Saturday 27 December 2014

December birding

After a week of gales, hail and thunderstorms it was good to get out for a few hours around Christmas We headed down to Sandsayre, just over the hill from where we live, no one else around which was not surprising as it was very cold and windy.

In the gardens sparrow, wren, starling and blackbirds feed, while rock doves came in occasionally. Down on the beach the tide was out and plenty of seaweed had been deposited providing feeding opportunities for Purple Sandpiper (8) Redshank (2) and a couple of Turnstone.  A small flock of starling could hardly be see among the stones and seaweed, also the odd Rock Pipit ran for cover as waves hit the beach. A Black Redstart popped up along the jetty, but trying to photograph it proved too difficult in the strong winds.

Out to sea a flock of 16 Long Tailed Duck proved too tempting and I spent a long time looking at these super ducks before my eyes drifted onto two smart looking male Goldeneye close in.  Also a couple of common seals came close up to see what I was doing.

Further out several gannets crashed into the sea and 18 Shag took off and headed north. The odd Kittiwake passed by and GT Black Back gulls flew in and rested on the rocks.

Around Sand Lodge, more Blackbirds (12) and around 100 Starling fed around the sheep. In the grassy fields Snipe (4) came out of no where and disturbed 12 Redshank who also flew away calling.

In Lerwick just before Christmas we decided to see whether any white winged gulls could be seen at the Shetland catch. Arrived in sunshine but retreated to car to shelter from heavy hail shower after 10 mins. This passed over quickly so for the second time ventured around the catch where many Gt BB gulls adults and juv could be seen along the sea defenses. The wind made if difficult to keep the bins steady but Herring and Black headed joined others on the roadway. After another 15 mins a Glaucous Gull flew over but didn't stay around flying back towards Bressay.

In the bay Long tailed duck (5) , Eider (46) Shag (5) and several Grey seals made it a busy place. Raven (12+ ) Hoddie (8+) Turnstone, Starling and a fly over Redshank rounded off the day before another heavy shower came in.
On Christmas eve back at the Shetland catch where Glaucous (2) seen moving over towards Bressay, also a Iceland Gull among other gulls put up by passing ship. A flock of 28 Twite fed on weeds in the car park.

On Boxing day it was sunny and still, even though a slight covering of snow and ice made travelling difficult, we headed down to Sandsayre where i completed the beach survey. I am met Jim Nicholson who was down hoping to photograph the Black Redstart. By this time I had the 800 mm lens and had seen one of the Black Redstart stood on one of the boats. It quickly flew onto the beach where it was lost in the seaweed. Jim was viewing from the jetty and I was outside the Boat house so we could cover the beach. Several times we saw birds, so at least two Black Redstart's present at opposite ends on one occasion. I also noticed a small bird perched on a fence, it flew down onto the beach and I manged a couple of photos, this time it was a Stonechat, uncommon at this time of year.

Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Rock Pipit, Starling and Wren also fed among the seaweed. A couple of Ringed Plover flew in and landed on the jetty, again they usually move south for the winter. Robin jumped up onto a post in the gardens and several Blackbird fed on the shorter grass

Today I was back down at Sandsayre where both Black Redstart's showed better than the other day. These birds spent a lot of time around the boats and sheds but as soon as they moved onto the beach they proved difficult to spot. The Stonechat showed only once.

A Grey Heron spent the morning around the rocks, flying off as soon as the GBB and Herring gulls swooped down on it.

Saturday 20 December 2014

Major day in the history of Shetland

This week the final meeting on the Viking wind farm has taken place in the courts, it is expected it will go ahead despite the fact the a number of rare breeding birds will be affected.

Viking Energy Windfarm - Final Layout

As you can see the 103 turbines will be situated in the central belt of the mainland. On the east side ,the Nesting area will be affected and for me this is the place I know well having made may visits over the past 27 years. Here you will find all the birds which need protecting, Whimbrel, Red Throated diver, Arctic Skua & Golden Plover all these are in decline.

The Shetland charitable Trust owns 45% of shares in the viking wind farm so stands to generate a large unknown sum of money The deal is that Shetland will also receive £1.85 million a year in community benefit for the 25 year life of the site, around 140 jobs will be created. An interconnector will also be needed to transfer the power from the turbines, the whole project is said to be completed by 2018

According to Viking energy they will reduce CO2 emissions that contribute to global warming. The   government says that Shetland will reap all the benefits that comes with the wind farm.

Much has been written by both sides, the Shetland Charitable Trust and Sustainable Shetland. The debate has been fierce and in some circumstances has caused rifts between families and friends as the divide gets bigger. So please read information produced by both sides. !!!!!!

