31st October. Time to get the Damarts out.

Well that's it for the next five months - no pre or post work birding and dark by 16:15. Can't grumble really it's been a good autumn and the many visits to the patch paid off not least with the short-lived Leach's Petrel. Visits during the last week have been few and poor with only 17 Pochard and 78 Coot making in to the notebook.

Three late afternoon visits to Pit-house West finally paid off yesterday with the returning Bittern heading to roost rather early at 17:15 - the eighth successive winter for Bitterns here. No sight or sound of any Cetti's Warblers either here or at Bolehill yet, but there's still time.

For the coming winter I will be mostly concentrating my time along the Rother, with perhaps a few coastal visits, baking sessions on those wet miserable days and the occasional blog post which will probably be mostly a bit crap!

A few pinkies always brighten up a dull day

23rd October. Cheeky Buggers!!

Do I do reviews on Damart fur lined wellies? No. Do I promote long weekends in Norfolk offering five star accommodation in a Michelin star rated hotel? No. Do I produce articles on how to tell a House Sparrow from a Tree Sparrow? No. So I wouldn't expect a magazine called 'Birdwatching' to run a comparison article about Pork Pies. Three years I've been peddling this rubbish with reviews on the various savouries that I have encountered on my travels from the Northern Isles to Lands End and occasionally beyond and now some national birding mag barges in and nicks my idea.

Well let's have a look at the pie that came second in their review:

Pork Farms Original
. I have to point out that I have to be very desperate to eat anything that is mass produced and just that occasion occurred on Tuesday of this week. A post work visit found me in the danger zone of Sainsbury's deli aisle. Needing something to fill a gap I opted for a Pork Farms original. I don't know why I did this - though there was very little to choose from and it was cheap. I bit into it and was instantly struck not by the taste or by the pastry but by the fact it seemed to coat my mouth in fat and actually made me gag. The pastry was incredibly greasy and the filling a mush of lips and arseholes! This without doubt was the nastiest pie that I have eaten and the first one I have ever discarded. I would compare it to taking a bite out of a block of lard, though to be honest a block of lard would have tasted better. Birdwatching gave it a six with five other pies scoring less. Presumably the reviewers consisted of a Pork Farms employee, a rabid dog and someone who'd had their tongue removed! Personally, if it was a choice between eating one of these and gnawing off my own arm the arm would win hands down or perhaps that should be hand down!

Now that's a full and frank review!

22nd October. Taking the Pish

There are a couple of problems that I usually encounter when returning from Shetland. The first is complete apathy towards any kind of birding. The other is that when I do finally force myself out I have the urge to 'pish'. Yes 'pish'. Not a hedge, bush, thicket or overgrown grass strip goes un-pished - even the shitty old buddleia gets pished on the way to work. I can only think that it's a mental thing - not me being a bit mental (though some would dispute this) more a case of my brain not realising that I'm no longer eating, sleeping and breathing birding.

Ironically my only cure for this ailment is to actually go out birding. Sooner or later the brain realises that no amount of farting, rasping or squeaking noises will lure anything out of a bush that is completely devoid of life. Eventually birding will return to the everyday dullness that it was before October.

I'm sure I've a couple more pishing days in me yet, as I successfully 'pished' several Sky Larks and a 'bunting' this afternoon. Twice the 'bunting' flew up, silhouetted and flying away from me without calling and flying miles. My intuition was screaming Lap Bunt, but my brain was saying this is Rotherham not Shetland or even the East Coast - so I let it go! In the end it was probably just a Reed but something in my head is screaming NO!

Nice but not a haven of 'rare'

16th October. Return of the M(a)cK

Great NEWS this morning. The, long thought dead, king of birding comedy is born again, time to set the swearing filter to maximum. Welcome back Tom

14th October. Until Next Year.

Our last few hours on Shetland involved virtually no birding (probably wise given last years final day antics) with the exception of a wander in to Toab for important supplies. Two Lap' Buntings around Sunnydell made for a fitting end to the trip - given that they were the first species we encountered at the start of the trip.

Thanks again to Rob for allowing us to stay and for letting us nick his car when we'd had enough of the greater Virkie area.

Plans for next year are afoot already with thoughts of moving further north.

Voe. One of my favourite Shetland villages

12th October. Nearly The End

Like all previous Shetland trips the penultimate day would see us up the ante on all fronts. The plan was to head north and in the fashion of a one-armed man firing a Kalashnikov hit various targets with a varying degree of success. In reality we had a look at a few notable Shetland hot spots and found that they all contained the same birds i.e. Robins, Chifchaff, Goldcrest and the occasional Dunnock, except at Sandgarth where there was a Yellow-browed.

