Shetland, Foula 15th of September to 5th of October 2009
On the 15th September we had been once again overnight in my parents’ house in Kirkkonummi. I had come there from Hailuoto bird-race and Hanna had come straight from Parikkala. In the morning, Hanna visited a Zoological museum in Helsinki and we met in Helsinki-Vantaa airport at 11 a.m.
At 12.55 p.m. our Blue1 plane left towards London Heathrow where we landed at 2 p.m. local time, more than 30 minutes earlier than the schedule. We soon found our luggage and walked to the metro-station where we immediately got the metro to King’s Cross.
After an hour, we were in King’s Cross and we were now already 2 hours ahead of schedule. So we had plenty of time to go to eat before our train to Peterborough left at 5.49 p.m.
In Peterborough we were at 6.36 p.m. and soon our old friend Paul French arrived with his new big Skoda! After an hours driving we were in Boston where we did shopping and bought huge fish & ships and went to Paul’s apartment where the rest of the evening was spent chatting. A Tawny Owl was calling on the backyard.
On the 16th of September we woke up before 8 a.m. and half an hour later we were driving towards Freiston Shore, where Paul had work to do. He was cutting a grass field with a tractor so it could be a good place for ducks and geese to come. We started to walk slowly towards the coast and checked all the pools on the way.
On the pools we found some Little Grebes and so on and along the fields we saw Yellow Wagtails (the British race, flavissima) and many other common birds. The best birds were 2 young Mediterranean Gulls in a big flock of gulls that was on a muddy field. When we had walked to the coast we saw lots of Shelducks, Black-tailed Godwits, some Little Egrets, Marsh Harriers, Merlin and so on.
At 11.00 a.m. we had walked to a high hide that was used only by local birders and was locked but we had Pauls key. We climbed to the second floor to wait what high tide would bring to the coast. We soon found the 2nd c-y male King Eider that Paul had found some days earlier. It was the 1st ever for Lincolnshire.
While the tide was rising also several local birders came to the hide. Also more and more birds were coming to the shore: a couple of Brent Geese, Sandwich Terns, Common Terns, a couple of Whimbrels and Spotted Redshanks, Bar-tailed Godwits and lots of other waders. When the tide was highest we saw also lots of seabirds: Gannets, Kittiwakes, Arctic Skuas, Great Skuas, 2 Pomarine Skuas and a Manx Shearwater. At 5 p.m. Paul came to pick us up and the rest of the evening we were packing and so on.
A long way to north
On 17th September, we woke up already at 5 a.m. and an hour later Paul Eele arrived and soon we had packed our luggage to Frenchy’s car and started a long drive to north. We were sleeping quite a lot with Hanna on back-seat so we didn’t even notice when we passed the border of Scotland.
We continued until Aberdeen, a grey granite town. We were there several hours earlier than we had expected so after a couple of hours waiting we were able to go to the North Link Ferries ferry that left still a couple of hours later to Shetland.
At 5 p.m. the ferry left and we of course climbed up to the top deck to see seabirds. In a couple of hours we saw some Manx Shearwaters, a Sooty Shearwater, Gannets, Fulmars, Kittiwakes and also dolphins, porpoises and a Minke Whale. At 9 p.m. we went to sleep to a quiet corner of a bar.
To Shetland and Foula
On the 18th of September we woke up after not very good sleep at 6 a.m. and at 7.30 we arrived in Lerwick – the capital of Shetland and on the east coast of the main island. When we had the car off the ferry we drove to a small lake nearby to try to find a Lesser Scaup that had been reported here. But all we found were Tufted ducks and later we heard that it wasn’t sure if there’d been a Lesser Scaup at all. We also visited a shop because we still had to buy some more food for the first week on Foula. We met the rest of our group Garry Taylor and Gavin Thomas at Tingwall airport. They had already been a day in Shetland and managed to get most of our food supplies to the tiny Foula ferry. The crew told us that the Directflight companys bigger plane was not working and the smaller had just left to Fair Isle so our flight was late.
About 11 a.m. our small plane took off for Foula, and there was space only for us 6. Luckily we had booked our flights early! The weather was perfect for flying and the scenery was unbelievable, and the more amazing it became when the small and remote island of Foula started to rise from the horizon.
