Category Archives: Shetland

England, Shetland and Foula 18th of September to 16th of October 2010

England, Shetland, Foula from 18th of September to 16th of October 2010

5 weeks birding trip begins

We had arrived Helsinki on the previous day with Miika “potu” Suojarinne and done some birding around, for example on Espoo Laajalahti, Finno and Kirkkonummi Saltfjärden. After spending the night in Helsinki in potus relatives empty apartment we still drove my car to a garage and got a lift to Helsinki-Vantaa airport from my father. We were in the airport at 4:15 p.m. and soon we managed to get rid of our luggage even though they were a little bit too heavy and we were free to do some final shopping.

Our EasyJet plane left on time at 6:15 p.m. and 3 hours later we landed in Gatwick airport in London where local time was 7:15 p.m. A half an hour later we were in a hall with our luggage and soon my old friend Paul French arrived and soon we were driving away from Gatwick in his big Skoda. After some quick lunch in McDonalds we made decisions what we were going to do on the next day which was after all pretty easy. We chose the simplest plan, most birds as close as possible which meant that we started driving South-East.

After an hour driving we were at Dungeness in Kent, where we parked next to a nuclear power station and me and potu tried to try to sleep in the car and Paul went outside with his good mattress and sleeping bag.

Lifers right away

On the 19th of September we woke up around 6 a.m. and soon walked to the coast to do seawatching. On the sea we saw right away some nice birds: Sandwich Terns, Gannets, Arctic Skuas, Black Terns and some Little Gulls etc. A Grey Wagtail flew over us a couple of times and during the next 2 hours we still saw 3 Arctic Terns, a Kittiwake, a Mediterranean Gull, a Great Skua and 2 Common Scoters. Then we continued to some pools nearby where we saw 2 Ruddy Ducks (they aren’t all shot yet), a Yellow-legged gull and several singing Cetti’s Warblers in the bushes. A late Swift flew over us and in the bushes found a Sedge and a Reed Warbler and a flock of Long-tailed Tits etc.

Next we headed to Grove Ferry, a pool in the middle of quite badly overgrown reed-beds. There had been for some days a Wilson’s Phalarope, but when we got there we met some other twitchers who told us it had flown into the middle of the reeds some hours ago. So we waited for some time and then decided to walk to another pool where it had been seen too. When we were at the second pool all the birds from the first pool got afraid of something and flew in a flock around and we could see a strange looking pale grey wader with them. It must have been the bird. We rushed back to the first pool, had a Bearded Tit on the way, and there it now was! The Wilson’s Phalarope was feeding with Lapwings with its strange hooking style – the first lifer of the trip! Soon the bird flew again to the middle of the reeds and we decided to keep on going.

Next we drove to Oare Marshes where we parked our car in the end of one small road and started to walk towards the coast and we hoped we were going in the right direction. After a long walk we saw some pools where some birders were but we also saw lots of waders on our other side on a canal and on the seashore so of course we needed to check them first. We found 8 Curlew Sandpipers, a Little Stint, Knots, a Bar-tailed Godwit and Shelducks but couldn’t find the bird we were searching for. So we continued to the pools. The weather was extremely windy so it was difficult to identify the waders that were further. Soon I found a wader pretty close to us which looked promising but it walked behind a small island too soon. After 15 minutes Paul found the right bird and of course it was in the same place than my previous bird – a White-rumped Sandpiper – lifer number 2 of the day! We were watching, studying and digiscoping this bird for an hour but because of the wind the pictures weren’t very good. The bird was flying a couple of times so we could see the white rump too, but otherwise the bird was more difficult to identify than I had thought. When the bird had disappeared about 5th time behind the same island we decided to move on again.

Now we drove a longer way to Southend-on-Sea, where our goal was to see a Ring-billed Gull that had again returned to overwinter on the coast of the town. But unfortunately we made a mistake and there was a low tide and all the gulls were very far from the shore. Actually we soon heard that the gull had never been seen in low tide so after we had seen some Mediterranean Gulls and lots of Little Egrets we started our long way to north to Nottingham where Paul lived nowadays.
After some traffic jams around London we managed to get to higher roads and after all we were in Nottingham at 10 p.m. We were of course very tired so after some food we were ready to sleep.

In Sherwood Forest

On the 20th of September we woke up at 7 a.m. and after relaxed morning we decided to go birding nearby becouse of the wind it wasn’t clever to go anywhere further. So we drove to the most famous forest nearby: Sherwood Forest. After some walking we came to a huge tree that was told to be a home of Robin Hood. There were quite a few birds around and Nuthatches, Treecreepers and Marsh Tits were seen and a Green Woodpecker was heard.
During the day we walked in the big Woolaton Park where we tried to see and photograph a Green Woodpecker but unfortunately we saw only one bird in flight. In the afternoon we went to Attenborough Gravel Pit bird sanctuary, where we first saw just zoo-birds but later also some real birds like Bullfinches, Stock Doves and a Common Sandpiper. In the evening we were just relaxing, cooking and packing.

