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Monday, 17 October 2016

04/10/16 L.G.O.T. Last Day On Shetland

Hoody by Flashlight
OMG it's early! I wanted to make the most of my last day on the islands so I was heading back up to Unst to connect with my long time Blocker and personal nemesis...the Paddyfield Warbler. I don't care if the bird is in good or poor condition, or even if it's wearing a pink Tu-Tu with bright green socks! I want that bird.
First I had to catch the ferries to Unst and I arrived at Toft in the dark. As I pulled into the boarding lane I could see two Otters tumbling, playing and chasing each other around the car park on the dock. "This has to be a good omen" I thought. I got out of the car and immediately got straight back in. It was bloody freezing and the wind was mad. I added several layers of clothing and ventured out again. Ringed Plover, Curlew and Turnstone on the beach but no sign of the Otters again. A single female Snow Bunting foraged around the high tide mark.
The ferry journeys were unremarkable except for an unexpected pair of Little Auks that whirred south like two wind-up toys.
On Unst I thought I would travel straight to the Nemesis den of Norwick but I noticed that there was no-one at Haligarth so I had a little snoop there first. The Wood Warbler, perhaps surprisingly, was still alive and doing well, growing accustomed to the human intruders to its larder. There were a few Yellow-browed Warblers and Goldcrests, the latter, finally, in decent numbers. The Lesser Whitethroat was also there with a large warbler which was probably Barred Warbler but it hid well. A Little Bunting paid a fleeting visit and then flew of towards the beach.
 Raven, Haligarth
Wood Warbler, Haligarth. A real fighter.

From Haligarth I travelled to Norwick and parked by the beach. I could see several people walking through the fields trying to flush the Great Snipe from the day before. Unsuccessfully. The path and fields around Valyie held another two Little Buntings, Mealy Redpolls, Red-breasted Flycatcher and Common Rosefinch.
A walk up to and around the site for the Paddyfield Warbler gave nothing until a birder flushed a yellow-brown warbler from the field. Unfortunately it was not the Paddyfield but a Lesser Whitethroat. I have never seen a Lesser Whitethroat that colour. A true Desert Lesser Whitethroat.
Back at the car I scanned the beach and sea. Loads of Gannets and Fulmars including a nice Blue Fulmar. The beach had a Ringed Plover, Wren, Wheatear and the local Rock Pipits. There was also a Scandinavian Rock Pipit of the race littoralis which was quite different from the local kleinschmidti. As I drove off the long staying Osprey flew over from the east mobbed by a Hooded Crow.
Little Bunting, Norwick
 littoralis Rock Pipit, Norwick
 Mealy Redpoll, Norwick

 Osprey, Norwick
 Ringed Plover, Norwick
zetlandica Wren, Norwick
Then it was time to head for the ferry to Aberdeen with just time left for a short walk around Sandgarth. Plenty of Mealy Redpolls, Spotted Flycatcher, Pied Flycatcher and the ubiquitous Yellow-browed Warblers. The last bird, I'm pleased to say, was the Blyth's Reed Warbler. What a finale.
 Kittiwakes, Lerwick Ferry terminal
 Gannet on a mission
Black Guillemots or Tysties, Bressay Sound

Friday, 14 October 2016

03/10/16 L.G.O.T. The "Two Bird Theory"

