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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Lerwick, Shetland Isles

After an all-night sea-crossing from Aberdeen, the ship arrives at the Shetland Isles at dawn the following morning.

First glimpse of Shetland with the rising sun illuminating altostratus

Approaching Lerwick, the capital of Shetland (see map below)

Lerwick harbour, once a bustling fishing port is now a yachting destination
In the old town, the buildings come right down to the water's edge

Lerwick High Street, barely wide enough for a delivery vehicle

Over the hill on the west side, the neighbouring town of Scalloway

Five minutes drive out of Lerwick and there are lochs, bogs and yellow irises...

...and Maalies to be seen along the shore

The Shetland Isles
The red arrow points to the place on the island of Yell where I am staying
Please click on the map to enlarge

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Shetland Islands

Yes, I am in the Shetland Islands!

I am staying in the tiny hamlet you can see on the hillside (to the right) on the island of Yell, Shetland. The water is Whaal Firth, the Shetland equivalent of a fjord.

Midnight on the Summer Solstice, with Shetland pony

The same pony the next morning

And another Maalie for good measure!

Sky Watch Friday

Maalie selects images from his albums of travel pictures for Skywatch

Click here for a complete list
of all the participants
of this week's Sky Watch!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Where am I?

Here are some clues (I took these pictures yesterday):

This is an Arctic Tern

This is an Arctic Skua

This is a Great Northern Diver
(Rather a long shot but the head profile and white mark on the neck is diagnostic)

And this is a Maalie

Monday, June 22, 2009

Aberdeen: City of Granite

Aberdeen is one of Scotland's most northerly industrial cities. It has always been a noteworthy sea port involved in fishing and commerce. During the 1970's it took on a new role, however, namely as a base for servicing the oil rigs and drilling platforms that were flourishing in the North Sea (the oil itself is mostly piped into Shetland but Aberdeen has the resources for the heavy construction and resupply for the industry).

The city was built almost entirely out of stone from regional granite quarries which gives the city a rather grey, even austere, character. Here are some images I was able to capture during my transit through Aberdeen.

The high street

Despite its sometimes rather austere impact, Aberdeen has some fine architecture

The City Hall

St. Nicholas Kirk

Granite, granite everywhere...

In recent dacades Aberdeen has become the industrial centre for the construction and resupply of oil rigs and drilling platforms in the North Sea, and the harbour is crammed with service ships.

Many ships have purely functional and unromantic names like this Supply Express...

...though this one pays homage to the Norse God Odin

For me, Aberdeen has always been quite literally, a port, a gateway; the gateway to the Northern Isles as the ship I am on departs from Aberdeen harbour.

Farewell to the British Mainland...

Watch this space!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Over 10 miles long and 220 feet (67m) deep, Windermere is the largest natural lake in England's Lake District (and indeed in the whole of England). The lake offers endless scope for wildlife and recreational pursuits. Recently, my brother-in-law Peter and I chartered a Wayfarer sailing boat there for a day. You will find some aerial shots of Windermere here (but note that the name "Lake Windermere" is strictly incorrect because the suffix "mere" itself means "lake").

Tourist information about Windermere (please click on the image to enlarge). The fish at the top right is the Arctic Char, and Windermere represents its most southerly distribution limit.

Windermere lies in a steep glaciated valley with forested sides...

...with spectacular views of the Cumbria fells to the north.

The lake is studded with small islands, at this time of year with rhododendrons in bloom, and a beautiful environment for sailing boats of all sizes.

At the shallow inlet end of the lake there are reed-fringed shores, a haven for wildlife.

We guide our Wayfarer to a shady shore for lunch...

...then Peter takes the helm whilst....

...Maalie enjoys a little light refreshment.

This is Badger the dog's first encounter with a boat, and she was none too sure....

...especially when the boat keeled over in a stiff breeze.

Homeward bound: Peter's turn to relax whilst Maalie (hidden behind the camera) takes the helm and skillfully trims the sails into a "goosewing" to catch the most of the following breeze.

Sky Watch Friday

Maalie selects images from his albums of travel pictures for Skywatch

Click here for a complete list
of all the participants
of this week's Sky Watch!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Danube Ecology: The Donau-Auen National Park

A section of Europe's best-known river, the Danube, runs from the Slovakian border near Bratislava upstream through eastern Austria for 38 km towards Vienna, and beyond. Along this section, the water level rises and falls seasonally as much as 7 metres. When at its highest levels, the river overflows its banks into a flood plain alongside the Danube where a unique and bio-diverse riparian (= river wetland) woodland ecosystem has evolved.

As with many wild habitats in Europe, development has taken its toll but in 1996 further development of this precious natural resource was arrested by the creation of the Donau-Auen National Park*. The park runs as a ribbon-habitat along the north side of the Danube from Bratislava to the eastern outskirts of Vienna where the area is known as the Lobau and is popular with the Viennese for natural history and outdoor pursuits**. The park boasts some long distance hiking and cycling trails along its length from, which the great diversity of habitat types within the Auen may be explored.

The Donau-Auen National Park stretches along the north bank of the Danube for 38 km between Bratislava and Vienna. Please click on the image to enlarge and see the detail.
Map source here

View of part of the Donau-Auen I took from a Sky Europe flight just after take-off from Bratislava, tracking the Danube west towards Vienna. The dark green band of vegetation running along the near-side of the river is a section of the Donau-Auen National Park that runs for 38 km between Bratislava and Vienna.

Within the park, certain areas maintain the impenetrability of a jungle...

... others resemble more the Everglades of Florida (without the alligators!)

Extensive reed beds are the habitat of Reed and Great Reed Warblers, Nightingale, Cuckoo, Black Kite and a range of wetland birds.

Quiet backwaters are filled from seasonal flooding of the Danube...

...and may become overgrown swamps in summer

Open water is colonised by various species of water lily...

...and shallower swamps are invaded by the ancient horsetail plants that have survived from the Carboniferous era...

Shoals of carp move through the clear water

Be careful where you go! Apparently Zugang für alle Naturisten does not mean something like "Nature Trail", as I imagined. I went through this gate, only to leave rather suddenly and red-faced when a naked couple entered the field of view of my binoculars!

Open heathy areas provide a habitat for birds like Turtle Dove, Yellowhammer, Kestrel and Whitethroat

Other areas abound with the colour of poppies and cornflowers which attract butterflies...

Meadow Brown, feeding on black- thorn flowers

Painted Lady, freshly emerged from pupation

A White Admiral? Other offers are welcome!

A Comma butterfly with it rather uneven wing edges

The setting sun catches the canopy of part of the Donau-Auen National Park

*Etymology: Donau = Danube (German); Au (plural = Auen) is the German name of the habitat.

** To get there from Vienna city centre, take the metro U1 to the Vienna International Centre and then jump on bus 91a and jump off at the Roter Hiasl stop (15 min) - the entrance to the park is close by.