Towards north

On the 21st of September we woke up at 6 a.m. and at 7 o’clock we were already packed in Pauls car with all our luggage and driving north. After a couple of hours driving we were in Middlesbrough, where we went over the river by the strange hanging bridge and soon we parked at Greatham Creek where other twitchers told us to walk the last 300 metres to along the creek to see the bird we were looking for. And there it was a lifer for Paul but not for us, as we had just seen similar bird a couple of weeks earlier, a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper! We were studying and watching this bird and tried to digiscope it but it was in difficult place in black mud and the day was getting very warm so the haze and the wind made it difficult. Soon we continue nearby to Saltholme RSPB reserve which was a huge birding complex with a big park for children and another for dogs and so on. The Information centre had a good shop and a restaurant too. But the birding places weren’t that good: 2 Curlew Sandpipers, a Little Stint, 4 Pintails and so on were seen.

Then we started our long way north. In the afternoon we crossed the border of Scotland and soon saw the first flock of migrating Pink-footed Geese of the trip. In Edinburgh we turned to follow the coast towards west and finally parked to Largo Bay at Rudden’s Point. Right away we heard some calls of Partridges and after some searching we found a flock of Grey Partridges on the grassy hillside. Our goal was to try to find some seaducks and soon we found some Common and Velvet Scoters but also a really good tick a male Surf Scoter! Lifer for potu! This place was actually one of the best places to see this species but we had no idea when the last one had been. We also saw plenty of Eiders, Goosanders, Red-breasted Mergansers, some Common Guillemots, Razorbills and Great Skuas and I also saw briefly a Manx Shearwater which unfortunately flew behind a spit before potu could see this lifer species.

After this we continued towards north-east and after a long drive we were in Abernethy Forest where Paul somehow managed to follow right small tracks to Forest Lodge, where we parked next to an information board and again started to sleep in or next to the car.

In Scotland

On the 22nd of September we woke up too early when it started to rain weakly, but the rain didn’t wake up Paul that was sleeping outside so we also continued to sleep. We woke up at 6 a.m. and soon started to walk in the pine forest. First Robins, Goldcrests and Crested Tits started to wake up soon.

We walked around the forest for an hour but the next better observation was a very brief grouse flying, it was probably a female Black Grouse but there are also Capercaillies around. Finally we heard the first crossbills and right away I thought they really had a different call, more Greenfinch-like. Soon we saw a couple of crossbills flying and I managed to record their flight-calls before they flew away. We walked for another hour but nothing else was found and we were already going back to our car when we finally heard more crossbills coming. 2 Scottish Crossbills landed just to the top of next trees and we could see, photograph and video them pretty well! Soon some more birds arrived and I could get more recordings of different kind of calls too. – Scottish Crossbill recording – Already the 3rd lifer of the trip for me!

Soon we continued to a skiing centre nearby and saw first Red Grouse on the way. We had planned to try to find Ptarmigans but the weather changed rainy. So we spend some time there in restaurant and shops and soon continued down by the road where we saw a family of at least 5 Black Grouses on the road. After some driving we stopped in a valley a found some Dippers and Grey Wagtails on the river before we continued to another high place where to try Ptarmigans. On the way we saw some more Red Grouse but once we were high in the mountains the weather changed to be extremely foggy! There was maybe 5 metres visibility so it was no point to get out from the car at all.

After this we continued towards Aberdeen where we visited Black. The wind was very strong so it was difficult to identify birds between the waves. But we saw some Velvet and Common Scoters, Eiders, Red-throated Divers and so on but soon we had to continue to harbour. Paul dropped us to get our tickets and continued to find a safe place to leave his car for more than 2 weeks.

After a couple of hours our ferry left towards Lerwick the capital town of Shetland. Next 14 hours were spent on the ferry. We soon found our old friend Garry Taylor, who was again coming with us to Shetland and Foula. We visited the deck shortly but now the ferry was later than last year so it was soon too dark so we couldn’t see anything interesting. So after a good meal in restaurant we managed to find a good place where to sleep in one the restaurant and started to sleep.

