Friday, 8 December 2017

Shrikes & Dips

After having come back from Edinburgh on the 17th of October there was a few birds around Shetland that I was interested in seeing, first of all was a Thrush Nightingale at Sandgarth near Voe and a Steppe Grey Shrike at Whalsay.

Tuesday 17th October

Arriving off the ferry early morning I met up with my granddad and we decided to go try get one of the birds, the nearest and easiest to see bird was hopefully the Thrush Nightingale at Sandgarth, a fairly new woodland in Shetland terms and fast becoming one of the best spots in the North Mainland to visit for migrants.

The weather was pretty bad with passing showers and strong winds, safe to say we didn't have much hope but as always I was optimistic.  Arriving on site we began to hunt for the bird where it had been known to be feeding, here it was more sheltered and the waiting game begun.

Safe to say that 2-3 hours that day of playing the waiting game hadn't worked, with only a brief sighting of a Thrush/Chat sp (probably a Robin) to go with we went home, the bird hadn't been seen the day before either which didn't help.

Wednesday 18th October

Today it was time for the next twitch, with a quick look again for the Thrush Nightingale we came up with nothing and presumed it had gone, so we were on to Whalsay for the Steppe Grey Shrike.

Arriving at Laxo we met another birder who was heading in too for the Shrike, soon Dave rolled up too, also heading in for the Shrike, it was a peerie reunion as Dave had met the birder many years before as he had come up to Shetland as part of the RSPB. Chatting away it was soon time for another reunion as I noticed another birder pull up, it was Mark Peck, a man I'd first met on Fair Isle around 3 years ago, soon we were a good sized gaggle of birders and we were all going for the same bird, so instead of taking three cars on, Dave and Mark joined Tommy and I in our car.
It was great to go in a group and be able to catch up with everyone as it had been so long. On the way we tried the Symbister Eider flock for King Eider but with no luck so we headed on up to Vaivoe for the Shrike.
Arriving next to a peat bank just south of Vaivoe we met one of the Whalsay birders, John Lowrie Irvine, it didn't take long before he'd gotten us onto the bird, tick! no.277 for Shetland!

 Steppe Grey Shrike! it may be a bit distant but you can make it out in the centre of the photo

The bird was quite flighty and never came close, always sticking close to the peat banks, I decided to try and get a bit closer by using the many peat banks for cover, but I never managed to get close before the bird decided to fly off, supposedly it was quite comical to watch as I would go in one direction and the bird would go in another before I knew what was going on, like a game of cat and mouse.

Mark managed a few shots like this one of me and the Shrike, I was hiding behind the bank when it flew in and landed on the opposite side! (Photo: Mark Peck)

Peeping (Photo: Mark Peck)

The bird eventually disappeared up towards Vaivoe (long after I'd given up my chase) and we all stood around the car just chatting, just as we were thinking of heading off then a familiar grey blob appeared from nowhere and landed on a passing place sign about 15 feet away!!!
I almost froze in shock but I at least managed to raise my camera and get a few shots.

 Almost too close for comfort but it landed and never even cared that we were there

Gotta love Shrikes

After what was probably only a minute, the bird flew off into the peat banks east of the road and we didn't see it again, it took a good while before the excitement and shock of the bird wore off but it was truly amazing.
To finish up before the ferry we decided to have a quick check of Skaw, in the planation there, Mark and I went around the plantation while the other two watched from the road in case anything went by. By the time we'd finished we'd racked up a few Goldcrest, a Robin, two female Blackcap and a slightly deathly looking Redwing.

Soon it was time to head to the ferry and with nothing up on the Skaw Loch we were heading to Sandgarth for one last try for this Thrush Nightingale.
Arriving at Sandgarth we went back to the usual site for a check and two other south birders had also just arrived for a look, 15 minutes in I got a text from the WhatsApp group, it was Dougie Preston who'd just found a juv/female Scoter up on Yell, Dougie obviously knew that the bird wasn't your normal Velvet and was hinting at the rarer counterpart from the States or eastern Asia, a few quick fire comments later and people were agreeing it was a White-winged Scoter, as soon as I saw that photo go up I was off to Yell and Tommy and me were already enroute to the Yell ferry.

We took my car on the Yell side and I drove up to Sand Water near Gutcher where Dougie had briefly seen the bird, the light was getting worse as time went on but we had over an hour before it was completely useless, I gave the loch a good scan with my scope but there was no sign of the bird, we happened to meet Andy Cook who was enroute to work but he hadn't managed to see it either.

We were running out of ideas so I suggested to head on the Unst ferry to look in the sea at Belmont as Jason Moss (ex-Fair Isle AW) had seen the bird there a few days ago but had flagged it as a Velvet Scoter. Getting the 1600 ferry across we had about 40 minutes before the light would be been getting too bad.

Going across to Unst we didn't manage to get the Scoter before I headed off to Fair Isle the next day, though the bird had been seen though around the same time we had come across at the Loch of Belmont but news wasn't released til later that day.

So with that we decided to head home, hopefully the bird would stick til I got back 6 days later....


  1. THe passing place shots are fantastic!

    1. It just came out of nowhere! Got a few more interesting ones I've just added

    2. Hey! Do you have any available places to stay in there? I think it's a very peaceful area for a vacation! I'd love to see more shots from you guys! Thanks a lot.

  2. I love nightingales. I'm so happy that you watch over them so well.