Monday, 29 December 2014

Shetland Birding, September 2014 - Part 3

Third and final part, following on from Shetland Birding, September 2014 - Part 2...

Day 7

We were up nice and early on the 25th, and were waiting at Toft for the ferry to Yell by 07:30. It was a cold and foggy morning, turning to rain. I scanned for Otter in the harbour, but again with no luck. Only Ringed Plover and 10+ Shag before we boarded.

Arriving on Unst, the A968 passes Loch of Snarravoe on the left. We could see six skittish Red-breasted Mergansers on the loch, seemingly being buzzed by a falcon. Two Ravens mobbed the falcon and they all flew up to where we’d parked. We were treated to a great aerial battle between the Raven pair and what was obviously a juvenile Peregrine. This fight went on for a few mitts, sometimes directly over our heads. Meanwhile, a noisy Oystercatcher flew around, calling to add to the drama.

We’d come over to Unst again to try for a Marsh Warbler at Lund. The rain and wind were strong now, and we had no luck, despite four of us searching for three hours. We did get a decent list of species here though, considering the weather: Greylag, Eider (3 juv), Gannet, Shag, Cormorant, Redshank, Sanderling (2), Turnstone (c10), Snipe, Curlew, Willow Warbler, Starling, Blackbird, Meadow Pipit, Rock Pipit, and Harbour Porpoise (2+).

Shetland Pony, Lund, Unst - Thursday 25th September 2014

Another reason we were back on Unst was to allow Chris, who'd joined us on Day 6, to pick up some of the rarities we’d already seen. The Pechora Pipit at Baltasound had been seen sporadically, but today the weather was against us and we couldn’t pick it up. The Eastern Subalpine Warbler showed well again in the sycamores along Springpark Road, but once again the Rustic Bunting eluded us. My friends would eventually get it, but only after I’d left the islands on the 27th…

We hung around Baltasound for a while, trying to pick up what we could in the bushes and fields, but c10 Teal and c15 Snipe was the best we managed. The weather wasn’t great, and when news of a Red-eyed Vireo at Sumburgh Hotel back on Mainland came through, we’d decided to cut our losses and head back.

The REV was lost to view before we got there - in fact, we spoke to the finder a couple of days later, and he told us the bird was in poor health and it’s likely it died before leaving the hotel grounds.

Our elusive Hoopoe was reported again again, this time at Catfirth. Another wild goose chase ensued, involving getting lost, meeting lots of helpful Shetlanders, seeing far more birders (early October being the peak time to visit, I’d soon learn), and again dipping the bird. Still, we got to see some new parts of Mainland, plus a couple of larger Golden Plover flocks

We called it a day as the light and weather deteriorated further, due to a strong blow form the west that was coming in.

Day 8

An Atlantic storm had been brewing for a few days, and it finally hit on 26th September. Seawatching on the west coast seemed like a good idea, so we headed for the lighthouse at Esha Ness, in the Northwest corner of Mainland.

The moorland and fields in the area were teeming with waders: great numbers of Lapwing and Golden Plover, plus Redshank, Snipe, Curlew, Oystercatcher and Ringed Plover.

 Redshank, Esha Ness - Friday 26th September 2014

 Curlew over Dore Holm (The Drinking Horse), Esha Ness - Friday 26th September 2014

The wind and rain intensified as we approached the lighthouse, and it was a struggle to open the car doors. The rain eventually eased, and we had an enjoyable 2+ hours viewing out over the roiling sea - one of the more dramatic places I’ve been seawatching. Unfortunately, we didn’t pick up much, just Gannets, Fulmars and Shags.

Heading back south we crossed Mavis Grind, where the North Sea and the Atlantic are a few metres apart. The weather eased and we birded a few bushes and gardens where we could, hoping (in vain) the storm had brought in some Yank passerines.

Mavis Grind - Friday 26th September 2014

We ended up at Loch of Virkie, seeing another Common Tern and our first 2 Arctic Terns. The wader numbers had increased, including both Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits, and we saw our first Pick-footed Geese flying south over Sumbrugh.

The fields by the A970 in the south were productive for waders too, with 2 Ruff among the large Lapwing flock. A lone Wigeon was  with c30 Mallards sheltering from the wind on a small pond by the road to Sandwick, on the east of Mainland.

It was quiet at Loch of Spiggie, with no seabirds “wrecked” on the loch. We did, however, see the remarkable sight of a Great Skua attacking a Mute Swan. The Bonxie repeatedly buzzed the swan, occasionally sitting intimidatingly close by on the water, before attacking again. Quite what the skua thought the swan might have, I have no idea. It eventually gave up and flew out to sea, going directly over our heads.

 Great Skua, Pool of Virkie - Friday 26th September 2014

Day 9

May last day on Shetland, and we started out with a cracker: a Hornemann’s Arctic Redpoll at the water treatment site in Veensgarth. The bird had been reported late the previous days, and we arrived early (too early - the light didn’t get birdable for another half an hour), well before anyone else. We found the bird in the large clump of inaccessible willows behind the water station. A big lump of a bird, glowing white in the semi-darkness. Other arrived and played the bird’s call - the bird responded by flying aggressively right at the tape-player - not doubting the ID, even though it was obvious just from the views.

  Cormeramts and Shags, Clevigarth - Saturday 27th September 2014

We tried Hoswick again, around the Orca car park: 2 Chiffchaff and 1 Goldcrest were the only warblers.

My flight was leaving in the early afternoon, so we hung around the south of the island, hoping to relocate my bogey bird: the Buff-brested Sandpiper at Clevigarth. No luck, but great walk all the same, talking in the dramatic scenery one last time.

Pink-footed Geese by Sumburgh Airport- Saturday 27th September 2014

Pink-footed Geese over Sumburgh Head- Saturday 27th September 2014

After I left, my friends stayed on for another week, eventually getting the Baltasound Rustic Bunting and a White’s Thrush, but just missing out on an adult male Siberian Rubythroat… I for one will definitely be back next year, and for longer too, I hope.

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