Friday, 25 March 2011


  It's been a busy few days in many ways, but at least at the moment it's dry (but still quite windy) . At the weekend - during a lull in the painting in the cottage, I took a walk around the coast at the end of the road. I wasn't expecting to see anything (that thought alone should be a warning in itself) so I didn't take the camera, just the bino's. I don't tend to walk there if there is a strong sw or westerly blowing as it carries any human scent straight out over the rocks and seaward which would give any otter plenty of warning that someone was around. With that wind direction and the shape of the coast, it's very difficult to walk it without  announcing that someone is on the prowl. I think there is a portrait painting where it appears that the subjects eyes seem to follow you around the room. Well, that was just like the wind here on this occasion, as I walked, the wind always seemed to be blowing from me straight on to the water, no matter where I walked. With this in mind, I wasn't expecting to see any otters, wrong ! The wind was blowing from me straight towards them as they played (it was the mother and mature cub) below me in a seaweed filled creek. As they hadn't detected me, I retreated and detoured around the coast quite a way in order to approach them from the side. Finally getting to roughly where they were, I lay down amongst the rocks just as they appeared slightly to one side of me. They came over the rocks and lay down and dried themselves off on the seaweed. The cub wanted to play, but the mum didn't want any of it and headed back towards the water. It was at this point, she lifted her head and sniffed the air - rumbled. But instead of hurrying off, she slowly made her way through the kelp and into the water with the cub not far behind. It must be said though, the cub made hard work of it, trying to stand on the kelp which obviously couldn't take its weight - a bit like a dog trying to walk on deep soft snow.

  Not long after we arrived in 2008, I would occasionally see a small helicopter (different to the oil rig ones or 'Oscar Charlie' the Coastguard copter' ) flying around with a large barrel hanging below it. It didn't take long to find out what was going on from the Baltasound folk and that was, it was moving fish around from hatchery to sea cages or to the ships to take them south etc. To a newcomer, it seemed a very expensive way to do things. Recently however, I was talking to a guy who works on a salmon farm and said it was actually quicker and cheaper than doing it by road and then boat etc..........

  During another brief venture out over the weekend, I headed down to Westing as there was a good south westerly blowing and for some reason on days like this, there is quite often an otter feeding when the sea is rough. As I drove along the road, the sight of a number of Greylags' flying around in a sort of panic caught my eye. Looking up towards the rocky cliff face of Valla Field, I saw a strange shape flying along the skyline. My first reaction was to get a picture, but as to what it was I had no idea. It looked like one of those small aeroplanes that tows a banner behind it with greetings such as 'Happy Birthday xxxx ' or similar. Firing off a few shots, I then realized what it was.............
Is it a bird, is it a plane ?.......

No it's................'Super Goose' !
  This Greylag' had obviously been feeding and had got its head caught up in the wrapping from a silage bale. It was now very obvious why the other geese were in a 'flap'. Not so funny for this goose, I just hope that when it landed it managed to free its self.

On Monday (21st) I did the school run and dropped in  to Westing on the way back home. At the beach were quite a lot of Common Gulls feeding in the breaking waves. The wind was great for slowing them down in the air, but a real pain for blowing salt on to the lens element, can't have it all I suppose............
Common Gull
  Later in the morning I had to go up north to Norwick, so I took the opportunity to check out the beach there. Even though the wind was blowing from the land on to the sea, there were still a number of gulls feeding in the gently breaking waves. Amongst them was this fine Glaucous Gull......

 Back down south again in the afternoon to do the school run, I had half an hour to spare so I stopped off at Westing again. Along at the far end of the beach there was someone collecting large stones to make a temporary path in front of the holiday cottage there; what they hadn't seen, was an otter fishing probably less than 30yds away from them. After a short while, it came up on to the beach for a brief rest and a quick groom, before heading back in to the water..........
  Once I'd checked that it wasn't going anywhere in a hurry, I made my way along the beach towards where it was fishing moving each time it dived. Unfortunately I was now face in to the sea spray again (and in to the light) but at least it wouldn't catch my scent or hear the shutter going off. I spent as long as I dared (school pick up looming)....................
  Returning back to the car, I noticed that it was now moving along the along the shore, taking short dives between short periods of swimming on the surface. I'd seen this before so I was sure it would be coming out of the water onto the rocks near to me. As the otter emerged, it had a rather large crab in it's mouth. I was now almost out of time so if it was going sit and eat it, I didn't have time to stop and watch it for long....................

