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Shetland 2015: Autumn Birding Review – In association with Birdwatch Magazine

Posted by Brydon Thomason on Monday 16th November 2015 | Birding in Shetland, News

As Shetland becomes ever more popular in autumn, high expectations hang over the magical Northern Isles for what the winds may bring. So well placed is the archipelago that even without favourable wind and weather the isles will usually still manage to deliver. This year’s prime-time weeks in late September and early October were a classic example of this.

These migrant birding holidays always begin with optimism and anticipation and indeed with the Quendale Thick-Billed Warbler (successfully twitched with a guest from a previous tour) and then finding a nice Blyth’s Reed Warbler the day before the trips began, leader Chris Rodger knew anything was possible, despite a not-so-promising long-term forecast.

In a systematic ‘trip-list style summary’ he rounds up the highlights.


  • National rarities: Swainson’s Thrush, Pechora Pipit, Pallid Harrier and Arctic Warbler.
  • Regional rarities: Blyth’s Reed Warbler, American Golden Plover.
  • Scarcities: Red-breasted Flycatcher, Red-backed and Great Grey Shrikes, Little Bunting, Common Rosefinch and Bluethroat.
  • Self-found by the group: Richard’s Pipit, Bluethroat and numerous Yellow-browed Warblers.


The evocative sight and sound of Whooper Swans arriving from Iceland was a regular feature, along with migratory movement of many Pink-footed and Barnacle Geese overhead on their journey south. On the sea, Long-tailed Duck numbers seemed to swell by the day, with Velvet Scoter and Slavonian Grebe also enjoyed. In addition to the many Red-throated Divers, some Great Northern Divers still retained stunning summer plumage. A fine drake Greater Scaup was seen at Loch of Norby.

Raptors (and owls)

Undoubtedly the star bird of prey was the juvenile Pallid Harrier, seen coming to roost at Northdale, Unst. Hen Harrier, Peregrine and Short-eared Owl were less frequent than the many migrant Kestrels, Sparrowhawks and Merlins, which were particularly numerous this autumn.

Waders to doves

As is true to form on previous Shetland autumn birding trips, Nearctic waders were sure to feature and this year came in the form of a  ‘classic’ juvenile American Golden Plover, which really stood out  among the European ‘Goldies’ at Sandwick. Many Jack Snipe were seen – mostly rising from marshes and often almost from underfoot, but some particularly obliging birds at Lambaness froze to the spot to show at close range their beautiful cryptic plumage. A smattering of migrant waders included Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, Knot, a late Eurasian Whimbrel and the always ubiquitous and subtly different ‘Icelandic’ (faeroeensis) Snipe. White-winged gulls were incredibly scarce this year on Shetland, though Arctic Terns and one Common Tern lingered for the group to see. An adult European Turtle Dove at Haroldswick was well scrutinised to eliminate meena Oriental Turtle Dove.

Pipits to thrushes

A self-found Richard’s Pipit at Lambaness was a highlight for the group, schreeping for Scotland as it bounded across Lambaness and a good example of quality scarce migrants that feature as team self-finds to add that extra gratification. This was the first of several seen. A ‘tiger-striped’ Pechora Pipit, twitched at Norby, eventually yielded to give excellent views as it crept through the irises. A combination of its genuine rarity value, Shetland speciality status and confiding nature ensured this was a firm favourite of the week. Braving gale force wind and rain on Unst, a female Yellow Wagtail was found by the group as was a Bluethroat, discovered hunkered down in a ditch at Burrafirth – if ever proving that ‘you have to be in it to win it’, no matter what the weather! Another fine Bluethroat was enjoyed feeding at close quarters at Quendale.

