What a magical day, shortest but sunny day of the year

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Twenty first of December the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, started with the lunar eclipse, and with the forecast being for clear skies. I was up early to make the most of this beautiful weather. While having my breakfast I watched and photographed the lunar eclipse. It was fascinating watching it go an orange colour at the full eclipse as indirect sunlight passes through the earth’s atmosphere filtering out most of the blue colours leaving the remaining red/orange light. This red/orange light bends through the earth’s atmosphere and some of it hits the moon turning it an orange colour.

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It was snowy so today I thought instead of playing hide and seek with otters, the plan was to go out and experience the white landscape through the lens if the van made it round the snowy single track roads. It was calm and beautiful as I climbed the hill and looked south east out to Noss and the rising sun. The land was covered in a white blanket, glowing orange from the sun.

Shetland landscape, Shetland photo, Shetland photographic, Shetland images, seascapes, Shetland seascapes Photo Shetland

The sun never gets that high this time of year and light is sublime all day. I headed over to one of my favourite coastal walks as I could not help myself but go and see if my favourite otters were about. Walking up over the moorland several mountain hares were spotted but my crunching boots in the snow did not help me to get close. I headed round the frozen loch and marvelled at how big the feet of mountain hare are, as their prints were all over the snow. I reached the boulder bay but no otters. I slowly walked and scanned but no otters. The thought of trying to do too much in a day was going through my head particularly as it would be dark by 3:30 pm. It is difficult, as every time I come to this place looking for otters I always think I should take some landscape images. However if I were to come just with my landscape gear there would be otters everywhere doing cart wheels, head stands and god knows what. It is a long walk into this stretch of coast so I’m always cutting down gear so I comprised and took a big lens in case I spotted any otters and one wide angle lens for landscapes. The occasional dark cloud came through bringing a little snow flurry and creating dramatic dark skies.

Shetland landscape, Shetland photo, Shetland photographic, Shetland images, seascapes, Shetland seascapes Photo Shetland

Shetland landscape, Shetland photo, Shetland photographic, Shetland images, seascapes, Shetland seascapes Photo Shetland

No otters were spotted but there were plenty of fresh signs in the usual spots so they had been active this morning. I carried on along the ridge so I could look at the sea and the freshwater loch. A small flock of snow buntings were feeding on the seed heads of the long grasses that poked through the snow. I moved down to where the freshwater loch flows into the sea and it was the only place free of ice. The sun was getting low and the dark clouds were turning pink.

Shetland landscape, Shetland photo, Shetland photographic, Shetland images, seascapes, Shetland seascapes Photo Shetland

I crossed and headed along the rocky coast and saw three gannets fly by and a small group of porpoises making their way along the coast. A couple of mountain hares were on the coastal fringe before making it back to the van. Shetland is the only place where I see mountain hare along the coast. The sun had dipped below the horizon and the sky was orange. I stopped in a little bay looking out along the coast and spent some time working with the black rocks, the moving sea and the orange sky.

Shetland landscape, Shetland photo, Shetland photographic, Shetland images, seascapes, Shetland seascapes Photo Shetland

It was gone 4pm and the moon was coming up behind me. I drove round to the other side of the bay and experimented, trying to photograph seals hauled out on the rocks in moonlight. While I sat quietly down near the shore I heard the unmistakeable call of a young otter. A mother and her two cubs live not far from where I was sat and there was some worry as 2 weeks ago I got a call for a dead otter that had been hit by a car not far from here. My thought was potentially one of the cubs or even worst the mother but it turned out to be a young male. As I sat there quietly, watched out for the otters as I could hear the otters moving round the bay constantly calling to one another and eventually caught a short glimpse of the family as they passed through the moonlight feeding along the shore. What a beautiful, magical day.

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Richard Shucksmith

Richard's favourite place is Shetland's coast, for it has a wide variety of habitats, species and dramatic seascapes. He studied marine biology and marine ecology which has allowed Richard to develop an understanding of this dynamic environment. His photography has enabled him to visually communicate this passion and understanding of Shetland's wonderful coastal life in particular Shetland otters. Richard’s work has been widely published in magazines, journals, books, newspapers, advertising agencies around the world and has won many awards for his work. In 2011 Richard was overall winner in British Wildlife Photography Awards (BWPA), as well as winning the animal behaviour category in 2014.