I'm just back from Shetland, where I've spent an extremely productive four and a half days. For the whole week before I arrived it blew light easterlies, so it was no surprise that the islands were carpeted with scarce when I arrived. I'd had a taster in Norfolk the previous weekend, but obviously Shetland is completely different, and Bradders, Howard and I were ready to give it 100%. Sorry, 110%.
There is unfortunately no cheap way to get to Shetland. The short hop to Sumburgh from one of the hub airports is expensive. Hiring a car once there is expensive. Putting your own car on the ferry from Aberdeen is expensive. I think my travel costs were in excess of £400, which is absurd when you think about it. I took a cheap flight on Friday to Aberdeen, and was picked up by the Braddersmobile, which subsequently found itself on the MV Hrossey. On Wednesday I flew back to Aberdeen from Sumburgh, and then on to Heathrow, throwing twenties out of the windows all the way. I could have flown to New York for less. But there is something special about Shetland, and whilst it didn't on this occasion deliver the absolute mega, the birding was amazing for most of my short stay. That's one way to look at it. Another way to look at it is to say that my Rustic Bunting tick cost me about 600 quid when I could have seen one in Kent a couple of years back for about a tenner had I been in the mood. You can choose.
The ferry was uneventful, which is the way I like it, and the following morning we were greeted by clear skies over Lerwick and a light breeze. Ideal really, and we set off to dip the Bluetail found the previous day by The Proclaimers (who knew they were keen birders?) who had come not quite 500 miles to do a spot of autumn rarity-hunting on the islands. Sumburgh Head looked glorious in the sunshine, and we worked our way down to the farm from the lighthouse, picking up Lapland Bunting, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Redstart and Yellow-browed Warbler along the way. A good start.
From here we moved on to Toab via Virkie, where a Barred Warbler was typically elusive and severely outclassed by a showy Red-backed Shrike. I love Shrikes. It may have been at this point we learned about another Shrike in East Yorkshire, but I digress.... We checked a few other sites on South Mainland before twitching an Arctic Warbler at Hoswick, and then had a quick look up the Swinister Burn, which as usual we simply waded up. Final stop of the day was at our favourite site at Channerwick, where the Sycamore of Happiness produced another Red-breasted Flycatcher as well as a Pied, after which we headed for our digs just east of Tingwall at a place called North Hamarsland. This had been picked over the net, and unlike the Decca where we usually stay, had a decent garden and a plantation to savour. This did the business straight away as whilst being shown round the place I glanced out of a window and saw a Barred Warbler about six feet away. Winner. I thought this would win me "best garden bird", but how wrong I was.....
We continued being shown around in minute detail, including an explanation of every switch in the house, and then we came to the toilet. A toilet which looked like a giant potty and had no visible flushing mechanism. And a suspicious tub of sawdust sat next to it. Yes, welcome London people to a self-composting toilet. WTF? We got shown how to use this too. First you sit on it and do a poo. Simple, and usual wiping rules apply. Then you get a big scoop of sawdust from the tub and chuck it down the hole after the toilet paper. Then you extract a handle and turn it anti-clockwise (very important) which rotates the drum and thus inverts the hole. Then you continue turning it until the hole comes back again (again very important, especially for the next user). Then you go and vomit in the sink. What could be easier? I mean FFS. Barred Warbler or no Barred Warbler, it is so unspeakably sordid it make me shudder. I didn't take a photo.