Our goal Foula is only 5 kilometres long and 4km wide and lies 30 kilometres west from main island of Shetland and Lerwick. For a long time, the island has been the farthest and the most difficult to get to for birders, but always when there have been birders present, something really good has turned up. Usually birders go to Fair Isle where there is the famous Fair Isle Bird Observatory and were usually some 30 birders or so stay. This year the observatory was closed due to being completely rebuilt. The main thing for us was that we were going to Foula, we were there almost alone and the whole island and birds were ours! At least until the 2nd group of birders arrived a few days later! There are 28 people living on Foula, and the only B&B has been closed for some years. The accommodation that we were going to wasn’t really advertising at all. Luckily, Frenchy had been working in Shetland for five seasons and had been to Foula before. He knew the Foula-ranger, Isobel Holbourn, who owned the cottage so this is where we stayed.
Even though Foula is a small island there are many mountains and the highest peak, “The Sneug” is 418 metres high. The most spectacular thing in the island is that the whole north and west coast drops straight down to the sea from high mountains! The highest cliff is over 370 metres, and can be seen from nearly 100km on a clear day.
We landed to a short air-field and soon fire-men (local women) gave us permission to get out from the plane and get our luggage. Isobel was waiting for us and we carried our luggage to her and one another car and got a ride to the north end of the island to Ristie where our cottage was. There was just one 4 kilometres long road from southernmost houses to Ristie and a couple of short side-roads to some other houses and to harbour, but still all the islanders had the own cars!
When we arrived at Ristie we understood how amazing a place it was! The view outside was amazing, there were only 2 more houses; Isobel’s and one abandoned house and just some hundreds of metres from the house on the coast was a huge rock in the sea known as “Gaada Stack”. The cottage was big and comfortable with all facilities. We got our own room with Hanna, and the guys were sleeping in the huge living room where there was also a dining table in front of a big window with nice views to the mountains. The kitchen was maybe a little bit narrow so when we were all there it was like being in a submarine. The bathroom was also very big and good so it really seemed that we could easily spend next 2 weeks here!
After we had unpacked some of our luggage and found most of our food supplies that Isobel had brought from the boat earlier we went out to see the island and birds! We found a map with all the birding places marked and also those houses and gardens marked where we were allowed to go to look. The islanders had really prepared for birders! So we walked until the southernmost tip of the island and checked all the marked places.
Straightaway it was clear that the number one bird of the beginning of the trip was a Great Skua! They were everywhere! Also, lots of Fulmars were flying in the middle of the island and they came to look at us very close like the Great Skuas did. On the sea there were huge numbers of Fulmars and Gannets, with lots of Shags on the rocky coast. Great Black-backed Gull was also common. Meadow Pipits and Skylarks were in big flocks and Starlings, Wheatears and Blackbirds were common. In the wetter areas there were quite a few Snipe, near the houses were House Sparrows and Rock Doves and several flock of Twites were also seen. A couple of Hooded Crows and Ravens were the only corvids. A flock of Golden Plovers were flying around the southern part of the island, a flock of Teals were found on one of the lakes and on the coast Eiders, Turnstones, Redshanks, Herring Gulls and Rock Pipits were easy to find. Black Guillemots were close inshore all the time. In the middle of the island there was a Shetland-pony farm where there were more than 10 Lapwings and a few Curlews.
One of the most important places for birds were all the vegetation along the ditches and also all gardens that were inside stone walls that protected the plants from the wind. Quite a few of these gardens were near abandoned houses. There were lots of abandoned houses, there had been up to 300 people in the past, but only a couple of the gardens were really good. The birds we found were 4 Lesser Whitethroats, 2 Garden Warblers, a Blackcap and 4 Chiffchaffs. The best bird was found near the best garden in Ham, a young Barred Warbler.
The southern tip of the island had lots of short grassy plains and the lush Hametoon Burn. We also walked around the South Ness where we found a couple of Snow Buntings before we walked along the coastline back to north. Under one cliff we heard a calling Common Crossbill and on another cliff we saw a White Wagtail. When we were already tired and close to Ristie, a Peregrine flew over us. Finally, we were back at Ristie and even though we hadn’t found any real rarities we were very happy! The weather had been perfect and the place really looked promising! After dinner, we were ready to go to sleep already at 10 p.m.
The first whole day on Foula
On the 19th September we woke up very early and after breakfast we walked to shore near Gaada Stack and did seawatching for next hour. On the sea there were huge numbers of Fulmars, lots of Gannets, some Common Guillemots and a couple of birds that were probably Puffins but they were too far and disappeared too soon behind big waves. 5 Kittiwakes were migrating and a Sooty Shearwater was flying around with the Fulmars.
