Wednesday, 27 January 2016

A jaunt of the Isles: From Unst to Sumburgh and almost back again

Well this past weekend has certainly been a packed one, with a trip to Unst and many sites in the North, Central and South Mainland I've got a bit to write about here.

Saturday 16th of January 2016

A trip to Unst had been planned with Tommy so we caught the 0840 ferry into Unst and started a day full of birding.

The wilds of Unst, it really has a landscape that can't compare to any in Shetland

First stop was Uyeasound for some Goosander, which we ticked quite easily before heading off to Easting to try and get the Surf Scoter which was wintering there.

The Goosanders of Uyeasound

Haegrie (Grey Heron), one of 4 in Uyeasound

We arrived to a pretty cold Easting and walked out to the beach with the scopes, positioning ourselves on a hill so we could view the bay.
It was a couple of degrees below zero so we started to freeze up pretty quickly, there was a few Red-breasted Mergansers, Shags and a Great-northern Diver (year tick) but no sign of any other ducks, I took a few scans of the sea and found nothing, so after half an hour of freezing conditions we headed off to have a cuppa.
With tea and rolls digested we drove north to Baltasound with higher hopes, a first stop off near Skibhoul found us 4 Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, 2 Knot and a Mike Pennington which were all year ticks, we had a chat with Mike and he filled us in on two Chaffinches and a Brambling at the post office which I was quite excited about, so we thanked Mike and got on our way.
First look in the post office garden produced no finches of any sort, I had another place to check though and for me anyways it had a good track record.
A garden literally attached to the post office has contained a few good birds in my time, epsecially these past two years and thats where we headed, standing on the corner of the gardening we heard the twittering of a Chaffinch and the birds flew in with the Brambling and plopped themselves in a bush.
Two year ticks were nicely bagged then and I managed the odd photo before we had to head off to the ferry again and back to the mainland for some more birding.

Heading down to Yell we met Brydon Thomason waiting to head onto the ferry at Belmont as well so I had a chat with him as this was the first time I'd seen Brydon in months.
Ferry came and we headed over to Ulsta, having no time to twitch Glaucs at Cullivoe, arriving at Ulsta we also met Dougie Preston heading down to see the Dippers in Voe, it was a amazingly calm day and it seemed that all the birders were out in force!
Ferry came and it was time to head on, it was the first time I'd had a chance to bird off the ferry so Tommy and I headed up top for a look, hoping to spot any auks that may sticking around.
Brydon came and joined us and he managed to spot a Little Auk south of the ferry! though it was in a bit of tide and none of us could clap our eyes on it, its not exactly a species I'm good with catching up so was a shame to lose but Guillemot (a year tick) made up for it.

After we got off we shot off to Sellaness to try bag Little Auk and anything else that was around, a first look produced a female Goosander and a Slavonian Grebe (year tick) but no auks, a quick look at the Houb of Scatsta produced 180 Golden Plovers and some ducks but not much else so we shot off to Brae for a chippy.
With chippy grabbed we headed to Mavis Grind as our final place to try and connect with Little Auk, I took only the bins with me when we first got out and looked and the first bird I saw was a Little Auk!! Year tick! a couple of photos and then I began scanning the rest of the voe and between the two of us we picked out around 5! my highest ever total! but time was against us so we went straight to Sullom for the Rough-legged Buzzard.

peerie Rotchie (Little Auk), my first ever photos of the species and a great sight

Turning into Sullom I spotted a car which I recognised as birder Mark Chapman, so we pulled alongside Mark to see what he'd seen.
Well Mark had certainly had a few birds, with at least 11 Little Auks between Brae and Mavis Grind (including our birds) and the Rough-legged at the Sullom Quarry.

We came around the corner to the quarry and we saw a flash of a light coloured wing disappear in the far northwest corner, I thought at the time that it had just gone and thats all we'd see of it but I was wrong, it flew towards us, gracefully landing on a ridge halfway between us and its orginal position, a big mass of light brown and white feathers!
I quickly grabbed my camera and got a few distant shots before the scope came out, now I wasn't wanting to scare it off or anything so I decided we'd stay in the car, the awkward thing was we'd have to assemble the scope and then stick it out the window, tripod and all.
We were suprisgly successful and I even managed to digiscope the bird.

