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Monday, 20 June 2011

Unst - Final thoughts (plus photo's added to previous posts)

I promised in my last Unst post that I would add some final thoughts, so here they are. I've also added some pictures to the other posts, which I hope you will enjoy.

I've interviewed myself for this one............

Did I enjoy my second visit ?  - Most certainly I did. Robbie and Katrina are super hosts and Robbies knowledge of the island and it's wildlife is second to none.

Did I get what I wanted ?  - for the most part I did - it's easy to get photographs of wildlife wherever you go. Getting special images however requires observation, patience and time. After 2 visits to the island, I think I started to be happy with the results of the hours spent. I was lucky enough to photograph species I didn't last year, and improved upon some of the images of subjects I took last year as well.

Would I recommend Unst - Yes, wholeheartdly. It is beautiful place and it has a pace of life all of its own - if you want a photographic challenge, or just a place to unwind.

Where would I head for again on Unst ? - Hermaness, without doubt. Photograph's cannot do it justice, and if it was on mainland UK, it would get thousands of visitors a year which would spoil its rugged isolation.

So that's it......I need to plan next years trip now to wherever that will be..........

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Unst - the final day

All too quickly, my week in Unst reached it's final day.

The weather wasn't great, so having booked a boat trip to the seabird colonies around Muckle Flugga, we had to wait for confirmation that the boat would be going.

When the call came through, we drove to where the boat is moored and set off for a super trip where the puffins, razorbills, guillemots and gannets where flying and swimming everywhere.

The boat gets you very close. The rocks from sea level are huge and I can only imagine what life would have been like when the light house was manned. It's also pretty scary to imagine what the place would be like during a winter storm - I'd love to see that one day.

After the boat trip it started to rain and having previously decided to walk up to Hermaness, I got dressed up and set off in pouring rain.

I love to photograph wildlife in rain as it adds that extra dimension and providing I am warm and dry, I'm happy.

My Paramo jacket and 'Stealth Gear' trousers kept me dry, but when it eventually stopped raining, the jacket dried a whole lot quicker than the trousers (I'll post a review of these trousers at some point I think as they are great, but have draw backs).

Skua in the rain:

At the top, the cliffs were blanketed in cloud and it was still raining, so I decided to walk to where Robbie had shown us the best area for the Gannets. On the way the rain stopped and what I'd hoped would happen occurred - the Puffins started to emerge from their burrows.

I managed around 20 minutes with these super little birds that will happily allow to crawl right up to them without being bothered - provided you don't make any sudden moves and get down to their level.

That was probably the best part of the afternoon (aside from trying out slow shutter speeds on a Skua in the pouring rain).

After getting back to Ordaal quite late, Robbie and I shared a few too many whiskies before we finally called it a night and that was it, my Unst trip was over for this year.

I'll post up some final thoughts when I get a moment later in the week along with adding some pictures to the other posts I've written this week.

Big thanks to Robbie, Katrina, Sula and Rona for being perfect hosts for the week and for sharing their home. Thanks too for Suze for being such good company this week.

Thanks also to everyone who has taken the time and trouble to read through my ramblings......

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Unst day 6

It's been a very busy last couple of days on Unst and Fetlar.
It's been a super trip and I have enjoyed it even more than I did last year. I'm on my way back home now so with plenty of time to kill at Sumburgh and then Edinburgh airports, it's time to catch up on my blog.
Day 5 was a hit and miss day - a bit of a hit for me, but alas a bit of a miss of Suze. The weather was forecast to be fantastic, and I awoke at 6 to glorious sunshine.
Suze decided to try for flowers and Curlew on Baltasound Sound airstrip and I headed back to Saxa Vord to try to catch a final session photographing the Golden Plover on the morning light.
The Plover was most obliging and by staying in the car, I was able to sit quiet, let the bird relax and wait for it to come closer to the car which it did. Success one for the day.
After a quick breakfast at Ordaal it was off to the Otter site just up the road.

