Archive for the ‘Shetland Wildlife’ Category

A walk to Da Lang Ayre, Shetland

10 September, 2020

Short version (long version below)

Start and finish
Collafirth Hill
Difficulty  Mostly “moderately challenging” but very challenging over crumbly and steep terrain for a small part
Distance From Collafirth Hill to Lang Ayre via the summit of Ronas Hill is 6.75km, according to my GPS.
Time needed 6-8 hours depending on your fitness and how long you linger at points of interest
Total Ascent  About 570m.

Weather forecast mostly sunny with light wind and that’s what we got, temperature about 12°.

Fairly easy going from Collafirth Hill, around the flanks of Roga Field and Midfield, and then over Grud Burn before the 100m or so of steeper ascent over the last ½ km to the summit.  Very rocky classic fellfield terrain with photogenic formations, colours and rare plants and insects.  Outstanding views of the whole of Shetland from the summit.

Easy going gently downhill NW to Burn of Monius though the terrain steepens sharply here, and a rope has been affixed, so one can hang on over the steep and crumbly final 50 metres or so.

Wow!  Lang Ayre is epic, an all-engulfing assault on the senses that must be experienced to be believed.  The walk from one end to the other and back to the start is over 4km.

The climb back up the rope and along the lower reaches of the stream needs care but isn’t difficult.  Climbing out of the gorge is hard work and this is followed by a slog back up the slopes of Ronas Hill.  It’s then easy going back to Collafirth Hill.


A walk to Da Lang Ayre – Long Version
It’s been a while since I wrote a blog post but a much, much longer period has passed since I last set eyes on Lang Ayre.  But last week my friend Jill and I had an epic day out there on one of the most amazing days of weather of late summer.  I had been meaning to go there and spend time on the beach for years but finding the right combination of time and weather had eluded me, even though I’ve set out that way a number of times, the most recent earlier this summer when, already over the summit of Ronas Hill, the weather suddenly turned and low cloud appeared from nowhere and then descended.  The back of Ronas Hill is not the place to be in such conditions so I retreated.

Most people set out from Collafirth Hill, as we did, which means the first 200m of elevation is done in the car, but beware, the track up the hill has some nasty potholes that merge in places on the lower slopes!  If you’re thinking of taking on this challenge this is what you need to know.

How difficult is it?  This depends on your age and fitness but most folk seem to describe it as “moderately challenging”.  But I would describe the scramble back up the steep ravine from Lang Ayre as “tough, frequent stops required” – but I’ve never liked steep terrain and it’s only that hard for about half an hour.  However, as we’ll see, a short section has a handy rope to hang on to, because it’s steep and crumbly, and we both found that helpful.
How far is it?  From Collafirth Hill to Lang Ayre via the summit of Ronas Hill is 6.75km, according to my GPS.  However, we walked a further 3.7km on the beach, (and we probably missed a good half mile or so to the north end).  So, by the time we got back to the car we’d walked 16.9km in total.
How long will it take?  We took just over 8 hours; but we spent half an hour at the top of Ronas Hill, and over 2 hours at Da Lang Ayre.  On the other hand, if you’re young and fit and don’t want to marvel at the epic beach formations, cliffs and stacks for hours, you could probably get there and back in 5 hours – but you would have completely missed the point of this walk.
Total Ascent?  About 570m.

Back to our walk.  This day the forecast promised great weather for the day and we were lucky because it turned out even better than we had hoped and, apart from a few scudding clouds, we had almost wall-to-wall sunshine with a gentle southerly breeze to keep us cool when climbing uphill.


I’ve been up Ronas Hill many times; I’ve enjoyed the view alone, with family and with friends.  I’ve been nearly blown over in the wind and more than once encountered sudden mist or low cloud.  I’ve been up on mid-summer “night” but not been fortunate enough to see both mid-summer sunset and sunrise on the same night, despite hoping to tick that one off for about 20 years!  It can be a bit of a trudge in places where the peat is hagged but it’s fairly easy going from Collafirth Hill, around the flanks of Roga Field and Midfield, and then over Grud Burn before the 100m or so of steeper ascent over the last ½ km to the summit.  It gets noticeably rocky here and stopping often on the way up to admire the classic fellfield terrain with its photogenic formations and colours, as well as the rare and beautiful (if tiny) plants and insects should not be missed in the rush for the top.


Once at the top we spent some time admiring the view, posing for a photo, and signing the visitors’ book before heading off roughly north-west towards Lang Ayre.  But what a view!  This day visibility was outstanding and, from the summit of Ronas Hill, we could see clearly Scantips on Fitful Head (over 80km south), the Noup of Noss, Foula, Papa Stour, Yell, Unst and even Muckle Flugga!  Remarkably, Fair Isle (about 120km) was also visible though, to be fair, I only identified it later, on my photographs; I couldn’t discern it with my naked eye at the time.


