There seemed to be something wrong this morning when we headed outside ….. the was no wind! Since I have arrived on Shetland, there has been a strong wind and it did seem somewhat strange to be treated to, what promised to be, a truly special, windless day! Blue skies and sunshine bode well for our boat trip to Noss to view the seabird colonies.
The seas were amazingly calm, with a slight swell and we were soon heading out to sea, treated to a few brief glimpses of harbour porpoises on the way.
You can hear the colony almost before you can see the liberal smattering of white on the cliffs that signify the gannet colony. Stacked like elaborate al-fresco apartments, the cliffs are literally covered in seabirds… it really is a truly wonderful panorama! Every available space is occupied but either a gannet or a guillemot with some razorbills making an appearance too. Seals appeared in the swell against the cliff base and added to the wildlife spectacle!
The group had the chance to watch the gannets soaring and flying to and for from the nesting sites, with the younger juvenile birds gathering together at the base of the cliffs in rowdy gangs like teenagers on a night out. Not ready to breed yet, they squabbled and jostled for space, their black feathered wings giving away their youth. These birds do not turn white until they are sexually mature at around 6 years old.
Heading out to sea, the boat owner started to throw some mackerel in…. and bedlam broke loose! The skies were full of whirling white and black bodies, like darts, they fell from the sky, piercing the water with such force and strength, it was incredible they didn’t hit each other. We all gasped and whooped with joy as they fought for fish in a tumbled sea full of bodies… it was simply incredible!
These shots are unprocessed as I only have a laptop with me… all these will appear later, properly processed but until then, I hope they give you an idea of the frenzied gannet spectacle we were all lucky enough to witness…
After several wonderful hours at sea, we headed back to land, still talking about experience and thanking Alan and Jimmy on the Solan IV for taking us out. You can see Hugh’s video taken with the GoPro on their Facebook page
With the weather still bright, but a wind starting to get up, we headed to Sumburgh Head, stopping off to take a look at the Arctic Tern colony nesting on the rocks at the bottom. We set a Bushnell to see what we could capture of the in the colony.
Many of the people in our group had never seen a puffin and were they in for an absolute treat! Sumburgh Head, swathed in thrift and sea campion, was an absolute picture and it was just a matter of minutes before we were all getting unrivalled views of these clowns of the sea!
We even found a guillemot egg that had probably been predated by a gull. A stunning green with black paint-like splatters, this egg’s unique shape means it will not roll off of the cliff edge where it will be precariously incubated.
A brief walk up the hill took us to the next level of puffin heaven! Out of the wind, we were treated to wonderful views… with them so close at times, we could have reached out and touched them. There were endless photographic opportunities and the whole group were clicking away frantically, trying to capture the essence of these little characters who constantly seemed to perform for us.
Many of us, including me, were determined to get an ‘in-flight’ shot….. that, in itself, is not too difficult…. getting one in focus was an entirely different matter! We shared our attempts, with blurs, just tails, heads cut off and sometimes not even a puffin in the shot, before, we managed to nail a few. Straight from the camera, these are a couple of my most promising shots….
It was a wonderful afternoon in great company, sharing clear views where we could see for miles!
A wonderful first day, we were soon heading back to the hotel, sharing photographs and revelling in the wildlife delights of our first day!