Thursday, 30 April 2015

Festival frolics

A couple of weekends ago, Our Lass and I attended the inaugural GlastonBurray Festival. The more observant amongst you will have noticed that this isn't the big annual music event in Somerset, but a rather somewhat smaller gig, arranged to raise funds for the Burray School Playground and Community Hall.

The action took place in the Burray Hall and featured ten local bands/artists through the evening. It really is incredible how many gifted musicians live in these islands.

As well as organising the festival, main man Douglas Montgomery also found time to play in four of the bands: Saltfishforty; the Silver Penguins; The Chair, and Rocker. Other acts featured were: Jenny Hall, the Andy Taylor Group, Charlie Wallhead, Those Boys, Electric Mother and Bad Apple.

It was a cracking night of music and mirth, featuring many genres, from folk to metal and everything in between.

Master of Ceremonies for the evening was some bloke in a hat, who changed his rock-themed t-shirts between each act, and bore an uncanny resemblance to our local MSP.

Let's rock!
Set list in the corner of the hall, along with the mixing desk

Saltfishforty kicked off the evening (the second song was 'A ring on her hand', so I was ecstatic)
The stonking, stomping sound of The Chair
AC/DC appreciation band, Rocker. And Laura carries off the Bon Scott vocals brilliantly 
In the above photo, note the brown-hatted MC MSP on the far left. He's a bit more towards the centre with his day job.

I wonder if this will become a regular feature of the Orcadian musical calendar?

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

A weather eye, cartridge loading and a u-boat

[See update at foot of article]

It's odd. The more summer migrants that turn up, the more wintry the weather becomes. We're seeing Great Skua, Wheatear and Swallow quite regularly now, but here was some of Sunday's meteorological input...

With just over a week to go before the General Election 2015 to decide the make-up of the next UK government, it's nigh on impossible to put on the tv or the radio and not be bombarded with spin, speculation and cynical politicos spouting forth.

It is predicted, though by no means a certainty, that the Scottish National Party (SNP) will do well in Scotland, for despite losing last year's independence referendum, their membership has rocketed in the intervening months. Perhaps folk reckon that the promises made back then by the Westminster elite were emptier than hollow laughter?

The SNP leader and Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has confounded the political world by not playing fair. She has been 'accused' of positive campaigning, having an inclusive agenda and, worst of all, actually talking to actual voters. I don't think London can cope with stuff like that, as its negativity and lack of respect for other parties and voters alike, is too ingrained. We will see soon enough whether the Scottish population, and perhaps some of the UK's, has seen through the Westminster bluster and bile.

Yesterday, local events managed to shove the election lower down the agenda. A submarine was seen in Scapa Flow, purportedly from the Dutch Navy. Apparently the UK MoD refused to comment, but I'm sure there would have been a bit more activity if it was thought to be from a non-NATO country!

Here's the view from Tense Towers as the sub made its way out of the Flow.

Today at work, I had one of those sudden impulses that come along every once in a while. Nothing salacious, you understand, but the need to know was very strong. And I'm not very spontaneous, apparently. I urgently needed to ascertain, with little room for doubt, just how many printer toner cartridges you could fit into the back of a Ford Fiesta.

Plenty, as it turns out. I ran out of data, but not room, at 50. Who knew?

I had a morning bathed in warm sunshine, though everywhere I drove had just had rain, snow or hail. It was bizarre. Nice bizarre, but bizarre nonetheless.

Then, late this afternoon, I watched from home as more wintry showers tracked their way across Hoy and over West Mainland.

There's something satisfying, though not always comforting, in forecasting the weather by just looking out of the window. On Orkney, there's no place to hide, the weather has unrestricted access to all areas.

30/04/15 Update: Today's The Orcadian contained a report which indicated that there were two submarines seen on the same day. The Dutch one mentioned in the link above, but also another one, possibly Norwegian, which is the one I photographed later in the day.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Search Engine Optimisation? I think not.

It's been a bit of a hectic week for Yours Truly, much more frenetic than normal and with various minor disasters along the way. To be fair, 'hectic' is a relative term, but we are where we are, so let's just say that on the Continuum of Hect, I haven't been near the middle.

As is often the case, one tiny thing can change the mood, a brief encounter that restores default settings. And, as is also the case, things tend to get much worse before they become better.

So, after a working week of being hither, thither and yon, flicking between part time jobs and projects like the television when Our Lass has the remote control, I was beginning to unwind during the journey home, listening to Test Match Special on the car radio.

Glancing left, across farm pastures and rough ground, I noticed a bird perched on a fence post not too far from the road. Double taking, I realised that it was a Short-eared Owl, at eminently photographable range. With all thoughts of chilling out forgotten, my adrenalin levels put their boots back on and wearily reached for their hard hats. I was only three miles from home, so...  barely ten minutes later I was back in position but, this time, in the company of Cameron Bins and Very Wrong Len. I turned the car around and slowly coasted to a stop, so that with the passenger window open, I had a reasonable view of the field, but the camera and I were not too obvious.