Birds aside the rest of the trip was as I had indicated yesterday an orgy of pies and Otters (actually Otter) I'll let the photos do the speaking.

The secret brown door of the Voe pie shop. The light presumably indicates availability.

A blury undercover shot of the inside of said pie shop

Curry Pie, my new pie love

A massive dog otter performed at Toft, though always out of reach of a decent shot
Some proper otter photos can be seen HERE

News of an Isabelline Shrike at Scousburgh broke around 1:30, though for reasons unknown Birdnet carried it as a Wheatear. Not wanting to spoil our day by having to watch any rare we carried on with the Robin stroking gradually making our way south. Failing to see yesterdays Spotted Sandpiper we eventually gave up on the whole rare finding thing and made for Scousburgh. Where this showed very nicely.

11th October. Shameful

Another succesful day of proving the lack of rare in the Sumburgh/Virkie area. Only bird of note was the Great Grey Shrike between the hotel and the farm busy collecting the remaining Goldcrests.

Desperate to sample some new ground we moved on to Boddam where we encounted more Robins, Goldcrests and Chiffchaff - new ground same birds. Retreating to Mainlands saw me sinking to new depths previously unheard of on Shetland. I succumbed to the inferior, puff pastry, mechanically recovered filling type meat pie - the type you find in dirty chip shops.

Shameful pie eaten we headed to Lerwick following a report of a Bonelli's Warbler. The Bonelli's didn't show great and was too far away to hear even if it had been calling. The rest of the day was exactly as it was earlier - Robins etc.

Tomorrow is our last full day. We've given up on finding anything that would qualify us a mention in next years BB and are set on an orgy of pies and Otters (hopefully).

In the absense of a rare bird finding account here are some pictures to fill the void.

10th October. Nothing To See Here

Waking at dawn to a fresh easterly wind and 100% cloud cover I was soon dressed, fed and out of the door. Goldcrests were every where and there seemed to be a couple of Robins in every garden. Strolling up to the tattie field I noted good numbers of Redwing and even the first Fieldfare of the trip. With a spot of drizzle in the air I met up with the Llama and we headed for Sumburgh. There was a steady trickle of birds on the way all Goldcrests, Robins and more Redwing. The Sumburgh Hotel garden also had plenty of Goldcrests and a few Robins. By the time we'd made our way to the farm it was mainly just Goldcrests, no Yellow-browed and the Pallas's had gone. By the time we'd got to the head it was devoid of life. The winds had now swung ENE and it was much cooler, fortunately we cadged a lift back to Scatness and headed for the warmth of Sunnydell.

Is this the start of the end of autumn for South Mainland?

9th October. Try Harder

Spent a full nine hours in the field today walking around Virkie, Toab and then over to Quendale. Spent the bulk of the day at the later up and down the valley and then up and down again. First trip up we had a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers had flight views of the Dusky Warbler and found a new in Red-breasted Fly. Following a quick cuppa at the visitors centre we bumped in to Messrs Riddington, Harvey and Garner. Following a chat with Martin we bid farewell and left them to go up the valley. The Llama commented that he felt uneasy leaving Quendale knowing that that motley crew were on their way up the valley. Sure enough before we'd even put a foot in to the lower burn iris beds Martin was on the phone telling me they'd just found an Olive-backed Pipit - what frightfully lucky chaps! I caught a very fleeting glimpse of the pipit, that wasn't even good enough for the trip list, before it buggered off round the back of the farm. This bird was clearly new in and this prompted us to again do the full upper burn for which we received no reward.

A rather frustrating day with constant news of 'rare' being found all over the place - tomorrow we must try even harder.

8th October. The Wrong Pants

Woke with a reasonable amount of enthusiasm, though after a thorough search around the two crop fields it had reduced to at best enthusiastic apathy so I retreated to Sunnydell for tea and toast. There was clearly nothing happening, though a Garden Warbler and a few Redwing were new.

The sun was shining and there were little if any clouds in the sky, clearly today was not going to be the day. Getting far too comfy in front of the laptop - mostly chuckling at the raptor goings on on Scilly - I was gradually slipping in to a lack of birds depression. Andy insisted that we should get out and battle on and I reluctantly agreed. Making for the Sumburgh area we first concentrated on the farm and the adjacent quarries again there was very little, but as the cloud began to build the birds soon magically began to appear. Nothing much just Goldcrests, Robins and Song Thrushes.

