Friday 28 March 2014

And finally.....

  ... 'and finally' ? - I think that was a phrase that was (or still is) used at the end of the ITV national news each night when they had an item of an often less serious nature. In my case the 'good news' was that we at last have had some really nice weather !

  Well what's been happening up here over the last 3 weeks or so ?  - it's been busy in one way or another. On the 7th, I was out having lunch with Catriona when my mobile went but I as I didn't recognize the number, I let in ring so as to maybe get a message. Shortly after, I checked the phone to hear a message from Dick and Ali Foyster to say that they'd had a Red Kite over near Burrafirth. We didn't hang about and before long I'd re-found it, sitting on the ground several hundred yards from the road. Not very good pictures, but a nice record and both an Unst and a Shetland 'tick'.....

 Red Kit at Sotland Unst

  Also on that day, I had one of my first Red-throated Divers of the 'spring' on the sea at Westing.....

  and a Gannet riding the waves.....

  A couple of days later in the late afternoon (9th) I got a call from Brydon to say that two Sperm Whales had been found down at Muness on the south east corner of Unst. Getting down there half an hour later, I have to say I was stunned as to the size of them. I paced it out and one was around 15 of my strides so it was roughly 40-45ft long and, so I was told later, around 35-40 tons ! The theory is that one came in which was ill and the other then beached itself a short distance away, very sad. Over the next two weeks, lots of people went to have a look - I even got a mention regarding it both online, in the paper and a very embarrassing interview on Radio Shetland - that's enough of that then!

 It was thought that one had been ill and had come inshore and got wedged in a small Geo and died and then the other one had followed it in and then died on the beach.

  The 'powers that be' had decided that they couldn't be left there and had to be buried. Both how they were going to be moved and where they could be buried was going to be a logistical nightmare and after much deliberation it was decided to tow them by boat to a remote beach in the south of the island. Over the period, I made a number of visits to the site and also to their final resting place and I have to admit it was very moving (no pun intended). I could write the whole of this blog about them etc, but as time is against me, pictures will have to suffice.....

........gone but not forgotten.

  On one day during the first week that the whales were at Muness, I was on my way through Uyeasound, when I saw  Brydon down at the pier. Going down, I discovered he'd seen the King Eider close-by to some of the nearest salmon cages. He had a quick word with one of the salmon boat guys and a few minutes later, we were off to have a closer look. It was one of those occasions when you make a decision and then later regret it. I decided to put the 1.4extender on the 500 thinking we wouldn't get that close to the flock of eiders (which included the King'). As we gently moved around them in the boat, the King took off and flew directly towards me, the lens magnification was now too much and I just couldn't lock on to it as it turned and flew parallel past me; most of what I got was out of focus :( Brydon however had a his zoom lens fitted and got a cracking shot as it flew past efforts......

King Eider at Uyeasound

  Over the next few days I had one or two nice wildlife encounters, some photos of which are below....

Water Rail at Haroldswick Pools

Great Black-backed Gull at Baltasound pier

Fulmars at Snarravoe

'Blue' Fulmar at Lamba Ness

  For many years ever since I first saw an aurora here in Shetland, I (along with many other no doubt) have had the dream of photographing one over the iconic location of Muckle Flugga - the lighthouse at Britain's most northerly point. Last week there was a forecast for two, fairly low strength ones; one over Sunday night, the other over Tuesday night -Wednesday morning. 
  One of the concerns with the location is obviously the safety factors due to the cliffs and open moorland etc; but also the conditions need to be perfect ie cloudless sky, no wind and no forecast of rain as it's an hours walk either way from the car park. 

  On the Sunday, I decided to walk out there in the afternoon (with Rona), set the camera up, turn on the remote and then collect it the following day - hopefully with a card full of auroa pictures. Alas, something didn't work with the remote (it had been tried before hand) and on getting the camera the following morning, not a shot had been taken :( 

  Right, the next chance was not going to be missed. I contacted Brydon to see if he was up for it (which he was), but due to him being off island, we wouldn't be able to head off until after 9pm. As far as I was concerned, the shortest route 'over the top', was out of the question due to the difficult terrain - lots of peak hags, muddy pools and an indistinct track. We headed up the boardwalk and then followed the cliff-top north - keeping well back from the edge I hasten to add. We finally arrived at our already decided location around 10.30pm and set up the gear. I was using my 7D and Brydon had his recently acquired Nikon D4 - which he readily admitted - wasn't familiar with. Around 11pm, a glow started to show in the north, unfortunately it wasn't that bright, so I had to up the ISO (which my 7D definitely doesn't like). One other problem was the beam from the lighthouse. It was a bit of a trial and error situation to get the timing right as to when to release the shutter. The problem I had was due to my slow shutter speed, the beacon light would rotate several times during the exposure and cause problems, I over came this by momentarily putting my hand in front of the lens as it passed. Brydon's F4 was much better at dealing with noise which meant he could use a higher ISO and in turn a lower shutter speed and was thus less affected by the lighthouse beam. 

