Friday, 26 December 2014

Shettered: of booze, birds and pies

Twenty-four bottles of red wine, two large crates of Stella, two not-so large crates of Peroni, eight cans of "K" cider (plus c. twelve pints of Cobra), enough to keep the body and soul together in anyones language.  Luckily I had three more than capable tipplers to help me get through that lot, and three also very capable birders to help rack up my best ever total in Shetland: 132 species (team effort), 3 lifers, 20-odd Shetland ticks and 26 year ticks, slaughtering the Bagger's team in the process.  We earned every drop!

So a Cowboy, a Monkey, a Hawky and an Utter Twite did mainland Shetland (4-11 October) and did it well.

Of course they'll say the Siberian Rubythroat was the bird of the trip, for me: Great Tit, Blue Tit  OK it was, and the day we had the little bugger to ourselves for around 30 minutes will live long, ya da ya da! And after the hideousness of the Saturday standing in the rain for hours at the wrong garden and then seeing the unedifying spectacle of the twitch at the house where it was relocated (luckily for the owners they were on holiday), it was especially pleasant to see it from the comfort of the car. Unfortunately (or not) my camera had drowned and was behaving badly so no pics from me, in fact, since I switched back to the Canon lens I had completely forgotten how to use it, I am surprised I've got anything usable at all out of the trip...

After the ritual humiliation of the security at Birmingham airport (much to the mirth of my colleagues), which had me down to my socks, trousers and shirt and with the metal detectors still going off and me fearing a  cavity search, it was on to the plane on a dreary brummy morning. Off the plane at Aberdeen to heavy rain, an hour to dry off before getting wet and on to the plane for Shetland (I managed to bang my head getting on and off every plane and getting out of my seat each time). The weather hadn't improved at Sumburgh, but with news of "the bird" still present we donned our gear  ready for a easy sibe spectacle.  Four hours later, cold, wet and extremely pissed off, we did likewise, only to be back a few hours later when the bird was relocated a quarter of mile further down the village.

Another unseemly scrum ensued.  All the best positions had been taken, but the hopeful were scattered around the extent of the property anywhere they could get a view of open ground in what was a well established, and vegetated garden. I held back as the others followed rumours of sightings, if this was the way I was going to see it then I was quite happy not to. Changed my tune rapidly when we had it to ourselves didn't I? The others got a few brief glimpses and were happy so we returned to the digs birding on the way.  Somehow we managed 57 species on the first day and several bottles of wine.

5th October

The routine was established today, out at first line to check the lighthouse rosea and have a look at the sea. A Merlin flashed through, which was a good omen. We checked the quarries before quickly heading up to Sandwick for our private appointment with a certain Rubythroat.  That well and truly bagged we did a circuit of Geosetter (Pied Flycatcher, Yellow-browed Warbler), Loch Spiggie (Whooper Swan, Slavonian Grebe, Goldeneye, Scaup) and finally Quendale (Whinchat). Then news of a Little Bunting at Boddam dragged us north again, which obligingly showed fairly smartly on the road while a few Red-breasted Merganzer idled out in the bay.

No time for loitering though as news of an Arctic Redpoll and the first winter Pallid Harrier pushed us further north to Veensgarth and Tingwall. After a few false starts we managed to spot some birders at the end of a plantation and after just about managing to elude some troublesome barbed wire, we were soon watching a Hornemann's fluff ball in a group of a few dowdy Mealy cousins. Clearly it wasn't as big and bright as my previous encounters, but the Harrop camp put this down to its first winterness, and clearly not as friendly so we didn't linger long as darkness was quickly approaching and there was a harrier to see.  Where exactly that was was not too apparent. Somewhere in the vicinity of Tingwall airport and while the airfield itself is quite a small area the moors surrounding it were dark and looking decidedly empty. Luckily (probably Hawky) we picked out a group of birders by some farm buildings and thought this our best bet. When we arrived it looked like we would be beaten by the light, but somehow one of the birders there pulled it out of the bag just in time and in the end we had some great views, even if I couldn't remember how to use my lens. A much better looking bird than the oiled one of my first trip to here parts and lucky for us as I think this was its last day here.

Another good day with two new birds for Tony and the list now up to 85 and already we knew we were in a race with team Bagnall (who we gracefully let find most of the good birds) and it would be an epic, titanic struggle.