Northern Fulmar, Sumburgh Head
Ahh, Spiggie Bay...Up at the crack of dawn and the world to myself. Or so I thought. I was listening and watching Curlew and Whooper Swans in the lightening gloom when a pair of headlights bounced down the track and a small brown car pulled in. The girl driving was giving me a funny stare so I ignored her and turned away. The next thing I knew was the girl walking past me to the beach in a swim suit! Let me tell you, it was bloody freezing and she jumped straight into the sea. I was speechless, and, if you know me, then you know how rare an event that is. She had more cojones than me. I just drove off to the site of yesterdays Lanceolated Warbler, still shaking my head.
I shouldn't have bothered. I had a walk around the, now trampled flat, field but there was no sign of it. Not surprising really. I must have been the only birder on Shetland who didn't see it. A recompense (a tiny, extremely small, microscopic recompense) were my first Redwings of the Autumn flying in off the sea. A look at the waters edge at North Voe only produced Meadow Pipits, Teal and a Grey Heron. Exciting stuff.
Redwing over Boddam
Juvenile Teal having a morning brush up.
Somewhere that can produce excellent rarities is Quendale Burn and that's where I headed to next. Lots of Pipits and Blackbirds on route plus one or two Whimbrel with Curlews. As I parked at Quendale Mill I could see a group of birders walking several hundred yards in front. I thought "There goes the neighborhood". However, it wasn't so bad as there was stuff constantly falling out of the sky. A Northern Wheatear on the path, a Whinchat on the fence and Meadow Pipits everywhere.
As I approached Quendale Dam I could see two very enthusiastic but very mad Welsh birders walking through chest high nettles or in the burn itself. Their tactics paid off when a familiar call made me look up to see a Richard's Pipit flying away from them to the top of a nearby hill. I stood watching them and a warbler flew out in front of them and the guy in the burn shouted "Blyth's Reed Warbler". So that was me for the next 3 hours. Only it wasn't the recent Blyth's Reed was so much better. It wasn't an acrocephalus we were chasing, it was a locustella, an, apparently unstreaked locustella. Visions of Gray's and Middendorf's Grasshopper Warblers flashed through my, barely working, brain cells. It wasn't one of the last two, heart attack inducing, wallet emptying, denizens...but it was good. It could also hide. So well in fact that it could give lessons to Lanceys. Up and down that burn we (now 12) marched and thrashed and fell. No-one had any prolonged views of the damned thing. There were two camps of thought. River Warbler or an eastern form of Savi's Warbler. I was, and still am I suppose, in the River Warbler camp though a chat with Judd (of Siberian Accentor fame) gave me some doubts. I give up! first the Lanceolated Warbler and now this! Woe is me. Most of the day gone and no new, positively ID'd, birds except the Richards Pipit. Lots of Chiffchaffs and Yellow-browed Warblers...of course. Can you tick Muscovy Duck at Quendale?
 Northern Wheatear, Quendale

Yellow-browed Warblers, Quendale
What now? Haven't been up to Sumburgh head recently and you can't really come to Shetland and not go to Sumburgh Head. I stopped at the Quarries on the way up but only Stonechat, Wrens and Fulmars for company though the Fulmars were very aerobatic.

Fulmars, Sumburgh Head
Sumburgh Head from the 1st view point.
Next on the agenda was the long-staying, Stinky Pinky (Rose-coloured Starling) at Scalloway. A typically confiding juvenile, it tended to stay near the bird table and take on all comers from House Sparrows to Hooded Crows. Smart bird.

Rose-coloured Starling, Scalloway
The rest of the afternoon was a blur as I made my way North to spend the night near Brae. An Olive-backed Pipit came on the pager for Ollaberry. This bird had taken lessons from that locustella at Quendale!. It had learnt well. One glimpse and it was gone.
I headed back to Brae to partake of Fish and Chips from Frankie's (most northerly chippy in the British Isles and fully recommended). Pager comes up with a mobile White's Thrush at Hamna Voe! "Sod it" I thought and bedded down for the night. Last full day on the islands tomorrow.

Monday, 10 October 2016

02/10/16 L.G.O.T. Fetlar (edited with correct Cetacean ID)

Risso's Dolphins, mother & calf
Up early today for my trip to Fetlar. There isn't much on the Rarity Radar on the island except a Surf Scoter on a pool on the East side of the island and a Bluethroat at Aith. However, it's my only chance for a visit so that's where I'm heading.
The morning is flat calm and frosty. I'm feeling well rested after my night in the Wig Wam. I follow the road past Mavis Grind with Otters fishing on the Sullom Voe side. On the way to the Toft ferry I pass Sullom Voe Gas Terminal. That place is just HUGE! A large flock of Red-breasted Mergansers were on the Voe while Snipe and a load of Pipits were on the frosty moor.

