Blog Site by Appointment to His Regal Majesty the Maalie King

He who would be a Leader, let him be a Bridge

Crown Copyright: The Royal Maalie Court

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Whither shall I wander?

Das Wandern ist des Müllers Lust, Das Wandern!
Click on the picture to enjoy!

Friday, July 24, 2009

My new camera!

I've got a new camera! I have, I really have! It is a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ7, the latest model in this popular series, bought at the recommendation of a friend. It boasts ten million pixies and sings and dances more than I shall ever know! I got it new on-line from Amazon UK for about £40 less than the shop price (I know, because I looked in the shop!).

My new camera, a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ7

It has a x12 optical zoom (from 25mm wide angle through to 300mm) but with so many pixies at my disposal there is bags of scope for "digital zooming" and cropping. Obviously, I am still getting used to it and can't wait to try it out in my travels. Below are some trial pictures I took, at the end of my street about 10.00pm in the evening, a month after the Summer Solstice.

This little fellow is a Sand Martin, a relative of the Swallow, that nests in burrows it excavates in sand banks and eroded river banks. There is a colony close to my home.

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!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A multitude of Maalies

The Maalie (Fulmar) belongs to a world-wide order of birds, the Procelariiformes ("tubenoses") that includes also the albatrosses, shearwaters and petrels. They are characterised by their oceanic life and anatomically by a tubular structure on top of the bill. The structure is thought to be involved with the excretion of surplus salt in the diet.

Once quite a rare bird in Britain, the last century has seen a population explosion which is thought to be associates with the discarding of offal (fish guts) at sea from fishing boats. With changing fishing practices, there is evidence that the species has reached its peak and may be in decline.
In Shetland, the Fulmar (Maalie is the local Shetland name) is one of the most familiar seabirds and nests almost anywhere around the coast where it can launch into empty space. As a seabird, they are rather clumsy on land, but are masters of flight in the air. Here are some snaps I took of Maalies on the nest and in the air whilst in Shetland. Enjoy.

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, July 14, 2009

More birds of Shetland

ATTACK! I must have wandered too close to this Great Skua's chicks!

ATTACK! Even the comparatively diminutive Arctic Tern will draw blood on your scalp in defence of its chicks!

ATTACK! And angry Great Black-backed Gull goes into attack mode...

...decides his flight path...

...and comes in for the strike!

An Arctic Skua keeps a wary eye over its territory

The Red-throated Diver's "paddles" are right at the rear...

...perfectly adapted to a life of swimming and diving...

..resulting in the need for a very long watery runway in order to get airborne.

The Dunlin has her black belly only in summer when nesting up on the moors... witness a flypast of a squadron of Oystercatchers

The Wheatear can be thought of as the "Moorland Sparrow"

And last but not least, the tiny Storm Petrel that wanders the world's oceans (birds I have ringed in Shetland have been found in the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean) and comes ashore only at night to breed. Although at opposite ends of the size spectrum, this little fellow is related to the albatrosses (and Fulmar) as you can tell from the little tubular structure on the top of the bill.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Points North!

To the north of Yell lies the Island of Unst, which represents Britain's most northerly inhabited land mass. Please consult the map two posts below if you would like to see exactly where the island lies. The natural history of Unst is staggering and it is home to some of the largest seabird colonies in Europe and some of the rarest breeding birds in Britain. I was able to find a few...

The island of Muckle Flugga, Britain's most northerly outcrop. Strictly, the most northerly place where you can stand is the little rock just beyond the lighthouse. I am one of the privileged few who have actually stood on it! The smudge on the horizon is a cloud-bank, not distant land. The next land is the Arctic!

A closer view of Muckle Flugga lighthouse. When manned by keepers, they were the most northerly persons in Britain. Now the lighthouse is automatic, without keepers, anyone can become the most northerly person by walking out to the headland where this picture was taken. The white "wash" you can see on the rock faces is in fact...

...colonies of Gannets, our largest sea bird (as big as some albatrosses). Their guano gives the rocks the white-washed appearance.

Walking about in the heather you may stumble upon a baby bird like this - a Great Skua. This one is so young it still has the "egg-tooth" on its upper mandible, used for piercing its way out of the egg shell. You might never guess that such a sweet thing could...