The weather was still absolutely beautiful, the sun was shining and the wind was tolerable. We still went to see stunning views of the North Bank before we started birding walk again. We walked almost straight to Ham that was almost in the middle of the island. On the way we found a hurt Starling that wasn’t flying. We caught it but it seemed to be otherwise in a good shape so we let it go. Ten Teals were still on the same lake and a Grey Heron. In Ham we spent a lot of time and saw a Redwing, some Common Crossbills, a Whinchat and again the Barred Warbler that was now staying in one small flowery bush.
We walked back to north along the coast. Turnstone was the most common wader but we saw also some Redshanks and an Oystercatcher. Other birds were a 2nd c-y Whooper Swan that was swimming in one of the lakes, 3 Common Gulls, some Snow Buntings and Lapland Buntings. I also caught a hurt Great Skua that also seemed to be ok, just not flying well. That was a cool bird in the hand!
In the afternoon we were again cooking and talking. We also found out that there was another small apartment attached to our house and there was a birder – Andrew Grieve – staying for a couple of months. During the first week we really didn’t see him almost at all – it really seemed that he was trying to avoid us!
Another long day
On the 20th, the schedule was almost a routine. We woke up at 7 a.m., had a good breakfast and went birding. This time we walked a long way until South Ness again. In Ham we again saw a couple of Chiffchaffs and also a Robin. Then we checked all the gardens near Hameton where we saw a Song Thrush before we walked through the wet areas where we finally found another of the Quails that the rest of our group had seen last afternoon. The first migrating flock of Pink-footed Geese was also seen.
Then we had a long walk through The Daal to the west coast and to a cleft in the cliff called “Da Sneck o da Smaallie”. The views were incredible and the cleft itself was stunning. We had walked too much when we finally arrived back at Ristie after 6 p.m. and the sun was already setting down behind the mountains on the west side of our house.
Wind gets strong
On the 21st September the wind had changed dramatically and it was blowing very hard from west. It was also raining until the late morning. We started again with a short seawatch and saw even 3 Sooty Shearwaters. Finally it seemed it’s not going to rain anymore and we started walking again. Now there was a Mallard with the Teals. In Ham, the only better bird was the Barred Warbler and the walk back along the coast produced 12 Snow Buntings, a Dunlin, a Knot and a Purple Sandpiper. It was once again nice to watch seals, different ages of common seals and grey seals. In the best places there were more than 10 seals lying on the rocks and when we were walking, the swimming seals started to follow us and when we stopped they were just looking at us and sometimes even calling! They had really strange calls; funniest one was a deep howling! We were finally back in Ristie at 4 p.m. very tired and wet because of some showers.
In the evening we had again the same routines except Garry had made sweet chocolate-pie. British pop was playing in Garrys laptop and we’re reading different kind of magazines that we had brought with us. It was already very late and we’re already planning to go to sleep when we heard a soft bang from the window and there was a Snow Bunting perched on the window board and wanting to get in.
The next 2 days the weather was still bad. The wind was getting stronger and stronger. On both days we walked first to Ham and on the first day just back along the coast but on the second day we walked until South Ness.
The rose bushes near pony-farm had a Chaffinch, on the lakes we saw 5 Wigeons and a Pintail. The Barred Warbler was still on the same bush and finally we managed to get good pictures of it. On the shore we found 5 Purple Sandpipers and a Dunlin. In South Ness we saw some flocks of migrating Greylag Geese, 2 Black-headed Gulls and a young Lesser Black-backed Gull.
We climbed to see new views to the top of lowest mountains where was another lake but the place is far too windy for any bird to be. But the views were good to the island. On the second day we also met another group of birders that had arrived and were staying in B&B. Paul and Neil Wright and Kevin Shepherd had been in Foula for many autumns and they were the only group that still were able to stay in B&B. On the way back to Ristie we saw an Icelandic Redpoll before it started to rain again and we were completely wet when we finally made it to Ristie.
In the evening we were drying our clothes and watching different kind of birdtrip-pictures from the laptop.
