Thursday, 24 December 2015

  I just looked at the date of my last post and it was 26th April ...... I don't believe it!!!!!! So, rather than spend a week writing up this next blog, I'll put up picture highlights from the last few months with a few paragraphs thrown in for good measure.


  The last few days of April produced one or two nice birds, the first being a drake Garganey on Haroldswick Pools and then closely followed by a cracking male Snow Bunting along the shore road by Buness House.........

  On the 29th, I took a drive down the Lamba Ness road with the thought of maybe a Wheatear or two and as I crossed the little causeway towards the end, I also had a thought (or more like wishful thinking) of a Shorelark. Well yes, you've guessed it, only a hundred yards further on and I found one on the grass feeding with Skylarks - what a cracker !.......

Shorelark at Lamba Ness


  The Spring migration this year seemed very late compared to some of the other years and also the numbers and variety of species seemed less. Several  'highlights' were a Hoopoe on the road back from Skaw one morning, a summer plumage Spotted Redshank on the airport  pool, and later in the month, I got to see the very obliging Corncrake on South Mainland.........

  At the end of the month, two of the small races of Canada Goose turned up on Unst, firstly a possible 'parvipes' at Haroldswick, followed by a possible 'interior' at Ordaal in Baltasound......

 'Parvipes' ?

'Interior' ?

  At the end of the month, I had a trip to Hermaness and while its principally Gannets that I go there for, I'm happy to photograph anything. On this occasion it was a displaying Bonxie on the way up, a Shetland Wren gathering nest material and a Herring Gull stealing discarded fish from around the Gannetry...........


  During the first 10 days of the month, there were a few good birds turning up and in particular, there were a few cracking male Red-backed Shrikes around with at least 7 in the northern half of the island........

Red-backed Shrike at Northdale
  and this Turtle Dove stayed around Baltasound for several days...........

  On the 7th, I was driving along the north shore road of Baltasound when I had a big surprise in finding a cracking 'Queen' Eider almost on the beach by Buness House. Not only was I able to get some quite nice pictures, I got it on the 'garden list' too :)   ..........

'Queen Eider'

A 'Queen' with a female Common Eider for comparison

  On the 10th, I got a message from Brydon about a sighting, which for me, is well up there for being one of the 'birds of the year'...... it was a Bee-eater in Haligarth. However, the bird proved to be a bit elusive - and very flighty and so I only got a brief view. It wasn't until the following morning when I was in Haligarth again , that I thought I heard the call. I decided to approach the bird from inside the wood using the trees as cover. This time I was very lucky and got pretty close and had a cracking view of the bird.......

Bee-eater in Haligarth


  July was a very busy month and not just with work around the home. With both of the girls away in Italy with the Unst youth club, Catriona and I had a lovely few days in North Mainland.......

The coast at Breiwick

Fethaland, North Mainland

  Also during the month there was the annual Unst Fest - which was recently voted the best community project (in the whole of Scotland) in the annual Herald Awards. At home I continued working on the living room and on the outside we re-slated the porch roof and also replaced some lead flashing at the back of the house.

  As far as the wildlife goes, I had a couple of visits to Hermaness in the daytime and also several before sunset - it's a magical place any time of the day or night :)

Out Stack

  Right at the end of the month, I had one of four day trips to Fetlar leading for my friend Brydon's Shetland Nature tour company. When I'm due to meet the guests on the island, I will usually go over on the early ferry to suss things out and get a feel for what's about. On this occasion, I spent an hour parked up at the Loch of Funzie, to see if there were any Phalaropes around the loch feeding. At that time there were no Phals' but I had an almost continuous display of drumming snipe overhead. (The drumming sound is created two tail feathers vibrating as the bird dives through the air) They are certainly not an easy bird to get in flight - especially so when displaying and I'm using a 500mm lens - so I was very pleased to get a number of sharp images, the one below is my favourite. I also had one of the regular Redthroated Divers which are seen on the loch, take off and fly straight over my head - and was too close ! .....


  One of my favourite sights and memories (of many) from each summer, are the calm, still evenings when the tirricks hunt over the grass fileds by our house at sunset (and long after) for insects. They must have amazing eyesight as its frequently almost dark before they depart.......

  ... and this was a lovely evening looking north along Valla Field with Collaster below..........

 One August event I look forward to on Unst, is the regular occurrence of Minke Whales off of Lamba Ness as they feed in the tidal race around the headland. I saw several this year but the conditions weren't ideal as often there was a sea swell which makes then a little more difficult to pick up......

Minke Whale

  Despite there being a few of the commoner waders starting to pass through Unst (godwits, knot, etc etc) I would be in big trouble if I didn't mention one of the big events to take place on the island during the month and that was the first Shetland Reel Music Festival which took place over the weekend of 14th - 16th of August. 

  It was even more 'special' because both of the girls were taking part, either solo or with the Baltasound School group. There were a lot of acts from far and wide including Livingston Taylor, Jim Salestrom (who used to play in both John Denver and Dolly Parton's bands) and Daniel Duke and Lisa Ward - who were both on 'The Voice', plus many more. 

  Sula and Rona - a long with the the other Baltasound kids performed on the Main Stage on the Saturday lunchtime, quickly followed by Sula doing a half hour set in the 'Crew room'. On the Sunday afternoon, Sula then did another half an hour solo on the Main Stage. It was rounded off by her doing a duet with Daniel Duke on the Main Stage in the early evening.

  The whole event generally went well - despite the live internet feed dropping from time to time on Friday evening and as parents of two of the performers we were justifiably proud :)      ............

 Sula with Jim Salestrom

 Tom, Sula and Rona

 Baltasound School

Sula in the 'Crew Room'

Main Stage
Sula singing with Daniel Duke

  It was quite a surprise for me to see late on the 16th August, my first aurora of the autumn. I drove down to the end of the track at Saxavord for a view over towards Flugga and Out Stack. Unfortunately there was quite a strong wind blowing and even with the tripod and camera at ground level, it still cause camera shake :(   .......

Muckle Flugga and Out Stack from Saxavord

  and at the end of the month, it even showed through the light of a bright moon at home...

  The last week of the month saw a few nice migrants start arriving around the island; one nice find for me, was a Greenish Warbler at Norwick followed by an Icterine Warbler at Haroldswick. This was then followed by a Melodious Warbler at Norwick found by Brydon and I......

Greenish Warbler

Icterine Warbler

Melodious Warbler

Lesser Whitethroat


  Generally, September was pretty good with a few nice birds around, both common and less common............

Western Bonelli's Warbler at Burrafirth

Longbilled Dowitcher on Yell

Redbacked Shrike at Burrafirth

Otter family at Haroldswick

Rainbow over the Ordale Road

Bonxies causing a Gannet to disgorge its catch

...... and a 'Penguin' at Hermaness !

  It's now Christmas Eve, so I'll do the last couple of months over the 'festive' period and will post before the end of the month....... so have a good one, what ever you're doing.
 Best Wishes from 'The Island Above All Others'