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...


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