My Wig-wam at Braewick Campsite. Complete with stinky socks, wet shoes and breakfast!
Early morning at Mavis Grind
Red-breasted Merganser, Sullom Voe
From Toft the ferry goes to Yell and you have to cross Yell to get to the other ferry for Unst and Fetlar. Most of the drivers on that road could beat Rosberg and Hamilton trying to get from one ferry to the other as quickly as possible.
There were only 4 other vehicles on the ferry to Fetlar that day. There were 3 farmers and one other birder. Lots of Black Guillemots, Gannets, Bonxies and Kittiwakes. My only 2 Great Northern Divers of the whole trip were seen from this ferry.
Bonxie, Gutcher Ferry, Yell
Black Guillemot, Bluemull Sound
Fetlar seemed deserted when we landed. The other birder, whose name escapes me...sorry, both had the same idea and headed for the Tresta Manse where there is a great garden with lots of trees. The owners, both very interested in birds, were very kind and allowed access while they went to church. There were 3 Yellow-browed Warblers, Willow Warbler, Blackcap and Lesser Whitethroat. My first Brambling of the Autumn were also present. With these migrants here we thought that the rest of the island may be the same. WRONG! Most of the gardens were empty of birds, even the bigger gardens at Houbie. I did find a showy Garden Warbler and a Rock Pipit of the smart island race Kleinschmidti but that was it until I reached the RSPB reserve at Funzie, famous for its breeding Red-necked Phalaropes. Not today though.
Yellow-browed Warbler, Tresta
Willow Warbler, juvenile, Tresta
Garden Warbler, nr Tresta
Rock Pipit, nr Tresta
At Funzie I had my first Slavonian Grebe of the trip and a flyover Lapland Bunting. I really needed to see more birds. I had the bright idea of going to see the Surf Scoter on a pool between the East side of the island and Everland, the last farm on the Fetlar roads. The local folks told me that going to the Surf Scoter would take me most of the afternoon and I decided (luckily) to bird around the Farm. I followed the path to a meadow between the farm and Wick of Gruting on the North-East of the island. Gannets and Kittiwakes were being hounded by the local Bonxies.
I had just started walking in the meadow, with its single sheep, when several Common Snipe flew up in front, closely followed by a few more, this time with Jack Snipe for company. I scanned the meadow and could see several snipe and one, in particular, caught my eye. It was enormous! In the 15 seconds before the bird bottled it and flew I could see it looked dark and the bill was quite short. Then it took off. There was no mistaking it now. A large, very dark Snipe with a lots of white on the tail and obvious double wing bars. A GREAT first (yes, I missed the Cley bird). I phoned RBA in the hope the other birder might pick up the message. I searched for a while but no luck refinding it though I had the impression it hadn't gone far. I met the other birder while on my way to Aith to see if the Bluethroat was there. It wasn't. He went to look for the Snipe and I gazed off into the bay kicking myself for having my bins in my hand instead of my camera.
Scanning out to sea from Aith I could see several fins from 3 groups of cetaceans. As they came closer to shore in Wick of Tresta I thought they were Long-finned Pilot Whales. However, further scrutiny from others (thank you John Dixon) have ID'd them as Risso's Dolphin, and there were young ones present. Not close but I couldn't resist the temptation to reel off a few shots.