  Surprisingly, it dropped the crab and made off along the rocks and then climbed up on to a grassy bank where it groomed and dried itself for a minute or so.......................

  All good things have to come to and end so it was off to fetch my daughter. Just as I was heading down the main road to Uyeasound, I met Brydon coming the other way. We pulled up and with great excitement he told me he'd just found a male King Eider in the bay at Uyeasound. Picking Sula up from school, we headed down to the old harbour to scan the rafts of Common Eiders which were about half a mile out in the bay - it was not going to be easy. Thankfully within a very short time, we found the bird (and Sula saw it) - although distant - it was obviously a King'..................... very poor records shots !..........

500mm+1.4, full frame

 Large crop, bird is below the purple line

  It didn't end there however. Brydon had gone across Bluemull Sound on the ferry and then found another one resting on a small island in the sound - or maybe this one had flown across in the 40 minutes time difference, only 2 miles and eiders are one of the fastest birds in level flight.

  The following day (22nd) the eider was still there, but not only that, Brydon had found yet another bird (possibly a 2nd winter bird) further east in Skuda Sound - between Uyeasound and the island of Uyea. On my return from dropping the girls off for sports etc, I then had the two Rough-legged Buzzards over the road as I drove south, what a day....................
Rough-legged Buzzard
23rd March
 
  The eider was still around in Uyeasound, but I also got an Unst 'tick' in the form of a Rook near Buness.

24th March

  Today started off quite nicely with no wind and no rain - would it last ? After taking Rona to get the school bus at the end of the road, I returned home to do a bit of decorating etc. I also had a walk down the field to the shore line and picked out 5 Slavonian Grebes (one in breeding plumage) and 3 Red-throated Divers out in the sound. Up on the hill to the south, Golden Plover were calling, Fulmars were displaying on our chimney pots, it felt like it could be a good day. Later in the morning, I sent a text to Brydon asking if the eider was around, I quickly got a reply saying if I wanted to, I could join him on a boat trip to take a look for it. I'd already booked Rona in to crèche for the afternoon after school (Sula had gone to Lerwick to do her Grade 1 fiddle exam with Catriona ) so it was a big YES !

  Arriving there at 2.30pm, it was pouring with rain but at least the sound was relatively calm. We soon set off with Peter the boat skipper and within no time at all we were looking at a cracking male King Eider in amongst a raft of a several hundred Dunters (Common Eiders). Unfortunately for us, the rain and low cloud kept passing through which made taking pictures not that easy. Combined with the weather conditions and the rocking of the small boat, it called for a high shutter speed + high ISO to try and get some sharp(ish) shots. Despite the photographic difficulties, it was a great opportunity to get fairly close to the 'King' of eiders. We were out for a couple of hours (circumnavigating Uyea Isle) and also saw the 2nd winter male, several 'Northern Eiders' and numerous Long-tailed Ducks. A few pics below.......................

1st Winter/Summer drake King Eider

Common Eider with King Eider

Drake 'Northern' Eider (bird at the back)

Longtailed Ducks

  Later, back home; I got 'the call' from Brydon. There was a Bearded Seal on the slipway of the Baltasound marina - a 1st for Unst. It was now almost dark, but we had to go and take a look. Sure enough there it was looking quite content despite the interest shown by a lot of folk. Apparently it had been there for most of the day and I'd driven past it 3 or 4 times without knowing ! The shot below is a 'record shot' taken at 1/5th second @f5.6 at 6400 ISO..............

Bearded Seal in Baltasound

  As it had been there for most of the day, I had high hopes that it would be still around the following morning (25th) so I could get some better shots, well it was. However, I decided to take the girls to school first so I'd have a bit more time with it. It turned out to be a wrong decision however as 15 minutes before I got there, it was disturbed by a creel fisherman leaving the harbour,  it went in to the water and didn't get seen again until it just after 2pm when it was only seen briefly. Here's hoping for Saturday morning.

