Shetland 2023

Mark Finn
June 9-17

The Shetland Islands in mid-June often turn up unusual birds on migration and this year was no exception. The weather and wind direction was dominated by a warm southerly airstream and sunny conditions for the whole week. This reflected in rare species being observed which included Woodchat and Red-backed Shrikes, Eastern Olivaceous, Marsh and Icterine Warblers. Unst was again productive for Pied Flycatcher, Lesser Whitethroat and at least three different Marsh Warblers. In addition to these sightings the specialities of Shetland included Red-necked Phalaropes, thousands of European Storm Petrels at close range, Great and Arctic Skuas and all the regular auks. The following trip report details each day with the most important sightings. Our next summer visit is from June 8th-15th 2024.

Rock Pipit

June 9th: Sumburgh, Quendale, Sumburgh Head
Daily 30 New 30 Running 30
Weather: Sunny with light E winds 13c

Mid-afternoon I decided to visit the bushes and stone walls at Quendale watermill. On arrival a search of the sycamore plantation proved to be productive as we found an Eastern Olivaceous Warbler flitting around after insects. Also present were Common Chiffchaff, Eurasian Wren, Common Blackbird, Common Starling and House Sparrows. It was time to visit the cliffs at Sumburgh Head which hold high numbers of seabirds during June. On the way we encountered Eurasian Oystercatcher, Northern Lapwing, Northern Wheatear, Meadow Pipit and Barn Swallows the latter being at the extreme north of their range. On arrival at Sumburgh Head we were greeted by high numbers of European Shag, Northern Fulmars, Common Guillemots, Razorbill, Atlantic Puffin, European Rock Pipit and Northern Gannets passing offshore. In the fields we located Common Linnet and a single Twite singing for a mate. On the way to Sumburgh the beach held migrant Sanderling in breeding plumage.

June 10th: Sumburgh, Pool of Virkie, Levenwick, Loch of Tingwall, Walls, Melby, Voe, Brae, Sullem Voe, Hillswick
Daily 56 New 31 Running 61
Weather: Sunny with SE winds 16c

Around the Sumburgh Hotel a pre-breakfast walk added Mute Swan, Common Eider with ducklings, Great Skua and Northern Raven to our birdlist. After checking out I decided to look at the Pool of Virkie as the tide was low exposing large areas of mud. This was productive for waders which included Bar-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Curlew, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Sanderling and Northern Lapwing. Also present were a pair of Common Shelduck, Barn Swallow and House Martin the latter being rather scarce in Shetland. At the entrance to the sea we located Red-breasted Mergansers, European Herring, Black-headed and Common Gulls. Further north at Levenwick a series of pools proved to be productive for Red-necked Phalaropes, Common Redshank, Common Snipe, Greylag Geese, Red-throated Loons, Arctic and Great Skuas, Hooded Crow and a Twite singing from an elevated pile of rocks. Supplies were picked up in Lerwick and then a visit to Loch of Tingwall where a male Merlin flew past, Common Woodpigeon on a telephone wire and small numbers of Tufted Ducks on the loch itself. A stop on the road to Walls had two late Common Loons in full breeding plumage, Black Guillemot and the first Mallards of the trip. Melby is located along a peninsula which is reached by passing through moorland where European Golden Plover and Whimbrel were seen and the beach holding several late Sanderlings. I retraced our journey back to Voe where Whooper Swans with two cygnets were seen on a loch. In Voe we located Collared Doves and Common Terns in the harbour area. Our last stop before Hillswick had good numbers of auks including Atlantic Puffins and in the village a pair of Common Pheasants

June 11th: Hillswick, Yell, Unst including Haroldswick, Northdale, Baltasound, Valyie, Halligarth, Uyeasound
Daily 47 New 4 Running 65
Weather: Sunny with fresh S winds 17c

Today we left Hillswick and travelled north to catch the ferry to Yell and then to Unst the most northerly of the British islands. The usual species were seen on the way with the addition of a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls near Brae. On arrival in Unst our first stop was at Haroldswick where a flock of Common Eiders were close to shore. In the adjacent area we located Northern Lapwing, European Golden Plover and Red-breasted Mergansers. In offshore waters we watched feeding Red-throated Loons, Razorbill, Arctic and Common Terns, Great and Arctic Skuas. A diversion to Northdale produced nothing of note so I went down towards the sea and walked into Valyie a hamlet with a few houses, trees and vegetable plots. A bonus here was a late female Common Redstart sitting on an old rusty gate. The group returned to Haroldswick and Baltasound with similar birds to earlier in the day. A visit to Halligarth was rewarding for a very showy Lesser Whitethroat and on a nearby pool a female Northern Pintail with ducklings.

Common Otter

June 12th: Hillswick, Unst including Uyeasound, Haroldswick, Northwick, Northdale, Halligarth
Daily 50 New 3 Running 68
Weather: Sunny with S winds 17c

A change of plans today as I decided not to visit Fetlar but instead return to Unst. On the way the usual birds were observed. Uyaesound was first on the list where a singing Marsh Warbler was located in bushes by the youth hostel (this was the third record for today). On the beach a large Common Otter showed well at close range whilst consuming a large flatfish. A short diversion to Westing added a Little Stint on the pools with Dunlin, Common Redshank, Common Snipe and Northern Lapwing. Haroldswick and Northwick held similar birds to yesterday with no new arrivals overnight. The best birding was at Northdale where a clump of conifer trees attracted another Marsh Warbler, North Roe Pied Flycatcher and an unknown small, brown warbler which was consistently pumped downwards (later research suggests Common Chiffchaff). At Halligarth the Lesser Whitethroat was showing well. Time was getting on as I advanced towards the ferry point for the journey back to north Mainland.

