Sunday, 30 September 2012


  Firstly, sorry for the late update, the time has slipped by since the last post. One really great piece of news for us and Unst as a whole, is that at the last minute, the school was removed from the proposal for closure by the council - for the time being anyway. Everyone realizes that the council has to save money, but to severely cut education is the wrong end to start at. However, the battle for Baltasound may have been won (thanks to the hard work of lots of people and some common sense by councilors who voted against closure) but the fight goes on for the number of other primary and secondary schools in Shetland that are threatened.

  So what else has been happening up here? I have had a couple of more days working, fitting a window at one house and a new door and frame at another. On the wildlife front it has been both quiet and exciting - if that's not a contradiction. On the 12th Sept, I had a walk around Valyie in the afternoon and didn't really find anything. I didn't look in the bushes behind the house as, despite just having my bins' overhauled by Zeiss, they now don't focus less that 30ft away - which is pointless in the close confines of the shrubbery at Valyie. Heading home, I then got a call from Mike P an hour or so later to say there was a Red-eyed Vireo there - a first for both Unst and Shetland ! How that could have been me that had found it, such is life ! Quickly getting in the car at 6pm with Rona, we were soon over there and, luckily in a very short time, saw the bird in the conifer trees on the west side. I fired off a few frames in the now fading light..........

Red-eyed Vireo

  The Red-eyed Vireo is one of the more common vagrants from North America to hit the UK shores - but, as I have mentioned, not Shetland - until now. The following day I had to go off island and didn't get back until 2-30 in the afternoon. It was a horrible wet and windy day, so hopefully the bird would stay put as there would certainly be a few folk coming up from Mainland to see it. When I arrived there were a few folk there that had been looking for almost 5 hours in the wind and rain and only got a few glimpses of it as it flitted through the bushes. Shortly after I had arrived and not long after the others had left, the bird showed quite well just in front of me, which allowed me a few more very high ISO pictures.

  Friday came and, just as forecast, the weather was much better, so I headed up to Valyie again. After quite a while of fleeting glimpses, I did see it well although it was very active and didn't stay still for long..............

  I had to have another couple days off island getting the Audi sorted for an MOT, firstly for a new windscreen (thankfully the insurance paid for most of that) and secondly for the MOT - which it past. While the screen was fitted, I had around fours hours to wait while the adhesive went off. As the garage was in the middle of nowhere (well almost) I spent the time walking the coast and up on some nearby hills.I did see a few Red Grouse (introduced to Mainland) and also a Mountain Hare as it sped away.............

From Brunt Hamersland towards south Bressay

One of the cruise ships designs in Lerwick Harbour

  Last Friday (21st) I bumped in to Brydon and Mickey who were just off out to check out a warbler in Baltasound so I tagged along. After many frustrating glimpses, they agreed it was a Blyth's Reed Warbler and so the next task was to try and get some pics of it - not an easy task as it was so elusive in the vegetation and shrubs around a small walled garden. I managed to get a few record shots but they weren't good enough for 'confirmation pictures', so, as I had to pick up the girls from the leisure centre later, I went for another look. This time I managed to get some great views and one or two better shots but not a full on side view as I was hoping for :( ..............

Blyth's Reed Warbler

  The following day (22nd), the girls and I headed off island to Sumburgh to pick up Catriona and also a birding friend of mine called Tim, who was coming to stay for a week. It was a fairly straightforward trip, but on the way back I got 'the call'. Brydon had left a message to say there was a Great Reed Warbler at Valyie so, once the car had been unloaded, we headed off. Fortunately this bird was much easier to see compared to the Blyth's..............

 Great Reed Warbler

 Also there was a rather nice flock of Common Redpolls, some of which, were very confiding....

Kittiwake at Belmont

  The forecast for this week was supposed to have been east or south easterlies for most of the week - brilliant for migrant birds at this time of year. It was in that quarter for a couple of days, but it has now moved in to  a more northerly airflow. We were also supposed to have rain on Tuesday, but that seemed to stop at Orkney and then track back south. So while the southern half of the UK were having floods and travel chaos, we (for a change) had some fairly nice dry weather. It did bring a few migrants here, but not the numbers some were expecting. Another rarity was found by Mike, Micky and Brydon and that was a Greenish Warbler at Valyie. Tim and I went up there the following morning and spent several hours looking before it showed itself.........

