Monday 25 June 2012

'Simmer Dim'

  Last week I had my good friend Martin staying here with us and thankfully we had good weather and, more importantly, good views of many of the breeding birds here on Unst. It's always a bit of a worry when friends visit (especially birders) as often they will have a list - even if it's only in their head - of species they want to see. On this occasion all I was concerned about was the weather as I knew that Martins 'list' would be of the waders that breed here. It really is a special place and I feel very lucky to be able to stand on the front doorstep late in the evening, just as the sun is going down around ten o'clock and hear numerous waders calling. Redshank, Lapwing, Snipe, Golden Plover, Whimbrel, Curlew, Oystercatcher and Ringed Plover are all nesting within half a mile of the house - magical. We looked carefully at the forecast and fortunately the day we went to Fetlar we had a fine, sunny day. We were also lucky to have Phalaropes on show (after a wait) as for the last couple of years they've not been showing well...................

Red-necked Phalarope
Juvenile Rock Pipit

  Living in a place as I do now that has an abundance of wildlife and plenty of visitors coming to see it, it is quite interesting to 'people watch' so to speak and by that I mean how different people go about it. I'm sure that most folk will have read various guide books on where to go, what to see and in many of them, how to go about seeing the various creatures. Looking for Otters is a classic example. Every book, magazine and leaflet will tell you to keep a low profile (avoid a silhouette), wear subtle natural colours and watch the wind direction. Despite this, almost daily I see people standing on the foreshore in bright clothes obviously looking for otters and probably go home disappointed. A couple of nights ago I was taking a bath and was looking north across Baltasound, I could clearly see three figures standing on the shore looking around and they were a mile away, even with an otters poor eyesight, they'd have a slim chance of seeing one. 

  It's one thing that general holiday makers may not have the appropriate clothing, but if you were to go on an organized tour that's a different kettle of fish all together. A couple of weeks ago I'd been to do an airport drop off and had stopped off near to Grutness (where the Fair Isle ferry goes from). Down on the beach were a group of eight folk with cameras kneeling down in a line abreast pursuing some feeding Sanderling and one of them had a bright white coat on ! Thinking about it, maybe the guy in the white coat had got it right and the others in camo' gear had got it wrong ? - after all, they were on a bright white sandy beach :) . In situations like this, I know of one specialist tour group here that actually provides the group with sensible coats if needed, that is certainly a group I'd go with. A while ago I heard a story of a reputable tour company that does bird tours worldwide. On meeting at the airport before the trip, the leader asked one member of the group if the bright coat they had on was the only one they had. When they replied it was, it was suggested they went in to the airport shop and buy another or they wouldn't be going on the trip ! Brilliant.

   During this last week, I've had a couple of mornings out, one was up to Hermaness and on along to an area to the south I'd not been to before called Tonga. It's a cracking piece of coastline which really does have a wild feel about it. It also has more Bonxies than I've seen anywhere else. Even along the cliff top, they were pretty aggressive and constantly dive-bombed me as I walked........


Looking north to Muckle Flugga from Tonga

  A couple of weeks ago a dead Sperm Whale had been seen in the water below the cliffs and despite looking at the time I didn't see it. This time however - after being pointed in the right direction by Stacey the warden - I saw it in the water just below the point where the boardwalk ends at the clifftop. By now it was just a floating blubbery mess that was being feasted on by gulls and Fulmars................


 While up at Hermaness, I also had some quality time in the company of a very confiding Dunlin that was feeding in one of the pools by the boardwalk. It proved a point that often if you lay down and stay quiet and still, birds will come to you........

Male Dunlin

20th June
  This morning I'd arranged to get dropped off again on Uyea Isle just south of Uyeasound; I was paying another visit as part of a bird survey I was doing there for the owner and the RSPB. Getting to the pier at 7.15am, it was a cracking morning, clear sky, fairly light wind and bright sunshine. The survey involves walking around the island and recording most of the birds and what they are doing etc. and then putting that on a large scale map. Uyea is a lovely island with great views all around with a mixture of natural and man made sights in every direction. During my 6 hour visit, apart from the birds I also saw several Porpoise, and a brief view of an otter as I dozed in the sunshine while waiting for my lift back........
Mussel 'farm'

Pale phase Arctic Skua
  Salmon cages

  As it was both a beautiful day and almost mid-'summer', I later decided to head for a sunset (a Simmer Dim') at Lamba Ness. Leaving home at around 8pm, I headed around the north side of Balta Sound and came across a number of Hoodies foraging for mussels under the exposed seaweed. Some, like this one however were just sitting, seemingly taking in a few of the last rays of the day......

