Mercury, Venus, Jupiter, Mars, the Moon and Mirrie Dancers too!

2 March, 2012

What an amazing night! After a few days of muggy, misty, cloudy and damp conditions, the forecast was for a clear night, the temperature perhaps getting down to freezing. I began looking forward to taking some photographs of some planets, perhaps some star trails and other possibilities. After much thought I decided to head out to Burra because I wanted some interest in the landscape and I knew just the place to get some domestic lights and streetlights as well as some nice areas of sea that I hoped the quarter moon would illuminate. But before I left home I was pleased to see Mercury above the hill at the back of us. Later, I also had a good view of Mars in the opposite direction, its distinctive red colour making it an easy sight.

Wow, I was not to be disappointed at my chosen spot in Burra! Not only did the moon help to illuminate the sea and the landscape but I could also see Foula on one set of photographs. That was the set that I hope will make a nice timelapse of Venus and Jupiter. But, more than all that, no sooner than I was there but I could sense the aurora and, as my eyes adapted I could see it too. So I set up my other camera facing over Lang Sound and was delighted to get some nice aurora shots and a cool green reflection in the Sound. As you can see it was mostly the auroral oval but there were also some beams and rays and a very brief period where the oval folded into a curtain. I also now see on some of the photos that there were some overhead forms too, though I didn’t notice at the time. As you can see, the lights were not very strong tonight and, of course, the camera sees much than the human eye but they still inspire me and I’m really glad I was in a great position to see them – I never tire of seeing the mirrie dancers.

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A husky called Nik

12 February, 2012

Photo (animated gif): a husky called Nik. Just animated it a few times so it doesn’t annoy you too much! I tried to upload it elsewhere but it doesn’t animate when uploaded to some other sites. Not sure why but I’ll just post it here instead. To see the animation, open the post (click on the heading, “A husky called Nik”) and then click on the picture.

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.

Scalloway Fire Festival

14 January, 2012

It was a superb night for the Scalloway Fire Festival – calm, mild and dry. Let’s hope similar conditions prevail for all the Up Helly-Aa nights this year! Here are a few photos of the procession, galley and Guizer Jarl Simon Mullay, magnificent as Jarl Sigurd the Stout (Sigurd Hlodversson) for the day.

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!

December events and views

30 December, 2011

Some landscape shots taken this month, together with a couple of flash mobs for good luck! First, are 4 shots of the Moon and Jupiter from early in the month. Next, a couple of snow scenes in Lerwick, followed by the Moon, partially eclipsed. A sunset and the Moon again, this time just before dawn, are followed by the Sandyburn Singers, who “flash mobbed” the Toll Clock shopping centre, and shoppers rushing to get their Christmas shopping completed just before Christmas. The calm before the storm at St Ninian’s and Breiwick are followed by another “flash mob” of young people from all over Shetland putting on a dance act at the Market Cross on the last late night shopping night before Christmas. Christmas Day raged a wild storm that caused some damage throughout the Isles, this garden was wrecked at our friends’ house in Nederdale. Off over to Burra for the next and all but the last photo. A rope at Meal, follwed by the sea washing over the coast at Lottra Minn and the Kame of the Riven Noup. Last one is the sun, showing (from L-R) sunspots 1389, 1388 1386 and 1384.

Merry Christmas!

22 December, 2011

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Christmas is arriving! Soon be time for another post! A very happy time to you all, friends, readers and visitors alike.

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.

(Partial) Lunar Eclipse

10 December, 2011

Shetland was the only place in the UK where it was theoretically possible to see today’s total lunar eclipse. I say “theoretically possible” because, here in Lerwick there was just 4 minutes from moonrise to end of totality and keen moon observers will know that is a challenge in ideal conditions – i.e. dark; but sunset was at almost exactly the same time so it was still quite light. One could have gained a few minutes by travelling to Shetland’s northernmost point (both earlier moonrise and earlier sunset) and I would have considered doing that but for one other factor – rain and cloud, both of which were in plentiful supply during the day! However, forecasters were suggesting a “50% chance” of a clear view – a suggestion that was heavily reported by local and national media.

I set up my camera in a place just outside town with a view of the horizon down to sea level in good time but wasn’t optimistic – it was still fairly light but, more importantly, there was quite thick cloud on the horizon – though there was a patch of blue sky above. Sure enough, from just before three till well after there was no sign of the moon – so I didn’t see totality. However, about 3:20 PM I caught a tiny glimpse of the moon and, over the next half-hour or so I was given increasingly good views of the advancing partial lunar eclipse until it again disappeared, first behind hazy clouds and then a more dense blanket, rapidly followed by rain. Not a patch on last year’s total lunar eclipse but nonetheless a very nice sight.

Jupiter and the Moon in mid winter get-together

6 December, 2011

What a wonderful sight! Tonight, the Moon and Jupiter are just 5 degrees apart as I write this. What’s more, the sky has been clear for much of the evening, affording superb views here in Shetland. I took the opportunity to capture a few images and am pleased with my efforts. The snow added a nice setting for the pairing and I added a couple of fun images too, with me viewing the event and a seasonal shot with our local Christmas tree.