Monthly Report, May 2021

It's good to get the chance to write a monthly report that isn't just walks and pictures from the OX3 postcode.  I am very grateful for the variety of green spaces and choice of walks around the Oxford house - but there aren't any lighthouses, auks or sea views.

  • Reporting Days: 31 (including 2 Bank Holidays, which make very little difference to what I'm doing)

  • Location: Mostly Shetland (ZE3)

  • Miles walked: 132

  • Mile driven: 1159

  • Gardens Tended: 3

  • Puffins Seen: Hundreds

  • Photographs Taken: Thousands (mostly auks, or lighthouses or auks at lighthouses)

  • Vaccinations Received: One (now fully AstraZeneca'ed)

  • Cat Count: Zero. Koop appeared in last months report - but sadly at the fine age of 22, the months finally caught up with her.  It seems very strange not to have her pottering around the garden with us.


Back at the Lighthouse, Sumburgh Head, Shetland

Calm, West Voe of Sumburgh, Shetland

Nesting Time, Sumburgh Head, Shetland

Shouting Time, Sumburgh Head, Shetland

Puffins in the Evening Sunshine, Sumburgh Head, Shetland

Black Guillemot (aka Tystie), Scat Ness, Shetland

Razorbill, Sumburgh Head, Shetland

Oxfordshire Bluebells, C S Lewis Reserve, Oxford

Shetland to Oxford, Auks to Orchids: Early Purple Orchids, Sydlings Copse, Oxford



6000 Pictures

Back in December 2004, Tony Blair was British Prime Minister, George W Bush was US President, I was working at The Open University - and I had just bought my first digital camera, a 4 megapixel Fuji FinePix A340. 

Since then the UK has had four new Prime Ministers and US three new Presidents - I've worked at two further universities and I've taken pictures with about a dozen different digital cameras and at least half-a-dozen phones.

So? 

On 24th December 2004 I took a few pictures with my relatively new Fuji camera, including this one... which we'll call Picture of the Day #1

Picture of the Day #1. 24th December 2004. Open University, Milton Keynes.

And since then I've taken at least one photograph every day.  Some of these pictures have been quite good, some have been distinctly mediocre and others have just documented the daily routine.  

The pictures have been my diary and remind me where I was, what I was doing and (in some cases) what my mood was.

These eight pictures were picked at random from the PoD collection (and sorted chronologically!).

PoD#119. 21st April 2005. Thornborough Bridge, Buckingham.

PoD#472. 9th April 2006. Headington, Oxford.

PoD#895. 6th June 2007. Fair Isle, Shetland Islands.

PoD#4114. 29th March 2016. University of Warwick.

PoD#4961. 24th July 2018. Oxford Brookes University.

PoD#5006. 7th September 2018. Coffee Time.

PoD#5246. 5th May 2019. C S Lewis Nature Reserve, Oxford.

PoD#5562. 16th March 2020. Final Commute. Bury Knowle Park, Oxford.

If I was going to pick out eight of my favourite pictures from over the years the selection might be something like this

PoD#625. 9th September 2006. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

PoD#1381. 4th October 2008. Tigers Nest, Bhutan.

PoD#2016. 1st July 2010. Svalbard.

PoD#2545. 12th December 2011. South Georgia Island.

PoD#3523. 16th August 2014. Eilean Donan Castle.

PoD#4735. 10th December 2017. Headington, Oxford.

PoD#4920. 13th June 2018. Sumburgh Head, Shetland Islands.

PoD#5690. 22nd July 2020. Sumburgh Head, Shetland Islands.

And today - Picture of the Day #6000 (which means I've been at this malarky for 16 years, 5 months and a few days). This one taken with a 24MP Sony A7iii.

Picture of the Day #6000. 28th May 2021. Headington, Oxford


My top tips for taking a picture every day.

1. Always have a camera with you, decent phone cameras make this easier now.

2. Take a picture of something first thing in the morning, you'll probably see something more interesting later, but it's good to have something 'in the bag'.

3. Get outside if you can, even if it is just to walk between meetings or to the shops, there are lots more photo opportunities away from the desk and sofa.

4. Label your pictures - there's time and date metadata saved with the photo, but not (usually) useful information about the subject matter. I use Adobe Lightroom to catalog and caption my images - other tools are available.

5. Save your pictures somewhere safe - on another device or in the cloud (or better yet, both).


Follow Me!

My daily pictures usually wind up being posted on Twitter and on Blipfoto (a photo sharing site that encourages - and limits - you to post just one picture a day) - do follow me on one or both of these sites.

 




All About Auks, May 2021

For some folks, time on Shetland at this time year is all about the migrants that pass through the islands. These birds stop off briefly to refuel and rest wherever they can, pose briefly for the local photographers then head off for their intended destinations - a few are no doubt hopelessly lost, but most have a real purpose to their journeys.

For me, however, time on Shetland at this time of year is really all about hanging out with the birds who opt to spend the summer months around the islands - and particularly the auks that (like me) hang around on the cliffs and headlands at the south end of Shetland.

