Tuesday 22 February 2011

How far off is Spring ? ....................

  That's a question that lots of folk often ask at this time of year. A while ago on Martin and Dave's blog , Martin mentioned that he'd seen Magpies carrying nest material and that spring wasn't far away. I've just read in my daughters junior RSPB magazine 'Bird Life', that if spring arrives at Lizard Point in Cornwall on March 1st, it won't arrive at Muckle Flugga (a few miles north of here) until May 8th.  Apparently spring moves north at a rate of half a mile per hour - it's going to be a long wait ! However, spring is on its way - even if it is coming slowly - as the Shalders (Oystercatchers) have started returning in numbers and are now feeding back around the shorelines and on the short grass fields. The first proper breeding migrant to return however, will be the Lesser-blackbacked Gulls, which head south for the winter from these islands.

  On the bird front locally, things are still pretty quiet on Unst. In Uyeasound the Coot and Goosander are still on Easter Loch and in Baltasound the Morehen is still around. Brydon had the immature drake King Eider again on Bluemull Sound this morning - I've not yet seen this one :( and he also had a Glaucous Gull at the weekend over at Lamba Ness

  Just looking at Magicseaweed it looks like the strong wind and gales are going to continue well in to next week which is a pain.

   While I was sitting having my breakfast this morning and watching the news, I heard strange noises coming from the chimney (which has a board in front of the fire place to stops the draught). My first thoughts were that it was the wind playing tricks with my hearing until I turned off the tele and realized it was a Raven sitting on the chimney stack making a sort of gurgling noise. Something else that I've still not yet got used to when I come down the road and that is seeing Fulmars sitting on the chimneys - I don't know why but it just looks a bit odd.


Sunday 20 February 2011

It's still windy !

  Well we moved in to Ordaal 3 weekends ago and it was windy then and it's still windy now - and it's getting a bit tedious. The wind has been south or south easterly now for over two weeks (apart from two separate days when the wind did drop briefly) During the week, there were some big waves coming in to Norwick again, the light was foul and the wind was so strong it was a job to hold the camera still. The pic below is a poor record shot of the sea state, just look at the size of the gull and it may give an idea of the size of the breakers...........

Norwick 'beach'

  Last Friday (11th Feb) was the first of two Up Helly Ah celebrations here on Unst and that was down at Uyeasound. Even though the evening was dry (the weather that is ) there was a very strong south-easterly blowing which didn't help the torchlight procession and the burning of the galley due to the sparks being blown everywhere. Last year I had a number of large holes burnt into a fleece coat by wind blown ash and sparks. The basis of the event is the same every year but with different 'acts' in the hall after the burning of the gallery. Below are a few pictures from this year at Uyeasound and here is a little more detail about the event from last year...........

  This year there were 18 'acts' in the hall  which meant it went on until after midnight - and then there was a dance ! A lot of folk wouldn't have got home until the early morning but we left around 12.30am with two very tired children.

  This last week has been another very busy week as we were  going to have a joint house warming/ celebratory party with some friends. A friend of ours has just taken over as the Unst GP so we combined the two occasions and invited a 'few' friends around for a bit of a party on Friday (18th Feb) To say a few friends and a bit of a party isn't quite true, had everyone come that'd been invited (some were working, some were away etc) then we'd have had just over 100 folk here on Friday evening, as it turned out the numbers were in the high 80s, including 23 children. For me it was brilliant and it showed how great folk are that live up here. In the living room at one stage there were six fiddlers and two others playing acoustic guitars, the atmosphere was something I'll remember for a long time. I finally turned in around 2.30am and woke the following morning with a slightly sore head :)

The 'house warming' fiddlers

  With just a few more boxes to move from our previously rented house and the house warming having taken place, I can now start and look at the multitude of jobs that need to be done around the place. If I can put it one way, the previous couple of owners, weren't the greatest at DIY. Apart from jobs that need to be done which are basically due to the wear and tear on an old property, there are quite a number of jobs that if they'd been done properly in the first place, probably wouldn't be needing to be done now, hey ho.


Tuesday 8 February 2011

'I don't believe it' ! ...............

  That was a catchphrase that was used by 'Victor Meldrew' from the BBC's series 'One foot in the grave', well today (8th Feb) I've used it more than once. We moved here to Ordaal over a week ago and so on Tuesday last week, I contacted BT to move our phone and broadband to the new address. They told me it would be 5 working days and we may be able to keep the same telephone number - I said to them at the time that I'd believe that when it happened. When we moved the last time - around 16 months ago, I had to re-order the 'broadband move' 3 times and in the end I threatened to cancel our BT package, it was then done the following day. Well, today was to be the reconnection and guess what, it happened ! Both phone and broadband (and our old number) were done this morning by 11am, so this time BT have done well ( I still don't know why it should take 5 days to process the order though)

  The last week has been pretty hectic with the move and so I've not been out that much apart from when I'm doing the school run - I can't complain (and won't !), as now I can have a 10 minute walk around the field and along the shoreline. The end of last week was pretty wild here, over night on the 3rd and 4th, we had a gale where the wind reached Force 11, which on the Beaufort Scale is classed as a violent storm. Off the west of Shetland there was a swell recorded of up to 16 meters (52ft) and needless to say there was some damage around the place. Here in Baltasound, I heard of one family loosing the roof off of their kitchen and we (getting off lightly) had two 6ft x 4ft doors ripped off one of the sheds - it was lucky the roof didn't go as well. Going down to Westing after I'd dropped off Sula on the 4th, I parked briefly in the turning area but decided it would be a good idea to move as the waves were crashing on to the car. The light was pretty bad so I left after only a very short time. Returning there again later before the afternoon school run, the turning area was covered in stones twice the size of a house brick - just where I'd previously parked briefly ! What a westerly storm here does produce is lots of feeding gulls and today was no exception. There were hundreds of Common, Great-blacked Backed, Herring and a few Black-headed Gulls all feeding in the crashing waves.

