Thursday, May 30, 2013

A further installment...

Its kind of old news here now but we had a little fun and games in the harbour on St Marys last week. A combination of gusty winds and an 'operator error' ended up with the passenger ferry, The Scillonian, missing the Quay and swinging round colliding with a couple of boats on their moorings. It was like watching a rather tame disaster movie in slow motion as the stern slowly drifted into a tripper and fishing boat. You could see from the beginning that there was no chance of anyone being hurt and although the two boats had minor damage, the whole thing was rather calamitous and slightly entertaining.
Our local boatmen were extremely professional and with some quick think and action they swung into action and removed any further boats that was in its path. Two jet boats, one from Bryher Boats and the St Marys harbour boat then went full throttle against the stern and after quite some time ended up moving the drifting boat and its 230 passengers in the right direction. An hour and a half after it was supposed to dock the passengers all got off safely with a story to tell. I felt sorry for any day trippers who then had two hours and then had to travel back! A major embarrassment for the captain.
All is still rather quiet on the bird front with this being a pretty depressing Spring for new arrivals. However there is always something to photograph.

Being extremely adept on the wing, Swifts are notoriously hard to picture. This is my effort after seeing two darting above the Abbey pool. This is a Common Swift. After wintering in Africa they come to spend the Summer with us. They are also well known for never landing (except to breed) and even sleep in the air. They circle to a great height and then descend in a circular manner slowly dropping altitude while snoozing. You can see them overhead nearly anywhere but they prefer feeding over the pools munching on insects.
Rock Pipits are extremely common on the islands and prefer the moorlands by the coast around the Scillies. They are often watching you from a nearby boulder or rocky outcrop as you walk around the North End as this one was.
After photographing the Rock Pipit I literally did stumble across this Shag as I was rather clumsily rock hopping along the coast near Gimble Porth.
While walking back from the North End I popped into the Bird Hide on the Great Pool and fought the temptation of photographing the chicks that seem to be perfectly happy to feed within feet of the hut. I don't know whether I just never noticed before or if we have had an influx of Gadwalls but they were everywhere. There must have been over twenty males alone on the lake towards the western end. The above picture is of a female having a little stretch. Here she is below too.
I have just come back from a rather unproductive walk to see if I can photograph one of the two Reed Warblers that are being extremely vocal down in the reeds by the Abbey pool at the Heliport end. I ventured down to the beach nearby and saw three Sanderlings who were extremely well camouflaged in amongst the pebbles. They are the first I have seen since before Christmas when they were more black and white. This time they were all in their breeding plumage although they do not produce offspring in the UK preferring to visit the Arctic to reproduce. It was nice to see something a little different though after seeing the 'usual suspects' over here for so long!
I saw this female Stonechat at the log pile who posed for me for a couple of seconds before flying off to find her male counterpart in the brambles nearby. They are very plentiful down towards Pentle at the moment.

Want your own beach during Whitsun half term?
With all the talk of the demise of bees it was nice to see this guy working away on the rhododendron bushes that are flowering all over the island. We have so much of this stuff that we have to burn it every now and again to control it. Boys aren't supposed to like pink but I cannot help thinking it looks pretty damn good at this time of the year
And a picture of an ant carrying something,  really really close up, purely for the sake of seeing how big I could make it.....
Might go and check out the sunset, night.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

And Another......

I've been on a couple of ambles in the last few days and we've had some pretty good weather despite the Northerly winds. My first was to my usual haunting ground up by the bird hide near the island office, and my second down towards the end of Pentle Bay.

This year as we have had so much rain the water level in the pool is very high and therefore we have no muddy banks favoured by waders such as Greenshanks, sandpipers and sanderlings. Therefore its the usual suspects down there and no new arrivals. However its certainly worth checking out how they are all doing.....

The Cygnets are doing well despite the presence of our two resident Buzzards. These both live in the trees behind Racket town, towards the middle of the island and can often  be heard hawking as they scan the ground for prey. Due to the fact that they have such amazing eyesight they often float way too far up for my camera to get a good photo of them and have, as a result, been a bit of an ongoing challenge for me. I have been in their presence many times and have fired off
hundreds off shots trying to get a good picture of them. So far this is my best, although i'm determined to get a better shot of either of them.

