Saturday 22 December 2012

Storms and some gardening

  Well its been another busy week or so with not much in the way of wildlife apart from what's been around Ordaal. Last week was particularly cold with snow showers, sleet and freezing rain which made the roads rather icy in places......

 Down near the shore looking south west

   I had a number of jobs lined up to do around the house and outside. One job is to level out the two 'lawns' at the back of the house and cottage. When I say lawns, I don't think they were ever proper lawns, more likely rough grass and a vegetable garden. There a quite a few dips and hollows to fill in and level and then re-seed. To help me with all of this I recently made a heavy roller to go behind the quad. This was made using some angle and box section steel I bought in Lerwick and a 3'6" length of 10" plastic salmon cage pipe acquired from a local salmon farmer (thanks Christopher, I owe you one). I then placed a steel spindle in a sleeve through the centre and then filled it with concrete. I reckon the whole thing weighs around three and half to four hundred weight and I must admit I did think it would be too heavy, fortunately it works a treat and will get a lot of use.  Another job in the same area was to prepare the ground along the wall ready for planting the Rosa Rugosa.

The cottage garden looking north east

  Down in the field, I've put in the pond liner underlay and liner and weighted it down with lots of stones around the edges. I put it down just before a stormy night was forecast and had just finished as the wind and rain blew up. I checked it today (22th Dec) and there is already almost 2ft water in the deepest part. Once the level has been reached, I'll then tidy up around the edges and put some soil/peat in the bottom for any water plants to take hold.

 Over the night of the 14th/15th, there was a very high tide and a strong south easterly gale for a while. The forecast had been for a severe gale, however I don't think that past through Unst. We had gone down to Lerwick on the Friday afternoon as Sula was to be singing with the music and dance group 'Singing Saturdays' at the Garrison Theatre in Lerwick. Due to the forecast, we left here at around 2pm. Getting down to Ulsta to cross Yell Sound for 2.45pm, I then got a call to say the concert was cancelled due to travel difficulties - not from Unst at least. Unfortunately as I'd already paid for the s/c accommodation, we had to carry on or lose our money. The journey back was pretty horrible, driving rain - made even worse by having car trouble (it kept over heating, which meant I had to stop frequently to let the engine cool down).

  As I have just said, there had been a very high tide over the weekend and this had deposited a large amount of seaweed high and dry down at the shore. Seaweed makes a good fertilizer, so I've spent around a day in total collecting it up with the quad and trailer to use around the trees at a later date. Over at Haroldswick, both ends of the road around the bay have been blocked by stones and seaweed - in places it was 2ft high............

 There's a road under there somewhere - the north beach at Haroldswick.

Collecting seaweed at the Noost

  While collecting the seaweed, I came across hundreds of these jelly like larvae or eggs which were about the size of a 50p. I've no idea what they are and would love to find out...............

  On the wildlife front despite the weather, I had a hedgehog wandering around the garden the other day - quite a large one, not as I'd expect, an underweight youngster. Also a few days ago, some friends found a bat over at the Shore Station which was presumed to be a Leisler's. There's more info on the Nature in Shetland Facebook page here.

 One other job last week was to strip the wall paper in our sitting room and re-line and paint it. The rather over-powering orange coloured paper had been there for a while and had seen better days. It was while I was wall papering that I got 'the call' from Brydon. He was watching a Sea Eagle heading west along Balta Sound and I should be able to see it from the house. Sure enough, there it was in the distance over the Houb being mobbed by gulls. Good call Mr T, 113th species for the garden list !

  I think almost everyone would have heard about the Geminid meteor shower last week. Here on Unst the sky was fairly clear and it was quite cold, so I set the camera up to do some time lapse. Despite the camera taking over 500 images, I only captured one meteor trail and that was quite a faint one at that. After midnight, I had the constant problem of the cold air on the front of the camera lens turning in to ice. Despite not getting the pictures I'd hoped for, it was a pleasure to be outside on such a cracking night.

