2 Oct 2008

Shetland 2008. The invasion of the modern Vikings.

The return of the Comberbach Vikings to Shetland:

Our long awaited trip to Shetland finally arrived and Friday morning I collected the lads before heading towards Manchester airport. As usual British Airways did us no favours and changed our flights meaning we had a three hour wait at Aberdeen before we could get on to Shetland. Rather than arriivng at 13.30 we eventually arrived at 16.30. They did the same coming home meaning we lost half a day each side of our trip. Prats. They're losing their franchise between Aberdeen & Sumburgh to Flybe who'll hopefully be a bit more customer orientated.
Our hosts for the trip were Jane & Lee Mott who took over the renamed Orca Country Inn, at Hoswick,two years ago and have transformed the place. Never have we lived in such luxury and the prices were half you'd pay on the Scilly's. The Orca has the added benefit that Lee is a birder!
Hoswick village.
Their website can be viewed here: . Where else could you wake up in the morning and hear Yellow-browed Warblers calling in the trees around the car park

Lee also put seed down in his garden to attract any passing finches or buntings. Nothing spectacular but it did attract some newly arrived Siskins.

Unfortunately most of the birds present the day before we arrived had cleared out overnight! Arriving as late as we did didn't give us much oppurtunity to do much birding before nightfall so we headed straight to Sumburgh Farm & the headland to check for any new arrivals.

After a good night in the bar with copious amounts of ale drunk expectations were high when we awoke the next morning for a quick walk around the local hot spots in Hoswick before a cooked breakfast. With Big Al & Groucho needing Arctic Warbler as 'lifers' they decided to go with Malc & Mike Stokes to the Skerries whilst the rest of us concentrated on trying to find our own stuff. The Skeries team managed to kick out a possible Blyth's Reed Warbler from an Iris bed but couldn't get definitive views. It looked and sounded right and sat up long enough to show it disitinctive 'banana' posture. Mind you so did the local seals:

However, news of a Western Bonelli's Warbler showing well at Lunna had us scurrying that way as Jase needed it as a 'lifer'. As it turned out it was well worth the visit as the bird was extremely showy but hard to photograph as the light was so poor.

With strong westerly winds and heavy rain showers it felt good for a 'Yank' vagrant and sure enough, as predicted by Jase, a Bobolink turned up on Foula. Totally inacessible for us due to the weather conditions. The bird had disappeared by next morning much to our relief. Knowing it was there and we couldn't get to it would have been rough.

Kergord Plantation threw up a typically elusive Barred Warbler whilst later in the trip we aslo found two very showy Common Crossbills at the same site. Everywhere we went we found Yellow-browed Warblers and plenty of commoner migrants such as Pied Flycatchers, Redstart, Lesser Whitethroat, Whinchat and Blackcap.

In full waterproof gear complete with wellies we searched for the elusive rare vagrant. Groucho managed to twist his ankle whilst wearing Pods wellies (they were to big for him) on the Skerries and his foot soon balloned up causing much hilarity and little sympathy - despite Jane being convinced he may have broken it!

Meanwhile the quest continued. Walking in wellies all day isn't easy and the older member of the party soon found the need for a late afternoon nap before the evenings festivities. Stokesey, being ill, retired to bed early for the first couple of days end even when on the road to recovery was always the last to breakfast. In fact bets were had as to which moved the fastest Mike or the invertebrate found on the doorstep one morning.

This Leopard Slug is interesting in that it's carniverous. Maybe it smelt the sausages and bacon. It also has a very curious mating ritual as shown here:
A trip to Sand Ness to search for birds in that area meant the obligatory photo oppurtunity at the most unfortunatley named village in the British Isles. Enough said. Pod can be a right clousta.
A calling Common Rosefinch in a potato field at Spiggie meant the two cars converged on the site to allow Al to tick it for his year listing attempt and Mark & Mike to add it to their life list. I don't know why some people insist on calling them grot finches as they're actually smart little birds. I think this was the fastest Mike moved all trip!

Mammals were few and far between with only Rabbits being common. The occasional squashed Hedgehog was seen on the road and we saw a couple of Otters. Seals were every where and we saw both Common & Atlantic Grey. Malc managed to find a dead Polecat. It smelt pretty rancid and we assumed it must have been following us around given the horrific smells occasionally blasting our nostrils in the car. Rumour that a certain party member had passed it in a bowel movement were proven false when he denied all knowledge of ever eating it!

In fact bowel movements became a regular (no pun) intended feature of our trip and it was pleasing to see the Shetlands Tourist Board had provided up to date information on the position of all conveniences on the Island. I reckon there are more public toilets per head of population on Shetland than anywhere else on the mainland.
Twite are common on Shetland and it was great to see such good numbers of these small finches everywhere we went. Sumburgh head is a good location as they congregate around the lighthouse but we saw small parties all over the Islands.

Our final day was spent in the stunning area of Esha Ness. One of the remotest areas on mainland Shetland. I was given the run around by a bird I'm convinced was an American Golden Plover but I couldn't relocate it. It called several times before I finally saw it briefly in flight. Despite searching all the Golden Plover flocks we could find we never saw it again.

Next stop Greenland.
A great trip. Even though we didn't get the hoped for Lanceolated Warbler or other Siberian vagrant we saw some good birds, enjoyed some good beers and food together and spent 5 days in some fantastic scenery. Mike, Jase, Al & Mark all got lifers whilst Pod, Malc & myself contented ourselves with the 100 species seen in total on the trip!

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