Day 1 (NON LINCS) SHETLAND NATURE HOLS_6th-12th OCT 2012
3 a m start to get to Birmingham airport.Arrived on the islands late morning.The team wasn’t meeting up until six so I was straight out to do a bit of birding on Sumburgh head.I hadn’t gone very far when I turned straight back for another couple of layers of clothing to combat the cold wind.
Now slightly more acclimatized I walked a short distance to Grutness where a first winter red backed shrike had been showing.The small gathering of birders were waiting for it to come out of a garden,which it eventualy did,hopping around on walls and on the ground.A nice start.
I decided to pop back to the hotel for a freshen up and a coffee to keep me going,it didn’t work though,I crashed out on the bed for an hour,woken up by horizontal rain lashing against my windows.The showers here are soon gone sometimes and so it was.I’d got an hour or two so did some sea watching from the window.There were plenty of gannets,fulmars,kittiwakes and shags,with a few bonxies,some very close.
Out in the bay were a pod of cetaceans breaking the surface.Great to watch,they were harbour porpoises,about 20 of them.Plenty of black guillimots to look at,too.
Met up with the rest of the team and our guide,the one and only Martin Garner.Our mouths were soon watering,not with the thought of dinner,but with what was to come on the birding menu.Didn’t sleep too well that night-too excited !
We were shifting to a different hotel,the plan was to bomb up to the north and then ferry across to the beautiful isle of Unst,birding all the way.
We made our way to Hoswick,where a fantastic siberian stonechat performed marvelously right in front of us.This bird was one of a few lingering rarities from the previous week,unfortunately most of the others had moved on,but it wasn’t all about that,it was more about us trying to find our own rare birds,which we were to do with a little success.Mind you it does help when you’re with one of the best birders on the planet !
I thought that I was ok at spotting and i.d.ing birds and pretty poor at bird calls.I now realise I’m rubbish at both.But I was about to learn a hell of alot in the next few days.I would recommend this holiday run by Shetland Nature, to any young birder (I’m not in that catagory,by the way),or anyone else that wants to improve their knowledge of birds.
The style of birding is completely different from alot of the usual stuff,sometimes involving flushing birds and trying to idetify them from brief flight views.I was begining to get the hang of it by the end of the week.
After enjoying the sibe chat we found a couple of birders at nearby Veensgarth observing some redpolls,about fifteen birds showed really well.They were mostly northwestern redpolls very distinctive when you get your eye in.Larger size,thicker billed,prominent wingbars and broad ‘cats claw’ streaking on the flanks,a cracking bird.Also with them were a couple of much whiter birds,possibly a different race.A lesser redpoll joined the flock.
Our man Martin is probably the leading expert on redpolls and we were all learning at an incredible pace and we were all catching redpoll-itis.Can’t wait for redpolls to filter through to my area this winter,I’m gonna be out there checking, being on the lookout for common,northwestern or even arctic.
Continuing northwards we watched a loch where a scaup and a couple of whoopers were the pick of the birds.Closeby at Vidlin we located a barred warbler that Mike,one of the team,a loveable cockney geezer,had told us he’d been watching the day before.Mike has the best birder’s name ever-Mike Falcon- cool or what ? The warbler showed really well on fences and in bushes.
A look on the pool of virkie produced more whoopers,bar tailed godwits,other waders and a cople of long-tailed ducks.
Ravens and hooded crows were all over the place.
Before we knew it we were at the ferry,which takes you across to Unst via Yell,we stopped off at a couple more spots, can’t remember the names of the places on Yell,but I think it was here we found common redpoll in with some more northwesterns Anyway,before we knew it we were on the crossing where we had great northern diver on the way over.
We arrived at the north of Unst with a little time to spare before dinner,now the fun began.Just as Martin turned the engine off,his mobile went….It was Brydon Thomason,Martin’s Shetland Nature business partner.He had had a call from an Islander in the south of the island who had seen a hornemanns arctic redpoll in his garden.Dinner would have to wait.The transit was put into turbo as we Jenson Buttoned it all the way back down.The light was fading fast and the bird had gone to roost or moved.Guess where we were destined for after breakfast the next morning? We took the rollicking for being late from Gabbi,our host at the hotel.There was no time to change or wash,if we wanted our food warm.Man it was good,we were starving.