...grow into such a vicious and piratical brute as this! They have no hesitation in...

...making an attack from the air on those who wander to close to their chicks. I have had more bangs on the back of my head from these birds when ringing (banding) their chicks than I care to remember!

Shetland is the British stronghold of the Red-throated Diver, an endangered species...

...whilst the Red-necked Phalarope is one of Britain's rarest breeding birds

Everybody's favourite, the Puffin, returns to relieve its mate incubating in a burrow...

...who gladly stretches her wings ready to fly out sea to catch her meal of sandeels.

And my personal favourite, the Maalie (Fulmar) is found nesting all around the cliffs

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!

Monday, July 06, 2009

Some plants of Shetland

Although Shetland may give a first impression of somewhat sombre peat-brown vegetation, the observant eye will readily find colourful splashes of flowers. Because the geology and soil types of Shetland is so varied, there is a huge botanical biodiversity throughout the islands. Readers who are interested in the local botany can find further information here.

The Yellow Iris (also Yellow Flag) Iris pseudacorus is found in wet areas and sometimes follows the courses of wet gullies (see picture in the post below)

In May and June the grazed maritime grassland is studded
like stars with Spring Squill
Scilla verna

Grassy areas subjected to occasional sea spray during storms are clustered with clumps of Sea Pinks (Thrift) Armeria maritima

Carnivorous plants
In areas where the soil is impoverished and lacks certain nutrients (notably nitrogen) certain plants may thrive by supplementing their nutrient intake by catching insects. Plants that are adapted to trap and digest insects are called carnivorous ("meat-eating") plants. Among the best known of these are the Venus Fly Trap and the Pitcher Plant . (You can see a brief movie of a Venus Fly Trap catching an insect here.) Many species of carnivorous plants actually exude a scent that is attractive to insects.

In Shetland there are two species of carnivorous plant that are commonly encountered in the nutrient-poor acid soils of the peat bogs.

A species of Sundew Drosera sp. Each leave rosette has a "hair" tipped by a globule of sticky liquid to which insects are attracted. They stick to the globule and the rosette then folds inwards to enclose the insect. Hydrolytic enzymes secreted by the plant digest the insect's proteins, thereby releasing nitrogen for absorbtion by the plant.

In this close up you can see that the "hairs" are tipped with a sticky, glistening globule.
Click on the picture to enlarge.

Butterwort Pinguicula sp. has a delicate blue flower, but it is the sticky leaves that attract the insects

When an insect is stuck, the leaves they curl inwards like a tube to trap and enclose it. Then the plant's digestive enzymes get to work to release the insect's nitrogen

Thursday, July 02, 2009

This is Yell...

For twenty-seven consecutive summers I brought students to Island of Yell to undertake ecological monitoring research in the maritime approaches to the Shetland Oil Terminal. The position of Yell in relation to Shetland as a whole can be seen in the map in the post below (it is the island to which the red arrow points).

The island of Yell is reached from the Shetland Mainland by means of small "roll-on roll-off" ferries

The first impression of Yell is a huge peat moor that can look inviting to explore in weather like this. In less favourable conditions, Yell can appear to be the most inhospitable place on earth and many visitors regard Yell as a transition island on the way to more "attractive" islands further north

With a little patience and exploration, however, Yell reveals her colourful secrets like this river of yellow iris flowers

If the landscapes of Yell are not so spectacular, the seascapes are dramatic. The islands in Yell Sound (the stretch of sea separating Yell from the Shetland Mainland) were an important focus for our research work

The rocky cliffs bordering the west coast of Yell are a haven for nesting seabirds... this Fulmar (Maalie)

The glory days of yester-year: this ruined mansion called Windhouse is said to be haunted

Our home for twenty-seven summers (and mine during this stay on Yell) is this community hall, the Royal Maalie Court at the Herra which, although modest...

...offers splendid views of the Whaal Firth fjord

Yell Sound at midnight on the Summer Solstice. Not quite far enough north to see the Midnight Sun, but nevertheless it remains light enough to read a newspaper!

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!