Sunday 29 March 2015

Spring in the air

It had been a while since we managed to get down to the south mainland but it was a nice sunny still day so we headed off with a noisy party of Oystercatchers flying over to accompany the car down the road.

Lots of Greylag geese are in the fields and parties of starlings fly up to sit on wires as the car past by. Arriving at Grutness we could see waves crashing up on the beach and the first bird that appeared was a Red Throated diver, the first of the year, still in winter plumage.  Shags and eider ducks soon appeared and near the beach a nice party of 13 Long Tailed duck, some very close in. Walking past the small pool a pair of Teal showed together with Mallard and several Common Gulls. On the rocks at least 100+ Common Gulls kept flying up and circling round before landing and continue to call.

                                                                                  Long Tailed Duck Grutness

Only a Stonechat  showed in the garden before being chased off by the ginger cat. Starlings displayed, calling and flapping their wings while others admired the varied song, while stood on the back of the local sheep.

Several Skylarks sang above the airfield which was very quiet until one plane came over very low putting up around 100 starlings. A few Blackbirds showed while several sparrow had a dust bath in front of the hotel.
                                                                                                Great view point

At first the garden seemed quiet but then a Robin appeared on the fence and couple of Twite landed in the bushes. Then out of nowhere Goldcrest (4) appeared just a front of me no more than 6 feet away and too close to photograph. They continue to feed on the grass only occasionally jumping up onto the walls.

Another Stonechat jumped up onto the back wall before quickly disappearing into the field, but it did make a few return visits.

                                                                    Hide and seek with a Long Tailed duck

Up at Sumburgh farm, another Robin was showing in the garden along with 36 Sparrows and 4 Starling. The sound of more Skylarks reminded me that Spring was actually here but some birds had not yet paired up feeding in the stubble field.

During the week the Quarff Iceland gull was seen in the same garden on several occasions, a couple of Great Grey Shrikes arrived at Sandwick , close to where we live, then another or the same down at Levenwick. A pair of American Wigeon turned up at Burra with another male over on the west side, and on Unst a trio of Scoter with Surf, Velvet and Common seen in the same place. It looks like migration has started and in the coming months things should really pick up.
                                                                                                         Rock Pipit

Flowers are emerging and you cannot help but notice that primroses have suddenly appeared. Lines of yellow daffodils brighten the road sides and the ground has started to turn green.This last week the weather also has been very spring like with beautiful blue skies, less windy than normal and slightly warmer.
                                                                   Shelduck Boddam

Saturday 21 March 2015

Mountain Hares

Had a trip up onto moorland near Cunningsburgh weather was sunny but cold. i was looking for Mountain Hares. Whitish mammals appeared soon, but these were Shetland sheep very numerous here.
Off the paths lot of peat diggings occurred which made progress difficult as i had to weave in and out of the channels. Lots of Raven and Hoodies flew over and several skylarks burst into song which is always nice to hear. Only one Meadow Pipit sang but soon a couple of Curlews joined in.
After a Red Grouse burst out of cover I spotted a mountain hare sat low down sheltering from the wind. I had no option in heading up hill with the wind blowing at my back which instantly alerted the hare to my presence.

I manage to catch the Hare further up the hill and it was joined by a second hare both in beautiful white coats

The hares were both alert, standing on their hind legs, testing the air for my scent. Again Peat digs made me take a long diversion which enabled the hares to get higher up the hill and over the top out of view.

October - December seems to be a better time to get closer, now they are breeding so more alert but still they gave reasonable views.

There is already talk that Cunningsburgh will have a few Turbines erected in the area, which is bad news for the hares.
No one has really brought up the fact that archaeological remains occur in the area for the large wind farm in the central mainland. These sites as well as birds such as Whimbrel, Red Throated Diver are supposed to be protected.
Recently Sustainable Shetland sent an open letter to the Councillors urging them to debate the proposed wind farm. However this has been discussed before with the previous council so the proposal was thrown out.

Sunday 15 March 2015

Numbers increase

Well after the excitement of photographing the whale the other day it was back to Gulls and a trip to Lerwick. The showers came in thick and fast during our visit but when we first arrived no gulls could be seen, then 4 Glaucous Gulls came into view from behind a trawler.

