Friday, 2 October 2015

My diary from Shetland and Fair Isle - September 2015

I was intending to update my blog on a daily basis whilst up on Shetland and Fair Isle, but a combination of slow internet access and evening socialising meant it just did not happen. Instead, below is a summary of my trip, with some of my better images, and some record shots. 

My trip involved four nights of Shetland, one before and three after visiting Fair Isle and six nights on Fair Isle. The group included mainly a team from the BTO, Andy Clements, Paul Stancliffe, Nick Moran, John Marchant and Stephen McAvoy with Miranda Gomperts, Andy Mason, Rick Goater and me. For me, it was only my second visit to Shetland and Fair Isle and that was many years ago, so I had been eagerly anticipating the trip for a while.

17th September - Shetland
I flew into Sumburgh around mid afternoon and immediately headed up to the lighthouse where I met up with Hugh Harrop and Junt Hunt, both of who I knew from previous trips guiding across the Bay of Biscay for Company of Whales. The target bird here was Western Bonelli's Warbler, which was difficult to say the least, but ultimately gave some reasonable views. Other species included Common Swift (3), Spotted Flycatcher, Lesser Whitethroat, Goldcrest, Willow Warbler and Robin. At Sumburgh Quarry there was little of note, with Blackcap and Wheatear the only birds.

I spent a productive couple of hours are Grutness, where I picked up a Pied Flycatcher, another Willow Warbler and my first Yellow-Browed Warbler of the trip in the gardens.  

Pied Flycatcher - Sumburgh, Shetland

On the freshwater pools by the Quay two very confiding Little Stints were present, one of which was much darker than the other. This bird had me thinking for a while, but despite being darker, all the features pointed to Little Stint.

Little Stint - Grutness, Shetland
Little Stint - Grutness, Shetland
Little Stints - Grutness, Shetland

18th September - Fair Isle
I met the rest of the team in Lerwick Harbour, as they had got the overnight boat from Aberdeen, then Paul and I headed to Tingwall for our flight. Given the size of our group we could not all get on at once and so the remainder of the team were planning to get the afternoon flight.

On arriving we walked to the Bird Observatory, birding on the way. After a quick cup or tea and welcome we set off again. The species of note included Hen Harrier, Reed Warbler, Yellow-browed Warbler, Barred Warbler, Chiffchaff, Wigeon, Snow Bunting, Ruff, Wheatear, Whinchat and Red-breasted Merganser. A lingering juvenile Pallid Harrier was obviously one of our target birds, and despite other birders saying how easy it was to see, we did not connect with it until about 4pm, so after six hours birding.

Pallid Harrier (Juvenile) - Fair Isle
Pallid Harrier (Juvenile) - Fair Isle

Species such as Rock Dove, Black Guillemot, Hooded Crow, Twite and Bonxie were clearly good birds for someone based on the south coast of England, but since they are common up here I have not mentioned them. After dinner we headed down to the Havens, just by the Obs as one of the wardens had found a Red-breasted Flycatcher their. Initially it was a bit flighty but eventually settled down to give some good views.

Red-brested Flycatcher - Fair Isle

19th September - Fair Isle
Today was mainly about cetaceans, with a pod of Orcas found by Nick before breakfast and then Risso's Dolphins and Harbour Porpoises recorded throughout the day in good numbers. Bird wise the notable species were Yellow-browed Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher, Ruff, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Common Rosefinch, Whinchat, Robin, Sparrowhawk, Snow Bunting and Purple Sandpiper.

Spotted Flycatcher - Fair Isle
Common Rosefinch - Fair Isle
Snow Bunting - Fair Isle

20th September - Fair Isle
I did the pre-breakfast trap round in the morning and was rewarded with a Pied Flycatcher, Blackcap, Song Thrush and a couple of Goldcrests. As we had birded the south of the Island for the last few days we decided to head north today, but were soon heading back south when news of a Blyth's Reed Warbler broke. This was a new species for me and one I have often imagined catching at Titchfield Haven so it was really good to catch up with one and also get to see it close up in the hand.

Blyth's Reed Warbler - Fair Isle
Blyth's Reed Warbler - Fair Isle
Blyth's Reed Warbler - Fair Isle

Other highlights included Merlin, Common Rosefinch, Pallid and Hen Harrier, Barred Warbler, Willow Warbler, Golden Plover, and Whinchat.

21st September - Fair Isle
Today was the day of our bird race. We split into three teams, Andy C, Rick and Miranda; Nick, John and Stephen and Paul, Andy M and me. It was just a bit of fun really, but we were all desperate to win, and at times it was like watching a scene from Dad's Army as Nick blew his whistle to get his team back into line. In the end Andy C's team won with 61 species, my team came second with 61 also, but one of ours was a fly over Redpoll, which didn't count as we couldn't ID it to species (we weren't bitter at all) and Nick's team got 60 species. 

As we were working our way around the island it became apparent that we were experiencing a massive fall of Yellow-browed Warbler's; they were just everywhere. The official total was 53 which was a Fair Isle record in one day, but we all felt it could have been many more than that. Subsequently that total has been surpassed with a day total of over 70 birds.

