Tuesday 28 September 2010

The one that got away ..................

.............. from me at least !

   Every so often, there is something that you see - or think you see - that 'gets away'. This happened on Saturday to me here on Unst. I was over at Valyie in Norwick at the north of the island watching the two species of Redpolls - Arctic and 'Greenland' Common Redpolls. The birds were in the burn on the way up to the croft at Valyie having a bath and preening etc. They were very approachable although not very easy to photograph due to the vegetation around where they were bathing. As I sat watching them, I saw a small bird that looked like a cross between a Redbreasted Flycatcher and a Redstart fly in and land low on the fence behind them around 50ft away. Raising the bins', I saw a small bird with very obvious orangey brown flanks. My first thoughts were that it was something special and I should gets some shots. A split second later as I carefully got it in the viewfinder, the bird took off and despite an hour and a half of searching, I couldn't relocate it. On checking my Collins book, my initial thoughts were confirmed, it was (or had been) a Redflanked Bluetail ! I phoned both Brydon and Mike P, with my thoughts and despite searching again for several hours the following day, I couldn't find it. Unfortunately for Unst birders, it was relocated today by a visiting bird tour and the 'word' didn't get out until it was almost dark. Hey ho win some, loose some. At least I know, that I saw it first :)

   I had to go over to Fetlar today to look at some work, so once done I had some time for a bit of birding. My first port of call was to Funzie to see if the Siberian Stonechat that Brydon Thomason had found yesterday. Sadly that bird had gone, but I did see a Chiffchaff and a Barred Warbler and also bumped in to a friend and his brother who are up for a few days. I then got a call from Brydon to say he'd got an Arctic Warbler down at Tresta. Arriving later, I soon saw the bird along with Goldrest, Yellow-browed Warbler, Brambling, Redwing etc.

Arctic Warbler

  From here we visited an number of other sights looking for migrants and found a number of commoner birds, probably the best (after the Arctic) was a Jack Snipe which flew up from a marshy area. It was here also that a small warbler - in flight it looked Sedge Warbler like - that could have been any one of a number of species from common to very rare. Unfortunately, the area was a large area of tall iris and sedge which made trying to find it again impossible. Hey ho.

   Returning home later, I had a fantastic sight of at least 800 - if not more - Golden Plover circling around behind our house before they landed again in the field nearby in which they're feeding.


Tuesday 21 September 2010

Working with Redpolls

  Well not actually working with Redpolls, to be more precise, watching Redpolls while I worked !

  Heading off at around 7.30am, it was a lovely sunny morning and flat calm on Balta Sound. Along the shore road near Buness House, a group of 8 Common Snipe fed amongst the seaweed at the tideline and most unusually, they didn't fly off when I slowed to a stop - although they weren't that close.

Common Snipe

  Going on to work at Norwick this morning on a new roof, I arrived a bit early and so took a walk along the road to where I could hear some Redpolls calling.  What I hadn't bargained for was that the midges would be out - and the midge stuff for some reason had solidified in the bottle. For half an hour or so I followed the birds around a couple of small fields as they fed on seeds. They were really confiding and on occasions had the Arctic Redpolls sitting less than 6 feet from me. As well as the two Arctic Redpolls, there were at least a dozen Common Redpolls of the Greenland race and a Redsart, Blackcap and two Willow Warblers.

Common Redpoll (Greenland race)

Same species (virtually full frame)

Arctic Redpoll

Willow Warbler 

  I have certainly had worse days at work and then later having them feeding of seeds just below the scaffolding, made me forget all about the midges ! During the migration period way down south, some call it the 'Scilly season' - as in the Isles of Scilly where loads of twitchers/birders go at this time of year, up here I have heard it called the 'silly season' - but without the 'c' ! Today was the first day this autumn I'd seen cars with birders in from off the island - the 'silly season' has started !


Monday 20 September 2010

A couple of good birds

Sunday 19th September

  It was a pleasant morning today, so, after a lazy start, I asked Rona where would she like to go for a walk and surprisingly she said Skaw - a result !

  We had a very pleasant time, walking out around the end of Skaw Bay, missing the showers and just enjoying the time out of doors. As far as birds go, there were a few Shags drying their wings, a young Gannet doing the same and a calling Tree Pipit and that was it.

