Though this time there was a twist, I decided to sheath my own team instead of being assigned to a Ladybirder team, so I reached out to a few bird-racing veterans and friends to help me out.
My key choices were Paula Moss and Karen Mackelvie, Paula being on my team on the last winter bird race and Karen being a team member for my first bird race in October 2015 and the more recent one in May.
Things looked to be good, I stayed at Paula's the night before and we were due to set off before sunrise the following morning, though the weather seemed bad I had hope.
I was up by 6am and was rearing to go, little under an hour later Karen arrived and we had a quick cup of tea before setting out.
We decided to head to Karen's in Stromfirth to get some early morning Grouse, we walked a couple hundred metre stretch of good looking heather and nothing, only a couple of Snipe, our hope was deteriorating (as was the weather) so we trudged back to the car. We were just about to leave Stromfirth when Karen suggested to do one last piece of ground by the lochside, so we got out and we were hardly 100 metres in when a familiar call went up and 7 chunky birds flew up, Grouse!!
A few hectic minutes later and the whole team had nailed them, with that we headed to Kergord with heads held high.
Our aim in Shetland's largest woodland was to nab some of the harder woodland species that we'd struggle to get farther south. Rook, Grey Heron and 2 Pink-feet were all picked up from the car before we gave a bash at one of the plantations for Woodcock, Goldcrest and Sparrowhawk, loan behold we managed to flush a Woodcock from a dense clump of bushes (we only noticed it as it made quite a noise trying to fly out) and hear Goldcrests in the trees, but no Sprawk.
Up to Upper Kergord to try find this woodland predator but no luck, only another Woodcock and some Goldcrest so we headed back south, we were passing the Lindsey Lee Plantation when I thought we'd give it a quick try for Sprawk and maybe some Woodpigeons, I set off walking and tried to get anything to fly out but nothing came, we'd given up and were heading back to the car when I noticed that all the Rooks and Starlings went up, to which I said "I wonder what put all those birds up?" and what appeared? A Sparrowhawk!! it flew around for a good 30-40 seconds, a very nice looking juv/female, it even was brave enough to try and take down several Rook!!
Next back to Girlsta for a quick look and Comorant, Kittiwake and Eider were scooped up by the pier, a quick toilet break at the house and I'd just gotten to the toilet when the shouts of Sparrowhawk erupted from the kitchen! I eventually came out to see this absolute beauty of a bird just sitting there in the garden! (I had seen the Pigeons and Starlings fly out of the garden 10 minutes earlier so this is obviously what put them up), thought there was no time to waste and we headed off, shooting straight south.
A quick look at Wester Quarff for the King Eider and nothing, not an Eider in sight so Sandwick was next, Leebitton cleaned up Purple Sand, Rock Pipit and Gannet and Da Wart produced Golden Plover, Redwing and Ringed Plover. We decided to give Swinister Burn a quick bash when we met two of Sandwick birders, Glen and Juan, they gave us locations of a few tricky species but not before they tried to get us on to a Chiffchaff that was lurking in some dense bushes.
We never got the Chiffy but instead a flyby Blue Tit was an added bonus, though the boys had mentioned of at least 2 over by the Barclay Arms. Next stop was another jaunt to Da Wart to try get some crop specialities, Mipit, Twite and Chaffinch were all found but I was the one team member to miss Skylark so we couldn't count it as part of the rules (and it would be a bird we didn't see again that day).
Finally onto Spiggie and the wildfowl started pouring in, both species of Swan, Tuftie, Wigeon, Shoveler, Moorhen and Snipe were picked up with Little Grebe and Coot being some goodies.
Then we pushed south and headed to Setter Marsh (aka the Phalarope Marsh) where a certain North American goody was supposed to be lurking...
We arrived at the marsh and began scanning it for the Pied-billed Grebe, after a few minutes I spotted a small grebe in among some Moorhen, it took me a minute to get a proper view of it due to the strong winds but it looked exactly like the Pied-billed that I'd seen a few weeks previously, a few photos and another birder helped cement my suspicions that this was the Pied-billed, so another tick to help our already healthy sized list.
Through Ringsta and onto Hillwell where we added nothing new to the list so onto Quendale Bay where we managed to knock off Great-northern Diver after a lot of sea scanning, Oystercatcher was also picked up by the farm.
