17th October. The Bigger Shetland Picture

Black-headed Bunting, Pallid Harrier, Olive-backed Pipit, 2 self-found Barred Warblers, 6 Self-found Yellow-browed Warblers, 3 Rosefinch, Citrine Wagtail, American Golden Plover, Isabelline Shrike, Buff-bellied Pipit.... Not a bad haul really and if you'd just read that on Birdguides you'd probably be quite envious. That's not the true picture though. If you want to chase around looking at birds that someone else found then that's absolutely fine and as a result you could quite easily have seen all of the above and a few more besides. However if like Andy and me you like to try and find your own birds and explore new (well newish) ground then Shetland this year was a big let down.

We covered lots of ground on Unst some real cracking habitat with form. It wasn't the lack of rare it was the seemingly complete lack of everything. The truer picture is that apart for the aforementioned rares and to the best of my now hazy memory we saw just the following (migrants) throughout the entire trip; 7 Chiffchaffs, 3 Goldcrests, singles of Whinchat, Redstart, Pied Fly, Spot Fly, Lesser Whitethroat, 3 Garden Warblers, 6 Willow Warblers (a marked increase) and significantly less Blackcaps. Thoroughly working plantations or gardens when there's is no sign of life is just so bloody sole destroying.

Things got worse when we headed south, when not only was there a lack of migrants there was a massive increase in the number of 'twitching' birders. Never in my seven autumn visits have I seen so many visiting birders, to quote Andy it was like Scilly with cars. This brought our moral down even more but the dream team of Harvey, Riddington, Small and Garner finding a nearby Buff-bellied Pipit both raised our expectations and helped concentrate the rampant tickers in one place. We headed in the opposite direction!!

The following morning after listening to constant lashing wind and rain we eventually ventured out after a rousing call to arms from Martin who informed us of masses of thrushes arriving. Not quite the 'thousands' that we had expected but certainly an arrival. We spent the next few hours getting a proper battering around the familiar territory of Sumburgh Head and Farm for scant reward - in fact no reward.

The rest of our stay was pretty much the same i.e. no migrants and no new rares after HRSG's pipit and I can honestly say that by Wednesday morning I was glad to get on that plane (eventually) to Glasgow. However on reflection that's just the magic of Shetland you never know what your going to get and to be fair I've had much worse years. Perhaps It would be a little hasty for me to say that I won't be back next year?

Some of the usual favoured spots were this year very much out of bounds.


Phil Woollen. said...

Mark. We commented on the lack of commoner migrants this year. Last year the islands were teaming with Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Goldcrests. This year we saw very few. Yellow-browed Warblers were probably the commonest warbler followed by Blackcap. Like yo uwe saw more Willow Warblers this year than on any previous trip. We caught high numbers on Hilbre this spring (the highest for 15 - 20 years) and record numbers have been caught this autumn in Scnadinavia. At least one of 'our' birds appeared to be a greyish Scandinavian bird.

Yorkslister said...

If you think Unst and south Mainland are bad you should try 2 weeks of south west on Foula mate, No twitchers to put up with though!