  Heading back up the hill, the phone regained an Orange signal and then it rang. It was Rory, he'd found a couple of Arctic Redpolls down at Norwick and they were showing well and were quite approachable. Arctic Redpolls (of the Hornemann's race) are stunning birds and I would go to see one no matter how many times before I'd had the opportunity. As we approached Norwick, I could see Rory's car, and then Rory rushing across a small area of rough grass/nettles/thistles - he must have seen something good. After half an hour of following the bird around and Rory, Mike and Mickey checking out what it was, it was decided that the bird was a Melodious Warbler. I was fortunate that at this time, several of my girls school friend had just arrived to visit a relation nearby and had asked if Sula and Rona wanted to go and play with them - that was a bit of luck ! Both species (in fact there were two Redpolls) showed well in the end and allowed good views and the chance to get plenty of shots.

Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll

Melodious Warbler

 Finally, after an hour or so at Norwick we headed off for lunch, before going out again, this time to the westside. My girls and I had another good walk at Lund, the only birds of note were a Blackcap and a Willow Warbler in the nettles behind the beach. I was very surprised to only find one dead Gannet about the tideline. One of the other disheartening results of rough seas and gales is the amount of rubbish that is thrown up on the beaches. If you are so inclined, its possible to find everything from the smallest piece of plastic or cotton bud right up to huge pieces of fishing nets or tree trunks. This one picture below taken with my camera phone, was on the beach at Lund and is almost entirely made up of the plastic banding used for wrapping packages etc.


Saturday 18 September 2010

Gannet and Seal update

  While the kids were at parties this afternoon, I took a drive over to Westing to look for the Seal and also the Gannets at Lund. As the storm has now past and the wind prediction for the coming week is good, I'm hopeful that things will be better for the gugas. At Westing there was no sign around the coast line of the young seal, so lets hope it went back in the water at the last high tide and is ok.

  Over at Lund, there were 30 or 40 young Gannets in the bay and none on the beach although the Ravens were still around.

  Despite not doing much birding today, I did get a Barred Warbler and a Siskin by the post office as I went to post a letter which was rather nice.


Friday 17 September 2010

The morning after the night before.

  Well as you may have seen from yesterdays post, it was a bit wild here over the last 24 hrs. I was due to take the kids over to Yell after school yesterday, but decided against it due the prediction that the wind could go to severe gale force (I didn't want to get stuck on Yell) It turned out to be a good decision as an articulated lorry was blown over on the way to the ferry at Belmont and the road was closed for 3 hours from 5 - 8pm (no alternative route either)

  With this in mind regarding the overnight weather, after dropping off my daughters at school this morning, I made a slight deviation along the road to Westing. There was still quite a blow, but now at least, the rain showers were much further apart. On the way around the side of the bay, I came across an otter feeding in the water below me and seemed to be very successful at fishing as almost one in three dives it came up with a fish or small crab. I don't know why, but again today I didn't think I'd need the long lens and now regretted not carrying it with me. I would say that 95% of the time it's on the camera, so the last few days must have been the 5 % when it's not ! I had taken the 70-200 +1.4ex which did give me a little bit of 'reach' - but not really enough when the otter was out in the water. On one occasion it did come to shore with a crab, which enabled me to get a few shots 'for the record'. In this case, 'for the record' is to try and get shots showing under the chin as many otters have white spots which often help with identification of individual animals.

'A good scratch' 

  Unfortunately at this spot, the cliff edge is around 15ft and vertical, so I couldn't get down and get any closer. Heading on along to the end of the bay, there were at least 8 young gannets (guga) on the rocks either resting or trying to dry out their feathers in the wind.

'Air drier'

  As  I turned to return back, I saw a local guy I knew and went over for a chat.  He had been born at Westing and often went there for a walk and today he was looking for any storm blown timber etc. He asked me if I'd seen the live young seal on the beach, when I said I hadn't, he showed me where it was. Judging by the size and colour of it (off white and about 3ft long) I presumed it was a pup born this summer. It looked like it had either been in a fight or hit its head hard as there was a small cut on the back of its head. It was well up the beach and close up to a rock which would give it a lot of protection from the elements. I was advised by several people, that, due to the stress caused by moving them, it's often best to let nature its course - which is often easier to say than do...............