North west towards the village around midnight

  As I mentioned earlier, we've had some strong winds over the last week and these have kicked off again. The Northlink ferry hasn't been able to sail from Aberdeen for several days and Tesco's in Lerwick had to close off some of the fresh food isles as they'd run out of stock. Apparently there were nine lorries waiting in Aberdeen to make deliveries to Shetland but couldn't due to the ferry cancellations. Tesco's answer was to charter a Hercules aircraft to make a couple of trips and bring in the supplies. The height of the storm is due to be tomorrow morning when it's due to reach 'severe gale' - better make sure the chickens are in !

 Merry Christmas to all.


Monday 3 December 2012

  Its been a mixed week of sunshine and showers, mild and then cold. Over this last weekend, the showers have been wintery on occasions, leaving a dusting of white on the hills of Valla Field and Clibberswick.

  Last week, the day after the last post (21st), there was an aurora alert. I kept an eye on and finally late in the evening, it started to show. As I watched, I was aware of flashes over to the west and couldn't work out what they were. We can't see the effect of the Muckle Flugga lighthouse from here so I was wondering if they had been flares of some kind - although they were white light. I soon realized however, that they were in fact flashes of lightening - this was the first time in over four years I'd seen it up here. Due to passing cloud, if wasn't a brilliant aurora, but great to see none the less...

... there is a lightening flash just above the lights of Baltasound

  A few days later just after the kids had gone to school, I took a walk down the field to the shore. As I crossed the small area of salt marsh by the tidal pool, I heard a small wader overhead (I don't know if it took off or was just flying over). It was a call I didn't recognize, but it did make me recall the call of Curlew Sandpiper. I watched the bird through the bins' and saw it drop out of the sky down to the shore along by the mussel factory half a mile or so to the east of us. Taking the car, I headed along to try and confirm the sighting and fortunately the bird was feeding on the shingle amongst some resting Ring Plovers and Dunlin. I didn't get good views of the bird, but I wasn't convinced it was a Curlew Sand' (they would be in a general greyish winter plumage by now). Getting a few distant record shots, I thought I'd try and get closer and as there was a strip of water between me and them, hopefully, they wouldn't feel too threatened. I was hoping to get to a suitable fence post to act as support - as I'd left my tripod behind (I'd been using it to do some night sky shots the previous evening). I believe it was in  Robbie Burn's poem 'To a mouse' that the saying ' the best laid plans o' mice an men' etc (here) was taken up as a proverb, well my plan didn't go as I'd hoped. As I reached the fence, two snipe flew up from the ditch, flew over the resting waders who promptly took off taking the unidentified wader with them, blast. The wader flew off west along the shore and then landed on the shore nearer to Ordaal, but for now it would have to wait as I'd got to go and meet someone.
  Returning sometime around 11am, I headed east along from Ordaal. Just as I crossed our boundary fence, the bird took off from the shore and flew high to the south west and towards the airport. A short while later, I met Brydon and told him about the bird and described the call. He had a good idea what it might be, but wanted to try and relocate before saying what he thought it may be. Despite looking for quite a while, we drew a blank and finally Brydon suggested it may be a Baird's Sandpiper - a new one for me and one I'd not even considered when I'd checked the Collin's Guide. Sending pics to Mike later, he also identified it as such and that it was a juvenile. Baird's are long distance migrants that breed in the northern tundra from eastern Siberia to western Greenland and winter in South America..................

  A rubbish record shot - but it got the bird identified (112th species for the 'garden' list) !

 A couple nights later, we had a lovely clear sky for a while which gave good views of Jupiter as it tracked across the sky fairly close to the moon. Stacking the 500 with both the 1.4 and 2x converters and then cropping enabled me to  get an amateurish shot of Jupiter and its moons....
The moon and Jupiter
Jupiter and its moons
  At the end of last week, I took a look up at Valyie and came a cross a lovely Hornenmanns  Arctic Redpoll feeding in a field that had recently been a potato crop. Over the last few weeks there have been a number of these lovely finches around Unst with up to 4 near the school and 3 down in Uyeasound. They are regular migrants through Shetland but usually in October and not in such numbers.....

Hornemanns Arctic Redpoll