Thursday 21 October 2021

Shetland - 9th and 10th October 2021 - The last day and the journey home

 9th October:

A final day and the weather was against us but news that a reported Garganey at Loch of Benston may not be all that it appeared sent us back north.  It was wet and quite cool and by the time we got there arguments were underway about whether it was a Garganey or the now absent Baikal Teal from Fair Isle.  It was a fair way off feeding with Wigeon around the loch side and a quick look revealed nothing that did not look like a Garganey.  The left wing was showing the speculum and a white line above and below were obvious – it was not the Baikal. Garganey is however a very scarce duck up here so I suspect that there were ticks of one sort or another all round regardless!

Loch of Benston and some rain

I ambled off to look at flora on the roadside before the regrouped and left the still growing crowd behind.  



Rough Hawkbit

Back two valleys over a Bluethroat had been showing in the Rustic Bunting ditch at Kergord and thankfully the light rain let up considerably as we squelched our way down the field once again. With a bit of fieldcraft it was found quite easily and perched up just a few feet away. I had not even brought my camera out in the very poor conditions but was more than happy to just watch it as it sat on some Dock stems showing bands of blue, red and white before flicking away flashing rusty tail patches.

Bluethroat - Paul Hawkins

Bluethroat - Jacquie Bridges

From here we drove back out to Nesting Bay (via a filthy twitch back to Benston for a distant Shetland Tick male Pochard; we did not get out the car) as there were now two White-billed Divers but there were too many cars parked in every passing place and the rain was lashing once again so sensibly continued onwards to Toft for our one and only off Mainland journey. 

Ostensibly it was to meet up with Adrian and his family as well as mopping up on the Ring-necked Duck and Great White Egret.  It almost stopped raining on the short ride over to Yell and we at last found a couple of Bonxies and got great close views of Gannets and Tysties.

Jono was the last back to the car and had seen an Otter in the harbour as he came down the stairs and so we pulled over after disembarking and soon found one fishing close to.  A little further out two more, presumably a mother and cub, were also hunting and munching snacks on the surface and then a fourth appeared in the distance taking us to eight for the week!

The Ulsta Ness Monster


The Yell Rally had no real urgency this time and news from Adrian was that the Ring-necked Duck was not on Sand Water but on Kirk Loch down the road in Gloup. We met him on the way back out saying that it had flown off so we went back to Sand Water where there was not a single bird and then back to Kirk Water where there was also nothing!  Oh well. With the weather still pants we were all invited back to Chez Kettle in Mid Yell for a cuppa via the soggy Great White Egret at the end of their road. 

 Great White Egret and Sheep both facing away from the rain

Red-breasted Mergansers

Their lovely house overlooks rolling grassy moorland down to the Voe below and at least the tales of Orcas from the living room window were not as painful after the wonders of yesterday. It was great to see the family and to have a catch up with Hazel and Tracy once again after probably nearly ten years.  Hazel was Bridesmaid at my wedding almost 23 years ago and she has grown into a very confident young lady.  A selfie was required…

That view

Hazel and I and a bit of a Hoopoe

Full of coffee and shortbread we bid our farewells as we had a ferry to catch back to Mainland and the chance to squeeze just a little more birding in before heading to Lerwick and the ferry back to Aberdeen.  

The weather had deteriorated and the cloud base had dropped lower and by the time we got to the bottom of Wester Quarff it was drizzling (or clouding) hard.  The Eider flock was bobbing around between here and Trondra and perseverance and patience was required but we all eventually saw our second immature drake King Eider of the trip.  This one was well on the way to adult plumage with a pale grey head and white front, black sails but not orange bill shield.  With that we got ourselves out of wet weather gear and wellies to prepare for the boat and the 12 hours of darkness ahead.

I succumbed to the steak pie and chips once again but did not last long after we set off and by 7.30 I was feeling a little light headed and crept off to the cabin to lay down.  I believe the others were not far behind me but I never heard them come in and miraculously I slept almost all the way through till six the following morning just before the bing bong breakfast call.

10th October:

Traditionally we have been quite lucky on either the journey up or home on these Shetland adventures and I have a very good track record of actually getting to see something new with Masked Shrike, White-winged Scoter and Brunnich’s Guillemot all snaffled en route.  On Friday night a Temminck’s Stint at RSPB St Aidans on the outskirts of Leeds became a Least Sandpiper and before dark had morphed into a Long-toed Stint which at only two or three British records put it in the Premier League of mega rarities.  The last chance for most was at Saltholme Pool way back in September 1982.  It was still around all day Saturday and in fact there were quite a few foot passenger birders hoping to get a lift from Aberdeen to the bird and then back again to Shetland to continue their holiday.  Others like us were fortunate to be already booked on as with the start of the Scottish half term the ferry had no room for any more cars.

As ever a cracking sunrise to the south of Aberdeen

Helpful road signage kept us going.

And so the chase was on and with quite early news that the Stint was still present a steady procession of birders cars from Shetland wended their way south in a zig zag manner as heading towards Glasgow is usually quicker than attempting the Edinburgh route.  Pink-footed Geese accompanied us nearly all of the way along with the odd Buzzard and red Kite but no flyover Goshawk this time!  There were two brief pit stops for breakfast and the loo but by just after one we had reached the rammed car park of this urban fringe RSPB reserve.

It was a glorious afternoon and the site was full of many local people out for a well as the hoard of green and brown speed walking the final mile down to the bird. My big twitching days are mostly over now but there is still that buzz of adrenaline and excitement at the chance of a seeing something completely new. 

The Long-toed Stint was on show as soon as we got down there as it fed on the closest tiny island with some Lapwings and boisterous Snipe for company. It was a very odd shaped bird and the analogy of a cross between a Wood Sandpiper and a Crake was actually spot on. Sometimes it was neckless and ovoid with the curiously long tibia and toes adding to the Crakish impression but it would then stand up and look around with a tiny head on a thin neck and go all Wood Sand on you. The dark centred mantle feathers looked strangely over large and the tertials were so long that they were constantly blowing up.

Long-toed Stint - they wont win any awards but show all the salient features

Long-toed Stint was #540 on my own personal list for the UK.
My list has always been my own... other lists are available

I stayed at the back of the crowd and had some lovely views through Jono’s scope and over the next hour most of the Shetland ferry posse arrived. There were plenty of other familiar faces that I had not seen in ages which was good for the soul.  Not twitching that much nowadays means that I do not get to see most of the people who I have birded around for the last 35 years any more and rare occasions such as this always stoke the memory banks.

Jono and I headed off for a walk round this delightful reserve.  Being a reclaimed open cast coal mine gave the RSPB the opportunity to play with a blank canvas and the huge reeedbeds, meadows, pools and channels looked in fine shape.  There must be very good water control as the amount of bare mud was superb and we found Black-tailed Godwits and Dunlin amongst the multitudinous Lapwings.  A Kingfisher called and there were Little Egrets and Grey Herons in the ditches although we did not see Spoonbill, Bittern or Black-necked Grebe while a Great White Egret lumbered off towards the Stint crowd.

Grey Heron battling with a large Jack Pike - the Heron eventually lost

Great White Egret

With many hours ahead of us it was time to go and so after a celebratory ice-cream we hit the road once more, dropping Peter back off in Cambourne and Jono at Stanstead, leaving me with just the hour home from Colchester.

Some may say that it was a disappointing autumn on Shetland but I loved every minute as usual.  It’s never just about the birds...

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