Risso's Dolphins, Wick of Tresta, Fetlar
From watching the Dolphins I decided to head for the pier and make my way back to the mainland in the vain hope of seeing the reported Lanceolated Warbler at Boddam.
The waters around these island are crystal clear and hundreds of fish could be seen just from the piers. Also visible were the seals and Otters chasing them. Awesome.
The other birder turned up and said that he, plus the birding couple from Tresta Manse, had spent some time looking for the Great Snipe and the couple had flushed and identified it again. That was great news as I knew then that I didn't have to make an opticians appointment.
Coalfish, Gutcher ferry, Yell
Another Ferry customer caught travelling without paying
Goodbye Fetlar

I decided to spend the night at Spiggie to give me a good start for the Lancy in the morning. Looking out over Spiggie Bay the Aurora Borealis was a curtain of green. Superb.


Saturday, 8 October 2016

01/10/16 L.G.O.T. North Mainland: Blyth's Reed and Aurora borealis

Sleepy Common Seal, Cross-voe-sand, Northmavine, Shetland.
It's not all birds.
After hearing, yesterday,  about further sightings of my iduna warbler at Sandgarth and seeing photographs suggesting Sykes's, I decided that's where I would be birding this morning. The possibility of yesterdays Blyth's Reed only made it more attractive.
Sandgarth is one of my favourite birding spots on Shetland. Loads of trees and brush and access, all provided by the landowner. I wasn't the only person there of course but I quickly made my presence felt when a pale acrocephalus popped up in front of me. The short primary projection, all plain greyish back and long, dark, bill suggested only one first Blyth's Reed Warbler for many a year. It wasn't a shy bird but it was damned elusive when it wanted to be. It finally flew off into the trees and I went to look elsewhere. Lots of Blackcaps and Lesser Whitethroats, including one with signs of an Eastern subspecies. I ended up at the end of the bushes, a few hundred yards from the top of the Voe, overlooking a small Iris bed where the iduna had been seen yesterday. A small, very pale, warbler sat up about 12 inches in from the edge of the plantation. Calling away wildly and quickly it was plain that this was not the Blyth's Reed Warbler. Sitting in just enough cover, it prevented those with scopes from seeing some of the crucial ID points but several were convinced that it was not Booted Warbler but, rather, Sykes's Warbler, judging by the bill color, call and overall "jizz". To confuse things further this bird disappeared without being formally identified and the Blyth's Reed turned up. I give in! That would have been nice to have on my "Self Found" list
Other birds in the area were some local Mealy Redpolls and Yellow-browed Warbler. The Voe had Red-breasted Mergansers and Eider

Blyth's Reed Warbler, Sandgarth
Lesser Whitethroat, it's outer tail feathers were completely white suggesting, perhaps, halimodendri, Sandgarth
Mealy Redpoll, Sandgarth
After Sandgarth I headed to Kergord plantation via the Sizzling Sisters Burger Van! (I don't make them up, honest.). Amazingly I found another First on the wall of the local ablutions (no snide emails or comments please). About a dozen moths were resting there and they turned out to be Brindled Ochre.
Brindled Ochre, Voe
Kergord held few birds with the exception of two Yellow-browed Warblers and a Red-breasted Flycatcher.
Time was marching on and I decided that I would spend the night somewhere on Esha Ness for somewhere different. There were a few birds including the ubiquitous Ravens and Hooded Crows also a few Whooper Swans and a Short-eared Owl. I visited the small pier at Hamna Voe where I was surprised to find a Blackbird nest amongst some crab pots. Zetlandica Wren were present along with the local Kleinschmidti Rock Pipits.
There were some amazing views of Aurora Borealis that night. I also slept in a Wig-Wam!
Scaup, juvs, Loch of Helga, Braewick
Kleinschmidti Rock Pipit, Hamna Voe
Blackbird nest in crab pots on the pier, Hamna Voe
View East from Braewick
View South between Hillswick and Braewick. The first water is Sand Wick, the jutting out bit is the Ness of Hillswick. The larger island is the Isle of Waterhouse and the large bay behind is the Bay of St. Magnus. The Houlma Sound runs between the island and the Ness.