Undoubtedly a highlight came in the form of a Swainson’s Thrush on Unst – a superb end to the first full day of the trip. After a mad dash from literally the opposite end of Shetland, the group had to endure perhaps the most suspenseful wait in fading light for the bird to hop out from under some fishery crates in the yard of a shop! Hop out it did, revealing the lovely buff face and eyering and subtle underparts spotting, and it even gave a close fly-by to show off its underwing stripe. This was a tick for all bar one of the group, who also saw one with our Shetland Nature autumn birding group on Unst last year!

Warblers and crests

Perhaps the group that forms the major attraction for rarity-hunters on Shetland, warblers – a common and rare alike – were relatively thin on the ground this autumn. Despite this, the group did see a Blyth’s Reed Warbler (which had been found by Chris the day before the trip started) and several Barred Warblers. An Arctic Warbler was a rarer highlight; the group missed this bird on Unst, when it disappeared on the day it lost its tail. However, we caught up with what must surely have been the same bird several days later when a tail-less Arctic Warbler was found in central Mainland. To be fair, Yellow-browed Warblers didn’t disappoint this autumn – amazingly by far the most frequent warbler, but very much still a joy to see. As ever, the Shetland autumn trip allowed the comparison of side-by-side Common and Siberian Chiffchaffs. A personal favourite were the mornings when Shetland is seemingly awash with tiny Goldcrests – mass landfall of these wee 5-gram waifs signal ‘birds in!’.

Flycatchers to buntings

Both groups enjoyed three species of flycatcher, including some very confiding, and always photogenic, Red-breasted Flycatchers. Both Red-backed and Great Grey Shrikes were seen on Unst. Of the finches, Bramblings added colour while redpolls, although surprisingly scarce in the islands this autumn, encouraged ID discussion. A most impressive sight was a flock of 200 very confiding Snow Buntings, swirling all around us like an avian snowstorm on the wild windswept headland of Lambaness. A scarcity that we can usually look forward to throughout the Shetland is Common Rosefinch, which this year was hard won but eventually added to the trip list, unlike a Lapland Bunting which fed virtually at our feet. Of the scarcer buntings, a nice bright Little Bunting on Fetlar was timed well, found by fellow SN team members Micky and Brydon on the same day we were all on the isle. Perhaps a commoner example of the many Shetland scarcities to end on, but it does leave tantalising thoughts for what the review might start with for next year’s Shetland Autumn Birding trips!

Chris Rodger

Shetlands otters featuring on ‘Grand Tour of The Scottish Islands’

Posted by Brydon Thomason on Tuesday 13th October 2015 | News, Otters, TV Appearances

There is literally not a year that passes that The Shetland Islands are not featured on television networks throughout the United Kingdom and beyond. Regularly featuring on many of these and helping to promote how special Shetland is is something we are always very proud of indeed.

Having already worked with the BBC Springwatch crew earlier this year we were delighted to be approached by BBC Scotland to work with the Grand Tour of The Scottish Islands film crew to feature otters on their program. Overall the show was really good and showed an interesting diversity of life on the isles, made more so especially by Cheryl Jamieson of Glansing Glass, Andrew Magnie Thomson, Rhoda Hughson and Les and Joanne on Fetlar.

To watch the program on BBC  iPlayer you can view here or you can see the short piece posted by BBC Scotland of us with the otters here.

Grand Tour of Scotish Islands crew

The crew were really fantastic to work with; presenter Paul Murton, producer Kathryn Ross, cameraman Richard Cook and sound man Richard Paterson. As well as being really on the ball they were also great fun which helped phase the on-camera tension I always get when being filmed! On the day I was joined by Josh Jaggard which was a real bonus, having his sharp eyes helped to keep track of the family whilst we were filming, which relieved at least some of the pressure and help us get the footage we did.

We were thrilled to spend the several hours with a mother and her two cubs, throughout which enjoyed some really lovely behaviour from affectionate family group huddles to action packed foraging and feeding sessions.

With the weather in our favour, the otters performing and a thoroughly successful shoot, we couldn’t have asked for more.  Read more about the otter tours we do here.

More from the BBC’s popular ‘Grand Tour of The Scottish Islands’ here.

