TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT
13 - 20 June 2000
Tuesday 13th June
Winds reaching severe storm force prevented any flights from landing at Sumburgh although Derek and Theo did spend a few minutes circling over the airport before heading back south!
Wednesday 14th June
Sunny periods, wind decreasing from north-west force 7 to 5 during the day.
Having met successfully, if a little late, at Sumburgh we made a direct journey north to Toft, crossed Yell Sound and then headed north to Gutcher. The ferry trip to Unst provided the first views of several auk species and Arctic Terns. We arrived at the Baltasound Hotel at 1730 and after securing our hotel rooms and unpacking headed to the Keen of Hamar National Nature Reserve. At first sight the landscape appeared barren, but a walk around revealed all the floral secrets of this unique serpentine debris habitat, including Edmondston's Chickweed - Unst's own endemic flower.
Thursday 15th June
Occasional showers, cold force 6 north-west wind.
Following a pre-breakfast walk around Baltasound which produced a breeding Redwing - a rare occurrence in Britain - we headed to Uyeasound in the south of Unst. Here among several family parties of Greylag Goose we found a much rarer bird, at least in Unst terms, a Mute Swan!
We arrived at Fetlar just after 1100 and were soon enjoying superb views of our main quarry - Red-necked Phalaropes - which are now all but restricted to Fetlar as a British breeding bird. Red-throated Divers tried very hard to grab the limelight by approaching to within a few yards on the same pool as the phalaropes. Elsewhere we enjoyed displaying Whimbrels and Arctic Skuas and a large gathering of Bonxies bathing on the freshwater pool at Tresta. Saving the best to last we walked along the coast to Urie, where we enjoyed prolonged views of a female otter and her two cubs.
Friday 16th June
Fine and sunny, force 2-3 north-west wind.
An early morning visit to the beautiful sandy bay at Skaw produced a local scarcity - a female Grey Wagtail - and a more typical migrant in the guise of a Willow Warbler.
Luckily the weather had shown a distinct improvement and after breakfast we headed to the most northerly part of the British Isles - Hermaness NNR. On route we managed to locate a very late Great-northern Diver and several Twite. Then we headed to the cliffs and enjoyed an exhilarating 5 mile walk around the Reserve. Dramatic seascapes, 100,000 breeding seabirds, including inquisitive puffins coming almost close enough to touch, a fine school of White-beaked Dolphins involved in a feeding frenzy and spanking Golden Plovers in full breeding dress, all ensured that the experience will live long in the memory of all the participants. Truly awe-inspiring and an experience to exercise all the senses!
We left the Reserve mid-afternoon and enjoyed a series of brief stops. First at the fascinating Unst Boat Haven and later near Uyeasound where we were able to study two superb summer plumaged Black-tailed Godwits. Excitement continued when we set foot back on Mainland Shetland, with a short detour to Voe in order to spy a singing Subalpine Warbler.
Saturday 17th June
South-east force 5-6, increasing 7, with rain becoming persistent by late morning.
The morning was spent checking various lochs and tidal pools in the south Mainland with unseasonal Wigeon and Goldeneye proving to be the highlights. With heavy rain setting in late morning we switched to history and culture for the rest of the day and spent a most enjoyable few hours in the County Museum in Lerwick and the Crofthouse Museum at Boddam. The latter, particularly on a wet and windy day, provided a harsh reminder of just how tough life in Shetland was until the mid 1900's.
The wind had swung around to the south-west by evening and the fog had descended - ideal conditions for Storm Petrels to come ashore - and so the late evening saw us board another sea going vessel, this time the Solan II to Mousa where we were able to enjoy the sights and sounds of the petrels, surely one of our most enigmatic seabirds. At midnight it truly was light enough to read a newspaper, even in the fog(!), although the petrels fluttering around Scotland's best preserved broch were much more interesting. We returned to the Hotel after 0100 for a well deserved rest.
Sunday 18th June.
Wind, south-west force 4 decreasing 3 in the afternoon. Fine with some sunny periods.
The morning saw us take a relaxing but very rewarding drive through the central and east Mainland, checking various freshwater lochs. Tingwall harboured a late pair of Whooper Swans, Strand an equally unseasonal Glaucous Gull and the Loch of Benston a nice selection of ducks including 3 Scaup, a Long-tailed Duck and a Goldeneye. Then at Catfirth we were extremely fortunate to find a first-summer male King Eider just a few tens of metres away on the foreshore. With a morning like that we could have been forgiven for thinking we were actually in Iceland!