Hooded Crow
 Heading on over to Lamba Ness, there were a large number of rabbits also sitting out in the late evening sunshine, some running for cover as I drove up but many like these two young ones, just sat and watched me................

 As it was quite a while before sundown, I went down a rocky ridged peninsular called North Coos at the north east corner of the head.On nights like this when the sea state is slight, it's possible to get quite low down at the end and have good views of passing Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills as they head around north Unst to Saxavord and Hermaness. As there was little wind, it was relatively easy to pan the camera on the tripod as they flew past..........

 At around 10.15pm, the sun started to get close to the horizon so I moved my position to a better vantage point. By 10.45pm the sun had sank below the horizon but the sky was still incredibly light.......

Lamba Ness 22.35pm June 20th

(and with the camera phone)

  I really wanted to stay until sunrise which would be under 5 hrs away, however, due to having to take Sula to Lerwick for her Grade 2 fiddle exam, I thought it wise to try and get a few hours sleep; so leaving at around 11.20pm, I headed for home. Back home, I really didn't want to turn in so I walked the short distance down to the shore and took a few pictures over Balta Sound..........

 11.50pm looking north
11.55pm looking east

 Today (25th June) the last of our visiting friends left to start his journey south. I have known Ian for 20 (if not more) years and haven't seen him for 15 of them -  and it only seems like yesterday since we last met all those years ago. Over the last 4 weeks we've had visitors for 3 of them so it's been quite busy. We now have a break of around two weeks before the next visitors arrive (one being my sister Carol) who I'm also really looking forward to seeing again. 

  Our recent new arrivals - 4 chickens - have settled in nicely and are producing eggs. The cats took a while to get used to them and to learn that 'no' they couldn't chase them. It was funny watching the cats stalk the chickens, getting really close and then as the hens turned around to look, the cats running for their lives. We had been wondering why we were only getting eggs every other day or so, well today I discovered why - one of the chickens brooding 14 eggs !


Sunday 10 June 2012

Transition of Venus

  Well here we are in to the second week of June and I'm wondering what happened to spring. I would think over the whole of the spring period, we've only had around two weeks of what I would call spring-like weather. Despite that, the birds have been breeding and I'm now seeing lots of young birds around such as Lapwing, Redshank, Starling etc. The spring migration seems to have been quite average but none the less fairly enjoyable.

 The main event for me hasn't been the Queens Jubilee or the forthcoming Olympics in London, (the 'torch' is in Lerwick today) but the transition of Venus across the Sun. I was very lucky to see it back in 2004 when we lived down in the Cotswolds and had my fingers crossed for a clear sky this time.

  My alarm went off at just before 3am (having only got to bed just before midnight) and by 3.20am I was at the end of Lamba Ness just in time to see the sun start lifting up above the horizon. I quickly set up the camera on the tripod to get some pics......................

Lamba Ness 3.30am June 6th 2012

  It wasn't my intention to use the SLR to photograph the moment as I was concerned (rightly or wrongly) what effect the sun would have on the cameras sensor that had the equivalent of a 1120mm lens (in 35mm terms) attached to it. So what I did was to use the same method I used in 2004 and that was to use my birding telescope. I then projected the suns image on to a piece of card supported on a second tripod; all of this was covered by coats etc to block out any other light. It all worked fine but due to the wind, it made taking any pictures difficult so I headed back home.

  Setting it all up again at the back of the house where it had a bit of shelter from the north east wind I also had something better to throw over it all - my bag hide. To take the picture I used the 7D with my 24-105mm lens, 1/1000th sec at f5.6, 1600 ISO,  handheld.

 I have to admit that as I watched it move across the card, it did prove to be a thought provoking moment in how quickly time slips by ...........................

Baltasound 6th June 2012 5.20am