In Shetland

On the 23rd of September we woke up at 6:30 a.m. and were soon having a proper English breakfast. After a short visit to a deck where potu finally got his first Fulmars – it was about time – we were soon in Lerwick harbour. Surprisingly soon we had a rental car that Paul had arranged and after we had packed our Vauxhall Vectra full we continued to a Tesco to buy everything we need for the next 2 weeks! Luckily we had planned our food supplies well so it didn’t take too long. Somehow we managed to pack everything in to the car before we heard the bad news: Garry had got info that the Foula ship wasn’t going anywhere in next a couple of days because of the wind. It wasn’t a problem for us to get to Foula because we’re going by plane on next day, but it was a problem for our food that wasn’t going to fit in the plane. Anyway we drove to Tingwall airport to ask when it might be possible to get our food to Foula by plane and found out that it’d take several days too. So after all we drove to the harbour and carried all our baggage to a store and just took all meat and some light food supplies that we could get to Foula by plane so we’d have something to eat at least for a couple of days.

And finally we were free to go to do some birding. With Paul we went to check some of the best gardens in western side of the main island in Tresta, Voe and Kergord and saw a Wood Warbler, Willow Warbler, 2 Pied Flycatchers and a Red-breasted Flycatcher. In the evening we drove south to Sumburgh where we stayed overnight with Pauls friend Rob Fray. The late evening was spent in Sumburgh Hotel. Anyway we managed to go to sleep before 10 p.m.

To Foula

On the 24th of September we woke up at 6:20 and at 7:00 we had packed everything again to the car and started driving towards Lerwick to do some birding before our flight. In Helendale gardens we had found a Great Spotted Woodpecker by 8 a.m. We left our car and took a taxi to Tingwall airport. At the airport we met Garry and Gavin Thomas who had arrived last evening by plane from Manchester. Somehow we managed to get our luggage in to the plane even though Garry and Gav had already more food supplies than we had left to the harbour! Our small plane left about 10:45 a.m. and soon we could see the small island of Foula in front of us!

We landed on the ridiculously short airfield of Foula and carried our luggage to a couple of islanders’ cars and were soon ready to walk around the island. We headed south and saw right away plenty of Great Skuas and other common birds. The first Foula tick was a Wood Pigeon and in Hametoun we found a couple of Rosefinches, a Pectoral Sandpiper and a Dunlin in the wet valley. This Pectoral Sandpiper had been found already earlier, but it was good to see anyway. We continued along the Hametoun ditch and flushed a Jack Snipe too so it really seemed that there were plenty of nice birds around! But the rest of the walk wasn’t that good anymore: 105 Lapland Buntings, 25 Snow Buntings, a couple of Song Thrushes, a Redwing, Eiders, Turnstones and other normal birds were seen. Like so many times last year we walked from Ham to Ristie along the coast and saw 2 Velvet Scoters on the sea but nothing else.

When we were in Ristie where our apartment was we met Micky Maher who had came by evening plane and was going to stay with us for the next week. It was a big surprise that the evening plane had come because of the very hard wind! We made Ristie our home and the evening was spend talking and relaxing and of course we ate noodles and some fake-meat (Swedish meatballs, that were awful!). But food wasn’t the only thing we missed, all our beer was also in store at the harbour on Mainland waiting for the wind to drop down.


On the 25th of September we woke up early and had an early breakfast – noodles again – and were soon out as we had a bird-race against our good friends in Hailuoto where we had been so many times earlier. My brother Pirkka, Harry Nyström, Mikko Ala-Kojola, Antti Vierimaa, Jari Kiljunen and Raine Kekäläinen had already started their race in two teams in Hailuoto but we started at 7:30 a.m. and our first species was a Twite. Next we did some seawatching but only Fulmars, Great Skuas (Bonxies) and Gannets were flying there a lot, but the only important rally-species was a young Kittiwake. We next climbed up the first hill that is always very hard and then walked down to Harrier where we walked through all the irises and along the ditch but the only bird there was a Willow Warbler. Then we continued to Ham where a Yellow Wagtail flew over us and where another group of birders, the same group as last year (Paul and Neil Wright and Kevin Shepherd) and were staying in another apartment in Ham, had just found a Bluethroat. We hammered all the irises there too and found a Reed Warbler and a couple of Whinchats before we continued south to Hametoun. There we were sitting on a fence and eating some chocolate and bread and talking with Kevin when we saw a passerine landing to a fence next to us. We all looked at the bird for a couple of seconds before we realized it wasn’t a Meadow Pipit but a bunting and a small bunting! It was Little Bunting! We saw it really well and then it called once and flew to reeds where we couldn’t find it anymore (for several days). What a nice bird and what a funny situation! In Hametoun we saw again the Pectoral Sandpiper which we managed to photograph extremely well, and also a couple of Rosefinches were seen again.

