It's been blowing a gale here for a few days now - which brings both good and bad things. As it's been southeasterlies, it was good for bringing in some migrants. Newton, Rob, Gary and I spent an hour or so looking in the quarry near Sumburgh Head for a mystery warbler. Whilst trying to get a decent view of the peerie (small) blighter we managed to enjoy seeing blackcaps, garden warblers, a barred warbler, a willow warbler, pied flycatchers, redstart, kestrel, yellow wagtail and see a fulmar fledge from the cliff-face. Not bad for an area around the size of a tennis court. Gary (who volunteers with us when he can) managed to get a couple of photos of the mystery warbler the next day and identified it as a reed warbler.
The easterly winds have been bad for whipping up the sea. This proved a big problem as there is a massive mammal in trouble off our eastern shores. A humpback whale had gotten entangled in creel ropes. Our colleagues at SNH and Scottish SPCA have been very busy trying to work out what to do to help the large cetacean. The strength of the wind and rough seas meant it simply was too dangerous to approach, and folk wouldn't want to further distress the animal. As much as everyone wishes to help the stricken animal, human life cannot be risked. Today however, the whale has disappeared. Whether it has managed to release itself or has lost its battle we do not know. Here's hoping that it is ok.
I decided not to go and look at the whale yesterday. If I could have been of some assistance, I would have gone without hesitation. However, I didn't want to see something in distress that I couldn't help. I have many fond memories of watching humpbacks from Sumburgh Head back in the 1990s. My first and last times are most memorable. The first time, I was getting ready for a night out with my pals at the North Star (my all time favourite Sheltand night spot which is now closed) in Lerwick. However, my mother had heard of a humpback being spotted at Sumburgh Head. So, with glad rags on, we headed up to the reserve car park and found a small crowd of folk, all eyes to the sea. After a moment, I saw it. Off in the distance a humpback whale breaching. And again. And again, with a couple of Minke's were to the north of it as well. I was surprised at how I felt when witnessing the humpback. I can't quite put it into words. It was rather emotional, a deep warmth and kind of dizziness in my tummy, and feeling of awe and privilege. The last time I saw humpbacks must've been around 1997 or so. There were two surfacing side by side in flat calm waters, just off Compass Head (a little north of Sumburgh, with the radar things on it). The experience wasn't so dramatic as the first, but was peaceful and just lovely. There's always the chance of seeing sea mammals here in Shetland, from killer whales (orca) to harbour porpoises, bearded seals to sperm whales. It's great.
The wind means we couldn't get to Mousa at all in the last few days. We were hoping to join the Shetland Ringing Group who monitor storm petrel chicks annually. Isn't it amazing that there are still tiny chicks here at this time of year? I think "Stormy Day" is my favourite day of the year. Finger's crossed for Sunday, when the wind may ease.
Hope your weekend brings you lots of wildness
Cheers eenoo fae Helen
I can hardly believe this is the first day of September! It felt like summer (I use the term loosely) ended quite a while ago, with the land and the skies being all autumnal (winter waders returning, a scattering of warblers turning up, farmers cutting the silage, shooting stars and so on). Outwith nature's signs of seasons changing, we're starting to take down signs and such like on the reserve (they can't cope with the autumn gales) and our South of Shetland Assistant Warden Rob finished his summer contract last week. Rob has had a busy summer of doing all sorts of tasks, from general reserve maintenance to monitoring seabirds to leading guided walks and more. Thanks to Rob for all his work this summer and we hope autumn brings him lots of smashing migrant birds.
Before he finished last week, Rob was revising everything to do with seals as "The One Show" BBC crew were turning up to film on Mousa for a piece about uninhabited islands. They hoped to film interviews about the island's importance for seals, storm petrels and the broch. The crew of three (producer, cameraman and Ben Fogle as presenter) had a very tight schedule - arrive in Shetland at 19.30 and depart 15.00 the next day!! Fortunately, the weather was on their side and a night trip to Mousa was arranged and went well. Lit by the full moon, PhD student Hannah gave an excellent interview about her storm petrel study. As it is later in the season and darker for longer, fewer birds were evident in comparison to midsummer, but the team managed to film the tiny seabirds return to the broch. We got home around 2.30am and returned to Mousa at 7.30 the next morning. The Historic Scotland archaeologist gave an interesting interview about the broch and the lives of people who lived there millenia ago. I was impressed to hear that it took over 2000tonnes of stone to build the broch. And then it was time to do the seal piece. But... time ran out and the it was dropped. Bummer!
Although the BBC didn't film the seals, the crew of the most amazing looking yacht came ashore and interviewed us about Mousa's wildlife. The crew from the Basque Country are sailing on the Pakea Bizkaia and are in the early stages of a fantastic voyage and educational project connected with sustainable living, biodiversity, navigation and more. Take a look at their website for photos. We were lucky enough to be invited aboard in the evening for a tour and glass of rioja. Having never been aboard such a craft, it was difficult to be persuaded to leave - especially at the prospect of being a stowaway, sailing onwards to Nordcapp in Norway, then Greenland and Newfoundland and (eventually) Antarctica. I can dream...
If any readers are based in Shetland, do try and squeeze in a visit to Mousa before the ferry comes out of the water. The common (harbour) seals are hauled out for their moulting period, so there is super views to be had. It is also a good chance to study the difference betweem the two species of seal as both are seen in close quarters. As you walk around the island, storm petrel chicks may be heard here and there, cheeping away. There's one in the broch which is particularly vocal. Also, at the pier, keep an eye out for a wren which has pure white feathers in its wing. Quite bizarre.
All the best