Sunday, 19 July 2015

Shetland: The Last Days

After the sun-filled Thursday, Friday was back to what Paula had assumed the weather might be for the week, with rain falling and rather gloomy as a result. We eventually headed out to look around the isle, in case anything interesting showed itself, but I think the wildlife had also decided to shelter from the rain and we ended up in a pub of all places, with Kate requesting a cup of tea!

It was a day for getting things ready for the flights back home alas, though I found myself trying to drink in the view from the windows of the cottage as much as I could, knowing I'd miss it terribly.

And so came the last day. Kate and I were to catch a flight off Shetland late afternoon, but as we'd done most of the packing already, we had time to enjoy the morning. There were a lot of gulls around the headland in front of the cottage, so Andy took a stroll down to the water's edge and worked out where the local otter was vanishing to, each time we caught a glimpse of it. There seemed to be a small holt just above the rocks beside the water, with tracks leading to it. And, nearby was a discarded dead black guillemot; perhaps not to the otter's taste after all.

To provide us all with some entertainment, Andy relocated the guillemot to the grassy area above, stood back and we watched. Didn't take long for the local bonxies to notice it, and after circling for a few moments, they descended and began to peck at it.

I had expected them to be rather ferocious, tearing up the carrion, but they were rather hesitant, taking it in turns to pluck bits away, keeping a watchful eye on anything approaching them.

One of the bonxies then flew off, leaving its partner to feast alone. Though that didn't last long as an Arctic tern took offence to it, and started to repeatedly divebomb it.

Whilst this action was going on, and I was trying to photo it from the Games room of the cottage, the others were busy chatting to a young birder called Logan (Johnson) who had kindly come over to tell us about what species he'd seen on Shetland, and I think also to meet with a certain WildlifeKate too.

He's seen so many different species on the Isles, and has many photos of them too. His Blog is well worth checking out. It might have been wiser to have met him earlier in the break in case he had any additional recommended sites we should visit. But as it was, it was our last day and Magnus also arrived to wave us off.

Or did he? By now the mists had properly rolled in and Magnus quipped as we said farewell to the cottage and the others, that he'd see us later. Hmm.

The airport was chaotic when we arrived, with a long queue to the check-in desks, and some flights on the screens already cancelled. Fog here causes major disruption. There was no information on our flight either, with just a white-board behind the desks with some additional notes scribbled hastily on to it.

With only about an hour to make our connection in Aberdeen, it was starting to look like Magnus (and Logan has said similar) was going to be on the money!

Hugh and The Urban Birder were also in the airport, with the former doing his utmost to ensure members of his tour were aware of things and were being looked after. One flight managed to land during a clear spell, but the mists soon returned, and by the time we were due to be boarding, there was still no information other than "on hold" (whatever that means!) for our flight.

On reaching the check-in desk we asked if they could rearrange our flights as there was no way we'd make the connection, and with there being only one flight back to Birmingham from Aberdeen that day, we didn't fancy being put up in some box of a hotel room for the night. Instead, we could remain on Shetland, as the cottage was still available...

Shortly after, I was rather comically running into the arms of Andy on the top of Sumburgh Head, which is where he, Lyndsey and Logan had headed for the day. Kate was happy to head off with Paula who already had plans for the remainder of the day, leaving me to photo the puffins with the others.

The mist around the headland made for interesting conditions to photograph the birds. Initially I used the only lens I had with me, the 500mm to get some more intimate images of the puffins as they greeted each other.

Such quirky little birds, they make great subjects to photo whatever they are doing, especially when performing their beak-tapping rituals.

Unlike other days we'd been, the puffins were constantly taking off, vanishing into the mist and then fluttering back in soon after, landing back on the cliffs next to us.

However, with the fog, it made it very difficult to pick them up as they approached, and even harder to focus on. Initially, I tried a few with the 500mm lens, but it's simply too heavy to hand-hold for any length of time, and in order to get them in shot, it was a case of trying to focus as they just appeared from the mists.

Fortunately, Andy and Lyndsey had a 70-200mm lens not being used, so I tried that instead. And, at about 200mm, it gave me enough time and room in the viewfinder to start to get some shots.

Then it was a case of tracking the puffins in, and hoping to get shots as they zipped past, or landed. Great fun.

One puffin even landed on the wall, just down from us, so we had to creep round for a closer look. The puffin seemed intrigued of what we were doing, and shuffled over to have a look over the stones. This gave me a chance to play with the depth of field with the f2.8 lens in hand, opening it right up for some shots...

And using my usual aperture of f6.3 for others.

Then it was back to the in-flight shots again, until it was time for Logan to depart, and us, after a brief detour to see a sea cabbage (!!), to return to the cottage again. I wasn't too unhappy about it, to be honest. I adore Shetland, so another unexpected night on it, and more time to soak up the atmosphere and the views, was most welcome.

I awoke early in the morning, and peered out the window. Thick fog. Worse than the day before. Shutting out the light with the curtains, I went back to sleep. When it was time to get up, it was raining, but most of the fog had gone. We considered going to Sumburgh Head again, but after saying our goodbyes to all for the second time, we abandoned such plans due to the weather, and returned to the hotel at Sumburgh for another of those steak baguettes. Took a while to come, but it was a Sunday, in foul weather and we weren't in a rush.

Final farewells to Paula and Hugh (and his family) at the airport, and we were soon flying home, via Edinburgh instead.

As I sit here now typing this in, I can close my eyes (and make many typos) and see the fabulous view we had from Cheyne House, remember the sounds of the birds all around and then smile as I recall the banter we enjoyed with the others, in particular with Paula who, like last time, was an absolute angel the whole trip.

Oh to be still up there...

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