Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Shetland Birding, October 2015 - Part 2

Following on from Shetland Birding, October 2015 - Part 1...

Tuesday 6th October

The storm had arrived, and as we sat eating our breakfast the great outdoors didn't seem quite as inviting as the day before...

Skaw, Unst, Shetland - Tuesday 6th October 2015

We again headed up to Skaw, where the wader numbers had increased and now include a Knot. On the beach we found an example of the rare and protected Oyster Plant (Mertensia maritima). It certainly was well protected, by an upturned shopping basket and a stock fence!

Oyster Plant (Mertensia maritima), Skaw, Unst - Tuesday 6th October 2015

Botanical twitching...

At Valyie, four Goldcrest were new in, as was the Brambling. We had three more Brambling on the road at Norwick, and then a Bluethroat in a roadside ditch at Burrafirth, spotted from the van. Also at Burrafirth: Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Fieldfare and Tree Pipit.

Hard work in the wind and rain... Valyie, Unst - Tuesday 6th October 2015

We stopped to check the mass of gulls over the churning sea at Haroldswick. A first-winter Arctic Tern was a pleasant surprise.

We spent an hour seawatching from Lamba Ness, finding a decent amount of shelter behind the old MoD buildings. Unfortunately, we only had common species like Gannet, Kittiwake, Fulmar and Great Skua.

Seawatching at Lamba Ness, Unst - Tuesday 6th October 2015

Back towards the road we checked out the the draining channels in the bogs, finding a couple of Jack Snipe and a Richard's Pipit (the latter of which I didn't see, as I was too distracted by the Snipe I'd nearly stood on).

The rain had eased, but the wind was still very strong. We headed to Clingera across from Baltasound, finding Grey Wagtail, Yellow-browed Warbler and Goldcrest, and another very friendly dog.

The famous bus stop, north of Baltasound, Unst - Tuesday 6th October 2015

Wednesday 7th October

The weather was again wet the following morning, and didn't improve. Following the same pattern as Tuesday, we headed north to Skaw first, finding a Common Tern (and, yes, clearly different bird to the previous day's bird) in the gull melee.

 Wet and wild at Norwick, Unst - Wednesday, 7th October 2015

There were clearly lots of new birds in a Skaw: two Wheatear, four Whinchat, three Goldcrest, Meadow Pipits, Redwings, Reed Bunting, and 25 Snow Bunting.

Lichen, Uyeasound, Unst - Wednesday, 7th October 2015

After checking Valtie and Baltasound, we headed south via Uyeasound. A lone Whooper Swan was on Easter Loch. We parked up and Chris Rodger picked up an unusual Yellow Wagtail. It had a dark grey head, particularly contrasting dark ear coverts and pale supercilium, and a grey mantle, with a faintly yellow breast - a very striking bird. A probable Grey-headed Wagtail Motacilla flava thunbergi.

Barnacle Goose, Lund, Unst - Wednesday, 7th October 2015
On to Lund, in the south west. Lots of thistle-bashing and burn-walking only brought up two very wet and tired Goldcrests. There were c10 Barnacle Geese nearby, then we headed back via Uyeasound (c300 Golden Plovers), and finished with 10 Brambling around Baltasound.

Thursday 8th October

A day on Fetlar. The early weather was damp, but it cleared by mid-morning and by the afternoon the weather was still, clear and warm. 20+ Black Guillemots and 4+ Great Skuas from the ferry.

On the Unst-Fetlar ferry - Thursday 8th October 2015

First stop was Brough Lodge, a dilapidated 19th-century Gothic mansion with some good overgrown areas amongst its walls. Male Blackcap, Common Chiffchaff, Siberian Chiffchaff, Jack Snipe, plus good numbers of thrushes: Redwing, Song Thrush and Blackbird.

Brough Lodge, Fetlar - Thursday 8th October 2015

At Tresta, we checked sycamore plantation by the house, as the owner (the island's shopkeeper) moved his possessions out. Blackcap (five male and one female), 3+ Goldcrest and Yellow-browed Warbler, with two Red-throated Diver in the bay.

We stopped at Houbie and I checked out the recently abandoned shop. The island's population is falling (61 at the 2011 census, and now thought to be below 40), and may be reaching the point where it's no longer viable, especially if the shop has closed down.

We headed north on foot, up the Burn of Feal. A really productive area: 10+ Goldcrest, Yellow-browed Warbler, Chiffchaff, Redwing, Brambling, and a heard-only Redpoll. Lots of fun getting (falling) over the stock fences here too.

We met with Brydon Thomason and Micky Maher, and heard about a Little Bunting at Everland, near Funzie. Before I'd even got out of the van I was covered in mud from the farmer's lovely, but over-friendly, puppy. Before long we could hear the Little Bunting calling among the House Sparrow chirrups. It was briefly sat on the roof of a farm building, before moving off through the farm. A couple of Reed Buntings two.

Little Bunting, Everland, Fetlar - Thursday 8th October 2015

The weather was getting better as the day when on, becoming a glorious afternoon.

