A trip to Shetland was mooted and kept in the background from late summer, decided to wait and see where we are at closer to the time but book a week off, follow the weather and birds. By the last few days of September the forecasts were showing occasional SE airflow toward Shetland and a few decent birds had already been logged. An extremely busy run up to this leave with a week of long working days at work preceded this trip, it was all a last minute blur but all was booked and in place in the 48hrs prior to travel.
I travelled up with my mate Rich Hearn, we were both a bit frazzled so decided to just get to Aberdeen and not worry about birds on the way up, this allowed a bit of a lay-in to recuperate. We made the ferry and settled down for the 12hr crossing, a few beers in the bar and to our ‘sleeping pods’ to get what sleep we could. A poor nights rest followed but breakfast and coffee perked us up, the thought of migrant birds helped to give us shot in the arm.
2 October Picking up the hire car we were soon on our way from Lerwick to Unst to try our luck with the Lanceolated Warbler that was seen the previous day, negative news came in but we continued to Unst regardless. We birded Yell checking a few gardens and woody patches including for Barred Warbler. Highlights were Spotted Flycatcher at Mid Yell and two Chiffchaff at Cullivoe.
Out first stop was at the small plantation on the housing estate at Baltasound, a couple of Olive-backed Pipits played hide and seek in the windy conditions but some decent views were attained, our first Yellow-browed Warbler of the autumn also showed up. We checked the Doctor’s Garden with Woodpigeon being the only birds present. We also visited Norwick, Valyie and Haroldswick before returning in the dark to Lerwick on the late ferries. Highlights- Olive-backed Pipits, 100+ Brambling, Twite, Long-tailed Duck, Red-throated and Great Northern Divers, Rock Dove, Black Guillemots. There had been Bluethroat, Common Rosefinch, Little Bunting and Citrine Wagtail on the island but I for one decided that I’d spent enough time standing and waiting for Bluethroat at WWT Slimbridge this year so I wasn’t going to wait for this one, we had a quick look for the Haroldswick Little Bunting at dusk but it was a little late in the day.
3 October First port of call was to try our luck ‘down south’ for the Eastern Yellow Wagtail, a Jack Snipe and common passerines was our reward, next was high tide at Pool of Virkie for the Semi-palmated Sandpiper and Little Stint then Grutness were we caught up with one of the Shore Larks. We birded Levenwick then called in on the Bonelli’s Warbler species at Easter Quarff, (it was later heard and identified as Western). On to West Burra with Bramblings and an elusive pipit species- (Olive-backed or Tree) then East Burra where we had Pied Flycatcher, Siskins, juvenile Red-backed Shrike, seven Blackbirds and a few other passerines, a stop at Scalloway gave us another Yellow-browed Warbler to end up the day.
4 October Headed out West to where the mobile signal was dead but had a great morning and early afternoon carefully scanning gardens. The day started with a check of Wadbister Voe and Girlsta for the Red-breasted Flycatcher when news broke of another Western Bonelli’s Warbler so we joined the search for an hour, a Yellow-browed Warbler, Pied Flycatcher and Garden Warbler showed but not the WBW. West Burrafirth was a worthwhile stop, we turned up 4 Yellow-browed Warblers, Water Rail and 3 Sparrowhawk, Chiffchaff, Blackcap as well as an elusive Sylvia species. A Redstart was noted en route. A brief stop to see the juvenile Woodchat Shrike was made at Aith nr Aith Voe with a shopping/Red-eyed Vireo stop at Brae, the purchases in COOP were more successful although Pied Flycacther, Blackcaps and Siskins were noted here.
5 October Birded Lunna, Mainland in warm sunshine and calm condtions with Yellow-browed Warbler being the highlight. Went on to Yell and Unst, birded Uyeasound, female Otter with two young in tow at the harbour, lots of passerines checked with a few Bramblings about the village and a Whinchat, two GardenWarbler and two Blackcap were seen in the roses. Also checked Muness and Easting and Westing beach. At Eastings-20 Great Northern Divers in all stages of moult were of note as were a couple of Long-tailed Ducks and Red-breasted Mergansers. Four Wheatear were at Muness Castle. We briefly stopped on th eway back to take a look at the Ring-necked Duck on Sand Water, Yell.
6 October We stayed fairly local on Mainland with our first port of call being Kergord, we checked the upper plantation and tree belts, a Rustic Bunting had appeared again whilst we were there, careful behaviour led to great views and it was good to hear the call again. The almost full breeding plumage White-billed Diver at Brettabister was hard to locate when it was diving but eventually it stopped to preen and loaf giving good views. We called in again for the 3cy King Eider at Girlsta and located it in the Wadbister Voe with the Eider flock. All previous visits at we passed were something of a joke for us now, sunrise directly in the eyes or we left it to dusk when they had gone to roost. A final look around at Veensgarth gave us another Whinchat. We made it back to the ferry to settle in for the return crossing but had an hour or so on deck to look for seabirds.
7 October A wet day dawned in Aberdeen as we left the ferry, heading up the coast to RSPB Loch of Strathbeg gave us Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs shoulder to shoulder just a minute after getting out of the car, a Greenshank also accompanied them. Pink-footed Geese, Whooper Swans at least 7 Ruff, 25 Dunlin, 50 Golden Plover and a female Red-crested Pochard were also scoped. We also stopped at Rattray Head, the Ythan Estuary to go through Pink-footed Goose flocks, Cruden Bay and then Blackdog, Montrose and Lunan Bay. Seeing 70+ Velvet Scoter with the Common Scoters was as ever, a treat. More auks, Red-throated Divers and Gannets were logged before finding a place to stay in Dalkeith for the night.
8 October After breakfast we went straight to Musselburgh, a drake Surf Scoter was with the Common Scoters with more Velvets, Red-throated Divers, auks, Goosander and Red-breasted Mergansers, we had a good soaking and had scanned the shore for a long time so decided to head back home from here to round off a good week with some brilliant birds and enjoyable birding.