i n t e r n a t i o n a l !

HOLIDAY HIGHLIGHTS

S H E T L A N D

22 Ė28 JUNE 2001

North Mainland – Liz Huxley

Shetland

 

Leaders: ††† Craig Round and Mark Newell

Guests: ††††† John Wild, Rex Stanley, Gordon & Leonora McAndrew, Wendy Black, Pam Vandermin, Mickey Gilmore, Wendy Ap Rees

Day 1

We all meet up at Aberdeen Airport on the Friday morning having come from various corners of Britain.† We head through departures and leave Aberdeen Airport and make the short flight across the North Sea for about an hour arriving at Sunburgh Airport more or less on time.† Itís an overcast day in Shetland with just light northerly winds and the Sunburgh Head area is clear of the mist that is clinging to the hills further north.† We get all our bags loaded on to the vehicles, get some sandwiches for lunch and head off a short distance around the Airport and out on to Sunnburgh Head itself.

As we head around Grutness Voe, there are a few Arctic Terns flying around.† Making our way up through the fields, there are a family party of Oystercatchers including some well grown young and a couple of Rock Doves flap past before we pull up in the car park and have our first taste of the sea birds of Shetland.† We experience the sight, sound and smell of hundreds of auks as we have lunch on the wall looking down on the water where there are a couple of hundred Eider Ducks on the rocks and swimming around.† There are Gannets drifting by and Shags zipping low over the water below us.† Several Great Skuas and a couple of Arctic Skuas are harassing the auks and Kittiwakes in an attempt to get some food.† We all pick out Guillemot, Razorbill and Puffin with some bridled Guillemots amongst the more normal form.† There are Rock Pipits song flighting around us and we also have a little party of four Twite drop in.† Again they song flight below us before disappearing off.

Once we have had our lunch, we start walking up in the direction of the lighthouse with the mist swirling just above the light itself.† In no time at all, we pick up one of our quarries here in the form of some migrant birds that have arrived on this part of Shetland, Common Crossbill.† We hear their distinctive chipping calls coming from the vast blaze of pink Thrift that is flowering in the fields here making a spectacular contrast to the grassy green fields and the rougher heather moorland.† The Crossbills disappear after briefly alighting on the wall but we do get very close views of half a dozen Twite and our first glimpses of Shetland Wren, this unique sub-species to the islands.††

Puffin
Puffin – Pete Cairns

Peering over the stone dykes, there are a number of Puffins sat on the sloping banks.† Up around the buildings themselves, we find the Crossbills feeding on some deposited seed.† Over the next hour or so we have phenomenal views down to a couple of feet as they feed with the Sparrows and Twite totally unconcerned by our presence.† We get up to 18 birds, a mixture of streaky brown juveniles, greener females and bright yellow individuals that are difficult to decide as to their age and sex.† There are also one or two with very prominent white wing bars but not prominent enough for us to turn them into anything rarer than Common Crossbill.† We even get a male Twite displaying its pink rump to us, and also very good views of a Shetland Wren perched up on a water tank.† Vying for our attention, a couple of Puffins sit obligingly on the top of the cliff in amongst the spread of Thrift and Birdsfoot Trefoil that is growing in abundance on the banks.† As the seabirds fly hurriedly below us, they search for a meal avoiding the predatory instincts of the Great Skuas.†

We eventually tear ourselves away from this spot and work our way back north.† In passing Grutness Voe again we have both Common and Arctic Terns and also a couple of Ringed Plover.† We then take the main road due north between Lerwick and Scalloway, the main two towns in Shetland, and on to the Tingwall Valley and the Herrislea Hotel.† Where we make a dramatic entrance before being shown to our rooms with time to freshen up before dinner.†

Day 2

We awake to weather similar to last night, overcast, misty on the hilltops but virtually calm, which is fairly unique for Shetland.†

