Monday 9 July 2012

  Here we are at the end of the first week of July and the weather has changed yet again and we are now back into a cool north easterly  airflow. Over the last week we've had very little wind and for several days no wind at all, unfortunately it hasn't been particularly nice. It's been very grey with low cloud or mist for much of last week which in turn has brought out the midges (or midgets as I call them) .

  Due to the really dull weather, I've not done much of either birding or photography but this has taken away any excuses not to do jobs around the place. Just over a week ago I did spend an hour up at Skaw as there was some nice breakers coming in and this in turn was bringing in food for feeding Common Gulls. The light was rubbish but I still took a few pictures anyway..........

Common Gulls

 Also at Skaw were several families of Eider Ducks feeding fairly close to the shore. I've learnt  that if I sit down on the beach, after their initial wariness, they will soon come back and carry on feeding - they do have a choice as they could move to either end of the beach. It seems quite harsh for the ducklings however as they are constantly being bombarded by breaking waves and going under only to bob back up like little brown corks...................

  On the migrant bird front, there's not been much about apart from a Black Kite which first appeared a couple of weeks ago on Mainland (assuming it was the same one) and then spent a few days around Unst before going to Fetlar and then back to Mainland. A sign that the year is moving on was a group of 6 Whimbrel moving around Lamba Ness. My first thoughts were they were a family party, but then was told they'd more likely be departing non-breeders :(

  One evening I was looking down towards the shore and spotted a feeding Otter, fetching my bins' and Rona (in that order) we headed down to the beach. It came out on the rocks at the far end of the beach with quite a large eel and as the wind was in our favour we managed to get quite close - much to Rona's delight.

  I can only assume that it is due to high tides at the moment, that the seals at Haroldswick are hauling out very close to the shore and, on occasions, even coming up on to the beach. Like a lot of other situations,  if you roll carefully to a stop in a car,  they'll stay put and you can have some really nice views. Doing this the other day, I was taking some photographs but hadn't noticed a car pull up behind me; as there wasn't much space for cars to pass, I decided to move on. Then as I moved off, their door opened and the driver got out and needless to say the seals also moved off...................

  Common Seals

  A similar thing happened about the same time concerning an Otter. I just happened to be driving along the north shore road when I noticed an Otter in the water. The wind was totally wrong but I decided to pull up the car just see if could see any distinguishing markings (such as the female with a big scar on her nose). The otter came out onto some rocks that are used regularly for eating prey on, sensed I was there, but wasn't too concerned. Shortly after, a car pulled up behind me and they sat there with the engine running, time to move on I thought. Driving along the road some 3 hundred yards or so, I parked again and watched the 'otter watchers'. They got out (leaving both the boot and car door open) and sat down on the shore - by this time the otter had gone several hundred yards off-shore - no surprise there then. The otter then swam back in my direction and came out of the water and in to a holt not far from where I was sitting.

  We're now seeing lots of fledgling birds around - Meadow Pipits, Wheatears, Redshank, Curlew and Oystercatcher etc. Most of the adults will sit and give out an alarm call from a wall or fence post and some, such as Oystercatchers and Redshanks, will fly around like something possessed telling all of the world a predator is around. While I don't like to cause too much anxiety to the birds, I will if the occasion arises take a couple of shots from the car as I pass by. Spending too long can distract the parents and its at times like this that a GBB Gull or Bonxie could drop in and take a youngster..............



 Oystercatcher chick


 Male Wheatear

  On one of the many misty days, I went up to Skaw for a quick beach walk; arriving at the end of the road, I immediately saw a Gannet siting on a rock in the burn. The bird looked in good form so I can only assume it came down in the fog during the night and couldn't get out due to the grassy banks and a net across the lower half of the bridge (which is to stop the sheep wandering up stream when the water is low). Taking a few pictures, I then lifted the net so it could swim downstream and back to sea; this it didn't find too easy due to the rocks in the stream, so I decide to help it on its way. Remembering that Gannets will 'go' for the eyes, I carefully grabbed it at the top of the neck behind its head and held its wings together with my other arm. Releasing it back in to the sea, it certainly didn't feel skinny or have any injuries, so hopefully it will survive...............

  Living within a stones throw of the seashore, we don't eat nearly enough fresh seafood (although we do get to have Salmon fairly frequently). During the last week, we've had some really low tides which has exposed the rocks just off from the beach. So, a couple of days ago, I went a collected some fresh Mussels for supper - and very nice they were too :) There are a lot of Mussel farms around Shetland and the other week when I went across to Uyea Isle, I learnt quite a bit about them. From what I gather, there's quite a lot of luck involved as they 'self seed' so to speak - the Mussel eggs are floating around in the sea and then attach themselves to what ever is suitable. It is believed that some of the Mussels here around Shetland could have originated from around the Outer Hebrides. It can take two years for farmed Mussels to be a size suitable for sale, so I reckon some of the ones we ate the other night could have been 8 or 10 years old as they were quite large. As I was eating one, I became aware of some sand or grit in my mouth, upon investigation I found a tiny white pearl between 4 and 5mm across - something I'd certainly not bargained for..................

.............. but we won't be getting rich on this though !


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