Saturday 26 November 2011

After the sunshine ? - wind and rain !

  Like in a number of other places, 'between weathers' here, broadly means a better day than the previous one or the day that is forecasted to follow it. Tuesday was one of those days, not particularly nice, but better than Monday and certainly better than the forecast for Wednesday. I was doing a 'skip run' along the shore road, when I saw the mum and two otter cubs at one of the usual roadside places. She had caught a large Lumpsucker fish and was eagerly feeding a relatively short distance from the road. The two cubs looked like they were having a great time not far away playing and mock fighting in the water - all part of the growing up process. They are now quite big and apart from their faces, they are becoming difficult to tell apart from their mum unless I see them well. She was showing the obvious signs of a fresh bite on her nose which looked quite sore - if it were my nose I'm sure it would be ! Brydon was saying its a common occurrence and was probably a crab bite and he believes it is one particular species of crab that usually inflicts this wound.................

 Despite being 'between weathers', it was still a pretty dull day so I only took 3 pictures and the rest of the time I used the video setting and took a few short recordings. Even though she's looking directly at me (she knew I was there)  there a so many vehicle movements along this stretch of road each day, as long as I stay in the car and keep quiet, they will carry on as normal.

  My pc is now quite ancient in computing terms being 5 or 6 years old and just can't handle the processing power needed by some of the video editing packages; so the videos from my 7D, are almost straight out of the camera - apart from file conversions. I'm also not 'up to speed' with video - and don't really want to get in too deep with it - so I'm not sure what the footage will look like on a more modern, faster pc. From what I can see here, as long as the vid' isn't clicked on to go full size then it's passable so to speak - I think I'll stick with stills !

  Later on in the morning, I called in at Haligarth for a quick look. Nothing in the garden or wood but just across the field I could see a small duck on the loch behind Buness House - it was a red-head Smew (a female or immature). Brydon had seen it earlier in the week (and got it on his garden list) so maybe I could try and get some shots of it? Unfortunately, between me and it, was open ground with only a low wall leading down to the field corner - not an easy approach. Also on the loch were several Teal and a few Mallard, as soon I made an approach they would be off and in turn so would the 'redhead'. So, just as you would do with Otters, I only moved forward when it dived, this in turn would help in that if the other ducks took off as I moved, the diving Smew wouldn't be frightened off at the same time. For a change the plan worked, the other ducks left (without too much fuss) and the re-surfacing Smew was none the wiser enabling me to get within range....................

'Red-head' Smew

  By Thursday (24th Nov) the weather was back to wet and very windy again. Fortunately I was working again (I'd rather do that when it's like that) so it didn't affect me too much. The forecast was for gales and gales we had! Overnight on Thurs/Fri at times it gusted to F10 with driving rain and at times sleet and hail. Airing on the side of caution, I had decided to bring the trailcam in on Thursday and how glad I was that I had. When I saw the bottom of the field on Friday morning, only 4 inches of the 30 inch camera post was above the water line !.........

...the red arrow marks the post
   When there are any strong winds or swell from the west side its always worth taking a look at Westing. The best wind direction is either north west or westerly but even Fridays south westerly created a big sea. According to Magicseaweed there was a predicted swell of between 25 to 30ft offshore with 30-35ft a few miles further out.................

Westing storm



Sunday 20 November 2011

Sunshine after the rain

 Last Monday (14th) was another pretty dull day. Despite this, I took a look over at Skaw and to just have a stroll along the beach. Walking along the edge of the field at the back of the croft, a bird flew up out of the yard and flew up high and in a big semi circle past me and up the field to the north;  as soon as I saw it, I knew it was something different. It's wings were rounded, the tail was short and had an undulating, woodpecker like flight. My instant 'gut' feeling was that it had to be a Woodlark, however, knowing how uncommon they were up here, I had to be sure. Seeing generally the direction where it had gone I headed off, it was now pretty dull and starting to drizzle. I saw the bird on two more occasions (only in flight) and was now sure what it was. The following morning was much brighter, heading back over, I felt confident in 'nailing' the bird and getting some shots. My idea was to head east and then come back over the hill from the north and if it is up in the fields, then it would fly back down towards the croft. Despite an hour of searching, I drew a blank until that is, I got back to where I had started. Suddenly it flew up and landed on the wall some 100yds in front of me, yes definitely a Woodlark and I got a record shot to prove it...albeit very poor quality..............

