Saturday 31 December 2011

The Last Post - of 2011

  I'll start by a follow up to the last post about the recent gales. As we hadn't really seen anyone until after Boxing Day I didn't really know what damage other folk had sustained on their property. From what I've heard, there were several old croft roofs that were blown off (fortunately abandoned ones) and quite a few slates ripped off around the place. I also heard of a sheet of roofing material that had come off and then been blown over a mile in to someones garden - very dangerous. There was another story of some folk on Mainland who had gone next door for drinks or whatever on Christmas Day, when all of a sudden their house roof went flying past the window - scary stuff.

 Down in Uyeasound,12 salmon cages broke their moorings/anchorages and ended up 20-30 miles east of Unst drifting in the North Sea. (When I say 20 or 30 miles it's because there are several versions of the story). These cages are huge and are anchored to massive weights on the sea bed and also to the shore. Apparently when they were found by a helicopter that had gone out to look for them, only four were recognizable as fish cages, the others had either been smashed up or not found. It's said (again several estimations) that there were between 350 and 400 thousand salmon lost - just a week before they were due to be harvested. Obviously there is insurance, this figure has also varied, somewhere between 2 and 8 million pounds. Apparently, depending on current market prices and also the fish size, each fish could have been worth around £15 each. The knock-on effect of this event is that when the fish had been harvested, they had more fish ready to put into the cages. It was some storm.

  The Christmas period here this year has been fairly quiet, we have had a few friends around though, so despite the lack of electricity it's been nice. One thing (or rather person) that's been missing this year has been Ian, my father-in-law. For a number of years (including when we were down south) he would visit over the Christmas/New period - even playing the part of Father Christmas at times. So, due to illness he was unable to come up this year and was greatly missed - get well soon Ian.

  I have managed to get a out few times despite the weather and on most days I watched otters fishing at one location or another. I forgot to mention a few days ago that recently when I was down at Westing watching the gulls feeding in the breaking waves, an otter caught one that had been sitting on the water. I had seen an otter enter the water and then disappear for quite some time (usually a dive lasts around 20-25 seconds). Only when I heard the gulls giving out an alarm call I knew something was up, I then saw the bird being dragged through the waves just off shore for over half a mile which must have taken at least 20 if not 25 minutes.

  Yesterday (30th) was a cracking day, still, bright sunshine and for the time of year, very mild. I had a trip up north to try and catch a sunrise over the sea, but as is often the case, there was a lot of low cloud over the horizon. The drill ship 'Stena Carron' has been anchored up for a few days a couple of miles east of Unst while it is re-supplied etc (and sheltering from the storm no doubt). It has looked quite festive at night all lit up, but due to the distance, photos haven't been possible. Back at home, I stayed at home and did a few jobs - as well as keeping an eye on Balta Sound. During late morning I saw 6 Slavonian Grebes, 1 Little Grebe and 3 Great Northern Divers along with the Red-breasted Mergansers and Goldeneyes. I also saw the mum and otter cub fishing just off from the jetty. However, just as I was going down to try and gets some pictures, Rona and her friend asked for the bike tires to be pumped up etc, so by the time that had been done, the otters had moved on. One of the GNDs seemed to have 'bitten off more than it could chew' so to speak, as the fish took quite a lot of getting down. There is a lot of seaweed covered rocks close to shore here, so most of the grebes and divers tend to fish further out..........

 Great Northern Diver (GND)

A view west along the shore with the camera phone................

  For the first time for a while, we went out for a family walk over to Skaw and around the headland to the north. There was to be a small window in the weather (according to the Met Office local forecast) which proved to be bang on target, so the whole of the walk was dry. Apart from the ever present Greylags' the only good bird was an immature Glaucous Gull looking for food, way down below us on the rocks. Shortly after getting back to the car, it tipped it down with rain - time for lunch and then home to light the fire.....................

It's a hard life being a cat !

  Well, tomorrow's another day and indeed another year, so a happy and healthy New Year to everyone. I wonder what next year will bring ? Certainly I'm going to be busy on the house, but hopefully I'll have time to get 'out and about'. Most likely I will have to get up and go out earlier before breakfast (once it's light enough) and then come home to work etc. As to New Years resolutions ? I don't normally make them as the ones I make, I soon break - eat less chocolate, get fitter etc etc. I do have some photo ideas, but then they shouldn't be resolutions, but I know I do need to improve on my digital processing - but I've been needing to do that for years.


