Shetland Isles [1] - seabirds

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Shetland Isles [1] - seabirds

Postby nkgray » Fri Jul 29, 2016 7:02 pm

I have just returned from a week in one of those spots that I have wanted to go to for years and finally did, the Shetland Islands - a 550 mile drive from London to Aberdeen then a 225 mile 12 hour overnight car ferry ride to Lerwick. At this time of year Shetland has what is known to the locals as the "Simmer Dim", a mere 5 hours between sunset and sunrise and during this time it is still light enough that you can make out the horizon where sea meets sky.

I was hoping to add one lifer in European Storm Petrel as Shetland has the largest breeding population of this species. I managed to secure a place on the "Mousa Ferry" on the final dusk run of the year to see the Storm Petrels returning from far out to sea to their nests in the walls of the Mousa Island 'Broch', the best-preserved Iron Age roundhouse of its kind in Scotland. This photo was taken at 10:27pm before it got too gloomy to take photos and 10 minutes before I missed out on a photo of a pair of Arctic Skua (a.k.a. Parasitic Jaeger) sitting on the ground next to the Broch.

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The birds started arriving at about 11:20pm and we stayed till midnight watching them swarm around the broch and wriggle their way into their nests within the stone structure. Their nestlings had set up an eerie call within the walls from 11pm in anticipation of their parents' (and food) arrival. Unfortunately too dark to photograph but what an experience.

Being as remote as they are the Shetlands are, with miles and miles of very high cliffs, an ideal breeding site for seabirds. Here are some of those I managed to photograph.

In the small bay at Okraquoy where I was staying were nesting Northern Fulmar

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Everybody's favourite, Atlantic Puffin at Sumburgh Head

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and off the Isle of Noss

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Common Murre (a.k.a. Guillemot) breed on the smaller and less accessible ledges of the cliffs of Noss within the gannet colony.

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When the nestlings are ready to leave the nests they plunge from the ledges into the sea below where they are joined by the male parent. The young are known as "jumplings".

Here we have a jumpling and proud Dad.

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and an adult of the bridled form with a puffin

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Northern Gannets in their thousands packed every available bit of real estate on the cliffs. How some of the chicks survived in their precarious homes I do not know.

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They were by far the commonest bird to be seen from our boat, with examples of just about every possible plumage variation from 1st year to 5th year when full adult plumage is achieved. Here we have an immature bird

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and a juvenile with an adult

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Once our boatman had started throwing out pieces of chopped fish the real scavengers appeared. First the Great Black-backed Gulls and then the vultures of the sea the Great Skua - I achieved my first photos of this species having only seen one single bird of this species off the Isle of Rhum some 7 years ago. Some epic scrapping ensued, gull on gull

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skua on gull

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and skua on skua

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and here a skua in flight

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Returning to the more sheltered waters off Lerwick Harbour we encountered Razorbill

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some of which had their own juveniles tagging along

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as well as Black Guillemot

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this one resting on harbour marker buoy

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Onshore I found a Mew Gull (a.k.a. Common Gull) breeding colony on an islet in Tingwall Loch

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I missed out on photos of a few Black-legged Kittiwake at Sumburgh Head, but still had to sift through some 2,000 shots to pick out those I have posted.


Neil


"There is nothing in which the birds differ more from man than the way in which they can build and yet leave a landscape as it was before." (Robert Lynd - Irish essayist and nationalist)

http://www.graybirds.net

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Re: Shetland Isles [1] - seabirds

Postby Peregrinedive » Sun Jul 31, 2016 10:07 am

Hi Neil,

Great series of posts!

Regards,
Abe


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