  Almost half way back to the car I saw an otter again, but this time it was a different one and then there was a second one. I think they were the immature ones I saw here a while ago, and now I was able to get down to the waters edge. I did take a few pictures (despite at times being too far way) and then thought of a post this morning by Dave Courtenay on his and Martin Dyer's blog here. You can read it for yourself but basically Dave says that sometimes it's best to just put the camera down and watch the subject and enjoy the moment and I totally agree, and this I did for half an hour.  Dave and Martin's blog is well worth following if you enjoy wildlife and use either Canon or Nikon gear. Their comments on gear is solely based on their own use - good or bad - and not on manufactures hype and is well worth a read.

  Dougie (from Yell) had asked me to let him know if the B t Diver was still around, so before I left the west side, I'd take a look at Lund. Unfortunately no diver, but I was saddened by the sight that greeted me on the beach there. Back up from the tide line were 23 juvenile gannets and a further 5 or 6 corpses and in close attendance were 8 or 9 Ravens. Out in the bay, there were at least a further 20 or more on the water. Hopefully, with the wind due to drop overnight, many of them will survive, I certainly hope so. 


Thursday 16 September 2010

A bit of a blow !

  For the last few days, the forecast for today was to be a bit grim and they got it right again. After a fairly good day yesterday of showers (and occasional sunshine), the wind picked up from the north west and by this morning was blowing quite strong and the rain had now become very heavy at times and travelling almost horizontally. I was due to work on a roof, but due to several reasons - not just the weather - I put it off until next week. I love wild weather however and fortunately for me, I don't have to put to sea to earn a living - or I might have a different opinion about it ! As I've mentioned before, the weather plays a part in where and when I go looking for wildlife, or even if I go out at all. Wind direction especially (and not necessarily because I may be looking for otters) is often a key factor if I'm trying for a particular type of shot. I always go to a particular website called Magicseaweed to get the information and I have found that it's usually pretty accurate. For today for instance, it has forecast Force 8-9  (Force 10 up near the Faroes) and a sea swell of 20-25ft of swell rising to 25 -30ft overnight just north of Unst, this has obviously now caused either serve delays or cancellations to the ferries to and from Shetland for today and tomorrow.

  With these weather conditions in mind, I headed off over to Lamba Ness as I knew the sea would look quite impressive. On the way down, around 20 Lapland Buntings were feeding on the roadside, using every little bit of cover to feed out of the strong wind. At the head, the wind was quite strong, but at least I could still stand up !

  The cliffs here are not enormous, but even so, it's quite dramatic (and impressive) to see the results caused by the sea and sea spray crashing on cliff tops that are just under 30 meters high.

This was taken under calmer conditions !

  The next 3 pictures are just to try and convey a feeling of the conditions. Despite what it may look like, I was perfectly safe and some way from the cliff edge...................

............. getting very wet !

  Moving on over to Skaw, I decided to walk along the coast to the headland at the Wick of Skaw. Fortunately the wind was coming from over the hill to the north which gave me a little shelter and the occasional ruined concrete structure gave me shelter between the rain storms. At the end, a group of Shags hunkered down on the cliff side out of the wind but kept an eye on me - not that I'd intended to go any closer anyway. The island at the end - which is called the Holm of Skaw - was taking the full brunt of the wind and waves and I could only guess at the height of the waves breaking on the exposed lump of rock. 

.............and looking back to Lamba Ness ........................

  The spot I was previously standing at, was by the building on the extreme right and looking to the left. In all of this turmoil, gannets were still fishing in the bay at Skaw, how they still manage to spot fish is just amazing.

  Remembering a gannet has a wingspan of over 5ft, it still looks tiny against the backdrop of breakers (and if you can't see it, its the black and white dot in the middle). The sort of shots that I like to try are below from last year and are quite difficult to get right and I often take scores of shots just to get one picture. I really wished I'd lugged the long lens and tripod with me on this occasion as today there was a lot of potential out there. These are from last year.......

Not the best of quality, but you can get the idea.

  Returning back home for a while, early afternoon I thought I'd take a look at Westing on the way to do the school run. If Skaw looked wild, Westing was even more dramatic as there are a few more small islands for the waves to crash over. The problem I had there was that the wind was now very strong and on having the window down on my side, the rain was driven through the car and onto the inside of the passengers windows ! Taking any pictures was not going to be very easy. Down in the surf, six or seven seals bobbed around like shiny barrels and a recently fledged gannet dropped down in the water not far from the shore.