Paul and Brydon

Shetland Nature at Rutland Birdfair

Posted by Brydon Thomason on Thursday 20th August 2015 | News

Just a brief note to say that we are looking forward to attending and exhibiting at the British Birdwatching Fair, 21st – 23rd August, and that we very much looking forward to seeing friends, associates and anyone keen to know more about Shetland.

We are on stand 14 in marquee 3. Please do call by if you are there.

In the spirit of supporting the fair and fund raising for conservation causes we have donated a self catered stay in our Shetland Nature Lodge, which they are putting forward to the auction.

Also we will be updating blogs etc on our return next week with round ups on what we are delighted has been our busiest season so far.

2015 Season’s Summary So Far

Posted by Brydon Thomason on Friday 19th June 2015 | News

Well what a start to our 2015 core holiday season it has been, barely half way through and it has already been truly remarkable.

We have holidays running each week from late May through to mid August and each one has been full, which is something we are really thankful for and indeed excited by. In fact the only holidays left with spaces on, both outside the ‘core season’ and they too are limited, is one of two Late Summer Experience (an additional August date due to first one selling out) and Shetland Autumn Birding. It’s actually been a busy year all round with one or two bespoke itineraries, particularly Otter Photography through winter into to spring, as well as day tours too. Each week we have day tours running too, along with holidays this can often see us with as many as five guides out in any one week- a huge thank you to each and every one, as we always say, we couldn’t run to the scale we do without the help and collaboration we are so lucky to have.

So, what have we/our guests been seeing? What haven’t we been seeing is maybe a better question to ask! With Killer Whale’s, Risso’s Dolphin, Harbour Porpoise and Minke Whale all having already been seen on trips, cetaceans have already been very well represented. On the birding front it has already been remarkable with rare and exotic spring visitors, scarce migrants, iconic breeding species and superb spectacles. The rare and exotic; Rustic Bunting, Subalpine Warbler, Golden Oriole, Hoopoe, Greenish Warbler (actually found by group), Great Reed Warbler, Bee-eater, both the Unst ‘small race’ Canada Geese not to mention multiple Icterine Warbler, Red-backed Shrike and Marsh Warbler. On one day alone one of our groups found two Icterine Warbler’s and four Red-backed Shrike! Where else but in Shetland!

And the otters, oh the otters! True to form we deliver a truly unique educational encounters with Shetlands otters. Over the range of experiences for guests we run, from one-to-one specialist photo assignments, day tours and bespoke Otter watching holidays and on all of these so we/the otters have certainly not disappointed. These images from Otter photography guests so far this season showcases the kind of encounters we deliver to our guests. We are also launching a new holiday dedicated to Otter’s in 2016 The Shetland Otter Watching Experience.

2016 holiday dates and departures

Shetland Nature Experience GuestsWith so many superb highlights already logged for guests this season and Shetland featuring on screen on BBC Springwatch its worth pointing out that our 2016 dates were uploaded to our website recently and are already starting to fill.

Other news

Visit our blog for our latest news posts and what we have been up to. In particular we have enjoyed working with and being involved with two film crews. It was particularly exciting working with BBC Springwatch helping out in the field with local knowledge and also having our hides used for filming. Also we were delighted to work on another program, due to air later this year with BBC Scotland’s Grand Tour of The Scottish Islands who we worked on otters with and got some superb encounters with one of the families we are working on, more on that nearer the time…

So if you are due to travel with us, we very much look forward to welcoming you and making your visit as exciting and memorable as everyone’s so far has been- and if you are one of those guests, we thank you again for your company and custom!

Bonxie club site bathing hide

Posted by Brydon Thomason on Wednesday 10th June 2015 | Brydon's Shetland Nature Blog, News

Following on from the success and popularity with photographers in working from my one-man Bonxie bathing hide last year I set up a new larger hide at a much better location. Thanks to Josh Jaggard and the use of a quad and trailer from Duncan, it was not as back breaking a project as it would have been on my own.

