Setting Off From Sandwell valley

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Fair Isle !!!

Now sheltering from the wind and the rain just north of Lerwick, on my way to Yell but still full of memories of a fabulous time on Fair Isle.

Setter, the home of my dear late friend Gordon Barnes. I sat, after a seasick ferry ride, on Gordon's bench and looked over to the croft where he and Perry, his wife, lived in when he was a crofter on the Fair Isle. Met Ian and Ruth the present owners and marvelled at the life of my friend.

A 3 night stay in the South Lighthouse where Dave runs a B & B. Dave's an eccentric with a lovely personality. Food given in large quantities and accomodation very comfortable.

No ferry to get back to Shetland due to weather, so a quick visit to Neil Thomson, the captain of the boat, and a real shock. I mentioned that I'd been singing Pink Floyd music recently whilst riding my bike. 2 hours later I came out of their beautiful home with a new friend. Neil had played Pink Floyd's comfortably numb, run like hell and a number of other of my favourite rock classics superbly on his 1965 telecastor. Brilliant fun and he's such a brilliant musician. Thanks Neil. [This was repeated later in the week with more music played including a perfect Hawkwind Silver Machine moment.]

Wednesday, a visit to the superb Fair Isle School and a lovely half hour with the children. Now can I remember all of their names? Hello . . . Henry, Raven, Lowri, Ythan, Sebastian, Orla, Amber, Robyn, Fynton, Oisin and .... oh dear that's all the names I can remember. Hey, I think that's all of them! Thanks to
Lisa the headteacher for her welcome too. A truly fabulous Eco School.

Other crofters met, Stewart and Trinona, Florrie and Jimmy, Darren and Angela; all lovely people and so friendly. Wonderful, wonderful people.

Also a visit to the superb Waterson Museum with Stewart Thomson. Brilliant displays on all aspects of the island from ancient neolithic history, crofting and many old photographs and artefacts.

The birds? Well 10 year ticks over the week including buff-bellied pipit, rosefinches, bluethroat and a number of warblers with a new bird for me, pallas' grasshopper warbler as well as subalpine, many barred and a few yellow-browed. Yet it was Fair Isle as a whole that I loved. The scenery, the fact that I could get up and bird watch the early hours and not see another birder until after 9.00am; well I was based down the south end and a fabulous new bird observatory is in the north; and the people.

Eventually a calm, flat sea and a long ride on the Good Shepherd to Lerwick. No seasickness this time just a great time with beautiful views of the South Shetland mainland. The a goodbye to Neil with a promise that I'd be returning.

Must say a million thanks to the Shetland Community Bike Project for the superb help they gave in repairing a few problems with the bike. Fabulous people there too and many thanks for their donation too.

Also many thanks to Hugh and Ann for their hospitality and friendly chat.

Now the year list stands at 232 having seen an arctic warbler and a red-breasted flycatcher at Sumburgh Head. So 20 more bird species to break the NON MOTORISED YEAR LIST RECORD, until someone else is trying to break it too this year. I wonder?

Friday, 17 September 2010

6 days waiting to get to fair isle .............. So

Hello mudder, hello farder,
here I am at grutness harbour
I'm on Shetland life's so brimmin
if the tide bursts in
i'M sure to drown while swimming

north wind gale force
hail is stinging
rain is pouring
to bike clinging
it's so cold here
mid September
how many days I've Been stuck here
I can't remember!

If the wind here would stop blowing
there'd be be new birds I'd be knowing
in the gardens and the stingers
I'd be counting them on more than just 5 fingers

take me home oh mudder farder
I'll not roam won't go no farther
can't you see this weather frightens me
there's only rabbit for my tea

take me home oh mudder farder
let me phone you know I'd rather
be back home from there I would not stray
at least until a sunny day

There's been no birds worth recording
just surviving life's not boring
all the people so delightful
and the sheep here make the Welsh ones look so frightful

take me home oh mudder farder
I'll be blown from here no longer
peat won't burn
it took me time to learn
soon home is where I'll be
and all my family I will see

take me home oh mudder farder
I'll not moan won't raid the larder
here I freeze they say it's just a breeze
it's just I can't see any trees

Wait a minute there's an east wind
bits of drizzle it's now bringing
lots of warblers, chat with blue tail
and with these great bins I'm sure that I will not fail

sun is shining list is growing
now on Fair Isle life is glowing
lots of rare birds gee that's better
mudder farder kindly disregard this letter!

