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 :)