Greenish Warbler

  As Tim was only here for a week - and also that he is a very keen birder, we were out everyday from around nine to three thirty in the afternoon. I don't really consider myself as a serious twitcher (a term I really hate) but I will go and have a look-see at birds around Unst, Yell or Fetlar. I'd already seen a Blyth's Reed Warbler a few days before but as another one turned up in Haligarth, Tim was keen to see if we could see it. We did eventually get it after a total of several hours but the bird was much more difficult to see than the one at Hillsgarth a few days before. While we were there, there was also a 'flyover' of a Rough-legged Buzzard that had an unusual plumage pattern below, the 'jury' is still out trying to age it...............

Rough-legged Buzzard over Haligarth

  Below are a few other shots from the past week..............

 Booted Warbler at Clibberswick

 Goldcrest at Northdale

 Starling at Valyie

Yellow-browed Warbler at Valyie

Another Redpoll, this time at Skaw

Redshank at Buness


Monday, 10 September 2012

  It's been a busy week or so again with both friends and visitors coming around and also staying. I had a slightly unusual photo assignment last week which was very weather dependent. I had been asked to photograph the runway lights (or rather the illumination) of the now semi redundant Baltasound airport. The suggestion had been made by some folk from way down south that they possibly weren't bright enough for a helicopter to land at night. Only had a week to do it and for most of it it was either raining or blowing a right hoolie - or both. Fortunately there was one evening where the wind dropped down below F5 and it wasn't raining! The best view would obviously be from an elevated position but obviously there aren't many of those directly inline with a runway - and as a helicopter wasn't available, I had to make do with standing on the roof of my car.

  Despite the good weather down south, summer seems to be over here with the departure of many of the summer breeders. Most of the terns, Arctic Skuas, Whimbrels and Red-throated Divers seem to have gone, Fulmar chicks have left their nests and also quite a few young Gannets (Gugas) can be seen around the place. Last week we had two friends from the Cotswolds were staying for two nights. One one of the better days we took a walk to Hermaness and on the way up, we came across a young Gannet flapping around in one of the Bonxie breeding areas - quite a long way from the sea and gannet cliffs.If we left it, it would soon tire and become Bonxie food and as it seemed OK I decided to catch it and take it to the cliffs at the top of the board walk. It had probably come down in the previous nights gale (F8-9) and as it was in heather, it probably found it difficult to take off. Despite its protest (and trying to peck me - but keeping its beak well away from my face and eyes) I carried it up to the cliffs. Laying the bird down on the grass, it perked up and after a brief look around, flapped off the edge and joined the hundreds of others soaring around in the strong westerly wind..............

  Finally last week I managed to catch up with the pale (leucistic) Starling down at Lamba Ness. It's not a particularly rare plumage type, but for me I think it's a lovely bird. Starlings are normally quite approachable but for some reason this flock have been particularly flighty.

One evening just over a week ago, my girls had friends around and had been having a water fight outside (in the rain!), they hadn't been in long when they started running around the house shouting 'otter, otter'. As it turned out, they had seen one come up the field close to the garden wall to the west side of the house. It climbed over the wall into the pony field (the ponies then made it clear they didn't want it in their field) so it climbed over the wall and on to the lawn. It then disappeared for awhile into the Rosa bushes before emerging by the bird table. At first I thought it was eating something but then realized it was just lying in the grass - which it did for 6 or 7 minutes. Then, to my surprise, another otter appeared coming up the field following the same route as the first one. The second animal was a lot smaller and slimmer than the first and was obviously following the scent of the first one. As the 2nd one climbed over onto the lawn, the other one disappeared from view, we saw them a short time later going across a field to the east, the slimmer one some distance behind the first. Now had the 2nd one been bigger than the first, you'd have said it was a male on the scent of a female 'in season'. However, it could have been a big female and a small male - we'll probably never know.

  It's a bit of a short blog this week as I've been WORKING for a change over a Burrafirth and also as the weather hasn't been particularly good (wind in the wrong direction etc) there hasn't been too many birds around. Probably the best during the last week was a Peregrine over Baltasound.

  We did have a nice family walk on Sunday along the coast south of Skaw to Inner Skaw. The most notable photograph of the day has to be this one ...........

                                                       ........ for my birthday!


(I don't know what's going on with the formatting on Blogger tonight, but it's acting strange)