Shetland Islands 2020

Mark Finn
October 8-14

This tour to Shetland was a private trip organised by Black Isle Birding and taking in the islands of Unst, Fetlar and Mainland. The weather was relatively good for the time of the year with mainly cloudy conditions throughout the island chain. Several rare and scarce species were noted which included Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Greater Short-toed Lark, Little Bunting and a female Ring-necked Duck. The report below outlines the highlights each day and species observed.

October 8th: Inverness, Kirkwall, Sumburgh, Scalloway, Sound of Yell, Belmont, Skaw, Baltasound
Daily 48 New 48 Running 48
Weather: Cloudy with occasional showers on a NW wind 11C

The tour started in Inverness as we boarded the flight to Sumburgh in Shetland with a brief stop in Kirkwall. On arrival I picked up a rental van and travelled north to Lerwick the main town of the islands. Common birds encountered along the way included Northern Raven, Hooded Crow, Common Starling, Black-headed, Common, Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls and a late Northern Wheatear. Picked up supplies in Lerwick and continued in a northerly direction with a diversion to Scalloway the ancient capital of Shetland. This was particularly good around an area of sycamore trees which held migrant Goldcrest, Yellow-browed Warbler and Siberian Chiffchaff the latter looking rather grey in appearance. A walk across the sports field added Pied and White Wagtails. Sound of Yell was next on the agenda and the first of two ferry journeys. The harbour held a range of gulls, Grey Heron, European Shag, Great Cormorant, Northern Gannet, Black-legged Kittiwake and Ringed Plover, Ruddy Turnstone and Common Redshank. Once on the sparsely populated island of Yell we recorded Northern Lapwing, Eurasian Curlew, European Golden Plover and Common Eiders in the coastal areas. The final ferry was to Unst the most northerly in the British Isles, on arrival the harbour held similar birds to Yell plus Rock and Meadow Pipits in the beach areas. I decided to visit Skaw and the most northerly house in Britain, en route the fields held Redwing, Fieldfare and Song Thrush. On arrival at Skaw the bushes held Goldcrest, Blackcap, European Robin and European Blue Tit the latter species being a rare migrant (2020 turned out to be an eruption year for this familiar garden bird). The light was fading as I headed to Baltasound our base for three nights. A bonus came in the form of a very tired Greater Short-toed Lark on the road and a pair of European Stonechats feeding in a field.

October 9th: Baltasound, Belmont, Uyeasound, Muness, Valyie, Quoys, Halligath
Daily 64 New 21 Running 69
Weather: Cloudy with sunny spells on a SSW wind 8C

Breakfast was taken at 0730 followed by a return visit to Belmont. Similar birds to yesterday were noted with the addition of Common Snipe in wet patches along the roads. I decided to visit the settlement of Uyeasound with a stop on the entrance road. The fields here held good numbers of Twite and in gardens Common Chaffinch, European Blue Tit, Goldcrest and European Robins. Along the waterfront buildings of various stages of decay dotted the area. A scan into the waters revealed Red-breasted Merganser, Black Guillemot, European Shag, Great Cormorant, Grey Heron, Razorbill and passing Northern Gannets. Walking along the road added a migrant Little Bunting, Rock Pipit and on the loch Eurasian Wigeon, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Common Goldeneye and a family of Mute Swans. The next birding stop was at Muness which has an old castle which dominates the landscape. On the ocean Great Northern Divers were observed plus parties of Northern Fulmars. It was time to pick up supplies and head towards Valyie which is tricky to find and situated on a remote valley and hillside. On arrival we parked up with Barn Swallows feeding over the meadows. A walk along the road added House and Tree Sparrows and Eurasian Wrens perching on stone walls. The best was to come with the late flowers offering a seed feast to parties of Brambling, Eurasian Siskin, Common Redpoll, Common Chaffinch and Little Bunting. Also within the grasses we noted Common and Siberian Chiffchaffs and a Willow Warbler. A diversion to Quoys added little of note so I headed to the woodland at Halligath. On arrival the first large sycamore tree held Blackcap, Yellow-browed Warbler, European Blue Tit and a single Great Tit (the last species is a rare and irregular migrant to Shetland). Careful scanning of the trees revealed more warblers notably Willow, Wood and Common Chiffchaff whilst the fence posts had a female Common Redstart. A bonus was the unusual appearance of three Woodpigeons which looked totally out of place. Time was getting on as the group retuned to Baltasound with a male Long-tailed Duck showing well offshore. A great day’s birding on Unst with a visit to Fetlar tomorrow morning.

October 10th: Unst, Fetlar, Velzie, Tresta, Funzie, Everland
Daily 46 New 7 Running 76
Weather: Cloudy with light N winds 8C

Today was dedicated to visit the island of Fetlar which has been suffering from depopulation and an ageing population in recent years. The first stop was to pick up supplies from the local shop where the adjacent hillside attracted a Eurasian Sparrowhawk being mobbed by Hooded Crows. The ferry left for Fetlar on time and a period of Seawatching was undertaken with Red-throated Diver and Great Skua being added to the trip list. Once on Fetlar a visit to an old mansion and the adjacent shore provided us with sightings of Ruddy Turnstone, Ringed Plover, Meadow and Rock Pipits and a pair of Eurasian Wrens in a stand of rocks. A diversion to the hamlet of Velzie with its stand of bushes and thistles held Eurasian Skylark, Twite, Redwing, Rock Dove and a party of migrant European Blue Tits. Next on the agenda was the manse at Tresta and its adjacent loch. Nothing much in the manse gardens but a short walk towards the beach provided us with many sightings of Common Snipe. On the loch we located Greylag Geese and a Common Redshank feeding on the shoreline. A stop in Houbie the main settlement was followed by lunch at Loch Funzie where Great Black-backed Gulls were bathing in the loch. The remainder of the day was spent driving slowly towards Everland and the return towards the ferry terminus. A highlight was a Greater Short-toed Lark feeding by the roadside and an extremely tame Yellow-browed Warbler resting on fence wires. A walk into a wet area produced more Common Snipe and a single Lapland Bunting.