It would be good to see if they breed too this year. 

On my way home I noticed that we were graced with what is called a 22 degrees halo. This is formed when the sun shines through hexagonal shaped ice crystals in the atmosphere and the result is this circular rainbow effect all around the sun. It is not the rarest of solar effects but pretty all the same. Due to the fact that I did not think it would come out on my camera I did not really try to capture it properly and therefore didn't get the whole thing in the frame. Next time.

Yesterday I decided to head down towards the South East end of the island to escape the wind and see what I could find. Yet again we have been having the quietest of Springs but still there were some things to point a camera at.

Oystercatchers are everywhere, on this island and now it seems, on the mainland. The bottom photo was of a rather upset parent warning me off with their irritating call  as I wandered too close to their nest. Usually this consists of an almost lazily dug out patch of sand at the top of the beach. Although they are stunning birds too look at, I think they are just annoying with their constant yapping at all hours of the night and day. I'm sure if they were rarer they would be highly regarded as they really do have a striking appearance.

There are also Turnstones all over the Scillies, you can see them on almost any large patch of seaweed or shingly beach. They get their name by the way they flip over small stones with their beak looking for invertebrates to feast upon.

They seem rather happy being approached by humans as long as you are slow and don't make any sudden movements. I was about twelve feet away from this adult and, what I believe were their offspring, were approximately twenty-five feet away but they didn't flinch.

As the sun was getting lower in the sky I came across a small gathering of little Ringed Plovers. They are nearly always present on the island but are very well camouflaged and can easily be missed. You can usually spot them at the point where the sea and the shore meet looking for a quick meal in the sand.

On my way home past the heliport I came across this fledgling thrush being looked after by a its parent. Not quite ready to fend for itself.

I love the fact that we have limpet shells as part of our 'tarmac'

I've drunk too much wine, goodnight....

Sunday, May 19, 2013

I decided to don my shorts and venture out and upset anyone who was unfortunate to cast their eyes on my ghostly white legs. At about the same time the sun decided to disappear.  We are currently midway through the first Tresco Ale festival for the year and therefore the pathways and tracks were rather quiet as everyone was centred at the New Inn. The wildlife seemed fairly quiet too. We have however been enjoying an invasion of Hirundines, birds in, or resembling the Swallow family. I decided to see if I could better my previous pictures to a little success.

This House Martin is one of hundreds feeding all over the island. They catch insects on the wing and are one of the most acrobatic birds I have ever seen. You can tell the difference between these and Swifts as they are smaller in size and have a white patch at the base of their torsos. They also appear stubbier to me.
This one is of a Swift and is a little better than the picture in my previous post methinks....
I didn't see any 'special' birds while out and about but the usual suspects were dotted around the island. There were goldcrests lining the trees and shrubs along the path by the Great Pool. They are the smallest bird native to the UK weighing about 6 grams. They can be seen at any time of year usually dotting their way among pine trees.
The top photo I took earlier on this year. It is heavily cropped and therefore not as good as I'd like it to be but I do like the fact that you can see the fly on the end of it's tongue if you look closely.
We have Gadwalls on both of the pools on the Tresco. They also reside here throughout the year although the numbers increase during the winter. This one was soaking up the brief interlude between clouds. Although they are predominantly just grey in colour I do like the speckled effects on their flanks. 
 I  think this little guy ventured too far from the nest.....

