Thursday 14 October 2021

Shetland - 3rd October 2021

The day was predicted to be a write off with forecast force 12 winds and rain.  Fortunately, it had lessened considerably over night during which the house had thrummed with the hammering gusts and squalls.

So after a lazy breakfast we made our way back to the Pool of Virkie where the Semi-P Sand was back on the little flood and showing very well.  It did the decent thing and stayed put this time and excellent views were had as it crept around the edges with the Dunlin and a smart juvenile Little Stint.  It was a largely grey and white dumpy little wader with a pronounced cap and a distinct flared supercilium and a very slightly droopy bill.  The scapulars had distinct dark centres.  Sitting down to watch it was the only option in the wind but it was great to be able to study it alongside such an obviously different buffy Little Stint.

The Puddle of Virkie

Semi-palmated Sandpiper and a Dunlin

From here we crossed the airport and pulled up at Grutness where a large dog Otter greeted us off the slipway as he dived for his breakfast. Shags, Eider and Tysties bobbed around nearby.



A smart Wheatear got papped around the quay and while Jono and Pete were looking for a Jack Snipe two small birds got up and flew overhead.  David shouted Buntings and I watched two brown birds drop down to the rock and concurred and due to the lack of white in the wings said Laplands. However, when they appeared back on top, we were pleasantly surprised to find two yellow faced Shore Larks looking back at us with slightly devilish horned expressions.


Shore Lark

Shore Larks

They only stayed a minute and were then back off into the boulder field where they disappeared for several hours much to the chagrin of the birders who them arrived.

David and Jono headed up to check the Sumburgh Quarries and Pete and I am went around to check the boulder field from the south side where the light was better but had no joy bar a few Twite, Wheatear and Skylarks.  The seas were immense with some great waves action and Gannets and a few Kittiwakes were seen, as well as a pair of Long-tailed Ducks and five Merganser.


Back north to Hoswick for a walk around our own patch but it was largely windblown with 12 Redwing, Song Thrush, Grey Wagtail , three Swallow and a Pied Flycatcher before lunch beckoned and a pie was called for.  

The Swinister Burn - a cracking bit of river

Marsh Ragwort

Golden Plover

It was soon time to head out again and just over the hill into Sandwick where sheltering behind the boat house gave some superb views of two Purple Sandpipers with three Ringed Plover poking around in the sandy bays and seaweed covered rocks. Four Wheatears were seen in the same area as we drove through.

Purple Sandpiper

Wester Quarff was our next stop but the weather was getting tough and birds difficult to find with four Blackcap in the willows near the dung pile but no sign of the Little Bunting, Bluethroat or Barred Warbler. I left the others and walked almost all the way down the valley on the southern road when David radioed about a Bonelli’s Warbler back up by the main road and with two of the crew needing Eastern we decided to give it a go.  I slogged back up the hill with a fly over Rosefinch and a brief Yellow-browed Warbler for my troubles.

Wester Quarff


Wester Quarff is always a news dead spot so there was already quite a line of roadside cars when we got back up to Easter Quarff and after a spongy yomp across a field the bird was immediately on view in a small pine belt where it performed silently while the crowd amassed.  It all got a bit frenetic and after some superb views of this open faced little warbler with vivid green wings, I pulled back and stood away from the crowd.  At this point the bird had not called and without a sound (or some poo to sample) it would remain as Bonelli’s sp for the time being.

Western (as it would happen) Bonelli’s Warbler

Western (as it would happen) Bonelli’s Warbler

Western (as it would happen) Bonelli’s Warbler - Peter Moore

Amazingly this bird was found by one of the regular stalwarts scanning the plantation with an infrared camera and then homing in on the birdy hot spots as you can quickly determine whether a garden or patch of rosa has anything in it… I know that it is being used in the winter to survey for Jack Snipe, Woodcock and such like without disturbing them but this was the first time I have heard it used for rarity hunting! 

The waves down in the small bay were spectacular and we drove down there for a closer look.  A couple of Kittiwakes blew by and a feeding Otter was non-plussed by the crashing waves while a group of Chaffinches, Sparrows and Twites fed on the Fat Hen above the beach tideline.

A quick pop back to Wester Quarff added Chiffchaff and Goldcrest along with a Blackcap and some magnificent kronking Ravens but of the rarities there was still no sign.


With the day fading we made our way south to the village of Fladdabister most of which is comprised of ruined croft surrounded by banks of Nettles, Grass and Ferns and lots of sheltered corners.  We spread out and searched but it was quiet although I was lucky enough to spook a Little Bunting from within one of the ruins that flipped out and promptly disappeared which was frustrating.  A female Blackcap snuck around and a couple of Meadow Pipits, Blackbirds and a Brambling were also disturbed.

Ramalina siliquosa - thank Bob V

A Red-breasted Flycatcher in the next village of Ocraquoy provided one final stop and to be honest three of us were flagging but David headed off to check the bottom house and unbeknownst to us had an Olive Backed Pipit flick up onto the wall in front of him.  He waved at us as it flew around the corner and got on the radio. It landed on the wall below us and spent five minutes running along the top in and out of the lichen covered stones.  A typically dapper little bird bedecked in plain rich olive, white underparts with nice bold streaking and the expected striking face pattern of spots and stripes.

Olive Backed Pipit

A few birders immediately local connected but with Peter’s famous Sunday roast in the offing we left them to it and headed back to Hoswick.

Subsequent camera trauma caused a slip in the cooking composure of Peter and although eminently edible, his Yorkshire Puddings transmogrified into what is now affectionally known at Berkshire Pudding.

Berkshire Pudding

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