, the Iceland Gulls have been the interest around Baltasound. I spent a bit more time along at the pier watching the interaction  between them and  the Fulmars and hoped to get a few images of the friction between them. It was usually the Fulmars that would see off the Icey's if they got too close or were feeding in a good spot.  It seems as though there had been some fish heads etc discarded off the end of the pier and it was pieces of flesh that was drifting up to the surface and also fish oil which the Fulmars seemed pretty keen on...........


 On Saturday while I was there, the 'northside' mum and full grown cub were feeding just off the pier, I did think that maybe another Iceland' might become a meal but on this occasion they caught a large crab and disappeared off with that. On one journey along the shore road I saw an otter coming down a field towards the sea. I grabbed a few shots for the record but the light was pretty poor (2500 ISO) so the images were pretty 'noisy'........................

..... Why did the otter cross the road ?

.................... to get to the other tide of course !

  On Saturday evening, there had been a prediction for the 'Mirrie Dancers' (Northern Lights) but when I looked out in the late evening there was just a slight green glow through the clouds. Looking at several websites (Spacew and Spaceweather) they were predicting an aurora for last night (22nd Jan) - and luckily it was a relatively clear night. So, keeping and eye on Spacew on my Ipod, I saw it starting to build up just after 7.30pm. It wasn't quite as good as the September one, but still great to see. This time, instead of leaving the camera set up to do time-lapse, I took single photos and moved around outside. I don't know how it seems to work out, but, for most of the better auroras I've seen here, Catriona is either away or has had to go out. This means I can't really leave the kids at home alone while I go out looking for suitable locations (I've got a number of ideas in my head which hopefully I can try out at some stage)....................



'Mirrie Dancers' Ordaal, Jan 22nd 2012

 I'm sure you'll notice the 'converging verticals' on the house which is normally a 'no no' in landscape photography, but in this case I ignored the rules to get as much of the sky in as possible. Taken with 7D, 10-20 wideangle, tripod etc. ISO800, 30 seconds @f4. Earlier on this evening (23rd) it even made the news on Radio Scotland as they were viewable from quite far south (certainly the Borders or even further south) and over the next few days, it's thought there could be even more - clear skies please...............

  Robbie

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Icey' Days

Well it seems that the temporary Iceland Gull population on Unst has decided the pier in Baltasound is a good place to be. Over the last few days the numbers there have steadily risen to at least 13 today. As well as the 'Iceys' there have been a couple of Glaucous Gulls around, one immature and one adult that Brydon found down in Uyeasound............

Adult Glaucous Gull

  Back in Baltasound, I was doing a regular run along the shore road to the skip (which was convenient) so I called past the pier during each trip to count the gulls. As well as the Icelands' there were also a few Herring Gulls along with Fulmar, Kittiwake, Great-blackbacked and Shag. Below are a few pics from the last couple of days. Unfortunately, sometimes the light was too bright and blew the whites on the birds making exposures difficult..................


 2nd winter Iceland

 Adult Iceland



Fulmar

 Shag

 Shag

Grey Heron

  Today (18th Jan) was a different day again, a strong south westerly wind and driving sleet and snow showers that made it difficult to get pictures on the exposed pier. Most of what I did take were from the car but with the relatively low light and the constant rocking of the car by the wind, the results were poor. There was a lot going on with constant skirmishes between the gulls and also with them stealing food from the fishing Shags. Even with 2000 ISO it still resulted in too much movement in the pictures or too much noise in the images, so I'll make no excuses for the pictures below  :) ...........


During one of the sleet/hail/snow storms

  When I'm thinking of leaving a site where I've been watching something, I'll often think ' I'll just give it 10 more minutes' or whatever, I did today and I was glad I did. I then saw down to my left in the water, an Iceland' frantically flapping its wings in the water. At first I thought it was having a fight with another one, but then quickly realized it had been grabbed by an otter. Quickly getting out of the car I managed to get a few pictures before it climbed out of the water and into a hole in the breakwater.................

Otter with Iceland Gull

      Robbie

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Iceland Gull Update ii

  Just a very quick one from me today. Yesterday (14th Jan) there was a Shetland wide co-ordinated count of Iceland Gulls. I did north Unst (helped by Sula) and Mike P did the south of the island - although we did overlap a bit. The total for Unst was 24, although to be fair there were a number of areas that we didn't get to so the number could have been a bit higher, it seems that the birds have spread out a bit since last week. If you click the link below it will take you to the Nature in Shetland Facebook page with a breakdown of the results - http://natureinshetland.blogspot.com/2012/01/iceland-gulls-in-january-2012.html.

