Saturday, 28 March 2020

Friday, 27 March 2020

Light exercise

If you were thinking, dear reader, that during January and February, I&T wasn't keeping up with the expected number of posts, then you would be correct. You would also be forgiven for speculating that if this trend were to continue, Old Tense was going to be in a spot of bother come December, what with his arbitrary annual 100+ blogposts rule.

However, you're very not allowed to say "Thank Goodness for Covid-19 and the global lockdown, now Tense can up his game!" That would be bad, very bad, but thanks for the unsettling and unnerving sentiment.

This morning I used my allotted quota of 'temporarily leaving the house for a walk' to potter around the old kirk loop, not in the company of Our Lass (as she was working), but with a new set of bins. Don't worry, my trusty old set are still fine, but looking at their objective lenses (the big end), the housing around one of them is a very mis-shapen oval, rather than the eminently more preferable circular. They're on borrowed time, I would say.

To be honest, I was hoping for some rare and spectacular migratory bird to fill my field of view, so that the bins could be properly 'christened', somewhat like the Woodchat Shrike which Eagle-eyed M managed on her first foray with new bins last year. It's ok, I'm not bitter, I'm completely over it and barely mention the incident more than twice a week.

As it turned out, despite news of Wheatears in other parts of the island, there wasn't too much to report, but the sun was shining so I just soaked up plenty of photons reflected off feather, fur and flower.

On the lichen-encrusted cemetery wall of the old kirk, a couple of Starlings were sat, looking rather resplendent in their glittering sequined costumes. I've heard it said that when their bills change colour for the breeding season, the base of the male's is blue, whilst the base of the female's is pink. No idea if that's true or just a fanciful meme, but this photo seems to show both colours. However, in these gender neutral times, we'll just have to jolly well go on wondering, eh?

Heading for home, as the road climbed up from the shore and between fields, there was a noticeable increase in Lapwing activity on the rough pasture. The birds were calling and displaying more, and a few individuals were a bit nearer the road in a wet flush. Still nowhere near enough for a decent photo, mind, but with the peachy light I thought it worthwhile trying to capture an image.

Iridescence! [Happy sigh]

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Quacking weather

Our Lass and I had only walked around the local kirk circuit a short time ago, but what a change in the intervening few days. Non-human changes, that is.

Where, on Sunday, we struggled to see a Coltsfoot in flower, yesterday there were verges teeming with them. And there was a hardly a breath of wind, so photography was possible. 

The Lesser Celandines have been out for a while, but looking very battered and bruised due to the equinoctial winds and lashing rain. So, again, it was lovely to find pristine examples.

As it was such a glorious afternoon, and because we're all having to stay at home, it is difficult to synchronise one's daily allotted exercise with the rest of the parish. Cue much social-distancing malarkey and a busier (though not exactly crowded) amble.

Behind the old kirk, there is a flooded field, and we took the opportunity to use the kirk boundary wall as cover to look at the wildfowl gathered there.

Gadwall, Shoveler, Shelduck and Teal

Shoveler and Shelduck

Teal dabbling (those gold triangles are a dead giveaway)

Teal and Mallard
Today it is very sunny and I've even had all the windows open! The Met Office are predicting 9 degrees C, feeling like 6 degrees C. So not quite shorts and sandals weather just yet!

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Lockdown, don't look up

On Monday afternoon, I gathered the staff (me) together in the board room (lounge) and after the formal announcement, and subsequently brief question and answer session (me, me and me), the message went out that the business was on hold for all non-essential work.

Predictably, the next morning, well before 9am, a phone call came in requesting help with a property which had no tv signal. I was halfway through my apology, when the voice on the other end of the phone politely cut in and explained that the property was empty, as they weren't moving in until Saturday. As the conversation progressed, it became obvious that there was a clear need in this case (for reasons which won't be explained here), and so together, the caller and I hatched a Covid plan which would allow the job to go ahead.

In a nutshell, it entailed us never meeting, a bunch of keys, numerous door handles, lots of hand-sanitising wipes, an emailed invoice and a bank transfer payment. My quote for the job was based on the customer's knowledge of the probable history of the property, but when I arrived on site and garnered a proper understanding of the existing infrastructure, another solution presented itself. As this was also considerably cheaper, a further phone discussion was had and this option agreed. Everyone (well, maybe not my bank manager) was happy and, more importantly, safe.