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

South Shetland Birding - Sumburgh Head RSPB Reserve 14th September 2010

Thanks to Julian Branscombe for his very kind donation for the RSPB.

Early views out of the house window with snipe and redshank beside a near small pool, wheatear and rock pipits sheltering against the garden's dry stone walls as a SW wind blew and sharp showers passed. Many, many thanks to Roger Riddington for giving me a bed for the night and for helping me with my travels, giving advice and even fixing the previous day's gear/chain problem.

Roger is the editor of the famous British Birds magazine and I feel somewhat daunted to be with such an intelligent and talented birder with such a career profile; warden of Fair Isle etc. Yet Roger has been brilliant and I have really enjoyed being with him.

Still, after porridge for breakfast I got out into the field and started searching the area. First stop was Loch Virkie, finding then counting the waders; knot, turnstone, dunlin and ringed plover with a single shelduck and a few common terns seen also.

Met a great couple whilst sheltering from a shower behind their shed, Pete and Gail who kindly invited me in for coffee and a chat. Recently having moved to Shetland from the Scottish mainland but originally from Cornwall, they've renovated a croft overlooking the Loch and have a perfect position for watching the birds there. They've got the books, the bins, now they'll have the thrill of the new birds to find and see.

The famous Virkie willows were searched but only a single blackbird was found. Then to Scatness to have a look at the BOD, a type of bothy where a group of 12 siskin were flying around the archaelogical site. Must go back tomorrow and this time take some money for the entrance fee! Both the actual remains and the reconstructions of the iron age - Pictish buildings look brilliant and the three ladies met there were delightful and friendly also.

Past the airport and to the Sumburgh Hotel garden. 3 spotted flycatchers and a single willow warblers represented the migrants here.

Met a birder, Gary Bell and walked with him alongside a potato crop and then around the bunker field. I'm trying on my trip to improve my own birding skills and here on Shetland the more aggressive pishing is interesting. Twite were evident here, indeed 2 allowed me to sit beside them from about a meter away whilst I photographed them.

I searched the two quarries whilst Gary left to seawatch; only wheatear and blackbirds seen in these. I seawatched from behind a large dry stone wall as heavy showers quickly past in the strong wind. Joined gary again after being invited into the warm shelter of his car. Gannets and fulmars in the area in numbers with the occasional bonxie and shag and a group of grey geese in off the sea. Then we both saw the highlight of the watch simultaneously, a close in basking shark; Gary's first for Sumburgh and only his third in many years on Shetland. He phoned it out and soon others arrived to hopefully see it but unfortunately it didn't surface again.

Up to the RSPB offices atop the magnificent Sumburgh Head with it's large Stevenson lighthouse. Here met with Helen Moncrieff, the South Shetland reserves warden, Newton the assistant warden and I think Jim, the Sumburgh Farm owner. Jim had a dead short-eared owl that he'd found on the road. Surprising how small it looked. Helen showed me around and with Newton in the office, with coffee and Orkney oatcake we three chatted and talked about  . . . birds. Helen knew Mark and Joanne who I'd met whilst seeing dotterel so many months ago and phoned Mark up. Great to hear him again and remember Mark's superb blog [Of Pies and Birds] and his fair treatment of 'The Mouth From The South'. Now who put that cuddly penguin on my bike - a stowaway! [Thanks Helen and Newton]

A letter waiting for me too, a real surprise. It contained a postcard from a very dear friend and her husband, Pauline and Paul. Brilliant.

I've seen fair Isle at last. I could see it from Sumburgh and immediately thought of Gordon Barnes, who is the main reason I want to go there so very much. Gordon was a crofter and birder on Fair Isle in the 60's and early 70's, living there with Perry his wife and their two boys, Alan and John. I was very lucky to meet Gordon and we were very close friends.