So to bed,but we still had time for one more dip.We’d got this great idea about staying up in shifts to lookout for the auroraborrealis (northern lights).It was predicted that night,but we were all knackered and no one woke up.
After breakfast we motored down to Uyeasound,with everything crossed in the hope that the horny poll was still around,but we couldn’t locate it.After checking a couple of likely looking gardens and finding a few common migrants,we travelled back up to the north of Unst.
A place called Scaw was checked,it is a rarity hotspot,where many great finds had been made in the past.There wasn’t alot today but as we were about to leave a merlin put up 30 odd snow buntings. Very nice.
Next stop was Lambaness,an eastern facing promontory,where we had another very obliging 40 snowbuntings.It was blowing a hoolie so some of us sheltered behind some ruins for a spot of seawatching.Martin got us to try for a ‘blue’ fulmar,we couldn’t spot one, but I did pick up a very distant shearwater.Couldn’t make out any pale below,it appeared all dark,so presumably a sooty shearwater.
After snacks the team checked out a site called Norwick,where we were to do a fair bit of birding over the next few days.A look for another hornemanns arctic redpoll that had been seen,but not reported for a few day’s passed without success.This little snowball was to become our bogey bird,with many more searches before the end of the holiday.
Birds we did find included a stock dove,scarce for the islands,brambling,chiffys and blackcaps.We found a lesser whitethroat in the yard of a ruined building (these ruins are all over the place,I reckon they just abandon them and build a new place if they need repairing).Anyway,our leader was very interested in the lesserthroat,he had a hunch that it may be a different form to our regular carruca,ssp.Martin fired off a shed load of photos and sent some off to his mate (somewhere in E.Europe,I think).Apparently this bloke is the leading expert on warblers.It turned out that the bird showed many features of ssp.halimodendri,found much further east.I told you we were in for some education !!
One or two more northwestern redpolls were found before the end of the day.
With hardly anything good turning up in the south of the islands,we decided to take the ferry over and bird Fetlar,another newby for my Scottish islands list.Three red throated divers were seen on the way over,also a flying snow bunting.
Checking out a likely looking place for migrants,Martin picked out a carrion crow,scarce up here,hooded crows being the standard fare.’Real’ rock doves also very common here.
It was pretty slow so far today,but was going to get alot better.The transit was parked at a place called Houbie,where a summer plumaged great northern diver was offshore.
A bit of Burn-walking was called for.Andy and Martin walked up from the village towards some willows and conifers that cried out birds,while Nick,Mike and me stayed on the other side of the burn,hoping to catch a glimpse of anything that flew out.Apart from a couple of common warblers and sparrows,there wasn’t alot.Right at the end of the hike Andy,a seasoned Shetland visitor,fine birder and all round good egg from Edinburgh spotted a common rosefinch amongst the spuggs.Cameras were fetched from the van,but it proved very difficult to track down.We had a few more brief views before deciding to leave it till later.
The team voted to do another split,with Mike and myself trudging up another burn and the others going back to see if they could re-find the rosefinch.Mike and I were in the middle of a bog when the van appeared back at the point we’d been dropped off only ten minutes previously.Strange we thought,what the eck was going on,had one of them fallen down the ravine? Had they got fed up with the birding? Then we saw the lads waving frantically,beckoning us back to the vehicle.This could only mean one thing-they’d found summat!
We bounded back along the boggy burn edge as quickly as we could,Mike jumped across the stream,only to discover that it split into two at that exact point,he jumped right into it falling headlong into the marshy peat,water splashed all over us.I was set for an almighty bellyache of a laugh,but it had to be suppressed as we had to get back to the van.