  It is a sad fact, that storms at this time of year cause the deaths of lots of young gannets. Last week when I was over at Hermaness, there were still many, many young birds on the cliffs. The warden recently showed me of one part of the colony that was very close to the water and he did say then that if a storm came, the lot would get washed off - nature is harsh sometimes.

Looking south from Westing

Despite all of this, an otter came past me in the water below looking totally at home.


Tuesday 14 September 2010

Oops !!!

The forecast for today was to be sunshine and showers, lets say that I saw more of the showers than the sunshine ! I went up to Skaw first as usual, had a quick walk around and all I found was one male Blackcap in the spearmint. On to Lamba Ness, nothing at all apart from a couple of Meadow Pipits. Driving back up the road, a small flock of birds flew up from the grass and started calling as they flew away from the roadside, they were Lapland Buntings. These were my first of the autumn and I'd been wondering if any would show up here after the large numbers that have turned up on the Western Isles and the west mainland side of Scotland. I drove on up the road and had another flock of them (the others had flown in the other direction) in this flock there were around 20 making the total over 30 birds. Below is a picture of one from last year......

Lapland Bunting

Onwards to Valyie. Walking up to the small wood behind the bungalow, two small brown birds shot in to the Horse Chestnut tree and that was all I saw of them. A bird called form in the bushes which turned out to be a Brambling and a small flock of 10 or 12 Chaffinches flew over but didn't stop. I then saw some movement in the undergrowth near to me and up popped an LBJ (little brown job) which was probably a Reed Warbler. I looked at it an tried to check its details in case it could be either a Marsh Warbler, or even scarcer and more difficult to ID, a Blythes Reed Warbler. (Take a look in a book and you'll see what I mean) In the space of around 30 seconds of visibility, my head was spinning trying to remember the various identification points. In the end I came away thinking that it was probably 'just' a Reed Warbler. Now had I bothered to carry the camera and tripod up the hill with me, I could of ID'd it for certain given the time it was in view that would have allowed me to get some pictures.

Returning back home for a while, I then got a call from Rory to say that the diver was showing again at Lund. I thought I'd take another look and try and get some better shots 'for the record'. When I arrived, the bird was way over the other side of the bay again and, at times, was quite difficult to see. One of the best give aways was a small group of Tirricks (Arctic Terns) that seemed to follow it around. After half an hour, it looked like there was going to be a spell between the showers, so, putting on the waterproofs (also on the camera gear) I headed off around the bay. Walking through a large area of nettles and thistles, I flushed several Willow Warblers and as I saw again later, a Whitethroat. 

Reaching the small headland at the end of the bay, the bird was nowhere to be seen. I sat for almost half an hour in the wind and rain but still no diver. Time to go back. Retracing my steps in the now driving rain, I saw again the Whitethroat, but also a pair of Blackcaps, a Garden Warbler and 4 or 5 Willow Warblers. Almost reaching the car, I then saw the diver close to cliffs below where my car was parked. Taking the opportunity to move when it dived, I managed to get a bit nearer the beach, still not close enough, but much better then yesterday.

Black-throated Diver

The time was fast approaching for the school run so I had to leave.

Dropping the kids off for some after school activities, I headed home again. Later, just along the road from our house, I stopped to look at some Golden Plovers to check if there could be an America Golden Plover amongst them (one had been seen on the island at the weekend) I then noticed a small wader feeding amongst the Goldies, Lapwings, Turnstones and Redshanks. It was quite small (compared to the other birds around it) a sandy brown 'base colour' etc etc. Checking the book and then adding '2 +2 and making 5' , I thought it must be a Buff Breasted Sandpiper. I checked the measurements in the book for various size comparisons ie size compared to the Lapwings, Turnstones etc and also the size compared to Ruff and this bird was clearly smaller than these. Oops, I got it WRONG ! 

When I worked for a building firm years ago, one old carpenter used to say to me, 'the bloke that's never made a mistake, has never made anything'. How right he was. What I hadn't put into the equation, was that a female Ruff (called a Reeve) is often smaller than the male, which is why I thought that this bird couldn't have been a Ruff - despite other identification differences. I'm not going to live this down for a long time. Hey ho.