Not very big surprises
On the 24th of September the weather was still cloudy but the wind was a little bit weaker. Still it was difficult to walk when the wind was really blasting and the boat that was supposed to bring us more food wasn’t able to come at all! While we’re walking some showers made us wet but luckily the wind dried us quickly. On the shores we saw 8 Lapland Buntings, 2 Purple Sandpipers and a Knot. Then our radiophone finally came to life and told that another group of birders had found a Marsh Warbler. It was about time that something happened! The bird was hiding extremely well in irises on the west side of Ham, but finally we managed to see it well and even get some pictures so the identification was possible. In Ham we also saw a couple of Garden Warblers but then it started to rain constantly so we walked quickly back to Ristie. In the evening we got some pork-meat from Isobel because we were running out of food. We all had too much macaroni and spaghetti but not enough meat anymore.
We keep on trying
On the 25th and 26th September the wind was again awful and still from west. It might have been clever to stay in like half of hour group but we and Paul Eele were walking to Ham checking every single bush and ditch on the way and then walking back along the coast. The best birds were the same Barred Warbler, a Garden Warbler, a Knot, a Sanderling, a Purple Sandpiper, a Pintail, 9 Wigeons, a Red-breasted Merganser, a Grey Heron and a Pied Wagtail. Also 25 Snow Buntings, 100 Twites and 2 Whinchats were seen. But many birds were gone. There were only some tens of Great Skuas, Meadow Pipits, Skylarks, Wheatears and Blackbirds were less and less every day and the warblers were the same every day. So there was almost nothing new in the island.
Some arctic birds
On the 27th September we were again seawatching in the morning and saw 3 Sooty Shearwaters, 8 Kittiwakes and some Common Guillemots. We had just walked to Ham when Frenchy called to the radiophone that he had found an Arctic Redpoll. I wouldn’t have been excited at all but I knew it probably would be a Hornemann’s subspecies. Hanna decided to stay at Ham but I walked back to the northern end of Harrier where I found Paul but the bird had just disappeared. After some searching I gave up and walked a couple of kilometres back to Ham from where we immediately started to walk back to north along the coast.
I was pretty fed up and tired but luckily Hanna was still sharp and only about a kilometre before Ristie she found the same Hornemann’s Arctic Redpoll with 5 Twites perched on a fence. We took a couple of pictures quickly and then tried to get contact to the others, but we were behind big hills so the radiophone didn’t work. Luckily, we soon saw Gav and managed to somehow wave him that we had a good bird so that he understood and came to see it. We left Gav to photograph the bird and walked to Ristie where we thought we could find the rest of our group but they were still out and birding. Luckily, Garry and P.Eele had found Gav and then seen the bird too. Frenchy was of course relieved when we had finally seen and even managed to get good pictures of this bird that was a Rarity Committee species. But after all, Frenchy should check his RC-description before showing it to the other committee members, because of Garry did some small changes to it…
Other good birds of the day were 3 Red-breasted Mergansers, a Tufted Duck and 200 migrating Pink-footed Geese.
On the 28th September, it was raining the whole morning. So the best observations were made through our windows. Our small feeder had one regular visitor – “Westerly” the Foula Wood Mouse. Well of course sheep were eating everything else except bananas and Westerly got only crumbs. Finally, the weather changed at 11 a.m. and it became really nice. 3 Barnacle Geese flew over us and lots of Pink-footed (130) and Greylag Geese (200) were also migrating. Together with P.Eele we walked to the Harrier where we found a different Arctic Redpoll, a flock of Redpolls, a Willow Warbler and a Merlin before we continued to Ham where Frenchy was already.
We continued to south where nothing new was found. Even Hameton was as boring as before. We had used to walk back from Ham along the coast so we did it again with Hanna and saw 40 Snow Bunting, a Knot, a Sanderling and so on. During the day we saw even 49 species – the last one was a Blackcap in our garden.
“It’s a hard work!”
On the 29th September we were absolutely too tired to walk a lot, but anyway we walked through Harrier to Ham and still until to War Memorial where we thought would be a good spot to do some seawatching and have a good range for radiophones so we’d hear if friends can find something. But we were wrong! All the others were birding in south and they had found a Corn Crake, which is nothing interesting for us usually but this bird was young and easy to photograph! When the second alarm came we heard just some chattering but luckily we knew that everyone else were south we started to walk there. Near the airfield we got a better signal and heard that Kevin had found a Buff-bellied Pipit at the end of The Daal near Da Sneck o da Smaallie! At the church we met P.Eele and P.Wright and soon we were almost running across The Daal towards the west cliffs. Somehow we managed to be the first ones to see Kevin who was sitting on a grass and clearly looking somewhere tightly. But when we were only some hundreds of metres from him he suddenly ran near the cliff and then soon climbed back to the hillside. A Meadow Pipit had been chasing the Buff-bellied Pipit down from the edge! We decided to just wait if the bird comes back and started to check carefully all the pipits of the valley – and there were lots of them – but they were all Meadow Pipits. The wind was once again horrible and even though we checked all the pipits very carefully the only better bird we saw was another Arctic Redpoll that flew over us.
