Sunday 28 October 2012

 24th Oct
  Well this is the first full day back home after our trip to the deep south and what do we get, a strong cold northerly and snow showers ! Winter is just around the corner.

  The trip south took two days including overnight on the Northlink and a night in Cardross to visit one of Catriona's relations. We left Unst on the Saturday lunch time and arrived in Tolox, southern Spain at around 9.30pm Monday, local time.

  The house where we stayed was high up on a south facing hillside but with views also to the other 3 points of the compass. For most of the week we stayed around the house and pool, with the occasional walk back from Tolox or had a lift in to either Tolox or Coin ( pronounced Coeeen - or something like that). The weather was mostly clear, sunny, and by Shetland standards, very warm at around  23c - 28c.

  All around the hillsides I could hear Crested Lark, Woodlark, Sardinian Warbler and Cirl Bunting. Daily over head I saw a number of raptors including Sparrowhawk, Peregrine, Kestrel, Buzzard, Griffon Vulture, Booted Eagle and a probable Bonelli's Eagle. Most mornings there was a passage of birds along the hillside made up of small flocks of finches (Chaffinch, Linnet, Goldfinch etc) and also Hirundines such as Swallows, House Martins, one Red-rumped Swallow and quite a few Crag Martins. Both Great Tit and Blue Tits were fairly numerous. Other birds from the garden included Firecrest, Crossbill, Little Egret, Redlegged Partridge, Blackcap and Little Owl. During the spring and breeding season I would think there would be a lot more raptors, hirundines and warblers around.

  There were a few obvious insects around including grasshoppers, carpenter bees, a swallow-tailed butterfly and a small praying mantis that ended up in the pool (which survived after been fished out with a net).

   Much of the surrounding landcsape was dominated by olive groves and also almond, orange and lemon trees. Ther only thick vegetation really was down in the river valleys or in some of the small gorges that would have water in in them after any substantial rainfall.

  Below are a few pics from the week.......

Looking north towards the house (arrowed in white)

Looking roughly south from above the house (again arrowed)

From the same viewpoint looking north

A couple of shots of the house after dark

Olive trees

Freshly picked olives that are going to be made into oil

 Female Sardinian Warbler



 Little Egret

 Praying Mantis

 Crested Lark

Swallow-tailed Butterfly

  The villa belongs to a friend of mine who I've known for many years and is available to rent for holidays. For more information click the link here


Saturday 13 October 2012

 Unst - and Shetland in general, has been pretty busy in the last couple of weeks with visiting birdwatchers/birders/twitchers - call them/us what you like. Unfortunately once again, like in many walks of life, there are a few who spoil it for the rest of us. This time it was down in Norwick last week. There had been a couple of rare birds found (Pechora Pipit and Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll) down in one of the fields. I wasn't actually there myself (I saw the numbers of folk and decided to keep clear) but from what I'm told there were quite a few walking through the fields, climbing fences and, so I'm told, leaving gates open. Eventually the crofter got fed up with the behaviour of some of them and asked everyone to leave. One (so I understand) even argued to say 'I can legally go where I like' - he may think so, but I bet there are a few crofters that would argue against that. I was talking to the crofter the other day and she told me, that just leaving that gate not tied up properly, could have caused her a whole load of problems. The gate concerned separated two fields with sheep in; one had ewes, the other had at least one ram in it. If they'd got together it could have meant the lambs were born two months earlier, which means they'd be lambing in the late winter.  Just one example of selfish, thoughtless behaviour by a few.

  Earlier in the week I had a parcel delivered which was a new book - 'Birds: Through Irish Eyes', it was written by Anthony McGeehan and Julian Wyllie. Anthony contacted me a while ago for a couple of pictures he liked and wanted to use them in the book, to which I happily agreed. The photographs were the Grey Phalarope - which I use as my blog banner - and the Woodlark from Skaw last winter. I must say it's a cracking book and will thoroughly enjoy reading it. The book is here on Amazon.

  One 'milestone' reached this week on Unst, was by Mike Pennington. Mike reached his 300 species seen on Unst - quite amazing and even more so that the all time total for the island is 333 species. That puts Mike in a very exclusive club up here in Shetland, so well done Mike for that. What was the bird, I hear you say? It was a Longtailed Tit at Skaw - the first for the island in 151 years ! The bird was discovered by Martin Garner and the group he was leading (For Brydon's Nature in Shetland). I think it must have been a bit strange for the group, they had come up looking for rare or scare birds and then Shetland birders getting excited about a LTT ! .....

  Last Monday (8th Oct) there was a fantastic aurora - as said by those lucky enough to see it. I stayed up until midnight and by then it had clouded over and was spitting with rain, so I turned in. Later around 1.30am, it all kicked off and as I was told by one person who saw it, it was as good as any you'd see on the tele - blast! There's another one forecast for around the 14th/15 but unfortunately I'll miss it as I'm going to the very deep south. We're off to visit a friend of mine who I've known since 1989 but have not seen for almost 20 years; Linda and Innis now live in southern Spain. After months down there with no rain (which resulted in wild fires and one fatality) they have now had severe floods in places - it almost sounds biblical.

 A couple of nights ago, we had a lovely clear, cold night. There had been a prediction of low auroral activity, but I took a look anyway. There was a very faint glow to the north at midnight, but I liked the mist on the water and, on this occasion, the harbour lights helped the picture.....

North over Blatasound from home

As I said, I'm away for a short while so I won't be posting for a week, after that it may well be pictures from a more warmer climate.