Tuesday 20 April 2010

Back home at last

After almost 3 weeks of travel and travel disruption caused by a variety of things, it was good to get back home again yesterday. I had been due to fly from Birmingham on Saturday morning but as everyone knows, flights were canceled due to the large 'fireworks' over Iceland. I then received a message from Flybe to say that if I got to Glasgow for Saturday lunch time then I could travel as normal on to Shetland. Setting off from Birmingham at 7am on the train, I was feeling hopeful of getting home that day. An hour later I received an e-mail saying the flight had been canceled, so all I could do was to head for Aberdeen and hope to get the ferry on Sunday night. This I managed to do, but as the ferry was full there was also no sleeping options available apart from the floor or seats in one of the lounges. It was a long night !

Sailing up past Sumburgh Head at 6.30am, the hills had a light covering of snow which, considering I'd just come from down south where I'd been in a T shirt, looked quite cold. Even though I'd got in to Lerwick by 7.30am, I still had to get back down to Sumburgh airport to pick the car up which was an hours bus ride away. I must admit to being very pleased at being back in Shetland despite the 1.5 degrees c on the cars thermometer and the regular snow showers as I travelled back up through Mainland, on to Yell and then at last up through Unst.

This morning, once the kids had been dropped off at school, I decided to combine seeing a couple of people about some work and going around some of my favourite spots up here. First 'port of call' was Skaw in the north which is good for migrants. Not today however as it was bitterly cold and also the sheep there were being attended to so I kept away as I didn't want to scatter them after the crofter had spent so long rounding them up. Living here as I do, I have now got to know many of the local crofters who in turn tell me what they've seen around. Its a good situation to be in but is sometimes tainted by less thoughtful or less caring birders or folks with cameras. This happened last summer over at Skaw in early June. I found a Subalpine Warbler which turned out to be of the race 'Moltoni' (not confirmed by me I hasten to add) in vegetation by the burn at Skaw. As this bird was a really good find it proved to be popular - some folks travelling up from Liverpool to see it. The crofter then requested that people didn't enter the Spearmint where the bird had set up a territory which we happily accepted. However, in the middle of the 3rd week the bird disappeared and it was then obvious by a track through the vegetation that someone had walked in to it. I've watched wildlife all of my life and the track could have only been made by a selfish, thoughtless person probably on a tight schedule and wanting to see it. It is one thing disturbing the bird, but it is a totally different thing breaking the trust of the crofter. No 'tick' or photograph is worth it. I have seen and heard of a number of situations involving inexcusable behaviour when photographing wildlife up here which I may come back to at a later date - some even involving Schedule 1 species. Fortunately for us, the crofter concerned realized it wasn't one of us but it may spoil it for any visiting birders etc.

Subalpine Warbler - race 'Moltoni'

After Skaw, I then headed down to the headland at Lamba Ness - when the wind is right, its a great place for watching gannets and fulmars passing close to the head. As I stopped at the top, a group of waders near the cliff edge caught my eye. Raising the bins', I saw there were in fact 8 Blacktailed Godwits looking splendid in breeding plumage and were almost certainly of the Icelandic race (probably unaware of the situation up there, I would imagine) When they reached the cliff edge, they stopped feeding, lifted off and were taken back over me by the very strong wind and disappeared from view in seconds. Also near here, I found four Pinkfooted Geese feeding with a flock of Greylags' probably also heading back north for the summer.

 Blacktailed Godwits

After a brief detour to Burrafirth to talk work, I returned to Baltasound and found 3 more species of geese - Canada, Whitefront and Brent - five species in a morning not bad for up here.

Brent Geese (pale bellied)

The last 'new' bird of the morning was a Green Sandpiper feeding in a burn in Baltasound, it was a nice bird to find and even though I've found them over wintering down south, it felt too early for up here given the fact it was snowing at the time.


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