The afternoon was spent aboard the vessel Dunter II which battled through some rather rough seas to the seabird cliffs of Noss NNR. A Great Northern Diver was found in a sheltered bay on route but the seabird spectacular really stole the show - the magnificent sight of thousands of seabirds carpeting cliffs that loomed some 600 feet above us. All agreed it was well worth the rather bumpy journey.
Monday 19th June
South-west force 5 wind, decreasing to force 3. Fine and sunny.
Today we took a tour of the north and west Mainland admiring the diversity of the Shetland landscape as well as such beauty spots as North Roe, Eshaness and Sandness. Birds too were in good supply with the highlights being displaying Greenshank and Common Sandpipers as well as a plethora of the commoner wader species, many accompanied by their chicks.
However it was a man-made habitat right beside the Sullom Voe Oil Terminal that provided the highlight for many - stunning views of both Arctic and Common Terns incubating their eggs just feet away from our mobile hide. Members of the party were able to show their new-found mastery at identifying this tricky species-pair in flight!
Finally we stopped at Voe for further views of the Subalpine Warbler and also stumbled across a singing Redpoll.
Tuesday 20th June.
Calm, increasing to force 4 from the south-east.
The final morning of the trip was spent attempting to boost the species list above 80 - a very credible number for mid-June. We were amazed to find a Little Grebe at Spiggie - practically unknown in Shetland in June, along with migrant Turtle Dove, Heron and Blackcap. Sadly at 1130 it was time to check-in for the flight back to Mainland Britain after what had been a varied and enjoyable, if cold, week.
Red-throated Diver: Good numbers seen throughout the islands. Excellent views were obtained including an adult with a chick.
Great Northern Diver: Two individuals in first-summer plumage. One in Burra Firth, Unst and one off the north coast of Bressay.
Little Grebe: One in full summer plumage at Loch of Spiggie provided a real surprise. June records are exceptional.
Fulmar: Everywhere - some 500,000 pairs breed in the islands.
Storm Petrel: Many hundreds were seen and heard coming in to breeding sites in the twilight on Mousa.
Gannet: Two of the four Shetland colonies were visited - Noss and Hermaness - and some super views obtained. Occasional feeding flocks were observed plunge diving offshore.
Cormorant: One on Loch of Spiggie and six off Reawick.
Shag: Seen daily offshore and nesting at seabird colonies
Grey Heron: One at Loch of Hillwell.
Mute Swan: Seen at Easter Loch, Unst and on Mainland at Loch of Benston and at Aith.
Whooper Swan: One or two summering individuals were seen at five different sites on Mainland.
Greylag Goose: Seen regularly on Unst and in the south Mainland, with several broods observed. These breeding birds originated from the Icelandic population.
Shelduck: Seen at Boddam and Virkie, with single broods observed at both sites.
Wigeon: Two males at Scatness and an unseasonal flock of 11 at Loch of Spiggie.
Teal: Unusually scarce with a male at Uyeasound the only observation.
Mallard: Seen throughout the islands, with several broods observed.
Tufted Duck: Seen daily on Mainland with a maximum of 13 at Loch of Tingwall.
Scaup: A male and two females at Loch of Benston provided an unexpected bonus.
Eider: Seen daily with many broods of ducklings observed.
King Eider: Excellent views of a first-summer male at the head of Catfirth.
Long-tailed Duck: An immature male at Loch of Benston will probably prove to be the latest spring record for the year.
Goldeneye: A first-summer male at Loch of Hillwell and a female at Loch of Benston. June records are unusual
Red-breasted Merganser: Seen at Uyeasound, Unst and on Loch of Benston
Moorhen: Singles at Loch of Hillwell and Loch of Spiggie.
Coot: Four adults and a brood of 5 chicks at Loch of Hillwell. The first reported breeding for a number of years
Oystercatcher: Seen in good numbers with chicks of various sizes.
Lapwing: Good numbers recorded and many adults seen with their chicks.
Golden Plover: Excellent views at Hermaness.
Ringed Plover: Seen daily in good numbers, occasionally with chicks.
Black-tailed Godwit: Two late migrants in glorious summer plumage were present at Uyeasound.
