Monday 26 December 2016

End of the year 'catch up'

  Well as I sit here typing this over Christmas, the wind is picking up again - F7 to 8 at the moment and storm 'Barbara' is well on its way closely followed by 'Connor' *. The chances are the lights will go out and that will leave us wondering for how long for ? I can't praise the power guys enough when it does considering the conditions that they have to work in to fix it - they deserve every penny they get as far as I'm concerned.

  August was another generally good month with lots of fine weather apart from at the start when there was a day of rough (for the time of year) weather.





Sand of Inner Skaw

  The fine weather continued in to September and on the 3rd, I wished it was actually cooler ! While out in the garden at home, I heard an unfamiliar 'Golden Plover' call - it was a similar (but slightly higher) two note call which the bird made as it flew past going eastwards at a fair pace. I didn't have any binoculars with me, but it appeared to descend down towards the mussel shed some distance away where there's a wader roost at high tide. As I drove along, I listened to some wader calls on 'Collins' and thought that it could possible be a Spotted Redshank - a garden tick for me. Scanning through the birds, I could see Redshank, Curlew, Ringed Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit . Black-tailed Godwit but nothing unusual. I then noticed a very pale plover on the shore several hundred yards away to the west. Unfortunately, just as I got the scope on it, it took off but thankfully I had just enough time to see it was a 'golden' plover type - maybe an American' ? I headed off along to the Houb which I thought was a possible place for it to drop down again which thankfully it did and it was indeed an American Golden Plover. As I said earlier, it was one day I wished it was a lot cooler as the heat haze took the edge of the picture :( 

American Golden Plover on The Houb in Baltasound.

  Over the past couple of months, there had been numerous sightings of Orca around Shetland with possibly 12 or 15 individuals in one pod. Unfortunately for us on Unst, most of the sightings had been down around Mainland or them passing through either Bluemull or Yell Sound. We did have one sighting of them off of Lamba Ness but by the time we'd got there, they were several miles out to sea. However, on the 7th (two days before my birthday) I had a call from Brydon at 7.30am to say there were Orcas on the east side of Balta Isle and that they could possibly be heading south. So, just after nine, I headed down to Muness in the south east corner of Unst to take a look.
  Shortly after arriving, I noticed a lot of gull activity above the coastline some 7 or 8 hundred yards away to the east. I grabbed the camera and tripod and ran further around towards the SE with the view that they might follow the coast around. Just as I arrived on the coast, several large Grey Seals slipped in to the water off of Hunts Holm and started following me along the coast. My first thought was that they could be heading straight in to the jaws of death just around the corner. Whether they sensed the Orcas I don't know but they turned around and went back to the safety of the small island. Shortly after, I was totally stunned by the sight of a large black dorsal fin rising up out of the water probably only fifty or so feet from me - it was so close that its fin almost filled the frame of my 7D & 500mm. For a short while - maybe 5 mins - the four or five Orcas swam around the island obviously aware of the seals there, but couldn't get near to them as it was low tide and a large area of floating kelp stopped them. 

  After what seemed like ages, they headed off west towards Uyea Isle, leaving me still numb with what I'd seen and also chuffed that I'd had this all to myself - what a place Shetland is ! .....

  During the month there were a number of commoner migrants around, made even nicer by the good weather......

 Pied Flycatcher at Vaylie

 Wryneck at Westing

 Barred Warbler at Haroldswick

 Red-breasted Flycatcher at Vaylie

 Icterine Warbler at SHE

Little Bunting at Lund

  Even though I'd already had a good month, firstly with the Orca's and then several nice migrant birds around, what really was the icing on my birthday 'cake', was a picture that I'd been trying to get for a long time.

  On September 19th, there was a forecast for a minor aurora - maybe a 3 or 4 on the 0-10 scale - it was also clear and there was also a moon. I headed up to Hermaness to try and get a shot that I'd been attempting for 3, or maybe 4 years - an aurora over the gannets, lit by the light of the moon. To achieve this, quite a few things needed to fall in to place - gannets being present, aurora, moon light, clear sky, little or no wind - or if there was, it had to be coming from an area south of the east/west line. I'd attempted it before, not taking in to account the wind was coming from the NW and had the lens covered in all sorts of Gannet 'crud' - downy feather fluff and brown 'mud' which was probably Gannet poo ! The camera was set up, and I left before dark, fingers crossed. (NB the location the camera was in, is not a place to be in the dark !) .

 I don't know the total mileage and time I've spent  going there in the last few years , but the walk there and back this time  (twice) was round 8 miles and the time spent of this occasion was around 6 hours in total was, I think worth it..... 

  The first couple of nights of October also started with a slight aurora, giving us a nice arc of green to the north of Baltasound; it didn't last long but I did manage to get a picture from down at the shore....

