Saturday, 6 August 2011

Shetland: Mousa

After the excitement of seeing the otter so close, had died down a bit, we set off for the ferry to Mousa, for the night trip to see the storm petrels. Ian kindly lent me a proper flashgun for my camera, and whilst sat on the quayside, I tried a few recommended settings to see which worked best. That said, it was hardly what you'd call dark, and the moon laid a white trail across the calm water. It was beautiful.

On the boat, the skipper then announced that flash photography had been stopped on the island, to protect the birds. The trip would have to be just for observing the birds for a change. I actually wish I'd taken over my kit lens, and tried for some twilight images, as Kate took some gorgeous shots whilst we were walking from the boat to the Broch. The Broch is actually a prehistoric stone, round tower, and the petrels nest in the gaps in the walls of it.

We had to wait for some time for it to be dark enough for the storm petrels to come in, but when they did, they resembled bats, fluttering around. I guess they're not great at remembering where in the broch (or stone walls nearby) they live, as they'd arrive and try several locations before disappearing from what little sight we had.

To see the sea in that light and so calm was according to the skipper, quite remarkable.

After the late night, we had a chilled out morning before heading back to the ferry again, this time for a day trip to Mousa. And what a glorious day it was too, clear skies and rather warm. Well, it is summer I suppose!

As soon as we cleared the boat, I knew the place was going to be special - some locations just have a sort of feeling about them, like Skomer. Walking away from the quay, I soon spotted a juvenile wheatear, hopping around on the grass in search of insects.

In fact there were several, and the more you looked, the more you saw. Whilst photographing the wheatear, a small flock of birds flew by, feeding on flower heads on the lichen-covered rocks. Closer inspection revealed they were twites! I had to try to get some shots, as I've only a couple of shots of these, and they were fair crops.

Creeping forward on my knees, I hoped to be able to get within range of perhaps a half decent pic before they flew, when unexpectedly, one of the group flew right towards me, and posed on a rock! With the yellow lichen backdrop, it looked great.

With Paula as our guide, she pointed out where she'd seen black guillemots before, and true to her word, one was sat on the edge of the cliffs, soaking up the sunshine. As usual, it was then a case of seeing if I could approach and not disturb it. I could, as it didn't seem bothered by me in the least, though getting shots of a black and white bird in full sunshine posed the usual exposure problems. I think I managed it just.

Whilst trying for a different angled shot, I found myself lying on the edge of the cliffs, with a firm grip of my lens of course, and was slightly startled when a long black head poked out of the shadows below, to look up at me. A shag! With the rich blue sea behind, and a shadow cast across the area, I tried for something a bit different. Waiting patiently, the bird eventually positioned itself so half its eye was in the sunshine, sparkling like an emerald, but the rest of it darkened by the shadows. I could waffle on, but the pic is worth a 1000 words, apparently...

By now the others had moved around the headland and were photographing more shags sat on the rocks below, and in the light that day, their colours, similar to perhaps a glossy ibis, showed well, especially against the blue sea behind.

Fulmars constantly whizzed by along the cliffs, and walking a bit further along, I spotted a nesting bird, with a chick behind. I assume it was the adult's partner, but as it flew by, the nesting bird called out, as did the chick behind it.

Paula was busy talking to a group of birders who had informed her that there was a pair of red-throated divers on a small loch not far away (nowhere is really, as Mousa isn't exactly huge!) but that set my pulse racing, and I hot-footed it over to the loch. Fantastic. A pair on a tiny loch, in good light for a change. Needless to say, Ian, Kate and I plonked ourselves down in the long grass, avoiding the thistles, and waited.

They seemed to like the attention, and glided around the pool looking most contented with life. Closing their eyes in the sunshine, and occasionally tucking their heads down for a nap, it was a serene scene, and I took hundreds of photos. Recalling the issues I'd had before with heat haze (peregrine in Devon), I wanted to be sure I'd got some sharp images.

I had, and was chuffed to see how vibrant the throat is, how detailed the feather markings on the back of the head are, and to see that red eye so clearly, was fantastic. A real highlight for me, in an already amazing trip.

Also around the area, resembling hobbies at times in their flight actions, were Arctic skuas. With a pointy bit on their tail, they really look menacing in flight, though also like hobbies, they're difficult to photo!

Despite having several hours on the island, the time to leave arrived too quickly for me, and was dragged from the island really. I could have stayed for days, in that weather. As we wandered past the Broch, we spotted a very carefree wheatear juvenile, who was too close for me to get in the shot.

I have to say, Mousa is definitely in my Top 10 locations now. Beautiful.


Stuart G Wright said...

Great diary mate, really enjoyed reading it.

Steve Seal said...

Outstanding mate just outstanding.

Paula Moss Photography said...

Gosh I really am a top tour guide. Pete I had no idea you enjoyed it that much, fantastic, look forward to having you visit with us again. maybe next time you can have a bed!!!!

Pete Walkden said...

I liked my caravan! Was cosy, especially when the rain was lashing down.

Your efforts and organisation of the trips in advance made it go so well - and it was lovely that you came along with us to places like Mousa to show us the best spots.