Monthly Report, November 2021

The month has been spent back in the south (mostly the Deep South) - and most of the photographs have been tree (or at least autumn-colour) related.

Reporting Days: 30

Location: A wee bit in the Cairngorms, then Oxford

Miles walked: 117

Miles driven: 810

Gardens tended: 1

Puffins seen: none

Jabs received: 2 (Flu and COVID booster)

Photographs taken: hundreds (mostly trees)


Having found very few trees around Shetland last month, it's been good to catch up on my arboreal photos this month - and it feels like the autumn colours were pretty good this year.

Autumn at Loch an Eilein, Cairngorms National Park

Loch an Eilein, Cairngorms National Park

Green Lane, Shotover, Oxfordshire

Harcourt Arboretum, Oxfordshire

Shipton Lock, Oxford Canal

Sydlings Copse, Oxfordshire

Mesopotamia, Oxford


It also been good to spend a little bit of time birding around Oxfordshire too - aside from watching the usual suspects around the garden - was particularly pleased to spend time with the snipe at Otmoor and with the kingfishers along the banks of the Thames.

Snipe at Otmoor

Kingfisher on the Thames

Sunrise, Sunset & Snow Fall

And just in case you might have gotten the idea that sunrises are only found on Shetland - or that snow only falls in winter.

Sunrise in Headington, Oxford

Sunset in Bury Knowle Park, Oxford

Snowfall at Rock Edge local nature reserve, Oxford 

Monthly Report, October 2021

Good to have been able to spend so much of the month at the south end of Shetland - and particularly to have seen so many fantastic sunrises and sunsets (there might well be dramatic sunrises on Shetland in the summer, but they are way too early for me).

Reporting Days: 31

Location: Shetland (but just made it to the Cairngorms for the end of the month)

Miles walked: 122

Miles driven: 674

Gardens tended: 1

Puffins seen: None (but a few guillemots plus one little auk)

Ponds dug: 0 (this KPI probably won't appear again!)

Photographs taken: thousands (mostly sunrises, sunsets and waves!) 

Sunrise at the Pool of Virkie

Pre sunrise at the Pool of Virkie

Sunrise at Sumburgh Head

Sunset on Scat Ness

Sunrise at Brough Head

Between sunset and sunrise - there's always a chance (at this time of year) of getting a glimpse of the mirrie dancers. 

Northern Lights behind the clouds

And between sunrise and sunset - this being showery Shetland, there's always a chance that there will be rainbows on show.

Double Rainbow on Scat Ness

Double Rainbow at Sumburgh Head

And when there aren't sunrises, sunsets, aurora and rainbows - there are always waves to watch (which are lovely, except on days when you are due to catch the evening ferry south!).

Incoming Waves at Scat Ness

This being autumn on Shetland - there are always wildlife specials on offer too - occasionally the glimpse of a fin, sometimes a visiting little auk and (unusually) mass landings of By-The-Wind Sailors.

Little Auk at Grutness

By The Wind Sailor on Quendale Beach

Passing Orca at Grutness Voe

And finally, one more thing, trees - these in the Cairngorms National Park (more trees in the November report!).

Autumn Colours - in the Cairngorms National Park

Monthly Report, September 2021

 Cue the transition from summer to autumn, and another transition from Oxford to Shetland.

Sunrise: Arriving back on Shetland

  • Reporting Days: 30

  • Location: Mostly OX3 - but just made it back to ZE3 for the end of the month

  • Miles walked: 115

  • Miles driven: 720 (fuel shortage didn't really have an impact)

  • Gardens tended: 1 (mostly digging)

  • Puffins seen: None

  • Orchids seen: None

  • Ponds dug: 1

  • Birthdays celebrated: 1 (yes, another one)

  • Photographs taken: hundreds (mostly trees)

Oxford Sunset

Visiting the Oxford Botanics

Watching autumn arrive, Green Lane, Shotover

Garden birdwatching

Pond Life: Have been meaning to dig a pond for ages

And any month that closes with a glimpse of the northern lights is OK in my book.

