Thursday, 11 October 2018

Mainland Shetland - 9th and 10th October

I awoke to a still, foggy and drizzly morning and after grabbing some supplies I drove south and birded the Leebitten area. News broke of a Snowy Owl on Fetlar and I contemplated the logistics of getting there and whether I should go. I was very tempted but looking at the timetable for the ferries I realised it would be an all day event and so I decided to spend the day birding rather than chasing off in the car. I birded the area around Sand Lodge and the fields to the south. There were five Purple Sandpiper on the rocks adjacent to Sand Lodge and the strange sight of a Knot running around the farmyard here. There were large numbers of wader in the fields with at least 250 Golden Plover, 75 Turnstone, 125 Redshank and 35 Snipe. Scanning one flock of Snipe feeding in the fields a came across a Jack Snipe which was nice to see but a little too distant for photographs. Also here were around 75 Greylag Goose and nine Pink-footed Goose. Passerine migrants remained extremely thin on the ground, so thin in fact that I recorded precisely none! Even the trees and bushes of Sand Lodge were devoid of birds. Offshore, two Common Porpoise swam south and I spent some time scanning hoping for an Orca but with no luck. Back at the car I sheltered from the drizzle which had turned into light rain and I once again contemplated the logistics of getting to Fetlar for the owl. I decided against it and instead drove the short distance south to Sandwick and birded the gardens, fields and bay area here. I saw little but for a couple of Wheatear and I spent some time scanning the Golden Plover flocks for a 'Lesser' Golden Plover but with no luck. News broke of a Red-breasted Flycatcher showing well at North Town, Exnaboe and so I finished birding at Sandwick and headed the 20 minutes down the road. On arrival, the Red-breasted Flycatcher was showing very well feeding along a fence line and making regular sallies after flies. Also here was a male Blackcap, my first of the trip and a Goldcrest, only my third of the trip. I spent just over an hour with the Red-breasted Flycatcher, such smart little birds.


Purple Sandpiper - Leebitten, Mainland Shetland

Common Redshank - Leebitten, Mainland Shetland

Grey Seal - Leebitten, Mainland Shetland

Knot - Leebitten, Mainland Shetland

Common Porpoise - Mousa Sound, Mainland Shetland

Twite - Sandwick, Mainland Shetland

Twite - Sandwick, Mainland Shetland

Red-breasted Flycatcher - North Town, Exnaboe, Mainland Shetland

Red-breasted Flycatcher - North Town, Exnaboe, Mainland Shetland

Red-breasted Flycatcher - North Town, Exnaboe, Mainland Shetland

Red-breasted Flycatcher - North Town, Exnaboe, Mainland Shetland

I then headed down to the Sumburgh area and birded Pool of Virkie, Grutness and Grutness Voe. At Virkie there was the usual selection of common wader with 30 Dunlin being the best present and a Lesser Black-backed Gull which was my first of the trip. At Grutness Voe there were half a dozen very smart juvenile Sanderling, Ringed Plover and Turnstone. Out in the bay I picked up a flock of four male and five female Long-tailed Duck. On Grutness the only bird I recorded of any note was a single Wheatear. It was now 15:30 and I decided to head north a little and spend the last hour and a half or so birding Upperton and Netherton, the latter being one of my favourite spots on the island. But I saw little, a single Chiffchaff at Netherton was the highlight - remarkably this was only my second of the trip, a real reflection of how sparse common migrant passerines are on the islands currently. I headed back to the hotel for 18:00 pleased with the Red-breasted Flycatcher but somewhat regretting having not headed for Fetlar and the Snowy Owl.

