Wednesday, 23 June 2010

A Postcard from Orkney and Shetland. Part Three.

Common Butterwort Pinguicula vulgaris
Round-leaved Sundew Drosera rotunifolia

Atmospheric Shetland.

Morning on the ferry.

Evening on the ferry.

Inside the cave with the underwater camera.

Noss Guilliemots (including bridled)


Noss Gannets.

Atlantic Grey Seal approaches the boat.

13th June. I was soon being taken to Brae and the Busta Hotel where I was to join the rest of the group for the next week. Incidentally Simon King stayed here at least some of the time he was in Shetland and you may remember he named one of the Otters, Busta! So don’t be kidded into thinking this guy roughs it all of the time! The local taxi driver had worked in Whitley Bay for several years and gave me some very useful information on Shetland during the journey. I have to admit I found the barren scenery very different from Orkney and took a little time to adjust to this and a very different mix of the group of seven. I did enjoy my breakfast before leaving on the first day’s excursion, and it soon became apparent that we had a very knowledgeable and enthusiastic leader in Phil Knott who presently works as a ranger on Handa Island. It was also immediately apparent that the vehicle we were using was far more appropriate for wildlife watching than the one used on Orkney and offered everyone good all round views. It was also very apparent that if it had been cold at times on Orkney, it was a damn sight colder up here on Shetland and it remained so for most of the week.

I have to admit that my first day on Shetland is remembered as an enjoyable blur now, because despite the day supposedly being a relaxing one, it turned into quite a long day in the field and I never did get my list done for the day. I wasn’t complaining about that of course as I hadn’t gone on this trip to sit around and relax, and as the week went on I realised I wouldn’t be doing so! I hope some photos will give a feel to the place and I did feel more at home by the time dinner was served. We did have an unexpected, but great view of an Otter on dry land, before it became spooked and headed for the water. I soon realised that if Orkney had lots of Fulmars, Shetland won hands down with numbers. We spent our time exploring central and east mainland and were never far from the coast so the most, if not all, the seabirds seen at Orkney were again recorded today. We also spent some time finding waders and their chicks.

Botanically speaking, I was very pleased with findings of Butterwort in flower and a very good display of Round-leaved Sundew. I had thought that there was a good deal of Marsh Marigold on Orkney, but this was to be surpassed on Shetland. Back at the hotel I found difficulty in re-finding my room such was the lay out in this fine old building. Once I did find it I was pleased that I didn’t have a cat, as I certainly could not have swung it in the bathroom! The meals and service were both top class however.

14th June. Today we were back on the ferries. Firstly taking us to Unst via Yell. After a drive through Unst we caught another ferry to Fetlar where we were to spend the day. Birds seen from the ferry included gulls, Fulmar, Shag, Guillemot, Black Guillemot and Razorbill. Common and Grey Seals were seen once again.

Fetlar has extensive areas of peat bog, grassy moorland, dry heath and herb rich grassland and offers ideal areas for breeding waders, and waders listed were Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Turnstone, Golden Plover, Redshank, Curlew, Whimbrel and Black-tailed Godwit. I was especially pleased to find Whimbrel on their breeding site and we watched these birds at some length from the vehicle. We had all heard Whimbrel fly over our heads the day before.

We found the Black-tailed Godwit along with Mallard and Teal on the small wetland reserve whilst we spent some time looking here and on the small lochan for Red-necked Phalarope. I understand that the small numbers of phalarope (90 per cent of the British population are said to be on Fetlar) are really struggling and may soon be lost altogether. Our results would seem to back this forecast up as we failed to find any of these birds, and this is the first occasion after several visits that the group leader had not found the birds. We found later in the week that the warden on Unst had not seen any of the birds on that island either this year. I had really hope to see Red-necked Phalarope as I have only ever seen them in Canada, but it was impossible to feel too disappointed when there was so much else going on around us and we had given it a good try. I’m pleased to say that our time wasn’t wasted in the cold around by the lochan as I had my best ever sightings of Red Throated Divers. Five of them in total, on the Lochan, and at times within a few yards of us, and showing every marking clearly. We later found two more Red Throated Divers in flight.

I saw my first Shetland Wren today and on returning on the ferry we found our second Otter of the week near the ferry terminal which I’m told is a good area to find Otters. On Returning to the hotel we had about twenty minutes to prepare for dinner so I gave the shower a miss tonight. It was a wonderful evening with really good lighting effects so some of us went out to look for more Otters without success. We did find large gatherings of seabirds on the waters and found more Common and Grey Seals on what was a quiet and relaxing evening. Wheatears were calling from what look like there nesting area. This was certainly one of a number of species of bird seen I think on every day of the trip. Meadow Pipit and Rock Pipit were also seen.

15th June. The morning was to be spent in Lerwick to allow time for shopping! Shopping I ask you! Who goes on a nature holiday to shop? Well it seems some did and apparently it is a popular part of the trip. Not for me however, so I spent the time on a walk, which included the Knab headland, with Phil and another member of the group. I really enjoyed the relaxing morning and our biggest reward were numbers of Twite feeding close by on seed heads. Lunch today was from the fish and chip shop and taken inside the fortified walls. I’d enjoyed my time in Lerwick. The best of the day was to come however.

The afternoon was spent on Dr Jonathan Wills boat, Dunter111. Jonathan has studied the geology and natural history of Shetland for more than twenty years. We were to spend time around Bressay and Noss, with time to admire the precipitous cliffs. This area holds a population of around 80,000 seabirds and as well as examining the precipitous old sandstone cliffs we watched the populations of Gannet, Kittiwake, Guillemot, Black Guillemot, Artic Skua, Great Skua, Puffin and Razorbill, along with gulls and Common and Grey Seals. It was a beautiful day so perfect for this trip and taking turns on the high seats on the roof of the boat offered a great experience. I took some shifting from there! I may have said so already, but I love being out on the water and watching birds in such numbers is very, very special.

The boat has an underwater camera so some time was spent inside one of the caves watching some of the underwater life on the screen. Fascinating stuff. Just as fascinating were the caves themselves which I took some time in realising were housing a number of Shag nesting sites.
As we returned to Lerwick Harbour a small island covered in Red Campion was pointed out and Grey Seals approached the boat. This afternoon was the highlight of the trip fro me, and others I suspect, although other highlights were plentiful. Raven and one of the few butterflies seen on the trip, a Large White Butterfly, was seen today. I returned to the hotel with a glowing face! More postcards in the post!

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