  Late in the afternoon of the 6th October, I got a message to say there was a Siberian Thrush down at Uyeasound. As it was a 'lifer' for me I set off, but also realizing that there would certainly be a lot of visiting birders there (I don't like crowds). Sure enough, there were at least 40 or 50 other folk there, but as I'd not seen one before, I decided to stick it out and see if the bird showed. After a few minutes, it took off from some bushes in a back garden and flew SE over the heads of everyone. After this, it was the action of some of the gathered crowd, that confirmed why I don't like twitching; it was something akin to a New Years Day sale when the doors are opened. There was an almost total disregard (by some, but not all) for the near-by sheltered housing for the elderly, it made me feel ashamed to be a birder; I'd seen the bird fly, so I left.

  The following morning, I assumed that everyone would be down in Uyeasound looking for the thrush, so I headed to Skaw thinking there would be less folk about. Just as I arrived, Dave C and his family turned up having the same thoughts. As we stood talking by the cars, a large thrush flew up from the sheep pens, came over our heads and headed up west over the burn. Literally a spit second ahead of me speaking, Dave shouted ' White's Thrush' ! - another 'life tick' for me :) We all thought the bird had gone, but a few minutes later, it returned to almost the same spot from where it took off. Well, to cut a long story short, I spent the rest of the day watching the bird that I'd been wanting to see for a long time, it was a cracker........

White's Thrush at Skaw

  While siting there, I was treated to a lovely little Jack Snipe feeding down by the burn, either not seen by the other birders or just ignored......

Jack Snipe at Skaw

  A few days later, I headed off south for a couple of weeks to - hopefully - pick up another car for Catriona and also to see friends and relations.........

Aberdeen beach- on my return leg home

  The following day not long after I'd got home, I got a message to say that Dave C had had found a Siberian Accentor at Lund - the first for Britain was discovered on Mainland Shetland at Mossy Hill on the 9th October - it turned out that scores of them turned up in Western Europe over the next few weeks.....

Siberian Accentor at Lund on Unst

  Towards the end of October, there were a few Waxwings that started to turn up in Shetland. The following day, I hung up and apple in the garden and within a couple of hours, I had a Waxwing on it......

Waxwing in the garden

  A few pictures from November.......



 Looking north from home

 The Skidbladner at Haroldswick


  As far as wildlife sightings/observations/spectacles go, December will take some beating - only a Walrus on the beach at Skaw would come anywhere near it ! On the 2nd Dec, I had a very short notice call from Brydon to say to get down to Uyeasound for 11am for a boat trip out with Peter Hunter. I assumed it was to look for the drake Surf Scoter we'd seen a few days before - how wrong I was ! After a quick look at the Dunters (Eiders) south of Uyeasound, we headed off further south - to look for some Humpback Whales that had been around for a few days !

  Well it wasn't long before we found them and for several hours we had them close to the boat, 'spy hopping', tail and dorsal fin slapping and even breaching - which I missed due to being on the wrong side of the boat :(    ........

 'Spy hopping'

 'Dorsal fin slapping'

 To give a scale how close they were

'Tail slapping'
  My thanks goes to Brydon Thomason, Peter and Brian Hunter and Emma Ramsay for this memorable experience.

  I'm sorry for the length of this 'catch-up' (if you've got this far), normally I'd do it in a couple of posts but I particularly wanted to finish it today.
  Today would have been the 90th birthday of my late father-in-law Ian. Ian sadly died in September after succumbing to prostrate cancer. He had a great love of the natural world and was very knowledgeable on the subject and also loved visiting us here on Unst over the last 8 years. He was also a regular follower of the blog and would often give constructive criticism from time to time.
RIP Ian.
Robbie, 26th December 2016.  

* Storms 'Barbara' and 'Connor' came and went, giving us gusts of wind of 90+ mph for a while, we didn't have any damage and the electric stayed on :)

Thursday 1 September 2016

Late Spring and Summer 2016

Update Pt 2 - May/June/July

  May started off with up to 5 Common Seals hauling out on our little jetty for a while but unfortunately they only stayed for just over a week. On one occasion, a bull came and showed a lot of interest in the females, but when they rebuffed him, he went off out in to the sound showing off by leaping out of the water. Unfortunately the action caught me out as I'd been using a low ISO = slower shutter speed, so the action was blurred :( .........

  The following evening (May 2nd) was quite a pleasant one so I decided to spend it on Hermaness in the hope I might get some evening/night shots. Unfortunately as often happens, even though it was a clear evening in Baltasound, looking west from the cliffs at Hermaness, I could see a large dark bank of cloud coming in from the west :(

 Muckle Flugga lighthouse

  Over the next couple of days, it felt like spring could well be on the way as I had the first of a few summer migrants appear.....