My journey to and fro produced a Stoat sighting (reported to the Orkney Native Wildlife Project) as a furry blur rocketed across the road in front of me. In flooded fields near the customer's property, there were four Shelduck by a pool, and close by,  a small number of Pink-footed Geese tucked in amongst a larger flock of Greylags. The roads were much quieter than normal, many businesses were shut, and consequently there were swathes of empty car parking spaces in town.

So, with a much-reduced means of generating income, I, like many folk, are contemplating how to fill the unforgiving minute. My immediate list looks like this:

1. Design a webpage for the business - this task never made it to the top of a To Do list during the first five year plan, so now seems the perfect opportunity to broaden my skill base (and probably my repertoire of expletives);

2. The lawn mower has never had an oil change in six years. I suspect it is going to be a busy little machine in the coming weeks, so best I give it some TLC;

3. Email storage - I have one unread email which needs replying to, but more significantly, there's 1.5Gb of archived mails which I'm sure could be trimmed massively;

4. Source petrol, see 2. above;

5. As I drove by a farm last week, I was treated to a thrilling murmuration by a small flock of Starlings (hundreds, rather than thousands). To be honest, the van was less impressed than I was, due to the prolonged burst of brown paintballing - wash van thoroughly.

How are you all coping with the changed circumstances?

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Dawning realisation

This graph was included in an article on the BBC News website on Sunday 22nd March 2020. I was initially puzzled by the fact that adding the Recoveries and Deaths together didn't match the number of Current cases. Then I remembered that anyone who thinks they have symptoms of Coronavirus should self-isolate for 14 days. Looking at the graph again, it dawned upon me that the sum of the latest numbers of Recoveries and Deaths matches the Current cases from 2 weeks ago.

So, in another fortnight, the Recoveries and Deaths columns are going to do what the Current cases column is doing now i.e. triple. Am I reading that correctly?

And it doesn't look like that Current cases slope is going to be levelling off any time soon.


Love is a social disease

Unexpectedly finding myself in the category of 'key worker', through a contract with a national company, was one of the more surprising developments of this past week. I guess that with 'everyone' self-isolating, having access to tv and broadband is seen as essential.

So, it was fortuitous that there were also plenty of wildlife moments to take my mind off things. Let's begin with an area of rough ground in an industrial estate in Kirkwall, which is becoming well known as a good vole hunting spot for Hen Harriers and Short-eared Owls. As an aside to a fellow blogger, does this release me from my pledge, CT?

All the above shots were taken from a vehicle (and the resulting photos subsequently cropped). The following afternoon, I had a few hours spare, and the light was much better, so I returned to the spot to try and capture flight shots of the owl. I also had to get my lazy arse out of the car!

This Pied Wagtail was NOT happy

Later in the week, Eagle-eyed M suggested a walk at Brodgar, with the hope of some quality otter time. As we skirted around the perimeter of the Ring, the air was filled with the sound of birdsong. Skylarks were 'ascending', trilling their flurry of notes from on high like some avian stream of consciousness. Meadow Pipits were fluttering skyward before parachuting back to earth in an audio visual display of territoriality. In the distance, on some shallow pools, wildfowl were gathered to feed and loaf: Shelduck, Shoveler, Gadwall, Teal, Wigeon and... my 100th species for the year... Pintail.

As we neared the shore of Stenness Loch, I spotted a dog Otter on a spit of land. He soon moved into a small bay to hunt, so we quietly crept around the lochside path to get a better view. He was finding plenty of eels (I think) and although we weren't close to him, the lack of a breeze meant that we could hear all his splashings as he constantly dived and resurfaced.

Early yesterday morning, as has become the custom of late, the first birdsong we heard was a Skylark. Sometimes the wee guy is airborne, but occasionally he takes the easy option and sings from atop a fence post.

Later that afternoon, Our Lass and I took a walk at Mull Head in Deerness. There was a stiff southerly breeze which felt colder than it ought, but it was good to be out in the fresh air and we were careful to socially distance ourselves from the only other two people we met.

Seabirds are returning to the cliffs for the breeding season, so we sat and watched the Guillemots for a while.

