Sunday 29 May 2011

Hits and misses

  Hits and misses ? - that's how I feel this last week has been with regards to wildlife. Just over a week ago, I was over at Westing after the morning school run watching (and trying to photograph) a number of Tirricks that were feeding in/over the breaking waves, that were coming in from a strong westerly blow. It wasn't easy at all and a 'flat' grey sky didn't help, so to be quite honest most of the pictures I got were pretty poor.........

 Arctic Tern (Tirrick)

  At one stage I was so intent on watching the terns through the eyepiece, I failed to see a small gull fly right in front of me and only saw it as it was going away to my left.......................

Immature Little Gull

  I really like Little Gulls, I think they behave more like a tern than a gull when they're feeding and so are a joy to watch.

 After finishing a job early (and it was a lovely afternoon), I took a quick look up at Skaw to see if there were any migrants around. On this occasion I left the camera in the car and set off across the bridge over the burn. I hadn't even got across when the movement of a small bird caught my eye, just to the right. It was a bunting and straight away I knew it was a Rustic'. Quickly getting the camera, I managed to relocate the bird and get a few pictures.................

Rustic Bunting
  Brydon and Mike P had seen one in Baltasound last week, so this was probably the same one - but it was still nice to find my own. Returning home, I then got a call from Mike to say he'd just rung a Golden Oriole that had been shut in someones porch (which he then collected) and would we like to take a look when he released it. Ten minutes later, the girls and I were looking at a stunning (and often very shy) bird. Mike took a few more measurements before he gave it to Sula to release...........................

Immature male (probably) Golden Oriole
  One of the birds that I've 'missed' (not strictly true - but not seen well) has been a Ring-billed Gull that Brydon found down at Uyeasound. Despite looking frequently when I took and fetched Sula from school,  I was either too early or too late and 'just missed' it. I did see it briefly last Saturday, but from what I saw of it I wouldn't have identified it myself.

  A few days later (23rd May) on the way back from the morning school run, I took a look at Westing for the Little Gull. It was still there and the light was better and the wind was right..............

  Now its always been a habit of mine, both when I lived down south and even more so now we live here, to have the camera ready and close at hand when I'm out and about in the car. You just never know when something interesting or photogenic may occur and this happened the other day as I was driving through Haroldswick in the north of the island. Many of the roads pass close to the sea (nowhere is more than a mile and a half from the sea anyway) and Haroldswick is a good example. As I drove around the shoreline, I pulled in to give way to an oncoming car and looked down to the beach at some Mallard that had just taken to the air; and there was the reason, an otter coming up the beach towards the road. I grabbed the camera, quietly got out and went across to the opposite verge. It came out so close past me that my 500mm wouldn't focus and then crossed the road towards some freshwater pools; I grabbed a few shots hand held before it disappeared in to the opposite vegetation. Fortunately the wind was in my favour so it didn't get my scent or hear the shutter going off. For hand holding the long lens the shutter speed wasn't really fast enough but I had a go and the results weren't quite sharp enough - given a bit more time I'd have upped the ISO to give me more speed...................

(the light patch is out of focus grass)


  It's not just birds and otters that I like to photograph, so here are 3 other subjects from this week...........

 Shetland ram

 Common Seal

err........... rabbits !

 I've mentioned several times about planting some willows and also about the migrant bird possibilities for the land, below are 3 pictures of some habitat that should be good for small migrants in the autumn. The Rosa Rugosa's are now showing some nice flowers so hopefully by the autumn there'll be lots of nice plump berries for (hopefully) Waxwings when they pass through here; if not, then the Redwings, Fieldfares and Blackbirds will have a feast..................

The Willow 'whips' - with rabbit guards
  The willows down to the shore are taking quite nicely (its much wetter ground anyway) but several of the other patches have shown 'die back', however these also should take eventually.

  Earlier I was saying about never knowing what I may see as I drive around here. Well on Friday morning as I drove up from the shore road, a bird flew across the road in front of me which certainly wasn't a Wheatear - which is what I see most frequently. All I needed was to see a flash of rusty red/brown to know it was a cracking male Redbacked Shrike. It landed some distance away but I did get a shot - just for the record.............

