Friday 30 June 2017

The Final Few Shetland Footprints

We have just about come to the end of our Shetland adventure, our ferry leaves for the 200 mile trip south to Aberdeen tomorrow evening, and we have just about achieved what we set out to do. We have covered this place from all corners of the compass, taking in as much as possible not just from the wildlife but also the locals, who are amongst the friendliest people I have ever met. For me though the incredible wildlife was the main reason for coming here and it did not disappoint. I have come away with many shots that I am pleased with but that doesn't tell the whole story as many of the shots are not perfect (mainly due to the weather) but they still have a story and the time I have spent here will not be forgotten with or without a 'perfect' photograph. My photographs do not do the landscape of this place justice either, the views are so huge that they need to be seen in person, but one of the lasting impressions I have is of white sandy beaches in steep cliffed bays with chrystal clear blue water. We barely saw anyone on these beaches and they would put half of the Med to shame!
Suffice to say, regardless of the two days of gales that sounded as if a helicopter was trying to land in the tent, we have been treated to the best this place can offer and when the sun shines you can forgive it just about anything.

Tuesday 27 June 2017

Shetland Footprints: The Pick of the Birds

We are coming to the end of this two week exploration of The Shetland Islands and although we have been beaten up a little by gale force winds, we have found this to be a stunning place full of the most hospitable people you can imagine.
Choosing favourite views would be imposible, favourite places would be too but there are a few birds that have stood out as firm favourites. There have been others, like the beautiful Red Thoated Diver, the haunting Snipe and the mean, moody Bonxie but these few have been the most popular for me.

The Puffin was probably the main reason we came to the Shetlands. I wanted flight shots, sitting still shots, preening shots and of course the Sandeel shot!
 Like the Oyster Catcher, the Ringed Plover was very common around the islands but this brave little bird was constantly at work keeping preditors away from their young.
Ringed Plover
 The Black Guillemot is totally different from our local bird but is very striking and a real eyecatcher.
Black Guillemot
The Wren is very well known but the sight of seven of these birds, two adults and five fledglings, on one small rock at the same time was very special.
I would like to say that the Puffin has been my iconic Shetland bird but for me it has to be the Oyster Catcher. Although familiar at home, this beautiful bird was everywhere thoughout all of the islands and its call became a constant soundtrack day or night.
Oyster Catcher

Shetland Footprints: A Second First Encounter

Otters are quite 'common' throughout The Shetlands but seeing one and getting a photo takes planning, a lot of hanging about, a bit of local knowledge and a fair bit of luck. We have found evidence of Otters all over the islands and seen a few at a distance several times but I haven't managed to get any 'out of the water' shots or got particularly close.
My latest attempt involved this chap who lives near to where we are camping at the moment. He is a bit of a local celebrity and will put up with a bit of noise but is still very timid. We watched for about an hour while local kids were rowing in the sea around the harbour but I still didn't manage to see catch him on dry land.

Sunday 25 June 2017

The Road to Muckle Flugga

Finally, after a couple of aborted attempts we managed to travel to the northern most part of the UK, some 710 miles north of my home on the Dorset coast. The last few miles were on foot across peat bogs towards an almighty set of cliffs with some of the most spectacular views I have ever seen. As we got to the cliffs the sun broke throught the clouds and the views got even better, the sea was a churning mass of blue and white, with a generous dusting of Gannets and other sea birds bobbing on the waves many metres below us. It was time to just sit and watch, ignore the wind that howled from the sea and just take it all in.

One of the birds that we can see at home but just can't get close to is the Gannet, a stunning bird that really shines when the sun hits it. There were literally thousands here today and they soared past at eye level, so close you felt like you could lean out and touch them.

The Great Skua, or Bonxie, was ever present and a enemy to everything that it could see. Whilst on these islands I have seen these impressive but menacing birds hunting Rabbits as well as just about any sea bird that it can catch. This is a bird to stay away from especially when they have a nest nearby. Never has the phrase 'don't stray from the path' been so true.

On the peat bogs around the island the beautiful Golden Plover can be found but they are far from common. I was very pleased to see this one and even happier when a chick popped into view. Both shots were taken from the road, well away from the nest.

We have Sandwich Terns at home and I really enjoy taking their photo, but up here the Arctic Tern is superb subject. Another one to stay away from though if they are on eggs, they won't tollerate any humans getting too close. 

And of course there is the Puffin, a real favourite and one of the reasons that we travelled so far. We have a very small number of these back home but they are impossible to get close to.

Friday 23 June 2017

Shetland Footprints: June 23rd

Yesterday we collected the new tent that had been sent from Aberdeen to replace the one that was no longer waterproof. It took three days for the tent to arrive and although it wasn’t really holding us back it was good to know that we would be a little more comfortable.
And so we travelled further north.

