Sunday, 20 September 2015

Shetland- birding 60 degrees North.

Just had a great few days birding Shetland with some of my birding friends from the Scottish Highlands- Al Mcnee, Bob Swann, Richard Rafe and Peter Stronach. After initially twitching the amazingly tame Long-billed dowitcher just north of Burravoe, we decided to go and search for our own birds as opposed to just twitching the 'big' arrivals. It is probably a little early for the main event with regards to migration, although we met with varying degrees of success, clocking up two western Bonelli's warblers including a group 'self found' at Sumburgh. Other birds found included a red-backed shrike, six or so yellow-browed warblers, a couple of barred warblers and a number of pied flycatchers. A gropper found in a bed of nettles at Sumburgh initially had everyone's pulse racing! The Sumburgh Bonelli's was very interesting as we had initially tried to find the elusive booted warbler. Once again a pale warbler was encountered in awful light and in wet conditions and following fleeting glimpses of the bird in flight, it took the more senior and capable birders of the group some effort in deciding that the bird was a Bonelli's sp. and not the booted! Amazingly in the low- light and wet conditions no greenish hues could be seen although photos. of the bird showed otherwise! It was finally confirmed as a western Bonelli's after it was trapped, ringed and processed by some of Shetlands' finest. We later saw another western Bonelli's at Burrafirth and the good light conditions made that identification far more straightforward- especially as it had been previously found and identified by top, local birder, Brydon Thomason of Shetland nature. Hearing this bird call was a useful learning process for me. Of course, with some very challenging conditions we did not get everything our own way and dipped Pallid harrier, Booted and Eastern Olivaceous warblers but we also managed to accumulate a trip list of 97 species over our four days including marsh harrier, little stint, garganey, ruff, lapland bunting, red-breasted fly, common rosefinch, lesser whitethroat and jack snipe. A great trip North! I'm going back up in a couple of weeks with Shetland Nature and can't wait!
I have put a couple of phots. below comparing 'our' Western Bonelli's in the awful conditions with the one we later saw on Unst, showing the obvious effect good light conditions can have on the same species.
Western Bonelli's at Burrafirth
Western Bonelli's at Sumburgh
Long-billed dowitcher near Burravoe
Red-backed shrike, Sandgarth.
Grasshopper warbler, Sumburgh.
Yellow-browed warbler, Isbister. 


  1. superb Andy, a great read & trip. Ta J Nadin

  2. Cheers John, lets hope we all get more of the same before too long!