The behavioural action at these loch-shore club sites offers some superb opportunities to photograph these superb skuas. Often there can be as many as 50, 60 or even more birds at any one time and often down to 5 to 10m from the hide. It is of course especially good for bathing birds but also there is frequent squabbles break out so plenty of action.

We were really pleased to have BBC Springwatch use both this and the Arctic Skua bathing hides whilst they were filming on Shetland. Wildlife cameraman Raymond Besant was particularly pleased with the footage he shot from it;

We were able to get fantastic footage with the help of Brydon Thomason and Josh Jaggard from Shetland Nature who showed us their best locations. The purpose built hide where Bonxies gather at bathing club site was especially great. I was barely in the hide when they started landing in front of me, just 5 meters away! I’m used to working in small cramped cold hides, so to sit in a chair in a warm dry comfortable hide was a real pleasure. Even more so as a group of 50 Bonxies displayed, washed and fought with each other allowing me all the shots I needed.Raymond
Wildlife cameraman
BBC Springwatch presenter

There is arguably nowhere better to photograph a portfolio of these awesome skuas than Unst. The island is home to the third largest colony in the world, set in some of the wildest and most breathtaking backdrops. Hermaness especially offers outstanding opportunities for photographers. Just on the outskirts of the colony on the National Nature Reserve is situated one of Britains most important and impressive seabird cliffs and colonies which provide the Bonxies with the larder they so desperately need for their own circle of life, to feed themselves and their chicks.

Here is an image gallery/profile of this brutal but very beautiful bird, the Bonxie:

Please contact us for tailored photo assignments and tours.

BBC Springwatch on Shetland

Posted by Brydon Thomason on Tuesday 9th June 2015 | News

What a treat for the nation to see BBC Springwatch back in Shetland. I’m sure I speak for all here in the Isles and also fans of the show both old and new, when I say what a great job they have done to showcase some of our very best wildlife spectacles. Of course this must also be said for their journey throughout this whole current series and what they brought to our screens from Caithness and Orkney especially. Huge praise to the crew and all involved in the show throughout, especially Malcie Smith and John Campbell here on Shetland.

Hi Brydon, Thanks very much for such an enjoyable time on Unst. The wildlife and people are memorable and really made my time up there special. You know you’ve had a good day when icterine warbler, great reed warbler, red-backed shrike, otter and frog orchids are finished off with a pint of real ale from the Valhalla brewery! All the bestIolo
BBC Springwatch presenter

It was a real pleasure to meet the crew and help out with some ground work, local knowledge and to have some of our purpose built hides used. It was especially good for our newest team member, Josh Jaggard (working with us this summer), who worked as an assistant to wildlife cameraman Raymond Besant for a few days on Unst while he worked on Bonxie’s, aka Great Skua.

We wanted to film the fantastic Bonxies on Unst, the third largest colony of the species in the world, whilst filming for Springwatch. They are brilliant to film, said to be the apex predator amongst the islands birds, displaying lots of different behaviour. But doing it well means getting close to them and shooting at a range of different locations.
We were able to get fantastic footage with the help of Brydon Thomason and Josh Jaggard from Shetland Nature who showed us their best locations. The purpose built hide where Bonxies gather at bathing club site was especially great. I was barely in the hide when they started landing in front of me, just 5 meters away! I’m used to working in small cramped cold hides, so to sit in a chair in a warm dry comfortable hide was a real pleasure. Even more so as a group of 50 Bonxies displayed, washed and fought with each other allowing me all the shots I needed.Raymond
Wildlife cameraman
BBC Springwatch presenter

A great time had by all; a picture of the crew, myself and Josh as well as the staff at the Baltasound Hotel all together celebrating their time on the isles and the last night of them being together on Unst.