It may be my second bird but its the only one I've ever photographed!

Though it was soon time to go, I could of happily watched it for hours but we only had around an hour and a half of light left so we had to get moving to the Dippers in Voe.

It was oddly quite at the Kirkhouse Burn in Lower Voe, no cars we about and there was no sign of any birders which worried us, a look around the burn produced no Dipper but we didn't have time to walk all the way up it to comepltely check the area.

The Lesser Scaup at Nesting was our last biggie of the day and we found it almost instantly on the Loch of Houlland where we first saw it in November.

Lesser Scaup on Loch of Houlland, the bird was also on Benston as well

Loch of Benston was slightly frozen and had few birds so we quickly headed to Strand and the Loch of Tingwall iin the last of the light.
The loch at Strand was frozen over so there was no chance at any ducks or swans so onwards for some geese, a couple of flocks of Greylags were near the farm and I gave them a quick scan to find myself 8 Euro White-fronts!! not a bad find!
Light was really fading fast so Tingwall was our next stop, towards the north side it was pretty frozen and my hopes started to dwindle but as soon as we came to the south end it was full of ducks, Tommy managed to pick out two Little Grebes and two Coot, both year ticks! before I found some Rook at Asta (also a year tick), that was going pretty good and we'd just hit 18 year ticks for the day but I had one last trick up my sleeve.

In fading light we could still photography these tiny beauties of Little Grebes

Two Mute Swans have been knocking around Scalloway this winter and that was a bird I was still needing, the place I'd always seen them was the Burn Beach near Scalloway's version of 'The Street', I saw them as soon as we appeared and I rushed out to try and get a ring number off the adult (as the last time I came I noticed a shiny ring on its leg).
Tommy came over with some bread which encouraged them in and the adult bird came out the water and displayed its ring quite nice to allow me to get the whole sequence off it.

Allowing pretty close views I was able to photograph the foot in pretty good detail!

Pretty much by this time it was too dark to go anywhere else and we'd just about exhausted all the birds we could find for the time being, though a trip down the south end tomorrow seemed quite promising.

Sunday 17th of Janurary 2016

Today was time to catch up with a few more birds down the South Mainland to add to the ever growing year list.
Tommy and I headed down the South Mainland with a first stop off at the Burn of Swinister in Hoswick, Sandwick to try and find a wintering Yellowhammer which had been seen a day or two ago.
Combing the burn and a nearby Hostel picked up Twite, Skylark and Carrion Crow, all new ones for the year but no sign of the Yellowhammer so we headed farther south.

Carrion Crow at Swinister, it was in among a flock of Hoodies and 4 migrant Rooks

Boddam didn't really have anything of note and the goose flocks at Fleck appeared to be all Greylags so next was the Pool of Virkie.

Boddam Voe looking amazing in the winter light

Now things started to pick up, with Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwits (year) Shalder (year), Knot and Grey Plover! (year) all at the Pool it seemed the year list was going up fast with my total reaching 70 (3 birds off my previous January best).

Grey Plover, only my third record ever, with the first in Northumberland 2013 and 1 last year

Comorant on some lights at the Ness Boating Club

Time though was catching up on us and a quick trip to Grutness got us Sanderling and then off to Hillwell/Ringasta which chucked a whole pile of birds into the mix with Moorhen (year), lots of Whooper Swans, 3 Barnacle Geese (year), hundreds of Greylags, 6 Pink-footed Geese (year and two were colour-ringed) and some Euro Whitefronts.
Pretty much from here we ended the day at Spiggie where we met Hugh Harrop scoping out a Taiga Bean Goose!, Hugh happily put us on to it and after a few photos we headed off due to me having to get north to the ferry.

A large number of Gulls on the ice at Spiggie

Taiga Bean Goose, first time I've seen one of these in two years, thanks Hugh!!

We ended the day pretty well with me breaking my all time January year list of 73 by one bird! only halfway through the month and I've still got a few weekends of birding to go so who knows what the total will be by the months end.



  1. All the shots have such atmosphere! Really beautiful.

  2. I agree with Simon, absolute amazing shots and some really great spots!