24 Feb 2019

24 Feb 19 - Exploring Mainland Shetland

When I booked the flights for the Shetland trip, the Tengmalm's Owl wasn't being seen every day & therefore I was trying to maximise my chances of connecting by being on Mainland Shetland for two days. But my hope was that with a few more people looking on a weekend, then I would see it on the first day & I would then have the chance to go Birding in a part of the UK I hadn't visited very often. Many twitchers, myself included, end up travelling long distances, hopefully see the Bird & then head home as quickly as possible. Sometimes, it's time pressures of work or other commitments that make it a necessary strategy, but with offshore islands I am generally keener to spend some time on the island & do some exploring & general Birding if possible. Having seen the Tengmalm's Owl I now had most of the second day for some exploring. I was up at first light for breakfast after a good night's sleep in a hotel in Lerwick. I expected to be grabbing snacks for the rest of the day, so I might as well take advantage of prepaid hot food & drinks. The previous evening, we had been asked to not visit the Tengmalm's Owl garden before 09:00 & told there would be limited access during the day, as there was a family get together planned. It seemed another good reason for going Birding elsewhere on Mainland Shetland. There were a number of other Bird highlights on the island, including a Pied-billed Grebe, an overwintering Scarlet Rosefinch, as well as, the more expected Iceland Gulls etc in the fish processing part of the Lerwick harbour. However, my plan was to avoid all of those & go looking for Otters & Orcas in the North of the island, as well as, some general off the beaten track exploring & Birding. As I walked out to the car, I was pleased to see the wind had dropped noticeably. There was still a wind, but I can't believe that there are many genuinely still days on Shetland. But it was dry & still really mild so about as good as it was going to be for late Feb.
Hooded Crow: A common species on the Shetlands. I had only got a few hundred metres from the hotel when I found this individual feeding on some seed thrown onto the pavement
Hooded Crow: Trying to improve the background for me
The first site I was aiming for the ferry slipway for Yell. It was still early & I was hoping that one of the regular Otters might be enjoying itself in the water: unfortunately not. But there was a selection of commoner Wintering species.
Otter sign: Unfortunately, this was as close as I got to an Otter
After drawing a blank around the Yell ferry slipway, I returned to the main road to the North & carried on explore the North West corner of mainland around Hillswick, before heading further out onto the peninsula.
Bay en route to the Yell ferry slipway
I spotted a sign for some toilets in Hillswick: But there were no more signs after I parked the car. Then I realised the more subtle clues
There was running water in the toilets: So, these outside facilities were no longer needed
Carrying on beyond Hillswick, the small road leads onto the open boggy moors with occasional crofts.
An isolated croft
The moors are very boggy
Shetland Sheep: The numbers of Sheep must outnumber the humans by well over ten to one. The Vikings wandering around Lerwick on the celebration days still can't complete with these Sheep for elaborate headgear
Shetland Sheep: They look even better from head on
Greylag Goose: The standard Shetland Goose species. They can be seen commonly across the Shetlands, but they were immediately wary & start moving away as I stopped the car for photos
Greylag Goose: They seemed a lot more interesting than their tamer cousins around Poole Harbour
Whooper Swan & Wigeon: There were a few parties of Whooper Swans on lochs, but none were particularly close. This must have had a muddy bottom given how dirty their heads are. On this loch, every party of Whooper Swans had at least one accompanying Wigeon, which were clearly picking up smaller bits of food brought up by the Swans
Rock Dove: It's commonly known locally the lack I interest I have in the local Feral Pigeons, but I do enjoy seeing their wild relatives. I saw a number around the island during the two days, but this pair were the only ones I got to photograph
Carrying on towards Eshaness lighthouse, the coastal scenery became even more exposed to the elements: but the nearest land to the West is the Southern tip of Greenland. I was looking for places to look for Orcas, but it was going to be a long shot finding the Orcas along this coastline.
The seas aren't forgiving on the offshore rocks
There must have been offshore rocks close to the surface
There were large numbers of Fulmars, Kittiwakes & the occasional Gannets flying along the coast. These Fulmars seen later in the day were a bit closer.
Fulmar: The local Fulmars were clearly keen to start settling down to breed
Fulmar: They generally seem quite graceful with their landings, but this one was making a hash of its touchdown
I had time for a quick look at Ollaberry on the North East coast.
Overlooking Ollaberry bay
This was more sheltered than the West coast. Over the years, there have been a lot of stories going around about the honest of some of the big listers & the veracity of their lists. What I hadn't expected was that one of the top listers had a property in this part of Shetland.
Fiblister: I wonder which of the big listers owns this property?
Finally, it was time to turn round & start heading for Sumburgh for my late afternoon flight off the Shetlands. I hadn't seen anything exceptional on my travels, however, I would rather have had some time to go looking than follow the beaten route that many of the other twitchers had been taking involving a distant Pied-billed Grebe, an erratically showing Rosefinch & some Iceland Gulls. I will be back on the Shetlands in the future & maybe I will be luckier with Orcas next time. The Loganair flight left on time for Aberdeen.
Flying over the RSPB Loch of Strathbeg & Rattray Head: I visited Rattray Head for a Desert Wheatear the day after I came off the Shetland ferry after the Pine Grosbeak twitch in Feb 2013
 After a ninety minute wait, I was boarding the plane to Heathrow & was back indoors before midnight: seven hours after taking off from Sumburgh. The end of a memorable weekend. It hadn't been a cheap weekend, but the weather had worked out well, I had seen the Tengmalm's Owl as soon as I had arrived & I had enjoyed the chance to have a general look around Mainland Shetland. Crucially, I hadn't had to take any days off work on my recently started new job.