After breakfast we head south for just a couple of miles to Tingwall Loch where we stop overlooking the small island that many centuries ago held the island parliament.† As we get out the vans, we are greeted with close views of Curlew and Snipe with a pair of Tufted Ducks further out.† There are an assortment of gulls here Common, Black-headed, Lesser Black-backed, Greater Black-backed, Herring Ė all sat out on the silage crops and grassy fields.† A Common Sandpiper drops in and we also have a smart summer plumaged Dunlin, which flies past, disappears but eventually starts feeding on the edge of the water, showing very well.† Wendy picks up a Red-breasted Merganser sat out on the island and around us we have the sound of Meadow Pipit and Skylark and the fields behind hold Rooks.† A couple of Mute Swans fly over, this being one of the few places in Shetland where they occur.† There are Redshanks also along the waterís edge and a Great Skua flies over mobbed by a hoard of Lapwing.† We move a short distance further along the loch and pick up Cormorant and Teal in amongst the more numerous Tufted Ducks.†

As we head on down a little way to the south to another little bay, we find a pair of Whooper Swans that usually nest on the island here.† The reason that we failed to pick them up on the nest is that they have hatched their young and are swimming off with four cygnets, obviously successful to this point.† There is also a little family of Oystercatchers with three half-grown chicks and an Arctic Skua flies over before we move on.†

We drive on to Scalloway to check for any unusual gulls but it is just the usual selection around the pier.† We pass the old ruins of the castle and then drop down to use the facilities.† Out in the harbour here, we pick out a couple of Black Guillemots, which show very well in the calm water.† We have good opportunities to compare both Arctic and Common Terns that are flying around in front of us at quite close range and we can run through the differing features of the two.† There is also Mute Swan here and then our first Collared Dove of the week up in one of the chimneys.

Driving south towards the Ness, we pass Sandwick with Mousa Island off to the east.† We turn off the main road and head down to Loch Clumlie.† Here, we are barely out of the vehicles before we pick out two Red-throated Divers out in the middle of the loch.† We have excellent views over the calm waters before one of them takes off and the other individual lies low in the water, its wailing call drifting across towards us.† We also watch Arctic Skua and Snipe bathing in the water.† There are a number of Kittiwakes coming down to do likewise while a few Arctic Terns flit about overhead.† Around us, we have seen a few Skylarks while Great Skuas are dropping in also for a bathe.†

Further down the road, we see a Curlew with a chick before coming to the waterís edge at Voe where we come across a little family group of Shelduck, a pair of adults and five ducklings swimming around.† We have another couple of Black Guillemots quite close in with Gannet and Fulmars further out to sea.† Wendy picks up a Turnstone sat on a stone pillar, either a late or an early migrant, a bit of surprise.†

We leave here on the North Sea coast of Shetland and drive a short distance up over the top and down on to the Atlantic coast.† We come past Scousburgh and into Scousburgh bay where in the water below us, we pick out two Harbour Porpoise that are surfacing quite close in to the beach here.† Looking down on them, we enjoy good views before moving along as a Swallow zips across the road in front of us.† We eventually go through the village of Bigton and off to Ireland where we drive down to the waterís edge at the cemetery and overlook the tombolo that links St Ninianís Isle to the mainland of Shetland.† Here we have more family groups of Shelduck and also Eider while out on the water we have another three porpoise that seem to be two adults and a young animal.† It is a pleasant scene, still overcast and quite a cool day but there is a profusion of spring flowers with Squill, Buttercups and Thrift all in full display.† Out on the water there are a number of Puffin and some distant Red-throated Divers.†

Leaving Bigton, we head down to Loch Spiggie where there are a number of gulls out on the water and a few Arctic and Common Terns fishing.† We pick up five Goldeneye and great excitement is caused with a Moorhen that is lurking in the rushes at the edge of the loch.† Over on the very far end of the loch there is a beautiful big brown bevy of bathing Bonxies.† Further around the loch, we come across a couple more Rock Doves and Swallows while down on the loch itself there are eight Greylag Geese.†

On to the Loch of Hillwell where we add Coot to the list and there are also a couple more Moorhen here before we move down to Sumburgh for another chance for people to photograph the Crossbills.† There are at least twenty hanging around here today along with all of the sea bird species that we picked up yesterday including Puffin which are as welcoming as ever.† After forty minutes or so here, we journey back north up the main road into Lerwick for a shopping opportunity.† We finish up at Strand Loch where there are a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers but not too much else.† We then make the short journey back to the Herrislea.