Sunday 12 September 2010

A wind of change

Well some say 'what a difference a day can make' and that has certainly been true this weekend here on Unst. Yesterday, I headed out at 6.30am full of anticipation that some birds will have dropped in overnight after wind and rain of the previous  24 hours. As always, I started at Skaw and found several Willow Warblers, Garden Warbler, Dunnock, Redstart, Whinchat and a juvenile Common Rosefinch. 'Onwards and upwards' as the saying goes,  I headed for Lamba Ness. Just as you turn on to the Lamba Ness road, there is a large patch of thistles that I have checked so many times for a migrant and so many times there has been nothing in them, I wondered if today would be any different ? Surprise, surprise there was, two Willow Warblers and a female Blackcap. In this large expanse of peat bog and grassland, this patch of thistles must seem like an oasis to a tired and hungry warbler. Also near by were two Whinchats.

Lamba Ness 7am

Down at Lamba Ness, the Green Sandpiper was showing again on the small loch and despite the distance between us, it is always very flighty - often caused by the even more flighty Redshanks !

Green Sandpiper

On the return from Lamba Ness I met Rory who suggested we check out Valyie. There seemed to be birds every where, Spot Fly', Pied Fly, Blackcap, Willow, Garden and Reed Warblers ( the last one causing an id headache as they only gave very brief views as they moved around in the undergrowth) Moving on to Northdale, it got even worse. In the tattie crop, there must have been at least 6 Willows and two Garden Warblers giving split second views as they moved around in the foliage. Up around the croft there was both Pied and Spotted Flycatchers and presumably the same Dunnock as yesterday was there.

Time was marching on and I had to head home. Sula my eldest had a birthday sleepover of one of her friends at our house last night and so it was now time to start the big clean up ! They were all due to go roller blading in the afternoon so maybe I could get out to 'play' again later ?

Well, yes I did ! In the mid afternoon, I headed back over to Northdale as the birds had been showing quite well in the morning and I now had my photography 'hat' on so to speak. Well most of the warblers seemed have moved on, but the Spot Fly' was still around and was being quite obliging at times.

Spotted Flycatcher

I only had an hour left so it was back to Valyie. Quite often, things tend to quieten down in the afternoon and this was the case here. The Pied Flycatcher was still feeding under the canopy of the small wood and the occasional Willow Warbler called and that was about it. The only photograph I took was of the Collard Dove below - not a scarce bird, but none the less quite attractive.
Collard Dove at Valyie

Back home again, this time it was the turn of our youngest to have a friend for a sleepover - are we glad birthdays only happen once a year ? Now, we have a fairly small bungalow (not as small as our previous one, which was 8 x 10 meters! ) and to have two single mattresses in the living room doesn't leave much space, this meant we were told to leave at 9pm by two 8 year olds - whose in charge of who !

Sunday 12th Sept
This morning, I was up and out again by just after six, but the weather had changed again. The wind had lessened and gone more westerly, it just felt - different. Over at Skaw, all I found was two Garden Warblers and a Willow Warbler, things had moved on. At Lamba Ness, even the Green Sandpiper wasn't showing. 

As it was Sula's 10th birthday today, I thought it best to get back home for just after 9am. Just as I was about to take one of my daughters friends back home around 10am, I got a call from Wendy to say there was a Canada Goose with Greylags over at Haroldswick. A Canada Goose here could be one of the rarer ones, so as it was in the general direction I was going I'd have to take a look, wouldn't I ? Unfortunately the bird was about a mile away and it was spitting with rain, so no chance really of even a record shot to see if it was anything other than one of the common races. 

Back home again and later another phone call. This time it was of a possible American Golden Plover. I saw two (probably the same bird) here in Baltasound two years ago, but this one was still showing signs of breeding plumage - it must be worth a look. Later while I was out looking for both the goose and the plover, I got yet another call, this time from Rory. He had found a Black-throated Diver down at Lund on the south west corner of the island and I was up in the north east - oh well suppose it's only about 12 miles. Lund is a lovely secluded spot, the real pain  if you on your own is there are 4 gates to open and close - a lot easier if there is a small child in the back seat to do the opening and closing. After a search, I did see the bird, but it was a long way away. I certainly wouldn't have wanted to id it at that distance. Lets hope its there again tomorrow.

What bird ?
That little white dot is a Bt Diver, and this was taken with the 500+1.4ex !


Friday 10 September 2010

Win some, loose some.