Walking towards the hotel I picked up a couple of Spotted Fly's, several Chiffchaffs and at least one of the two Yellow-browed Warblers that Gary had found earlier and another distant stripey headed phyllosc that appeared to have a yellow rump and a crown stripe. Sure it was a splendid Pallas's Warbler, one of those birds that you watch and feel totally gracious. With a further 2 Pallas's, R F Blue-tail and Pallas's Gropper found throughout Shetland today tomorrow is shaping up very nicely.

Were you wondering what the title refers to? No? I didn't think so! Since finding the Leach's Petrel last month I christened the pants of the day my 'lucky pants'. Given the forecast I got them ready for today's birding only to forget to put them on. Does this mean that I have two pairs of lucky pants or am I just talking bollocks - I'll leave it to you to decide.

7th October. In the Air Tonight

According to sources in the know, there's a shit storm of migrants heading west throughout the Low Countries this evening. Obviously Holland is well south of Shetland but one assumes that the same thing will be happening further north. With this in mind I'm off to bed, but before that a review of the day. I didn't see much other than one, probably two, Barred Warblers between Virkie and Toab and a few geese moving through. Goodnight.

6th October. Buff N Stuff

With the weather suggesting that there would be little chance of anything new, we decided that the best course of action for today would be to pay the Buff stuff at Esha Ness a visit, taking in some likely hotspots along the way.

First port of call was Voe, where the stand of sycamores behind the Pier Head and Voe House are always popular. Standing behind the Pier Head I was distracted by the delicate fragrance of baking. I had been tipped off over the weekend that Voe is the home of Johnson and Wood, bakers of the legendary macaroni pie. Wandering past the bakery I caught the eye of one of the staff and asked where I might purchase said delicacy. Directed towards a discreet door I entered the magical kingdom of the pie bakery. In a rather surreptitious manner a draw was pulled back, revealing a collection of offerings. I opted for a macaroni and a chicken in white sauce. On seeing me walking down the street with my purchases the Llama left the unidentified passerine he had heard and headed for the bakery to break his macaroni pie virginity. To say he was pleased with it would be an understatement.

Love at first bite

The King of Pies wears a crown hiding its secret layer of baked beans below

There were also a few birds at Voe with Spotted and at least a couple of Pied Fly's being the avian highlights.

Next stop was for the Buff-bellied Pipit at Tangwick. A couple of photographers were staked out net to its usual spot but the bird wasn't playing. Wandering a 100 or so yards down the road I found a flock of pipits in a field, one of which was the target bird. Unfortunately I was unable to get anyone over, due too lack of phone signal before it disappeared. We decided to head over to Esha Ness for the Buff-breasted Sand's and return to Tangwick in the hope that it would be back in the field.

At Esha Ness it didn't take long to locate two of the sandpipers and as usual, with this species they were rather tame.

Returning back to Tangwick we delighted with point blank views of the pipit.

A few other likely rare looking sites were checked out on the way home, most of which I'm sure would be overflowing with migrants given the right conditions. As it as the best we could manage was a Yellow-browed Warbler and a Jack Snipe at Isbister.

5th October. Yomp

After a late night, anything after 9pm is late for me, I had a bit of a lie in and finally dragged myself out of bed at 8.30 and mooched around for a while. It was still quite windy outside, but in a moment of madness I grabbed my stuff and headed out. What started off as a wander around the crops ended up in a full scale yomp. Virkie to Boddam to Quendale and back to Virkie which probably covered close on 12 miles. And the birds? One Jack Snipe at Boddam and a Whitethroat halfway up Quendale. So despite what you might read on the pager it's not really overrun with birds common, scarce or rare!
Despite the lack of birds it was a very enjoyable walk that I might just do again when there's more birds about.
Some pies were acquired halfway round, from Mainlands, but were of a poor quality and a little overpriced.

4th October. Lighthouse Fever Spreads

Following news of the Pallas's Gropper we decided that given the size of the Swainson's crowd we'd give it a miss at least until things had calmed down. Wandering around the crop field seeing very little, except for a couple of Whinchat, my concentration was broken by a call from the Drunkbirder informing me that the PG Tips had been confirmed. Unfortunately Rob had tour guide duties to perform and a lift to Levenwick was unavailable until 11!

Starting to feel restless I set off walking to Levenwick with the thought that I could probably hitch a lift some of the way. Unfortunately cars were heading north at a rate of one every ten minutes and those that passed clearly didn't like my unshaven serial killer look.

Rob and Andy calmed me down reassuring me that it would still be there and offered to pick me up on their way to the Sumburgh Radde's. This time the Radde's was showing well and after some poor photography we were on our way to the Gropper.