6th October

Our least productive day of the whole trip, the promised winds from the east were increasing in strength and we were optimistic that we would find some good stuff before long for ourselves. We checked the first quarry to find only the first of hundreds of Robin that would appear in the wake of the on coming storm. While we clambered in the car, the Monkey had walked along the roadside wall where he flushed a Long-eared Owl, which proceeded to sit further down the field towards Sumburgh farm, where it stayed most of the day. When we returned later we were put on to a Short-eared Owl sitting in the moor above the road (the first I've seen with ear-tufts raised and a first for Shetland for me). In between we had a serious look for a Radde's Warbler that had been found by Hugh Harrop, sadly well on its way to the next world, but couldn't even find a body.  Arctic Tern fishing in Sumburgh Bay, our first Long-tailed Duck flying across and a few Razorbill kept the score board ticking over and we ended up with a Black Redstart back at base (93 sp).

7th October

The wind hammered in that night and most of the next day, it was looking good for eastern arrivals. Driving down to the first quarry I spotted a Ring Ouzel, which exited sharply as we pulled up  For some reason we had to go back to the Tescos at Lerwick (probably more wine needed) and while we were there we checked the shore front to find a group of Purple Sandpiper in with some Turnstone on a slip way.

Shopping done, we were back down to Sandwick to poach a Pomarine Skua found by the opposition, which Hawky duly found, and a few Little Gull working the swell out in the bay.  We tried and dipped the Bluethroat in Toab, but picked up Woodcock, Linnet, Jackdaw and Black-tailed Godwit (Pool of Vrykie). We were back at base early as the weather began to brighten up only for the first beers of the night to be interrupted with news of a possible Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler at Quendale, probably the worst place imaginable. We hammered it down to the mill, of course the bloody bird was hiding out somewhere near the top of the rifle range, so we dragged ourselves up there. Here already were a fairly large group of hopefuls plus the finders and, with our extra numbers, we had ourselves an organised flush. Only on the third walk through did we score, at one point we had it surrounded in a small clump of sedge before it flew heavily back into the iris and we had to start again. Looked good for a Pallas's to those there in the know and from the back of camera shots, but overnight it was re-identified as a Lanceolated, still a lifer for me and Tony so no grumbles from us (#105).

8th October

Beaten again into the lighthouse garden by local Paul Harvey at the crack of dawn we did however score with the first Snow Bunting blown around the headland.  Today was surely going to be our day for finding something rare and we nearly did down at Channerwick.  Working the gardens below an old ruin, I picked up a large warbler in with the Blackcap in the nettles and Iris.  I called the lads over and a local who was casing the joint as well. Brief views of what was either a Reed or Marsh Warbler (favoured by the local man) before it flew up the gully, we wanted to nail it one way or together so we followed. We could re-find it, but on the verge of giving up I flushed another warbler with marked scalloping on the back.  This bird lead us on a merry dance through the bracken for about an hour while Hawky and Tony watched from the other side of the burn. Unfortunately not a Lancy or PGtips, just a Grasshopper Warbler, but still a Shetland tick for me, and the most views I've ever had of one - and all crap! Not quite what we'd hoped for but along the right lines.  We consoled ourselves by poaching another of Team Bagnall's finds a Great Grey Shrike at Eastshore.

9th October

We headed north today towards Voe, and Vidlin.  While the weather was much like last year the birding wasn't.  A few Gadwall on a small loch just outside Vidlin and a Common Scoter on the main sea loch was out reward. We made our way back via Kergord, its plantations and its Rook. Rook done the others took delight in finding another Great Tit, which I couldn't for the life of me see. Meanwhile Hawky had wandered off and found two Tree Pipit further down the road, and then a Common Redstart by the farm buildings there, by the time we reached there they had legged it. We slowly meandered down south, checking Geosetter where we all enjoyed a very showy Yellow-browed Warbler and we put on to a Northern Bullfinch (female so not quite as exciting as last year's bird) by another local birder.

Back on the road and back to Toab for a Red-breasted Flycatcher, which had become a scarce bird since the Bradnum/Vaughan/Lethbridge team had left the islands a few days earlier. We waited for about an hour by the playground at Hestingott and the only suitable habitat.  Hawky got it flycatching at one point, but the rest of us had to wait on. Not surprisingly it was working the space between the house and the trees in the garden well out of the wind.  Did get my first Blue Tit in Shetland, which made up for dipping one back last year in Lerwick on our Grosbeak jolly. With the addition of a Cormorant at Grutness we had made it to 125 species.

10th October

A day made memorable by Tony leaving his camera bag at Sumburgh and falling over at Toab. While the others returned to retrieve said bag and watch Tony swan dive, I dodged the rain and any decent birds in Levenwick. Matters improved in the afternoon with the news of two Olive-backed Pipit in Voe (and a Spotted Flycatcher) and an interesting warbler being a nuisance in Scalloway. The OBP took a bit of finding and a bit of trespassing too, but well worth hearing that call again.  While the Scalloway bird was, at first, thought to be a Eastern Bonelli's which, since we'd all seen one, wasn't stoking the fires of enthusiasm much, but hell we'll give it a go (did pick up calling Red Grouse from the moors behind the town). I can't actually remember seeing it well or at all that day, but our enthusiasm grew somewhat when by the next morning someone had heard it call and it became a Western BW.  Much more acceptable.