2014 Otter Photography Guest Gallery

Posted by Brydon Thomason on Monday 8th June 2015 | Otters

A selection of some of my favourite images from guests on Otter Photography assignment with me in 2014. As per previous years, I lead itineraries for photographers from all over the world including America, Canada, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Norway to name but a few.

More details about Otter Photography with Brydon Thomason  – already taking bookings for 2016.

Shetland Autumn Birding 2014

Posted by Brydon Thomason on Wednesday 7th January 2015 | Birding in Shetland

Reviews from our 2014 autumn itineraries by leader, Chris Rodger

Some superb and very exciting birding for all our guests on the Shetland Autumn Birding itineraries which sold out all spaces, highlighting just how special, popular and widely known Shetland in autumn is now known to be. It’s fantastic to see that each year these itineraries become more popular and each year – the birds continue to deliver through the megas that turn up.

Over this period there were some superb quality headliners such as Swainson’s and Whites Thrush, Siberian Rubythroat and Yellow-rumpeded Warbler along with a fantastic supporting cast of rare, scarce and common migrants. As well as these and as we hope and aim for in these itineraries there was also some exiting team effort discoveries along the way such as Olive-backed Pipit, Pectoral Sandpiper and not to mention the Firecrest- which in a local context was a mega- a first for Unst! Great birds, great guests and great fun- here’s a review from Chris Rodger….

Guest Quote

Hi Brydon – just a quick email to say a massive thank you for an awesome birding holiday. I thoroughly enjoyed working lots of habitat trying to and finding our own birds. Chris was a fantastic guide and as you know put us onto all the ‘long stayers’ . His knowledge and field skills were superb and he constantly worked to keep everyone happy – no easy task at any time but especially more difficult as we had a broad range of birders with wide ranging knowledge and skills. I certainly hope to return for more of the same… I’ll be trying to plan next year’s work in order to get back up with Shetland nature.Andy Williams

An amazing day….the Whites Thrush alone was worth the cost of the entire trip and then there was the Yellow-rumped Warbler! Two mega rarities within an hour! What more could a birder want?!Andrew Riley

Week One 26 September – 3 October 2014 – in association with Birdwatch magazine

Day One

The first morning’s birding on South Mainland provided opportunity to introduce the group to the ‘art’ of team birding on Shetland. The tactics adopted when checking suitable crops, iris beds, nettles, thistles, ditches and gardens were practised and a wide variety of ‘pishes and clicks’ were experimented with. Several skulking common migrants were manoeuvred into revealing themselves and it was clear that the team were ready to throw themselves into a week of migrant birding on Shetland!

A highlight of the day was a Hornemann’s arctic redpoll at Veensgarth. Although not a classic ‘snowball’, the bird displayed the key arctic redpoll i.d. features well for the group. It was accompanied by 3 indeterminate ‘mealy-type’ redpolls, allowing the group to enjoy the inevitable discussion on the intricacies’ of redpoll identification. Nearby, red-breasted and pied flycatcher were also seen. A couple of stops on the journey through to Unst provided another each of red-breasted and pied flycatcher, barred warbler and brambling.

Day Two

Following breakfast, a barred warbler put on a fine display, hopping along the Hotel wall as the group boarded the minibus. A grand start to the day, but little did we know that things would only get better, as today we were to experience the best Autumn birding Shetland can offer. The morning in Baltasound produced two quality birds, with excellent views of a smart male Eastern subalpine warbler followed by a long-staying but often elusive rustic bunting at Halligarth, which Brydon ensured was tracked down for the group to see at close quarters. Moving northwards through the island, a stop at Haroldswick allowed the group to enjoy a Temminck’s stint, before settling down to a peaceful lunch whilst watching a wryneck feeding on the seaweed-strewn beach at Norwick. However, this tranquil scene was quickly shattered with news that a Swainson’s thrush had been found just 500m away! Sandwiches discarded, a farcical few minutes followed as the bird fed behind a fence rail, above which only the two tallest members of the group were able to see. Attempts at piggy-backs and climbing onto the minibus to obtain views proved fruitless! Thankfully, the bird flew on to the garden wall and everyone managed crippling views of the nearctic mega – a lifer for the whole team. The remainder of the day had the team find a common rosefinch and a further two barred warblers amongst a selection of commoner migrants such a lesser whitethroat and whinchat.

