Saturday, 31 July 2010

Black Guillemot - August 2010 Wallpaper

This Black Guillemot was photographed in June 2010 on one of our Focus on Shetland trips. To set the picture as your computer's desktop wallpaper background, double click on the image below to open it in full size then right-click the mouse while it's over the picture. Select the 'Set as Background' menu option, or the 'Set as Wallpaper' option, depending on your browser type. If you want to take images like this, click here and join us in 2011.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Risso's Dolphins off Unst - Jon Dunn

Thursday morning and I was on Unst for the second day of a photographic tour around Shetland with top Spanish photographer Jose Menéndez Guerra. We had headed north to spend the day making the most of the fine weather and take some portraits of the teeming seabirds at Hermaness NNR, and it was just as we were parking there that my phone rang. Fellow Shetland Wildlife leader David Fairhurst was calling to let me know he’d just found a pod of 8 Risso’s Dolphins at the other end of the island. “They’re at Uyeasound – right next to the pier!”

We turned straight round, and headed at haste back the way we’d just come, stopping only to flag down another party of Spanish wildlife tourists and their guide who also happened to be on the isle that day - but were oblivious to the news. Naturally, being first with the news, I felt responsible for making sure all interested parties got to share what sounded like a uniquely close encounter with a normally elusive species of cetacean...

We arrived at Uyeasound to find an elated David and his group of Ultimate Shetland guests gathered at the end of the pier watching the Risso’s Dolphins a mere 15 metres away. The dolphins gave us a fantastic display of social behaviour – spy-hopping, breaching, rolling, and tail-slapping. They even appeared to be playing with pieces of seaweed, as they occasionally spy-hopped with seaweed held in their mouths, or lifted seaweed from the water on their tails before flicking it into the air!

There appeared to be 8 individual animals, including an older animal so white with scars it was almost Beluga-like. We spent a very happy hour watching and photographing them while more and more local folk and tourists arrived to see them - this was a social occasion for humans and dolphins alike! Eventually we had to tear ourselves away – there were seabirds still needing to be photographed, and even in Shetland’s long summer daylight, time was pressing on…

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Autumn Birding in Shetland 2010

Shetland's track record for attracting rare and scarce migrant birds every Autumn is second to none. Our track record for getting you to see them, is unrivalled. We are already extremely busy for Autumn 2010 with a total of five trips running. All of our three 'new-style Fair Isle' holidays have sold out and to meet demand, we've created a second Autumn Gold trip to run from 25 September - 2 October. We currently have just one vacancy on this trip and two vacancies on the 2 - 9 October departure, so book now if you'd like to join us! To whet your appetite, we've summed up our 2009 trips:

"We had another superb autumn and once again our series of trips coincided with the best weather and the best birds! Although Fair Isle Bird Observatory was closed for re-building, we operated two trips to Fair Isle (staying in the fantastic guest houses at the Auld Haa and South Lighthouse) and also ran two weeks based here in Shetland. So, four magical bird-filled weeks! Heading the cast was Britain's third-ever Taiga Flycatcher which turned up on Fetlar. Originally identified as a Red-breasted Flycatcher, the bird was fortunately re-identified by others and hung around long enough for both Autumn Gold groups to see this eastern gem. Hot on the flycatcher's heels for sheer rarity value was a stunning Veery that graced Whalsay. This diminutive North American thrush was a real skulker, but thanks to the friendliness of the local residents - and Shetland Wildlife guides getting the news first - we were rewarded with superb views. Like the flycatcher, it also hung around to allow both Autumn Gold groups to see this very special bird.

