11 - 18 June 2005

Paul Harvey

Saturday 11 June Force 5-6 northerly wind with occasional rain.

After brief introductions at the Sumburgh Hotel we all sat down for a fine three-course meal and to discuss the week’s itinerary. Unfortunately, on just our first day, the weather was to have an impact, with the evening boat trip to Mousa cancelled due to the strong northerly wind and more importantly, persistent northerly swell making any landing on the island unsafe. Any disappointment was soon forgotten with the prospect of a proper nights sleep after a long day travelling, and in the knowledge that the boatman had agreed to try again on Monday evening.

Sunday 12 June
Force 4-5 northerly winds and sunny during the morning, increasing force 6-7 during the afternoon with persistent rain from 1400.

With a pretty awful forecast in prospect we were able to switch our boat trip to Noss from the afternoon to the morning and what a good decision that proved to be. And so at 0930 we left Lerwick and were soon in under the dramatic 600 foot cliffs of this spectacular island with its 100,000 seabirds. It was difficult to know where to look next with rafts of Guillemots, Razorbills and Puffins on the sea, a constant whirl of Gannets up above, and dramatic aerial chases involving Great Skuas on all sides. One Great Skua even had the audacity and aerial skills to seize a digestive biscuit from the Leader’s hand! Eventually we had to prize ourselves away from the cliffs and head back to Lerwick but there was still a further treat in store as we tied up inside the huge Orkneyman’s cave at the south end of Bressay. Soon we were treated to some marvellous views of kelp forests, and the rich diversity of marine animals that they and the cave walls play host to, using the Dunter III’s underwater submarine. Fascinating and very informative.

After our lunch break at Spiggie, which provided great views of Shetland Wrens and a chance to study the finer points of pipit identification, the rain arrived. The rest of the afternoon was spent visiting other south Mainland sites where the minibus could be used as a waterproof hide. This proved successful as we notched up a summer plumage Knot, a very late Bar-tailed Godwit, a Whooper Swan and a fine brood of Shelduck. We also experienced life as it was in a late nineteenth century Shetland croft but soon swapped this for the modern delights of the Sumburgh Hotel.

Monday 13 June
Force 5-6 easterly winds, cloudy with occasional showers soon decreasing force 3-4 and becoming sunny.

Our first stop was Sumburgh Head, where we were able to watch and photograph Puffins as they performed just a few feet away. Two Twite also showed briefly. A quick stop at Grutness allowed us to familiarise ourselves with the differences between Common and Arctic Terns, and provided a nice flock of Sanderlings sporting their fine summer plumage and a surprise in the form of a drake Common Scoter. With the weather improving all the time we walked out to the Iron Age fort at the tip of Scatness and then headed to Quendale for lunch where some visited the refurbished Mill. During the afternoon we visited the lochs of Hillwell and Spiggie, and walked across the beautiful sand tombolo at St Ninian’s before taking a short walk in the heathland at Virdi Field. This proved productive with fine views of two Blue Hares and, better still, a pair of Whimbrel – one of Shetland’s specialities.

The improved weather meant we were able to visit Mousa in the evening where we were treated to the best show of Storm Petrels the leader had ever witnessed. Hundreds of birds came ashore and the broch and boulder beach were alive with singing petrels. Many could be seen coming over the sea revealing their white rumps and underwing bars, so bright was it at midnight!

Tuesday 14 June
Drizzle at first with a force 3-4 south-east wind, brightening up later.

After a leisurely departure from the Hotel we headed north along the Nesting coast where the highlight was several groups of Common Seals hauled out on offshore skerries. A stop at Dales Voe revealed a splendid male King Eider among a flock of 100 or so of its commoner cousins. Then we lunched at Garth’s Voe where most of the group were treated to reasonable views of an Otter feeding some 50 yards offshore. This just down the road from the busy Sullom Voe Oil Terminal! After our first ferry crossing, from Mainland to Yell, we stopped for a coffee, homebakes and a quick look around the exhibitions at the Old Haa at Buravoe. Then it was on to Unst and directly to the Baltasound Hotel. Those that ventured out after tea were treated to a Sparrowhawk roosting in the 100+ year old sycamore plantation at Halligarth.

Wednesday 15 June
Force 4-5 southerly wind and occasional drizzle soon improving with sunny periods.

