Thursday, 24 June 2010

A Postcard from Orkney and Shetland. Part Four.

Puffins at Sumburgh Head

Auk colony off Sumburgh head

St Ninian's Isle

Esha Ness

Fulmars at Esha Ness

The Drongs

Oysterplant Mertensia maritima

Sea Sandwort Honckenya peploides

Silverweed Potentilla aserina

16th June. Today was to be a long one, in fact taking us into the early hours of the following day. We were first to head to the south of the mainland. We were to take in the Tingwall Valley and its lochans and the old capital of Shetland with its castle and harbour, Scalloway which had been the centre of the Norwegian resistance on Shetland during World War 11. A monument stands in Scalloway to remember the bravery of the men and women involved in what has become known as the ‘The Shetland Bus’ operation. Later in the day we also visited Jarlshof, which dates back to the Bronze Age and also contains the remains of a Viking settlement and 16th century mansion house. Old Scatness broch and Iron Age village was also visited

The highlight of the day and for me one of many highlights of the trip was the stop at Sumburgh Head, the southern tip of Shetland mainland, where we took lunch before walking up to the lighthouse and gaining great views over the cliffs and close up views of many Puffins that nest here. Some of them being within touching distance. Once again the weather proved ideal for the walk. I initially thought we had been given too much time, here but in the event I just didn’t want to leave. Of course there was the usual daily list of seabirds along with Raven, Hooded Crow, Wren, Meadow Pipit, Rock Pipit, Skylark and Wheatear. A bony head of a Minke Whale lay in the area. This week had not proven a good one for watching cetaceans, but it just didn’t seem to matter greatly.

During the day we had also found Mute Swan, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye and Greylag Geese amongst other species. We visited the beautiful area of St Ninian’s Isle where an immense load of treasure had been found by a youngster, and I walked across the sand beach linking the isle to the mainland and just about had time to climb the sand dunes to reach the isle itself. My treasure was just being here!

On the return journey the mist began to come down. Was this a good omen or not, I wondered, for our planned trip to Moussa this evening? We were to visit Moussa tonight to watch the thousands of Storm Petrels that nest in the broch and dry stone walls on the island. We left the hotel soon after dinner to catch the boat which was to take us and a number of other people to the island. Well wrapped up against the elements we set of for the twenty minute boat trip.

Everything seemed to work out really well because as we approached Moussa the broch could be seen looming before us in the mist, gradually becoming more clear. Because the days are so long on Shetland the mist proved to be of some help as the Storm Petrels fly in only as it darkens. Once landed at Moussa we set off for the fifteen minute walk to the broch, but before we got there we had the rather surreal experience of hearing the Storm Petrels calling from the drystone walls. It was a weird sound and experience. It was as if someone was in the walls making a noise with some kind of machinery and rather reminiscent in my mind to the sound of Nightjars. We then began to see the odd Storm Petrel fly in, but this was nothing to the experience at the broch where they began to fly in, in large numbers and some appeared to be within inches of our heads. We stayed in the area for quite some time before returning to the boat. As we returned we were serenaded from the drystone walls by the Storm Petrels. What an experience and certainly not one to be missed. I have seen petrels at sea on the South Atlantic but I have to confess that the European Storm Petrel was a lifer for me. What a way to add a lifer to my list and in such numbers. Fantastic, and this experience has to equal the experience on the boat at Noss cliffs! We arrived back at the hotel at 2.30am with the Blackbirds already singing, but they didn’t keep me awake! At least we had a short lie in this morning. A short one mind you as tomorrow was to be another exciting day!

17th June. W e were to visit the cliffs of Esha Ness on the north west mainland today, passing Mavis Grind where the waters of the North Sea and Atlantic almost meet and cut of the north mainland. This was where we had spent a time in the evening looking for Otters. Esha Ness proved to be an excellent walk along the basalt cliffs passing geos, stacks and caves and having excellent sightings of the sea birds especially Fulmars at close quarters. We also had good views of the ‘Drongs’ today. We had sightings of the usual sea birds. At least four Red Throated Divers were seen and more Whimbrel. Some interesting plants were found including Silverweed, Oysterplant and Sea Sandwort the latter two being new to me.
Must dash off to post my last card from the most northerly post office in Britain.

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