Sunday, 12 April 2015

Famous last words

"...we have had a few sunny and warm days, tentatively suggesting that good times are on their way."

Why oh why did I type that yesterday?

The weather has been rather bruising today, the sky being either black or blue. If there were tasks to complete outdoors, it was a day for nipping out between showers of driving rain, sleet and hail.

Newborn lambs and calves must be thinking "Hmmm, I didn't sign up for THIS!"

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Random snippets

I must admit that I haven't been up to much which could be classified as wildlife-y during the last week. However, there is some big nature news for the area, which even made it as far as the BBC News webpage and was also mentioned in the local paper.

Hoy is the island that we can see across the other side of Scapa Flow. After a quick check of the relevant map, I calculated that the eagles are nesting about 25km from Tense Towers. Even with a 2.5m wingspan, I doubt if I could spot one from home, but it would be a great addition to the garden list!

So what have I been up to? Well, we have had a few sunny and warm days, tentatively suggesting that good times are on their way. But having to earn a crust does tend to impinge upon gallivanting about the countryside looking for huge birds of prey, or even tiny flowers (Common scurvy-grass is everywhere at the moment).

There have been a couple of Hares in the field over the road, but never too close to the house. The following shot is a drastic crop of the original shot.

On one of the nicer days of the week, I spent the afternoon in a loft, helping to install a tv aerial and running four cables down to different rooms. It was very warm up there and a whole flock of Sea Eagles could've flown by without me being any the wiser.

That evening, I definitely felt the need to be out in the fresh air, so Our Lass and I pootled around the kirk loop, enjoying the cool breeze and the sounds of Nature bedding down for the night.

Yesterday was a pleasant day too, which ended with a rather random skyscape.

Nope, no Sea Eagles there either, but... is that a dragon?

Sunday, 5 April 2015

The gloves are off!

Not a reference to the General Election campaigning, more a declaration that the Marigolds are out.

Aye, Our Lass and I spent the afternoon walking around Mull Head in Deerness, as the weather slowly improved from its earlier low point of moderately dreich.

As we walked north along the coast, there were plenty of auks on the water, with small rafts of Guillemot and Razorbill to be seen. Two Black Guillemots were spotted, one in smart breeding plumage, the other looking like it wasn't sure which clothes to wear. Standing on the cliffs, scanning the sea, we also saw three Puffins and a Kittiwake.

After we had rounded the trig point at the top of the reserve and were making our way back to the car, things took a decidedly raptorial turn (ok, it's not a word, but work with me here). Firstly, a Merlin shot across the heather to our left, then a female Hen Harrier quartered the moor and neighbouring farm land, and finally a Short-eared Owl was spotted sitting on a fence post, gazing hungrily at the grass verge beneath. Not a good day to be a vole.

Driving home in bright sunshine, our eyes were drawn to the haar extending from the Scottish mainland, across Hoy and over the West Mainland of Orkney.

Looking across Scapa Flow, the island of Hoy is somewhere under the blanket of fog.

The two transmitter masts on Keelylang Hill were just about visible.

We assumed that we would be underneath it soon enough, but as the afternoon wore on into early evening, the fog bank remained pretty static and we enjoyed a picturesque sunset.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Mellow yellow

Here's the third and final blogpost of our trip to Graemsay. Having reached the modern pier by walking along the shore, we (Sian, Our Lass and I) began the return journey to Sandside via the tarmac'd road.

Immediately behind the pier head building, a small embankment was looking splendid, draped with a delicate tapestry of Primroses.

On the opposite side of the building, next to a pallet of bottled water (a remnant of the recent shenanigans required when the fresh water supply to the island was lost), was a novel hose reel. Though not novel as in 'new'. In the distance is the Northern Lighthouse Board ship, Pharos.

Walking back along the road, we came to the remains of a boat shed, which was once used for storing sails.

There was some ancient winding gear alongside it, presumably for hauling the boats out of the water. So not a mangle, as I first thought!

As we climbed a hill, my companions were deep in conversation, so I took the opportunity to frolic on the grass verge amongst the many daffodils. After a long, dark Winter, Orcadian verges take on a rather yellow hue come Spring. Coltsfoot and Lesser Celandine begin the show, but are soon outshone by a host of golden daffodils. Someone should write a poem about that.

