This was our annual spring tour to the Shetland Islands which is low on bird numbers but high in quality. The group observed the important breeding birds of the islands including Great and Arctic Skuas, European Storm Petrels and Red-necked Phalaropes. In addition to these species a good range of Shetland’s other breeding birds made for a memorable birding tour.
The following trip report should bring back good memories of an exceptional tour with great company all round. The next tours to Shetland are this coming October and June 2023.
June 11th: Lerwick, Loch of Tingwall, Walls, Melby, Norby, Voe, Hillswick
Daily 42 New 42 Running 42
Weather: Rain showers through the day on a SW wind 10c-14c
Today was to be a challenging one regarding the weather conditions resulting from the tail end of a tropical storm. Our tour started in Lerwick the main town on Shetland with a visit to a loch. It was mainly quiet here with sightings of Tufted Duck, Whimbrel, Arctic Tern and a singing Common Chiffchaff from nearby gardens. Next on the agenda was Loch of Tingwall with the entrance field having a pair of Whooper Swans feeding in a grass field. On the loch itself several Barn Swallows, Common Merganser, Mallard and third year Greater Black-backed Gulls. It was time to embark on the circular tour centred in Walls. The lunch stop was productive for close views of Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Black Guillemot, Common Redshank and a pair of Rock Pipits. A small pool added Dunlin, Ringed Plover and European Golden Plovers before arriving at the hamlet of Melby. The seaweed strewn beach attracted late migrants including Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Ruddy Turnstone and Sanderling which were then harassed by a Great Skua. On the road to Norby a pair of Twite kept us entertained as they fed on roadside plants. Norby itself had a male Common Otter and on a nearby island several Great Cormorants. The journey to Voe was uneventful until two Red-throated Divers were seen on a loch. The weather started to get bad again as we arrived at Hillswick base for three nights.
Mammals: Common Otter (1) North Atlantic Grey Seal (5)
June 12th: Hillswick, Yell, Unst including Uyeasound, Haroldswick, Valyie, Skaw, Belmont
Daily 44 New 12 Running 54
Weather: Rather mixed on a SW wind 13c/16c
The day started with a mix of rain and strong winds as I travelled towards Brae where I picked up supplies for the day. Our journey to the ferry terminal and across to Yell went and eventually to the most northern most outpost of Unst. On arrival in Unst the commoner species were located including Northern Gannet, European Shag and Arctic Terns. Uyeasound was our first birding stop on the island where a roadside loch attracted a pair of Mute Swans and Ringed Plovers. In a nearby marsh I located a stunning female Ruff, European Golden Plover and a perched Eurasian Skylark which gave us great views. On towards Haroldswick and Valyie the latter being a famous migrant trap. A walk along the road produced the rather uncommon Woodpigeon, Collared Dove and in the gardens at least two Willow Warblers singing and showing well. Lunch was taken at Skaw by the most northerly house in Britain where we located Pied Wagtail and the endemic race of Eurasian Wren. In the skies above Great Skuas were attacking several different birds. At the bay of Harold’s Wick a scan of the sea had European Shag, Common Guillemot, Razorbill and Atlantic Puffin plus Arctic Skuas chasing terns and other seabirds for food. The weather became poor again so I headed to the port and crossings back to base.
Mammals: Common Rabbit
June 13th: Hillswick, Fetlar
Daily 45 New 6 Running 60
Weather: Sunny spells and showers on a W wind 14c
This morning was another poor day for weather with rain and cloud arriving from the North Atlantic Ocean. After breakfast I made the now familiar journey north to Yell and then a ferry journey to Fetlar a small and depopulating island. The usual species were seen on the way and once on the island I headed towards the RSPB reserve and its hide overlooking a marsh. Birds seen included Common Snipe, Common Redshank, Northern Lapwing, Common Teal and a singing Reed Bunting. Back to the bus with Great and Arctic Skuas for company both species chasing birds for food. On the loch we located a pair of Red-throated Divers (up to 7 birds in the area) and a few Dunlins. At r the post office I purchased supplies and after a visit to the wetlands near Tresta. This area held substantial numbers of Great Skuas on the football pitch and adjoin loch. Lunch was taken near a bay where offshore waters held Black Guillemot and European Shag. On the beach and rocks a pair of Common Tern (rare in Shetland), Ringed Plover, Common Eider with three young and a female Red-necked Phalarope in flight. Further up the road a Red-throated Diver showed well on a lochan and at least two female Red-necked Phalaropes put on show feeding in the pool. Time was getting on as I visited the old airfield where the moorland attracted European Golden Plover, Eurasian Curlew with two well-grown blue-footed juveniles, Dunlin, Northern Wheatear and Meadow Pipit. The old manse had a singing Common Chiffchaff and in a field Carrion Crow a rare visitor. Final area was the ferry terminal with a pair of Rock Pipits for company. The ferry left on time for Yell and onto North Mainland where I filled up with fuel. Tomorrow we head south to Sumburgh for the penultimate leg of the tour.