  Despite a thorough search by myself and George - another birder from Mainland - it wasn't relocated. I thought perhaps it had gone to Haligarth but we didn't find it there. I did see the Golden Oriole again, it was hovering and catching flies right in front of me, and where was the camera again ? not in my hand that's for sure !


Sunday 22 May 2011

Ordaal Bird List

  Just following on from yesterday when I mentioned the garden list here at Ordaal (birds seen or heard in, from or over the property) The list is below for anyone that may be interested. From 28th Jan to 22nd May 2011 its 62 species (I've included Hooded and Carrion Crow separately) For both of our previous houses here on Unst, the total was in the mid 60's in just over a year at each property. For my garden list in the Cotswolds it was 107 species in over 40 years. It'll be interesting to see how this list progresses, but I probably won't  be here in 40 years time!

Red-throated Diver
Great Northern Diver
Little Grebe
Slavonian Grebe
Northern Gannet
Grey Heron
Pink-footed Goose
Greylag Goose
Common Eider
Long-tailed Duck
Red-breasted Merganser
Ringed Plover
Golden Plover
Purple Sandpiper
Common Sandpiper
Common Snipe
Common Redshank
Arctic Skua
Great Skua
Black-headed Gull
Common Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Black Guillimot
Rock Dove
Meadow Pipit
Rock Pipit
Pied Wagtail
Common Redstart
Northern Wheatear
Common Whitethroat
Willow Warbler
Carrion Crow
Hooded Crow
House Sparrow
Reed Bunting

Saturday 21 May 2011

Raptor sightings

  Of the many wildlife (or rather bird) highlights from the last few weeks, it is birds of prey that have 'hit the headlines' here so to speak. We've been lucky enough to have had a female Goshawk (which I didn't see), Black Kite, Peregrine, Sparrowhawk, Marsh Harrier, Kestrel, Merlin and Osprey during the month. So, along with a recent Hen Harrier and the over-wintering Rough-legged Buzzards it makes ten species in 6 weeks that I've seen - not bad for a small island in the far north of Britain. Adding on a Sea Eagle, a Hobby and a Common Buzzard over the last twelve months or so,  Unst has been very good for raptors - much better than I'd have thought. Despite several attempts to catch up with the Gos' I failed and it also seemed as though the Black Kite would go the same way but thankfully it didn't. When I did see it the light was pretty poor - flat, grey sky - but it was a lovely bird to see and watch............

'Record shot' of the Black Kite

  With the Osprey I was lucky enough to see it several times and on one occasion got to see it at eye level. But, yet again, the sun wasn't shinning -  but it's not just about taking pictures is it ? .........

Osprey at Burrafirth

  And a Kestrel at Skaw............

  When ever I go across Bluemull Sound on the ferry, I always stand at the stern of the boat (if the weather is good) with the camera and look for seabirds in flight as they pass by. The Bluemull ferry is good for this as the back of the ship is fairly low in the water which gives a good viewpoint. Occasionally, if the light is right or if the time of day is right I can get some fly-pasts of seabirds - although not always successfully as often there is only a few minutes of opportunity on each crossing...............
Eider Ducks (males, females and immature birds)

  If there are no birds around, then I'll have a go at being 'arty' or 'creative'' and photograph the ships wake..............

  Up here the birds are well in  to the breeding season apart from the Phalaropes which should be arriving any day now. Shetland is well known for its scarce or rare breeding birds and its these birds that lots of folk come to see or photograph. Photographing Schedule1 breeding birds (rare or threatened British species) at the nest requires a license (nest photography is now thought of as being 'old hat' by most anyway) but there are a number of people country wide that still seek out rare birds at the nest without obtaining the legally required license. In a bid to discourage the practice, the 'Birdguides' website (a very respectable and responsible company) have now decided not to publish any photographs taken of Schedule 1 species between March and June each year. See here . While its a step in the right direction, the folk that are intent on getting 'the shot' of a rare bird breeding aren't going to bother about the law anyway.