Day 3

We start early as we have got several ferries to catch to get to our destination today.† We are underway by 7.45am and drive north across the mainland to Toft where we have five minutes scanning around before boarding the ferry producing Grey Seal, Turnstone, Razorbill, Guillemot and Black Guillemot.† Once aboard the ferry, we have a 20-minute crossing to Yell where we have very close views of Black Guillemot along with a few Gannet drifting through.† Ashore on Yell for the half an hour drive across this island to Gutcher where we wait to catch the ferry to Unst.† On route we have a couple more waders, a Redshank and a brief Golden Plover before boarding the Fivla ferry for the most northerly of the Shetland Islands.† The small lochan by the ferry terminal at Gutcher has four Red-throated Divers on it of which two of them start displaying standing vertically out of the water before a little scuffle breaks out with a interloper which one of them, presumably the male, drives away.† A few calls are given before they settle back down to feeding.† A fifth bird flies off through the Sound past us.†

The drive across Unst is uneventful until we pull up at a bus stop.† Itís not for any wildlife but to pay homage to one of the most northerly bus stops in Britain that has been lovingly decorated by the locals.† As well as a chair, TV and flowers there is a hamster cage complete with stuffed animal and we sign the visitorís book before moving on.† We reach our destination of Hermaness, the Scottish Natural Heritage reserve.†

We are about to leave the car park at Hermaness for a walk when a couple of Crossbills drop in on to some of the wires. As we make our way up the first slope and look back down on to Burrafirth Voe, we pick out a winter plumage Great Northern Diver, which is lingering late into the season.† We take in views of him and the odd Black Guillemot out on the water before ambling out across the moor where we see Arctic Skua and our first of numerous Bonxies.† There are Skylark and Meadow Pipit around us, the odd Wheatear and four Whimbrel fly over whilst somewhere we can hear Golden Plover calling.† Further along sat up on one of the tufts, is a nice summer plumaged Dunlin which stands obligingly for us to enjoy.† Throughout our walk there are Great Skuas dotted about the heather-clad moorland, their menacing form generally unconcerned by our presence.†

As we approach the western cliffs, we see a couple of Bonxie chicks, their fluffy sandy plumage showing out against the dark heather, they look far more cute than there parents.† We reach the cliffs where the sight and smell wafts up towards us while we glance north picking out the Muckle Flugga Lighthouse-the most northerly outcrop in the UK.† Peering down, we can see numerous Puffins including one ledge with several dozen sat out.† Also there are Gannet and Fulmar way down below us.† Bizarrely, there is a Blackbird singing from the cliffs.† As we make our way round to the viewpoint we pick up several Wrens and from our lunch stop we enjoy fine views looking down on the Gannet colony their throaty calls drifting up towards us as we enjoy a sandwich or two.† The Puffins become very approachable with one taking grass into its burrow not more than two feet from where we are sat and there is afamily party of Wrens feeding on the slope beside us.† We absorb the impressive scene with towering seabird cliffs stretching away before us.† Ambling back we pick out another Crossbill that lands on the grassy slopes before making our way across the moor back to the car park where the Great Northern Diver is still present.†

After using the facilities, we start to meander our way back south across Unst having taken in the fine views of Hermaness, blessed with generally calm conditions and although there is a bit of mist around it is just about above cliff height.†† So we are delighted with the scenic views that we have taken in today.† We make for Haroldswick and the pools there for a quick check and find Ringed Plover and Dunlin on the beach with a couple of Red-breasted Mergansers on the water and a Golden Plover flying overhead.†

We then work our way south across Unst to Uyeasound where we check the pools here and the sea and have very close views of Red-throated Diver to complete our day on Unst.† The two ferry crossings back allow more opportunity to study the seabirds, before we return to Veensgarth and a relaxing evening.

Day 4

We set off fairly earlyish from the Herrislea heading north again up the mainland to catch the ferry for Yell.† We have quite a wait on Yell before we are due to connect with the ferry to Fetlar so we take the opportunity to stop at West Sandwick.† We pull off the road and park overlooking a sheltered bay where there are a couple of Red-breasted Mergansers, Black Guillemot and start scanning the shore for Otter.† There is Golden Plover heard calling here while four Red-throated Divers are out in the bay.† After quarter of an hour or so, Pam picks out something swimming across the mouth of the bay here and sure enough it proves to be an Otter.†† Itís quite distant but it swims in shore and disappears amongst the boulders before reappearing about ten minutes later giving everyone the opportunity to get our first views of Otter for the trip.† It swims around repeatedly diving for food before disappearing out around the little point and out of view.† Although distant, it is duly logged and we move on happily across the rest of Yell up to Gutcher where we wait for the ferry having another couple of Red-throated Divers and a number of Arctic Terns before taking the ferry to Fetlar.†