Some distance ! - full frame

............big crop

 Despite looking, the bird had disappeared again and I had to head off unfortunately. Just after lunch, the sunshine was still holding out so I just had to go and have another quick look at Skaw. Parking up, I took a look over the wall in to the yard and there it was sitting on the gravel track, this time much closer. I managed to get 20 or so shots before it either saw or heard me and flitted over the wall and in to the field. Time to go..............

Still quite a big crop, but better.

  As it happens, the last Woodlark recorded on Unst was just over 23 years ago and in the very same place.
  Both Thursday and Friday were a bit of a washout (at least I was at work inside), wet and dull and getting dark by 3.30pm. On Friday afternoon I did go and have a look at Skaw again and as I reached the parking area at the bottom, the Woodlark flew up from the roadside looking rather wet and bedraggled.

  Also on Friday, I received some post I'd been looking forward to for a while. It was a new book (or rather a 2nd edition of a book) written by Prof' Mike Harris on the Puffin. It wasn't just because I'd got two pictures in it, but also because it is the book on the Atlantic Puffin. If anyone wants to find out anything about this species, from what I've already seen, it will be in there.

  Saturday, was a nice day, so after leaving Sula on Yell to go to Lerwick with friends, Rona and I headed off over to Burrafirth so I could do a quick job and also see a new couple that had recently moved in to one of the Shore Station flats. It was while we were there, I started getting texts from Brydon asking if I'd managed to see the OBP (Olive-backed Pipit) that he'd found at Norwick in the week. I'd recently received a new phone and was still trying to work out how to access the various menus etc (it's one of those android things) until he finally phoned me and said ' There's a Bittern at Haroldswick' . I thought it was a wind up but no, there was one at Haroldswick Pools. The bird was doing what Bitterns do best - being hard to see. Despite the reeds not being particularly tall, the bird managed to remain well hidden for much of the time - except when it wanted to have a look around. Rona and I, sat in the car and watched it for over an hour and a half - or rather I did as Rona was playing on my Ipod, for much of it. We then left for an hour and I later returned until dusk. This is one from Saturday lunchtime............

 I had a look at the weather forecast for today, Sunday 20th Nov and the one I saw wasn't too brilliant. However, on mentioning to Sula that I would be going out at sunrise to look for the bird, she was very keen to come - Sula had seen one at Slimbridge many years ago and still remembered it. So on getting up this morning I was pleasantly surprised to see a clear sky to the east and also an orange glow. By 8.20 we were over by the pool and had seen the Bittern feeding, but not for long however, as it took off and landed in the much larger and denser patch of reed at the north end. Fortunately over the next hour and a half, we had some cracking views of a bird I never thought I'd see on Unst; in fact the last one recorded on this island was in 1871 - around 140 years ago !.....................

'Lift Off'

  Back home later, I headed off down the field to retrieve the trailcam as the sheep were feeding in that part. I noticed both a Great Northern Diver and the mum and otter cub feeding just offshore from the beach. The GND was too far out for any decent shots, but maybe the otters would come in to range ? Watching GNDs when they dive, I think they must be one of the most graceful surface diving birds. When they dive, they give you an indication they are going under by moving their head and neck back ever so slightly and then slip below the surface with hardly a ripple. Yet when a Shag or Red-breasted Merganser dive, there is so much water splashing about everyone knows about it.

   In no time at all, both mum and daughter were out of the water and clambering amongst the seaweed covered rocks which were now exposed by the very low tide. They did a sort of sound check on the barking sheepdogs that were several fields away and then just melted away amongst the rocks for a  snooze...............

These two pics are of the cub, now well grown, mum is just out of the frame having a good shake - on a larger pic you can see the water droplets. I waited for half an hour for them to stir, but no sign, so I left them to their slumbers.


Monday 14 November 2011

Well it is mid November !

  Unsurprisingly, the weather here over the last week has been pretty dreich (dull and gloomy) so it was a pleasant surprise one evening to briefly see a clear sky and a near full moon. I was outside working in my shed during the evening and heard the constant sound of geese and curlew flying over in the moonlight - far better than having music playing. Having the shed is another 'luxury' that I've been waiting for for many years. When I say shed, what I really mean is a place to work without bikes, lawnmowers and other garden implements taking up the space. I'm currently making two windows to replace rotten wooden ones in our front porch. In all of the house/cottage, these are the only wooden ones left out of 19 windows (excluding the sun-room) , the rest being upvc. When I asked the listed buildings person if we could change these two to Upvc to match the rest she said no. This was because as the house was listed with them in, we had to replace them with wood, despite as I have just said, the rest of the house being plastic.