  Robbie

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Iceland Gull update

  In the last post I mentioned an influx of Iceland Gulls, well it seems almost like an invasion ! Over the last few days when I've visited 'up north', the numbers of these lovely gulls around Skaw has risen steadily to eleven. Who knows how many have been passing through there as they are almost certainly not the same ones. Going around today, I counted 14 and down at Belmont Brydon had 32; also, down in Lerwick there were at least 21. Who knows what the real total is, it could be a hundred or more. Thanks to Mike on Nature in Shetland Facebook page for a link here and here in the Faroes, which makes interesting reading - if you're in to gulls. Just a couple more pics from the last few days........................



2nd winter Iceland Gull

  While over at Skaw late morning, I took a walk along the beach and noticed something on the rocks. It was soon obvious it was a small seal, but was it dead? Going around the rocks to approach it from the front, it was very much alive - and also surprised to see me. It was quite a large Grey Seal pup, which I presume, had hauled out for a nap while the adults looked on - I'd been followed by one in the water all along the beach. I only had my mobile with me, so I grabbed a shot as this was the first I'd seen hauled out at Skaw........................

Taken with my camera phone

                     Robbie

Sunday, 8 January 2012

A New Year begins.........

  Here were are at the start of another new year and as with most folk, I am wondering what the coming months will bring. For me, I know it's going to a busy one with lots to do on the house and from now until the spring, I'll have to concentrate on the cottage as we want to rent it out for self catering this year. Fortunately there's not a huge amount to do, but there is still quite a lot. Hopefully we'll get a few visitors and several have already said they'll come up, so despite the house work, I will still find time for visiting friends or relations. Around the fields, there is more fencing to be done and later on, more trees to plant. The fence down at the jetty (which goes in to the sea) will have to be taken down again and be completely re-done. The one at the eastern end has a rail along the top which I think helps to spread the weight of the seaweed  which collects on the fence, so I'll repeat it on the western one. It's pointless doing it now as there is still plenty of time for more gales which would demolish it again, that will have to wait until April.

  Photographically, I have a few ideas and subjects to improve upon lurking in the back of my mind, by this time next year I'll know whether I have achieved them or not. And what of last year ? Well as far as birds go, my clear favourite has to be the Pallid Harrier at Northdale here ; I'll never forget the bird and I'm still getting comments about it from birders. Despite it being a relatively poor autumn for migrants, there are still a few that stand out such as the Siberian Rubythroat at Gulberwick - here- or the Pine Bunting at Haroldswick found by Mike and Brydon -here. Also, going out and landing on Muckle Flugga was pretty special - here.

  Going south off Shetland for a couple of holidays was great as well - even if it was to appreciate the peace and quiet we have here. One trip was to the west side of Orkney for a week  - here , the other was to the Spanish Pyrenees for a week - the start of it is  here.

  Wildlife, holidays, friends visiting and trips out aside, obviously the best thing about last year was putting down roots here at Ordaal, enough said !

  So what about the last week ? On  New Years Day, I went for a walk with Sula to Woodwick over on the west side. It's one of the more 'remote' beaches on Unst in that it's a 3/4hr walk from the nearest road - not far by most standards ! For most of the way, the route goes through a fairly deep valley which, at this time of year is in the shadow of the sun - if it's shinning (today it was). If there's one thing that Woodwick is noted for, it's the rubbish on the beach. As, like I have said, there is no road directly to it, it doesn't ever get collected up. It is literally piled high with timber, fishing nets, floats and everything else that you could imagine. This the place that Catriona and the girls found the eel tag last year - here . It came as a surprise to me when I realized that in the time we've been here, I'd only been to Woodwick once before. One thing or object that is amongst the commonest of items to turn up is footwear; I don't know why but there are all types from wellies to flip flops, trainers to sandals - unsurprisingly, there is never a pair ! The picture below is of a few that Sula piled up in the space of 10 minutes and there were probably the same amount again..........................


and a couple of more pics.............






 It never ceases to amaze me what can be found and some times it can be useful. I also wonder where it has originated from, with most fish boxes that's easy as they often have an address on the side. However, I am wondering how far this funny little duck had swum  :) ................

(now residing by my bath!)

 Locally bird wise, the Woodlark is still around Skaw, but it is the white-winged gulls that are of interest ie Glaucous and Iceland Gulls. In the last week I've had two Glauc's at Skaw (an adult and imm') along with 4 Iceland Gulls. According to Mike on the Nature in Shetland Facebook page, there could possibly be over 20 Iceland Gulls (once they're all added up) on Shetland at the moment with lesser numbers of Glauc's................

Imm' Iceland Gull (low light = high 2000 ISO)

  After what seems like months since I had the trailcam out, a couple of nights ago I set it up in the usual place. I had deliberately not left it there due to the gales and heavy rain - I didn't want to have it destroyed by the weather. Apart from a rat, a blackbird feeding (at night) and one of our cats, I was delighted to see this morning (8th Jan) the mum and full grown otter cub on it briefly. I'd not seen them for over a week and it can't be long before the cub becomes more independent..................
video 

  Robbie