Saturday, 30 June 2012

Shetland 2012- Day I: Seventh Heaven

There are 3 things you think as you land at Sumburgh, Shetland:

1) S*** is that the runway sticking out into the sea?
2) Is that really that safe?
3) Hey, isn't that a Bonxie over there?

and then you're down. Once you're out the Skylarks are in full voice, the Oysteys are flying about, there's a Gannet fishing offshore and you realise that the baggage carousel isn't going to be quite the ordeal it should be. And then you're let lose on this Archapelego, allowed to wander undisturbed and it suddenly strikes you quite what the implications of that are.

When I went it was with my mother (as I can't drive and would doubtless end up talking to myself and barking at the moon should I have gone alone), and since we flew in we didn't have a car. This was soon remidied, and off we sped towards the land of Lerwick. A certain football game had seen me in bed a little later than planned the previous night, but nothing would stop me from birding till I dropped that day, come hell or high water. Or a serious lack of sleep. So we arrived in Lerwick, the only town in Shetland resembling a town (living in Manchester your whole life sets standards quite high!) but after stocking up at Tesco we headed down to the beach for some lunch, for me a Mackrel sandwich and a Scone.

Alas, lunch was cut shot by the arrival of an Arctic Tern, a bird on The List and so it needed its portrait taken...

...and afterwards I had a few minutes watching some 'urban' seals...!

...but soon the Mackrel were gone and the Scone consumed which signalled a departure down a Secret Location, where a certain Long Tailed Skua has resided for some time now. We didn't see it, probably because it spends a long time off territory now as it doesn't have a mate. Still, as I was wondering why the Curlews sounded funny it clicked and the penny dropped. From a great hight, too. they were WHIMBRELS! This is the stuff of mythology for me, the idea of Whimbrel breeding in the UK is a bit like the idea that cheese is curdled milk; you know that its true but never thought it would have any impact upon youself. So naturally I grabbed the camera and clicked away happily...!

What a bird...!

...but not to be outdone, out popped a Wheatear chick....

...Mum wasn't happy with baby being around strangers with 400mm lenses...!

But with the Skua definitely not being there we headed north. Again. This time to the Isle of Yell which lies to the north of the mainland and a top area for peat bogs and consequently waders. However, at Toft ferry terminal a little Wren was hopping about. Unusual I thought, Wrens live in trees and bushes, what's this one doing in the rock armour? Then I had a double take, this was a BIG Wren, streaky too. It was a SHETLAND WREN! But more than that, it was an adult with chicks...! was rather surreal watching these little wrens hiding in the boulders...!

But, as they say, Shetland Island Council waits for no man (least of all one who's watching wrens!), and it was time we went across the waters to Ulsta, Yell. We got the customary welcome of Curlew, Oystey and Wheatears before heading on up to our accomodation in West Sandwick. After dumping the stuff we headed for the south of the island, picking up this beaut on the way in some stunning evening light...!

As well as a Ringed Plover feeding in the kelp, a failed breeder perhaps...?

...Before this ARCTIC SKUA came and had a go at them...!

Continuing along Southern Yell we came across a Wheatear hovering, some potshots I took turned out OK...!

Before finding a Tern colony. These are little terrors and divebomb relentlessly...!

..what better way to spend the evening than being pecked and defecated on...?

But alas the it was getting late and despite my bravado I was genuinely shattered by the late night, early start and near-constant birding. But how could tomorrow compare with today's breeding Whimbrel, kamekazi Terns, posing Wheatear and the oh-so-cute wren? Quite favouribly, it transpired...!

Sunday, 24 June 2012

The Birds an' the Bees (and the Stoats)

Stoats are small mammals but take prey vastly larger than themselves. Last year I spent a day with these animals watching them playing in the rocks, kits and adults alike. However, this year things have been a little different as the babies have been a lot more cagey. They didn't play out for me, which was a pity as I was there for 7 hours but I did see the adult for a while, hunting amongst the rocks. It wasn't too phased by me, but certainly wasn't as inquisitive as the young'ns are...!

The trick here is high ISO, high shutter-speeds, that way even the fastest action is captured...!

The leap of faith...!

He's on the rocks here...!

..."who's that lookin' at me...?"

But alas this nimble hunter was lost from sight around the bend, in the words of Mr T: "I pity the rabbits". Still, the rather fine Bee Orchids were out, no prizes for why they're named...! well as this interesting Orchid, ID needed, think its either Spotted or Marsh...?

Anyhow, a nice day out with some nice mammals, orchids and a very welcome cake!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

The Red[start] Mist Decends...

Ah Redstarts. They're one of Britain's prettiest birds, aren't they? Problem is that they live in woods and glades countrywide, they're secretive by nature and have large territories. So photographers have their work cut out by these birds most of the time. We often just watch them flitting from branch to branch high up in the canopy, a flash of red against the dappled green. However, sometimes we get lucky. I was stumbling aimlessly down a derbyshire lane of a morning in late May when one such red streak caught me unawares with camera in my backpack and tripod tied in place. I couldn't stop, so I made a mental note and returned today finding that the bird i'd seen had a nest and a mate. Set up behind a drystone wall I had cracking views of first the male...

then his companion, actually at the nest here...

... On my wall...!

...getting closer...!

Before getting onto the stick I wanted him on...!

Look at all that grub he's got, they're some lucky chicks! Glad he made it through the wet patch along with his whole family, so until next year I thank thee Mr Redstart for brightening up a dull day in June!

And many thanks to a certain Mr Jones for pointing me in the right direction, his blog can be found on the right of this page!

Saturday, 2 June 2012

There once was an ugly duckling...

...But it wasn't one of these little beauties on the Bridgewater Canal! Cycling along I found them hiding out under the motorway bridge. Whilst the adults were more than a little wary of me, the littl'uns were very approachable. I tried with these shots to set the scene of a happy family, the adults and the babies together. Harder than it looks, I settled for portraits in the end as the gloom of the M60 really adds to that orientation...!

...under the watchful gaze of the parent bird....!

They really are very cute, and are invariably shadowed by an attenedent retinue of camera-phone wielding commuters gawping their faces off at them!