Sunday, 22 July 2012

  Here we are in the 4th week of July and the weather has turned and we now have a strong wind blowing and driving rain. Earlier in the week we finally got LBC (listed building consent) for the slates which we are going to use on the east side of the roof. Its been an extremely frustrating time as it's taken 8 weeks or so for a decision as to whether they were the right shade of blue-grey ! In fact they are exactly the same colour (as pointed out by one person from the council) as the existing slates, but the council employee that deals with listed buildings, decided it needed to be submitted to the committee. Had that person been up here and seen the roof, it would have been done by now and we'd be able to move on so to speak. In this time of cut-backs etc, I reckon it would have been cheaper for said person to have come up to have a look,  rather than having a meeting with several others around a table in the office in town. The end result of all this means its now probably too risky to start the roof this (what is supposed to be) summer. It would be around three weeks from now before we could start, so that would be mid August. Given what the weather has been like so far this year as a whole, it would be being a bit hopefully to guarantee four or five weeks of no rain and wind - can we ever expect that ! In late Spring, you can normally expect the odd days of wind and rain knowing that it's not (hopefully) going to last for long. This time of the year however the reverse is generally true. When we arrived here at the end of July 2008, the sun shone until early September, how I wish I could predict that now.

 On a happier note, we've just had another two visitors for just under two weeks. Our friend Liz was here for one week and my sister Carol was here for just under a week . Fortunately for them (and us) the weather was generally fine with virtually no rain and a few days of nice sunshine. They managed to get to see most of what they wanted although the odds of finding Orcas were stacked against me (and we didn't see one) but Liz did see a distant Neesick from Lamba Ness. They also had very good views of an otter down at the shore feeding (pictures later).

  The week before last, Brydon asked me to lead a walk for him on Hermaness with a group of 8 Belgians. I was a little apprehensive to start with as I was told that their English wasn't too good and I obviously don't speak any Flemish. As it turned out I needn't have worried and things went very well apart from at the start of the walk - and until we got to the cliffs - as there was a lot of low cloud. How do you show people thousands of Gannets if you can't see them because of the fog ? Thankfully by the time we reached the cliffs the fog/low cloud had blown through and we had a really nice walk............

at least there were a few Puffins around

 Looking south from the northern end of Hermaness

Muckle Flugga

  The main event on Unst this past two weeks has been the now annual Unst Fest. Unst Fest is a mixture of live music, games, competitions, a sailing regatta, Yoal races, food & drink, a carnival, heritage and traditional activities and exhibitions etc. In fact, there is so much you'd need to look at the Unst Fest website for a much, much more detailed list of events. Below are just a few pictures from one or two of the events I went to.......

The 42ft long Canadian Canoe 'Spirit Dancer'

 136 people doing the 'Palais Glide' *

'Welly Wanging' competion

Yoal Racing

(* The world record for the number of folk doing the Palais Glide, was set on Unst in 2009 with 196 participants)

  Festivities apart, we did get to see a bit of wildlife around Unst. Along with Puffins and Gannets at Hermaness, Seals at Haroldswick we had a number of Otter sightings. I had a few minutes watching a male fishing at Haroldswick and I also saw one several times across the field from out house. The best view though was of one fishing and then eating its catch down at the shore. Despite the wind not being in our favour and it knowing we were somewhere up-wind of it, it carried on, although slightly wary. However, I managed to get downwind of it and got these pictures................

and the one at Haroldswick............

and one of a Gannet at Hermaness..............

 On Wednesday (18th) my sister Carol left for home from Sumburgh, so after dropping her off and saying our goodbyes, I went up to Sumburgh Head for an hour. Due to the ongoing building work for the new centre, half of the top of the head is closed off to the public. This has resctricted the options a bit for Puffin photographs as far as I'm concerned. For instance, when the wind is blowing from a certain direction, the birds fly in a particular way etc so, there is an option for more chance of success for getting say, birds in flight. On this occasion I spent most of the time just watching them, but I did see an immature bird (last years) and also several Pufflings at their burrow entrance.........

 A yearling Puffin

A Puffling which will leave very shortly


Monday, 9 July 2012

  Here we are at the end of the first week of July and the weather has changed yet again and we are now back into a cool north easterly  airflow. Over the last week we've had very little wind and for several days no wind at all, unfortunately it hasn't been particularly nice. It's been very grey with low cloud or mist for much of last week which in turn has brought out the midges (or midgets as I call them) .

  Due to the really dull weather, I've not done much of either birding or photography but this has taken away any excuses not to do jobs around the place. Just over a week ago I did spend an hour up at Skaw as there was some nice breakers coming in and this in turn was bringing in food for feeding Common Gulls. The light was rubbish but I still took a few pictures anyway..........