Other great birds included Blackpoll Warbler, River Warbler, Blyth's Reed Warbler, Red-flanked Bluetail, Western Bonelli's Warbler, three Arctic Warblers, two Olive-backed Pipits, two Pechora Pipits, a couple of Short-toed Larks, a Siberian Stonechat, three Hornemann's Arctic Redpolls, Rustic Bunting, three Little Buntings, Spotted Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Surf Scoter, American Golden Plover and Ring-necked Duck! We hardly needed a supporting cast but other goodies included a couple of Richard's Pipits, Bluethroat, Barred, Yellow-browed and Marsh Warblers, Red-breasted Flycatcher, plenty of Snow and Lapland Buntings plus several Common Rosefinches".

So, join us in 2010 and discover the reason why we have run more Shetland-based holidays for birders since 1992 than any other company & why we remain their No. 1 Choice.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Killer Whales from the Garden!

Shetland Wildlife had two superb encounters with Killer Whales this week. One of the encounters included a pod of seven which were on view for three hours from the garden of SW HQ at Maywick. As you'd expect, we spread the word far and wide via our own grapevine, our Twitter site and by calling the local hotels, B&Bs and restaurants. Around 30 - 40 people turned up during the evening to watch them hunting and we were treated to some spectacular spy-hopping, tail-lobbing and semi-breaches. The bull in the pod was identified from earlier photographs we'd taken of him and is indeed number 014 in North Atlantic Killer Whale ID Project catalogue. So certainly a case of Déjà vu. And if that's wasn't enough Déjà vu, how about this - the last time we saw Russ Morrison and his delightful family was when we were watching this particular bull Killer Whale two years ago along the Nesting coast. And who turned up this evening to see 014 again? Russ and his family! It's a funny old World...

Friday, 16 July 2010

Red-throated Divers: Rain Geese

We are extremely lucky to have a loch just a couple of hundred metres along the road from our house that is visited by several 'transient' Red-throated Divers every day. It's very special to be in the garden and watch the birds flying over, calling as they to and fro. This year alone I've counted as many as seven birds present at any one time. The relatively dull light and plentiful rain this week (very apt considering the Shetland name for Red-throated Diver is the 'Rain Goose') meant that the water level rose dramatically and thus offered potential for some good portrait and semi-reflection shots at low levels. The topography of the loch (which sits in a north-south valley and is surrounded by two high east-west ridges) means that full, symmetrical reflection shots are always going to be pretty much impossible. It's a big loch - and the range of the birds meant I had to use the Canon 800mm f5.6 with a 1.4x converter to get a decent image sizes.

Oh for a rowing boat or a floating pontoon like the Finns use...

Monday, 12 July 2010

Last Call for Biscay Sailings!

STOP PRESS: only a few vacancies left on the following sailings:

Sunday 8th August - Wednesday 11th August
Wednesday 11th August - Saturday 14th August
Tuesday 7th September - Friday 10th September

All of our other scheduled 2010 departures have SOLD OUT

As you may have read in the press, heard in the news or seen in our special e mail, P&O Portsmouth are withdrawing their sailings between Portsmouth and Bilbao at the end of September 2010. Thus, our exceptionally popular series of summer and autumn trips operated by our sister business, The Company of Whales will sadly come to an end. Naturally, after 15 years of fantastic wildlife-watching in Biscay, we are saddened at this news, but our 'COW' team are already busy investigating possibilities for 2011 - and also busy creating some superb new itineraries here in Shetland and beyond for our parent business, Shetland Wildlife!

One thing we do know for sure is that the superb route schedule is unlikely to be matched. The real beauty of utilising the Portsmouth to Bilbao route is the considerable amount of time we get to spend in the most productive waters of the Bay, in particular along the continental shelf, which is currently crossed twice by other operators in complete darkness. In short, our route currently offers more daylight hours at sea and this means more opportunities to see whales, dolphins and seabirds!

And remember - when booking your holiday with the Company of Whales you will have: privileged and exclusive access to our dedicated whale-watching platform, exclusive check-in and pre-boarding facilities at Portsmouth and exclusive access to our on-board lectures on whale and dolphin identification and ecology. These privileges have been awarded to us under special contract from P&O Ferries and have not been afforded to any company other than The Company of Whales. The itinerary for all June, July, August and September departures can be found by clicking here and further information about The Company of Whales can be found here.