Lesser Black-backed Gull - Pool of Virkie, Mainland Shetland

Long-tailed Duck - Grutness Voe, Mainland Shetland

Long-tailed Duck - Grutness Voe, Mainland Shetland

Ringed Plover - Grutness Voe, Mainland Shetland

Turnstone - Grutness Voe, Mainland Shetland

Sanderling - Grutness Voe, Mainland Shetland

Sanderling - Grutness Voe, Mainland Shetland

Sanderling - Grutness Voe, Mainland Shetland

The 10th October was my return home, my flight was at 09:25 from Sumburgh to Edinburgh and then onto London Heathrow and so I needed to check in at 08:25. Leaving the hotel at 07:30 I drove through thick fog until I reached the Levenwick area when remarkably I emerged from the fog into sunshine. I birded a little around the Pool of Virkie and Gutness Voe picking up the same Long-tailed Duck flock from yesterday and 12 Sanderling. I headed to the airport, dropped off my hire car and headed for my flight to London Heathrow via Edinburgh. All flights departed more or less on time and I landed at Heathrow at 13:35. I drove straight to Lymington to collect Tobias from school and had 45 minutes of spare time to have a wander out to Fishtail Lagoon where a handful of Teal, Wigeon and Dunlin plus an adult Mediterranean Gull and a Spotted Redshank were the only birds present.

View of the fog-bank over Shetland from main road just before Levenwick


Trip List (British ticks in bold)
Willow Grouse
Mute Swan
Whooper Swan
Greylag Goose
Pink-footed Goose
Long-tailed Duck
Common Eider
Red-breasted Merganser
Tufted Duck
Gadwall
Eurasian Wigeon
Mallard
Common Teal
Pied-billed Grebe
Horned Grebe
Rock Dove
Common Woodpigeon
European Turtle-dove
Eurasian Collared-dove
Common Moorhen
Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Northern Fulmar
Grey Heron
Northern Gannet
European Shag
Great Cormorant
Eurasian Oystercatcher
Eurasian Golden Plover
American Golden Plover
Common Ringed Plover
Northern Lapwing
Eurasian Curlew
Bar-tailed Godwit
Ruddy Turnstone
Red Knot
Ruff
Sanderling
Dunlin
Purple Sandpiper
Common Snipe
Common Redshank
Black-legged Kittiwake
Black-headed Gull
Mew Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
European Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Arctic Tern
Great Skua
Black Guillemot
Razorbill
Merlin
Common Raven
Carrion Crow
Eurasian Skylark
Melodious Warbler
Blyth’s Reed-warbler
Marsh Warbler
Barn Swallow
Yellow-browed Warbler
Willow Warbler
Common Chiffchaff
Eurasian Blackcap
Barred Warbler
Northern Wren
Common Starling
Redwing
Eurasian Blackbird
European Robin
Red-breasted Flycatcher
Whinchat
Goldcrest
House Sparrow
Pechora Pipit
Meadow Pipit
Rock Pipit
Grey Wagtail
Citrine Wagtail
White Wagtail
Brambling
Common Rosefinch
Twite
Redpoll
Eurasian Siskin
Reed Bunting

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Shetland Mainland - 8th October

What a difference in a day after yesterdays almost un-birdable conditions, the wind had dropped there were just occasional showers and all in-all it was pleasant to be out. I started by heading to Lunna to try and see the Melodius Warbler that I had dipped few days ago, I thought that, if the bird was still around it wouldn't take too long to see. Arriving at 08:30, four hours later I had achieved a fairly brief view in the Sycamore hedgerow west of Lunna Kirk and a distant view in the hedgerow to the north of Lunna House. I headed back to the car for a snack determined to get a decent view before I left, in the car park I bumped into some people, not birders, who asked 'do you know anything about birds? we just saw this bright yellow little bird hoping around on the ground in the Kirk and then it went into the tree over there'! Oh dear, I was about five minutes late. I had a snack at the car and cursed my luck. Just then a lady birdwatcher who had been watching the garden of Lunna House began waving from the skyline and I legged it up a very steep hill to eventually get decent views of the bird as it fed in Willows, Sycamore and Fuchias. Good views in the bins but a little distant for the camera, still record shots and good memories.