 Pale phase Arctic Skua at Inner Skaw

Whimbrel on Lamba Ness  
Male Siskin at Vaylie

  A couple of days later, I had a cracking walk with Catriona and some friends from Skaw, via The Sands of Skaw to Lamba Ness and then on towards Norwick. I decided to just take my SLR with wide angle to keep the bag weight down as it was more about having a walk than taking taking pictures. It was a decision that I would later regret. 

 Looking south east towards Lamba Ness - with the Sands of Skaw in the middle distance.

 Looking back towards the Holm of Skaw

  This last picture is a very depressing one. Since the council made cut backs and took away the community skips, the Unst local council took the initiative and provided a monthly one for an annual fee. This particular rubbish was dumped near the time of the annual Voar Redd Up - a Shetland wide litter clean up initiative. Also, it was quite possible that the folk who dumped this maybe had children taking part cleaning up one of the beaches on north Unst....

  Anyway, back to the walk. As we approached Lamba Ness, I was thinking about Shore Larks again and that it was possibly too late in the Spring for one to turn up there. Suddenly as I looked up, there was one flitting away from me ! I was now regretting leaving the 500mm behind. Anyway, we carried on westwards back towards Norwick, but on reaching Saxa's Kettle, I turned north and headed back to my car at Skaw. Before long, I was back at Lamba Ness again and fired off a few 'record shots' before trying to get some closer ones......

The Shore Lark at Lamba Ness a few days later

  A few days later, with the fine weather continuing, I had a few early mornings and also late evenings out taking photographs.......

 Sunrise at Skaw

 Sunset at Hermaness


Hermaness 9pm 11th May 2016

  Early on May 13th, I got a call from Brydon to say that Mike (Pennington) had found a possible 2nd for Britain the evening before up at SHE (Setters Hill Estate) and that they were going to try and relocate it to get more images etc etc. So around 7.30am, I arrived at SHE to find Mike and Brydon already there and despite spending many hours searching the bird wasn't seen (Mike went to work at 9). Brydon and Dave (Cooper) spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon searching and finally the bird was relocated in the late afternoon at Haligarth. A full account of the bird can be found here on Birdguides. It was a great find by Mike and I can honestly say, if I'd seen the bird first, I'd have past it off as a Greenish........

 Green Warbler in Haligarth on 13th May 2016

.....and two images from SHE on the 14th after it had been caught and ringed..

  Green Warbler aside, it was still a pretty 'slow' Spring as far as migration went as the wind was blowing from the NW through to NE for most of the time with only the occasional, brief change of direction. We did get a few nice birds through though .......

 Summer plumaged Great Northern Diver

 Spotted Flycatcher

 This lovely male Bluethroat spent a few days at Haroldswick - even singing at times.

.... as did this male Sedge Warbler

  A week later, I had a late evening up (or down ? ) at the end of Saxa Vord at the north of Unst. Its an easy place to go to if time is short for a summer sunset behind Muckle Flugga as it doesn't involve a long trek. Its also good for pictures of Bonxies in the late evening light......

 The 'Ocean Nova' going past Flugga'

  Overall, weather wise, June was pretty good. We had several weeks without rain and many long sunny days and evenings. A the beginning of the month, I had an evening on Hermaness with Brydon and Josh which was a pleasant change from going up there on my own.....

  During the first part of June, there was a bit or ornithological 'excitement' in that firstly several female Ruff turned up at Haroldswick Pool, shortly followed by at least three males (unusual for Unst in the Spring). The birds stayed around for quite a while and the males displaying on numerous occasions, unfortunately, we will never know if they bred as apparently they can nest a long way from where they display........

  Here are several local scenes from the first two weeks of June......


 Looking west from Haroldswick

North from Lamba Ness


  Around the middle of June, I was on Hermaness guiding a photographer for Shetland Nature when I saw something I've not seen before, a Gannet chick in the process of hatching. It had obviously started some while before as the chick was quite dry.......

  Generally, June and July were pretty good months weather-wise with lots of fine weather and not much rain to speak of (unlike down south). So, I'll finish with a few pictures from during that period of nice weather........

 Easting beach

 A ewe taking some shade from the heat on Lamba Ness

 Moonrise over the Houb, Baltasound

 After sundown over Out Stack. Muckle Flugga


9.50pm 29th July from our house

 Burn of Skaw

 Sanderling at Easting beach

 Arctic Tern hunting for insects at sundown by the house


 Common Snipe in a rain shower (one of the few we had in early July)

Feeding Otter, north Unst

Bull Grey Seal, Lamba Ness