Back to Roger's house, seeing a flying grey plover showing it's diagnostic black axillaries on the way, for a meal before enjoying the United - Rangers match at Paul and Liz's house. Liz was from Alvechurch originally, a small village about a mile or so from where I live when I'm not galavanting around the RSPB and WWT reserves. Paul was the warden of Fair Isle before Roger and he was from Dorset. A fabulous couple and once more I know that I am being so lucky to meet such people on my trip.

So a full day. Great people met, superb scenery, wild weather with birds and a basking shark. Brilliant.

Friday, 10 September 2010

The Gales Back - 10th Septemenber 2010

Well not first thing this morning. I would describe it as fresh.

Goodbye to Julian and his daughters, then to a footpath beside a stream near to the airport the name of which |I know not.

Still a couple of migrants knocking about but nothing like yesterday :

1 garden warbler, 3 spotted flycatchers, 1 willow warbler and 1 chiff chaff, 2 reed buntings as well as many swallows tazzing about.

Then over to Shapinsay and a visit to the MILLDAM RSPB Reserve. By now very windy and a sharp shower didn't hit me because I was tucked up in the RSPB hide. Great view of the loch from in there which had c.600 teal, c.500 wigeon and gadwall, shovelor, mallard, c.250 greylag and a superb ringtail hen harrier.

Back to the quay where the largest woodland in Orkney may be found beside a large castle. Nothing noted in there of the bird variety, a few wood pigeons, a couple of wrens and blackbirds but three red admirals were seen.

Now about to get the ferry to Westray. I had thought of going over to North Ronaldsay but that ferry is cancelled.

Speaking of cancelling ferries; if metcheck is right for what they are predicting at the moment then it could be record wind speeds for Lerwick on Tuesday to Thursday next week. They predict speeds from 254 to 301 mph! I think they may be a bit off, well I certainly hope so.

Thanks to Dollina of Toab Post office for her donation to Asthma UK this morning.

All the best everyone.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Thursday 9th September - Orkney Migrants

So after a long goodbye and a cycle to Kirkwall to sort out some finances; got to Grindigar Quarry near to Deerness. Actually this had the feeling of being someone's back garden and I initially rode straight past it. Backtracking I found the gate lichen covered with the friendly sign on it reading - "Weeds for sale, pick your own." Once through the gate a spotted flycatcher was seen on the nearby bush and soon 2 wood warblers, one wearing a shiny ring, a redstart, another spotted flycatcher, 1 reed warbler and about 6 willow warblers. Met a local birder, Maurice Rindall and it was lovely to have a chat about migrants.

Rode down to the Point of Ayre, atmospherically moody with low cloud, mist and a heavy sea with huge breakers. Waders on a smashed shoreline littered with mounds of laminaria sp. ripped by the last few days gales and sea surges, with a rock pipit picking at the sand flies. Views over to the inaccessible RSPB reserve - Copinsay were superb with gannets and fulmar passing. I had been offered a possible boat ride but the weather had prevented this from happening.

Two cracking long willow hedges lined fields nearby and many migrants were in them. The first to be searched had a whitethroat, a garden warbler and a male blackcap in it. The hedge further up the hill had far more with 3 spotted flycatcher, 1 pied flycatcher, a fabulous lesser whitethroat - one of my favourite birds, a reed warbler, a garden warbler, 2 redstarts and a male blackcap with about 10 willow warblers. A wheatear was on a barbed wire fence nearby. Twite in good numbers flew around, a rather tatty kestrel flew over, as did a couple of raven. Great stuff! Enjoyed this session with a super couple from near Stromness, Ian and Maureen and a very large rainbow framing the scene.

Finally cycled back towards the quarry only to meet another birder, Julian Branscombe, a really  interesting man with a great knowledge who has put me up for the night. So that's where I am now, midnight and still talking. Julian is identifying a ground beetle using a microscope and I'm about to read about a nearby iron age site, Mine Howe..

Time for bed.

Thanks to my Uncle Harold for his very kind donation for the RSPB.

All the best everone,


Tuesday 7th September - Trumland and Onziebust RSPB Reserves continued

Down to the harbour and then the boat over to Egilsay to walk around part of the large RSPB reserve - Onziebust.

This meadow has been planted by the RSPB for bumblebees of which the great yellow is one that can be expected here.