Tuesday 27 December 2011

Rapturous Years.

   Well here we are on the 27th of Dec and we've just had our Christmas dinner, crackers and hats and all. Late afternoon on Christmas Day, it was blowing a real hoolie (apparently it reached 101 miles an hour down at Sella Ness (Sullom Voe oil terminal) and we had our dinner cooking in the oven - and then the electric went off. It remained that way until around 3 this afternoon. So our dinner on Christmas Day was roast tatties and carrots - as the chicken had only partly cooked before the electric went off. Fortunately we had the gas fire and also the open fireplace to burn wood and coal on (the new fire basket arrived on Christmas Eve). It did certainly make the kids (and us) realize how much we all depend on electricity; even more so for the kids, as they had just had a Wii for Christmas and they couldn't use it. Around the island there were varying amounts of damage to roofs, walls and the like, but we got away with a few slates and a broken gate. It was wild though, most of the time it was F10, but certainly it gusted to 11 or even 12. The short, shaky video below was taken at the bottom of our field looking north, several times as I walked down there the wind caught my legs and almost blew me over......................      (make sure the volume is turned down)

Christmas Day at Ordaal

 So with, the wild weather and not getting out and about very much, I've done a sort of review of one of my favourite families of birds -  birds of prey - that have occurred on Unst since I've been here................

  With the recent sightings of the Pallid Harrier up here on Unst, I began to remember the raptors from this year and then of the ones I've seen since arriving here. In total, including owls, there have been 18 species here on Unst in the last two years - 17 of them I've seen (Goshawk is the only one I've missed so far). Also out of the 18, I've managed to get  pictures (of varying quality) of 14 - not bad for a small virtually treeless island 60 + degrees north in the UK.

  Apart from the 'common' raptors,  ie Sparrowhawk and Merlin these would be then followed by Kestrel and Peregrine; after that, the birds start to become scarcer species. The first 'less common' bird was a Common Buzzard which spent most of the winter around Alma, just west of Baltasound in 2008/09.



  That was followed the following year by a Hobby in Baltasound in July 2009. It wasn't a very obliging bird as it perched on a boulder in the middle of a field so the resulting photo was a big crop and not very good.

   Without doubt, one of 'the' birds for me was an immature Snowy Owl that Brydon and I  found after a tip-off from a local in the early spring of 2010 (early Spring being May !). That bird was only seen well for one day but what a bird it was (there was another here last winter which we didn't get to see) the blog from the day is here..

Snowy Owl

  The next 'goodie' was a cracking immature Sea Eagle over our previous rented house at Voesgarth. I was driving home when I saw this huge shape that looked more like a hang glider than a bird. It turned out to be a one year old bird from a release program in the Montrose Basin on mainland Scotland. Over the following week it was seen quite widely across Shetland.............

'No8', an Immature Sea Eagle over Voesgarth 2010

  The other nice - but brief- view of a new raptor for me on Unst for 2010 was a Honey Buzzard over the cliffs at Hermaess; it didn't hang about and carried on down the west side.

  2011 started with a cracking bird, no in fact two, Rough-legged Buzzards which spent the second part of the winter and early spring over on the west side of Unst. The birds would often disappear for days, leading us to think they'd moved on and then show themselves again. The last month or so of their stay, they were much more helpful in often hunting not far from the road south to Uyeasound around an area called Caldback. Numerous times I would drive along the road and see one soaring or hanging in the wind...................

Rough-legged Buzzard, April 2011

  After the Rough-legs', the next bird was a female Goshawk that Brydon first saw, which, I won't spend too much time on - despite numerous attempts, I didn't get to see it :(

  The next B of P (bird of prey) was a Black Kite during the first week of May. Rory first saw it in the north of Yell and then a few days later it urned up on Unst. I was fortunate to see it a few times but never when the sun was out ! ..............

Black Kite at Burrafirth, May 2011

  Around the same time as the kite, an Osprey turned up and this bird stayed around for almost two weeks - I'm sure of that, as it had a small notch in the 2nd primary of its left wing.........

