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|Monday 11th June 2012, 19:28||#1|
Join Date: Apr 2004
A week in Shetland
I had a fantastic week in Shetland from 2-9 June. I went up with Shetland Wildlife and had a brilliant guide Wendy who is from New Zealand.
Shetland has some birds that are hard to find in other places, so it had been on my must visit list for a while.
My very first bird in Shetland was a Gannet as the plane came in to land at Sumburgh. Later on the first night there, we made a midnight boat trip to the broch, a 2000-year old double-walled tower on Mousa. When we departed from the mainland, it was cloudy, the water was choppy and it was so cold my teeth were chattering. But the boat trip only took about 15 minutes, and amazingly when we landed the cloud cleared, the wind died off a bit and it seemed to warm up a little. A massive Moon was shining across the sea, and we had a kind of twilight between light and darkness with an azure and pale yellow sky on the horizon framing the broch. And we got what we came for - thousands of Storm Petrels flying bat-like into their crevices in the broch and along dry stone walls.
It was a magical experience, small seabirds the size of a large sparrow or small starling, flying very fast past our heads, sometimes coming so close that I could hear their wings whirring! And then as we stood silent, we could hear them calling from within the broch!
Other highlights include Arctic Terns and Great Skuas everywhere, the fabulous Arctic Skuas making an impression wherever they turned up, including two pairs that amongst them showed up their three forms - dark, pale and intermediate.
We got a great sight of a Long-tailed Skua at very close range. This bird is lost and has been coming to Shetland for a few years now - hopefully one day a female will show up!
We also had sightings of Red-throated Divers in breeding plumage on almost every decent sized body of water, Great Northern Divers on more coastal locations.
We sat in the van and had great views of a couple of young Otter siblings playing and hunting just off a quayside. They were so close we couldn't open the windows or doors in fear of scaring them off, but we were able to watch them for about 20 minutes.
In Lerwick harbour we had very close-up views of a male and female Long-tailed Duck.
We made a trip to Fetlar where we got a great sighting of a Red-necked Phalarope. This tiny wader is very delicate looking, and it's the males who look after the young as the females go off to find more mates. En route to Fetlar, as the ferry made the first leg of its journey from Yell to Unst, I had the exhilarating sight of a Minke Whale coming up to the surface. Unfortunately this was the only cetacean we saw all week, I had hoped we'd get some dolphins, whales (however, read on for one unexpected sighting) or even porpoises.
We dipped on most of the vagrants that had been recorded there recently, although we did get Chiffchaff, Spotted Flycatcher, nesting Twite, and a fantastic Black-tailed Godwit in breeding plumage, and at Loch of Spiggie the only breeding Whooper Swans in the UK.
On some moorland, I saw Red Grouse with young, a Mountain Hare, and several waders with young chicks including Redshank, Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Oystercatcher. On a couple of occasions a female Merlin flashed across the road in front of us. I also had better views of Whimbrels than I've had anywhere, and Snipe were highly active and drumming regularly.
On a trip full of superlatives, probably the highlight for me was Hermaness National Nature Reserve. Walking along a boardwalk through a colony of nesting Great Skuas, we eventually came to stupendous cliffs at the "edge of the world" facing out into the north Atlantic, with the northern-most point of the UK, Muckle Flugga just off shore, and nothing in the way due directly north until the North Pole!
I got there about five minutes before everyone else and moved towards the edge of the cliffs and as I looked down I saw a Sperm Whale carcass floating, being eaten by seabirds. Much of it's skin was gone and it gleamed white in the bright sunshine, so appeared to have been dead for quite a while. This is the first Sperm Whales I've seen, I'm just sorry it couldn't have been a live one.
A walk to the left took me to even higher cliffs on which nested thousands of seabirds, including Gannets, Puffins, Razorbills, Guillemots, Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Black Guillemots.
If you enjoy seeing wild flowers, I would recommend a visit to Keen of Hamar which is a piece of oceanic crust that got thrust up millions of years ago, and here there are lots of orchids, including Frog and Early Purple; Northern Rock-cress and an endemic plant called Edmonston's chickweed (or more formally Shetland Mouse-ear). At Urafirth in the north-west mainland, I saw Oysterplants.
We got some subspecies too, including the Shetland Wren, Shetland Starling and Shetland Bumblebee. The only other insect of real note was a Cabbage White butterfly.
In total I got 71 species of bird, including 5 lifers.
Here's my full bird list (in alphabetical order) for the week:
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