Thursday 14 October 2021

Shetland 2021 - Day 2

Sunday dawned not quite as miserably as had been predicted, very windy but less wet than expected, and the earlyish news that the Semipalmated Sandpiper was back on Virkie was all we needed to get out of the house. It was horribly windy as the chart above shows, but by hunkering down you could still get good enough scope views of this diminutive American wader, instructively feeding with a Little Stint close by which I confused it with more than once. 

Wheatear Grutness

Shore Lark, Grutness

Wondering if the quarries at Sumburgh might have a little shelter we headed the short distance south. They did not, in fact the first one was so wind-blasted and empty that I did not bother checking the higher one, but on Grutness Pier we lucked out with two Shore Lark that we put up whilst trying to locate a Jack Snipe in a rocky field. Howard was expecting Laplands, Bradders Snow Bunts, or maybe the other way around, but we were all very surprised when on getting our bins up after they had landed they were something completely different. And rather better in a Shetland context as well. A mini-twitch ensued, complete with an enraged local - something about not having permission to be in a rocky field. Not that I was in it when he appeared, I was some way up the road by then and politely bade the man good morning as he strode past me, but I didn't think it worked like that in Scotland. Whilst this wasn't a theme for the week in any way, there is definitely a small cadre of people who simply don't like the autumn descent of birders onto the islands. We heard stories of people complaining to local councillors about birders looking (from the road) at a Barred Warbler in a garden hedge, we ourselves were moaned at once for parking the car 100% reasonably on a public road, and we heard about all sorts of other mostly parking and access-related issues. Given we don't live there and don't have to suffer any of the ongoing consequences, it is of course always best to just retreat and go birding somewhere else if there is even a hint of a problem. This is also the advice of the local birders, who do their best to mediate in charged circumstances - whether you feel aggrieved or self-righteous or whatever, just move on - there are plenty of places to go birding and the tricky residents are in a minority.

It is the majority that define the islands, and that was what we experienced almost all of the time. Someone who lived close by to the Barred Warbler hedge explicitly invited birders into their garden the following day, despite there being no birds of note in it, as they didn't want to be associated with the unfriendly attitude just down the road. And we had loads of nice chats with home-owners, passers-by, shop-keepers, crofters and others. We were once even invited in for coffee by an old duffer on Yell who used to live in Essex!

With the weather deteriorating we went back to our digs in Hoswick for a while to sit it out for a bit and craft a plan for the afternoon. That involved heading up to Wester Quarff where the weather was a bit clearer. There were a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers here and various other bits and pieces, but we hadn't really finished birding it when we got news of a Bonelli's Warbler sp at Easter Quarff, only a mile or so away. Fervently hoping it went "chip" and not "hweef" we were soon on site in what was a pretty big twitch - my first trip to Shetland hadn't been like this at all, but the islands are now incredibly popular, this year even more so given the dearth of foreign birding opportunities.

"No, I am not going to call"


The bird steadfastly refused to utter a sound while we were there, although we did hear some encouraging news about it ignoring Western Bonelli's Warbler calls and going bonkers at Eastern calls. Naturally it got nailed as Western the next day.....

Big twitches not being what we were on Shetland for we departed for pastures new. Pastures quieter. Nearby, close enough that we could still see the line of twitchers, we found an Otter, and then resumed birding at Wester Quarff where we found nothing at all. Our luck did however come good a Okraquoy a short time later when Bradders bumped into an Olive-backed Pipit on a stone wall. One of those great moments where the four of us split up to quickly cover some habitat, and then the radio crackles into life that the Birding Gods have delivered a small streaked gift. The rest of us converged on the spot - I had been on the other side of said wall and obscured by a hedge - and got great views of this supposed skulker as it hopped along the stones. With news out another twitch developed, our cue to retreat to Hoswick for a pre-planned Sunday roast. Given the forecast we had assumed we would not be birding at all and so Plan A had been to sit indoors and gorge ourselves. As it was we had had an amazing day - see below for the cumulative list after two days -  but dinner would now be rather late!


  1. That crowd is frightening, I begin to understand the local attitudes (although I dare say it doesn't stop them taking visitor's money!)

    1. The locals' attitude is 99% friendly. This isn't Cornwall! However there are a lot of birders up there at this time of year now - whilst we saw plenty of people we had seen before there were also lots of people on for the first time, the word has definitely continued to spread.