Gropper? Yes gropper. Arriving at Levenwick we were greeted by two of the 'losers' who invited Andy and myself to have a look at pictures of the PG Tips - except that these were pictures of a gropper! They weren't great pictures and I kept my thoughts to myself. The Llama however told them straight - those Llamas can be nasty at times. Further photos clearly showed a gropper.

It seems that three of them had simply suffered a case of Lighthouse Fever. Lighthouse Fever occurs when you're on a roll and your confidence is high. You've found that big rare and your appetite demands more. You forget the rules and suffer spells of delusion, forgetting that common birds do also occur on Shetland - you become a Gurner*. Before you know it your up to your balls in an iris bed or disused quarry with flashes of 'rare' round every corner. The condition ultimately results in a feeling of abject failure where despite having struck gold previously you realise that you're only as good as your last bird. The only known cure is to get out there and readdress the balance with more rare, a nice Dusky Thrush ought to do it.

Some consolation came in the form of the nearby Channerwick Booted Warbler being re-identified as a Sykes. Unfortunately it was a right bugger to see in the Japanese Knotweed but eventually gave itself up to a typical (for Shetland) small crowd.

Lately I seem to have a knack of missing the bill off everything!

The Levenwick lot left Channerwick laughing with threats of clearing the nearby Sandwick Bakery of pastry based savouries. Sure enough when I arrived the shelves were empty. Expressing my disappointment I was overjoyed when one of the nice ladies in the shop nipped in the back and came out with a fine brace of fresh lasagne pies, which I waved under the nose of the Losers - it just wasn't their day.
With filming over for the latest series of Benidorm Johnny Vegas embarked on a week in the Levenwick area

Gurn (gûrn)- vb
1. To contort one's face; grimace.
2. To accidentally identify a common bird as a rare one.

(Courtesy of J Gilroy)

3rd October. We're Not Singing Anymore.....

Not much to report. Failed to find anything of interest, actually I didn't find anything. Thrashed around some fields and ditches, missed the Radde's at Sumburgh twice, drank some tea, went to the shop, saw a Great Grey Shrike outside the house and thrashed around in some fields and a ditch again, all for scant reward.

To add insult to injury those nice chaps at Levenwick had a probable Pallas's Gropper just as the light was going! All in all making it a pretty crap day.

The third umpire has been called upon but for the moment its:

Levenwick Losers (oh the irony) 2 - Fools of Virkie 0

2nd October. It's Gone a Bit Scilly

These Shetland trips don't half come around quick, it seems only 364 days since I last came here.

Picking the Llama up (because as everyone knows Llamas can't drive) ridiculously early at 4am we made our way excitedly to Birmingham Airport, got on a plane, got off at Aberdeen, got on another plane and arrived on Shetland just before 11am.

A quick cup of tea and we were out in the field - the field at the back of the house to be precise. A nice start with 4 Lapland Buntings and a Whinchat raising hopes that there were plenty of migrants around, though the former had probably been around for a while. In to Toab where the pie space in the shop was empty whilst another Whinchat lurked behind. News of a Radde's Warbler in the second quarry at Sumburgh was tempting but we resisted and headed for the Exnaboe area. Typically the Llama and I picked the wrong route and saw very little (actually nothing) whilst the Fray stumbled in to, Bluethroat, Black Redstart, Short-toed Lark and a Yellow-browed, all bar the latter we caught up with later.

Adolf the cat. Cleansing Exnaboe and Virkie area of 'rare'

With birds obviously arriving we figured that Sumburgh Lighthouse would be a good bet and better still birder free. We were right about the lack of birders (they were all at the Radde's) but only managed a Brambling and a Sedge Warbler, which toyed with our tired minds and eyes before giving itself up.

Our plan to look at the Radde's was put on hold when a call from John Hague AKA The Drunkbirder, informed us that they had just found a Swainson's Thrush. What a jolly nice find, couldn't happen to a nicer bunch thought I or something similar. Reluctantly we left our solitary Sedge Warbler and headed for the thrush.

Arriving there to negative news we were greeted by the unusually sober Hague, who happily showed us photos of their prize find which had now vanished. Fortunately it was soon re-found in a nearby garden where it eventually gave itself up.

This is my 6th autumn trip to Shetland and every year there seems to be more and more birders visiting, presumably because Scilly is crap and massively expensive compared to Shetland. I couldn't help but feel that the Swainson's 'twitch' was a little overcrowded, though all birders I saw were well behaved - let's hope it stays that way.

Half the crowd.

Day one in the South Mainland Cup and it's Levenwick Losers 1 Fools of Virkie 0