    Robbie

Monday, 21 March 2011

Photo gallery is down

  Just a quickie for today - I'll do another in a couple of days. The site that I had my photo galleries on, seems to be no-more. It seems that the site has shut down without a word to anyone which is a real pain for all concerned who have used the site. It's not just the time taken to upload the pictures etc but it now has to be done all over again somewhere else. I'll sort something else out over the next few days and hopefully by the weekend or early next week I can start putting up some pictures again. Fortunately for me at least, my subscription was due shortly so at least I won't have lost a years worth. For the time being I'll leave the photo link dialog box in place so that I can put a new link there when it's up and running.

Robbie

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

'False Summits'

  Before we moved up here to Unst, I used to do quite a bit of hill walking (even did some winter hills in the Lakes and Highlands years ago). Sometimes, when I was walking/scrambling upwards, I'd be so taken by the view etc that sometimes I would temporarily loose my bearings and look at the hill in front of me and breathe a sigh of relief as I thought I was at the top. Climbing over the 'final' brow of the hill, I'd get totally dismayed as I saw the hill going on up for hundreds of feet more, in reality that's the result of bad map reading or not keeping your 'eye on the ball' so to speak. A similar thing happened over the last couple of days, yesterday was a beautiful, still and fairly warm day (8 or 9 degrees) which really made me feel like spring had sprung. Golden Plover and Curlew were calling over the hills, Lapwing were displaying in several places and Starlings were singing all around, it felt good to be out. Today, I reached a 'false summit'. It was cold again, the wind has picked up to force 6 or 7 and it is raining. Just like not keeping an eye on the map, I should have kept an eye on the forecast !

  At the end of last week (11th) I went down to Lerwick for the day to do some shopping etc. There was still a bit of snow around so I thought I'd drive around through Nesting in a half hearted attempt to look for some Mountain Hares in their winter coats. I don't know why I bothered, I didn't have the time to leave the car and they were certainly not going to jump up and say ' here I am, taken some pictures then'. I then decided to have a look for the Snow Goose that had been around and was now around Strand near Tingwall. I found a large flock of Greylags - I suppose on the ground they should be called a 'gaggle' - but there was no Snow Goose, hey ho, must get on in to Lerwick.

  Jobs done, I headed north out of town again. I almost headed straight north but then made a quick decision to have one more look for the goose. Going on through Strand, I then took a turning up a hill away from the lock side. It was a good choice. Five minutes later I was looking at a beautiful Snow Goose feeding in a roadside field with a large group of Greylags. Driving on past and out of sight, I got the camera set up etc and turned around and went back. The geese were fairly nervous but I did manage to fire off some shots without them taking off in a panic. The light wasn't particularly good so I had to shoot at 800 ISO to get a half decent shutter speed..........




  I didn't really do much over the weekend as far as wildlife goes as I was starting to decorate the cottage which is attached to our house. The previous owners used to use it as their main living area and so used a sort of Aga type solid fuel  cooker. It created an awful lot of smoke stain on the walls and ceilings which needs to be cleaned off before any paint can be put back on. Our intention is eventually to rent it out as a two bedroom holiday cottage.


  As I said earlier, yesterday was a cracking day. I had a brief visit to Lamba Ness and just sat and watched the scores of Fulmars playing in the cliff top updrafts and had countless fly-pasts of  Gannets heading northwards to Hermaness. Anyone who says that Fulmars don't  fly for fun at times, have never watched them for long enough. Often when I've been watching them, many of them will fly past, look at me with their steely black eyes and then fly back past to take another look. Sometimes I think they are actually taunting me to try and go and join them - they are showing off (and no I'm definitely not going to try it !) As I sat there, I saw a large white gull coming around the headland to the north of me, it was a Glaucous Gull. It flew around the cliff line giving me a cracking view of it and it seemed to also watch me as it went by........

Glaucous Gull


  Today (15th March), I had an encounter with a female Merlin again just off the road by the Westing turn. I spotted the bird at the edge of some pools and noticed that it had just been having a wash. The amazing thing is, it was at this exact spot 12 months ago (almost to the day) that I photographed another female (maybe the same one?) doing just the same here . The fact that here on Unst there must be hundreds if not a thousand small patches of water in which a bird could wash and I have been lucky to see one twice in the same place is amazing - maybe I should do the lottery tomorrow ?.....................





 During the time that I'd gone to turn my car around and get the camera set up on the bean bag out of the car window  the bird had then moved and had flown closer to the roadside, only to be disturbed by a passing crofters car. The shot above is a large crop of it on the far side of the pool.

        Robbie

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

All change again !