Melodius Warbler - Lunna, Mainland Shetland

Melodius Warbler - Lunna, Mainland Shetland

Ominous storm approaching - Lunna, Mainland Shetland

Rock Dove with a dodgy bird watering down the genes of the 
pure birds - Lunna, Mainland Shetland

I had spent some time birding Lunna and had seen little, 15 Wigeon, five Snipe, a fly-over Red-throated Diver, two Wheatear and lots of Rock Dove including a worrying number of impure birds. As I headed off I birded a few of the gardens and Voes that line the road to Lunna but saw little. But, this is a beautiful part of Shetland and I enjoyed the simple fact of being there. I pulled into a lay-by over looking Laxo Voe, across the Voe there were a handful of Wigeon, Redshank and Ringed PloverHooded Crows were calling aggravated behind me and I turned to see them mobbing a large white, Buzzard sized falcon - a white phase Gyr Falcon. Bloody hell! Grab camera from car take some shots. I then watched the bird as it flew north-east. My mind then had flash backs, some birders I had met the other day had seen a Gyr with jesses and zooming into my images this was clearly the same bird - bells and all, an escaped falconers bird. A quick search on the internet indicated that such a bird may sell for in the region of £10,000, someone must be very unhappy that they had lost their bird.

Escaped Gyr Falcon - Laxo, Mainland Shetland

I then headed to Lerwick, grabbed a coffee and decided to bird the Seafield area of Lerwick. The foreshore produced a Purple Sandpiper and lots of StarlingRock PipitTurnstoneHerring Gull and Great Black-backed Gull but the bushes produced nothing. I headed to Fladdabista for the last hour or so birding, it was deadly quite, two Redwing were the only birds worthy of note and a Minke Whale passing south fairly close to shore added some interest. At 17:30 the light was fading and the birding provided diminishing returns so I headed back to my hotel.

Adult Great Black-backed Gull - Lerwick, Mainland Shetland

1st winter Herring Gull - Lerwick, Mainland Shetland

2nd winter Herring Gull - Lerwick, Mainland Shetland

3rd winter Herring Gull - Lerwick, Mainland Shetland

Purple Sandpiper - Lerwick, Mainland Shetland

Rock Pipit - Lerwick, Mainland Shetland

Monday, 8 October 2018

Shetland Mainland and Bressay - 7th October

Christ, it was a foul day to day. It started off windy and got more windy and wet as the day progressed. It was not a day for searching bushes for rare warblers and so I decided to head out for bigger stuff that could be seen from the car and from relative shelter. So I decided to start the day heading inland, partly to see what the weather held in store, and partly for an island tick, Red Grouse. So heading for I site I had been given I drove west along the A971 past Tingwall Airport and then north-east at Haggersta towards Stromfirth. Just before Stromfirth there is a heather covered peak where the heather 'spills' down slope and across the road to Loch of Strom. This was the spot for the grouse. I drove back and forth between a couple of lay-bys and was just about to give up when a female Red Grouse appeared in the heather just above the road. She showed well for at least 15 minutes in the blasting wind and rain feeding on heather buds before disappearing. On the Loch of Strom there was little but for two Mute Swan and eight Red-breasted Merganser.

Red Grouse - Stromfirth, Mainland Shetland

I then decided to head back to Lerwick and to board the ferry for the short crossing to Bressay. I had 45 minutes to spare before the 10:45 ferry and so headed out onto the pier at Lerwick where there were many Black Guillemot. This is a common bird in Shetland but being a southerner I don't see many and so the novelty of seeing good numbers so close persists. I spent some time watching them and taking, once again, far too many pictures in the poor light. Also here were around 30 Eider and many Kittiwake and Gannet offshore.

