Sunday 22 October 2017

Shetland 2017 - Part 3, Mainland, Shetland

The Islands that make up Shetland
Day 13 - 09/10/2017

Now back at Tingwall, Shetland Mainland, we both picked up our hire cars (mine a big FIAT 500 people carrier) and headed for the very north of Mainland, Ibister at North Roe where a Red-flanked Bluetail had apparently been showing incredibly well.  We picked it up as soon as we arrived and had excellent views of it, plus Hooded Crows, Raven and Graylag Geese.

The Ibister farm garden, where the Red-flanked Bluetail had been entertaining people

 and the star of the show!
Staying at Ibister for a couple of hours, I then made my way back to Lerwick via Sangarth, near Voe where a Thrush Nightingale had been performing well.  Or at least that’s what I tried to do - but could I find Sangarth - could I heck!  So with the light going, I dropped down into Lerwick, where I booked into the Youth Hostel for my last couple of nights - it was warm, had working internet and I could get all my photos sorted so I was happy!  I also met some other birders there who’d spent the afternoon watching the Thrush Nightingale and so I got detailed directions - perfect for my early morning outing the next day!
Day 14 - 10/10/2017 - Penultimate day
 So of course, the day started with torrential rain which didn’t stop all morning.  I eventually decided to drive over to Sangarth and did at least find the place, and spent an hour and a half in the drizzle waiting for the Thrush Nightingale to show - which it did for about a second and a half as it ran from one hedgerow to another!  Then the heavens opened again so I went back to the car and had breakfast there waiting for the rain to stop. 

 One of the showers while waiting for the Thrush Nightingale to show

I got a message to say that the Bluetail was showing well again and the sky further north looked brighter, so I decided to go back up to Ibister where I bumped into Steve again. The rain had stopped and there was even a little blue sky so conditions for watching the Bluetail were perfect and we watched it for about an hour and a half. 

 You can never get too much of a good thing - more of the Red-flanked Bluetail

  Then we got the message that the Thrush Nightingale was once again showing well, so we decided to go back to Sangarth.
I made a little bit of a boob with my navigating, so the journey took about an hour rather than half hour it should have done, but luckily there were still people there who’d been watching it and said it had been doing something of a circuit and was due out again soon - and about 10 minutes later there it was. I’d not seen one since the late ‘70’s in Eilat, Israel, and my first thought on seeing it was of a Bluethroat - very upright with that cocked tail - but it obviously wasn’t!  

 A few shots of the Thrush Nightingale at Sangarth

We watched it appear and disappear a couple of times, and then I decided to go on for my next target bird (or birds),  Rustic Bunting and/or Blyth’s Reed Warbler both of which had been showing on previous days at Sandwick on the east coast beyond Lerwick towards Sumburgh.  There had ben a message that afternoon to say the Blyth’s had been showing well so I decided to go for that first, but once again, I couldn’t find the exact location!  Coming back for the Rustic Bunting,it was by now starting to get dark, and I couldn’t find the flock of Sparrows it was meant to be with, let alone the Rustic, so I decided to give up and go back to the hostel.
Doing some internet investigation, I found the exact location of the Blyth’s, and so decided to look for it the following morning after a quick stop off at where the Rustic had been seen.
Day 15 - 11/10/2017 - Last day
Leaving the hostel as soon as it became light, but with showers, I went down to the Tesco’s at Lewick to pick up breakfast. I decided to actually eat it not in the Tesco’s carpark, but in Helendale Terrace which is where the Parrot Crossbills had been most commonly seen.  Breakfast over and the latest shower stopped, I got out of the car - and heard a strange metallic ‘pip pip’ call - surely a Parrot! Looking up into the nearest pine tree, there it was - a bright red Parrot Crossbill together with (presumably) a young male which was green with an orange wash on the chest.  I watched them both for quite a while, and then realising my responsibility to others, put the word out on the WhatsApp group.  It was great just watching them, taking pine cones off the tree and then crunching them.  The young male eventually flew into some other trees behind the houses, but the bright red one stayed, attacking the cones with gusto - obviously wanted a solid breakfast itself!  And then to top it all, it started trilling/singing. Absolutely amazing!

