Sunday 25 September 2011

Arrival on Shetland

Lerwick from Bressay Sound

Well, Simon King was right, there is no better way to arrive on Shetland than by boat. Sailing up Bressay Sound in the early morning light was simply fantastic, especially as I had managed to sleep for a full seven hours. Four beers and a large plate of fish and chips probably contributed to my comatose state, but nonetheless I was surprised at how much sleep I got in only a reclining chair with my fleece over my head. A quick breakfast, a cup of tea, and I got myself up on deck for pretty much first light. By this time we were well past Sumburgh Head, only about forty-five minutes out, and in the lee of the mainland, were on a flat-calm sea. It was extremely pleasant, there is something special about a sunrise from the water.

Right on cue, Bradders was there to meet me at the terminal, and after a quick unpacking of gear, the team of the two of us, Howard, and Bradders Snr, were off and out birding. First stop the tiny hamlet of Brake on South Mainland, where we felt we stood a good chance of seeing possibly the only remaining Pallid Harrier on Shetland. After a few Whinchat and my first Yellow-browed Warbler, the Harrier duly appeared in the valley and sat on a post showing off. Then it was up and away, appearing to hunt low along a burn, and we never saw it again.   

Next stop Quendale for that superb Shetland past-time, iris-bashing. For those of you that don't know, some of the boggier bits of Shetland are carpeted in vast iris beds, typically along small streams. The sueda of the north, it is the stuff of nightmares. Unfortunately, birds love hiding in it, and the only way to find them is to go in after them. The procedure is as follows: Enter iris bed, fall over. Get up, progress a few feet, fall over again. Get up, sink knee deep in particularly boggy bit, fall over again, swear. Repeat. A lot. Occasionally find a bird, which nine times out of ten will flip in a non-identifiable manner fifty metres back into the irises you just walked through. For our troubles, we found a Bluethroat and another Yellow-browed Warbler, so a fairly good return, though as I sit typing this my ankes really do hurt. Wanstead Flats this is not.

A very large iris bed. Let me at it!!

We birded a few more sites nearby, including the famous Channerwick, but largely drew a blank and so caved in and twitched a fantastic adult Lesser Grey Shrike to the north of Lerwick. I can't tell you how far it was as I fell asleep as soon as we set off, and only woke up when we got there. I like to contribute. Anyway, always go and see Shrikes, you will never - ever - be disappointed.


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