  Well there's nothing quite so fickle as the weather (apart from maybe, children) so after having a few nice days, things have changed again and we are now back to wind and rain - and today (9th March) snow showers.

  It had been forecast for last Thursday (3rd) to be a sunny and fine day - and it was ! I had been given the chance to go across to the uninhabited Uyea Isle (a short boat trip from Uyeasound) for a few hours and so jumped at the chance. It really was a cracking morning, so much so, that for a while I was down to just a fleece top (plus trousers of course) as the sun beat down taking the temperature soaring to a pleasant 8 degrees C. It is a lovely island, so only spending under three hours there was not nearly enough time - but it certainly whetted the appetite to go again sometime. Right in the middle of the island is a very large derelict house; which, in its day, must have been splendid. Sadly now it's minus its roof and in time will most likely crumble to the ground.............

Looking east along the north shore of Uyea Isle
  There is a brief description of the isle here

  Returning back to Unst, I took a look at the beach at Westing and sat and had my lunch - which I'd made to take to Uyea thinking we'd be there longer. Apart from the glorious weather, there wasn't much else happening there apart from this Shetland Wren which was too close for the camera (hence the cropped off feet) but if I'd had the time I could have rotated the camera to frame it vertically................

  The only other bird shot of the day was a Grey Heron fishing at Haroldswick Pools.............


Saturday 5th March

  After being delayed out of respect for someone who passed away last week, this evening was to be Norwicks Up Helly Ah procession etc. The weather was fine, the wind had dropped and all was set for a good evening. Unfortunately due to the postponement, there were less squads than there should have been, but even so, a good time was had by all..................

 
Down the 'Broken Road'
The torches are thrown in
The 'Hot X Bunnies'

  The day after Up Helly Ah, the weather turned again and was pretty foul for a few days. Strong wind and driving rain was the order of the day(s) with a few light snow showers thrown in. Fortunately I was going to be working inside at a job on the Monday (7th) so I did manage to keep dry. Tuesday (8th) was even worse, the rain was very heavy and driven by a strong wind. I was to have a meeting with the councils Listed Buildings dept here at the house, but it wasn't particularly pleasant walking around outside talking about the harling (a bit like rendering) or roof slates and getting blown all over the place as we talked.

Wednesday 9th March

 Over night we had a covering of snow here on Unst - even down to the shore line. My plan was to go to the job for a while (there wasn't enough for all day) and then have a quick walk up to Hermaness to see if there was snow on the cliffs and also gannets. From the car it takes around 40 minutes of brisk walking to one part of the gannet colony and so despite the cold, the walk kept me warm. A few pictures from on the way up...............

Looking east

North to Muckle Flugga lighthouse
South to one of the Gannet colonies

Travelling on around towards the cliffs in the picture above, there was snow on the cliffs and also gannets, unfortunately not as much snow as I'd have liked. Watching the birds sitting around in the snow it did make me wonder if they thought that they'd arrived back a bit too early !...........



I've often heard it said and seen it written that a sea bird colony - and especially scores of gannets in flight, often looks like swirling snow; well today that was particularly true...........

A Gannet in a snow storm
                       

                                   Robbie

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

UFO over Unst ?

   Yesterday (26th Feb) there was a strange and rare sighting over Unst - it was the SUN ! After almost a month of wind, rain and cloudy days, the sun came out.

  The previous day (25th) the wind had dropped and it felt milder but would the forecasters get it right ? Rona was off school for the day, so between cleaning our previous house (before it gets handed back to the landlord) and trips back and forth to it moving boxes, Rona and I had a quick drive around north Unst. The Moorhen was still around the Houb and as usual was very nervous and tried to use every available bit of cover to hide - although some places were more successful than others !...................


  After that, we headed along the shore road past Buness. Half way along, I spotted a 'white' gull with some Black-backs' bathing in a patch of flood water. My first thought was Iceland Gull as it just didn't look big and heavy weight enough to be a Glaucous. I managed to fire off a few shots before it took flight and headed west. Whether it was just a slim one I don't know for sure, but a couple of other guys who saw the pictures later were also not quite sure. It certainly wasn't a typical Iceland nor was it a typical Glaucous...................

 
  From there, we had a quick visit to Haroldswick pools as there were a pair of Gadwall there as I'd not had a good view of one up here for a while (there was one in Uyeasound a couple years back)...............


