Saturday, 26 October 2013

Shetland day 3: Siberian Rubythroats are puffs compared to Northern Bullfinch

Having not poisoned anyone with my cooking, again, we ventured south today, after a quick scan of the loch opposite Tescos in Lerwick, where Marco thought he might have seen a Ring-necked Duck the night before. We tried but only could find a small group of Goldeneye and a few Pochard.  The others tried to string a Scaup, but even that was beyond them.

First up Sandwick and the walled garden at Sand Lodge. It all looked promising, but wasn't, though Matt picked up the only Swallow of the tour, before he disappeared over the hill again. Bradders checked out the farm buildings while Marco and I went back to the village. While I was trying to coerce a shag on the beach, Marco had found a Shetland mega: Great-spotted Woodpecker. Yup!

Had to see it though didn't I?  Had to take pictures of it didn't I?  Well it soon got bored of the situation and decided to check out fence posts elsewhere, and so did we. Next stop the main part of the village and its burn, where last year a Sibe Stonechat, amongst other things, was to be found. What we did find is more Chiffs of various hues, Blackcaps - of course, and another Great spot, while Mr B scored the first Merlin.  Matt was already in Hoswick by now, while we dawdled, by various routes, down the hill. A cloud of Snow Bunting rose from a field between Marco and myself about the only thing of interest, but everything looked so promising!

In the car park of the Orca (birders now welcome) we picked up the most colourful bird of the trip, and probably in Shetland (at the time): a male Northern Bullfinch.  A massive bugger, and simply stunning.

More stops down the coast: first at the famed Channerwick, where loads of Jack Snipe were flushed and more arsey Blackcap and Robin gives us the proverbial finger before being nailed and then, after I had managed to climb up the hill to the car, Levenwick. The bay gives us Slavonian Grebe, though Marco and myself tried desperately hard to turn a Long-tailed Duck into another one: the state of moult... (yeagh right)

Quendale was thrashed all the way up to the shooting buts, again, and provided more ammunition for hating Blackcaps. Matt did find another Yellow-browed, which we all got to see, along a dry-stone wall south of the farm, and I flushed a probable Lapland Bunting, but it aint on the list cos we couldn't find its arse.

While Matt walks the coast, we motored in comfort to have a quick look at Vrykie: Bar-tailed Godwit tick, and another bloody woodpecker, then back up to Toab. By now the light was beating us so it was off to the Sumburgh Hotel for Mr B's Birthday Bash and to pick up a certain Mr L from the airport.

He was there but his baggage was still enjoying Aberdeen. Lol apparently!

Shetland day 2: Cape May Warbler's are tossers anyway!

Day 2 and I am taken completely by surprise to find my quality wellies have already got a hole in them. The company that made them should sack all their low paid, south-east Asian employees immediately!

Today we are off to Whalsay, one of the eastern islands of mainland, in the knowledge that there has been a Western Bonelli's Warbler in the last couple of days, but mainly, of course, to find our own stuff.  The half hour ferry crossing is largely uneventful, with just a couple of bonxie, tysties, Shag, Long-tailed Duck and Eider.  As we approach a large flock of Snow Bunting can be seen flying around one of the headlands: a hundred or so - could be good.

What it was was hard work. You see an interesting warbler and it turns out to be, invariably, a Blackcap.  Now I have nothing against Blackcaps but... Either that or a Chiffchaff and the ongoing debate as to whether it was tristis, or abietinus (they were rarely collybita) and in the end I was still as confused as ever.  Some where definitely one or the other; pale or paler.  Helpful huh!

First plantation we hit, we scored a couple of Greenfinch, which may not be the mega we had in mind or what you'd associate with the word "mega", but still a Shetland tick for me. 

While I checked out a small quarry and an obdurate Robin, a trio of Whooper came over, presumably fresh in from the continent.  We moved on up the hill to the golf course.  Arctic Skua, Jack Snipe, Goldeneye, Purple Sandpiper, Wheatear added to the list there and a Goldcrest feeding in the geos. Small groups of Snow Bunting now and then and a rather smart Great Northern Diver, still in summer plumage, in one of the bays.  In another fish were jumping and further along the coast a large pod of Porpoise turned over close to shore.

We headed elsewhere, but inevitably sought out the Bonelli's.  A local had given us the latest gen on the bird and so with walkie talkies we split up to cover as much ground as possible.  Matt, as usual disappeared over the hill, while Marco and I kept to the gardens. We had nothing but a few Chiffies for the first hour, but then Marco checking out the top of the village had a result. Excellent views shortly afterwards, it even called for us as it flitted between an evergreen hedge in a garden and some worse for wear Sycamore behind a garage.  Only taken me a year or so to get that one back after missing out on the one in Derbyshire as I dawdled behind Lethbridge and Bradnum, listening to the bird call on the i-pod.

Warbler well and truly papped we went off exploring again.  Matt and Dave got a Yellow-browed in a plantation up the valley and in a small garden we were invited into a Lesser Whitethroat gave some brief views. Then it was time for the ferry and another go at the Arctic Warbler at Voe.  The RB Fly was still there, but no sign of the greeny warbler, but mustn't grumble, there's always tomorrow...