  As the weather has been so dull, I've done very little photography this week, also because I've been working over at Burrafirth and up at what will be the new Valhalla brewery at the old RAF base at Saxavord. Yesterday (13th) I did have a quick look up to Lamba Ness. On the way to the end, I was passing the small freshwater lochan - just past the small causeway - and saw two Purple Sandpipers resting at the edge. Firstly it's not very often I see Purp' Sands' on freshwater, but also on this day there was no wind at all and so the lochan was mirror smooth. I almost didn't stop but then thought I'd give it a go to try and get some reflection type shots. Although the light was still pretty bad,  I made my way around them to get the light behind me and use the bean bag on the very wet ground for support. The sandpipers were very confiding and allowed me to approach quite close by crawling slowly towards them......................

Purple Sandpiper
  I know it would look better without the strip of background running through it, I have cloned it out on another picture but that's cheating - isn't it ? Another option would have been to raise the camera a bit higher by using the tripod (which was back in the car) but maybe that would have lost a bit of the effect.

  Back at home I had a bit of fencing to do along at the eastern end of the beach as the sheep in our field have been straying further along the shore. Even though they're not our sheep, I do count them daily and I can't see them all from the house if they go along there. Out on the sound, there were numerous Redbreasted Merganzers, 2 Slavonian Grebes, Great Northern Diver and 1 female Common Scoter  - garden tick (there were 3 earlier). I set up the trail camera again as there's been a lot of activity down by the small pool so I wanted to see what was around. The biggest surprise was this morning when I saw it had captured a Water Rail sometime in the night. I would be a garden tick but I can't really count it.......................

 It crosses one way and then returns at 15 seconds

  Surprisingly, I'm still seeing a hedgehog on a regular basis down at the pool despite the fact we're now in mid November - although it is still quite mild. A small party of Greylags have returned to the field to graze and when you can see the amount of damage they do to a grass field it's no wonder farmers and crofters alike are not their friends. One thing you can see, is that there is always one on the look out - geese are very difficult to take by surprise. The short film below is a sample of what five can do in just over a week........

 Greylag Geese


Monday 7 November 2011

Fireworks and Otters

 This last weekend was after a somewhat dull few days rather pleasant, sunshine, clear skies and not too much wind, so I went out for the morning to just see what was about. Over at Skaw, there were a few common migrants around but, more interesting, was a set of tracks down on the beach. They came out of the sea and then went right up the beach to the grass at the top which is some distance, what is baffling is that they don't appear to go back in to the water again. They had been made as the tide was going out - so the sea hadn't washed away any retuning tracks - and also the first set wouldn't have been so obvious. All I can think is that the return was made via the burn which was around 50-60ft away, but there were no tracks leading to it. The width of the track is around 12 inches so assuming it was made by a seal, then it would have been a pretty small one. It's going to be a mystery that I may never know the answer. Below is a pic................

Tracks at Skaw

Male Blackcap at Skaw

  After Skaw, I headed back south towards Baltasound, but just outside of Haroldswick I got the call from Brydon, ' Think we've got a Pine Bunting at Clibberswick'. As I was only 5 minutes away we (I had Rona with me) headed off to see the bird. It was a female and basically it looked like a Yellowhammer but without any yellow - still a pretty little bird though none the less. They breed across most of temperate Asia and winter in Central Asia, North India and Southern China, however, some also winter in NE Italy. We saw it well and watched it for a while, Rona however, said 'birdwatching is boring' - wash your mouth out with soap !................

female Pine Bunting

  Saturday evening was spent partly at Uyeasound at the bonfire and fireworks display and then at home having a few beers with Mike and Brydon - the excuse was them finding the the Pine Bunting, but who needs an excuse !