Most of the next hour was easy going gently downhill with Mountain Hare and Bonxies for company but as we approached the lower reaches of the Burn of Monius the terrain steepened sharply and we had to pick our route carefully, but the steep valley is a delight, with stunning views opening up as we neared the bottom.  As I mentioned, a rope has been affixed, so one can hang on over the steep and crumbly final 50 metres or so.  This isn’t too bad and if you’re fit enough to have reached here it will present no problem – but check my photo to see if this might cause issues for you.

Wow!  Lang Ayre is variously described as “epic”, “remote”, “my favourite place”, the “most amazing place in Shetland” and given many other accolades by those who make it here.  All of these are fully justified, but it’s truly an all-engulfing assault on the senses that also includes the sounds; the scale of the beach and cliffs; and the colours and textures of the rocks, the cliffs, the sand and the water.  After over 2 hours there I was still part in awe, part in shock and partly still in compete wonderment of how this place truly can be.


We walked to the far south-west end of the beach before setting out for the other end where the sun was shining during our visit – most of the southern half of the beach was in shade at this time.  The beach is mostly pebbly and stony though there are large sandy sections.  There are some substantial areas that are fairly level, but some sections are so steeply stepped that I wondered how it is possible for the pebbles to simply hang there as if glued together.  Certainly, strolling over 2 miles of mostly pebbly, often shifting ground becomes tiring so allow plenty of time to enjoy it all but, even then, you’ll be enchanted to go back, I’ve no doubt.  We didn’t make to the north-west end, but we weren’t worried by this – better to leave something new to explore next time!

The time had come to head back and climbing back up the rope and along the lower reaches of the stream was the easy bit; I found climbing out of the gorge hard work and I’ve never been a hill climber so I found it a slog almost all the way back up the slopes of Ronas Hill.  However, we didn’t go back to the summit; rather, we skirted round the side at the 350m contour, but even then it took about 90 minutes from sea level to the small loch at the head of Grud Burn, between Ronas Hill and Mid Field that signalled the start of our gradual descent back down to Collafirth Hill.

PhotoWild! with Shetland Nature Festival

24 July, 2018

 

How would you like to have a great day out around Sumburgh Head while improving your photography at the same time?  Well, you’ve got a great chance with me THIS SATURDAY 28 JULY in association with the Shetland Nature Festival.

From the Nature Festival Programme:
Come on a PhotoWild! workshop with Austin Taylor around Sumburgh Head and take some photographs you’ll treasure. By the end of the day you’ll know how to control exposure, how to focus for better effect, how to create landscapes you’ll be proud of and learn to work with fast moving subjects. Suitable for all including beginners and all types of Digital Cameras are welcome. However, you’ll get the most out of the day with a Digital SLR, a Bridge or a Mirrorless camera.

A few more details:
Lunch and entry to Sumburgh Lighthouse Visitor Centre included
The plan for the day is to meet in the café for half an hour quick refresher of camera controls and then drive to Sumburgh Hotel.  From there we will make our way along the west coast taking in spectacular views of the Lighthouse and coastline along the way; we will get to the café for lunch, probably not around 1 PM. We will then spend some time photographing the birds around the RSPB Reserve and visiting the lighthouse exhibits. Depending on the weather and group’s wishes we could then either continue back to the vehicle(s) at Sumburgh Hotel via the east coast route over Compass Head or simply stay around the lighthouse and the Reserve, practising our photography on the many subjects there.  If the weather is initially unfavourable we could instead spend time around the Visitor Centre until it improves and then walk either coast.  Going all the way round would give the most variety but would probably cut out the indoor stuff.

For more details about what to bring, please visit this page: http://www.austintaylorphotography.com/what-to-bring.html

For more details about all my photo workshops, visit this page: http://www.austintaylorphotography.com/photo-training.html

To Book PhotoWild! at Sumburgh Head, please go to the Little Box Office/sat

Autumn Birds day

9 September, 2014

I can hardly believe that it’s 4½ years since the last time I went on a birding day out with Paul Harvey from the Shetland Biological Records Centre – I thought it was just a year or two ago! With Paul was Rory Tallack (one of the Rangers) and a group of about a dozen folk keen to see and learn more about autumn birds in Shetland.

Well this past Sunday was an awful day of rain and wind, quite a contrast to the day before, which had been glorious and warm sunshine all day. So our hopes were not that high and we set out generally looking for larger birds and those less likely to “hide” in such poor weather. We weren’t disappointed though and saw a good number of bird species – about the same as is usually seen on these courses that are generally held a couple of times a year. That we saw so many species is down to Paul’s ability to see and identify birds when most of the rest of us can hardly even see through the rain on the minibus windows.