........ same view on a nicer day.
.....and these islands aren't that small

 Whilst standing there talking to another guy that had come down for a look, he nudged me and said with surprise, 'look, there's an otter'. The was an otter coming down a small burn next to where we were parked and then went down in to the sea without even a glance in our direction. I grabbed a shot with the 500 with out any time to check the exposure etc........

  I watched it fishing (very successfully) for quite some time, until finally it set off in one direction and came out of the water, scent marked and then headed off along the rocks and out of sight......

  It was certainly a very difficult situation to be photographing in, a gale force wind blowing straight towards me from the sea, constant spray being blown onto the camera lens and getting a soaking every 7th wave - aaah, the pleasures of being out in the elements !

  Later on in the day, the weather cleared up a bit and for a time, even the sun came out. Around 7pm, I got a call from Rory to say that there was a prediction for an aurora so keep a look out. On going outside, we had the whole of the northern half of the sky glowing green with the Northern Lights. At this house, we are lucky to have and uninterrupted view of the sky around us apart from the lights of the village to the west and the pier lights to the north across the sound. I quickly set up the camera in a spot out of the wind and took a number of pictures. I then decide to move it slightly to get a better silhouette in the foreground for some time-lapse shots but, unbeknown to me, I'd knocked the focusing ring and forgot to recheck the focus (I was manually focusing) so all I got was this one picture, hey ho, better luck next time............

(the orange glow is the light from the pier)

  By 9 o'clock, it had clouded over and I thought that was that and went in, wrong ! Next day when I spoke to Rory he'd said at around midnight it'd been one of the best auroras he'd seen for years.

  The following day, the wind had dropped off quite a lot, but I still called in to the west side. At the beach there were quite a few Common Gulls feeding amongst the breakers so I spent half an hour trying to get some shots of them on the wing.........

Common Gull

 Back at the house/garden/field etc, after just over a week, my bird list is starting to grow and is now 24 species, including - Sparrowhawk, Peregrine, Slavonian Grebe and Little Grebe. It is still only February and things won't really get moving until mid April at least. I've been seeing otter almost daily and only yesterday Sula saw one from her bed as she was off from school feeling unwell. I was fortunate to have been given a 'trail cam'  (a remote camera that records anything that moves in front of it both day and night) by the previous owner of the house.Last week I set it up and left it over night and then the following day reviewed the images (a short video) to see an otter moving out of the picture at 1.30am in the morning. The following day I moved it to a better location (so I thought) only to see it - or more to the point, not to see it - under 12 inches of water ! It was the morning after the storm and the heavy rain had flooded the freshwater pool, we live and learn so they say. At least I hadn't just bought it  :)


Wednesday 2 February 2011

The next chapter

Well, after a number of months of frustration and waiting, we finally got the keys to our new, old house - as I said previously the cottage part of it dates back around 300 years. We were formally handed the keys by the previous owners on Friday the 28th Jan, but we didn't move in until Saturday 29th Jan. Before we moved in last Saturday, I had a few hours out looking for the Rough-legs again, this time with four friends one of which was hoping for his first ever Rough-leg. Despite the fact it was pretty cold, it was quite a nice day - apart from the quite strong wind. It wasn't long before we saw both the birds and had some good views of them as they soared past us along the hillside.

Rough-legged Buzzard(s)

As we had just moved house, there hasn't been too much time to get out and about. Despite the very unsettled weather this week so far, there have been some really nice atmospheric type shots to be had (well I thought so anyway) Mostly with the sun low in the sky, shining through rain or mist................

A second brief vist to the west side, produced another sighting of one of the Rough-legs' and this time it was on the ground. It was impossible to get any closer due to the open terrain and as I didn't have the time to do 'wait and see' type photography, I had to be content with a large cropped picture. It was so far away I couldn't even see that it had its head turned away !......................

While out this morning doing some shopping (2nd Feb), I saw a Peregrine flying over which is an uncommon sight here. On returning home later I took a walk down the field to the foreshore and was delighted to see it perched on a fence post a couple of hundred yards away - a good 'garden' tick. It was being constantly harrased by gulls and Hoodies so it only stayed for a short while before it headed off across the sound.

Going back down the field later, I walked around a small area of marsh that floods with every high tide.I then noticed just over a low shingle bank, an otter curled up on a small group of sea weed covered rocks. The wind direction wasn't good but I decided to go and get the camera anyway. Returning to the pool, I plotted my route so as to not let the wind carry my scent across to the otter. Unfortunately my plan didn't take in to account the feeding Redshank that had been out of my view, it exploded into the air calling loudly as it sped away. The otter then lifted its head and even though it couldn't have caught my scent, crept into the water. I then managed to lie down behind some boulders for cover but it was too late, the otter had decided to leave and was heading east along the shoreline. Seconds later it passed in front of me and caught my scent, it stopped briefly before diving and wasn't seen again...................
 'I know you're there'