 The two Parrot Crossbills that were hanging around in suburban Lerwick
Well, time, which I didn’t have a lot of, was flying by and I still had some more birds to see, so I left a few people watching the Parrot as I made my way down to Sandwick. After yet another shower at about 9-45, I got out of the car in search of the Rustic Bunting.  But once again, no luck - not even a Sparrow let alone the Bunting, so cutting my losses I went further south to Leebitton where the Blyth’s Reed had been seen the previous day.  Here I had a stroke of luck - some people were just coming back from looking for it.  Although they hadn’t seen it, they COULD tell me exactly where to look and how to get there.  So 15 minutes later I was peering over a stone wall, when an almighty shower began! A quick run back to the car and I finished off all the food I had.  Steve phoned to ask if I knew exactly where the bird was, so I told him where I was and waited for him.  We waited for the shower to blow over, and then went back to the field. By now another carload of people had arrived, and when we got to the place they already had the BRW located! Yippee! My second lifer of the holiday after White’sThrush!  Well I spent 20 or so minutes watching the warbler (and also a Yellow-browed Warbler in the same hedgerow, and another in another hedgerow as I walk back to the car), and I had to make a move south as I was by now getting a little tight on time, and I still had some birds to see.

The garden at Leebitton where the Blyth's Reed Warbler was hanging out

 The Blyth's Reed Warbler
40 minutes later saw me driving around the Loch of Spiggie at Quendale, looking for two Common Cranes that had been reported from there, but without success, although I did see 22 Whooper Swans, plus some other new waterfowl for the trip (Tufted Duck; Moorhen), and a flock of about 30 Graylag Geese flew over.

Some of the Whooper Swans at Loch Spiggie
Half an hour later I was handing in my car keys and at 2pm was on the plane to go back to Edinburgh.  Here I’d left it very tight for time, as my flight from Edinburgh to London City was at 4pm and I wasn’t due into Edinburgh till 3pm (and in actual fact the flight arrived at Edinburgh a quarter of an hour late) and I had to pick up my hold luggage, drop it off again and go through security again. But it all worked and at 4pm I was on the half empty plane back to London and so grabbed a double seat to sleep on the way back.  And back in Benfleet at 7:30pm with only a minor complaint - Flybe had somehow managed to do something to my suitcase so that the handle wouldn’t fully extend, so I had to walk home from Benfleet Station with bended knees.
2017 Bird list - a list of all the species I saw on Mainland and Fair Isle, Shetland.
                      01 Raven                                                02  Hooded Crow                                       03  Herring Gull
         04  Gannet                                              05  Turnstone                                             06  Starling
         07  Twite                                                  08   Blackbird                                             09   Redwing
         10  Red-breasted Flycatcher                     11   Redshank                                             12   Mallard
         13  Curlew                                               14   Lapwing                                               15  House Sparrow
         16 Spotted Flycatcher                              17   Lesser Whitethroat                              18   Skylark
         19  Dunlin                                                20  Great Grey Shrike                                 21  Little Bunting
         22  Rock Pipit                                          23   Blackcap                                              24   Robin
         25  Chiffchaff                                         26  Goldcrest                                              27   Redstart
         28  Yellow-browed Warbler                       29  Meadow Pipit                                       30   Redpoll
         31  Greylag Goose                                 32  Fulmar                                                   33  Great Skua
         34  Siskin                                               35 Whinchat                                                36  Black-headed Gull
         37  Swallow                                           38  Grey Wagtail                                         39  White/Pied Wagtail
         40  Brambling                                        41  Chaffinch                                              42  Common Snipe
         43  Ringed Plover                                  44  Eider                                                     45  Shag
         46  Great Black-backed Gull                     47  Pink-footed Goose                                48  Jack Snipe
         49  Common Gull                                  50  Wren                                                      51   Tree Pipit
         52  Black Guillemot                               53  Snow Bunting                                       54   Songthrush
         55  Northern Wheatear                           56   Reed Bunting                                       57   Barnacle Goose
         58  Dunnock                                           59   Guillemot                                             60   Bar-tailed Godwit
         61  Ruff                                                  62  Golden Plover                                       63   Whooper Swan
         64  Common Rosefinch                         65  White’s Thrush                                      66   Red-throated Pipi
t        67  Lapland Bunting                              68  Jack Snipe                                             69   Wigeon
         70  Teal                                                  71  Little Bunting                                        72   House Martin
         73  Fieldfare                                          74   Grey Heron                                           75   Stonechat
         76  Slavonian Grebe                              77   Razorbill                                               78  Goldeneye
         79   Red-flanked Bluetail                      80  Thrush Nightingale                                81  Parrot Crossbill
         82   Blyth’s Reed Warbler                     83  Moorhen                                                 84 Tufted Duck
         85  Woodpigeon                                    86  Collared Dove