Osprey at Burrafirth May 2011

  This bird was closely followed by a quite confiding Kestrel at Skaw...................

Female Kestrel at Skaw

  Finally at the end of the 2nd week (for May at least), a Marsh Harrier showed up around Ungirsta and stayed around for around a week. On one occasion, I was watching the perched harrier, I then took my eyes off it for a second and on looking up again, it had been replaced by the Osprey flying past with no sign of the Marsh Harrier.................

Marsh Harrier - big crop

  June, July  and the first couple of weeks of August were quiet as far as B of P were concerned. However, on the 25th things hotted up when I found a juvenile Pallid Harrier at Norwick. Of the birds of prey I've seen so far here (which includes owls) its number two on my list so far (Snowy Owl being 1st and Rough-leg 3rd). Over the next couple of weeks I saw it a few times getting views I could never have dreamt of......................

Pallid Harrier Norwick August 2011
  Over the next few weeks, there was an unprecedented number of Pallid Harriers arriving in the UK, with possibly 7 on Shetland. The Pallid was then joined by several Hen Harriers around Unst (which caused a bit of confusion with the Pallid) and in the end there were 3 Hen Harriers roosting for a while each night at Norwick.

  Even now in December, there have been Sparrowhawk, Merlin, Peregrine, Kestrel, Hen Harrier and Rough-leg' sightings on Unst along with sightings of both Long and Short-eared Owls. So when are we going to get a white-phase Gyr or another Snowy Owl, maybe this winter ? Who knows, but we'll be out there looking.

Thursday 22 December 2011

Lost and found

  I'm told that I'm one of those rare beasts nowadays that has spent most of their life in one place. I spent almost 50 years living in the same village - indeed the same house - before we moved up here to Unst. The only break was a year in Malawi southern Africa, going when our eldest, Sula, was 9 months old. As we were going to a relatively well furnished house, all we needed to take was our personal possessions etc and the rest of the stuff went in to storage. I can certainly remember us saying at the time that we managed without all of the 'stuff' we had in storage, so why had we still got it!  On returning home 12 months later however, the belongings came out of storage and I was reunited with things I'd forgotten about which gave me a sort of 'warm' feeling on discovering them. I used to feel the same when after a few months away from the hills - putting on my walking boots again at the start of a good mountain walk - it was like being reunited with a couple of old friends.

  Back here on Unst, it's been similar. From August 2008 until January 2011, we had three containers of things stored down in Gloucester, either waiting to be brought up here or (a less pleasant thought) us returning south. For me it was frustrating when I wanted a particular tool to do a job knowing full well 'it was in storage' but I had to go and buy another one that wasn't an 'old friend' if you know what I mean. Once we had moved in to Ordaal and  the storage stuff had arrived, we gradually went through it and over the following weeks/months I began to suspect that there were things missing. As it turned out, I've 'lost' a box of tools - some are irreplaceable as they were of sentimental value, others can be replaced but will be of a much lesser quality. Who knows where the box went, but someone somewhere has gained. Also, going through my books and cds, I still can't find some that I know I have; but I'm sure in time they will appear.

 One such missing item was a sort of family 'heirloom' - a loaf of bread ! A loaf of bread I hear you say ? - well it was not just any loaf of bread. This particular one was baked by my great uncle Leon not long after he left school and started in the bakery of my home village on October 4th  - 1910 !  Uncle Leon, was then drafted in to the army at the start of WW1, but  then received a honorable discharge after loosing a leg in the Dardanelles. From a very young age, Uncle Leon would take me across the fields and woods (bearing in mind he was on crutches) and taught me a lot about the countryside which I believe was a grounding for what I now know. One thing that uncle was well known for however and that was making catapults. When I was growing up in the sixties, every small boy had a catapult, and uncle was an expert at making them. From choosing the leather for the sling, the thin twine to bind the elastic to the stick and then coating the string with beeswax (collected by him) he was a perfectionist. I still have my 'Y' shaped sticks (minus the elastic)  and also my dads which is now probably over 60 years old. As to the loaf of bread ?, fortunately after 11 months I found it in a large box with some boxes of slides, phew !