Next to a large ruined church, the church of St Magnus. Now I am curious over why St Magnus was made a saint. The information board tell of the treachery that cost his life and say that this was martyrdom. Seemingly there were two earls, Magnus and Hakon, contesting the Orkneys and a peace conference was arranged on Egilsay. Magnus arrived with the agreed upon two boats; Hakom arrived with eight! Hakon captured Magnus and eventually had him killed by his cook. This was after Magnus had given Hakon three ways to save his soul. The axe blow that did the dead was confirmed when the skeleton of St Magnus was found in the cathedral that bears his name in Kirkwall.

I've found more detail of this interesting tale on the following :-

From here I went down a track and over some fields, disturbing a few snipe and lapwind, down to a headland on the very north-west corner of the island. Over a narrow puece of water there was another very small island and on here I saw around thirty of the famous seaweed eating sheep. Now from what I've read, these sheep are to be found on North Ronalgsay but here were quite a few clambering over the seaweed munching away happily.

Seawatching from this point gave me more views of bonxies, feeding gannets and lots of kittiwakes and fulmars; turnstne and redshank on the shore and a small group of eider nearby. Also small parties of twite were tazzing about.

Back to the harbour in time for the boat and whilst waiting in the RSPB information room I met a lady from Lickey End, which is all of three miles from where I live near Brmsgrove, Worcestershire. To make it even more of a coincidence, Michele Mellor, was born at the school were I teach, namely Rigby Hall; albeit when it was a maternity hospital a few years ago. Here I am, possibly closer to Iceland than Bromsgrove [I'll check that out] and meeting people from my home town.

Back on the ferry with even more violent rocking than in the morning and a cycle ride back to the home of Alistair and Louise with the gale mostly blowing me there and with heavy rain; singing a Frank Zappa song about wind on the way . . . .

Good God, I hope the wind don't blow.   

It takes the paint off your car and wrecks your windshield too.

I don't know how the people stand but I guess they do.

[Village of the Sun - Roxy and Elsewhere]

Now I must close this morning's blog with a huge thank you to the Forsyth family. Alistair and Louise, with fabulous children, Molly and Elana, have let me into their famiy life for a few days whilst i have been on Orkney and I can't say thank you enough to the all. Alistair is a headteacher of Dounby Community School; the school is a credit to him and to the island. I visited the school on wednesday 8th and the chidren were so wel behaved, so polite and welcoming. The staff were friendly and the school had a superb atmosphere. An assembly for the younger children, followed by sessions wth the two nursery classes was a privilige for me and great fun. [Come on Angus, give us all one of those fabulous smiles!]. Louise is great. A birding wife for Alistair the birder, who has seen and identified pomarine skua from their hom window. She has a very keen interest in the healing properties of crystals and indeed she has given me the most beautiful heart shaped crystal for me to place into the sea at a place I feel appropriate. More details of her work is available at :-           from which I quote .......

Our Mother Earth as we know her is dying. Her energy sullied by our materialistic ways, for our want for ‘more’ and selfish gain, at great cost to all the potential beauty that surrounds us.

Her energy and light are fading fast and yet it is not too late. We can still make a difference. We can turn the tide, stem the flow of negativity and begin to take responsibility for the mess we have created.

Mother Earth has all that we require to sustain our lives at this time, yet, only if we learn the error of our ways and begin to use her bountiful resources with respect for all.

She requires help. Help to channel and release all of the rubbish we have accumulated. Help to start afresh, to rebalance and realign her energy.

The aim of The Crystal Earthworks is simple – to provide the tools and education to help turn the tide, to empower those who would wish to be responsible custodians for our beautiful planet, to empower those who wish to make a difference.

Crystals are that tool for the imbalance we have created is so great that we cannot turn the tide alone. Yet, we have much help to draw upon, it is our choice to use that help or not.

Anyone can plant crystals and with clear training, to powerful effect. It is a simple act, with enormous positive potential. If you have accessed this website perhaps you have been prompted to play your part, to take responsibility, to make a difference.

I give heartfelt thanks for your connection and hope you feel drawn to explore the work of The Crystal Earthworks further.