Mirrie Dancers

Auk Summer: Part 3 Puffins

Part 1 was razorbills, Part 2 was tysties and now Part 3 of my 'Auk Summer' reflection is all about puffins.

The puffins are undoubtedly the star turns of the summer at Sumburgh Head - in the spring the question on the lips of every visitor (including the local visitors) is "Are the puffins are back?".  As the season goes on the question every year is "Have you been to see the puffins yet?" then finally (in August) it becomes "Are the puffins still around?".  Maybe we need a big puffin clock marking off time in puffins?

And, I know I'm biased, but is there anywhere better to see puffins than Sumburgh Head?  There are probably places to reliably see bigger groups of puffins, there might be places where you are more likely to get puffins wandering around your feet but I'm pretty sure there's nowhere where it's easier to see puffins.  I'm also not aware of anywhere else where you watch puffins and eat fantastic cake at the same time.

Every summer I say that I'm going to keep track of how much time I spend at Sumburgh Head - and every year I lose track of the number of visits never mind the number of hours spent looking over the walls just watching what the puffins are up to.

So did I have a favourite picture from the 2021 Season?  

In getting to this I found I needed to divide the pictures into three groups.   Firstly, there's the puffins just hanging out on the cliff-tops category. I still can't decide the winner here - it's either the puffin in the rain or the puffin in the mayweed.

The next catagory is the pairs catagory - a heady mix of bill-rubbing and fighting!  Favourite here might be the first picture (taken at the end of the season as the puffins are making plans to head out to sea)

And finally, the puffing category.  I really don't think I've ever seen more pufflings at Sumburgh Head - I can think of three explanations - there were more pufflings this year, there were more pufflings in accessible burrows or I've just never spent as much time peering over the walls at Sumburgh Head!

And the winner of the puffling category... 

I didn't give all the pufflings names, but this one is LB (it's a long story) posing beside his Mum (or possibly Dad) - and I think this is probably my favourite puffin picture of the season!

Next year?  More of the same please. And more cake.

Auk Summer: Part 2 Tysties

Auk Summer: Part 1 was all about razorbills - Part 2 is about Black Guillemots, known locally on Shetland as tysties.  

Unlike the other auks, the tysties stay around Shetland all year round. In the winter they are mottled black and white, but in summer they are a gorgeous solid black with very distinctive white wing patches.  The constants throughout the year are the dramatic red legs and even more dramatic red gape.

There are a lot of breeding tysties at the south end of Shetland.  Trouble is, unlike the puffins or common guillemots, they don't gather in big colonies so you have to go out and find them.

Tysties seem to like nest sites that face straight out to sea - and while this is certainly an effective way to stay out of sight and reach of (land-based) predators it also makes it a wee bit challenging for your average land-based photographer.  In my (limited) experience the key to locating a tystie nest site is to keep your eyes and, particularly, ears open while wandering the cliff tops.  

Tysties will regularly roost close to their nest and will call to their mates to encourage them onto the same area of cliff.  The tystie call is a very characteristic high-pitched whistle and, once you recognise it, is a very reliable alert that there are tysties around.  Very regularly the call will let you know there is a tystie around and you'll be able to get a good idea where the nest is - and you'll realise that there isn't going to be any way to see it!

Just occasionally though you'll be able to find a nest site on a curved cliff face, and you'll be able to see the nest entrance without falling into the sea - and maybe you'll even be able (if you are sufficiently patient) to get a glimpse of the nestling inside the nest site.

Last summer I identified an active nest site but wasn't able to spend enough hours watching to see anything more than the shadow of the young tystie.  This year I was able put in the hours (alongside watching other auks) to see (from a distance, I should add) the parents regularly bringing food into the nest, and even occasionally to see the youngster emerging from the nest hole.

My favourite tystie picture from the season was of the almost-ready-to-fledge tystie peering out the mouth of the burrow.

And next year? In addition to spending more time watching the burrow with the nestling (I'm optimistic that it'll be used again), I've spotted a number of additional sites where I'd like to spend longer watching next season.