10th September

After almost a day of rain yesterday and the wind still in the south east, it was thought that today would produce some migrants. Even doing the school run, I could see that there were small birds around that weren't visible yesterday. By 9.30 I was 'up north' and could again see that birds had arrived over night. On the way to Skaw there were a couple of Whinchats and a Fieldfare and dropping over the hill and down to Skaw, I saw another Whinchat. Parking up, I soon saw 3 Blackcaps, Sand Martin, Dunnock and a flyover of a Redstart. Just up from the beach on a wire fence at least 80 Twite were then joined briefly by a calling Lapland Bunting. This was brief however as one of the Kestrels present started trying in vain to catch a Twite, this was thwarted as they all took to the air - it then flew around amongst them seemingly confused by the number of birds.

Heading up to near the sheep pens, a large warbler which was probably a Barred, took off at great speed and flew north and out of sight over the hill. It was a this point things went a bit 'pear-shaped'. I had a very brief view of another warbler as it appeared for a split second in front of me. All I can recall was seeing a rather large billed bird, with a head/bill profile similar to an Icterine Warbler. Despite a thorough search by me and also with Rory later, it wasn't seen again. There was then another fly over, this time of a Siskin. While searching some long grass at the back of the croft, I came across a small brown warbler; it turned out to be very elusive and in 2 hours I only saw it twice. It was probably only a Reed, but who knows it could have been something else.

Later, we called in briefly to 'Valyie' in Norwick and got several Spot Fly's, a Pied Fly' and Garden and Willow Warblers.

Rory then went back to work and I decided to have a quick look at Northdale. Parking at the bridge, instead of walking up the road to the crofts, I walked north up the burn from the small conifer there. Two Willow Warblers flew up the ditch in front of me and a Spot Fly' took off from the fence line and headed up the field towards the crofts, I turned right and went in the same direction. Reaching the gate from the field onto the road, I noticed two warblers feeding in a bush 50yds away. One was a Willow Warbler, but the other I wasn't sure about. It's feeding action was much quicker and 'flitting' than the Willow, it was also duller (the Willow looked like a canary by comparison). My thought was - 'probably a Chiffchaff , I'll take a look in a minute'. To my left was another small line of bushes and in them were also several birds. One was a Pied Flycatcher and the other was a Dunnock. Going to look at these birds turned out to be a big mistake, as, on going back along to where the other birds were, both warblers had gone and had been replaced by a Spotted Flycatcher. No, I hadn't been mistaken and am now thinking that one of the birds wasn't just a Chiffchaff. Despite extensive searching again, I couldn't find the unidentified bird, I found the Spot Fly' and several Willow Warblers and also saw two more Whinchats and that was that. Maybe tomorrow ?


A chance encounter

Wednesday 8th September

  With the wind in the SE (and is set to continue for a few more days at least) I headed off up north to Skaw and Lamba Ness to look for migrants. At Skaw I found a Redwing and a Dunnock and also saw several Kestrels (in fact there were four around north Unst) as well as a Willow Warbler but nothing else. The next stop was the end of the headland at Lamba Ness, passing one of the pools near the end, the Green Sandpiper was still there along with a juvenile Dunlin. Parking at the top, I sat in the car for a while and then something caught my eye a hundreds yards or so to the north, it was an Otter. To say I was surprised was an understatement, the cliffs here are vertical in places which did make me wonder where it had come from. It is well know however that they can travel long distances overland in search of a new territory or for fresh water. The pic below is very  much a  grab shot .....................

  The Otter was definitely looking for something as it went in and out of the old buildings and seemed to be methodically working its way around the cliff line. Even though the wind was blowing straight from me to it, I was higher up so it didn't catch my scent. I decided to try and get ahead of it so I drove back down the road and parked up. I saw it again briefly as it appeared from a dip in the ground but lost again it almost straight away. Waiting for a few minutes, it didn't re-appear so I carried on. I didn't see the Otter, but what I did see was a surprise - a Spotted Flycatcher hawking insects from a perch on the cliff face.

Spotted Flycatcher
  Carrying on along the cliff top, I had another surprise. Suddenly there was a mother otter and her cub running over the grassy headland towards me. Fortunately they hadn't seen me so I hit the floor and hoped they would continue in my general direction. I only had the bean bag which gave me a really low view point, but in fact was too low most of the time.

  They passed me and headed off down the long ridge of rock at the left side of the headland and I followed. The only reason I can think of that they were up on the cliffs was that the mother was moving her cub from the very rough water on the south side of the head to the relative calm of the north side as it was far too rough to swim around. The last I saw of them was when the mother was picking the cub up to help it over a steep piece of rock. 