Shetland 2017 - Part 2 - Fair Isle

The Island of Fair Isle
Day 5 - 01/10/2017
On a medium cloud day with a light southerly breeze, before breakfast from the obs. window there were Yellow-browed Warbler, Blackcaps, Siskins and a Robin (apart from the resident Starlings and House Sparrows).
After breakfast I headed off south with Steve, who showed me some of the best birding spots on the south of the island, and on our walk south we had Yellow-browed Warbler, a couple of Redstarts, a couple of eastern Lesser Whitethroats, 30+ Twite, 100+ Meadow Pipits, 2 Bonxie, 2 Whinchats, 4 Chiffchaffs, a 1cy Black-headed Gull, Swallows, Grey and Pied Wagtails, a couple of Bramblings, Chafinches, 3 Common Snipe and 2 Curlew, plus plenty of Fulmars in the distance.  We spent about 3 hours on our walk south, having arranged to be collected later by the only shop on the island and brought back to the obs. at 1pm for lunch.

One of the flock of Twite seen on our walk to the south of the island
Once again after a long walk, and with my cold I decided to stay in the obs. for the afternoon as should anything new be found, anyone at the obs. could arrange to be taken to see it.
Day 6 - 02/10/2017
On a cloudy showery morning with a SW wind (force 3), after breakfast I had a look around the two harbours by the obs. (the Havens), where there were a flock of 9 Skylarks, 6 Twite, Meadow and Rock Pipits, a flock of 21 Turnstones, Ringed Plovers, Dunlins, 2 Eider, 4 Shags and half a dozen Gannets.

 North Haven - where you disembark if you come to Fair Isle by boat
 And the current Good Shepherd (IV)
Back in the obs. garden, for the rest of the morning I was watching Blackcaps, a Siskin, Chiffchaff and 5 Twite.
Once again on a showery afternoon, so I stayed in the obs. trying to shift my cold.
Day 7 - 03/10/2017
On an overcast and quite windy morning, I had a walk back down to the south of the island, as far as the southern lighthouse.  On my walk down I had around 60 Pink-footed Geese go over, a group of 3 Graylags, 8 Common and a Jack Snipe, around 30 Twite, Skylarks going over together with Meadow Pipits. At the southern end if the island at least 5 Rock Pipits on the beaches.  Other birds seen during the morning were a single Goldcrest, an all white leucistic  Common Gull, and a Fair Isle Wren.

Fair Isle Wren
In the afternoon, which was quite showery and very windy (force 5-6 NW), I took a walk down to the harbour, and then up to the northern lighthouse.  Birds seen during the afternoon were Dunlin, Common Snipe, Ringed Plover, Rock Pipits, Meadow Pipits, a Tree Pipit, Shags, Northern Wheatears, Black Guillemots, a Snow Bunting, Fulmars, Twite, Gannets and a couple of Songthrushes.