So, unlike the post from 4½ years ago, the photos in this post are very poor and I’m just posting a few record shots of some of the more unusual species we saw. In fact, most of these are firsts for me, including the Kestrel which isn’t common in Shetland and, whilst I’ve seen it many times on the UK mainland, I don’t recall ever seeing one in Shetland before. So, given these are mostly new to me it was such a shame the rain prevented any decent photos, but I think it’s still worth posting them, not least to show the good work of the Shetland Biological Records Centre in running these courses.

You’ll see a couple of photos are not birds – we were very lucky to see a pod of 20+ porpoises at Scousburgh and they were very active, allowing good views.

Stuck for something to do at the weekend in Shetland? Not sure I believe you.

21 May, 2013

Just a quick round up of what I got up to at the weekend!  First, I got an exclusive preview of the Artisan Academy Exhibition of selected work of 3rd year Shetland College students of contemporary textiles at the Böd of Gremista. And by “exclusive”, I mean just me – before the other press or the private view. That was a good thing though because the Böd is so small that with the crowds expected at the opening, photographing the exhibits would have been difficult. I shall post more photos of the exhibition later.

I went back on the Saturday for the official opening to invited guests and snapped a few more photographs, mostly of the artists and guests, as you can see below.

Later on that evening I went along to an absorbing talk at the Shetland Museum entitled “From Kennemerland to Mary Rose” by Christopher Dobbs. Fantastic stuff for anyone interested in maritime archaeology and underwater finds, divers, historians and anyone just interested in the maritime history of Shetland and elsewhere. Dobbs also gave a fascinating account of the raising and restoration of the Mary Rose in the Solent, including giving the audience an insight into the new Mary Rose museum, due to open to the public on 31 May. The Shetland Museum was packed with more folk than had ever attended one of these lectures and some extra chairs and the stairs had to be used to accommodate everyone!

Sunday morning and I had a quick whizz round the boat show – not that I’m a boaty sort of person, but all those bright colours and beautiful shapes are highly attractive to a photographer! I was particularly taken with some of the older boats, including the 19th century Ann, but also a number of “Shetland model” boats outside dating to the early 20th century and with their history and owners listed.

For more info on the Ann see here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.517678974945272.1073741828.381349481911556&type=1

Sunday turned out to be a bit misty in town but we were headed west and, once over into Tresta it turned out to be the best day of the year so far – we took in the sun (me behind factor 30!) and admired the local scenes, wildlife and kayakers. Coming back, the last photo clearly shows that the misty low cloud was still at the same point that we had left it 5 hours earlier.

DSC_7661Jack Hardy alongside a painting of him and Claire Saunders Smith by Jennifer Hutchison

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And the birds returned… in pairs!

3 May, 2012

For some reason there has been a shortage of birds in my garden these past few weeks, in spite of there being the usual supply of food for them. I had been wondering if hiding cats had been putting them off because there were plenty of birds in the neighbourhood and folk were telling of all sorts of interesting finds (see the Nature in Shetland site for details of recent birds).

Well I was delighted to find a pair of siskins and a pair of bramblings in my garden this evening, among the sparrows. Except the original pair of bramblings later turned out to be at least 6! Here are a few photos.

Iceland Gulls

15 January, 2012

Iceland gull, Glaucous gull, Kumlien’s gull – white-winged gulls that are normally only occasional winter visitors to Shetland and, without guidance, may be difficult to distinguish from our commoner gulls. So I thought I would get some advice to help me be sure that I had indeed seen Iceland gulls and, perhaps, the other two as well. Now is the best time in recent history to do so – yesterday’s coordinated count in Shetland revealed that there are at least 152 such gulls here; the biggest arrival ever to be recorded. The previous record was at least 120 in 1983. See the Nature in Shetland blog for full details.

On the day before the count I tagged along with a few friends doing a count in Lerwick harbour at lunchtime; we saw Iceland gull, Glaucous gull and a probable Kumlien’s gull. There were first, second, third winter and adult Iceland gulls but I found out how difficult it is to distinguish all these variants that day. Today, even though the light was poor I went back to take some more photos on my own because I thought the gulls might depart anytime and I might not get another chance. I managed to get some nice photos and even got one or two decent flight shots – something that had eluded me on Friday. I also got some nice Kittiwake and Eider images and was amused by the sight of a grey seal basking on its back for quite a while.

I was thinking of leaving when a couple of Iceland gulls decided to have a fight just in front of me so I was lucky to get a set of images that add something new to my collection. I think this sequence shows 1st and 3rd winter Iceland gulls, but I’m happy to be corrected by those with more ID skill! My ID is based on the eye colour and the fact that what I think is the older bird has some pronounced grey on its upper wings, unlike the other bird.