We had promised to go to the harbour at 4 p.m. because the islanders had asked us to help them there. A bigger ship was coming every six months to collect all the bigger rubbish like oil-barrels and broken cars and there weren’t too many young people on the island that were able to lift heavy things. All the others left earlier (Frenchy had found a Buff-bellied Pipit in Frampton last year so they had seen the species, or sub-species already) but me and Hanna stayed with Kevin and Neil, still trying to find the pipit for half an hour. But then it started to rain heavily and we also gave up and walked to the harbour.
The ship had just arrived at the harbour so after all we weren’t late. Surprisingly also Andrew was there and he came to talk with us gladly. For the next hour we were lifting heavy rubbish to big bins and followed dangerous-looking transportation of cars from harbour to the ship. When the ship was full we got a ride to Ristie from Isobel.
Even though we had done good work in harbour and finally got some food-supplies too the atmosphere was very down beaten in the living room. At least I was already sick tired of the whole island and walking and wind and rain. We had only a couple of days left and we had just lost the best bird of the trip! The only positive thing was that Isobel had promised us to use her old car for the rest of the trip as she had got a new one from the ship.
The last day of September didn’t look any more promising. Garry drove us to south and together with Frenchy we walked once again to Da Sneck o da Smaallie, where we sat in the wind and rain and checked some 50 Meadow Pipits. Pretty soon we gave up and walked to Hametoun, where all the others except Gav were already. We walked through the wet places but nothing new was found but when we were almost on the eastern shore we got a message from P.Wright that he was looking at a likely Buff-bellied Pipit just on the shore! So we almost ran there and Garry managed to get there first. Just when we were getting there, the bird jumped to flight and flew over us calling very distinctive Grey Wagtail like “tsi-tsipp” -call! Luckily we saw where the bird landed and soon we managed to see it running on the grass. But again just after some 20 seconds it flew high to the sky, called a longer series like “tsi-tsi-tsi-tsip” and flew far towards north. Gav was just walking towards us near the church when the bird flew over him still calling so he also managed to see it. Of course all of us would have liked to see this bird much better…
For the next couple of hours we were trying to find the Buff-bellied Pipit on the places we thought it might have landed, but we weren’t successful. But then again the other group had good news – they had found a Pechora Pipit in Ham! We climbed to a car except P.Eele who had already walked north and drove carefully to Ham. There our friends had just lost the bird near the bridge, so first we decided to check the western irises. But nothing was found there so we changed to the eastern side of the bridge and soon we found it! One of the birds I really had hoped to see was now true! Pechora Pipit was flying several times by itself, calling “tsip” a couple of times and landing in the middle of the meter high irises.
Frenchy sacrificed himself and drove to Ristie to pick up P.Eele and when they came back the bird was luckily still easy to find. Finally some longer showers and already darkening evening made us leave the bird and we planned to come back the next morning and try to get some pictures.
Isobel had chosen a perfect day to serve us a good pork-meal; we finally had a reason to celebrate! Almost all of us had got a lifer!
The 1st October was our last whole day in Foula. We started as planned in Ham where we again checked first the western side of the bridge and then eastern side where we immediately managed to push the Pechora Pipit to the road and managed to get some pictures of it.
But soon we were running again when Neil had found the Buff-bellied Pipit from the western side but just a little bit further where we had already been. We tried with Garry to go to get some kind of pictures of this rapid bird, but again we just saw and heard it flying high over us and continuing very far south-east.
Then Garry drove us to Harrier where we checked every single place with P.Eele and found again an Arctic Redpoll that we had already seen in early morning with the help of Andrew too. We were still walking in Harrier when we heard that Frenchy had found the Buff-bellied Pipit again and now it was feeding in the middle of the pony-farm. We were sure it’s not going to stay there, and checked carefully all the rest of the places on the way to Ham and only then walked to the pony-farm. Surprisingly the bird was still there and together with Garry and Gav we tried for an hour to get good pictures of it, but it was still a little bit too far in the pasture surrounded by fences and running too fast behind the grass so we couldn’t get really good pictures. Finally we gave up and left Garry and Gav with the bird and decided to walk south.