 A view on the way up to the northern lighthouse

 The Northern Lighthouse

 Snow Bunting

 Tree Pipit

Day 8 - 04/10/2017
Straight after breakfast, I took a walk around North Haven where I had Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Meadow Pipits, Rock Pipits, Turnstones, a Northern (Greenland) Wheatear, a Great Skua, Gannets and an Eider.

 Young Bonxie that seemed to have caught itself in the garden fence
After this I took a walk down south as far as the shop in overcast and squally conditions with a strong SW wind, being picked up from the shop to go back to the obs. at lunchtime.  Due to the conditions birds seen were few and far between, but by the end of the morning I’ seen Reed Bunting, Meadow Pipits, Greylag Geese, a couple of Barnacle Geese, 4 Northern Wheatears, a Chiffchaff and Hooded Crows.
Due to the conditions, I spent the afternoon once again in the obs., watching the garden where I saw Fair Isle Wren, Twite, Curlews, Goldcrest and 2 Pink-footed Geese.

Two Pinkfeet that took up residence for a few days outside the obs.
Day 9 - 05/10/2017
Totally overcast and with a force 4 to 5 NW wind blowing, I kept local going after breakfast to Buness, just beyond North Haven.  Here I had pretty much the same birds as previously there - around 30 Skylark, 4 Rock Pipits, 6 Meadow Pipits, 1 Tree Pipit, Great Skua, around 30 Turnstones, 2 Redshanks, Dunlin, 6 Ringed Plovers, Hooded Crows, and back at the obs. garden, a Dunnock and a Blackcap (male).
The half-light and NW winds and lack of new birds were beginning to get to me (especially on hearing what was being seen on Shetland (Rustic & Little Buntings, Parot Crossbills, Buff-bellied Pipit), and so I spent another afternoon at the obs. seeing not a lot.

Day 10 - 06/10/2017
Still fairly overcast, and finally the wind dropped to a mere force 2!  What a difference that made - didn’t see much new but what was seen you could actually watch instead of seeing of being blown away at a hundred miles an hour! For the first time in days, people could get off and onto the island by plane. Today I made two trips down to the far south of the island.  In the morning new birds were another Tree Pipit, Skylarks, Wheatears, Curlews and a Bar-tailed Godwit plus a Guillemot and couple of Black Guillemots in the far south.

 Some views on the way to the south lighthouse

 Tree Pipit


 Rock Pipit

 White Wagtail

Hooded Crow
The afternoon walk produced Redstart, Lesser Whithethroat (one of the very brown eastern forms), Bonxie, Blackcap, Wheatears, Greylags, Turnstones, Ravens Ruff and a single Golden Plover.
Day 11 - 07/10/2017
Little cloud, and winds round to a light NE - this is what we’re here for! After people had seen a Rosefinch in the garden first thing, I decided to start the day fairly close to the obs., checking out North Haven, the harbour just down the road. It was while doing this that I noticed young Sam Sankey, one of the new arrivals from Orkney yesterday, running down Bu Ness.  Something was up! I went to intercept him - White’s Thrush on Bu Ness!! He’d been sent to let the obs. know.  All lethargy now gone, I walked rapidly up to where his parents, Steve and Sarah had been watching the bird. It had flown a hundred metres or so to a different cove.  We walked round to search for it, and there it was, almost merging into the rocks/stones/grass.  It stayed only a minute or so before flying back once again towards the cove where it had been first seen, so we followed it back without actually knowing exactly where it was.  That’s when we almost tripped over it, inadvertently flushing it, and it flew to the hillside on the other side of North Haven. Very difficult to pick out, you could just about make it out with bins, but luckily the Sankeys had a small Swarovski scope and we all got a decent look at it over the next 40 minutes or so. While watching it we had a couple of Whhoper Swans fly over. I left at the same time as the Sankeys (well, there was no point staying to just watch with bins), and apparently the White’s Thrush disappeared some time after having been flushed by a Hooded Crow, never to be seen again. Of all days this was the one day that no mobile phone networks were working, so the obs. staff had to round people up from all over by driving around the island with a red flag poking out of the window to let people know something was up.  What a bird - that’s what you come to Fair Isle for!