Day Three

Today the team again birded around Baltasound in the morning, returning to see the subalp and rustic again, because they were so good! A pleasant mornings birding included a very obliging bluethroat, three more barred warblers, yellow-browed warbler and jack snipe. Fine views of otter feeding rounded the morning off nicely.

In the morning the north end of the Unst appeared to be well covered by other crews, so we decided to explore the lesser-known birding spots in the south of the island. Working these sites produced a few common migrants including yellow-browed warbler and lesser whitethroat, as well as some classic Shetland scenes, such as large flocks of linties (twite) in the neep fields and an amazingly confiding otter on a secluded beach.

A team challenge was set when we arrived at the thistles at Lund. Here, the team were presented with an ‘unstreaked acro sp.’, which they were tasked with identifying amongst themselves (mainly for educational reasons, but partly out of mischief on the part of the group leader). Through careful observation and assimilation of the key features, the group did extremely well at arriving to the correct conclusion that they were observing a first-year marsh warbler. An impressive identification of a very tricky species.

Meanwhile, in the south of Shetland, the big news was the double-header finding of two mega’s; yellow-rumped warbler (relocated after a frustrating brief appearance) and White’s thrush; a classic Shetland ‘East meets West’ scenario.

Day Four

Despite the presence of two Mega’s at the opposite end of Shetland, it is a credit to the team that after a group discussion the decision was to stick with the plan to visit Fetlar, rather than twitch the length of the archipelago- with the plan to go on news next day. The philosophy of ‘if those birds are turning up down there, imagine what we could find up here?’ is indeed admirable. However, despite scouring virtually every iris bed, ditch and willow on the island, we could only reply with a couple of yellow-browed’s amongst the commoner migrants. The team’s efforts were gallant indeed, and a reminder that, despite how it may appear to birders from afar, rarity finding on Shetland involves considerable hard graft, sometimes with scant rewards.

Day Five

With news that both the White’s thrush and yellow-rumped warbler had remained on South mainland, coupled with being shown endless photos and video of the birds by the ecstatic birders who had made the journey – relief, optimism and excitement levels peaked: the twitch was on!

Anticipation rose with every one of the 77 miles and two-ferry journeys down the Shetland chain and the excitement was at fever pitch when we arrived outside the garden where the White’s thrush had settled. From a personal point of view, seeing this iconic ‘sibe’ for the first time exceeded already sky-high expectations; it was simply stunning and one of the most overwhelming birds I have ever seen. Judging by the reaction of the team, the bird elicited similar emotions!

Next stop was for the YRWarbler, which gave fantastic views as it busily fed amongst the attractive flowerbeds of the Grutness garden. Cracking views of a yank and a sibe in a morning; as a certain well-known birder would say – BOOM!

Day Six

The final day was spent stopping at various sites on Yell and mainland on our way to the hotel at Spiggie. A good selection of common migrants were seen, with a few new birds for the trip to bring the total to 92 species. Whilst a relatively modest in terms of species diversity, the total included five BB’s and a whopping 46 lifers between the seven experienced birders on the trip. Not bad for a week of westerlies, and the team were all ecstatic with week’s haul.

News breaking of the Siberian rubythroat at Levenwick was however well beyond the possibilities to connect as guests were already on route to destinations south (all but one – a certain Mr Andrew Dodd who was staying with us for week two!). On the bright side, it arrived just in time to give Shetland Nature’s next cohort of Autumn birders the dream start to their Shetland adventure.