In Hametoun we found Frenchy and together we checked the area well but again nothing was found. We kept some showers on the shelter of walls and then started to walk back north. The Buff-bellied Pipit was still there in the pasture and, with help of Neil, Hanna went inside the fences and managed to get really close to the bird and get some good pictures before it started to rain very hard.
In Ham we walked through the best places with Frenchy and we decided to walk back to Ristie along the coast and Frenchy decided to check once more Harrier and other places along the road. We were just walking towards the harbour with Hanna when in the middle of the road, in the place that had been full of rubbish just a couple of days earlier, was a reddish-brown, cute, big-headed and big-eyed, weakly spotted-breasted bird that I immediately identified as a catharus thrush! Even though we were tired our brains needed much less that a half a second to realize what we had to do, so I said to Hanna: “Take pictures – quickly!” and Hanna was already taking! Before I heard Hanna’s camera clicking I wasn’t moving at all but finally I was able to raise my binos and take a better look at the bird! The bird was just 10 to 15 metres from us and of course it had been pretty easy to identify already with bare eyes to Veery! Soon the bird flew behind one of the racked boats and we knew we couldn’t lose it! So we walked after it and luckily found it pretty soon hiding underneath one of the boats. Then I knew I had to start alarming with my radiophone and I told that: “We have a catharus thrush in harbour!” I knew Frenchy was still very close to us and it wasn’t a surprise when he asked: “I couldn’t hear the message, could you repeat it” and I repeated and added: “It’s a Veery!” Then I heard the B&B door slamming, another group had stopped their lunch and Frenchy, Wright brothers and Kevin were running towards the harbour. Local birder Geoff Atherton was accidently watching through his window and he understood that if Kevin is running he’d better be running too!
I checked that the bird was still under the boat and walked just 10 metres to show the others to come quietly and when we all went to see the bird, it wasn’t there! We knew that it couldn’t have flew and started to check all the possible places under the boats. We spread around the harbour but soon I saw something brownish running behind one of the buildings. Frenchy and Kevin went around the house from different sides and there it was again! But the Veery was still shy and flew at least 150 metres along the coast and landed to a fence from where it dropped to the ground. Now also Neil and P.Wright saw the bird but just some 30 seconds later it was flying north again and disappeared behind a cliff.
We got lots of congratulations and hands were shaking but we couldn’t really celebrate yet, P.Eele, Garry and Gav hadn’t got a clue that we had just seen the best bird of the trip. We decided that Kevin and P.Wright should go to check the place where the bird seemed to drop down and I was already going to run and try to find the rest of our group, but luckily Geoff stopped us and left to try to find them by car.
Soon Geoff came back with P.Eele, Garry and Gav but the bird wasn’t found! We had only an hour before the sunset so we planned to check different places on the northern side of the island, together with Hanna and Frenchy we walked along the coast once again.
I was too excited to do almost any birding because I started to realize that I had just found the rarest bird of my life! And when the phone was working on this part of an island I had to send several messages to Finland and tell what had just happened. And of course I got several messages back where friends and relatives were congratulating us, and we also found out what Veery was in Finnish, because we really didn’t know it! We also got info that it was the 8th Veery ever in Britain!
On the coast we found a couple of Sanderlings and 20 Snow Buntings but not a small reddish thrush, and no-one else was lucky either. So once we were back in our cottage there was no possibility to celebrate, I knew it was the worst possible end of the trip that only half of us had seen the rarest bird of the trip in the last evening of the trip! Luckily we had so much to do, we had to clean the house and pack our luggage. We also made clear plans that on the next morning everything will be done so that the bird could be found! We also got info that there were a boatful of Shetland top-birders coming to twitch the Veery at 8.30 a.m. a couple of hours before our flight.
We burned all the rubbish and stumped all cans flat and packed them too and managed to clean the house even though we lost electricity an hour before we were ready. At 10 p.m. we were ready go to sleep.
Relief and back to Main Island
On 2nd October we woke up at 7 .m. and surprisingly everyone else had already left to search for the Veery. It wasn’t a surprise that they had left, but that they had left so quiet! We still cleaned the house a little bit, burned some last rubbish, packed everything ready and went birding. We walked to Harrier where a Redwing and a Robin were found and then got info that the Veery had been found! The rest of our group had been walking in Ham and they had already checked all the best places. They had nearly given up when the bird just appeared on a gate right in front of Frenchy, Garry and Kevin. It then started to show really well along the road by the old phone box.
