Shetland Nature

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Posted by Brydon Thomason on Friday 7th May 2010 | Birding in Shetland, News, Sea Mammals in Shetland

What a fantastic day! After an extremely successful (and very enjoyable) three days of Otter Photography – 23 Otters on three Islands with a Dutch client (Wim Konninghurst) we decided to spend a day on Unst.

The day got off to a fantastic start with a pod of over 20 Risso’s Dolphins off the early morning ferry. The dolphins were spread widely across Bluemull Sound between Yell and Fetlar. This stretch of water is one of the best in the Isles for seeing these burly dolphins.

Although you cant quite make out much detail from my cropped record shots, Risso’s are characteristically covered in scars. With blunt- bow headed appearance and these often rather prominent markings, Risso’s can look quite coarse and rather rough looking and with this be very distinct, given decent views. They are often quite deep water predators, with squid being a favourite food source and cause of much of the scarring! Feeding dives can often last up to an impressive 15-20 minutes and Squid in the stomach contents of Risso’s have been found to measure an amazing 12 feet! Lets hope we manage to locate them during our Seamamal Search on the 29th of May!

Barely an hour later, on arrival to Burrafirth Shore Station at the North end of Unst (where the Scottish Natural Heritage reserve’s visitor centre is based) we found a Hoopoe, literally seconds after getting out of the car and kitted up! Quite increadable given that fellow members of the ‘Shetland Nature’ team Garry Bell and Rob Fray had been called out to identify a bird the previous day – which turned out to be a Hoopoe! Which incidentally is the one photographed, by Gary.

But the day was not yet done. Just as we were about to make our way down off the reserve, whilst sitting gazing out over the Atlantic Ocean, simply awe struck by the ‘seabird city’, my good mate Robbie Brooks rang to inform me he had just had a Sea Eagle heading North over his house. Trying not to expect too much more out of what had already been an incredible outing, I thought to myself ‘that could very probably head our way…’

I then also passed on the exciting news by calling the reserve warden Alister Wilson, who I knew was out on the reserve, not too far away.

Sure enough about an hour later we were alerted to the birds presence by the hundreds of Great Skuas which took to the air across the reserve as the bird drifted low over the moorland. A truly awesome sight indeed watching how this fantastic bird of prey simply dwarfed the swarming Skuas. Not wanting Alister to miss out I called him again literally minutes later it soared over his head, when he got this cracking shot- note the wing tag.

The bird was an immature which was first seen a few weeks earlier on Fair Isle and again by good friend and Shetland nature tour leader Roger Riddington soon after. It is one from a release program on the east coast of Scotland. This bird had a green wing tag on with a No.8 on and is known to be a one year old male. We later enjoyed yet another encounter with the bird during an evening visit to the reserve cliff tops.

Oh if only these masterful raptors would return to the Isles to breed some day…