Monday, 18 February 2013

  It's been another couple of quiet weeks on the wildlife front - the time of year has a bit to do with that though. I've started some repairs in the house which has involved sorting out materials I need and also sourcing a supplier from down south for one item in particular. I find it very hard to understand in this age of internet use where you can Google an item and dozens of choices come up, that folk often don't reply to a query or a request for delivery charges to the isles. After the other week when a small air-line union (about the size of my thumb) came in a box that was the equivalent of two shoe boxes in size - and cost £7 delivery; I didn't think it would be 'bettered' - how wrong I was. In early January I ordered some things online and after over three weeks of waiting, a phone call and an email later, the item arrived. It was a 3 meter long piece of plastic draught strip that could have been rolled up and put in a large jiffy bag; instead however, it was sent in a 3 meter x 100mm cardboard tube !

  Catriona is away at the moment, literally on the other side of the world in Tonga. I took her to Sumburgh  a week last Friday and she arrived there on the Monday - 4 changes of flight later (Glasgow, Bahrain, Brisbane, Aukland then on to Tonga - phew)

  One event recently which received quite a lot of local interest here on the island, was the moving of the Viking replica boat the Skidbladner at Brook Point near Haroldswick. There were quite a few folk that disagreed with the decision made by 'Viking Unst' (based in Lerwick !) to move it anyway. One reason was that where it had been located, it was protected from any storms by an area of rocks which helped 'soak up' the waves when there was a strong north easterly wind. Whereas at the new position a short distance away, during a storm, the sea would wash over on to the area where the boat was to be sited - time will tell. On the day (1st Feb - a rescheduled date), the road was to be closed between midday and 2pm to allow the crane to park on the road and lift the boat. However, this dragged out until 3.40pm or so and watching the proceedings from a short distance away, I reckon it was due to bad planning or maybe 'the left hand not knowing what the right hand was doing'.......

 In my opinion (and having almost 4o years as a carpenter/joiner) there were too many folk in fluorescent jackets who weren't doing anything but seemed to be there to 'boost' the numbers. Like one local said to me, 'all the hard hats and green jackets in the world, aren't going help much if those lifting strops break' !

  One thing that I get great satisfaction from when I'm working out in the shed is that I have the window that looks north out over Baltasound. In the last few months I've added several species to the 'garden list'  because of it and I'm lucky on a regular basis to watch otters feeding offshore as I do various jobs at my workbench. Over the last 12 months I've lost count how many sightings I've had, but each one is just like seeing an otter for the first time, magical. I deliberately don't try and photograph them as I don't want them to get disturbed (however unintentional it maybe) and become nervous of using the shoreline below our house. This male below however, showed up one day when I was down there doing some fencing repairs after a recent storm.

  Over the last couple of weeks, we've had a bit of a mixture of weather. From the odd clear still day, to wild windy days of gales and one or two cold frosty days. Early in the month, there was an enormous westerly swell coming in to the Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland. We didn't get the swell that many areas had - the Outer Hebs' had 20 metres of swell on one day, Fair Isle had around 17 metres ( look here). Looking at Magicseaweed on that occasion, the north west corner of the UK, had the highest swell in the world depicted by a large area of black on the webpage. Down at Westing it was protected by most of the swell but it was still pretty wild the day after (on the day, it was too windy and too much salt spray to take many pictures) ........

The island is not that small either

 Last Friday (15th Feb) was the first of the two Up Helly Aa's that are held up here on Unst during February and the beginning of March. We went down for the first one in Uyeasound on what appeared to be a perfect evening - not much wind, dry and a fairly clear sky; unfortunately just before the procession started, it began to rain. I started to sort the camera out at the back of the car in a litle bit of shelter from the westerly driven rain storm. Gear set up, I shut the door and put the camera and tripod on to my shoulder and turned to walk off along the road. However, I noticed something felt loose on the tripod/camera and lifted it off of my shoulder to check what it was. Then, almost in slow mo', I felt my camera go flying through the air, saw it drop on to the road and bounce on the road several times. ******** ! Lets just say the air had a few 'ripe' words wafting around. Some friends who were with me, quickly picked up the bits off the road (two battery packs and the battery grip flap) and I found the camera. To cut a long and anxious story short, I don't know how (maybe someone up there was looking down and had pity on me) but both the camera and lens were unmarked - after a drop of at least 5 or 6 feet. The battery grip was a different matter, it had taken the full force of the drop and had cracked/broken the casing in several different places and is basically a write-off. It was lucky really in that to replace the grip is approximately £130 whereas the camera and lens would be getting on for £2000. 
  After this event, I wasn't that bothered about Up Helly Aa anymore, all I wanted to do now was to get  home and check out the damage. I did stay and take a few pictures (the camera seamed to working ok) but I couldn't really concentrate, what with the pouring rain as well. Here are a few from the evening and one of the boat they would later burn, taken in the afternoon..........

 Uyeasound Up Helly Aa 2013

  The various measures for council cutbacks and savings carry on, the inter-island ferries being one area for belt tightening. The charges for the 'Bluemull triangle' will be re-introduced and also a few less ferries will run - it could have been a lot worse. The fares on Yell Sound will also go up. 

  Another cut back is the council run community skip scheme; Unst has two at the moment, but from April (I think) they will go. The problem then will be (maybe not so much on the isles) - there will possibly be a lot of rubbish dumped on the roadsides. The council have said they would charge around £30 for collection of old fridges and the like, I don't think that is going to happen, some people will just leave it in a lay-by. Then, when there is rubbish starting to build up, the council will probably employ someone in a small lorry go around and clear it all up. From a personal point of view, the skips weren't just good for putting the stuff you no longer needed, they were a great source of perfectly good things as well. In the past I've come across perfectly good bike wheels complete with new tyres and inner tubes and all sorts of metal work that have been put to other use. It was well known if someone had stuff that was too good to be skipped, then they'd leave it at the side for anyone to take. They will be greatly missed for both reasons by many folk.

  Over the last few days of relatively settled weather, the number of Shalders (oystercatchers) have started to increase as they return for the Spring. Over the weekend I was working outside and even got the coat off as it was so mild (well relatively, it was only 6 degrees but felt warmer). All around Baltasaound I could hear Shalders calling and displaying and also Curlew. Last evening I could here a Blackbird singing along the shoreline somewhere and on my Trailcam last night I caught a Hedgehog ambling past. It's now light until way after 5, the period of springtime may not be far away, but proper spring for Unst is still some way off I think.