Bread is always an attraction and as soon as I started throwing pieces into the sea the gulls spotted it and suddenly arrived in numbers. Just in front of me now 6 Iceland gulls waited for more food and one Glaucous gull came over while the other 3 disappeared again. Birds seem to come and go there may well have been more than 6 Iceland gulls, earlier in the week 8 had been present.

A flock of eider came closer calling and displaying but today no sign of any Long Tailed Duck. A few of Black Guillemot and Shag flew in. Raven, Hoddie and Rock Pipit provided the supporting cast.

Meanwhile back in Lerwick, midweek proved interesting. First a Kestrel, a migrant bird was see hovering over the cliffs at Setter. Over at the flooded area a male Hen Harrier flew over putting up a flock of Golden plover and Redshank. Over at the Wart a good number of Greylag Geese had a couple of visitors with both White Fronted and Barnacle Geese present.

Throughout the week an Iceland Gull has been visiting a garden at Quarff, it seemed unconcerned when the owners of the house fed all the gulls. This bird has been present for around 3 months

Large numbers of Oystercatchers have now returned to Shetland and several flocks of around 150-200 birds have been see in a few locations in the South Mainland. Blue and Gt Tits are still present in a few gardens along with small numbers of chaffinch

On a rarer note a couple of Black Bellied Dippers have been found, one on Unst and the other at Voe. The American Wigeon is still present over on the west coast as well.

Its good to hear that the Spring migration has started with a Wheatear in Dorset and a couple of Osprey, one as far north as North Yorkshire. Chiff Chaff, Willow Warbler, House Martin and Little Ringed Plover should soon follow depending on the winds

Monday 2 March 2015

Whale of a time

Last Wednesday  turned out to be a near perfect day. The weather was sunny, mild and reasonably still so we headed off to Whiteness in the hope that the Pilot Whale was still about. Arriving early we scanned the area where it had been seen the day before, but nothing so I walk along the road to the west.

Reaching the far end of the road I could see some large splashes in the distance and looking through binoculars I could see a large object but it was too far away to see what.


It was not coming any closer so I turned back and met up with Jim Nicholson who had seen nothing, the same with George Graham who had just arrived and had parked next to the grave yard. After a short look around we set off to go north but just at the last spot where we could see the Voe I spotted a large fin on the other side  WHALE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Reaching Nesbister and the large white house, the Pilot whale showed again but it had gone back into the middle of the Voe and stayed there throughout. The whale had been present since Saturday so it was surprising that it was still about, today Wednesday being the 5th day. Yesterday Brian Gray managed some close photos, but trying to photograph any whales is difficult as they only surface briefly and you never know where it will come up.

This one seem to work the same spot, surfacing twice quickly before a long dive and then moving sometimes a considerable distance.
For most of the time only the fin showed but just every now and then some of the body would show. Some people have said it may be ill but it seem to have plenty of energy and moved freely. It may have been part of a pair, one was washed up at Ireland near Bigton a few days ago, looking very white in  colour so would have been dead for a few days before it was found. So in fact it may have been in morning for its partner, after all these are very intelligent mammals

We then drove north passing the site where multiple turbines will be sited, what a shame as it is a superb valley. We arrived at our next destination this time to look for Otters but despite a two hour search none could be found, although it looked an ideal spot with plenty of fresh otter spraints, although on this occasion the tide was going out, not the best time.

Although we didn't go birding we did see the following:
Iceland Gull, Whooper swan, Greylag, Raven, Hoodie, Starling, Sparrow, Wren,Twite, Blackbird, Fieldfare, Redwing, Long Tailed Duck, Red Breasted Merganser, Eider, Wigeon, Mallard, Teal, Kittiwake, Common Gull, GTBB, Herring Gull, Fulmar, Curlew, Turnstone, Redshank, Oystercatcher, Purple Sandpiper ,Snipe, Rock Dove, Rook, Wood Pigeon, Shag, Black Guillemot, Gannet, Rock Pipit, (36 species)

Pilot Whales grow up to 6.7 m (male) and 5.7 m (Female), they can be long lived estimated at around 45-60 years. Long Finned Pilot Whales are the ones found around our shores and the young usually stay with their parents. Mass stranding of this species are common and if one is sick they strand together, such is the bond. They normally feed on squid and other fish.

This species is frequently killed by the Faroe islands and Norway, with the meat exported to Japan. Often meat contains lots of contaminates