Once over the crest of the hill, we could see all the way to lunch. I think it's fair to say that even the most panoramic scenery is given an added frisson with the imminent possibility of a tasty meal, but maybe that's just me.

And, no, that isn't a picnic arriving in the tractor bucket!

Out in the Sound, the Pharos was carrying out maintenance on a navigation buoy. Later in the day, as we returned to the Mainland, we had a closer look at the ship, berthed in Stromness harbour.

Many thanks to Sian for a grand day, her wonderful hospitality and the interesting littoral adventure.

Monday, 30 March 2015

The rocky path to Gangsti pier

You will recall, dear long-suffering reader, that Our Lass and I had journeyed far across the sea to Graemsay, on a day trip to visit Sian of 'Life on a Small Island'.

After coffee and cake (natch!), we wandered onto the beach and spent the remainder of the time before lunch walking along the rocky shore between the piers of Sandside and Gangsti. I guess you could call it a 'piers morgen'.

At Sandside, the beach on the eastern side of the old pier is comprised of mainly shell and coral. As opposed to the western side which is all sand, but we weren't headed in that direction.

We set off along the beach which, like many in Orkney, consists of a series of gentle steps in the beds of flagstones. Within the many layers, tiny features have been fossilised in time, as the sediments have built up and been condensed over millions of years.

A seabed of wave ripples.

Mud cracks.

Bits of fish bone.

Possibly mud cracks formed under different circumstances?

Dunno, not a clue. 

Forcing its way up through a fissure between the sedimentary layers, a metamorphic seam of something... geology's not my strong suit, is it?

We passed below Hoy High Light...

and eventually reached the current pier (where we had disembarked earlier). To one side of the pier is a small structure, which Sian informed us was the hut where the explosives were stored that were used during the construction of the pier. And on one side of that is an even smaller structure where the detonators were kept.

You can't be too careful when it comes to big bangs!

Sunday, 29 March 2015

A sea journey

Recently, Our Lass and I spent a day on the small island of Graemsay, in the company of an island resident and fellow blogger Sian of Life on a Small Island. I can report that Sian's blog title does not contravene the Trade Descriptions Act.

Firstly though, we had to make the short 45 minute crossing from Stromness, via Hoy.

As well as the island's nominative geography, our sea-going transport was the eponymously-named ferry...


Upon leaving Stromness harbour, there is always a fantastic view of the waterfront, which was once the town's 'Main Street', no pun intended.

As the harbour falls astern, the ferry sails past the Ness and out into Hoy Sound.

Here, the Northlink ferry, Hamnavoe, is approaching Stromness, with the hills of North Hoy in the background. It was quite... er... interesting, when our wee craft had to negotiate the wake of the much larger vessel!

Tantalisingly, the route took us past our final destination, but there's some way to go yet before we can sample coffee and cake at Chez Sian. Residential note: it's not the big pointy one, but one of the shorter dwellings.

Passing the Hoy Low Light, we then entered Burra Sound, on the journey to the small port of Moaness in North Hoy.

After a brief stop to disgorge a crowd of one, the ferry carried on across Burra Sound, sailing around the southern end of Graemsay and still giving grand views of the Hoy hills.

Finally, after entering Clestrain Sound, the little pier of Gramesay came into view, with its waiting chauffeuse-driven limousine.

Yep, there's Hoy High Light again, but from the other side, so almost a complete circumnavigation of Graemsay.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

To the victor the spoils

Whilst at work today, I received a phone call from Our Lass. In what I could only describe as a highly excitable state, she informed me that we had a Snipe actually IN the garden. Not over the road, not in the neighbouring paddock, not flying overhead, but in the garden. Wowser!

After so many wadery close calls during the last year, it's good to finally have the garden (ok, wilderness) christened by The Bill. It's just a shame I wasn't there, too :o(

When I finally returned home, Our Lass dropped the next bombshell... she had caught the moment on camera for posterity. My camera!

Just look at that cute russet-coloured tail... and at the business end, a view of one of the nostrils or nares. 

My only contribution to this whole endeavour was cleaning the windows last week.