Louise Forsyth

For The Crystal Earthworks

If only we would all do more to save our 'dying' planet.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Tuesday 7th September - Trumland and Onziebust RSPB Reserves

A lovely sunrise seen after being woken up by a milkman. First time that's happened this year. Soon time to catch the ferry to Rousay yet enough time to first seawatch, bonxies and quite a few kittiwakes as well as a dark phase arctic skua; then a thorough search through a flock of about 250 golden plovers but nothing unusual.
There's been quite a few ferries this year, the only 'carbon' transport I've taken on the trip route, but this one was the most interesting from the point of view of the boat rocking rather violently on the large waves. The other people on the ferry weren't overly concerned though.

Once on Rousay walked up towads trumland House and heard a goldcrest in some small sykamore trees. Pished it out and was well chuffed to have found a migrant in the gale. Next it was down to a dug out pool which had a good number of teal and wigeon on it. A few twite and rock/feral doves were here too. looks like a likely spot for a rarer wader to drop in but not today.

Next I was up beside a cairn, Taversoe Tuick and what a wonderful cairn too. A double decker which has a small ladder that allows one to descend down into the lower chamber. 5,000 years old and a neolithic architect was showing off creating this one. Superbly looked after, I spent some time sitting in here, imaging the people who'd lived nearby.

From here a walk along the short, 2 kilometer trail around the RSPB reserve, Trumland. Very few birds, a couple of bonxies, meadow pipits and a raven but quite a few sluggish bumblebees, like the one below.
Can anyone help over this bumblebee's identification please?

Monday, 6 September 2010

Soaked and cold, Tent collapsed overnight at Forsinard.

29th August 2010 - Happy Birthday Dad!!!

Don't know what time the weather changed in the night but I do know that the strong gale and heavy rain caused the tent pole to snap and that I was soaked when it all woke me.

Got up around 5.00am and found a sort of waiting room shed on the railway station platform nearby. Sat in there wrapped in a silver survival blanket and with everything spread out to try and dry things.

Colin, the RSPB information officer, opened up the visitor's centre at 9.00am and I then spent the morning squeezing the water from my clothes, sleeping bag and Sid, Albert and Barnaby, my three cuddly toys. Colin and his wife Sue, were fabulously helpful in putting various items in their tumble drier. Many thanks for that.

Still blowing a gale outside and occasional showers rushed past. Did manage to have a walk around the trail in the afternoon and saw emerald damselfly and a number of interesting plants and caterpillars. It's great how the trail is set up with benches and slabs to keep one from sinking into the peat.

Away at 5.00pm, off down the road to eventually camp at its far end sheltering from the strong NW breeze behind a small conifer plantation.

What a day!

A Long Ride to Forsinard - 28th August 2010

Awoke to a strange whinig note like that one gets occasionally in your ears. Well I do anyway. I la in my bag wondering what it was and images of Emma Peel investigating the sound came to me, luckily. I always fancied her as a teenager. The Avengers. Couldn't see myself as Steed mind you. Remember her close fitting black leather suit?

Back to the point. The sound turned out to be eminating from the nearby wires on the fence here, vibrating as the strong wind hit them. Such a pure note.

So strong westerly winds and a few heavy showers to start the day. Now some of you will realise that I am now extremely paranoid about wind. Which way would I be going today? - west! Case proved. Not paranoid - God wants me to struggle.

Bettyhill reached and lunch taken in the sunshine, the shower clouds giving me a break. Then a superb museum visited : Strathnaver. Spent a couple of hours in this fabulous converted church finding out about the Highland Clearances and photographing the many artefacts here; neolithic implements, grave slabs and even a St Kildan post boat!
Eventually searched the nearby bumblebee meadow whilst eating some fresh picked puffballs.

Superb views over Dunnet Head to the Orkneys seen from various viewpoints along the road.

Carried on and eventually got to Forsinard RSPB reserve, put my tent up nearby and enjoyed the kitchen facilities with one of the wardens, Danni.

Settled down for the night comfortably in my sleeping bag.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Durness at Last - Eilean Hoan RSPB Reserve - 27th July 2010

Bus back to near the spot where it picked me up; actually about a mile before it and a lovely cycle to Durness.