Hanna walked a little bit back towards Ristie to get a message to Andrew and then very well-timed Isobel was driving towards the harbour to go and welcome the twitchers to the island so we got a ride to Ham. And we got very warm welcome there now that Garry, Gav and P.Eele were also happy now! The bird was also still there jumping along the road in front of the ruined house with the old phone box.
Unfortunately the was the worst rush-hour ever as almost all the islanders were driving to the harbour or somewhere else and the bird was flying several times because of the cars. Once it flew far towards the harbour and most of us already went there to look at it, but suddenly it was back in front of the phone-booth. The bird wasn’t afraid of us at all so we really saw it well but it was difficult to photograph because it was jumping all the time. In the best moment, we had a Veery jumping on one side of us and the Pechora Pipit on the other side of us – both of them on the road!
Soon the twitchers started to arrive along the road behind the bird. It was funny to watch them run and try to see the bird. When they came down and closer to the bird we knew we had lost the best opportunities to photograph the bird as all the twitchers wanted to get their pictures too. Some of them tried to walk too close to the bird and it was flying further so we had to tell them to stay in one place and wait for the bird to come close, and it worked!
After some time the Veery jumped across the road and dropped down to the bottom of a ditch and all photographers followed it and tried to get a good location to photograph it when it comes up again. We were waiting and waiting but it still didn’t come up. Finally Gav managed to see it when he was looking to a ditch with his scope just straight from the end of the ditch. The bird had found a huge worm and it had big problems to swallow its too big meal. I managed to inch next to Gav and took some pictures and some video of the bird almost choking. I was almost sure it was going to die, when it was just gagging and shivering its wings but the worm was still stuck a couple of centimetres out from the open bill! And of course then was another car coming. Surprisingly the bird just flew out from the ditch and straight inside the abandoned house – it really looked that it wasn’t the first time it did so, maybe that was the place it had been last evening and also last night?
Pechora Pipit seemed to be so common for the local birders that most of them weren’t interested to see it at all, but the Buff-bellied Pipit was only the 2nd for Shetland, so many of them went off to look at that. But we were in a hurry already and we had to start to walk towards the airport. When we were there, Frenchy came with the car full of our luggage and soon also Isobel arrived. We said goodbyes and thanked her warmly. When the plane was already coming on the horizon we got info that the Buff-bellied Pipit had been found again, so the twitchers were going to see all the best birds we had seen in two weeks in an hour and within 300 metres!
The plane came a little bit late and it was full of birders coming to see the Veery. One of the twitchers was our old French friend Pierre-André Crochet. He had been in Shetland already for a week and now he was going to get one more WP-tick to his long list.
When we were in the plane we asked if the captain could fly around the island so we could finally see the western cliffs, but he told that he was already late and there was still another extra-flight of twitchers coming right after us. When we took off we took the last pictures of the island but then the plane surprisingly turned west and started to follow the western coast! The captain had decided to give us the perfect ending for the trip! The views were spectacular and the cliffs absolutely breath-taking. We landed in Shetland at Tingwall airport and the next 20 minutes we were just sending SMS and calling that we were safely back in civilization. Garry also started to get bird-messages and we got bad news – a Taiga Flycatcher that had been for a week in Fetlar hadn’t been found in a whole mornings search. And there was absolutely nothing else to twitch in the islands either except another Veery that had been just found on Whalsay! So we headed to Lerwick and lodged to a fine Youth Hostel and Garry, Gav and P.Eele decided to go to eat. We and Frenchy went to go and do some more birding.
We drove to a nice woody hood nearby and found a Blackcap and a Grey Wagtail, but then Garry called that the Taiga Flycatcher had been found again! Paul called to his friend Brydon and asked could we still make it because there is not that long driving but 2 ferries on the way to Fetlar and we found out that there was no chance to make it. Garry, Gav and P.Eele decided to try anyway, but we headed to south.
We were birding in Sumburg Head, where Paul had been working before and checked several different places and watched beautiful views of the southernmost tip from the lighthouse. There were lots of Fulmars and in summer it would have been full of Puffins. There was also a feeder where Hanna finally managed to get good pictures of Twites.
Then we continued to Scatness where we walked around one field and in a big flock of Skylarks I found a smaller lark – a Short-toed Lark. The bird landed soon but soon it was flying again and also Hanna and Paul found it. It took some time to see it better in flight because we never managed to see it perched. But after all we saw it well enough!