To whet your appetite, here are a few examples of what images can be taken on our trips across the Bay of Biscay:

Common Dolphins

Common Dolphin with a tiny calf - amazing!

Fin Whales - the second largest animal on the planet!

Saturday, 10 July 2010

More Focus on Shetland Images

A few more images which have been taken during our recent Shetland Wildlife pho-tours. Our 2011 trips are selling like hot-cakes so book early if you'd like to join us and keep an eye out for some new and exciting pho-tour themes!

Friday, 9 July 2010

Whooper Swan Family

This family party of Whooper Swans provided a beautiful spectacle as they fed on a roadside loch. I would estimate the four cygnets to be just a few days old and both Mum and Dad plus our four-year-old daughter were transfixed by their beauty in such idyllic surroundings. A very special moment!

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Leica take a liking to Shetland Wildlife!

Leica binoculars, telescopes and cameras are synonymous with quality and their binoculars and telescopes have been used here in Shetland - and beyond - by our guides, for over twenty years. In fact all of our Shetland Wildlife team use the Leica brand and thus as the only true Shetland full-time eco-operator in the isles, we were truly thrilled to be invited by Leica Camera Ltd to join their Wildlife Professional Scheme. Alan Davies of Leica said "Leica and Shetland Wildlife share common passions - for observing nature, for uncompromising quality and for service. Shetland Wildlife is an outstanding eco-tour operator with an enviable reputation for not only amazing wildlife spectacles but also the very best in customer care. Add to this their exceptional team of wildlife guides and their genuine eco-tourism credentials and you have a truly impressive combination. Leica Sports Optics is delighted to be a part of this winning team."

Shetland Wildlife manager Michelle Harrop said "We are thrilled that the World's finest optical manufacturer has provided us with their new range of binoculars and has recognised the pioneering work that Shetland Wildlife has undertaken in Shetland during the fifteen years our business has been operating. Our guides work tirelessly year-round to show our guests our internationally important wildlife and being able to watch it through the finest glass in the World is very, very special."

Feel free to discuss Leica binoculars and telescopes with any of our naturalist guides on any of our tours. As an added bonus, Shetland Wildlife can also authorise a free upgrade over and above the existing Leica Passport scheme which offers an additional year of accidental damage cover. Just ask our guides about the 'Elite Birder Only' card.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Guest Blogger - Davide D'Acunto

We were delighted to welcome Italian photographer Davide D'Acunto back to Shetland in late June. With his superb image of Golden Plover in a rain storm, Davide won first prize in the 2009 Shetland Wildlife photo-competition run by Visit Scotland, with a 3-day Shetland Experience trip courtesy of Shetland Wildlife being the top prize! We asked Davide to sum up his trip to Shetland: "There are few places in Europe where you can feel very small compared to the immensity of nature, where you can become part of a colony of gannets or puffins, where you come across an otter hunting or remain paralysed by the power of the ocean and the wind. All these things can be found on Shetland, where you can afford to leave your life behind and become part of a magnificent dream. If you love nature and the wildlife that populates these places, then Shetland is ideal. Everything becomes perfect when you have the passion of photography. Shetland is a place where once you arrive, you no longer want to leave; too many photos to take, endless shots to create. Being accompanied by my new friends and outstanding guides at Shetland Wildlife meant that I had the fortune of being able to discover the hidden corners and secrets of these islands which made my experience even more special. The emotions that I have since visiting Shetland will never cease to live inside me!".

Friday, 2 July 2010

BBBPY 2010

I am delighted to be told that for the sixth consecutive year, two of my images have been short listed in the 2010 British Birds Bird Photograph of the Year competition. The official results will be announced in the August 2010 edition of British Birds and I'll upload my entries then!