Week Two – 4th to 11th October

Day One

Could you wish for a better start to the week?- perhaps the most iconic and sought-after of all Eastern vagrants, a fine male Siberian rubythroat! Not surprisingly we strted the tour started ahead of the scheduled 6p.m. start to ensure that our guests had the dream start to their trip.

The group were met as they arrived by plane and boat throughout the day and expediently transported to the garden at Levenwick where this ‘sibe’ beauty was hopefully present for its second day. Oh were it so simple! With no sightings of the bird since 8 a.m., as the hours passed we became increasingly resigned to the prospect of a crushing dip. At around 4p.m. we were literally conceding defeat and heading back to the minibus when suddenly there came a shout from a nearby garden! After a mad dash and a wait that felt much longer than it really was, the bird hopped across the driveway for all the group to see! Ecstatic gasps came from the admiring crowd when the rubythroat turned full-front and revealed it’s brilliant the scarlet throat and black and white face mask. Stunning!

Siberian Rubythroat at Levenwick. Photo by Rebecca Nason.

Siberian Rubythroat at Levenwick. Photo by Rebecca Nason.

Day Two

The team this week possessed extensive experience of Autumn birding on Shetland, including several Shetland Nature regulars, so we threw ourselves into ‘working’ Geosetter, a challenging ‘forest’ of cover by Shetland standards. Here we found our first two yellow-browed warblers of the trip and a fine pied flycatcher. There was plenty of wildfowl to be seen on Loch of Spiggie, including splendid views of slavonian grebe and scaup, with an evocative soundtrack provided by the excited trumpeting of many newly-arrived whooper swans. Next stop was Quendale, where there were good numbers of thrushes, goldcrest and blackcap along with a whinchat and a good ol’ scrap between a kestrel and merlin.

As we headed northwards towards our destination of Unst, a stop at Helendale provided another yellow-browed warbler.

Day Three
Although today didn’t provide any major rarities, it was a classic example of the excitement of seeing migrants making a massed landfall, literally all around us, as we birded the northern half of Unst. The drama was provided by a Force 10 southeasterly gale and heavy rain; whilst not the most comfortable of conditions, the weather conspired to produce a very tangible migration event, which makes migrant birding on Shetland so special.

‘Northern’ treecreeper, Halligarth, Unst. Photo by Robbie Brookes.

‘Northern’ treecreeper, Halligarth, Unst. Photo by Robbie Brookes.

After a brief stop for a grasshopper warbler, our first destination was Skaw, Britains most northerly beach. On arrival, there were relatively modest numbers of migrants, mainly goldcrest and redwing. However, as soon as the rain started, it became clear that goldcrest were falling out of the sky all around us, so much so that they were flying up from under our feet. As the morning went on, we continued to experience this mass arrival, including large numbers of song thrush, redwing and chiffchaff. A memorable sight was a newly-arrived yellow-browed warbler feeding among seaweed next to a long-staying wryneck.

After a mid-morning break, to dry off a bit, we went back out to sift through migrants as they moved ‘down-island’ to the more substantial areas of cover around Baltasound. A treecreeper had been reported from the mature sycamores of Halligarth, but not seen subsequently, despite much searching. It was Jim from our group who managed to relocate the bird, and the impression of a treecreeper he adopted to signal his find was truly memorable! The treecreeper, of the nominate ‘Northern’ form (C.f. familiaris), was strikingly different to our UK birds (C.f. britannica), with gleaming white underparts and flaring supercilium that positively glowed in the gloom of the plantation. The first record of treecreeper on Shetland was in 1859, which was killed by a cat in the very same plantation as today’s bird, so this second record for Unst was a mere 155 years in the waiting! The plantation was brimming with migrant passerines seeking refuge from the storm, mainly redwing, song thrush, goldcrest and chiffchaff, but also included two redstart and a yellow-browed warbler.