 Uncle Leon and the loaf of bread - circa early 80s

  I mentioned at the end of the last post about the sheep fence down at the jetty, well, after spending and hour chasing the sheep around to get them back along the shore, I then spent another hour re-erecting the fence. Having the feeling of a victory, I was annoyed to see them back in the field the following morning - and even more than last time. Some off the sheep are of Shetland stock and are akin to mountain goats, ie will climb over or squeeze through the tightest gap. On this occasion it was through a small space which had been covered by seaweed that I'd missed. I've now got them fenced off in a smaller part of the field and will move them out later. 

  While I was down there 'fixing' the shore fence, the mum and otter cub where out on one of the rocks that gets exposed as the tide drops and didn't seem too bothered by me making a lot of noise 100yds away. Returning to the shore an hour later, they had come up on to the stone jetty and were resting - or rather the cub was. She (the cub) was lying on top of mum using her as a pillow and mum was obviously not too comfortable with this arrangement as she kept fidgeting. There was only a slight breeze which unfortunately was going from me to them, fortunately I was behind the high wall (one side of the old noost shed) so that did help; mum did know someone was around as she kept sniffing the air, but I can only guess the scent wasn't strong enough.

  Yesterday (21st Dec), there was a cracking sunrise - made even better by the fact we could see it from two rooms on the east side of the house without going outside.  This is because I've now manged to change the glass in a couple of the windows; two had obscure, frosted glass, which in this house seemed rather strange. The window in the upstairs bathroom is at shoulder height and can't really be seen into (unless you are on a ladder on the outside) and the window in the kitchen which used to be a loo window, also isn't over looked. It's also one of the mysteries (to us) why here on Shetland where there are so many fantastic views to be had from houses, that many, many, houses have net curtains and many of them are isolated houses..............

A couple of 'grab' shots from the car as I was doing the Baltasound school run at around 9am.

  We've now arrived at the shortest day/longest night, but the lighter days of spring and summer are still a long way off sadly.

  If I don't get the opportunity to post again before Christmas, I hope everybody has a good one. Thanks for finding a few minutes to look at the blog and also to those who've become a 'follower' - sorry I've not acknowledged you individually.


Saturday 17 December 2011

Waterfalls and a Wheatear

  Its been a fairly quiet week this week - apart from the weather that is, but I won't do yet another post on the weather !

 I've been doing some work on the fireplace in our living room which is an ideal job when its foul outside. Its an old Victorian one with a cast iron surround and a vertical row of 6" tiles either side. Originally it had a cast iron built in-grate and fire back with a damper (a lid at the top) but that was removed by one of the previous occupants (and not very carefully at that). This was all replaced by 3 fire-brick panels which had now come to the end of their days in that they were cracked and had started to break up. On removing the panels - and around 7 buckets of soot and dust - I discovered that there was quite a lot of space behind and that it had been used as a fireplace before the cast one had been installed. The tiles had been set on cast frames which were now totally rusted and rotten which meant new ones would have to be made at some stage. On cleaning it all out, I decide not to reinstate the tiles for the time being, but to use the by now, much larger fireplace. I found three 10x10x6 inch pieces of cut stone outside which I manged to cut and to make in to six 10x10x3 inch pieces to use as a new hearth. I then re-pointed the stonework and all I have to do now is to wait for a new cast iron fire basket to arrive.

  With all of the wind (sorry I won't talk about it for long) birding folk are now looking to the far north for any wanderers. Over in North America, there has been a large movement of Snowy Owls (over 100 in one State alone) which bodes well for the possibility of one turning up here, probably not from North America, but most likely from northern Scandinavia or similar. I came across this image from a link on the Birdforum - looks like noise reduction software used on it but I'd be glad to see them, somehow it seems almost too good to be true. Earlier in the week between breaks in the weather, I took a walk up Crussa Field where the Snowy was a couple of years back - here. Its a large area to try and cover in a short space of time (2hrs) but it was good to get a hillwalk in, something I've not done for quite a while. Sadly no Snowy (I wasn't expecting one really, but if you don't look, you don't find) All I saw were a few Hoodies, Ravens and a Snipe...........

Crussa Field looking north to Saxavord and Norwick

  Returning back home, the two Bean Geese were still around Ordaal, which was  nice change from the ever present Greylags...........

