Tuesday 30 March 2010

Hi from down 'sooth'

This below is from my last morning on Unst before our trip south but haven't had access to a pc until now.

Thursday 25th March
This was going to be the last morning on the 'The Island Above all Others' for a couple of weeks, so after dropping the kids off at school, I headed up to Lamba Ness for a bit of piece and quiet. It was a beautiful morning, the sun was shining and the sky was blue (and for a change, not much wind). The road down to the end, at one time was the access road for the many radio masts that once adorned the end on the headland during the second world war and were used to track shipping and submarines that past around the north of Shetland from the North Sea and on into the Atlantic Ocean. In those times, it was probably a very nice, smooth, tarmac road, however time has taken its toll and now it has become very rough, especially at the final section up to the headland. Here, it is a first gear crawl which has the added benefit of not frightening off some of the birds as you reach the end. Today, I had the company of a pair of  Ringed Plover, the male, looking splendid in fresh, bright, breeding plumage. The birds were't too bothered by the car and only moved a short distance away from the track and carried on feeding. 

I sat at the top for maybe half an hour, watching the to-ing and fro-ing of Fulmars, steady flights of Gannnets as they crossed the bay by Skaw and then on around the Wick of Skaw and onwards for the large Gannetry at Hermaness. After a while - as 'time and tide stands still for no man', I had to go and get ready to leave this wildlife paradise for a while.

Heading back down the road - no, pot-holed track, I past the feeding Ringed Plovers again. As they were still feeding by the 'roadside', I put the camera on the bean bag, engaged neutral, cut the engine and slowly coasted down towards them. Fortunately, the female which was closest, took no notice of the large camoflauged 'drainpipe' sticking out of the window. I took a load of pictures of her feeding and preening in what was, lovely light. What I did see, was something that I'd not witnessed before, and that was a Ringed Plover quickly patting the grass with one foot to entice small creatures to show themselves. I've seen it with gulls - especially Black-headed Gulls, and the theory is it that it is supposed to imitate the action of falling rain. With this bird, it would walk forward, extend one leg forward (a bit like someone testing boggy ground for a sure footing) and then with lightening speed, tap the grass or mud and very often pick up a small meal before moving on to the next spot. For what ever reason, I only saw the female doing this. 
 female Ringed Plover

As I watched the male, it suddenly lifted its head up and elongated its neck and also looked to one side. Then, in a flash, they had both gone off in the direction of the cliffs. I looked around and then saw a 'brown' Merlin flying at great speed up the track towards me, dodging the car at the last second. The plovers must also have incredible eyesight to have seen the bird approaching as it was only about 12" above the ground as it came towards the car.

male Ringed Plover

We left Unst, early in the afternoon for the journey down to Lerwick and the overnight ferry to Aberdeen. By now the sky had clouded in and looked like rain, fortunately for us however the wind had dropped and the crossing looked like it would be a relatively calm one.

I'll not be doing an up date from Unst for another 10 days or so but I may do a quick one from here down south.


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