Friday, 27 October 2017

Shetland 2017

Here's a few highlights of my yearly pilgrimage to the Shetland Isles in 2017 which started on the 27th September and was for ten days, ending on the 7th of October. There were just the three of us this year - me along with my good mates Steve James and Dave Gray.  If the previous week was anything to go by we were in for a good trip as Yellow-breasted Bunting had been found on the Outer Skerries, and a Siberian Thrush at Baltasound on the Isle of Unst but sadly both birds had disappeared before we arrived on the Islands -  but were the weather and winds going to be in our favour, as in previous years? Well, to cut a long story short they weren't,  with the wind coming from the East or from the South East, which is what birders want- but it was far too strong (40 to 50 mph gusts)and would imagine a lot more over the higher ground but also brought in lots of wet weather, which meant that the birds that were on the islands were keeping their heads down!  The weather didn't deter us though - we were out every day come hail or shine searching for birds.(it was really hard work though) I thought this year there were a lot more common migrants on the mainland too, as we saw Redstart everyday, along with lots of Robins and Chiffchaffs and also it seems the good old  House Sparrow has had good year on the Shetlands

This was the first year in the nine years I've been making this trip that I never left the mainland - but we still managed to clock up just short of 800 miles in the car, travelling around the island.
As I said previously, migrants were plentiful, with Blackcap, Yellow-browed Warblers, Chiffchaff,  and also, still quite a few Swallows around. 
We were out to the west of the island on 29th September, at a place called Dale of Walls where a Great Grey Shrike had been reported. Steve soon managed to pick it up as he walked down a burn. Other birds of note here were Willow Warbler, Garden Warbler, Yellow-browed Warbler and a few Ruff mixed in with Redshank and Lapwing.
1st October saw us around the north of the island when a message came up from our Whatsapp group that a Pallas's Grasshopper-warbler had been found at Barnafield. Steve needed this bird for his list, so we set off to see it. On arriving, there were only about a dozen other birders there but it wasn't long before we got really good views of the warbler.As we were on our way back to our chalet at Veensgarth, we called in to see the Short-toed Lark we knew was at Aith - only 200yds from where we'd stayed last year. It was in a sorry state, as it was wet through due to the incessant rain we'd had all day, but it was still busily feeding which was good to see.
On October 3rd, we headed south, birding as we went, and went to have a look at an Oystercatcher that had some characteristics of the Eastern race (Haematopus ostralegus longipes)- it certainly looked different from the other Oystercatchers it was associating with anyway! (see the image)


4th October found us in Lerwick, as we needed fuel for the car, so while we were there, we decided to drop in on some Parrot Crossbills that had been feeding in a pine tree on a nearby housing estate. We had really good views, but went back again a second time a few days later, when we found the birds were literally feeding on cones off the pavement so we had much better views! We headed towards Lower Voe after we'd finished in Lerwick, where we had some really good views of Rustic Bunting.
In the bay, we saw lots of Red-breasted Merganser and Shag.


5th October, and again, we were back in the north of the island, and again strong winds were hampering the birding. We were just checking out some waders - Ringed Plover, Turnstone and few Gannet out in a bay, when another birder stopped, coming from the other direction; he informed us he had just found a Red-flanked Bluetail at a place called Houll, so, after a few directions, we headed off to find it. Within 15 minutes, the three of us were where we had been directed to and searching for the bird. It wasn't long before Steve flushed it from a derelict croft covered in honeysuckle. More and more birders started to turn up, but the bird seemed to have gone to ground. It finally popped up again from the same honeysuckle, giving the people there good but brief views.

 Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus longipes)
 - note the brown back, black hood and, we felt, more white in the wing when we saw the bird in flight, but a very interesting bird.

 Wood Warbler we found at Cunningsburgh

 Parrot Crossbill

 Parrot Crossbill

 Spotted Flycatcher

 Rook - a 'common' farmland bird which is not that common in Shetland!
The main corvids are Raven and Hooded Crow which you see plenty of every day.

 Common Crane flying up the Loch of Spiggie

 Yellow-browed Warbler

Our final day - 6th October, and once again we were in the south of the island, birding around Geosetter we found a good flock of chaffinch and with a few Brambling mixed in and also a Whinchat. Steve and Dave decided to walk the burn when Dave noticed a lot of Greylag Geese had taken to the air, and when he looked up, there was a White-tailed Eagle overhead. It turned, and headed towards the Loch of Spiggie, so we decided to go and see if we could find it again but to no avail - we did, however,  find the Common Crane which has taken up residence there.Other birds of note were Wheatear, Whooper Swan, lots of Wigeon an some Teal. 
I didn't have any new ticks this year first time in nine years, so thats not a bad run . It was really hard work due to the adverse weather but it wasn't for the lack of trying, but we still saw plenty, had a few good birds, a few good  laughs, and as always had a great time with two good mates. Here's to Shetland 2018!
Thanks for stopping by - hope you enjoyed the read....