'Tundra' Bean Goose

 The following day (13th Dec), was pretty dull so as I needed to go over to Norwick, I took a look first at Skaw. The Woodlark was still present yesterday, but today it was being elusive as usual. I decided to take a walk up the burn (something I don't do enough) with the thought of a possible migrant Dipper. If there's anywhere on Unst one could turn up, it would be here. Only taking the camera with the 24-105 lens (plus binoculars), I set off. There was quite a lot of water around so I hoped that I could possibly get some shots of some of the very few proper (although smallish) waterfalls on Unst. Using the 'live view' function on the camera, I rested the camera on the bank to get some 'slow-mo' shots of the water. Looking back now, I should have taken the tripod, remote lease, filters etc etc but I did want to travel light.................

 Walking on up the stream, I then noticed an Otter heading down the edge of the burn straight for me around 50 yards away. The wind was good and it hadn't seen me so I instantly lay down in the extremely wet, sponge like grass. It crossed the stream and came right past me, totally unaware of my presence. As it moved downstream, it constantly checked rabbit holes and also sniffed the air. It always surprises me when I come across an otter away from the sea, yet they often venture a long way in land. Only recently a friend came across an occupied holt on the top of one of Unst's highest hills which is almost two miles from the sea............

  I headed on up stream a little further to the 'largest' waterfall to take a few pics before heading back to the car - just as large sleet/hail shower past through.......

  Just after 1pm the sun came out for a while, so, timing it for a school run, I drove up to Valla Field. My thoughts were to possibly a Rough-leg' Buzzard, but instead got both a fly-over and perched immature Peregrine - still a good bird, but I've had more sightings of R-l Buzzards (not individuals however) than Peregrine on Unst. It wasn't very close but still nice to see however.........

Imm' Peregrine at Valla Field

 Wednesday, was to be a trip down to the bright lights of Lerwick, what a treat! There was method in my madness to go however, as in Breiwick on the south side of town, there was a Desert Wheatear (a lifer for me) which had been around for a few days. I certainly wouldn't have gone and twitched it but as I needed to go in to town I thought it was ok. Unfortunately the weather was pretty grim - a splash of sun would have been nice - so I made the best of it as I could. Desert Wheatear's are traditionally late migrants when they do turn up but it did seem a little out of place on a cold winters day.................

1/100 sec @ f5.6, ISO 1250, full frame

The arrow marks the bird

  I mentioned in the last post about the fence down at the jetty, well the picture below is the result. It was the shear weight of seaweed on the wire that caused it to collapse and I've since been told by a crofter, that many folk will remove the wire at the end of a summers grazing to avoid this happening - time for a re-think................

 I'm not sure what's happened to the formatting today as the spacing the text/pictures seem a little out. I'll try and sort it for the next post.


Sunday 11 December 2011

And the gales continue.........

  Well earlier on in the week it was one of the rare occasions that the Met Office local forecast was wrong. I usually only use the main BBC forecast (also from the Met Office) as a general idea what might happen - unless there is a wide front moving across the UK. So often here, the forecast has said it was going to rain and it was fine and vice versa. Some days it has been fine all day on Unst and wet all day down in Lerwick - 50 miles away - and also the other way around. The app on my Ipod, is set for Baltasound and more often than not its spot on with the timings and weather conditions. On Monday and Tuesday however they got it wrong; it was supposed to be two days of brighter, drier weather.  On Monday we had about an hour of slightly brighter weather and Tuesday was wet and windy again, hey ho. Returning back from the school run on Monday, I was delighted to see 11 Jackdaws in the garden, even though the light was rubbish I grabbed a few pictures from the car. Returning back home again a little later, the number had now risen to 16 (26 the following day). Positioning the car at an angle so that only the lens hood was showing through the open car window, the birds soon got used to the car and started to come back. Just like any corvid however, they still didn't relax too much, constantly darting in and out to pick up bits of food from around the feeder. They also soon cottoned on to where the seed was dropping from and even tried (not very successfully) to hover in front of the feeder and peck out the food from the feeder ports. There is the saying about 'living and learning' etc, well I certainly still do and even more so about many of the birds I see up here; the jackdaw picture below is a good example. From reading the article on Jackdaw identification which I mentioned here , I learnt that young Jackdaws have a browner plumage, especially their wings. When I saw this bird, it threw me completely (obviously I knew it was a Jackdaw) and got me wondering where it had originated from etc. The reason for the very poor pic below is that it was taken through the closed car window and it didn't show up again...............