Black Guillemot - Lerwick, Mainland Shetland

Black Guillemot - Lerwick, Mainland Shetland

Arriving on Brassay at just before 11:00 my main goal was to find an adult American Golden Plover that had been present since 2nd October. I first drove north from the ferry terminal and saw a flock of around 30 Golden Plover in flight heading south but they didn't stop plus 15 Knot and two Bar-tailed Godwit. I reached the end of the road at Heogan and headed south once more, I drove the road east from Maryfield and then south towards the school and village shop but nothing but for a couple of Snipe. I then headed east from the store to Midgarth where I quickly come across a flock of around 75 Golden Plover, scanning through the flock I quickly came across a greyer bird with dark underparts and a distinctive flared white supercilium, this was the American Golden Plover. So I parked up, snuck along various walls, through ditches, got hammered by the rain and wind and was eventually moderately close to the bird. After taking a few snaps I watched the bird for ten minutes or so before the rain got the better of me and I retreated to the car, my camera and I were soaked.

Greylag Goose - Heogan, Brassay, Shetland

American Golden Plover - Midgarth, Brassay, Shetland

American Golden Plover - Midgarth, Brassay, Shetland

I spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon bimbling around Bressay but staying in the car with the heater on. I headed to the car park for the island of Noss and scanning across the straits and watching the hundreds of Gannet plunging into a raging sea and watching a brave Northern Wheatear battling in the elements. I explored virtually all the islands roads to their termination, there was little to be seen, two Razorbill near the light house, a few bedraggled Twite, a further 125 Golden Plover, around 150 Greylag Goose but not a lot else. I even headed back to the Citrine Wagtail but I could see around ten birders in the grounds of Gardie House who were clearly not watching the bird and in the weather conditions I thought better of it having see the bird a couple of days ago. I got the 14:00 ferry off the island and headed north on mainland for the next element of the plan for the day.

Gannet - Noss Sound, Bressay

View across to the island of Noss from Bressay

Adult Common Gull - Bressay, Shetland

First-winter Common Gull - Bressay, Shetland

Knot - Bressay, Shetland

Golden Plover - Bressay, Shetland

I drove north along the A970, the car buffeted by the wind and turned west along the B9076 to Sullom Voe. What contrast to Bressay, a landscape dominated by the oil terminal and its associated infrastruture, the skyline dominated by flaring stacks, this is not a particularly attractive part of Shetland. I scanned the sweeping bay to the south of the oil terminal, stopping at various laybys and gaining shelter from the car. To the south of the terminal the road follows the bay around the head of Garths Voe and here is a wide grassy lay-by which affords a good view of the seaweed covered shoreline I parked up and began scanning. After five minutes or so I saw a movement in the water not far from the car, and there was my target a dog Otter. He had clearly seen me and was keeping a close eye on me but he fed unconcerned in the shallows catching a multitude of small fish, mainly Butterfish and the occasional crab and goby. It was great to watch this animal at close quarters. It was 16:30 and the wind was increasing, the rain getting heavier and so I decided to head back to the hotel. On Scatsta Airfield there were 75 Greylag Goose, 25 Golden Plover and 75 Lapwing but further stops as I followed the coastline to Brae produced little. After a brief stop at Tesco to stock up on supplies for tomorrow I was back at the hotel by 17:45.

Otter - Sullom Voe, Mainland Shetland

Otter - Sullom Voe, Mainland Shetland

Otter - Sullom Voe, Mainland Shetland

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Shetland Mainland and Unst - 6th October

The forecast was for a relatively calm and sunny day so enthusiasm levels were high and I planned to spent the day birding along the west coast from Lerwick down to Sumburgh, going to wherever my whims took me. I was at Fladderbista by 07:30 with high hopes, wandering around the village and the ruins, I saw a pair of North-western (rostrata) type Common Redpoll, a single Icelandic Redwing but virtually nothing else, it was deadly quiet. I then headed to Leebitten and birded the fields, crofts and gardens, still with optimism but after an hour I had seen no migrants and the only birds of any note being a flock of 120 Golden Plover. So, although my mind was switched on to finding something decent I doubted the day could deliver and so I had decided to head to Lerwick where two Yellow-browed Warbler had been showing alongside Loch of Clickimin, grab some supplies and then head back to Lunna where the Melodius Warbler that I had dipped a couple of days ago and a Barred warbler were present and then to bird in the northern area of the island.