Arrêt complet

31 December, 2011

Literally “full stop”. It’s the end of the year and here’s my last post of 2011, a collection of some of the birds I’ve seen this month, together with the Humpback whale at Sumburgh on 12 December. The birds (in order) are: Starling, an optimistic gull trying to get at a fat ball, Desert whetear at Lerwick, Greylag goose, Bigton, Moorhen and Redwing, both Spiggie, Tundra Bean and White fronted geese, Blackbird, all Bigton, Goldeneye and Whooper swan, all Clickimin. The first Whooper swan has the coloured ring JB4 on its leg. Hugh Harrop gave the history of this bird’s travels over on the Shetland Wildlife Facebook page. It makes interesting reading.

Well, that’s it. Off out now to celebrate Hogmanay and bring in the New Year. A very happy and warm New Year to you all!

5 Wonders of Shetland

15 December, 2011

I posted these photos on my Facebook page earlier this week and they generated a lot of interest and a request from my dear friend Marjolein that I post them here to make them more widely available – so here they are! Most of them are on my main website but they aren’t yet together as a group yet! Anyway the story behind this post follows and I tried to pick an appropriate image for each “Wonder”.

There has been quite a lot of positive publicity about Shetland at the moment and the Auld Rock is riding high and I thought “why not put together a 5 wonders of Shetland album?” “Why 5?” you may ask. Well, I’m sure I could have made it 7 but that might come later! So here goes. It’s already well known that Up Helly-Aa is Europe’s biggest fire festival; with the growth of the internet this fame has spread far and wide and it’s regularly featured and recommended in the media worldwide. The most recent accolade is in Up Helly-Aa being chosen as the best winter festival in Europe, according to Wanderlust. Also last week Islesburgh Youth Hostel was chosen as the best youth hostel in the world by Hostelling International; that’s an exceptional achievement in itself but comes on top of coming runner up last year! Talking of last year, the Shetland Folk Festival was crowned Event of the Year in the Scots Trad Music Awards. This year will be the 32nd Shetland Folk Festival and plans are already well ahead to make it another fantastic festival

Moving to natural wonders, anybody who has seen a television over at least the past decade must know by now that Shetland has some of the best opportunities for viewing wildlife anywhere. When, 20-odd years ago I started telling folk that Shetland is of worldwide importance and a global destination for landscape and wildlife eyebrows were raised. When I said it was as important as the Galapagos I found few who openly agreed. But pose that question today to Promote Shetland, or any of the highly successful companies providing wildlife and visitor experiences to Shetland and they will all tell you that’s precisely what their clients think and why they come. Whether it’s orcas or marine wildlife generally; stunning seabird cities or mega-rare vagrants; or the humble mountain hare, there’s always something to see. Also on the natural wonders front is that elusive phenomenon Aurora borealis, aka northern lights, or “Mirrie Dancers” in Shetland. Perhaps less well known outside Shetland is the fact that this is one of the best places in the UK for viewing the northern lights! Wow – it’s just awesome! And there are loads more things to see and do too. Have a look at some of the wildlife, landscape and night galleries over at my main website Austin Taylor Photography for some inspiration or just browse the stock images gallery to get an overall flavour.

Here again are the 5 photos I posted to my Facebook Page in celebration of these wonders.

More Autumn wildlife

30 November, 2011

A last roundup for November, which saw me going to the woodlands at Kergord and visiting some more grey seal pups. Along the way, I saw blackberries, more interesting fungi and some beautiful yellow sycamore leaves. I also saw a sparrowhawk (though it was far too quick for me to photograph) but unfortunately completely failed to see the treecreeper that was in the area at the time. A couple of weeks later I made another visit to see grey seal pups on what turned out to be a fine autumn day, with warm sunshine and a gentle breeze. That was important because it’s really not a good idea to be in a fairly inaccessible place overlooking seals at the bottom of a cliff in a high wind! I had to use quite a long telephoto lens and still crop the photos quite severly to get the frame-filling shots you see here. Finally, a beautiful sunset on the walk back to the car caught my eye oh, and the sparrow was in my garden – of course!

Starlings

20 November, 2011

I was inspired to write this after watching a video about a chance encounter with a starling murmuration by Sophie Windsor Clive here.  Starlings are such a bird of autumn to me and even here in Lerwick I get my own flock sometimes, well if you agree with me that 30 or 40 at a time in a modest garden counts as a flock! I don’t often get to see a murmuration here, though I saw a mini murmuration over the town centre one Autumn evening in Lerwick just a couple of years ago and have looked hopefully every November since. No, the last time I saw a murmuration of any size was one time that I was passing through Inverurie, about 3 or 4 years ago. Maybe I need to make a special visit south to the Scottish/ English border one year where occurrences are more likely? Anyway, in the meantime, here are a couple of starlings from my garden and then a couple more, taking a bath at Boddam.