 An immature Jackdaw - it should have moulted the wing feathers out by now.

  The pale collar varied in width, length and brightness amongst the jackdaw flock, sometimes being just a pale spot.

  During the first part of the week, I didn't do much in the way of picture taking - partly due to the weather, partly due to doing some work at home, so apart from the jackdaws the only other bird I photographed was this Purple Sandpiper at Westing. For me, I think the stalks of Kelp on a beach, are one of the most distracting backgrounds there is.......................

 Purple Sandpiper

  There probably isn't anyone this week in the UK that has missed the gale warnings issued by the Met Office. I heard folk a number of times on the radio,  commenting on them saying, 'What's the issue ? we have weather like this on and off all winter in Shetland' etc etc. I think they (the Met Office) must have heard the comments too; as on one report, I heard a spokesman acknowledge that Shetland did indeed often have gales like these, but the reason for the 'red alert' was that these gales would travel right through the central belt, where it was much more likely to cause damage. It was really eerie yesterday, in the morning we had a very strong wind, then for a few hours either side of lunch time it went perfectly still. In the mid afternoon, it picked up again (from a different direction) and blew a right hoolie for a while and gusting to Force 11.

  Early this morning (Fri 9th), it kicked off again when I got a text message telling me both the Yell and Bluemull Sound ferries were cancelled due to the weather - when they stop running, you know its rough ! So, after dropping Sula off for the last time at Uyeasound School (sort of an 'end of an era' for me) I took a look a Westing, all I could say was WOW ! Just as I turned off the engine at the end, an otter trotted past the front of the car carrying a fish heading inland a short way looking for some shelter for it to eat its catch. The funny thing was when it returned to the top of the shingle bank it paused, looked at the sea, then back to where it had come from and returned to the relative shelter of the marsh. I think I'd have done the same. As the light was rubbish, I decided to go home, do some work at the house and return at lunchtime.

  And here is a rather shaky 24 sec vid from Lamba Ness - I was using the car as a wind break but even that wasn't enough.........

At the mid point along the cliffs, its between 10 and 15 metres high so that will give you an idea of the wave height.

  By early on Saturday morning, the storm had gone through and every thing was looking fine. Our house was intact (apart from an ingress of horizontally driven rain) the sheds were also still in one piece although the shear ferocity of the wind had driven water through the joints of the ship-lap boarding. The only options for that is to have either double boarding or a membrane behind the boards - that is now usually done as standard practice. Down at the shore, the fencing I put up to stop the neighbours sheep coming along the shoreline had been almost flattened by the battering from the sea. Not so much the wave action but more to do with the weight of seaweed being thrown against it. When I was doing it in the spring, the crofter that had sheep here, told me not to spend too much time on it as if we were lucky it would only last 2 or 3 years. The main straining post (5'6" of old telegraph pole) was pulled out of the rocks and that had been dug down almost 3ft.

  As most will know, there was a lunar eclipse on Saturday afternoon. Due to the timing, Shetland was going to be the best place in the UK to see it - weather permitting. I headed off up to Lamba Ness with a hope that at around 3pm when the moon was due to rise, there might be a break in the cloud. Arriving at 2.30pm, I was disappointed to see there was a long band of cloud almost all the way across the eastern horizon. As the cloud was moving south, (but not as quick as last night !) I thought I'd wait awhile - just in case. Finally after several tantalizing minutes just before 4pm, the moon finally showed and with it the last few minutes of the eclipse - oh how I wished it had been clear................

Lunar Eclipse, Lamba Ness

Sunday 4 December 2011

Wet inside and out !

    This week has been pretty much like last, wet and windy. The wind has still been coming from the west or south west and for most of the time has been Force 7 and above. Fortunately, the gales have been relatively short lived, blowing through in a few hours, dropping down a couple of notches before picking up again later. I've been over to Westing again a couple of times and the sea has been pretty much the same although on Friday it was breaking up on to the parking area which is probably around 10-12 feet above the normal high tide. For a time today (3rd), the wind had been forecast to rise up to Force 11 (Violent storm on the Beaufort Scale ) west of Unst but fortunately it seemed to pass by much further offshore. The first picture below is across to our house, the entrance to Balta Sound is two miles to the left (east), this is taken from almost at the western end, wild weather ! (absolutely no apologies for the poor quality of the pictures)............