  In over two years of going up to Lamba Ness and Skaw, this was my first encounter with any otters up there. I've seen plenty of tracks on the beaches, some that were made only an hour before I got there (judging by the state of the tide), so now I'll look even harder when I'm going around the coast there.


Wednesday 8 September 2010

Look out, look out ...................

....... there are some birds about !

A few days ago, we were all hoping (the birders up here that is) that the south easterly winds would continue and bring a few birds in; it seems as though that has been the case.

Monday 6th September

This morning, I decided to head off over to Hermaness and take a look at the gannets as it would probably be my last chance to get over there this year. It was a beautiful sunny morning, not a cloud in the sky but a stiff breeze was blowing - at least there should be fewer midges. The walk up the relatively new board walk was easy despite having a fairly heavy rucksack on my back. Most of the Bonxies had now left the breeding ground but there were still one or two youngsters dotted about. I came across one bird which was relatively tame and allowed a very close approach; even when on one occasion it took to the air, it circled around and landed back virtually in the same place.

Juvenile Bonxie

Juvenile Bonxies are easily told apart from their parents by the plainer, lack of barring on the undersides. As I walked on, from time to time, an adult would fly past giving me the once over. It's quite easy to mimic their call and this gets them to often hang in the wind and check me out. The one below however, is just a fly-past.

Reaching the top of the cliffs, today there would be no 'distractions' of Tammie Norries' (Puffins) - virtually all them will have gone by the second week in August. It's not known for sure where they winter, it is known to be far out in the Atlantic and I'm almost certain, that no large concentrations of them have been found during the winter months. Down below me were a large number of Gannets on the water, including quite a few youngsters that had already left the nest. Most of the birds were soaring much lower down the cliffs than usual, whether this was because of the wind direction I'm not sure. Coming from the south east, the wind today was blowing offshore, so I presume that because of this there was much less of an updraft for them to fly around on.

Reaching my favourite spot on the cliffs, I worked out the best vantage point at the edge of the cliff which just gave me enough of a clear view of a nest site with an adult and a chick on it. The only problem with this spot is that in the morning, the cliff is in shade which gives a cold cast to the subject. Despite having now being here for two and a half breeding seasons, I've not yet got to Hermaness in the afternoon when the sun hits these cliffs. I know the adults are such beautiful birds, but can the same be said about the guga (young gannet) ?

I only spent around an hour there, but while there it was a real treat watching the comings and goings of the Gannets - something I never get tired of.

Whilst sitting on the cliff top, I was almost stunned, when a Raven flew in and landed only a few yards away from me. I have tried to get shots of Ravens on the ground for ages but have found that they're just too canny to get anywhere near them. This bird could obviously see me but wasn't too bothered as long as I lay still on the grass - maybe it thought I was on my last legs and was waiting for a meal ! Unfortunately again the light was from behind the bird and I couldn't really move much - the cliff dropped off over 100 meters just 3 meters behind me and I only had the 500 on the camera.

Raven - virtually full frame
On the return back down, I got a call from Rory to say that there was a Citrine Wagtail down at the school but due to the location, not to look for it until after school closed at 3.30pm. The timing proved to be a pain as I'd got to be at Uyeasound for a PTA meeting at the same time, fortunately, Catriona's work phone call had finished early so it enabled me to go and take a look with Mike P. Despite the fact it was a juvenile, it was a cracking little bird and the call was very distinctive - a bit like a 'buzzy' Yellow Wagtail. The only close photograph I got was of it perched quite high in a tree and in to the sun.

another one in better light from last year.............

Juv' Citrine Wagtail

Tuesday 7th Sept

I had a couple of hours between taking the kids to school and picking Rona up at 11.30am for an appointment so I headed up north. It seems like the wind has brought in a few birds as I found a Dunnock and Redwing at Skaw, a Green Sandpiper at Lamba Ness and also nearby several Whinchats, a Redstart and several Kestrels. Down at Valyie, Norwick; there was a Common Rosefinch, Garden Warbler, Pied Flycatcher, several Willow Warblers and a Fieldfare. One of the biggest surprises however, was a 'flyover' of a Great Spotted Woodpecker over Baltasound school as it flew west - not many trees in that direction !