When the sun was setting down we drove back to Lerwick where we met also the rest of our group that had missed the last ferry to Fetlar, but then managed to twitch a Blyth’s Reed Warbler successfully. After a short visit to a full pub we continued to an Indian restaurant where Brydon, his wife and Pierre-André and his friend Eric were invited. The evening was fun and the food was really good – for sure it’d have been good without 2 weeks in island too!
One more lifer
On the 3rd October we wake up early at 4:45 a.m. and already at 5 o’clock we left with Frenchy and Eele to north. Garry and Gav had been in the bar far too late so they had just come to sleep. They still had a couple of days left in Shetland but this was our last chance. Actually, Garry was still going to Fair Isle for a week. The first ferry to Yell left at 5:45 and after we had driven through the island we had to wait for another ferry for an hour, because of the ferry went first twice to Unst and only then to Fetlar.
Surprisingly the weather was good even though the forecast had been awful. We were just arriving at Fetlar when we saw a big diver flying over us – a Great Northern Diver! When we landed to Fetlar we drove straight to the middle of the island and not even a Carrion Crow that flew by could make us stop (it’s not a common bird in Shetland). We drove straight to the garden where the Taiga Flycatcher had been. We had heard it had been pretty difficult to see in the last couple of days, so it was a surprise that we found it in 15 seconds! I started hissing and there it was crackling and looking at me. The first pictures were also taken immediately! It was time to celebrate again!
The Taiga Flycatcher was very easy to follow but of course it was changing place all the time and moving rapidly like flycatchers always do, but it was almost all the time so that we could see it and it was calling very much! It was still so early morning that there wasn’t really good light to photograph so we decided to go to check a couple of other places in the island and then come back to try to get some better pictures. In more than an hour we couldn’t really find anything better so we came back and Hanna managed to get some better pictures. Before we had to go to the ferry we still went to try to see Otters and managed to find one. Unfortunately it was somehow hurt and was limping its back-foot.
At 11.50 a.m. we were back at Yell and then continued straight with the same ferry to Unst where we met also Garry and Gavin. In Unst we were birding for several hours in the most northern places of whole Britain and found a Lapland Bunting, some common warblers and one better species: a Common Rosefinch.
We said goodbyes to Garry and Gav and took a ferry to Yell at 3 p.m. and to main island at 4 p.m. The weather was changing and more rain was coming so we had time for only a short stop to try to find some Red Grouse but luckily we found some and also some Mountain Hares. Finally, at 5.30 we were again in Lerwick harbour and soon on the ferry waiting for it to leave at 7 p.m.
The forecast for the ferry-trip was horrible and we were sure it wouldn’t leave at all as we knew that the ferry from Aberdeen to Lerwick hadn’t left after 6 hours waiting (there were Veery twitchers coming). So it was a surprise when the ferry left exactly on time! A crew just announced that the journey could be a little bouncy! And the beginning of the trip was really horrible! It wasn’t just bouncing but also extremely hot in the ship, so after 3 hours I had to go to practice some Dutch to a big phone in a toilet. Luckily soon after that the sea calmed down and even I was able to go to sleep once I found a cold place in the back of one bar.
The end of the trip
On the 4th October we were back in Aberdeen before 7 a.m. and with shaky legs we walked down to car-deck. We were relieved to get off the ship and started to drive south right away. Again there was absolutely nothing to twitch on the way so before 4 p.m. we were back in Boston. We said goodbye to P.Eele who still continued some 30 minutes to home. We still went to see Frenchy’s other working place – Frampton Marsh- where they had built big pools with 3 hides and a big information centre. There weren’t many birds right now but a male Hen Harrier was nice to see. In the evening we cooked, moved some pictures and finally went to sleep pretty early.
On the 5th October we woke up at 6:30 a.m. and at 7 o’clock we left to drive towards Peterborough. We thanked and said goodbye to Paul who had to drive back to work and at 8:45 we took a train to London Kings Cross. We ate again in familiar McDonalds and because it was raining again very hard, took a metro to Heathrow. We spent some 3 hours there shopping souvenirs before our flight left to Finland. After 8 p.m. we landed to Helsinki-Vantaa where my father gave us our stuff that we had left to Kirkkonummi and then we still went to eat together to Tikkurila. But soon we were driving back home where we were at 1 a.m. On the next morning Hanna had to be working but I still had a day off work. It was good time to take it easy… to go birding of course!