June 14th: Hillswick, Eshaness, Grutness, Sumburgh Head, Scatness, Pool of Virkie
Daily 49 New 5 Running 65
Weather: Early rain easing followed by sunny spells on a W wind 15c
The day dawned rather wet with persistent rain showers. After breakfast I headed towards the wild coast and country of Eshaness. The commoner birds were around in numbers including several species with well grown young. A surprise find was a pair of Barn Swallows near the coast which was struggling with the wind and regularly perched on fence wires. It was time to head south towards Lerwick and to Sumburgh Head our base for the final four nights. I checked in and then made the short drive to Grutness where the Arctic Tern colony was very lively. Offshore we made observations of Razorbill and Black Guillemot. An area of mud attracted a first year Curlew Sandpiper, Dunlin and Ringed Plover plus a pair of Common Teal and a female Mallard with ducklings. The road to Sumburgh Head was busy with tourists and on arrival we had encounters with Northern Wheatear and Meadow Pipit with young. On the cliffs Northern Fulmar, Common Guillemot, Razorbill, Atlantic Puffin, House Martin and Rock Pipits. Offshore we observed many auks in the sea and passing Northern Gannets. The next stop was the loch near Scatness village where Tufted Duck, Greater Scaup, Red-throated Diver and Black-legged Kittiwakes put on a show. Our last stop was Pool of Vikrie where the tide was dropping leaving large areas of rich-food habitat. The muddy habitat produced Common Shelduck, Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Dunlin, Eurasian Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwits the latter being in brick red summer plumage.
Mammals: Common Rabbit
June 15th: Sumburgh Head, Loch of Spiggie, Scalloway, Loch of Tingwall, Lerwick, Quendale, Pool of Virkie, Grutness
Daily 50 New 6 Running 71
Weather: Scattered showers and sunny spells on a SW wind 15c
Today I headed north towards the RSPB reserve, Loch of Spiggie. The usual birds were in and around the fields as we arrived outside the newly constructed hide. The rafts outside have already started to attract Arctic and Common Terns to inspect for possible nesting. On the loch Mute and Whooper Swans, Common Shelduck, Barn Swallow, Sand Martin and Common Redshank. A diversion to Scalloway the old capital of Shetland added nothing new. Loch of Tingwall is located nearby and the conditions were better for viewing today. On the loch Tufted Duck, Common Teal, Red-breasted Merganser, a drake Eurasian Wigeon, Mallard with ducklings, Common Moorhen and a Red-throated Diver. In the newly cut grass fields a few Rooks a scarce species of Shetland. I headed back to Lerwick Harbour where Common Eider, Black Guillemot, Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls were present. A walk along a loch with trees and bushes gave us close views of Eurasian Wren, Meadow Pipit and Common Redpoll the latter having their reddish face plumage. Further visits south of Lerwick produced nothing of note apart from a pool near Quendale having Northern Shovelers. Pool of Vikrie and Grutness had similar birds to yesterday albeit in lower numbers. Later tonight a visit to Moussa which is an offshore island where we witnessed the incredible sight of European Storm Petrels coming into the brock. Despite the poor weather very good views were obtained of this small and elusive ocean going species.
Mammals: North Atlantic Grey Seal (2), Common Rabbit
June 16th: Sumburgh, Lerwick, The Nestings, Vidlin, Kergord, Loch of Tingwall, Pool of Verkie, Grutness
Daily New Running
Weather: Sunny with a warm S wind 16c
Finally a break in the weather as winds from a southerly direction reached the islands. Our first stop in Lerwick was The Knab a promontory jutting into the sea with views to Bressay and South Mainland. The usual seabirds were observed on the water and flying around the cliffs. Next was a drive around The Nestings a low, hilly area with many bays and views to Whalsay on the horizon. The birds were similar to Lerwick with the addition of Red-throated Diver, Arctic and Great Skuas, Whimbrel with young and a family of Northern Ravens in a radio mast. Vidlin is always worth a visit and the woodland near the quay. In the trees Common Chiffchaff and a singing Dunnock was present. Lunch was taken at Kergord before going onto Loch of Tingwall. On this occasion our visit was successful for a drake Green-winged Teal and a pair of summer plumaged Black-tailed Godwits. I then went back to Lerwick checking the docks and walking around the loch without success apart from a Common Otter. It was time to head towards Pool of Virkie and Grutness with the same birds as before plus a Ruddy Turnstone in breeding plumage at the latter.
Mammals: Common Otter (1), North Atlantic Grey Seal (3), Common Rabbit
June 17th: Scatness, Pool of Vikrie, Loch of Spiggie, Hoswick and Sandwick, Quarf, Lerwick, Sumburgh Head
Daily 55 New 4 Final 80
Weather: Early rain followed by scattered showers on a strong S wind
This was our last full day of birding in Shetland and the day dawned rather wet and windy. The first two birding stops were at Scatness and Pool of Virkie with both producing similar birds to our previous visits. A visit to Spiggie beach added a very late Great Northern Diver sleeping and drifting on the tide. At the hide we were privileged to find a male Red-necked Phalarope feeding on the water edge. A brief visit to the coastal settlements of Hoswick and Sandwick added a pair of Ruddy Turnstones and an injured female Common Eider with chicks. I decided to visit the community of Quarf where a family of Common Stonechats were seen a rather rare breeder on the islands. A visit to Lerwick in search of Common Quail ended in failure so I went south back to Sumburgh Head. The strong winds here made birding difficult although close encounters with Atlantic Puffins was an appropriate finish to the trip.
Mammals: North Atlantic Grey Seal (30), Common Rabbit