So on the opposite side, the turbines will stand at 145 m tall not easily hidden in the Shetland landscape, so Shetland will loose a large part of the `Wilderness' aspect that many people come expect . No one knows what  tourism revenue will be lost if  the wind farm goes ahead.  Worst still could this deter people from moving to Shetland and will the population drop ? Some Shetland islands are on the brink being deserted.

We moved to Shetland  because of the wildlife, landscape, and the way of life we are fortunate that we live in the south mainland but what about the people living in the affect areas. House prices will drop and what about the health problems caused by the turbines, surveys conducted at other wind farm sites are conflicting so it will be a question of waiting to see what happens.

The Wild Bird Directive said that Whimbrel a declining species would be greatly affected if the wind farm went ahead.  Could it be that the financial benefits outweigh the decline of the Whimbrel and other birds, it would be no surprise to me. What is the point of having any protection for wildlife if financial benefits win every time.

The 18 December 2014 must stand out as a crucial date, not just for Shetland but the whole of the UK , this depends on what is decided and the final decision will be given in March 2015.

Tidal power should to be considered, the first ever community tidal power turbine is located just north of Yell in Shetland so things have started. The following tidal energy scheme in the Pentland Firth could provide up to 43% of the energy needs of Scotland and it will be hidden on the seabed.

So while all this has happened has anyone thought to tell the Whimbrel what to expect when they return next Spring ???

Thursday 4 December 2014

Courses available

I will be running the following adult education classes in Lerwick

Introduction to Nature (Course code AL115)
Starts 19 January 2015 fr 6 weeks  9.30- 12.30

Last date for booking 10 December 2014

Digital Photography for Beginners (Course code AL116)
starts 2 March for 6 weeks f 2015 9.30-12.30 

Intermediate Digital Photography (Course Code (AL117) 
starts 27 April 2015 for 6 weeks   9.30-12.30


Digital Photography for Beginners (Course code AL119)
starts 2 March 2015 for 6 weeks 1.45- 4.45pm

Intermediate Digital Photography  (Course code AL120)
starts 27 April 2015 for 6 weeks 1.45-4.45 pm

Monday 1 December 2014

Super Duck

One of the birds I wanted to photograph before we made the journey north was the Long Tailed Duck. I had a few chances with inland birds with the last one, a female at Anglers Country Park in Wakefield only three months before we left the area.

On two attempts i arrived only to find the bird in the middle of the large lake, and even waiting around for a few hours only produced small images. About 10 years before I had close views of a Drake at Thybergh Res but didn't have the equipment I have now, and it was in the days of film. Other birds have been seen around the east coast especially Bridlington and at Filey also down in Norfolk but all at a distance.

Back in the early days of visiting Shetland it was always a common event to see Long Tailed ducks in Spring but things have changed and they are a lot more uncommon at this time a year. We saw a male in Unst  last June, near the fish farm but again at a distance.

We arrived in April and managed to find plenty of Long Tailed Ducks in the south mainland, again at a distance but things started to change in October when we were coming back from Unst a large flock flew past the ferry. Then birds started to appear in the south mainland until eventually two drakes came in close to the shore at West Voe of Sumburgh and I was in the right place at the right time with the right light and virtually no wind to cause vibration.

Both birds stayed close in for around 5 mins giving some great opportunities before they flew further out but soon came back in but further down the beach. They seem to enjoy to riding the waves but really it was the feeding conditions that improved as the waves ripped up seaweed and dislodged crabs and other goodies. They rode the waves for another 10 mins and continued to dive close in.

Males look superb at this time of year supporting a long forked tail while the plumage is a mix of black and white. now just need to find a couple of obliging female ducks. in Shetland they are known as Calloos - the name given from the call they make. Its just great to have winter birds in such good numbers all I need now is a male King Eider close up to make my day !!!

On Saturday I completed my Beach survey despite the dark wet , windy conditions and found no dead birds down at Sandsayre which is good news. The other thing here was there was far less seaweed than normal despite gales hitting this coast fro the east.
                                                                                      Not what you want to see

An Iceland Gull mixed in with the larger GTBB and Herring gulls , while further out a nice flock of 88 Eider duck rode the waves and a couple of Long tailed Ducks showed well. A single Gannet passed by, keep low over the sea. On the beach a reduced number of Turnstone and Purple Sandpiper foraged among the seaweed.

Around the huts two Robins and 6 Blackbirds sat resting suggesting that they may be new migrants.