Everland, Fetlar - Thursday 8th October 2015

As we headed back to the ferry, we called in at Aith to check out some scrub around a farm, finding a Common Redstart.

Planticrues, Fetlar - Thursday 8th October 2015

More Black Guillemots and a Great Northern Diver from the ferry back to Unst. A quick look around Uyeasound and on to Hannigarth, south of Sandwick.

 Uyeasound, Unst - Thursday 8th October 2015

 Whooper Swan, Uyeasound, Unst - Thursday 8th October 2015

A Goldcrest was at the farm, with Jack Snipe and Skylark out on the boggy Breck of Voesgrind.

 Hannigarth, Unst - Thursday 8th October 2015

We then picked up a harrier species quartering the hill opposite. Because of the number of Pallids around (on Unst and elsewhere on the Islands), our starting point for ID was Pallid Harrier. We checked the primary fingers, which looked like four per wing. The body and tail appeared slim, and there appeared to be a contrasting pale and dark collar. Most strikingly, the bird's body colour was a bright coppery orange. Everything looked good for a Pallid, but looking at Andy's photos later, we realised the bird had five primary fingers (only noticeable on pictures showing the underwing, not the upperwing). The collar wasn't as pronounced as first thought, and the colour was probably due to the low sun. So, a Hen Harrier.

Back to Baltasound, where two Great Northern Divers were a great sight on the flat water as the light faded. The sky at sunset was awesome.

 Great Northern Diver, Baltasound, Unst - Thursday 8th October 2015

 Sundown at Baltasound, Unst - Thursday 8th October 2015

Another great day - really glad to have visited Fetlar, a really beautiful island. It didn't end there - later in the evening I saw my first aurora borealis, looking north from the outskirts of Baltasound.

Friday 9th October

Our last day of Unst, and a lovely sun rise to see us off.

 Sunrise over Baltasound, Unst - Friday 9th October 2015

As we drove away from the hotel, Andy spotted a Great Grey Shrike on a post by Halligarth. Good spot!

 Great Grey Shrike, Baltasound, Unst - Friday 9th October 2015

The morning was spent checking out the Golden Plover flocks on Yell, looking for a reported American Golden Plover. We must have seen 500+, but in several groups spread out over a large area. Plenty of "possibles", but all of which ended up proving to be European Golden Plovers. Heading for the ferry, we stopped in to pay homage at the Bobby Tulloch memorial.

Bobby Tulloch memorial, The Old Haa, Yell - Friday 9th October 2015

Back on Shetland Mainland, we stopped at Sandgarth - a great place with most a welcoming owner (thanks for the tea!). In the brilliantly planted and appointed mini-nature-reserve, We had two Mealy Redpoll, Goldcrest and Blackcap.

 Mealy Redpoll, Sandgarth, Shetland - Friday 9th October 2015

At Lower Voe, we had two of Shetland's scarce Collared Doves, plus Brambling in a large Redwing flock. At Vidin: Blackcap, Goldcrest, Chiffchaff, and another Collared Dove. A trip to Tesco (to pick up the pager Mark had left on Unst...) allowed us to shamelessly twitch the Mute Swan on Clickimin Loch to add it to the trip list.

We rounded off we a showy Lapland Bunting by the lower car park at Sumburgh Head, unfortunately as the light was fading.

 Lapland Bunting, Sumburgh Head, Shetland - Friday 9th October 2015

Saturday 10th October

Last day, with my flight off at 16:20. A look around the Sumburgh Hotel grounds brought a couple of Goldcrests and the usual Twite and Skylarks.

 Goldcrest, Sumburgh Hotel, Shetland - Saturday 10th October 2015

There was a Red-breasted Merganser, a Velvet Scoter, and three Long-tailed Duck on West Voe, and as we walked to pick up a new hire car for Chris to use on his last day, a Short-eared Owl low over our heads at the hotel entrance gate.

 Great Black-backed Gull remains, Sumburgh, Shetland - Saturday 10th October 2015

We used the car to drop Donna off at her new lodgings in Lerwick, and have a look round for some Shetland Gin to take home for my wife.

Accommodation barge Sans Vitesse, Lerwick harbour, Shetland - Saturday 19th October 2015

The trip had one last surprise. While browsing through the local natural history section of a Lerwick bookshop, news came through of an Olive-backed Pipit at Toab, back near the airport. We had just enough time to get great views as it perched up on a garden wall after a short wait, and then I was on the long journey home (got in around midnight).

Another ace trip. Not a rarity fest (only Swainson's Thrush, Pallid Harrier, Arctic Warbler, Little Bunting, two Bluethroats, two species of shrike, three species of flycatcher, five species of pipit, a rare Yellow Wagtail sub-species, more Yellow-browed Warblers and Jack Snipes than you can shake a stick at, plus watching the first Whoopers, Pinkfeet and Barnacle Geese to arrive in Britain this winter, etc), but not bad. Plus I learnt so much more than last year. I really feel I'm getting to grips with it now. Need to looking a booking the next trip...

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