Again itís calm and overcast, a bit foggy, looking particularly so on Fetlar itself but we do pick up a mixture of auks, Shags, Fulmars and Gannets as we would expect on the crossing.† There are also a few Grey Seals milling around before we dock at Oddsta and make our way across Fetlar towards Loch of Funzie.†† It proves to be claggy weather here, but we do pick up Golden Plover, which flies across in front of us disappearing into the gloom.† As we pull up at Loch of Funzie, we can only see midway across but there is a smart summer plumaged Red-throated Diver within 20 yards of us with a Great Skua also on the loch.† As we get out and have a wander along the shore after about fifteen minutes, a Red-necked Phalarope drops in and swims along the shore before dozing off amongst the small rocks.† We wander round to get within about twenty feet and it wakes up and swims off feeding pecking from the waterís surface and around the rocks.† We have incredibly good views of this brightly coloured female, our main target for the day and one of the undoubted highlights of Shetland.†

Red-necked Phalarope
Red-necked Phalarope – Dave Kjaer

There are also Arctic Skua flying overhead and a number of Arctic Terns flying around and feeding on the loch.† We have up to four Red-throated Divers and in the mist their evocative wailing call drifts across the loch adding to the unforgettable scene.

We return to the vans to have our lunch and as the mist rolls away we can see right the way across the small lochan.† We hear the sound of Whimbrel coming from the hillside behind us.† After a little bit of searching, we pick out four Whimbrel along the skyline which show a little bit of display, before two of them fly off.† So superb views of this much sought-after wader and we return to looking for Phalaropes.† There walking along the shore is a male which approaches to within inches of various lenses that are pointing in its direction.† It carries on regardless until another Phalarope flies in calling and the male sets off in hot pursuit.† It proves to be a highly profitable spot with the Skuas and Terns overhead and the Phalaropes, Whimbrel and one or two Dunlin on show around the edge of the water.†

With reluctance we tear ourselves away from the Phalarope fest and mosey back westwards across Fetlar and head up towards the air strip where we are greeted by several Whimbrel, including a couple of chicks, which give their seven whistle call with a Curlew nearby for comparison.† We also see a couple pairs of Arctic Skua including one small dark chocolate brown chick wandering around and up on the summit itself, there are a pair of Golden Plover, the stonking male with its jet black belly showing prominently as they wander past an Arctic Skua.† There are also Common Gulls with young, itís the breeding season in full flow.† From the top here, we have got at least half a dozen Whimbrels flying around calling adding to a perfect spot in this low sparse arctic tundra-like habitat.†

We continue back to the ferry terminal and take the 25-minute crossing back to Yell.† On Yell we head south and turn through the township of Mid-Yell and then on down to the Loch of Vatsetter with the Wick of Vatsetter on the other side of the sandy causeway.† Again there are Red-throated Diver here and also our first Common Seal of the week.†† We return to the main road and meander our way south to Burravoe and the Loch of Littlester.† Itís a large expanse of fresh water which appears lifeless until a little bobbing blob materialises.†† Itís a summer plumaged male Long-tailed Duck, a nice surprise that we watch as it frequently dives.† Also here there is Large White, our first butterfly of the week and a wonderful array of flowers including a lot of Heath Spotted Orchids.† So from here, we meander our way along the south side of Yell back to the ferry for the Mainland and the drive back to our hotel.