October 11th: Unst, Uyeasound, Yell, Eshaness, Ronas Hill, Busta House, Kergord, Sumburgh
Daily 54 New 3 Running 79
Weather: Cloudy with rain showers on an N wind 8C

This morning the group checked out of the hotel and proceeded to the shore at Uyeasound and East Loch. The birds were similar to two days ago with the addition of Whooper Swan and a Common Otter chomping on a large fish. The ferry over to Yell and then North Mainland went smoothly. A diversion to the tundra landscape of Eshaness produced a Merlin hunting passerines. By the lighthouse a short seawatch produced a single Great Northern Diver and high counts of Northern Gannets. On the return a stop near the cemetery had a juvenile Dunlin among the Northern Lapwing and European Golden Plover flocks. Next on the agenda was a diversion to the lunar landscape of Ronas Hill the highest point in Shetland. A scan of the slopes failed to find the male Snowy Owl so we moved onto Brae and Busta House. On arrival a check of the gardens which have old trees and shrubs, it was very quiet for birds. After a short walk I decided to visit Kergord which has areas of mature trees where Jackdaw and Rook were added to the list. The light was fading as I drove past Lerwick and down to Sumburgh for the final three nights in Shetland.

October 12th: Sumburgh (Head and Farm), Grutness, Quendale, Loch of Spiggie, Pool of Virkie, Wester Quarf
Daily 57 New 8 Running 87
Weather: A rather rainy day with low cloud, SE wind 9C

The weather was to dominate today’s birding with persistent rain and low cloud. After breakfast we set off on a walk towards the semi-derelict Sumburgh Farm. The commoner birds were around and a party of Eurasian Siskins flew high and south. Grutness is nearby a small hamlet with gardens and sycamore trees adjacent to a beach and harbour. In the sea held a Common Guillemot and Black-legged Kittiwake. The garden had a Goldcrest but little else so we ventured on towards Sumburgh Head a reserve of the RSPB with views of Fair Isle in the distance. The cliffs had substantial numbers of Northern Fulmars, Northern Raven, Hooded Crow, Pied Wagtail and Twite. Quendale and its old watermill were next on the agenda with a late Barn Swallow on arrival. The rain was getting heavier as a walk into the iris beds and burn was undertaken. A few birds included Goldcrest, Common Blackbird and a male Blackcap. On a pond Little Grebe and Common Moorhen were added to the list. Loch of Spiggie had a wide range of birds present with the first being a Great Egret a rare visitor to the islands. Careful scanning in the same area revealed Common Teal, Eurasian Wigeon and Mallard. The open water attracted Mute and Whooper Swans, Common Goldeneye, hundreds of Eurasian Wigeon and Tufted Duck. On exiting the loch a late Spotted Flycatcher was noted flying from fence to fence. Lunch was taken at Pool of Virkie where the exposed mud attracted Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Common Redshank, Ringed Plover and overhead fourteen Barnacle Geese and three Common Swifts. Remainder of the day was spent at Wester Quarf with records of two male Goosanders, Common Eider and European Stonechats.

October 13th: Loch of Spiggie, Loch of Houlland, Nesting, Vidlin, Walls Loop, Boddam, Pool of Virkie
Daily 56 New 5 Running 92
Weather: Sunny spells and showers on a NE wind 9C

From the breakfast table we could see hundreds of Northern Gannets plunge diving for fish just a few meters offshore. This was the start to an enjoyable days birding on Mainland. The first stop was at Loch of Spiggie where we quickly located Blyth’s Reed Warbler feeding among the iris beds and nettles, nearby two Spotted Flycatchers were flitting around on fence lines. The loch itself had similar birds to yesterday with a visible increase in Tufted Ducks. I decided to visit the east coast and Loch of Houlland which revealed a female Ring-necked Duck associating with Tufted Ducks. At nesting a few waders were noted which included Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Common Redshank and the first Eurasian Oystercatcher of the tour. Vidlin was visited with the main focus on the trees near the cemetery. A walk around the edge revealed Common Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Goldcrest, Common Chaffinch and a pair of Eurasian Collared Doves. Picked up supplies in Brae and headed towards the west coast and the Walls Loop, en route another Great Egret was located. The Walls Loop was several areas of plantations which held similar birds to Vidlin with the addition of two Eurasian Sparrowhawks and a nice mix of Redwing and Fieldfare.  On the return to base stops at Boddam and Pool of Virkie produced waders and herons but nothing new to the bird list.

October 14th: Sumburgh Farm, Grutness, Boddam, Inverness
Daily n/r New 0 Final 92
Weather: Cloudy with NE winds 9C

The final few hours of birding in South Mainland commenced with a walk towards Sumburgh Farm and then onto Grutness. A late Barn Swallow flew past the hotel and a group of Eurasian Siskins perched on the top of a farm building. Walking up to the quarry we came across a Siberian Chiffchaff flitting around and looking for insects. Down to Grutness where the gardens were quiet for wildlife suggesting a major clear out of migrants overnight. A brief stop at Boddam had similar birds to yesterday. Filled up with fuel and checked in at Sumburgh Airport for the flight down to Inverness via Kirkwall.

Mammals: North Atlantic Grey Seal, Common Rabbit, Common Otter

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