Explored Smoo Cave, even taking the boat ride under the arch and got to a historic area where a village had been part of the Highland Clearances, the Ceannabienne Village Trail . Now this excellent area had great information boards as I walked from one part to he next and I was surprised to see mountain avens flowers still in beautiful bloom.
Now out at sea from this point there's the RSPB reserve - Eilean Hoan and another reserve to view. Gannets, shag, fulmar, great black backed gulls over the island with a few twite nearby.

Along to the headland at the start of of Loch Eriboll and a beautiful double rainbow. A car stopped whilst I photographed it and a lovely Dutch lady came out for a chat, Marianne from Heel, Holland.
Camped beside the Loch - another day, more wonderful people met and another RSPB reserve seen.

Thanks Steve, Caldy and Angus!

Thanks aso to Barry and Lynn for their donation and also Brian from Newport for the same.

To Durness? Well, should have been - July 26th 2010

A very cold night so wrapped the sleeping bag in a survival blanket. Awoke to find very thick fog, very still conditions and the usual attendant insect life. Avon Skin So Soft -ed up and set off along Loch Shin. Fog soon went and what a glorious day; blue sky and almost no wind, beautiful views and a very flat road.

Stopped for a very close summer plumaged black-throated diver and enjoyed the views of the moorland, hills and eventually mountains along this superb road.
Stopped to ask for some water and this, as usual, turned into a long chat. So thanks Billy and Dee for that and the Jaffa Cakes!

Got to Laxford Bridge, turned up towards Durness, cycled a further 6 miles or so and then - plunk! Back wheel rim split and couldn't move the bike. A passing couple of German cyclists stopped and offered assistance but nothing could be done. Stared to think of how far it was going to be to push the bike to the nearest cycle shop. Thurso? 100 miles. Better get moving. Actually had pushed it around another 6 miles when a bus going the opposite way stopped to ask whether I needed help. "There's a bike shop in Ullapool" the driver said so onboard I got. Now this bus goes from Inverness to Durness and is called the 'Bike us' and as strange as it felt to be taking carbon transport again after all this time, the views along the way were spectacular. Sea lochs, moorlands and mountains and a stop to view a ruined castle whilst the bus went on a circular route before returning to the same drop off point.
No cycle shop in Ullapool so on to Strathpeffer where SQUARE WHEELS, the most wonderful cycle shop in the World is located. I say this becuase Steve, the owner, came out to rescue my situaltion, repkaced the errant wheel, put me up for the night and chatted about cycling and a rock group I'd really forgotten about named Little Feat. I remembered having seen them in 1976 at Carlton Athletic Football Club when The Who headlined in the rain. Widowmakers, Streetwalkers, The Outlaws, Little Feat, SAHB and The Who; not a bad line up and the pouring rain saved for The Who's set added to the fun.
Steve and The Wife, according to his Facebook page, Carly, together with their son, Angus were lovely and I am so very grateful for their help.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

To Lairg. 25th August 2010.

Lot of catching u to do yet again and so much has happen6de since last  wrote.

Set off from Nigg Bay RSPB reserve and was absolutley thrilled to see a small family waving to me as I approached Tain.  Back in July I'd met Colin and Sophie with their two fabulously delightful children, Dougal and Rowan, at Gelnmuir. Here were the children with Dad waving at me! Brilliant and so lovely to see them again. How did they know I'd be passing?

Britain's best toilet? Well this one at Tain was amazingly comfortable and the attendant was very helpful. Flowers in the men's - whatever next?

Next stop was at a Pictish cross in a churchyard at Edderton, just after the RSPB reserve at Edderton Bay. Excellent 700AD slab depicting crosses and horsemen.

To Lairg and another lip-swelling moment. This time caused by a friendly wasp who stung my top lip.

Found a superb hide on the shoreline of Loch Shin, Dalchork Hide, and stayed there for a few hours. Excellent raptor list seen during that time: 1 osprey, 1 goshawk, 1 female hen harrier, at least 12 buzzards, a very close female peregrine chasing 3 dunlin, female kestrel and a sparrowhawk. Also here were curlew, redshank, 12 greylags, 5 teal, a family of Great black backed gulls and 25 common gulls. 2 black-throated divers came quite close too.
Lovely sunset from the tent that evening ended the day.