11th October

Another dipped Little Bunting at Toft (again), though we might of seen it, but who cares we'd seen one already!!. Traipsing through the small patch of oats we flushed something better: our own OBP!  Now news had come through of the Scalloway warbler's promotion to very interesting and so we piled back up the road. It would have to be obliging as well as interesting as we were off the island by midday, and duly it was oh yes!  OK not the best views as it plied around the tree tops, but for me another bonus in Scalloway as I pulled back my first Great Tit of the trip, Sc-core! A final Guillemot in the harbour put us on 132 and though Team Bagnall would still be on the island till the ferry that night, we were in a pretty good place. And lo it came to pass.

A wonderful week, so good that we've already booked up for net year.  Now if I could only remember some of the detail like the night the Short-eared Owl flew down the street between the lighthouse buildings one storm tossed night while I was having a sneaky smoke, the hundreds and hundreds of Robin and Redwing, the flocks of Brambling, Twite and of course the Otter that swam along the pier and us at Cumlewick. Great times, thanks boys and especially to the Monkey for the great organisation.

Species List

1 Great Northern Diver
2 Red-throated Diver
3 Slavonian Grebe
4 Mute Swan
5 Whopper Swan
6 Barnacle Goose
7 Greylag Goose
8 Pink-footed Goose
9 Brent Goose
10 Shelduck
11 Mallard
12 Gadwall
13 Shoveler
14 Wigeon
15 Pintail
16 Teal
17 Goldeneye
18 Red-breasted Merganser
19 Common Scoter
20 Eider
21 Tufted Duck
22 Scaup
23 Long-tailed Duck
24 Water Rail
25 Moorhen
26 Red Grouse
27 Black-headed Gull
28 Little Gull
29 Common Gull
30 Kittiwake
31 Herring Gull
32 Lesser Black-backed Gull
33 Great Black-backed Gull
34 Arctic Tern
35 Pomarine Skua
36 Great Skua
37 Rock Dove
38 Collared Doce
39 Wood Pigeon
40 Long-eared Owl
41 Short-eared Owl
42 Kestrel
43 Merlin
44 Peregrine Falcon
45 Sparrowhawk
46 Pallid Harrier
47 Fulmar
48 Razorbill
49 Black Guillemot
50 Guillemot
51 Cormorant
52 Shag
53 Gannet
54 Lapwing
55 Ringed Plover
56 Goden Plover
57 Sanderling
58 Dunlin
59 Purple Sandpiper
60 Common Sandpiper
61 Turnstone
62 Snipe
63 Jack Snipe
64 Woodcock
65 Curlew
66 Oystercatcher
67 Black-tailed Godwit
68 Bar-tailed Godwit
69 Redshank
70 Knot
71 Heron
72 Meadow Pipit
73 Tree Pipit
74 Olive-backed Pipit
75 Rock Pipit
76 Pied Wagtail
77 Grey Wagtail
78 Yellow Wagtail
79 Great Grey Shrike
80 Skylark
81 Swallow
82 Lanceolated Warbler
83 Grasshopper Warbler
84 Reed/Marsh Warbler
85 Garden Warbler
86 Common Whitethroat
87 Blackcap
88 Willow Warbler
89 Chffchaff
90 Yellow-browed Warbler
91 Western Bonelli's Warbler
92 Goldcrest
93 Great Tit
94 Blue Tit
95 Song Thrush
96 Mistle Thrush
97 Redwing
98 Fieldfare
99 Blackbird
100 Ring Ouzel
101 Robin
102 Common Redstart
103 Black Redstart
104 Whichat
105 Stonechat
106 Siberian Rubythroat
107 Wheatear
108 Pied Flycatcher
109 Spotted Flycatcher
110 Red-breasted Flycatcher
111 House Sparrow
112 Dunnock
113 Wren
114 Starling
115 Rook
116 Jackdaw
117 Carrion Crow
118 Hooded Crow
119 Raven
120 Twite
121 Linnet
122 Chaffinch
123 Brambling
124 Goldfinch
125 Siskin
126 Artic Redpoll
127 Mealy Redpoll
128 Bullfinch
129 Reed Bunting
130 Snow Bunting
131 Little Bunting
132 Lapland bunting


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