This week I found out that one of my Puffin photos had been used in the Seabird Journal, this edition was on aging Puffin very interesting if you can get hold of a copy

Monday 24 November 2014

LT Ducks

With the weather mixed this weeks opportunities to get out have been limited. Midweek managed to get to Geosetter hoping to find the Red Flanked Bluetail but no luck again as it appeared to have left the area. Only Goldcrest (3), Robin (1), Blackbird (11) Field fare (24) Twite (16) Curlew (38) could be found before the light started to fade. In Shetland the light goes quickly and at  present is really no good for photography after 2.30 pm, unless the sun is directly on the area.

During the rest of the week lots of Fieldfare ad Redwing showed , while the ever present Fulmars glided past the car. A Robin continues to visit our garden and it was good to see a flock of nearly 100 Fieldfare landed in the field opposite our house. Curlews are also visiting the field with the odd Redshank especially early in the morning but are soon driven off by the Herring Gulls.

Although Saturday was wet and very windy, Sunday proved far better with still sunny weather all day. A Black Redstart was a nice find at the end of the garden  and on our way a Peregrine flew past chasing a Rock Dove.

Down in the south mainland it was quiet, not on the bird front but the lack of people. Only one plane at Sumburgh and two beaches to ourselves. Lots of Turnstone present , at Grutness (16), West Voe of Sumburgh ( 28) with Purple sandpiper (6) at the latter site. The waders finding food among the mass of seaweed that had been washed up. A few Rock Dove acted like flycatchers, darting after small flies. A Large flock of Starling were busy feeding only just jumping out of the way of waves crashing on the beach. One lone Snow Bunting was again found around the same spot as last time , spending most of its time just on the edge of the dunes.

A Red Throated Diver came into Grutness bay, a late one as it is the first i have seen in over a month most moving south, but this one must have been tempted to stay by the mild weather. Even in winter plumage they look smart birds.

One bird that is always an attraction is the Long Tailed Duck and more have appeared at numerous sites in the past few weeks. At Grutness 5 males, West Voe 4 males and 1 female and in Quendale bay 12 again including 10 males. In Lerwick the other day 6 Long Tailed Ducks could be seen close to the Mareel. A small party of Red Breasted Mergansers came close in at West Voe.

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Shetland Adult Education classes available

I will be running the following Adult education classes in Lerwick (9.30- 12.30) and Sandwick School (1.45- 4.45).    

Introduction to Nature - starts 19 January for 6 weeks, course code (AL115 Lerwick only).          

Digital Photography for Beginners starts 2 March for 6 weeks, Course codes (AL116 Lerwick, AL119 Sandwick)                  

Intermediate Digital Photography starts 27 April for 6 weeks, course codes (AL117 Lerwick and AL120 Sandwick) .        

Places are limited so please book early, phone Shetland Adult Education on 01595 743888      

Tuesday 11 November 2014


After the recent strong gales we hoped that something unusual would turn up and although we didn't find any rare birds a Grey Cheeked Thrush turned up in the afternoon at Rerwick, Red Flanked Bluetail's at Geosetter and Voe and a Grey Phalarope and Pied Wheatear in Unst.

Saturday was superb weather and after a few days in we couldn't wait to get out. Heading down to the South Mainland we thought that large numbers off thrush may have arrived in the strong easterly winds but few could be found.

At West Voe of Sumburgh the waves crashed high up the shore where a large amount of seaweed was present, this attracted Purple Sandpiper (7) Turnstone (56) Redshank (16) and numerous starling. Further along the two Snow Bunting were still present but now into the dunes where they would disappear frequently.

On the sea four Long Tailed Duck showed, two very close in which provided good photo opportunities. A  large raft of Fulmar made up the bulk of the other birds along with several Shag and a few Herring Gulls.

Onto Spiggie where Whooper swan(16) became very vocal but remained on the loch, these were joined by Mute Swan(2) and Goldeneye (18) staying very close to the swans. Wigeon (35) Teal 6) Mallard (12) Slavonian and Little Grebe (1 each) stayed close to the shoreline. Flocks of Lapwing, Curlew and Greylag kept flying up, maybe due to a bird of prey but we didn't see one.

On the beach a flock of Turnstone (28) took flight but Common Seal (12) came up close to pose for photos. Many Fulmar skimmed across the bay and several Gannet plunged into the sea, while Ravens and Hoddies kept flying down to feed near Sheep.

On Sunday we caught up with the Grey Cheeked thrush which was very confiding, although the sun was bang in front of us. Later we moved round so the sun was at our backs and managed better photos. Only three of us watching this North American bird, breeding in Alaska and Canada and which usually winters in central and south America. A far cry from when the Rubythroat or Yellow Browed warbler was found attracting scores of twitchers.