Wednesday 19 October 2022

Shetland Adventure - 6th October 2022

Another dawn attempted to break but was once again battered back by the rain and we timed our departure between squalls and headed straight for the Dale of Walls.  It was to become a day of contrasting skies – bruised black and foreboding for starters followed by a main course of torrential lashing rain with rainbows and fleeting blue skies for dessert.  The birding was challenging but we were never too far from the car and managed to stay dry.

We spoke to the very nice lady who runs her wool business from this isolated croft

The final Elder and Sallow by the last house at Dale held a bird – and Willow Warbler was added to the paltry warbler total.  It was actively feeding and looked well and was obviously waiting for a break in the weather in which to move on. Rock and Meadow Pipits poked around the paddocks with the House Sparrows, Starlings and a few Blackbirds, Twite and Turnstones and a glance out to sea saw Foula disappearing and a black wall approaching at best part of 50mph.  We only just made it to the car in time.

David off to check that bush

Willow Warbler - Peter Moore

As it passed the hillside lit up but the wind had not abated and the Redshank, Lapwing and Snipe in a flooded paddock were all hunkered down.  With a gap available in the weather we went and sat in the gully out of the worst of the wind and almost as soon as the sun came out a nicely contrasting  Siberian Chiffchaff popped out to briefly feed on the small flies that also instantly appeared.  David had a normal olive Chiffie higher up but otherwise a Redwing and Wren were the only other birds.


Lapwing and Snipe

Sheltering Rock Doves

Another tactical retreat and then over the top and into Walls where the shop delivered… the fridge was fully stocked with the widest array of pies from a variety of bakeries we had ever seen.  There were many pie-ticks to be had with the All Day Breakfast, Steak and Cracked Black Pepper, Steak and Cheese and Cheese and Bacon as well as the slightly disturbing Cheese, Bean and Potato and Macaroni Cheese.  

Worshipping at the Pile of Pies

We stocked up for a couple of days and moved on out to Sandness and Melby stopping first by the school to look for a Barred Warbler in the windswept bushes and seeing a Brambling and Chiffchaff fly out and get blown back in.  There were 12 Whooper Swans in the fields and on the lochan with a few duck and ten Barnacle Geese were found battling down the coast still determinedly on the move despite their already epic flight.  The urge to keep going seemingly overrides the desire to pause. 

Whooper Swans

Barnacle Geese 

Barnacle Geese and Gannets

The Magpie had been in this area for nearly three months and at only the second record for Shetland it was technically the rarest bird on the Shetlands and I had just commented that I was not going to spend hours searching for it when I found it sheltering on a fence in the lee of a pine tree.  I may have excitedly shouted ‘Magpie!!’ down the radio.  I doubt that will ever happen again.


Shetland Sheep 

Down at the Melby end we were treated to fine views of a big dog Otter as it rolled around the seaweed before resuming its hunting while Harbour Seals bobbed amongst Tysties and both Great Northern and Red-throated Divers in the bay.  



sinuous Otter 

Red-throated Diver - Peter Moore

Another squall was fast approaching and I stayed outside in the lee of the house while it hammered the coast.  Being sheltered I was able to watch the Gannets and Kittiwakes masterfully navigating the conditions and still feeding in the turbulent waters.   

sheering Turnstone 



Gannet - full crop

Plunge fishing Kittiwake

It soon passed and the appearance of a windy summer’s day resumed.  We checked a few fields further west finding a Ruff with some Golden Plovers but nothing else.


Golden Plover

We retraced our steps and then headed off toward the West Papa ferry at West Burrafirth where we tried to check a wonderful garden from the road but it was just too windblown.  The sheltered edge of a large plantation looked more promising but it too only yielded two Goldcrest and a few Redwing and Blackbirds that two Sparrowhawks were attempting to snaffle.   

After sitting out another couple of squalls we had a walk out to the headland where fine views, kronking Ravens and a creeping Wren were the only birds while a flock of 22 Pink-footed Geese followed us out as they headed strongly south down Mainland.

The day was ended at De Gardins of Sand which were beautifully sheltered in places but save for three Goldcrest and the odd Blackbird they were silent.  I do not think I have ever been up here when a consistent westerly airflow has so completely diminished the number and variety of passerines that we see. The phrase ‘mega or bust’ was weighing heavier every day.

Pete had decided that it was the full roast dinner night so we started to head back to The Waddle stopping only to allow me to take some pictures of the amazing artwork by Bonhaus on the ruins of Park Hall on the outskirts of Bixter.  They appear to have been painted onto recycled woven plastic sacking which explains their resilience to the Shetland weather.  I loved them.  The eyes followed you around.

And Peter's roast - magnificent

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