Day 5

We wake to a very misty day so Noss, our desired destination for today, does not appear to be a sensible option.† We have breakfast and head into Lerwick anyway to give everyone an opportunity to do some proper shopping.† With no change in the weather we head north up the Tingwall valley along Weisdale Voe where there are Red-breasted Merganser, Black Guillemot, and Razorbill.† Then itís on to the trees of Shetland at Kergord, a mature plantation of mixed sycamore, ash and coniferous trees.†

Here we investigate for a short while.† As well as Blackbird and Rooks, we come across a couple of Crossbills feeding apparently on aphids low in the deciduous trees.† A bit further along the road a Goldcrest is sighted and then a small warbler flitting around is eventually pinned down and identified as Chiffchaff Ė a couple of new birds for the trip.† We get shown around the back of the Amenity Trust plantation and wander through the trees here but other than more Crossbills it does not produce any thing new so we go back to the vans and have a coffee.† Whilst we are here Craig wanders along and sees glimpses of what is sure to be a Golden Oriole, so we all dash off in the direction that it was last seen and then scan around but there is no sign.† We see a couple of Collared Doves and then we get a surprise of a Turtle Dove sat up in the trees.† It sits obligingly for us all to see but despite a good half an hour or more of patient searching, we have no further sign of the Golden Oriole so we reluctantly move on and head eastwards towards Catfirth.†

We stop to scan over Sand Water where there is a sizeable colony of Black-headed Gulls with a lot of recently fledged youngsters on the water.† Scanning over the apparently empty water, we pick out a single duck, a male, which turns out to be a Scaup, another surprise for the trip.† Through the telescopes, we get good views of this scarce species.† There are also a few Dunlin and Ringed Plover flying across before we head further east.

We move on to South Nesting Bay, a possible Otter spot where we stop for lunch.† We donít come up with any draatsi (the Shetland name for Otter) but we do find a fine summer plumaged Great Northern Diver that is out in the bay showing well.† There are also Black Guillemot and Razorbill and several Red-throated Divers flight in dropping into the water to feed.† There is Hooded Crow overhead and numerous Curlew, Oystercatcher, Lapwing before we continue along the road checking a few lochs as we go with Tufted Duck on them, while a few offshore skerries hold basking Common Seals.† We rejoin the main road and head up to Voe where, after a shop stop, we check the trees.† While enjoying an ice cream, we have unbelievable views of a couple more Crossbills including our first red male of the trip watched feeding on caterpillars down to about six foot in the sycamore trees.†† Also here, there is Swallow and our first Willow Warbler of the week, which is actually singing.†

We return via Aith and Bixter and stop to have a look at Tresta Voe where we have good views of Snipe, Red-breasted Merganser, Arctic Tern, Ringed Plover and smart summer-plumaged Dunlin.† We then meander our way back through the gloom to the hotel for a slightly earlier dinner in preparation for our evening on Mousa.†

So after dinner and a short break, we head out again this time for Mousa and our evening with the Storm Petrels.† We make the twenty-five minute journey down to Sandwick where we meet Tom who takes us for the ten-minute crossing across to the island of Mousa.† We are fortunate that the conditions are good enough to be able to land at the broch itself saving the mile long walk across the island.† With the light dwindling and the island to ourselves we climb into the broch itself and walk within the walls of this two thousand-year-old Pictish fort climbing the narrow steps up towards the top.† Mid-way up, we find a Storm Petrel here in its tiny crevice sat on its egg and we enjoy views in the torchlight, before climbing on to the top for some great views across the sound back towards the mainland of Shetland.†

With the overcast conditions, it is a productive night for the Storm Petrels as they are already starting to come ashore and wheel around the broch.† Over the next hour or so we are totally enthralled by these delightful delicate creatures as they skim around the broch at amazing speed.† Some of us surprise the guys on the boat by lying on our backs facing up the walls of the broch with the Petrels skimming within inches of our noses.† As they zip round many of them flutter on the walls and we get to see them in the torchlight with their delicate patterning.† One of them clatters in to us and we pick it up as it vomits on a couple members of the group!† We have a long lasting smell as well as sight and sound of these incredible creatures.† With their churring calls coming from seemingly every crevice in the broch it is suggested as the oldest artificial nest box in the world.† So eventually we have to tear ourselves away from this once in a life time spectacle and head back to the mainland for our drive back to the hotel at the end of an atmospheric, unforgettable night.