 White´s Thrush, photo copyright Sarah Sankey

 and my pathetic distant efforts!
And on my way back to the obs., I stopped off to have a look at a Rozorbill and Slavonian Grebe, both of which were showing well in the harbour.

 Two Whooper Swans that flew over us while watching the White´s Thrush

 The Slavonian Grebe in the harbour

 The Razorbill in the harbour

And the afternoon was no anticlimax either - there had been reports of an elusive Red-throated Pipit near the shop for some days now, so I decided to go and try my luck.  On the way I was accompanied by a male Lapland Bunting which was feeding in the roadside ditches. I also had a wander up to the airstrip just to see if there was anything there, and by the time I got to the Red-throated Pipit location, several people had it tied down to a particular patch of thistles, and was just a matter of waiting.  Wait I did, and eventually I got some excellent views, especially when it came out and perched on top of a small stone wall.  Meeting up with Steve there, we carried on south to the southern lighthouse, having Wheatears, Barnacle and Greylag Geese, Jack Snipe, Wigeon, Redwings and Tree Pipit as we wandered around.

 Lapland Bunting in the gutter on the way down south

At the airstrip, this is what greets you

Red'throated Pipit that finally showed itself well
Day 12 - 08/10/2017
A bright sunny morning with no wind! The morning started well, with a Common Rosefinch and Little Bunting being caught in the mist nets in the garden before breakfast. Today as I walked south with Steve we had a number of the commoner migrants, Wheatear, Twite, Redwings, a Redpoll (Mealy?) over, Goldcrest, Swallows & House Martins, a Fieldfare, Blackcaps, 4 Whinchats, Chiffchaffs, Siskin, Whooper Swan, Grey Heron, Robins, Ruffs, Lesser Whitethroats (again the brown eastern birds) and a couple of Redstarts, and while waiting for our lift back to the obs. at midday, Yellow-browed Warbler and Stonechat. It was that bright and sunny that we even had a butterfly, my only one on the island, a Red Admiral!

 Common Rosefinch ringed at the obs.

 Little Bunting ringed at the obs.
In the afternoon I spent a while back down at North Haven where the Slavonian Grebe, was showing well again, and I then kept company with Steve up to the northern lighthouse.  I’d only been here the once before a few days earlier, when there was a near gale blowing, and so I wanted to have a look in more normal conditions.  But not wishing to demean the Northern Wheatear, flock of 26 Twite, 4 Robins, 5 Redwings, Raven and 6 Hooded Crows, the only birds of note were a Yellow-browed Warbler on the cliffs and a Goldeneye in the nearby loch.

 Slavonian Grebe in the harbour

The ´Good Shepherd´had managed a dash to Sumburgh between storms, and was returning to North Haven

On a bright sunny afternoon, there were Fulmars flying on pretty much all the cliffs

 One of the islets to the NW of Fair Isle, smothered in Gannets

Sumburgh, Mainland Shetland in the distance 
Day 13 - 09/10/2017
This was to be my last day (or morning as I was theoretically leaving at 4:30) but once again with the Good Shepherd having been cancelled already a couple of times during the week, and decidedly iffy conditions, I spent the morning (once the rain had stopped) around North Haven, then venturing down to the south of the island searching for a Richard’s Pipit. No-one could find it, but I did get a nice male Eider, Common Snipe and a Jack Snipe, plus Redwings and Fieldfares. Wandering back at lunchtime,  I decided that as one plane had already been cancelled in the morning due to the weather, if there was any possibility to get an earlier flight off, I would take it, as looking at the weather predictions, it may not otherwise have been possible to leave for a couple of days.  Steve was due to stay another week but also decided to leave early so when 2 seats became available on a flight at 14:00, we took them.

 And back to Shetland Mainland