I've been able to spend time with four different auks over the last few weeks.

Puffins (aka Tammie Norrie)

These are the show-offs of the auk world - they love hanging out at the top of the cliffs (where there are nesting burrows) in the warm Shetland sunshine (sometimes) - and they really do seem to like posing for the tourists.

Furnishing The Burrow

Whispering

Staying In

Falling into Line

Guillemots (aka Longwi)

These provide the soundtrack to the cliffs over the spring and summer - always the first back (sometimes in the middle of winter) - these guys spend time sitting wing-to-wing, until the critical moment when the young jumplings jump.  I'm never sure what the guillemots are chattering about, I can only imagine that it's endless negotiations about ledge space!  I've always found it challenging to photograph these birds - with the other auks you can concentrate on one individual, but the guillemots are so close together that you almost alway wind up with pictures of a group.

Jostling for Position

On the Edge

Black Guillemots (aka Tystie)

I love hanging out with these birds - for years I only saw them on the water, but recently I've found places where they nest and rear their young, which has provided endless hours of watching over the last couple of years - and I love the red gape and the matching red feet.

Calling

Red Feet

Double Act

Razorbill (aka Sea Craa)

However fond I might be of puffins and tysties, the razorbills are my real favourite.  

They aren't as flamboyant as the puffins or tysties - and they usually get pushed out to the cliffs on the edges of the guillemot colonies.  It did seem that around Sumburgh Head this year that they've been able to claim some of their own ledge space rather than negotiating with the guillemots.  Maybe they're just asserting their true auk-ness, as the closest remaining ancestor of the Great Auk.

Watching

Beak to Beak





The Fog Log

Many years ago, I spent three years in a cupboard at the University of Bristol - trying to figure out how fuzzy electron diffraction patterns were, and if that fuzziness told us anything useful. I guess it did, a bit (PhD awarded).

Little did I know that my expert knowledge of image fuzziness might one day come in useful again.

Based on observations from the office window - this is my scale for the fuzziness (or lack of fuzziness) of the view across Quendale Bay and (sometimes at least) to Fair Isle. And yes, it is entirely subjective.

10/10      As clear as possible - Fair Isle appears to be in 3D - and just a short swim away (apparently)


9/10        I can see the Fair Isle North Lighthouse


8/10        Looks very clear - and maybe the Fair Isle radio mast can be seen


7/10        Clear outline - not as clear as 8 but way better than 6


6/10        Fair Isle outline clear - but it's only 2D


5/10        Fair Isle only just visible (if you know it's there)


4/10        No sign of Fair Isle - Lady's Holm clear (and beyond)


3/10        Features clear on Lady's Holm - but looks distinctly fuzzy beyond.



2/10        Lady's Holm just visible



1/10        I can see the sea (just)


0/10        I can't see the sea

(picture awaited)


And in case you weren't aware how variable the weather can be on Shetland - all the images were taken in May 2021.

There is, of course, an entirely separate nocturnal visibility scale too (it's simpler)

A. I can see the Sumburgh Head light and the Fair Isle North light from my sofa (a two-lighthouse-evening).

B. I can see the Sumburgh Head light.

C. Have they turned the lighthouse off this evening?



Cat Down II

When one member of a much-loved double act passes away, there's always the thought that the other one might not last too much longer.

Way back in early 2017 we took custody of Moff and Koop - somewhat unlikely names for a couple of, already, very old black cats.  We believe that they were 18 years old when they came to join us.

Moff was with us until early 2020 when the years caught up with him - but Koop kept going until today. 

The records at the vets logged her as being 22 years old - and until recently she'd just kept plodding along. 

She had particularly enjoyed the recent warm weather and would follow the sun around the garden searching for the warmest spot (and when that failed, she'd repeat the exercise inside).

Koop, April 2021





Monthly Report, April 2021

Still in LockDown (mostly) - but it is good to feel that the LockDown is gradually lifting - just soon enough to allow a dash for the North at the end of the month - so the blog post gets written in a Premier Inn just outside Carlisle en route to the ferry from Aberdeen.

The routine of the local walks has been enhanced by the emergence of the signs of spring, with just the occasional reminder that the process of warming up isn't always linear.

  • Reporting Days: 30

  • Location: Mostly Oxford

  • Miles walked: 88 (no excuses, just lack of enthusiasm for the local walks)

  • Miles driven: 650 (almost half of these on the last day of the month)

  • Gardens Tended: 2

  • Puffins Seen: None (except on the Sumburgh Head webcams)

  • Photographs Taken: Dozens (mostly bluebells)

  • Vaccinations Received: None this month

  • Laternal Flow Tests Completed: 3 (all negative)


Always good to see the fritillaries reappearing

The bluebells are running a bit late this year

Some days were warm enough to sit out

And warm enough to encourage the blossom

Bird life gets ever more active during April

And occasionally there is a wee reminder that winter has only just gone