Yellow-browed Warbler - Fair Isle
Yellow-browed Warbler - Fair Isle

Species highlights included Common Rosefinch, Fieldfare, Greenshank, Pallid and Hen Harrier, Blyth's Reed Warbler, Jack Snipe, Merlin, Kittiwake, Goldcrest and Whinchat.

22nd September - Fair Isle
The pre-breakfast trap round produced Barred Warbler, Yellow-browed and Robin with others caught throughout the day. Yellow-broweds were still abundant today, and the most notable species. Others included Jack Snipe, Ruff, Hen Harrier, Meadow Pipit, Willow Warbler and Blackcap.

(Fair Isle) Wren Troglodytes troglodytes fridariensis - Fair Isle

23rd September - Fair Isle
A pre-breakfast wander produced Ringed Plover, Dunlin, House Martin and a Collared Dove. After breakfast we headed south again; Yellow-broweds were still everywhere but there was a bit more variety and the notable species included Jack Snipe, Redwing, Goldcrest, Grey Wagtail, Slavonian Grebe, Grey Plover, Redshank, Purple Sandpiper, Knot, Merlin, Hen Harrier and a very obliging Lesser Whitethroat.

Lesser Whitethroat - Fair Isle
Merlin - Fair Isle

The most notable thing about today was the discovery of a long dead bird in the Gilly Burn. It was a small passerine that was very decomposed but had orangey underwing coverts which lead us to believe it was a Redstart. Closer inspection revealed that the bird was wearing a ring which turned out to be Dutch (Arhiem NL, Holland - V626386). We left all the details, and the ring with the Obs and hope to receive the details at some point in the future.

24th September - Fair Isle and Shetland
It was departure day for us today, and once again we had to split up as we could not all get off on the same plane, Stephen chose the Good Shepherd as his preferred means of transport. Paul, Andy, John and I had the afternoon flight and spent our remaining tome in the south. We didn't add any new bird species but did pick up a Painted Lady butterfly, our first of the trip. Yellow-broweds were still the most numerous migrant. Other notable species included Common RosefinchChiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Goldcrest, Collared Dove, Redwing, Robin and Lesser Whitethroat

Common Rosefinch - Fair Isle
Great Skuas (Bonxie) - Fair isle

After spending the rest of the day birding mainland Shetland we all met up in Lerwick and ordered some food. We had a bit of a tight schedule as Andy C and Nick had to give a talk at the Shetland Bird Club and needed to be there for 7pm, it was now 5:35pm. My phone rang just as we sat down to eat: it was Hugh Harrop telling me to get to Quendale Mill now at a Thick-billed Warbler had just been found. We could have been there in half an hour, but that would have not given enough time get back to Lerwick for the talk, so we chose to stick together and hope it it was still there in the morning.....alas it was not.

25th September - Shetland
We spent much of the morning at Quendale, working the area where the Thick-billed had been and with nothing to show for our efforts than more Yellow-browed's, a Merlin, a Reed Warbler and a couple of Blackcaps, we eventually headed off. We stopped at a few other places afterwards, but by mid afternoon we had to head back to the port at Lerwick so the team could catch the overnight boat to Aberdeen.

Greenland Wheatear 

I was staying on Shetland until Sunday and so spent the remaining hours of daylight birding Ness of Sound, and the area near to my B&B.

26th September - Shetland
It was a dreary start today but I decided to head to the northern part of mainland Shetland as I had not done this area yet. Yellow-browed's were present in virtually every bit of cover I stopped at, but otherwise there was little of note. I headed to the village of Melby but recorded little of note. Species included Blackbird, Whooper Swan, Greylag Goose, Ringed Plover, Common Gull and Raven.

Whooper Swan - Shetland
Whooper Swans - Shetland

I stopped briefly at Weisdale Voe and picked up an adult Little Gull in the gull flock and then got a text from Hugh, Lanceolated Warbler at Dale of Walls. I had just come past there and knew exactly where it was. As it turned out, the whole experience was grim, with this poor bird being flushed from pillar to post, and not being given a chance to settle. I did eventually get some ok views, but most of the time it was flight views as it flitted from one bit of cover to the next. My final stop of the day was The Wart, Sandwick to see an American Golden Plover in with the European Goldies. A small flock of Pink-footed Geese heading south were the final species of the day.

27th September - Shetland
My final day started with some birding around my B&B and some still very common Yellow-broweds and then I headed back south. I called into Sandwick on the way to see the American GP in better light, then to Quendale and finished up at Grutness, and within in easy reach of my flight. Yellow-browed's were numerous throughout the rest of the day and other final day highlights included Sedge Warbler, Merlin, White Wagtail, Yellow wagtail species, Sanderling, Willow Warbler and Goldcrest.

American Golden Plover (left) with European Golden Plover - Shetland

All in all a cracking trip, some great birds, great company and superb whiskey. The trip was only slightly soured by the actions of some at the Lancy.

1 comment:

  1. Just turning a little green Trev. Sounds like a blast and defo on my radar for next year now baby is born etc...


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