  We were up there until just before 2am, in that time I only took 36 or so pictures and of those, 34 were ruined by wind vibration (it was probably only a F2 if that) unfortunately, out there - unlike at Lamba Ness - there is no shelter at all. I could have taken a heavier tripod but was reluctant to carry it on a 5 or 6 mile round trip - I'll now know better for next time. Overall it was a fantastic experience, probably one that not many have seen whilst sitting right at the top of Britain over looking Flugga'. Below is one of my pictures (one of the last I took as it began to subside) and also a couple of links to Brydons - which are 100 times better than mine :) and he'd only recently started using his D4 and he'd never photographed an aurora before !

Aurora over Muckle Flugga 26th March 2014


Monday 3 March 2014

More 'Mirrie Dancers'

I doubt that there were many people that didn't hear about the recent aurora ( or Mirrie Dancers' as they are called in Shetland) or see them. I gather that at least the glow could be seen as far south as the Home Counties and across to south Wales and even down to Jersey.

I was on the pc around 7pm and took a look at and saw that the map for the north pole was 'red hot' - ie signifying a strong aurora; going outside I could see it was already pretty strong. As Catriona was away (and the girls were at home) I couldn't go out for long, I headed up to Lamba Ness with the idea of setting up the camera to do a time-lapse and leave it there for the night and hopefully get some pictures. There are several draw backs of leaving the camera unattended and they are,  i) the batteries only lasted around 6 hours, ii) the exposure is set no matter what the light levels are, and iii) the view point is also fixed - obviously. I'm still no expert at doing auroras or time-lapse, but believe me, the first ones I took 5 years ago are pretty rubbish. I mentioned in my last blog about the settings that I use, but one thing has changed since then and that is the battery life. What I have now is a battery pack which has a huge 6000mAH life per charge. (On this evening in particular, I started the camera at around 8pm and picked it up the following morning at 10am and the camera was still going strong - although the images were being over exposed by then).

Setting the camera up in a water proof plastic box which I had converted for the purpose, I headed off home. In the first picture around 8 minutes after I pressed the cable release, you can the trail of my car lights as I drove home.

By the time I had reached home, it was really beginning to 'kick off' so to speak. I called the girls and we stood outside for quite a while watching it going on all around us. What did concern me though, was that most of the 'action' was going on to the south west of us, very little seemed to be in the north - which was the direction my camera was pointing in ! I then found out my 40D in order to take some shots around the house, bearing in mind (as I'd mentioned before) that it's not good at high ISO's and also that as my wide angle was with my 7D, I'd have to use either the 24-105 (not really wide enough) or use the 18-50mm 'kit' lens which is at the best, pretty awful as far as I'm concerned. Hey ho.

I can't really describe the sight and feeling of an aurora like this one, it was by far the best I'd seen up here. I first saw it just after 7pm and it was still going on (although fading) at 2.30am when I headed to bed. It was difficult to know which direction to look as at its height, almost every direction had swirling curtains which faded in and out, often changing colour  from green to red and then back again. Below are a few pictures from the evening/night............

My car lights as I leave Lamba Ness at 8.45pm

From home looking west at 10.30pm (with 40D)

Looking towards Baltasound sometime after 1.30am (40D)

The ones below are from Lamba Ness on the 7D while I was at home, with the last one as dawn was breaking....

At Lamba Ness the camera took 1500 exposures but the last 300 or so were overexposed due to it being set on manual. Like I said earlier, I'm no expert at time lapse and there's still a lot to learn but its also a bit of fun to do. Below is a YouTube link to the images, there are several dark sections but bear with it if you want to....

The pictures below are a few more from the last couple of years......

 From Ordaal Jan 19th 2013

 Ordaal Jan 22nd 2012

 Ordaal 'star trail' March 2011

 From Ordaal Jan 2012

 From Ordaal Sept 2011

Star trail from Ordaal Sept 20th 2013