Saturday, May 18, 2013

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

This is the strangest 'Spring' I remember. I am writing this on Tresco after a glorious sunny day while Snow is being forecast in other areas of the country... Last Tuesday the residents and visitors on Scilly were shown just how incredible the weather can be. We witnessed a gale force 10-11 storm with winds of up to 60 miles per hour batter our islands for the evening. What was most surprising was the speed in which we went from a calm, sunny afternoon to what felt like the apocalypse!
I was down on St Marys Quay when the storm hit and poked my camera out of a window and took a few shots before putting some arriving guests onto the Cyclone and Hurricane (aptly named boats!) for what must have been the most harrowing boat journey I have witnessed!
It is amazing to think that only a few days later the seas are flat calm and we are back to what we would all like to be usual May weather. I took the opportunity to venture out on the Firethorn for a circular trip around Men-A-Vaur and the Northern Rocks to see what we could find.
There were not too many seabirds around but the ones we did see did perform nicely for all of us onboard. I have been wanting to take a good picture of a Gannet for some time but a combination of me not being very skilful and them always soaring high up and out of the range of my camera. Not today though.
This guy must have been absolutely starving as despite their usual shyness, no less than twenty metres away from the boat, he tucked his wings behind him and dropped out of the sky dive bombing into the sea in the hunt for sustenance.  
You are pretty much guaranteed to see a good number of Grey Seals basking on the rocks in the sunshine on any of the sightseeing trips around the islands.
It was quite entertaining seeing this seal hauling their flabby body up onto the rock, I think this was attempt number four.
At this time of year there really is only one kind of bird on most of our visitors minds, Puffins. They are visitors to our islands between April and around mid July before losing the colour on their beaks and returning back to the Atlantic.  After searching all of the usual haunts we were unsuccessful. Numbers seem to be considerably lower than usual years. I was told by someone that seabirds who spend the winterout in the Atlantic have perished due to the very large storms we experienced over recent months. The have been so vast in size that they could not escape the wind and waves. How true this is I do not know.
Just as the boatman was about to call it a day one solitary puffin appeared, it almost felt like a token gesture. Out came the cameras and the 'Aahs'
Puffins flap their wings up to 400 times a minute and so I was quite happy getting the shot without too much blur.
Back on dry land I took a wander around the North End and bumped into our resident Kestrel. It can be seen all over the island but I seem to find him/her (?) around the back of the Sea Gardens complex and Gimble most frequently. I think the yellow legs look funny....
I have been trying to avoid this just being a blog of little fluffy chicks but I think I have to put one of the cygnets we have on the Great Pool at the moment.
The pool is currently crammed with new parents escorting their offspring across the waters to feeding grounds. Moorhens, Coots, Mallards, Swans and, for what I believe is the first time, Pochards are all proud new mums and dads. I am still not too sure whether the eggs in the Swans nest picture in the previous post has actually been abandoned. The nest is checked on every now and again but I really don't think they are the most proficient of parents.
Finally while trying to photograph Swifts drinking I took this picture. Yet again it is not the best by far but there is something I like about it. I think you need to enlarge it to see it properly.
Night night.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

So we have finally been blessed with some decent weather! Combining this with the fifteen hours of light per day and things are pretty good. I took the above picture on Appletree Beach waiting for the sun to go down and didn't see a soul. I caught myself out and got down about an hour too early and decided to head up to the Monument half way down Cliff Field Road. Standing proud in the gorse I came across a Stonechat that was happy to pose for the camera.
You can see these guys dotted all around the island but especially on the South end of the island past the heliport. They are easy to see as they often stand proud on the top of bushes and shrubs and make a noise like two stones being rubbed together, hence the name. This one is a male whereas the female is a duller brown colour.
Dunnocks or Hedge Sparrows are very common and often overlooked. They are all over the island and look similar to our more than abundant House Sparrows. The females are rather mischievous and often court multiple males even while already mated. This fools the unwitting suitors into keeping her and her chicks well stocked up with food as they all continue to provide for her offspring.
Once the sun did set I did the wise thing and looked at it through my zoom lens. You can see the 'melting effect'  mirage at the bottom of the sun as it seems to flow into the horizon. This effect is called an Ertuscan Vase Sunset (although not the best example) and is to do with the refraction of light of the warmer air over the cool sea.
After hearing this cuckoo calling for hours outside my window I decided to find him. This is the first time I ever saw one and although I didn't get a clear view I was quite happy. I think they have all moved on now but if you can hear them calling from a long way away and if you are lucky you could see one standing proud and bellowing out its familiar call.
Our ducklings down by the Island Office end of the Great Pool seem to be getting on happily and are growing fast. This picture is of mum just having a stretch while the very buoyant little guys try to learn how to dive for food.
In the same area I saw a Swans nest with eggs although no adult tending to it. It seems to have been abandoned for the last couple of days. I have no idea why it doesn't look good. On the plus side in the distance I saw some new parents taking their two cygnets out on the pool. Unfortunately they were too far away to photograph but I shall certainly be back again....
And that's it for now. Time for bed.