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Met Office survey - 25 August Out Skerries, Whitehill and on towards K5

We heaved anchor and left a millpond Colla Firth shortly after dawn (photo 1) and made our way down through the narrow southern end of Yell Sound and exit at Lunna Holm. The odd Arctic Skua, Bonxie and Arctic Tern crisscrossed the channel and numerous Gannet were plunge diving near the shores. However, the most surprising sighting was a flock of 84 Tystie in a small bay, out of the tide, by the island of Samphrey.

Photo 1: Departing Colla Firth (at last)
Photo 2: Out Skerries

Destination this morning was the island of Out Skerries, the eastern most of the Shetland Islands (photo 2), to drop diesel and other supplies off to the lighthouse. In the old days this would have been loaded into the workboat and manually carried up to the lighthouse, now the lifting is done by helicopter and shortly before 09:00 a smart Airbus EC135 helicopter sporting a snazzy livery came into sight and landed on the helipad (photo 3).

First trip was to take three of the crew over followed by a further six with the equipment and tanks of diesel (photos 4 & 5). The comings and goings of the helicopter kept me entertained for a while, particularly the banked turn to line up with the aft deck of Pharos (photo 6). Wildlife wasn’t ignored, there was still time to take in a fantastic view of a Minke Whale surfacing several times just a couple of hundred metres away from Pharos (photos 7 & 8) and I just managed to grab a shot of a juvenile Arctic Tern as it came in to investigate the flow of water from our bow thrusters (photo 9).

Task completed we then headed off to the northwest to hold station off of Whitehill, on the east coast of Yell. Deliveries here were batteries for Whitehill then a slightly longer flight up to the north end of Yell to drop batteries off at Bagi Stack. There wasn’t as much wildlife to be seen off Whitehill though a Gannet did a fairly close flyby (photo 10) and the helicopter was obviously too and fro several times (photo 11).

NLB work completed it was time to head off to K5 – just over 700km and 38 hours steaming away! Our route took us down the east coast of Shetland passing the impressive Noss Head and its Gannet colony (photo 12). The colony seemed busy enough but knowing thousands of the Gannets had died of avian flu earlier in the summer I suspect the cliffs were much quieter than they would have been normally. Indeed, there were signs that flu was still having an impact as I had seen several dead Gannets as we made our way south.

Apart from Gannets and Fulmar there wasn’t that much variety on offer, small numbers of Arctic Terns, the occasional Kittiwake, the odd group of Guillemots and every now and then an Arctic Skua would dash past, too quick for me to get outside I finally resorted to getting a slightly blurry shot through the bridge window (photo 13).

Photo 13: Shetland sunset

The sun set just before we reached Sumburgh Head and we were treated to some fine colours in the skies over Shetland just after it had disappeared from view (photo 14). A long day in store tomorrow as it’s a full day steaming towards K5.

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