   On Saturday (26th) it was a fantastic day, so much so that Rona our youngest came in at 7.15am and insisted that we got up and took a look at the sunrise from the landing window - it was rather nice. After two years of living in a bungalow, it is still quite strange to be living in a house with an upstairs again although I am starting to get used to it. I spent the morning along at the bungalow having a bit more of a clear out and a wipe round. We didn't move all of the stuff out when we moved as we wanted as much clear space in Ordaal for the house warming as possible, which in the end worked out a treat.

  After lunch, we had a family walk around the coast from the end of the road from the house. The sun was shining, the sky was clear (without a cloud in sight) and the wind had dropped completely ; I could almost say it felt warm, well after the last month I suppose it was ! We had a lovely walk around the coast, Curlews were calling, Oystercatchers were piping, it really did feel like it was spring. A number of times I had to remind myself that we hadn't got on a plane and gone away on holiday to a sunnier clime and that we were only a five minute drive from the house. Out in the sound sound there were at least seven GNDs (Great Northern Divers) and as they congregate in the coming weeks, I may get to hear them calling - a truly evocative sound.

 Later in the afternoon around 4pm, we were just returning home when I got a call from Rory, there was a bat flying around at Skaw. Not that unusual farther south when they come out of hibernation, but to get one up here is not that common. At first I didn't think it was worth the drive over there as the chances are that it could have moved on, however, with a little bit of persuasion from Catriona and Rona, we headed off over there. Fortunately it was still there - along with Rory and co - and was still flying around the croft. It must have hibernated there as the wind and rain of the past month wouldn't have been particularly good for a migrating bat. It was some kind of Pipistrelle bat, but without a bat detector or having it in the hand its difficult to tell......................

Bat at Skaw
 Sunday 27th Feb

  Another fine morning - although just a tad cooler. For most of the morning I was back and forth along to Voesgarth putting the finishing touches to handing over. After lunch, Catriona went out for a walk and I stayed at home doing jobs etc . Both girls had a great time in the garden building a den which also involved me as they couldn't hit the nails in to the timber. I managed to get one of the strimmers working after only a few pulls on the cord and this was after it being in storage for two years. There are around 8 acres of ground  here and most of it will carry on as before, ie one part will be cut for either hay or silage, another will be used for grazing some ponies or sheep etc. Other areas will be left in a semi wild state which should be good for nesting birds like Snipe, Redshank and Curlew and also for migrants in the autumn. Hopefully by this time I will also be able to plant some willow cuttings to encourage passage birds in the future.

The front of the house from the 'croquet lawn'........
.....Yes, believe it or not that lumpy grass area used to be a croquet lawn !

Looking east along the foreshore  (the next picture was taken from the small patch of water right of centre)  - and looking back west to where the previous picture was taken.............

Tuesday March 1st

Another fine day, but still a little cool (7-8 degrees)After going to see a guy about some work, I took a drive over to Lamba Ness. Walking around the eastern cliff top, I spotted a small black and white auk down on the sea. My first thoughts was that it was a Little Auk but something didn't seem right. Fetching the scope (and camera) I was really surprised to see that it was in fact a Puffin. Still in its non breeding plumage ie no brightly coloured (and smaller) bill, it was certainly and early bird................






Along the cliffs were also many pairs of Fulmars catching a few 'rays'


  The last few weeks have had good aurora forecasts, but due to the wet, cloudy weather, we've missed out - until tonight. I'd been checking on the website and had seen it was building up for a show. About 10pm I got a text from Rory to say that it was starting, going outside I could see a nice green glow and a few 'curtains' of white light. It took me a few minutes to set up the camera at the side of the house, put it on 30 seconds @f4, ISO800, set the shutter to continuous mode and locked the remote lease open and went inside (after I'd watched it for a while of course). I stayed up until 1.30am, went and retrieved the camera only to see the card was full and only 198 frames taken. I'd done it again, I forgotten to change the camera quality from Raw to Jpeg. This meant I only had half the amount of shots that could have been possible if I'd changed the setting. The first shot below is a stacked picture of 198 images (using Star trails) the second is the same number put together as an AVI video (which looks better at the smaller scale).........

video

  I still have a lot to learn about doing this type shot and having the right conditions is half the battle. Also getting the right location is just as important. With more forecasts over the next few days, hopefully (weather permitting) I can get some more practice in.

       Robbie