Fladderbista, Mainland Shetland

Rock Dove - Fladderbista, Mainland Shetland

Rock Dove - Fladderbista, Mainland Shetland

Shetland Pony - Fladderbista, Mainland Shetland

Rock Pipit - Leebitten, Mainland Shetland

I arrived at Westerloch Drive on the west shore of  Loch of Clickimin and wandered along the road to the path around the loch edge scanning the birches where the Yellow-browed Warbler had been recorded. It was not long before I heard the distinctive, high pitched 'swee-wee' of a Yellow-browed Warbler and soon got onto the bird which was showing well feeding in birch trees. As I watched it other Yellow-browed's could be heard and there were at least two other birds from separate areas of the path calling. These are such amazing little birds and whenever I see one I marvel at the distances they must have travelled to get to the United Kingdom particularly this year when the winds have been dominated by westerlies. Having had decent views I decided to head to Tesco and get some supplies for the afternoon birding in the north but when I got back to the car news had broken of a Pechora Pipit on Unst. This bird had first been seen on 3rd October for around an hour before flying south-west not to be seen again until now. And so, I decided to head north and make my decision of Lunna or Unst at the Lunna turning. By the time I got to the Lunna turning the news was that the bird was showing and the decision was made, toe down and head north to the ferry.

Yellow-browed Warbler - Loch of Clickimin, Mainland Shetland

Yellow-browed Warbler - Loch of Clickimin, Mainland Shetland

Yellow-browed Warbler - Loch of Clickimin, Mainland Shetland

I arrived at the ferry terminal at Toft at around 12:15 to see that the next ferry was at 13:55, I contemplated whether this was a good idea, should I be birding or sitting waiting for a ferry? I chatted to other birders queued for the ferry and eventually news came through that the pipit was showing on and off and faithful to a small area. I couldn't resist, I have seen two Pechora Pipit before and both were fly-over migrating birds during at Nanhui, China this spring. The ferry arrived and the 20 minute crossing to Ulsta on Yell passed by slowly. On Yell, at high speed we drove the 17 miles across the island to Gutcher, we arrived at the ferry and waited for 10 minutes before boarding the 10 minute crossing to Belmont on Unst. Another high speed drive of 20 minutes or so we arrived at Haroldswick and quickly saw around 15 birders clearly watching or looking for the pipit. Now, I don't run for birds in the UK as most of them I have seen many times before, but for this I struck up a jog. It wasn't long before I saw the Pechora Pipit in flight, the rich dark tones, wing bars and pale mantle tramlines being evident. Over the next couple of hours I had numerous flight views and eventually got fairly fleeting views as the bird disappeared into dense cover. It was amazing how the bird frequented the densest tussocks of grass within its chosen field and largely it would land and perch briefly after flying only to disappear into the densest of grass tussocks not to be seen again. Towards 17:00 it tended to perch in the open more, seemingly coming into the open to catch the last rays of sun of the day and at one point, after it landed in deep grassland in a garden, it flew and perched on a barbed wire fence momentarily when all its plumage intricacies could be seen. I was happy with my views but would like a photo so I decided I would give it until 17:15 before calling it a day, in the last 10 minutes or so it perched atop a wall for around 10 seconds and I fired off half a dozen shots, I had obtained a slightly fuzzy shot that would remind me of the bird and the event.

Ferry to Unst from Yell

This is the site at Haroldswick, Unst that the Pechora Pipit favoured

Pechora Pipit - Haroldswick, Unst

I raced back across the island with the guys that I had met arriving at the Unst ferry at 17:25 to find that the next ferry of the island was at 17:55. Then a dash across Yell to the 18:30 ferry to mainland. I was back in the Lerwick Hotel by 19:30 pleased with the day and the decision to head to Unst.