One ledge in particular attracted our attention, as there was an obvious space in the serried ranks of auks, and even as new arrivals alighted on the cliff, this gap was maintained. Zooming in with my little camera, I realised that there was a Fulmar at the back of the ledge, who was intent on claiming the ledge for albatross-dom. Perhaps with current affairs in mind, I couldn't help but think of this scene as a failed attempt at giving a lecture on the merits of social distancing. You know you've lost your audience when they start having sex.

As we wandered back to the car, there was another reminder that Spring is in the air, and that there's only one species on Earth which is particularly preoccupied with pandemic. Way, way in the distance, a couple of Brown Hares were chasing and boxing, in a possible prelude to procreation.

Now, after all that smut and shenanigans, go and wash your hands.

Sunday, 15 March 2020

Careen afore us

Our journey back from the holiday in Inverness went without a hitch. As usual, we had allowed time to pop to a supermarket on the mainland, before catching a ferry across the Pentland Firth. Having used up all the perishables from the fridge at Tense Towers before we left, there were a few essentials to buy to see us through the rest of the weekend until Monday morning. Whilst in holiday mode, we had been vaguely aware of all the malarkey surrounding folk stockpiling goods due to COVID-19, so I wasn't quite prepared for the blatant opportunism of the supermarket chain. At the end or corner of just about every aisle were displays of loo roll and handwash. But the icing on the cake was this shelf sign, which I am positive must have a typo in it.

I had to pop up to Shetland (6 confirmed cases, all self-isolating) for work on Friday. Once the ferry had docked, I headed north from Lerwick through occasional flurries of snow and I marvelled at the icicles which had formed below the banks at either side of the road. As they say, it was proper Baltic!

The return drive to Lerwick was notable for a Red Grouse, spotted feeding at the side of the road (another first for the year).

Whilst waiting for the ferry back to Orkney (no confirmed cases at time of writing), I had a wander along the harbour front, then climbed one of the many flagstoned alleys which wind steeply up to Hillhead, then along past the building which is famous as the Police Station in the crime drama Shetland, before descending once more back to the harbour front.

 A bird box on a telegraph pole - Great Tits and megabits
There were plenty of tourists about, but I couldn't see a cruise ship anywhere, not at a berth in Lerwick, nor out in the sound between the mainland and Bressay. With a bit more time to kill, I drove to the Knab, a ness with views of Brei Wick and, sure enough, there was the ship, the Magellan, busy transferring passengers to and fro to the town in a fleet of small tenders.

Yesterday afternoon, just as Our Lass and I were contemplating a walk, we received a message from Eagle-eyed M asking much the same question, so we met up and drove down to Rose Ness at the southern tip of Holm. It was bracing to say the least, with the waves at high tide sending foam up over the clifftops. By the small modern-day lighthouse there were 5 Ringed Plovers hunkering down out of the wind, and on the return walk, M found a few wing feathers, which I pocketed for ID later.

This Shag seemed to have a penchant for extreme sport

Back at Tense Towers, over coffee and biscuits, we examined the feathers, which were mainly brown with a pale stripe on the leading edge. Probably too small for a wader, but too large for a pipit, we were a bit stumped as to who the unfortunate owner had been. The salt-laden clifftop location and rough moorland didn't seem right for Blackbird, so I began leafing through a book of bird signs (footprints, skulls, feathers etc). When I eventually found a match for colour and size, we were amazed to learn that the feathers were from a Starling. Really?! Aren't they all black and sparkly?! But the book indicated that the secondaries would begin to have a blue-greenish gloss by S3 and, would you believe it, they did.

Then we checked the base of the feathers, where the quills had been broken off. So, not moulted, not plucked by a raptor, but chewed by a mammal, which would either have been a feral cat or a non-native Stoat. Satisfied with our nature detective work, we had another cuppa to celebrate.

Today dawned was wet and grey, but by mid morning the wind had dropped to nothing. Our Lass and I had a potter around the kirk loop, spying the occasional and distant Brown Hare, before stopping by the kirk to have a really good look at the Starlings on the roof.

Well, well, well. They do have brown feathers at the leading edge of the wing!

The pools by the kirk contained Teal, Shelduck and Gadwall, and then we scanned the fields behind these for any other wildlife.

In the far distance, we could see another hare hunkered down in the long grass by a fence line. And whilst watching this, I spotted a pair of Snipe a little bit nearer in the same field.

The walk back uphill towards home was rudely interrupted by a shower of rain, driven on by northerly breeze which had suddenly sprang up. There was only one thing for it...