I have done boat rides before but not a midnight one and definitely not a #midsimmer one!
Hence, this gotto be my #weekendhighlight ! My #Breathless WOW!
Isle of Mousa is synonymous for its Iron Age Broch and for being an international #rspb breeding site for Storm Petrels.
Here, about 6800 pairs of these enigmatic birds breed and nest. They are called Aalamooties, mootie means small and aala means to squirt oil! Aye, Shetland dialect is intriguing.
They say the early sailors believed the birds were bodies of lost sailors or wicked sea captains as they had the habit of following the sailing boats. Sailors often see the Storm Petrels before a storm and they appear to walk on water whilst feeding and the ‘pitter patter’ action causes a petralling sound.
Fascinating, isn’t it?
I am not exactly a bird watcher, but anything new exhilarates me. I was even more eager as Isle of Mousa lends a lovely view to my living room.
Saturday had been mostly foggy with wet spells and I had my doubts of how successful this was going to be? Although, I was still thriving on its excitement. The boat was to start at 11:00pm and about 10’o clcok I called Gary, the boat man to ask what he thinks and he said Mousa was apparently the only place the day, getting some sunshine in Shetland. He thought the night was going to be gorgeous. I drifted the curtains and thought to myself, ‘it does look bright down there’. I took the expert advice, off we went.
So, it was the time for my #redflask to travel another soul stimulating destination!
S poured some ‘chai’ leaves, hot boiling water, some cardamom seeds and milk in the flask. It was impressive to see when he took special care, wrapped it with a knitted tea towel and tucked it in the picnic bag. While I foil wrapped the freshly baked, half cut jam & creame sponge cake to go with the tea. Not to forget the strawberries.
No picnic is complete without tea, cakes and strawberries!
Next, we packed the torch, the disposable plates, wore our walking boots and we were ready to soar!
The short 15 minute ferry crossing departed from Sandsayre pier , and is known to provide views of harbour porpoises and occasionally killer Whales. We didn’t see any whales but there were floating seals and otters for the eye to spot. The ferry was people packed, which again was a sight to behold, especially for a place where the population is some odd 22000, a boat of 60 folk was an island population in itself 🙂
We reached Mousa about 11:15pm.
Sky was changing colours and I learned that orange has many shades. Almost as if the wind knew he had visitors and needed to calm down. The passing breeze was slightly chilly but the layers were keeping us warm.
Need I say, there was something magical about that night!
Gary shared some interesting facts about the roosting hub. I could only catch that Storm Petrels were the smallest seabird in the Atlantic.
While my ears were still with Gary, my heart and eyes were beguiled by the charm of the not so dark night!
Joys of living at 60° North meant it never gets dark enough in early summers (known as the #MidSimmer Dim). These birds use the paleness of the night to return to the nest,avoiding the attacks by the predators. The Mousa Broch in which they nest is 2000 years old and the tallest still standing, one of its finest in the world.
They sure have a taste!
The birds breed in colonies and favour rocky ground to make their secretive nests. On the walk from the pier towards the broch, I had started spotting the little seabirds fluttering over water.
Seeing my fervent (or innocent, as some say) face, a kind fellow traveller loaned me his binoculars to watch them dance on the waves, oh that was a treat to the senses!
The smallest of the European seabirds, storm petrels are almost the size of a sparrow, sooty-black and wear a white-feathered rump. Night was still and the sea was unruffled, the cries of the birds, almost like churring, sounded even more haunting. Some described it as ‘a fairy being sick!’
We had plenty time to explore the broch and stand inside listening to the calls of the birds in the walls – an entirely exceptional experience! One could feel the age of time.
I took the courage to step on the stairs and reach the top of the broch. It was some adventure, I must say. I was glad to be wearing a head torch as both my hands were holding the walls while managing to stay upright on those slender steps.
The view from top of the broch was worth every adventure. It was now past midnight and the sun only dipped briefly below the horizon. It seemed as if you were seeing both sunset and moonrise at the same time!
While stepping down the stairs, for once I was pleased to be of short heugh and that my feet were almost tailor made to the steps. God bless a tall soul on that flight of stairs!
Now was the time for the #midnightpicnic and the #redflask! Two fellow travellers joined us and I had enough tea and cake for all. I didn’t mind as they gave me another shot at the binoculars in return for tea. Fair deal, I thought!
We chose a quiet rock, at the edge of nothing, away from others so we could relish the moonlight along with the curious noise of the birds .
Close to 01:00’o clock, I spotted my first pair of returning birds and then there were more and more. Soon I was witnessing the spectacular sight when hundreds of birds were returning after a day out at the sea.
These diminutive birds breeding in the walls of Mousa Broch, are only said to be seen ashore at night as the adult birds swaps nest duties under the cover of dusk.
Enticed in silence, all of us stood surrounding the broch and watching the storm petrels as they flit around the broch after dark, in their nests.
The picture will last long in my mind, I just knew. While it was way past my bed time, I had no intention to sleep.
My mind’s eye was curious to know what happens inside the rocky walls!!
So I asked Gary and he educated us all. Storm Petrels partner for life and share responsibility for incubating the egg and rearing the young. It takes 40 days for the egg to hatch and chicks take 50 days to fledge.
It took Gary to lead the way back to the ferry, closer to 02:00 am to head back when he saw none of us were moving an inch! It took S to give me a quail and bring me back to reality.
We had still not lost light on the journey back to mainland. S almost stole my thoughts and asked me with a grin, ‘hey, bed or breakfast or breakfast on bed?!’ What a perfect start of Sunday already!
The midnight boat, as I call it was dancing on spencies tune on the way back and each of her travellers were tapping foot with a happy heart.
My moment was when S said to me on the way back,
‘Anu, watching those li’l stormies hover around a legendary broch, on a desolate island, at 1:00 am on a bonny Shetland simmer dim…. felt a bit like the paradise!’ I only smiled!
Hope you all enjoyed the midnight boat ride with me and come back soon for more #MidSimmer stories #inspiredbyshetland
Until then, Did you know ?
On 26th May 2010, a bird was recovered with an identification ring. It was ringed on 29th July 1974, in Fair Isle and we think it was atleast 38 year old stormie, might be the oldest one known in the world!
How cool is that ?!