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Puffins and hovering wheatear….

Our clients for the Ultimate Shetland Tour with Shetland Wildlife arrive of their tour on Saturday so Paula and I wanted to make the most of the last day we had together before I headed to Sumburgh Hotel to start the week with our guests.

The weather was looking pretty good and with clearing skies and sunshine we headed up to a spot on the headland that I have placed Bushnells before. A family of otters use this part of the headland quite a lot and I wanted to get a couple of Bushnells there and leave them for the week to see what we could capture… so fingers crossed!

The coastline is so lovely up here and I am always in awe of the immense space and skies there are in Shetland!

We headed up towards Sumburgh, stopping on the way to look at the views…

and have our lunch on the beach!

Sumburgh Head is a must when on Shetland. Not only is it a stunning location, with  great and informative Visitors’ Centre but it is also a great place to see a variety of birds. The puffins are  most people’s favourite and I managed a few shots as they popped in and out of the burrows. I think they are either on eggs at the moment or feeding newly hatched chicks.

The cliffs are a great place to watch the seabirds as they ride the winds. The fulmars, on stiff wings , are a species that seem to have fine-tuned this skill.

Another species was there the excited both Paula and I…there were at least 4  arctic skuas soaring on the increasing winds. These are incredible looking birds with a most distinctive silhouette… look at that tail! This was an image I took straight into the bright sky. I turned it to monochrome and boosted the contrast.

We watched four individuals for over an hour.. pretty hard to photograph as they are so fast. The arctic skuas come in two morphs; light & dark. The further North you travel, the more prevalent the lighter morph is. As ground nesters, the individuals further South are more likely to be in brown heather-type foliage, so need to be dark to camouflage. Further North, there are going to be patches of snow and rock, so the paler morphs are better hidden. These individuals were waiting for puffins to come in, at which point they would plummet out of the sky and attack the incoming birds, forcing them to drop their beak of sand eels. The skua would then retrieve the food from the sea.

As we drove out of Sumburgh, Paula and I noticed lots of male and female wheatear displaying some very interesting behaviour that I had never seen before. They were hovering, just like mini kestrels. They would fly into a fairly long grassy area and then hover anywhere between 1 -3m above the ground dropping suddenly to take, what looked like, small caterpillars. They would repeat this until they had about 2 or 3 caterpillars at which point they would fly off to feed young.

I spent several hours trying to capture these beautiful birds hovering like tiny aerial ballerinas….

It is always great to photograph something you have not photographed before and their repeated behaviour gave me the chance try various settings, as sometimes they hovered low enough for me to get the grass in the background but often hovered higher, making correct exposure harder.

Finally, we dragged ourselves away, sneaking in a chance to photograph the meadow pipits which are also common in this area, packing their beaks with insects to feed hungry chicks in nests on the ground, which are usually well concealed and built by the female from dry grass and lined with finer grass and hair.

You are never far from interesting wildlife photographic subjects here in Shetland!


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