June 13th: Hillswick, Essaness, North Roe, Collafirth, Kergord, Lerwick, Bigton, Sumburgh Head
Daily 54 New 9 Running 77
Weather: Warm and sunny on a S wind 17c

Before breakfast three Ruddy Turnstones where seen on the beach at Hillswick. After checking out it was off to visit the road towards Essaness with many Red-throated Loons on the lagoons. Essaness has high cliffs, lighthouse and views across the ocean. Northern Gannets were passing by in groups whilst the cliffs held Northern Fulmar, European Shag, Common Guillemot, Razorbill, Atlantic Puffins and singing Eurasian Wrens from the rock face. A diversion to North Roe added Mallard, Eurasian Wigeon and Tufted Duck on a lochan. At Collafirth an old whaling port held several gulls species and a close knit flock of Razorbills. Lunch was taken down a side road with no birds of note except a flock of Common Mergansers sitting on the sea. Kergord is one of the few places on Shetland with mature trees where we added scarce birds including Common Cuckoo, European Robin and Rooks. A stop was made at Lerwick to check out a censor fault on the vehicle before visiting Bigton. This was very productive as we quickly located Woodchat and Red-backed Shrikes (both females) hunting from fence posts.  

June 14th: Sumburgh Head, Grutness, Scatness, Quendale, Loch Spiggie, Southpunds, Wester Quarf, Pool of Virkie, Mousa
Daily 59 New 5 Running 82
Weather: Warm and sunny with S winds 19c

I began the day by visiting Grutness where the Arctic Terns were nesting in good numbers with Common Gull, Dunlin, Northern Wheatear and Razorbills in the harbour. Scatness is a small village and not faraway with views over a loch and inlet. On the stone walls we observed resting Black-legged Kittiwakes, Great Skua and Northern Wheatear. The inlet held two summering Common Loons. A visit to Quendale with a stop at a loch which held Mute and Whooper Swans, Common Snipe, Pied Wagtail and at least two singing Sedge Warblers a scarce summer visitor in Shetland. Loch Spiggie is close by and mainly an autumn and winter site for birds. The shallow waters edge had Great Skua, Great Black-backed Gulls and feeding Sand Martins. A return to Southpunds held similar birds to a few days ago with the addition of three Barnacle Geese. Lunch was taken at Wester Quarf where the mussel farms had Common Eider, Great Cormorant and Black Guillemot. On the beach we had a comparison on size and plumage between Eurasian Curlew and Whimbrel. Pool of Virkie and Boddam held similar birds as previous visits. Tonight we travel up to Mousa for a dusk trip to observe European Storm Petrels. At 10pm we were on our way to Mousa and then a walk along the coast to a large broch dating back several centuries. We had to wait until dusk to observe European Storm Petrels coming into roost and replacing their partners inside the building. This was an amazing experience for the group to watch and study this tiny seabird which wanders to the Indian and South Atlantic Oceans outside the breeding season.

Common Redshank

June 15th: Sumburgh, Loch of Tingwall, The Nestings, Lunna, Kergord
Daily 54 New 6 Running 88
Weather: Warm and sunny with light S winds 23c

Departure and breakfast were later this morning after visiting Mousa. Supplies were purchased in Lerwick and then a revisit to Loch of Tingwall. The same species were around in addition to a pair of Common Sandpipers and at least four drake Common Teal sleeping in the grass areas. My main objective today was to visit The Nestings a sparsely populated area dominated by lochs and farmland and abandoned buildings. The first stop at a roadside loch was productive for Whooper Swans, Tufted Ducks and a surprise in a drake and two female Common Scoters. Further down the road a surprise with a pair of Willow Ptarmigan (Red Grouse) hiding next to a patch of heather, these were the first of two pairs seen today. At the end of the loch a muddy section held Ruddy Turnstone and Common Redshank. I decided to visit the long peninsula towards Lunna an old mansion from years gone by. Once on the road we witnessed a pair of Common Polecats fighting each other on the roadside and totally oblivious to anything else. Lunch was taken by Lunna House which looks to be a good option for migrants later in the year with its hedges and scrub. Towards the end of the road good views into the sea loch with sightings of Common and Red-throated Loons, Common and Black Guillemots, Razorbill, various gulls and dozens of Northern Gannets sitting on the ocean. Our last stop today was at Kergord where we added Blackcap and Eurasian Siskin to the bird list.

Red-throated Diver

June 16th: Sumburgh, Lerwick, Loch of Tingwall, Burra, Loch of Spiggie, Quendale
Daily 48 New 3 Final 91
Weather: Sunny with SE winds 17c

Our last birding day in Shetland commenced with a visit to an area of sallow in Lerwick. On arrival we quickly located a singing Icterine Warbler a rare migrant to the islands. Also present in the sallows were Common Redpolls. I decided to revisit Loch of Tingwall with the same results as before. Burra is a peninsula which bears the brunt of westerly winds coming in off the Atlantic Ocean. The sheltered areas held Common Loons some in breeding plumage and a first summer Black-throated Loon a scarce but regular species in Shetland. The remainder of the day was spent birding around Loch Spiggie and Quendale. The group located similar birds to a few days ago with the addition of a single Grey Heron walking around in a newly mown field. I headed back to Sumburgh where the tour concluded.

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