Day 6

We awake to another gloomy one but we are going to go to Noss come what may.† Heading into Lerwick for the 10am ferry and shoot across Bressay seeing a nice pair of Ringed Plover with chicks and a pair of Red-throated Divers on one of the lochans.† We then pull into the car park and wander down to the beach where we meet the wardens who ferry us across to Noss on the zodiac.† Once ashore, we have a brief introduction to the island while Arctic Terns and Great Skuas zip back and forth through the Noss Sound.† We leave Pam and Wendy to do their own thing on the lower level near Gungstie, the only building on the isle of Noss, before we wander around Sound of Stinky Geo.† There are a number of Common Seals hauled out on the rocks and a Grey Seal in the water, for comparison.† Before passing first Great Skuas and then Arctic Skuas sat out on their breeding territories, we meander our way hugging the cliff line having a few close acquaintances with Fulmars and having the chance to smell their putrid oil which they cough up on intruders.† Eventually we make our way up to overlook the skerry where several Puffins are sitting about with a number of Great Black-backed Gulls and their chicks wandering on the isolated rocky outcrop as the mist comes and goes on the top of the Noop of Noss.†

Eventually, having had lunch here, we wander to the first of the impressive Gannet cliffs where we can get closely acquainted with these huge great denizens of the sea.† We take time to absorb the view as tier upon tier of nesting Gannets fall away below us for several hundred feet to the sea, way below the swirling mist and birds.†† Up on to the Noop where the Gannets are wheeling past at eye level.† We make our way down the north side of the cliffs as a huge great cruise ship comes close into the isle and then we have a close acquaintance with a pair of Arctic Skuas with their two fluffy brown chicks.† We get a display of broken wing distraction, which we are too much the wiser for and home in on the chicks.† We also have good views of Wheatear, a male that is very approachable.† Bizarrely in the poor weather there are several Red Admirals and a Painted Lady milling around, which are the first butterflies on Noss this year.†† We eventually make our way back to Gungstie where we find a Red-breasted Merganser and Common Tern in the bay.† We are then ferried back across Noss Sound to Bressay and over this isle and back into Lerwick for our last drive back to the hotel.

Day 7

Itís our final morning and with the scheduled early flight there is not much time for birding.† As we leave the hotel there is fairly thick fog as we say our goodbye to Wendy ap Rees who is staying on for another few days in Shetland.†

We head south to stop at the Sumburgh Hotel to have a look in the garden, but there is nothing on the migrant front here and we move on to Grutness gardens where again we only pick up Wren, Wheatear, and a single Swallow.†

At the airport it is clear that the flight is not going to meet the scheduled time and after waiting around for an hour or more they finally cancel the flight and reschedule everyone on to the P&O Ferry this evening.† Oh dear, well weíre just going to have to do a few more hours of birding!†

So we get some lunch and head up to Sumburgh Head.† From here we can just about make out the sea below the car park and hear the sounds of the sea birds.† We then get up to the lighthouse itself where there are still at least 10 Crossbills present.† We watch them down to a few feet before we drive through the murk and stop at the Pool of Virkie.† Here we add one more species to the list in the form of Bar-tailed Godwit.† We see two out on the sand here amongst the Shelduck, Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Dunlin and assorted terns before we meander our way through the gloom up to Lerwick where the remainder of the group boards the ferry for the overnight crossing back to Aberdeen.†

SPECIES LIST

Red-throated Diver
Great Northern Diver
Fulmar
Storm Petrel
Gannet
Cormorant
Shag
Mute Swan
Whooper Swan
Greylag Goose
Shelduck
Teal
Mallard
Tufted Duck
Scaup
Eider
Long-tailed Duck
Goldeneye
Red-breasted Merganser
Moorhen
Coot
Oystercatcher
Ringed Plover
Golden Plover
Lapwing
Dunlin
Snipe
Bar-tailed Godwit
Whimbrel
Curlew
Redshank
Common Sandpiper
Turnstone
Red-necked Phalarope
Arctic Skua
Great Skua
Black-headed Gull
Common Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Kittiwake
Common Tern
Arctic Tern
Guillemot
Razorbill
Black Guillemot
Puffin
Rock Dove
Woodpigeon
Collared Dove
Turtle Dove
Skylark
Swallow
Meadow Pipit
Rock Pipit
Pied Wagtail
Wren
Dunnock
Robin
Wheatear
Blackbird
Chiffchaff
Willow Warbler
Goldcrest
Golden Oriole
Rook
Hooded Crow
Raven
Starling
House Sparrow
Siskin
Twite
Common Crossbill

MAMMALS

Rabbit
Grey Seal
Common Seal
Harbour Porpoise
Otter
Shetland Pony

BUTTERFLIES

Large White
Red Admiral
Painted Lady