Whimbrel: Excellent views on Fetlar and at Quendale on Mainland enabled participants to get to grips with telling this species from the next.
Curlew: Seen daily in good numbers.
Redshank: Good numbers observed daily, occasionally with chicks
Greenshank: One in fine summer plumage at Loch of Stanavatstoe, west Mainland gave excellent views.
Common Sandpiper: Two at Loch of Tingwall, one displaying at Punds Water and another at Loch of Stanavatstoe.
Turnstone: Two small groups seen, 9 at Baltasound and 4 at Boddam.
Red-necked Phalarope: After a short wait, excellent views were obtained of 3 females at Loch of Funzie on Fetlar. In this species the normal sexual roles are reversed with the females possessing the brightest plumage and the males undertaking incubation duties.
Snipe: Seen most days and several views of drumming birds.
Sanderling: A flock of 6 at Grutness and 20 at Pool of Virkie - the latter very large for mid-June. All were in their summer dress looking quite different from the more typically encountered winter-plumaged birds.
Dunlin: Good numbers daily, including many singing.
Great Skua: Seen daily but not too close for comfort.
Arctic Skua: We were frequently treated to the superb aerial dogfights of this spectacular and agile flier.
Common Gull: A few daily with many small breeding colonies encountered.
Great Black-backed Gull: Seen daily.
Glaucous Gull: A second-summer at Strand Loch was most unexpected.
Herring Gull: Seen daily in good numbers.
Lesser Black-backed Gull: Recorded daily in good numbers.
Black-headed Gull: A few daily.
Kittiwake: Recorded at seabird colonies, on ferry crossings, and in good numbers bathing at Scatness.
Common Tern: One or two seen most days including excellent opportunities to study them alongside Arctic Terns at Sullom Voe.
Arctic Tern: Large numbers seen every day.
Guillemot: Common at seabird colonies and on ferry crossings.
Razorbill: The least commonly seen auk but still present in good numbers.
Black Guillemot: Seen regularly close inshore.
Puffin: Good numbers ashore at seabird colonies with stunning views at Hermaness.
Rock Dove: Widespread in small numbers.
Wood Pigeon: Two at Halligarth. An uncommon summer visitor to Shetland.
Turtle Dove: One at Virkie - a scarce migrant in Shetland.
Collared Dove: Two at Voe and two at Tresta.
Skylark: Seen and heard commonly.
Swallow: Small numbers of migrants most days.
House Martin: Fewer than the previous species but seen most days. Like Swallow the bulk, if not all, records will refer to migrant rather than breeding birds.
Pied Wagtail: Two, including a recently fledged juvenile at Pool of Virkie and another at Loch of Spiggie.
Grey Wagtail: A female at Skaw. This may be one of a breeding pair - the first breeding record in the islands for several years.
Meadow Pipit: Seen daily.
Rock Pipit: Recorded in coastal areas.
Wren: One or two recorded most days. Both the appearance and song different to their counterparts on the British Mainland.
Blackbird: Recorded daily - breeds in small numbers.
Redwing: One at Halligarth. Very unusual in June.
Wheatear: Good numbers daily.
Blackcap: A female at Quendale.
Subalpine Warbler: A male at Voe sang frequently but proved more difficult to see. With persistence good views of this national rarity were obtained - a super, unexpected bonus.
Willow Warbler: One at Skaw - like the Blackcap, a late migrant.
Goldcrest: One at Kergord
Rook: Present at Kergord and Tingwall.
Hooded Crow: Widespread.
Raven: Seen most days.
Redpoll: One of the sub-species flammea (Mealy Redpoll) singing at Voe.
Twite: Recorded at several sites.
House Sparrow: Widespread in small numbers.
81 species in all.
Hedgehog: One along the road at Dale of Walls.
Otter: A female with two cubs gave excellent views at Urie on Fetlar.
Common Seal: Seen in reasonable numbers most days.
Grey Seal: Fewer than above but recorded most days.
White-beaked Dolphin: A school of at least 12 off Hermaness, feeding on the same shoal of fish as some plunge-diving Gannets.
Rabbit: Common and widespread.
Large White: At least four seen at Voe.
Red Admiral: One at Tingwall.
Small Tortoiseshell: Singles at Voe, Tingwall and Ronas Voe.