  Another area that's been highlighted recently is that of 'tape luring' birds, ie playing back a recording of the species either calling or singing. Again it is unlawful if the person is willfully disturbing certain  breeding birds. Dave and Martin mentioned it here and it can cause a lot of distress or even a failed breeding attempt. I know of one photographer that was tape luring a Schedule 1 bird up here a couple of years back (there are only around 70 breeding males of the species concerned in the UK, according to the figures I saw), when questioned about it, his reply was ' I'm doing it sympathetically' - after that day it wasn't heard again. Now that there are a number of apps' for mobile phones with bird songs and calls on, this method of getting birds out in the open for photographic purposes is on the increase. So much so, that some organizations (including the police) are wanting to clamp down on it and persistent offenders will be prosecuted. Read here (thanks Martin for the link).

  Over the last week, I've been planting the willow 'whips' around the property with the hope of increasing the cover for migrating birds that may pass through here in spring and autumn. So far I've put in just over 100, in either small groups or in one area, a strip 3 whips wide (in roughly a 6-8 feet wide and 100 feet long strip of ground ) I also put a rabbit guard around each one and attached it to a small stake to avoid losing them in the first gale (a force 7-9 due on Tues or Weds) Lots of folk had been saying how nice the weather had been and all I could say was I wanted rain - for my trees of course ! (I'll post some pics' next time)

  I had been recently saying how I'd not seen any otters around for a while, well I'm glad to say that I've now seen one again around the sound (a male) and even watched it from our shore one evening last week.

 The garden list of bird species is now at a very respectable 61 species since Jan 28th this year. With, Shoveller, Redstart and Brambling being the latest editions.


Sunday 15 May 2011

Busy times

  Despite the fact that the last couple of weeks have been fantastic in the way of weather etc, it's not been a holiday . With the imminent arrival of some Shetland mares with their foals (not ours, but a crofters) to graze one of the fields for the summer, I had some fencing to replace and also some fence posts to wedge and re-upright. Along with this I had also to finish a piece of fencing down in to the sea to stop some neighbours sheep wandering along the shore and on to our nice fresh grass. With the fence that went into the water, I wanted to have a fairly substantial straining post midway between low and high water to act as a suitable perch for the tirricks (terns) when they arrive back to breed in the area. Putting the posts in was no easy task (due to the close proximity of the stone jetty and lots of lovely large rocks just below the sand) I can assure you..................

  The fence will have to go about the same distance again for when there are really low tides but that can be done in a while.

Below are some shots (some taken with the camera phone) of before and after of the lawn and field cutting.................


How to cut a lawn................
  Actually, cutting the front lawn wasn't as easy as it looks. I started off by strimming it which, after a total of around 8hrs over several days, still looked like I'd hardly done anything. Once Dougal had been over it with the tractor mower, it then took several hours with a wheel barrow moving the huge cuts of grass and raking it over 4 times before I could get my motor mower on it - several more cuts with that. The grass is starting to green up nicely now which in turn has given some of the local Rock Doves a place in the garden to look for food.

  Part of one of the fields (often called 'parks' up here) had to be also cut as it was now just tussocks of matted grass and was no good for anything. If there were voles on Shetland I'd certainly have left it as it was, but as it was there was no choice but to cut it. Unfortunately, as it had been left for such a long time, there is no goodness left in it and so can't be used for livestock...........

Looking north

Any ideas for several tons of dry grass ?

  Earlier on in this latest update, I mentioned the fence posts that go in to the sea, well, only a few days ago the Tirricks arrived and are now using them on a daily basis. If I can find the time, I would like to get a photograph some food passes etc such as the one below which I took a couple of years ago at Haroldswick ..........

And this is from the other day................

Arctic Tern at Ordaal

  Sorry for the delay in updating but as I said earlier, things have been pretty busy here. I'll post another update in a couple of days of what's been happening on the wildlife front etc.