Common Gulls

 Also at Skaw were several families of Eider Ducks feeding fairly close to the shore. I've learnt  that if I sit down on the beach, after their initial wariness, they will soon come back and carry on feeding - they do have a choice as they could move to either end of the beach. It seems quite harsh for the ducklings however as they are constantly being bombarded by breaking waves and going under only to bob back up like little brown corks...................

  On the migrant bird front, there's not been much about apart from a Black Kite which first appeared a couple of weeks ago on Mainland (assuming it was the same one) and then spent a few days around Unst before going to Fetlar and then back to Mainland. A sign that the year is moving on was a group of 6 Whimbrel moving around Lamba Ness. My first thoughts were they were a family party, but then was told they'd more likely be departing non-breeders :(

  One evening I was looking down towards the shore and spotted a feeding Otter, fetching my bins' and Rona (in that order) we headed down to the beach. It came out on the rocks at the far end of the beach with quite a large eel and as the wind was in our favour we managed to get quite close - much to Rona's delight.

  I can only assume that it is due to high tides at the moment, that the seals at Haroldswick are hauling out very close to the shore and, on occasions, even coming up on to the beach. Like a lot of other situations,  if you roll carefully to a stop in a car,  they'll stay put and you can have some really nice views. Doing this the other day, I was taking some photographs but hadn't noticed a car pull up behind me; as there wasn't much space for cars to pass, I decided to move on. Then as I moved off, their door opened and the driver got out and needless to say the seals also moved off...................

  Common Seals

  A similar thing happened about the same time concerning an Otter. I just happened to be driving along the north shore road when I noticed an Otter in the water. The wind was totally wrong but I decided to pull up the car just see if could see any distinguishing markings (such as the female with a big scar on her nose). The otter came out onto some rocks that are used regularly for eating prey on, sensed I was there, but wasn't too concerned. Shortly after, a car pulled up behind me and they sat there with the engine running, time to move on I thought. Driving along the road some 3 hundred yards or so, I parked again and watched the 'otter watchers'. They got out (leaving both the boot and car door open) and sat down on the shore - by this time the otter had gone several hundred yards off-shore - no surprise there then. The otter then swam back in my direction and came out of the water and in to a holt not far from where I was sitting.

  We're now seeing lots of fledgling birds around - Meadow Pipits, Wheatears, Redshank, Curlew and Oystercatcher etc. Most of the adults will sit and give out an alarm call from a wall or fence post and some, such as Oystercatchers and Redshanks, will fly around like something possessed telling all of the world a predator is around. While I don't like to cause too much anxiety to the birds, I will if the occasion arises take a couple of shots from the car as I pass by. Spending too long can distract the parents and its at times like this that a GBB Gull or Bonxie could drop in and take a youngster..............



 Oystercatcher chick


 Male Wheatear

  On one of the many misty days, I went up to Skaw for a quick beach walk; arriving at the end of the road, I immediately saw a Gannet siting on a rock in the burn. The bird looked in good form so I can only assume it came down in the fog during the night and couldn't get out due to the grassy banks and a net across the lower half of the bridge (which is to stop the sheep wandering up stream when the water is low). Taking a few pictures, I then lifted the net so it could swim downstream and back to sea; this it didn't find too easy due to the rocks in the stream, so I decide to help it on its way. Remembering that Gannets will 'go' for the eyes, I carefully grabbed it at the top of the neck behind its head and held its wings together with my other arm. Releasing it back in to the sea, it certainly didn't feel skinny or have any injuries, so hopefully it will survive...............

  Living within a stones throw of the seashore, we don't eat nearly enough fresh seafood (although we do get to have Salmon fairly frequently). During the last week, we've had some really low tides which has exposed the rocks just off from the beach. So, a couple of days ago, I went a collected some fresh Mussels for supper - and very nice they were too :) There are a lot of Mussel farms around Shetland and the other week when I went across to Uyea Isle, I learnt quite a bit about them. From what I gather, there's quite a lot of luck involved as they 'self seed' so to speak - the Mussel eggs are floating around in the sea and then attach themselves to what ever is suitable. It is believed that some of the Mussels here around Shetland could have originated from around the Outer Hebrides. It can take two years for farmed Mussels to be a size suitable for sale, so I reckon some of the ones we ate the other night could have been 8 or 10 years old as they were quite large. As I was eating one, I became aware of some sand or grit in my mouth, upon investigation I found a tiny white pearl between 4 and 5mm across - something I'd certainly not bargained for..................

.............. but we won't be getting rich on this though !