Day Four

Today’s birding throughout Unst involved sifting through the large numbers of migrants deposited by yesterday’s storm. The bulk of birds were of those species encountered yesterday, but also included a number of warblers that were probably hunkered down under Rosa bushes yesterday, such as garden warbler, lesser whitethroat, willow warbler and blackcap. Through the day, it also became clear that a number of blue tit and and great tit had been blown on to the islands by yesterday’s storm – both scarce species on Shetland. We were watching a great tit at Clingera (Baltasound) when Sam casually mentioned he had just seen a firecrest, not realising that these little gems are very rare on Shetland and this was a first for Unst! The firecrest fed busily with around 20 goldcrest for a wee while before the flock began to clump together to roost. By the time the local birders had arrived to twitch this island mega, it was lost somewhere within the feathery knot of roosting crests. Fortunately for the locals, the firecrest performed well for all the following day.

Day Five

Fetlar was the destination for today’s birding and a fine day’s bird-finding it was, with olive-backed pipit and pectoral sandpiper both found by the group! The ‘pec’ was rather unobliging, giving only flight views, but was easily identifiable by its distinctive trilling call. The pipit, on the other hand, eventually gave excellent views when it settled in a garden at Houbie. Other quality birds seen were a very nice but rather shy Siberian stonechat and a fine male black redstart.

Olive-backed pipit: Houbie, Fetlar – found by the group. Photo by Chris Rodger.

Olive-backed pipit: Houbie, Fetlar – found by the group. Photo by Chris Rodger.

Day Six

Today’s birding on Unst offered a good selection of migrants including fine views of a bluethroat in Balatasound, and two long-eared owls roosting in the conifers at Valyie. Highlight of the day was probably a fine great grey shrike – a mobile bird that had been giving us the run-around over the last few days. The group managed excellent views after the bird was finally ‘pinned down’ by Brydon at Northdale. The day provided plenty of other migrants of interest including tree pipit, black redstart and redstart and the first ruff of the trip.

Long-eared Owl at Unst. Photo by Chris Rodger.

Long-eared Owl at Unst. Photo by Chris Rodger.

Day Seven

Today the group left the North Isles behind and headed south for our final day birding the mainland. A stop at Sandgarth yielded a yellow-browed warbler, and Hoswick produced a tree sparrow, common sandpiper and black redstart. Whilst we were at Hoswick news broke of a Western Bonelli’s warbler at Scalloway, so off we went! Unfortunately, the bird was not relocated despite a fair crowd having gathered, although two yellow browed warbler and finally catching up with blue tit provided some entertainment whilst we waited. By late afternoon, the group decided to bird a couple of sites on the south mainland which, whilst enjoyable, was slightly marred by the late news that the Bonelli’s had been relocated. Oh well, at least it was ‘just’ a Western…

Day Eight

Most of the group had a wee bit of time in the morning before making their departures south, so it was decided to take advantage and enjoy some leisurely birding near Sumburgh airport. Shortly after watching another olive backed pipit at Pool of Virkie, we were informed that the Scalloway Bonelli’s warbler had been heard to give a monosyllabic ‘chip’ call, by sharp eared and eyed SN colleagues Phil Haris and Rebecca Nason (amongst others) and was thus believed to be the considerably rarer Eastern Bonelli’s. Once again, the decision was made to extend the trip beyond the allocated duration, so that the week could be bookended by megas! However, at this end of the week time was against us, and a ‘smash and grab’ twitch was required if we were to see the bird before our guests had to check-in for homeward flights. Frustratingly, the bird was rather ponderous by Phylloscopus warbler standards, moving slowly at the top of the canopy and giving only fleeting views before melting into the foliage. Thankfully, minutes before the absolute deadline for getting back to the airport, the bird obligingly fed in the sunshine at the edge of the canopy for all to enjoy – a great way to end the trip (and yes, we all made our flights in time)!

Eastern Bonelli's Warbler at Scalloway. Photo by Rebecca Nason.

Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler at Scalloway. Photo by Rebecca Nason.

Chris Rodger