We had about 2 hours left and our heads started going into overdrive, we had no idea what the other teams were on and we were still missing a lot of key species
Merlin was nabbed on the way (after only brief views of one at Spiggie) before we hit Sumburgh and headed up to the Head and the Quarries before pushing our way back north and cleaning up Grutness, Scatness and Virkie along the way.
Going up the head we finally spotted the competition in one of the quarries, Helen Moncrieff and her team had already been up the head and couldn't find any Fulmar (as was much of the case around Shetland as we couldn't see any on the cliffs) so we were worried, both teams were trying not to divulge any information regarding birds seen incase it gave the other team an advantage.
Up at the head we sheltered against the car and tried scanning out to sea for some Fulmars, the wing was extremely strong up there and we all struggled to get our eyes on anything, eventually though we got our eyes on some Fulmars going north! another bogey bird aside we had a quick look up the head and managed a few Twite and a Snow Bunting! a gorgeous bird but it didn't stay long.
In the end there was nothing else up the head so we thrashed one of the quarries, a quick toilet break down at Grutness and then we shot off to West Voe of Sumburgh where we hoped to nab some duck and wader. Luckily we got just that and we managed to knock off Long-tailed Duck and some peerie Sanderling on the beach, as we were just about to head off Paula got off the phone to say that Hugh Harrop had just had a Great Tit briefly in his garden, we decided to play it safe and do Virkie and Boddam before we decided to head over, Dunlin and Bar-tailed Godwit were both picked up at Virkie but no Knot and no new birds added at Boddam.
From here we headed back west to Hillwell to try and nab Hugh's Great Tit, we gave him a call as we arrived and waited only a few seconds before everyone spotted a yellow blob fly in, the Great Tit!! With that tick we sent Hugh a quick thank you text and shot up north, the light was going to be gone pretty fast within the next hour and we had three choices:
1. Bigton for Paul Bloomers Robin
2. Scalloway and Trondra for Iceland Gull and King Eider
3. Lerwick for Iceland Gull, Glaucous Gull and Gadwall.
We decided to go for choice number 3 as it had the most potential for species and we'd had confirmation that at least two of the birds had been seen earlier in the day, plus it was our finishing point.
Arriving in Lerwick we shot straight up to Shetland Catch to try and get the two White-wingers we were aiming for, arriving on site we saw a few gulls but no white-wingers, a drive around the Catch and I spotted a white-winger on the deck and I got the bins up to see a 1st/2nd winter Glaucous Gull! after a few seconds we found another one, score! Further along we picked up an adult white-winger, Iceland Gull! absolutely great birds and another two ticks for the team, bringing us to a grand total of 67 (including Skylark), now it was time to go for 70.
A quick run to Pullars Loch for Gadwall produced no birds so Clickimin was our last hope before our time was up, on the way there we went via a road lined with trees at Sound where I managed to spot 2 Fieldfare in a park by the road! on to 68 and we were really feeling the adrenaline, Clickimin and Helendale was our last stop and could produce Gadwall and Woodpigeon.
At Clickimin we got out the car and the heavens burst open so we quickly retreated into the car for cover, seeing as there was only 15 minutes left of the race we decided to call it quits on 68 and headed over to Fjara (the finish line).
Within the next ten minutes the other two teams arrived and we began the final part of the day, finding out the winner......
The other two teams took a different route from us, heading as far north as Nesting and then coming south to Sumburgh. Linnet, King Eider and Chiffchaff were birds the other teams picked up that we completely missed and Robin was our most horrendous team omission though I had one briefly at Hoswick but it was only a flyby.
Well it was an absolutely great day even with the weather and it would of never happened without the team, so many thanks to them and all the great memories!
- Red Grouse
- Herring Gull
- Black-headed Gull
- Common Gull
- Hooded Crow
- Grey Heron
- Greylag Goose
- House Sparrow
- Pink-footed Goose
- Great Black-backed Gull
- Red-breasted Merganser
- Rock Dove
- Black Guillemot
- Collard Dove
- Purple Sandpiper
- Rock Pipit
- Golden Plover
- Ringed Plover
- Blue Tit
- Meadow Pipit
- Skylark (2 members only)
- Whooper Swan
- Mute Swan
- Tufted Duck
- Little Grebe
- Pied-billed Grebe
- Great Northern Diver
- Snow Bunting
- Long-tailed Duck
- Bar-tailed Godwit
- Great Tit
- Glaucous Gull
- Iceland Gull