Friday, 30 July 2010

North to South

Well, I've applied, been interviewd, been medically examined (!) and been offered a job with the British Antarctic Survey to work at King Edward Point in South Georgia! This is a dream job for me, something I have always wanted to do and I still quite can't believe I'm getting to do this! This blog started with me in the Falklands, followed me back north to Shetland, and will continue when I head south again.

One of my friends from uni came to visit, and I took them to see the sights of Shetland. Otters have to be one of the highlights for anyones visit, and we were lucky to see them a few times. The best sighting was at the Toft ferry terminal, the obliging otter even came up the beach to within a few meters and ate a big fish infront of us!

Beautiful wildflowers at Breken sands, north Yell

A beautiful night at Burrafirth (midnight)

The shore station lit up by a moth trap

With the Red Throated Diver chicks getting to a good size it was time to do the annual ringing expedition. Being a Schedule 1 species you have to have a special licence to ring divers, you also need a licence to approach the breeding lochans, and also to photograph them there. In the north of Unst we ringed three chicks on Hermaness NNR, and three chicks off the reserve. Just south of the reserve we caught an adult that had been ringed five years ago on the reserve. This was great to know, but even more impressive was an adult from the south of Unst that was discovered to have been ringed 24 years ago! This beats the previous longevity record of 23yr 7months.

Measuring the bill length

Releasing one of the chicks

A large chick posing until it realised it was free!

As I was coming down from the cliffs I spotted a Bonxie regurgitating food for it's two chicks really close to the path. Watching it briefly it flew up over me and landed just the other side of a small lochan, and started feeding on a dead Bonxie chick. Every time another bonxie flew over head it would display before going back to eating some more. Cannibalism isn't uncommon, but can be increased by people walking through the middle of colonies, disturbance causes the chicks to run away and move into neighbouring territories where they are often attacked. This is why it is important to keep to the paths.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Summer time

If any of you have seen the latest BBC Wildlife magazine then I hope you read the article about Great Skuas or Bonxies as they are known in Shetland. The photos for the article were taken on Hermaness NNR back in 2009, by Andrew Parkinson, he's a really good wildlife photographer, and his website is well worth a look.

I've been out a few times to try and get some good photos of the Bonxies flying past a setting sun. This is fraught with difficulty, it looks like a good evening, and then along comes a big cloud and blots out the sun, or there is a big cloud bank out to sea so the sun is too bright when it disapears. Autofocus sometimes gets a bit confused when you try and track the bird, and switching from focusing on the left side to the right side is a faff when birds are wheeling about all over the place, so manual focus is order of the day. And most importantly is finding somewhere to sit where you're not disturbing them but where they are flying around between you and the sun! As you can see below, it works out OK eventually!

Bonxie shortly before sunset

On one of my weekly wanders around the Keen of Hamar NNR I came across this very sweet little bundle of fluff. I would probably never have found it had I not noticed it running around before it froze, but that is the general idea to stop it becoming something elses dinner.

Ringed Plover chick

Ringed Plover chicks hide very well!

Most of the flowers on the Keen of Hamar have finished flowering. One of the plants I didn't get into my last blog though was the moonwort. It is at most 20mm tall, and a very interesting little plant almost looking like some kind of Cobra.


Most of the campion has gone over now too, the incredible vivid pink is difficult to capture on camera and reproduce on screen, so I had to play a little with the next picture to get it looking true to life.


There are lots of other flowers out now though, which I hope to be able to get some photos of in the next week or so. I don't think I have ever seen such an incredible carpet of Ragged Robin as there is in the fields around Haroldswick.