The owl was still on the same fence post, scanning the long grass for mice or voles, its head turning this way and that, steadfastly ignoring me, other traffic and various Oystercatchers.

Over the years, I have seen countless folks' photos of raptors, waders and owls sat on fence posts. I must admit to wondering whether they were putting in some serious hours to capture the images or whether it was a matter of right place, right time.

Now I knew...

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Plastic fantastic

It's about a year since we started on the project to introduce some structure and habitat to our garden. In fact, all that was done was the planting of some Willow sticks last April, so I thought I had better give an update on their progress.

You may remember these posts at the time, as I took the first tentative steps to create a shelter belt, here and here.

And, in fact, that was pretty much it for 2014's habitat creation. We left the Willows to get on with it and watched to see what else would grow in the rest of the garden.

As it turns out, I hadn't given our wee trees the best start in life. They had to compete with several species of grass and Docks for space, light and water, so were really up against it from the off.

A year older, and possibly a little wiser (though that's probably stretching the truth somewhat), it was time to reassess the situation. A fair proportion of the Willows had put down roots and added some growth above ground too. But all that competing with the neighbours had severely limited their potential, and that's before we talk about gale force winds and salt spray.

As you can see above, growth hasn't been great.

Here, a different species of Willow has made a bit more progress. I recently mowed around this one, so you can see the step in the vegetation behind it, which gives some indication of just what the wee trees were up against.

What I should've done was to engage in some weed suppression, chemical or otherwise. So this year, we have gone with 'otherwise' and dug in some black plastic sheeting, which should help to remove any immediate competition.

And here's a new row of Willow sticks, carrying on from where I left off last year. It will be intriguing, at least to me, to see whether they do any better.

In a similar vein, Our Lass wants to plant out some shrubs, but they will need protection from the prevailing winds. The plan is to erect a couple of shelter belts, in small U-shapes, in the desired location. Phase 1 was instigated this afternoon, before the Willows went in.

Here, the vague U-shape is marked out, in readiness for some fence posts to support the fabric mesh. Our Lass was absolutely distraught at the measurements and calculations that I undertook prior to putting hammer to stake, as she remains steadfastly unconvinced that time spent in preparation is seldom wasted.

But, eventually, I could prevaricate no longer. To the barricades!

We now have two sets of 4 posts awaiting mesh and bracing support, then Our Lass can finally bed in some of the shrubs that have overwintered in pots. After the deployment of more weed suppression plastic sheeting, that is.

Underneath the arches

When Our Lass left for work on Friday morning, I noticed a small, thin strip of weathered plastic on the ground between our cars. Being an enthusiastic Womble, I picked it up, put it in the bin and promptly forgot about it.

A few hours later, when I left for a task over in the West Mainland, there was an amount of straw in the same place. Odd, I thought, as I went to open the rear door to load my rucksack. I had cut the front 'lawn' the previous day, including a long overdue haircut of the wildlife triangle, so there had been a fair bit grass strewn about the place. Almost as that thought coalesced in my mind, it was joined by another (I know, TWO in one day!), to the effect that there had been precious little wind during that time, so how had the grass suddenly appeared? Standing back from the car, I realised that the rear wheel arch had a whole bunch of grass stuffed inside it, but couldn't think why this would be so.

Investigating further, the grass contained bits of polythene, plastic twine and even some strands of rope (again plastic). Then, the penny dropped. Since using the car the previous evening, a bird had begun to build a nest on top of the tyre.

To be fair, with the general lack of vertical habitat in our garden, it was probably a decent call on some level, though I couldn't help but feel that the stack of pallets might have been a better bet. With a heavy heart, I removed the construction, put it on the lawn and hoped that the owner would understand (probably not, eh, Tense?) and begin again in a more appropriate place.

As I reversed out of my parking spot, I caught sight of a male Blackbird perched on the pallet stack, looking quizzically at me through a beakful of grass.

Later that evening, Our Lass and I looked forlornly at the sad little pile of grass, and wondered what the pair of Blackbirds would do. The following morning, it was my turn to leave for work first. Although the pile of grass seemed diminished, a quick check of my car revealed no new constructions, so I breathed a brief sigh of relief, before Our Lass discovered that Mr and Mrs B were in the process of moving house to her rear wheel arch. This time, we put the grass on the pallet stack, in an attempt to influence the birds.

This morning, both cars were Blackbird-free, so it looked like they had finally got the message. Whilst washing up the breakfast things, I noticed Mr B fly behind a neighbour's shed and out of sight. Poking out from the far side of the shed, I also noticed the towing coupling of a trailer... so I think that the Blackbirds may have found another 'suitable' wheel arch!

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.