Balta Sound, Force 10

And two more from during the week...................


'Smoke on the Water' - on the sheltered side of the island

  With all of this wind, the driving rain has once again found its way though the cracks in the lime mortar pointing on the west side of the house and into our living room, so out came the bowl again. Next summer we are planning to re-tile the roof and as we do so, also put roofing felt on to the sarking boards underneath the slates; doing this will certainly help make the house a little less drafty. Once the roof has been done, then the very slow and laborious job of 'picking  and pointing' the mortar joints will get underway which will also help to dry the old house out. As we'll need scaffolding for the roof, we can then move down the building, taking the scaffolding down as we do. Another job will be to refit guttering all the way around the main house; incredibly, the house hasn't had any for a least 50 or 60 years which again doesn't help with damp problems.

  During all of this heavy rain, we had a leak through a ceiling in another area which has only happened once before. I then spent a number of hours over last week, moving furniture, taking up floor boards etc trying to trace where the leak originated from. To cut a very long story short, it wasn't weather related at all but from 'dodgey' plumbing by one of the previous owners. I know we all might have a go at a trade or job that we're not really 'qualified' to do, but a least please try and do it in a professional manner. In this case, it was a plastic heating pipe joint (I'm still not convinced this stuff is better than the good old copper pipes) which had gone through a hole in a joist where the hole was exactly the same size as the pipe. So what happens is, when the pipe gets warm it expands becoming tight in the hole, the other side of the joint (which was along side a joist) expands and puts pressure on the plastic fitting and distorts it slightly creating a leak. So always make sure there is enough space around pipes that either go through or over floor joists - you also won't get woken up by creaking pipes when the heating comes on or goes off !

  As I've mentioned before, I wasn't too keen on having cats. The thought of them bringing in a small dead migrant bird that is a rarity or even a mega rare one didn't please me too much when the family announced they wanted cats. However, now they are growing up, they are starting to earn their keep so to speak. At first it was a small mouse or rat, now it's full grown rabbits - that I have no problem with. Unst and Shetland in general is over run with rabbits, although in many places they don't cause a problem - unless, like our neighbours, you have a flower and vegetable patch. This week, the smaller of the two cats (which looks like it was the runt of the litter) brought in a full grown buck rabbit which weighed considerable more than the cat. Not only that, it had to drag it up 12 inches to get through the cat flap, which in itself is a bit of challenge as it has a small tunnel on the outside to cut down the wind blowing the flap open.

  On the wildlife front, the main interest this week has been the number of Bean and Whitefronted Geese that are still around. During the week Brydon had a Rough-legged Buzzard just south of
Baltasound, lets hope it stays for the winter feeding on the rabbits. Closer to home, we're now getting a few Jackdaws coming to feed with the Starlings, House Sparrows and Rock Doves. This morning (4th Dec) we had 9 Jackdaws on the lawn, not something to get exited about normally, but these birds however are most likely to have originated from Scandinavia. Some of them have a pale neck collar which suggests their origin - for a more detailed account on the races, take a look here. With the weather settling down a bit for a few days with possibly some SUNSHINE , I'll try and get some pictures of them this week.

  I'm not sure if I've mentioned it before, but I grew up with racing pigeons (or homing pigeons as they are also called) as my dad used to keep them. They were around for most of my life and as they were always around, I did resent them a bit. However, times change and having true Rock Doves in the garden (which all racing pigeons have descended from) is quite nice. Maybe it's because I don't have to feed them or clean out their pigeon loft - but I do still put out food on the ground for these birds - I think my dad would approve...................

A true Rock Dove will always be in this plumage and always have a white rump

  Yesterday while driving back from the shop past the Houb in Baltasound, I saw two otters heading out across the grass from the saltwater towards one of the small freshwater burns. At first I thought it was the two which come along our shoreline but was surprised to see it was the family from the north side - minus one cub. Speaking to Bydon about this, he said that when the cubs start to mature, often a male cub will go off on its own on occasions - maybe that's what happened to the other one along our shore? Comparing the pictures of the mum from last week, it looks like her nose is slowly starting to heal,  it still looks pretty raw though..................