After a brief spot at Uyeasound where we were treated to fine views of a splendid summer plumaged Black-tailed Godwit of the Icelandic race, it was off to Fetlar for the day. Here our main target was Red-necked Phalarope, now almost restricted to Fetlar as a British breeding species. We weren’t to be disappointed with several males and females present upon our arrival at the Loch of Funzie. There was much clicking of cameras over the next hour or two as the phalaropes continued to perform at ludicrously close distances – some approaching to within just a few feet of their admirers. Red-throated Divers vied for attention they too coming within 20 yards of the assembled party showing off the finer details of their plumage. Eventually we managed to tear ourselves away to look elsewhere on the island. Some enjoyed a fine walk across the golden sands at Tresta and out on to Lambhoga, while others searched Papil Water locating a handful of Swallows and House Martins, and a Swift – a rather uncommon species on Shetland.

Thursday 16 June
Force 3-4 south-westerly winds and cloudy at first becoming fine and sunny later.

To allow time for the low cloud to clear from the high ground we visited the Keen of Hamar National Nature Reserve first. Here we gradually acquainted ourselves with all the special plants of this serpentine debris site, including the endemic Edmondston’s Chickweed at one of its only two British sites, the other lying just across the road! Then it was on to Hermaness where we were treated to the spectacle of 16,000 pairs of Gannets, some very intimidating Great Skuas and a host of other seabirds, including yet more ‘tame’ Puffins. Some two kilometres off the Muckle Flugga (Britain’s most northerly point) a large feeding flock of Gannets were joined by two Killer Whales, although only a couple of the party could locate the animals such was the distance involved.

Friday 17 June
Force 4-5 westerly, overcast at first becoming sunny later.

Following a quick visit to Lund we headed south on the ferry to Yell where the sharp-eyed Brian spotted a Harbour Porpoise that all managed to see. On Yell, we learnt a little about the hardships of the eighteenth century and the haaf fishing, with a quick visit to the Gloup memorial. It was then on to Mainland and after a delightful lunch stop at Nibon, onwards to Gluss. Two of the party still had an appointment with an Otter and after a little effort, we were able to watch a dog Otter down to just 20 yards as it munched a large fish on the rocky foreshore. We then headed south via Kergord just to prove that there really are trees in Shetland that one can walk under! Here Rook and Wood Pigeon were added to the trip list. We finally arrived at Sumburgh at about 1800 hours and said our goodbyes after some excellent company and an excellent weeks wildlife watching.

Species lists

Red-throated Diver: Seen daily with 10 present on Fetlar.
Great Northern Diver: One off of Brough, Fetlar, soon drifted off in the strong tidal current making observation difficult.
Northern Fulmar: Common