Ordaal House

The sun was shining and the light was getting a bit harsh, but I'm not going to complain as sitting in position with the water lapping, a slight breeze blowing and a few Arctic Terns for company.
There were two problems though - the first was that the tide was only just turning but worse than that, the couple we'd seen earlier in the week were just setting off from their car. Today the lady was not only sporting a bright red coat, but also white trousers.

Hubby then proceeded to wander across all of the high points along the walk which the ever wary otters would spot from a mile away.
Eventually however they moved off and Suze and I decided to swap places on either side of the bay from previous days. As I headed back to my spot I noticed a small movement out of the corner of my eye and there, by the waters edge was a lone otter making for the safety of an old sea wall. He'd spotted me of course before I had an opportunity to duck down.
With the whole bay in view however, I got into position all the while keeping an eye out for the otter to reappear. As Robbie says however, otters are like mercury and this one just vanished.
And hour of a half of watching and he didn't reappear.
What did show up though was a Red Throated Diver. A fantastic looking bird - especially in sunlight. The diver was quartering the bay so I decided to try get into position.
Divers spend a degree of their time face down in the sea looking for fish, so along with their frequent dives, a bit of uncomfortable crawling over sharp rocks got me into position, low down in the weeds at the waters edge.
Sure enough, the diver eventually swum close by and I got my shots. Beautiful birds with fantastic coloration and a striking red eye.

Unfortunately, Suze didn't get to see any otters, but we'd booked a ferry for Fetlar and had to leave.
Fetlar is a 20 minute ferry ride from Unst, or longer if you have to do the leg to Yell first before the ferry goes on to Fetlar.
One of the reasons to visit Fetlar is to visit an RSPB reserve called Loch Funzie (pronounced 'Finny') where the very rare Red Necked Phalarope breeds and feeds. The nest sites are actually in the near by mires, but the birds are supposed to feed on the Loch, which is fairly small and shallow.
This was my third visit in 2 years and Suze' third in as many years. Suze has seen one Phal, and I've not seen them at all.
Today was to prove no different. I fact, the loch was very quiet indeed with very little life evident aside from a few terns and gulls.
We sat for a couple of hours and nothing appeared, and so we are beginning to suspect that something has changed at the site which means that the Phals have moved elsewhere on the island.
Numbers have been very low with very few sightings in the past few years, which is a great shame as a lot of visitors come to see these diminutive waders, and this must create a lot of extra income for Fetlar.
Having given up on the Phals we moved to another spot where Great Skuas regularly bathe.
This was much more successful as in the evening light, the water spray and running take off's towards the camera where great.

Another late finish to the day, but 3 successful sessions with different species which will hopefully produce some great results which I post when I have some time for processing.

Graham Goddard ARPS

Friday, 10 June 2011

Unst - day 5

It was a long day yesterday.

The forecast was for good weather and with the days being so long up here, you could literally start at 4am and go through until 11pm. I didn't quite make 4am but we stayed up to watch the sun set at Muckle Flugga at 10.50!

After a few whiskies with Robbie the night before, I clambered out of bed at 6am and made my way to Saxa Vord with Suze to see if we could photograph the Golden Plover and Bonxies in the morning light.

After coming back for some breakfast we popped to an Otter site quite close to Robbies new place, split up, got as comfortable as one can when sitting on rocks with rotting seaweed nearby, and waited. And waited, and waited.......

3 hours passed and nothing showed - i found out later from one of Robbies friends, Brydon Thomason from Shetland Nature Tours, that a group of photographers had recently hammered the site and the otters are now very wary of shutter noise - a shame and very poor from a nature lovers point of view. The subject always has to come first, not the photo ! Disturbance of a feeding animal gives photographers very bad name.......

Suze and I decided to then visit Hermaness as I really wanted to spend a lot of time with the puffins that had been all over the cliffs on Monday. The walk to the cliffs is a killer, even without a stack of gear.

When I arrived, there were no puffins - and that's how it stayed all afternoon. Very strange, but plan b was to walk on to the gannet colony and there I stayed for the rest of the afternoon and evening. Watching the constant action and movement is fascinating - some of the pairs haven't a nest site yet and others had a chick already. Constant noise, movement and that particular smell that only comes from a seabird colony.