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

A Shetland return

Leaving my keys in the communal door was perhaps not an auspicious start to a week in Sheltand, but by then end of the first evening as we reached our overnight halt at Lancaster, or was it Preston (it was dark and I don't really care - it's not important), the keys had been found by my neighbour and I could begin to get excited again all over.  Next day and the drive to Aberdeen, was pretty uneventful bar a few hundred  Pink-footed Geese skeining it around Dundee.

At Aberdeen Bradders and Mrs Bradders left me to fend for myself while they went to the wedding which had given us the opportunity for this late dash to the enchanted islands. After buying so new wellies and over trousers I dumped my stuff at a local hotel and hit Girdle Ness full of hope.  Completely unfounded as it turns out as not everywhere on the east coast was dripping with migrants, well not this bit of the east coast. A couple of Purple Sandpiper on the rocks was a bout the best I could manage, so I wandered across Nigg Bay and to the woodland on the southside on the railway embankment.  Looked good for Yellow-browed, but was only really good for a Goldcrest and a couple of Robin.  A party of Reed Bunting held my attention for a few minutes to see whether any were Rustic Bunting, which they were decidedly not.  So always the adventurous type, I gave up and got pissed back at the hotel.

Sunday morning and a quick walk through the central park before meeting up with Bradders, who had picked up the third member of the party, Matt Eade, from the airport already and was now putting his wife on the train.That done we decided to head off north with a few hours to kill before the ferry.  First stop some of the places I'd visited last year round by Collieston.  The little plantation that had held a Pallas' Grasshoper Warbler the day before I got there previously, held a couple of Goldcrest, a Fieldfare and a Ring Ouzel which departed over the hill.  A late Wheatear graced us on the fence line, but I had promised YBWs and of them there were none.  A quick saunter around Collieston itself produced another Ring Ouzel and some RB Merganser on the sea, then to Forbie and it's dunes, which were very quiet. Back down the road then to the Ythan which was heaving with Eider and seals.  There we managed to pick up a couple of pale-bellied Brents, some Long-tailed Duck and a Knot. Then it was back to Aberdeen and the ferry. Even with the early evening we still had time for an hour or so sea-watching from the back of the boat, where Matt and Dave picked out Blue Fulmar, Arctic Skua, Manxie and Matt a Sab's Gull. My contribution, er a Guillemot I think.

Not the best night sleep I've ever had but it went. By breakfast, though still dark, Sumburgh lighthouse welcomed us to Mainland. While we tackled the rather disappointing fare Marco Johnson appeared, having joined the boat at Kirkwall after a week or two on North Ronaldsay. He had muted the idea back in Wanstead, and now became the fourth member of the team.

Dumping our stuff at the lodgings the birding began every daylight minute being precious.  Our first target was to be the long-staying Wilson's Phalarope over at Sands on the western side of the island, but we stopped at any bit of promising looking habitat, just in case.  At one place I picked up Crossbill, at the time thinking great bird for Shetland, pretty mega, that was until we saw dozens more.

Sands was excellent, the local landowner has made a real effort to create some habitat and with the marshy bit behind the beach, the area could have kept us interested all day.  Wilson's quickly snafued we turned our attentions to the plantations there.  While we walked up the side of one we met an old lady who happily chatted about her Pheasant, which we'd heard by the beach, and gave us some gen on a roosting Long-eared Owl in a nearby wood. We'll have some of that.  She was a great reminder of the warmth of the people who live at the tip of Britain, but also a reminder of how they can talk (not that we could understand much) for hours if you let them.

Owl done, we headed northward for a crack at the Arctic Warbler and Red-breasted Flycatcher combo at Voe, off course hitting any habbo on the way. It was already getting late when we arrived at the plantation just south east of Voe and the light was not good and it felt pretty winterish. The trees were quiet apart from the occasional flock of Mealy Redpoll. I picked up a bird flitting into the trees and then as Marco moved round the back of the clump we both a had a greenish warbler flitting tantalisingly briefly through the dense foliage.  Matt and Dave came to help and soon called the RB Fly at the top of a spruce, but our warbler was never refound.

Best views I've had of the flycatcher though as it fed a couple of yards over my head as darkness descended.  A rather good start, stoking up the anticipation for the rest of the week!

Saturday, 5 October 2013


A guillemot showing well on Thames was the lure to get me into the car and then 600 miles later I paid the ransom of a full tank of petrol and was released unharmed on my  doorstep this evening.  Looked like Jono, but he plays country and western music to keep himself (and anyone else in the car) awake on long drives, today there was no such abuse of my ears, in fact quite an eclectic mix of music.

Aaah Guillemot, not on its last legs like last week's Fulmar; quite perky until it fell asleep, but scorchio bird for London and another for the PLL, which gamely staggers on (186).

So 600 miles for what? A rather smart and confiding Isabelline Wheatear that's what.  On the furthest point of Wales was where, and why? because they don't usually stay longer than a day, anywhere! Utterly fantastic with a backdrop hard to beat: St David's Bay and Skomer, with a few Chough, Stonechat and Northern Wheatear.  Many thanks Mr Kidnapper.

Both of us needed the practise of getting close and personal with a UK lifer before we go to Shetland where we are going to see lots, or not...