Storm Petrel: Over a thousand came shore on Mousa.
Northern Gannet: Seen daily with vast numbers at both Noss and Hermaness
Cormorant: One in Lerwick Sound on 12th and six at Scatness on 13th.
Shag: Common, seen daily.
Mute Swan: Three at Clumlie on 12th, 6 Spiggie on 13th and 2 Uyeasound on 15th.
Whooper Swan: A single seen at Spiggie on 12th & 13th, and 2 Nesting 14th.
Greylag Goose: The breeding population of this species is rapidly increasing in Shetland and up to 100 were seen on several days.
Shelduck: One at Virkie and a pair with a brood of eight ducklings at Boddam.
Eurasian Wigeon: Four at Hillwell on 13th.
Common Teal: One at Spiggie on 12th, and 2 at Uyeasound on 14th & 15th.
Mallard: Seen daily.
Tufted Duck: Ten at Spiggie, 6 at Hillwell and 2 on fetlar.
Common Eider: Seen daily.
King Eider: A second-summer male at Dales Voe on 14th.
Common Scoter: An adult male in Grutness on 13th was a surprise.
Red-breasted Merganser: Seen on three days, max. 6 at Virkie on 12th.
Sparrowhawk: One at Halligarth, Unst, on 14th.
Water Rail: Heard at Ungirsta, Unst and in the mires at Funzie, Fetlar.
Eurasian Coot: One Hilwell.
Oystercatcher: Seen daily.
Lapwing: Seen daily
Golden Plover: Seen daily in the north isles (Yell, Fetlar and Unst)
Ringed Plover: Seen daily
Black-tailed Godwit: One summer plumage individual at Uyeasound on 15th.
Bar-tailed Godwit: One non-breeding adult at Virkie on 12th.
Whimbrel: Two pairs at Virdi Field.
Eurasian Curlew: Seen daily
Common Redshank: Seen daily
Turnstone: Up to 12 seen daily from 12th-15th.
Red-necked Phalarope: At least 10 seen on Fetlar including both males and the brighter females.
Common Snipe: Seen daily.
Red Knot: A fine summer plumage bird at Virkie on 12th.
Sanderling: Several groups seen, all in summer attire. Three at Virkie on 12th, 12 at Grutness on 13th, 5 at Tresta, Fetlar on 15th and 3 at Skaw, Unst, on 16th.
Dunlin: Seen daily, with all birds in summer dress.
Great Skua: Seen daily.
Arctic Skua: Seen daily but in far fewer numbers than the previous species.
Common Gull: Seen daily
Herring Gull: Seen daily.
Lesser Black-backed Gull: Seen daily in small numbers.
Great Black-backed Gull: Seen daily.
Black-headed Gull: Seen daily in small numbers.
Kittiwake: Seen daily in small numbers
Common Tern: Four at Grutness on 13th and a few on the way north next day.
Arctic Tern: Seen daily in good numbers.
Guillemot: Seen daily and in large numbers at seabird colonies.
Razorbill: Seen daily.
Black Guillemot: Seen daily in small numbers
Puffin: Entertained us on a daily basis.
Rock Dove: Seen almost daily
Wood Pigeon: Four at Halligarth, Unst, on 14th, one at Kergord on 17th.
Collared Dove: Two at Halligarth, Unst, on 14th.
Common Swift: One at Papil Water, Fetlar, on 15th.
Skylark: Seen daily.
Swallow: Up to 6 seen on four days.
House Martin: Three at Papil Water, Fetlar, on 15th and one at Hermaness next day.
Pied Wagtail: Pairs at Quendale and at Skaw, Unst. All were of the race M. a. yarrelli.
Meadow Pipit: Seen daily.
Rock Pipit: Seen most days.
Wren: Three at Spiggie on 12th, one of which showed particularly well as it sang above our heads, and occasional birds thereafter.
Blackbird: Seen daily in small numbers.
Northern Wheatear: Seen daily in reasonable numbers.
Rook: At least 10 at Kergord on 17th.
Hooded Crow: Seen daily in small numbers.
Raven: Seen daily including some fine close views.
Starling: Seen daily in large numbers.
Twite: Two at Sumburgh Head and a pair at Scatness on 13th, 2 on Fetlar on 15th and 10 at Unst on 16th.
House Sparrow: Seen daily in small numbers.

Hedgehog: One seen at Halligarth, Unst, on the evening of 14th.
Ferret: One seen on 13th.
European Otter: One at Garth’s Voe on 14th and one seen down to 20 yards at Gluss on 17th.
Common Seal: Seen almost daily in small numbers.
Grey Seal: Seen most days in small numbers.
Killer Whale: Two among a feeding frenzy off the Muckle Flugga, Unst, on 16th June.
Harbour Porpoise: One as we crossed Yell Sound on 17th.
Blue Hare: Two seen well at Virda Field on 13th.
Rabbit: Far too numerous.

Large White:
Four seen around the south Mainland on 13th and one next day.

Shetland Bumblebee
Edible Sea Urchin
Dahlia Anenome
Beadlet Anenome
Aurelia auritus

FLOWERS (in order of appearance)
Meadow Vetchling
Birds-foot Trefoil
Kidney Vetch
Red Campion
Sea Campion
Spring Squill
Marsh Marigold
Yellow Flag
Cuckoo Flower (Lady’s Smock)
Heath Spotted Orchid
Bog Cotton
Northern Marsh Orchid
Cow Parsley
Sea Sandwort
Stone Bramble
Scurvy Grass
Edmondston’s Chickweed (Shetland Mouse-ear)
Common Mouse-ear
Frog Orchid
Early Marsh Orchid
Early Purple Orchid
Norwegian Sandwort
Mountain Everlasting
Moss Campion
Heath Milkwort
Common Milkwort
Common Violet
Heath Violet
Hoary Whitlow Grass
Alpine Meadow Rue
Lesser Clubmoss
Round-leaved Sundew

© The Travelling Naturalist 2005