A little 'otter.
Ahem, sorry about that. It is indeed a cold day in Shetland, with hail and snow and strong winds. A considerable change to Saturday when it was flat calm and warm(ish). Signs of spring included tracks on the beach which I haven't seen since last September. Not some returning migratory wader, but the prints of barefoot children! We are fortunate in Shetland to have sandy shores where children and adults can freely explore and play.
Last night I finally managed to watch the second programme of Simon King's Shetland Diaries. The majority of the show had some link to the sea - Simon exploring the underwater world through diving, the otter family, the sad story of Kirikoo the injured otter, and of course - seabirds. It was great to see the results of the puffin camera. How a parent feeds its chick is something I'd often pondered. Our Date With Nature at Sumburgh Head will build on the success of the camera, but I'll write more about that in a future blog. It is the otter stuff that I most enjoyed watching. When I see otters, I usually don't have my binoculars or I have just a fleeting glimpse. So to see the otter through a superduper zoom lens is just fantastic. Otters, like all land mammals in Sheltand, were introduced by man. It is likely that the Vikings brought them, perhaps for their excellent fur. I sometimes curse the day when folk introduced some species to Shetland, such as stoats, polecat-x-ferrets and rabbits. However, double standards I know, but I thank the Vikings who brought otters here as I love them.
The next episode of the Shetland Diaries promises to reveal more spectacular footage of our local wildlife - the orcas return, the gannets dive, Sumburgh Head will feature and a new character will be introduced. Red-necked phalaropes. It is not a bird you might first associate with the sea. Actually, it's not a bird you might associate with anything as in Britain they are a great rarity (only around 40 or so breeding each year). Red-necked phalaropes breed on our Fetlar reserve, and can be seen at the Mires of Funzie. One of the funkiest facts about them is that their parenting roles have been reversed. The male incubates the eggs and tends to the young and his plumage is, well he's a bit dull. Where as the female is hot and feisty and gorgeous. Both male and female though are utterly charming to watch. In the winter, we are not entirely sure where they go. It is very possible that a phalarope which breeds in Fetlar could spend winter in the Pacific Ocean off South America. How amazing is that!?
I am hearing already that the programme has had some effect in terms of tourism publicity. For example, a local accommodation provider had no bookings for four weeks in summer. WIthin three days of the Shetland Diaries being broadcast, they were fully booked and could have been filled three-times over. Much of Shetland's economy relies on the sea, be it through fishing, oil or through people visiting to experience the seabirds, seals and, with good luck, cetaceans. So it is important on so many levels that we safeguard our sealife.
Make sure you tune in on Thursday night for the finale - including some scenes filmed on the Mousa Ferry.
With a Shetland holiday already booked, we were delighted and much heartened by Simon's tales. The level of anticipation has increased with each programme and we are looking forward to some island time, whatever the weather. VBW, Graeme