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.

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!

Fireworks, Crafts and time to reflect

24 November, 2011

This year the annual fireworks display put on by Islesburgh Pyrotechnic Display Club coincided with Guy Fawkes Day and fell on a Saturday. The evening was clear and calm and made for a splendid 15 minute long spectacle. I have been photographing the display from Staney Hill for quite a few years but this year chose quite a different position to normal. Even though it’s only 10 or 15 minutes walk off Cunningham Way and I knew where I was going, it was still a challenge in the dark with a headtorch to avoid the boggy areas! But it was all worth it and I was pleased with the results – I feel that, from this angle, the lights of Lerwick form a better setting than I have previously achieved.

Later in the month I attended the annual Shetland Arts and Crafts Fair with a wide range of Austin Taylor Photography products and was delighted the Fair was so well attended, both by many new exhibitors and the public. I should like to say a big thank you to everybody who took the time to visit my stand.

On a more sombre note, Shetland has been fortunate in being able to host the travelling photographic exhibition highlighting the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings of August 1945. My photo shows visitors to the Town Hall  in Lerwick, where the exhibition was displayed in the middle of November. I took time to view the photographs, which are at the same time intensely moving, sometimes graphic and yet, inspirational – partly in the sense that it remains urgent to permanently rid the world of nuclear weapons. More important than that though remains the greater need to achieve a sustainable future for the planet; only then, with genuine equity between all human societies and with all of the natural world will there be any hope of an end to the mistrust that creates such waepons.


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.

Grey seal pups

31 October, 2011

Every year in the autumn, grey seals pup in remote locations and offshore islands around Shetland and it’s my great privilege to help count the pups as part of ongoing survey. Regrettably this is also one of my busiest times in the run up to Christmas, so I don’t get out anywhere near as many times as I’d like. However, a couple of weeks ago I was very fortunate to go and count seal pups with two experienced colleagues on one of the offshore island breeding sites.

As you can see, the pups are pretty helpless and the task of the observers is to disturb them and the breeding females as little as possible – so these photos were taken quickly as we worked, using a long telephoto lens to get in for some close portraits. These pups are no more than a day or two old or, in the case of a couple of them, no more than a few hours old.

Dead in the water

23 October, 2011

Whilst on the way to Whalsay a few weeks ago I spotted something about a mile off in front the ferry that looked at first like a bouy – a gull stood on it. As we came closer I realised it was a dead animal floating and, presently, the skipper manoeuvred hard over to get a closer look. I think it’s a seal – what do you think?

Hegris at Uyeasound

11 October, 2011

This post should really have made it into September but didn’t! It was in the last day or two of September that I had a very early job on in Unst that warranted me getting the first ferry on the Yell Sound that day heading north. But I also ended up being in time for the first ferry on Bluemull Sound too, which meant I arrived in Unst before sunrise, so it was still too dark to properly see what I’d come to photograph! “No matter” I thought, and went off to Uyeasound to watch the sunrise – and very nice it was too. But, whilst there, I caught sight of 3 fine herons, feeding amomg the kelp and low tide. It was very still and quiet but they let me get quite close. Unfortunately, the light was poor so these were all shot with a fast ISO that has resulted in a slight loss of detail but they’re all quite pleasing and, in any case, these are some of the closest shots I have of herons!

Waxcaps, Shetland

27 September, 2011

I’ve always known Shetland to be a pretty good place for waxcaps but I’m sure this year has been better than usual. Maybe it’s just my imagination? Anyway, here is a small selection of photos taken this year. When I get round to it I’ll put a proper selection over on Austin Taylor Photography