 This morning (7th Nov) I thought I'd take a look at the trail cam down the field. There were a number of clips on it, sheep, birds and a rat but only one otter. Setting it up again, I took a stroll along the shore to see if the Snow Bunting was still feeding on the shingle bank. Getting to the Noost I glanced down the jetty and had quite a surprise. There half way down were two sleeping otters curled up in the morning sunshine. As the wind was going straight from me to them, I quickly retreated and fetched the camera. Fortunately I could approach the shingle bank using the lie of the land and with the wind now coming at 45 degrees over my left shoulder, I was safe for now from them catching my scent. I had a little bit of time to spare so I decided to just lie and wait for them to stir. I'm told that during the time they are looking for food, they will hunt for a while, then rest for half an hour and then fish again etc, repeating this until either low or high tide is reached...............

Mum and cub

  After about 15 minutes or so, they began to stir. At first the cub wanted a feed but mum wasn't having any of it. So then it began to play around a bit,  but she wasn't having any of that either. Eventually, they both stood up and relieved themselves before settling down and curling up again. However, the cub still wanted to play and decided to bite its mums ear which I don't think she was too happy with. I did wonder after seeing the two cubs playing the other day (and was slightly sad with the thought) how this cub possibly felt after loosing its brother or sister and not now having a playmate..............

 Mum's on the right

Wakey Wakey



Getting an earful !

  Finally they settled down again and so I left them to it. That's the way it should be, unaware that I'd been watching them for a while. However, if they had of got up and gone back in to the water and headed east, they may well of picked up my scent as they swam along the shoreline.


Sunday 6 November 2011

Whooper Swans

  Now we've reached November autumn migration season is now all over bar the shouting so to speak. There has been one or two scare birds around down on Mainland and up here on Unst; this week I had a late Wheatear and for me at least, a very late House Martin at Skaw. In all my years of living down south, I have never had a November House Martin while living in the Cotswolds - even a Swallow was a rare sight. So as far as wildlife here, I'll now be looking for the winter visitors (still with a hope something else may arrive).

  One of the most obvious winter visitors has to to be the Whooper Swans which arrive at Easter Loch down in Uyeasound. While there aren't huge numbers- the numbers peak in the mid thirties -  they are still a pleasure to see - and hear. Once the cold weather sets in and the loch starts to freeze for any length of time, the birds will then move off south with only one or two remaining. It is one of the pleasures of doing the school run there for the last couple of winters and seeing them every day. Sula now makes it her daily routine of counting the birds as we drive past, with the numbers rising and falling as the birds move around the freshwater lochs to feed. I spent a few hours at the weekend and also at the beginning of the week watching and photographing them as the light was quite good. Again this year, a pair of Mute Swans have returned and often have mild disagreements with the Whoopers over the best places to feed. Here below are a few from Easter Loch........

 Mute Swan

 Whooper Swans

  I don't know why, but I often seem to see Otters most often when the weather is foul, such as in  bad light, howling wind or driving rain  (or even all of these put together) - like on one day this last week. We were having driving rain from the south east that was almost horizontal so I decided to have a clear out of one of the sheds. As there was plenty of space in one of the Councils community skips over at Haroldswick I thought it would be a good use of the available time. We're very lucky here in that (like most of Shetland) there are skips for house and domestic rubbish - ie diy waste, old sofas etc etc - which are paid for out the council tax. While there may  be old rusting machinery etc around the crofts etc, there is very little rubbish dumped on the side of the roads - on Unst at any rate.

  Anyway, as I was on one of the numerous journeys along the shore road, I spotted three otters in the water not too far from the road. It was a mother and two very large cubs and the cubs seemed to be having a great time fightings and chasing one another in and out of the water. After a short while, the mum went off to fish and the kids carried on playing, mum then returning after about 5 minutes with a fish. I had a great time watching them and despite the fact she obviously knew I was there - or should I say could see the car - I had around half an hour watching them. The rain was coming in horizontally  through the passenger window, but thankfully it was slightly from the side so nothing got on to the front of the lens.....................

 Mum and cubs

One of the cubs having a feed from mum

Contentment ?

Waiting for scraps

  It would be nice to think that this family are the ones from across the sound who visit our shore and have been reunited with the lost cub. Without any obvious markings it would be difficult to tell, if I'd got some pictures of the chin spots - as in the 3rd picture - then it might be possible. Speaking to Brydon, he's says that there could easily be two families, with one either side of the sound (our shore is only  half a mile away ) I had mum and a cub through the trail cam a couple of weeks ago, so I've put it out again to see what I get, it would be nice if there were three again.

  I was intending to include what we've been up to over the weekend but the PC is not behaving and takes forever to load pictures, hopefully I can do it tomorrow after giving the computer a bit of a clean out.