Tuesday 18 October 2022

Shetland Adventure - 5th October 2022

It was  the sort of day that required putting on the full waterproofs before you headed out.  There was no way we were going to completely avoid it wherever we went and with the Westerlies persisting we tried once again to bird the patches closest to The Waddle. Our first stop was at a new plantation at Leanns and the walk down afforded fine views down the valley and out to sea towards FoulaRock Doves were sheltering  in the lee of a bank near one of the crofts and House Sparrows and Starlings moved between the plots. 


A superb cabbage patch surrounded by willows was given some time with us Chadding over a gate but a Chaffinch, three Redwing and two Goldcrests were our only finds along with the stroppy Wrens.  The main plantation was accessible at the sheltered end which was good as the skies had opened and it was teeming.  We sat on the mossy boulders within the Pines, Birches, Aspen, Whitebeam and Rowan and looked and listened for movement. Bar a Pheasant and a few more Redwing and Blackbird, it was devoid.

Back outside two Redpolls came in with four Siskin and the former soon left revealing one dark and one gleaming white rumped snowball which like at Hillswick bounded off into the distance! Everyone has been getting cracking views of these but not us.

We slogged back up to the car and checked the forty Golden Plover and Lapwing on the way out added two Skylark to the list.  By the time we got back to Walls (passing some showy Red Grouse on the way) the rain had passed by and there were blue skies and white fluffy clouds but the wind had not dropped much. 

 Red Grouse 

Splitting up, we covered all directions in the village, checking gardens, fields and ditches with nowt but a few thrushes and Meadow Pipits for our troubles although David had another Yellow-browed Warbler.  A flock of 36 Wigeon on the loch contained no other species and more importantly the village shop had almost no pies of any species and we were left with some exceptionally fine local sausage rolls instead.


After checking a small ravine for errant pipits (no idea where that was!) it was on to Culswick and Gardins, two patches that always feel ‘very rare’ but like everywhere else failed to deliver the big one for us and we were diligently ignoring the Myrtle Warbler down south at this stage.  Ten Skylark came up out of the margins and seven Mallard and a Teal were in the marsh in the valley where two Water Rails called.  The only other small birds were a Chaffinch and a vocal Yellow-browed Warbler.

Magic but perfectly birdless

from Culswick

from above Gardins

Eristalis pertinax

How quickly the light could change

Having ignored the Myrtle for three hours we decided to head that way only to discover that it had flown off high and over the ridge just 30 minutes before we arrived so we had another look for the Gott Turtle Dove and then while watching a female Scaup with 14 Tufted Duck on Tingwall news came through that it was back and so off we went once again. 

Shetland Starling hanging on in the wind - note the dark headed 1st winter bird

Parking had been arranged at the village hall in Bigton leaving us with a walk down the road to Ellister (thankfully minus the waterproofs) where the bird was frequenting the small circular sycamore copse. The light and wind were somewhat unhelpful but with patience the bird showed well as it slowly moved through the canopy gleaning from under leaves before eventually deciding to come over to our side and perform memorably as it fed completely unconcerned on the ground amongst the leaf litter flashing that lemon rump and big white tail spots. 

Once again the use of thermal imagers at least gave people an idea of where to look in the blowing foliage

Look how long its shadow is!


Myrtle Warbler

Pleased with our encounter we moved on back towards Scalloway to have a look at the King Eider in the harbour and to meet up with Adrian Kettle to hand over my latest package of tree saplings for his still developing garden on Yell.  He was only on Mainland as he was kindly helping out some birders of yore with some birding who had broken down up north – a kindly soul is Mr Kettle.

This eclipse male was pretty much like the Musselburgh bird but with a darker, dirtier head and no shield showing on the orange bill and it bobbed closer before a fine fly by took it out of view and out into the Voe.  A very dusky faced juvenile Slavonian Grebe was found on the far side and could have been mistaken for a Red-necked and a flock of Kittiwakes were playing in the wind while others sheltered on a jetty.  One second year bird was particularly playful and kept trying to entice others up to join it hanging in the wind.  The legs at this age were strangely pale and I noticed it on two other similarly aged birds.  Tysties whizzed back and forth and there were a few Guillemots bobbing around too.

King Eider 

King Eider 

King Eider - Peter Moore

Playing with a bit of blowing wire

Come on! Join in!


With the day moving on we popped into a now cold and windy Gulberwick to look for yet another Hornemann’s Arctic Redpoll that had been hanging around for a while and more by luck than judgement (and some help from Rob Jones) it eventually popped out of some willows with some Mealies and had a good showy fly round before bounding off into the distance. A Red-throated Diver was down in the bay and we watched the ferry on its way back to Aberdeen on a deceptively calm sea before retreating to the car to warm up and head for home.

Homework for the evening was to learn Shetland local bird names...

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