The Isle of Unst was going to be home for the next couple of nights and this would be the northern most island we would visit and, at about 700 miles from home, it would be the northern most campsite too. When we got to the tiny fishing village of Uyeasound the skies were blue and water between us and the island of Uyea was calm and still with just a single Merganser and, the now customary, Seal for company. The evening was long and although it would not get much darker the sun had set to a soundtrack of Oystercatchers, Wheatears and the haunting call of the Snipe.

One thing we have learned about the Shetlands is that the weather can change almost instantly, from cloud to sun or the other way around.   

Overnight the wind picked up and blew straight across the sound bringing rain and trying its hardest to rip the tent from its ropes. Inside the tent wasn’t exactly calm either but it was built to stand up to worse than this so while the canvas whipped and pulsed and the poles buckled we waited, slept and woke on and off through the night.
It is hard to say that we waited for dawn as it had been light all night but there seems to be a time when getting up and on is an ok thing to do. The wind was still blowing and low cloud joined the spray from the sea to make sure you got just wet enough but we walked up the hill to the hostel where a well-stocked kitchen could supply coffee. Lots and lots of coffee…
The hostel has an old conservatory at the back, overlooking the campsite and across the sound to Uyea and from here we watched the weather attack our tent. Just off the beach, only a few meters from the tent a Grey Seal bobbed and watched, with the soulful expression that these now familiar creatures have mastered. In the skies above Gannet after Gannet swoops over the waves occasionally diving but spending more time escaping the Bonxies than actually fishing.
When we reached coffee saturation point it was time to move on, further north, to find what we find.

Thursday 22 June 2017

Shetland Footprints: An update

I was going to write a daily diary about we are up to here on The Shetlands, but I am no holiday blogger and, after wandering around as much of this place as possible, moving bases twice and not having a mobile signal leta lone wifi, I gave it up as a bad job. I will keep popping a few photographs on here though when I can and try not to bore you too much.
The last few days have been a mixture of sunshine and cloud and I have spent a fair bit of time wandering and trying to understand more about The Shetlands. This place is filled with over 4000 years of history and each phase of this is well worth exploring.
Today's best friend though was a beautiful but quite unpopular Pole Cat. Now these creatures are not really wanted on Shetland and they are actively kept from all islands but the mainland because of their threat to wild birds. Now I fully understand that but I really did enjoy my encounter with this young lady, which was far more than the Wheatear did!

Wednesday 21 June 2017

Shetland Footprints: Otter: first contact.

One of the creatures that I have been looking forward to photographing is the Otter. They can be seen at a few places around the islands but finding them can be tricky. A few days ago, at a small cove just south of our campsite, we found the remains of Sea Urchins and a few tell tale prints so we returned in the evening to watch and wait. It took a little time but eventually we spotted a lone Otter quite a way away that moved silently across the water from one side to the other fishing for what looked to be Eels. There was no way of getting close and the light was fading fast but these are the results of our first encounter.

Tuesday 20 June 2017

Shetland Footprints Day 4

When the weather is not right for photography less important things need to happen, like the shopping for food or the use of free wifi in community cafes, this leaves your diary clear for when the sun shines.  Here on The Shetlands the weather can change totally in less than an hour and this coupled with news of wildlife sightings can force an immediate reaction. This morning we could see the clouds starting to clear and we were just about to move when we got a tip off that Orcas may be in the area, so we dropped everything and charged down the coast trying to get one step ahead. We found a beautifully named headland called the Scult of Laward, a rocky outcrop just north of Sumburgh lighthouse that we had to ourselves and that gave us a view right up the coast past Mousa towards Noss. These islands had been mentioned as the latest possible sightings. This place was home to Arctic Terns, Eider Ducks, Oyster Catchers, Turnstone and a couple of Grey Seals so watching the seas was never going to be boring.

Now the problem with relying on previous sightings is that wildlife is, by and large, unpredictable. This seems doubly so for cetaceans but all you can do is keep your fingers crossed. Eventually patience paid off and three black fins broke the surface and headed straight into our bay, circled around the headland close to the shore and us. Being able to watch these incredible creatures at such close quarters was amazing and another reason for us making the journey north. It turned out that there were at least four Orca and they swam around the headland giving us superb views, views that in my opinion just can’t be beaten by any other animal.

 All too soon though they had disappeared from sight, leaving us with the dilema of whether to guess again and head off west or to leave them and move on.
Well of course we didn't leave them, well not intentionally! A quick drive around to another bay, to the west, gave us stunning views of the Sumburgh Lighthouse but alas no more Orca.

Quiet but never silent.

I missed the Sun this morning, not because I was late but because the early wander was done and dusted by the time the clouds cleared. When...