Richards pipit,richards pipit was what we heard as we approached the van.It transpired that as soon as they got out of the van at the rosefinch site,Martin heard a richards pipit in flight.It was very good teamwork of them to come back for us.The bird didn’t show when we got back so we all spread out to check more fields.Having thought our chance had gone we found it in a sheep field and had a good view of it for a minute,before it was flushed by sheep.Nice.
A few redwings and twite were noted along with an over flying marsh harrier again uncommon in these parts.
Not a fantastic pic,but the best I could get.At least you can tell what it is.
Hindsight: actually,that’s one of my better pictures !
Breakfast was to be a packup today,as an early start was called for.We were on the early ferry back to Fetlar to see if we could relocate the rosefinch and richards pip.We spent yonks looking for the pipit,it was very elusive,we were running out of time fast,as we had booked on the midday ferry back.With time running out we then saw it fly and then land in a field in front of us.We all got one or two pics.
There wasn’t alot of time to look for the rosefinch,we searched but with no luck.Just as we all got back in the van the bird alighted into a bush right in front of us and then perched on a fence just metres away.Result ! Occasionally birds come to you !
Back on Unst,we searched the Libberswick area,finding a couple of barnacle geese amongst some greylags.Around a big marshy area 65 snipe took flight.
It was a lovely day,bright,sunny and,unusualy calm.It was time to have another go at the Norwick area.Some more northwestern redpolls were watched well and were joined by a couple of goldfinches,another bird common at home but very scarce in Shetland.
Redwings and fieldfares were fresh in.
Probably the best record of the day came late on,when we called back at Scaw.A long-tailed tit was feeding at the rear of the barn.Amazingly this was a major Shetland rarity,the first record for Unst for 150 years!
Martin was straight on my phone,as he couldn’t get a signal.Soon after, local birders and photographers Mike Pennington and Robbie Brookes came racing down the hill road,it was to be Mike’s 300th island species,in twenty five years of living on Unst.I still felt the excitement,despite it being a bird I am so familiar with.
While they were chatting we flushed a jack snipe nearby.Good end to a cracking day’s birding.
The long tailed tit was still at Scaw,we bumped into Robbie again who informed us that he had been watching the hornemanns arctic redpoll back at Norwick.We spent more time trying to find it,but couldn’t.A lady even told us the wee thing was sitting on her garden fence..aaaaaaaaargh.
It was to be a much quieter and slightly frustrating day.Later on we exchanged news with another birding group (oriolebirding I think).They had seen a warbler at a nearby burn but didn’t identify it.We were soon on the case and located it.In poor light we saw the little brown job five or six times in flight.Blackcap-like in jizz,but appearing much darker.It just would not perch,darting straight back into cover.A couple of the lads thought it looked a bit streaky.The light went and so did we.
Back at the burn we tried again for the L.B.J. but couldn’t find it.This little thing had defeated two teams of birders.Win some lose some.It may have just been a darkish blackcap.
Hunting the Norwick area one last time for the hornemanns,we saw more northwesterns,but not the one we needed.The other redpolls allowed us to get really close,at one point they were feeding on the road,right at our feet.The local moggy had joined up with us,as it had been doing for the last few days.All of a sudden the hungry feline pounced,with a flying leap reminiscent of Joe Hart leaping after a German-taken penalty.It was like slo-mo as the little tiger was about to sink it’s claws into a northwestern redpoll.They took flight escaping by a feathers breadth.Phew.So thats how they get those catclaw streaks on the flanks.I wonder how many rarities get taken in this way.
A nice tree pipit showed well,along with fifteen bramblings,a grey wag and a pale chiffchaff,possibly of siberian tristis form,but we never heard it call.
This was my last day,how did that happen?Never known time fly so fast.We made our way to the ferry then stopped off at a few sites on the mainland.A couple of peregrines were seen.At Loch Spiggie we saw a slavonian grebe.
There was just enough time to take a peep at a quarry on Sumburgh head,where we witnessed a mini fall of goldcrests.Thirty or so of the little gems flittered about,feeding.
Will definately be back before too long.
Some random shetland photos;