17 Oct 2021

Fetlar 2021

This year was our 2nd annual trip to Fetlar. We couldn't go last year due to Scottish Covid restrictions but  this year we were able to get across and spend just over a week searching for scarce birds from our base in Houbie. The weather was pretty dire at times with gale force westerlies and driving rain. The birding was hard but when the weather was fine the scenery was adequate compensation! 

Leaving the house at 03.30 on a Saturday morning I picked up Jason on the way before heading to Glasgow Airport for the flight to Sumburgh. The flight was on time and we had no issues picking up the hire car and headed straight to Tesco's in Lerwick for a big shop. Meeting Chris in the car park we piled him and his bags into the car before heading north for the ferries from mainland to Yell and then from Yell across to Unst and finally Fetlar. By the time we arrived at our accommodation it was almost dark so there wasn't much time to do anything apart from admire the view and put some bird seed out on the drive! 

The Lodge, Houbie. Our accommodation for the week.

It soon became apparent there were very few common migrants around. Its the first year since I've been coming to Shetland (2007) that we failed to find a Yellow-browed Warbler or even a Goldcrest. We were basically seeing single figures of birds we'd expect to see in other years. Early in the trip the best bird we found was a Spotted Flycatcher that spent the duration of our stay fly catching around the pig pen near the shop. At least the pig was happy enough to see us and get a daily scratch behind its ears! 

Spotted Flycatcher coughing up a pellet

We got into a routine of walking Feal Burn before breakfast before heading up to Everland and working our way back to Funzie, checking all suitable habitat on the way, and then walking Feal Burn again before lunch. With birds were moving through out the day it was necessary to check prime habitat several times to ensure we hadn't missed anything! A case in point came a few days into our trip when, after waling Feal Burn twice already our third and final trip just before dusk, was rewarded with a Bluethroat that suddenly appeared! We never saw it again! 

Typically we'd spend the afternoons working around Tresta, The Glebe and Velzie before returning back to the accommodation before a final walk of the burn. Unfortunately the rarest bird we found was actually a common bird for us, but a major rarity on Fetlar, with local birders needing it for their Fetlar list! A Shelduck! Whilst at Funzie looking for cetaceans and admiring the 450 million year old geology, in the form of a conglomerate, a bird picked up flying in off the sea turned out to be a Shelduck that Chris managed a couple of records shots of as it flew over our heads.

Not quite the rarity we were hoping for! 

News of Orca passing round Unst on day had us scurrying the ferry terminla in the hope they'd come through the Bluemull sound in horrendous weather conditions. No Orca but we did see an Otter that, form the number of smashed shells on the breakwater, was feeding on Sea Urchins.The weather was so windy the only place I could hold the binoculars steady was by lying in the boot of the car.

One evening we also watched an Otter from our front window as it hunted for crabs in the bay below our house.

Many of the Greylag Geese seen on Shetland are Icelandic migrants and its always worth checking through the flocks for something rarer. Several Bean Geese had already been reported on other Islands and we found three Pinkfooted Geese among a flock of Greylags.

Its a hard slog walking fields and ditches in wellingtons and wet weather gear and by the time we got home in the evenings we were ready for Jasons superb cooking - Chilli, Dahl & a hearty stew were all sampled and heartily approved of whilst the occasional wee dram didn't go amiss either! 
One of the undoubted highlights of the week was the night the aurora showed over Shetland. We drove up to the the old airfield to enjoy this spectacle and spent several hours on a bitterly cold night watching the  lights dancing in the sky.

Greylag Geese coming in off the sea at Everland

Male Siskin, Feal Burn

Brambling, Velzie

Curious Highland Cow - Funzi

Working the fields and dry stone walls around Houbie

Looking back fro mthe plantation at the top of Feal Burn to Houbie

Dramatic sky's over Houbie
Rainbow over Loch Funzie

Ultimately its all about getting outside and searching for birds. Even when the waether was bad we were out as soon as there was a small window of opportunity. On our last full day before travelling home we proved this point in style. We'd booked a late morning ferry to Unst to go and see a few good birds that had turned up there but still gave ourselves time for our morning walk along Feal Burn and Houbie. Whilst checking the garden of the health centre a small passerine popped up before promptly disappearing. We'd seen Blackcaps and a Garden Warbler in this garden but this looked different. Quietly walking each side of the wall and hedge the bird suddenly showed itself in front of Chris. A first winter Common Rosefinch. Not the most exciting of scarcities but still a good find! It was eating rose hips before flying to the road to pick up grit to aid its digestion.

Our quick trip to Unst took us up to Norwick where we met up with resident birder Dave Cooper whilst watching two superb Hornemann's Arctic Redpolls. Stunning little finches and I never get tired of seeing them .The best place to see them in the autumn is Shetland and they're almost annual in single figure numbers. I've only ever seen one away from Shetland.

Strong winds again hampered photography and the wind also made the birds very flighty and jittery. The nearby beach at Norwick had been hosting some very photogenic Long-tailed Ducks that, with a little patience, allowed really close views as they came to the edge of the surf to feed. 

A quicktour around Unst added a few more birds to our trip list with Easter Loch being especially productive with Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Whooper Swans and a single Pochard.

Before returning to Fetlar we had time for a quick drive up to a loch near the ferry terminal on Yell for a male Ring-necked Duck that showed distantly along with a couple of Tufted Ducks.

The return trip home started early with a 6am alarm call as we had to be packed and out the house t oget the 07.50 ferry to Unst and then Yell before driving to Lerwicjk to drop Chris off at the ferry terminal. Jase and I had enough time to call in to the Orca Inn at Hoswick to see a Red-breasted Flycatcher before heading to the airport. A great trip with good company . We didn't find anything majorly rare this year but found and a couple of scarcities which we'd be extremely fortunate to see home in Cheshire. We're already planning next years trip and have booked the Lodge for the same dates.