Robbie and Suze picked me up at 9.30 and we drove to the top of Saxa Vord for the sunset - none of us are landscapers, so we were probably better off leaving the cameras in the car to be honest, but the sight was amazing.

I'll try and add some pics and links to these posts when I get home so that if you ever decide to visit the island above all others, you'll see what I've been blogging about.

Off for more otters now and then Fetlar for the afternoon.....

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Unst - day 4

2 otters this morning, one of which was eating the head of a Salmon which I guess may have been a dead one from the Salmon farm in Baltasound Sound.

The Salmon farmer has been farming his stock this week and it looked like a seal had eaten the carcass and disgarded the head which the otter had found.

The otter took the head to the opposite side of the bay and so I had to plan how to get to it - without being seen, heard or smelt !

After some serious fieldcraft - running across a small beach, crawling through a lot of weed and slippery rocks.

I found that the otter must have seen me crossing the beach though as when I arrived however he had scarpered.

The fish head was still there though, so after getting into position, I waited.

Sure enough, after 30 minutes, the otter couldn't resist coming back to his tasty free meal before the gulls got to it.

The otter was incredibly wary, but with poor eyesight, and without being able to pick up my scent(perhaps because by now, my kit now mainly smells of sheep poo and seaweed) he eventually came back to find his prize and I got my shots.

As I can't process here, you'll have to wait to see them (now added though):

The weather is very changeable so I decided to spend the rest of the day on the beach - initially at Skaw, then down at Westing.

Aside from another otter sighting, the day was very quiet apart from a late afternoon trip to the old MOD early warning site at Saxa Vord. And incredible place !

With Suze driving, I managed a few pics of a Golden Plover (new species for me) in pouring rain - I hope the pics come out as they will be dramatic.

It's now 10.20 and not dark yet - if it clears, I'll be up at 4 to catch the dawn !

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Unst - day 3

What a great 3 days we've just had.

After a brief scare at Edinburgh airport when Logan Air told us that the weight limit for hand luggage had decreased from 10kg to 6kg (we transferred the excess stuff into our pockets and were allowed on the plane !), we arrived on Shetland in glorious sunshine.

After a quick visit to Sumburgh Head we then set out to drive up to Unst.

Mondays weather was poor to start with, but improved all day and at 11pm (!) we watched a super sunset.

Monday morning we saw 3 otters, but the light was poor, so no pictures.

Later we went to Fetlar to see if we could find the Red Necked Phalaropes, but for the second year, they eluded me. After a return to Unst, we spent the rest of the day watching seals, Eiders, Dunlin and Sanderling before an evening visit to Lamberness and the old MOD site at the north of the island.
Today was spent on Hermaness - the walk in wasn't quite as tiring as last year and on arrival at the top, the puffins were everywhere. Being so trusting and curious, they were walking within a few feet of where I was sitting and a joy to watch.

Bonxies were on the hunt for the Puffins, the Fulmars were soaring and showing off on the updrafts and Gannet were constantly streaming past and looking.
Hermaness is a huge place and utterly beautiful. Rugged, windswept, and at this time of year full of the sights, sounds (and smells !) of seabirds.

Dependent upon the wind direction, you can position yourself to get pictures of fulmar and gannet hanging on the updrafts - I hope the pictures I took today are sharp.
Anyway, it's 10.50, still light, but time for bed......

Graham Goddard ARPS

Saturday, 4 June 2011

My travels

This will be a short post today - 1 to test to see if I can post remotely and 2 to say that I am off to the wonderful Shetland islands tomorrow for a week of photography.

If you've followed my blog regularly you'll know I visited there last year. I loved it so much I'm going again.

I'm travelling with a friend, Suze, and staying with Robbie Brookes (whose own blog can be found in the blog links section on this page) - he's a great guide, photographer and naturalist and loves to share info about his beautiful island, Unst - the most northerly in the UK.

If I can, I'll post a few trip reports while on location, but pictures will have to wait as I can't load them from my iPad.


Graham Goddard ARPS