In so called France’s garden we couldn’t find a Barred Warbler that other guys had seen but a Wood Pigeon was now there but soon it flew north with the wind. On the southern cliffs we saw again Snow Buntings and also 2 Grey Herons flew over us. Then we got a message through a walkie-talkie that Neil had found a Yellow-browed Warbler on the southernmost gorge. We weren’t too far so we walked there immediately and met Neil on the way so when we were there over the gorge we knew where to look. And there the warbler was at the bottom of the gorge catching some insects. It was a good Foula-tick again.
We walked back to Ham along the coast and ticked some common shorebirds and in Ham garden we found 2 Chiffchaffs. The coastal walk back to Ristie produced 3 Grey Herons and 5 Wigeons but nothing else good. Finally we decided to take a short-cut and walked through Isobels garden to Ristie which was a good decision because there was a Redstart in her garden. Altogether we saw 62 species that was of course much less than our friends had got in Hailuoto which is a much bigger island. But for sure we had a couple of very good species that they hadn’t.

Hard work

On the 26th of September we woke up a little bit later (or at least I did) and after 8 a.m. we were ready to start the hard work again. We walked through Harrier but only the same Willow Warbler and 3 Bramblings were seen. One more Brambling was found in the first garden too. It was one of the species that I didn’t see last year at all. Before we were in Ham a flock of 4 Greylag Geese flew over us, they were a family that had been breeding in the island. Then we got info that another group had seen a possible Pallas Grasshopper Warbler in Ham so we really ran the last kilometre there. On the way we saw a Bluethroat but didn’t stop at all. In Ham the bird was already missing so we waited for the rest of our group there and then really hammered all the irises and ditches on the both sides of the bridge but only the same Reed Warbler was found again. The weather was very warm so we were only wearing t-skirts while working. In the Ham garden we found a Barred Warbler, Garden Warbler and a Lesser Whitethroat and also a Robin and a Common Redpoll and a Tree Pipit was also found nearby. Later we continued south and soon we saw a dove landing on the road in front of us – a Turtle Dove! Nice Foula tick again! The bird soon continued towards north and it was found again only in the evening just from the same place again on the road.

It was quiet in the south; 3 Dunlins and the same Yellow-browed Warbler still in the gorge. On the way back to Ham we saw a Linnet next to the road and in Ham there was now also a Blackcap with other warblers and also a Rosefinch and some Bramblings. This best place on Foula was really good now.
On the shore-walk we saw many more Fulmars than on the first days even though the weather was almost calm. But of course the boat was still not coming because it was Sunday! I don’t really know why, I think the sailors had got enough holidays because of the wind already. So in the evening we had very poor food and nothing good to drink.

Good self-found tick

On the 27th of September potu left early to the nearest cliffs to photograph Fulmars. I had enough pictures of these birds already from earlier trips so I went there later just to see the beautiful views. Soon I decided to walk along the hillside towards Harrier, potu decided to climb a little bit higher to see more views. Micky had just arrived to Harrier too so we hammered it together but nothing better was found. In south the rest of our group saw a Yellow-browed Warbler or two, the same Little Bunting and again the same Pectoral Sandpiper but I decided not to walk south. I had heard one new Foula tick anyway, a Dunnock.

In the afternoon we hammered the irises in Ham again and in the garden 2 Lesser Whitethroats 6 Chiffchaffs and a big flock of 18 Bramblings were seen. Finally we decided to walk once again along the coast back to Ristie. Once again it was funny to watch seals and listen to them calling with their deep voice. When we had walked about a kilometre and were on the highest part on the hills I noticed a wader in front of us – a Buff-breasted Sandpiper! American self-found bird! We called to others by walkie-talkie meanwhile a Merlin was flying over us. Soon Garry and Gav came in hurry and soon we were trying to get neared to get some quality pictures. But the bird was surprisingly flighty so pretty soon we gave up with potu and decided to try get the info about the bird also to Paul who hadn’t answered to our calls. Finally we found Frenchy in Ristie where he had just arrived from Harrier but now it was already too late to go to see the sandpiper. So Paul had to leave this new Shetland-tick later.

Luckily there was no reason to be sad because the ferry had finally arrived with all our food and beer! We had absolutely nothing else other than meat in the freezer left and all we had eaten during the day had been 4 bits of chocolate ! So in the evening we cooked a lot of food and even though the quality wasn’t that much better, now we could do at least 3 times bigger portions! And of course it was good to have some beer finally! It wasn’t a surprise that after all we went to sleep just before midnight.

Checking the same places again and again

On the 28th of September we woke up before 7 a.m. and had a really good and filling omelette breakfast before left out. Now we walked to Ham along the coast. The wind was again very strong so the ferry had arrived on the only possible day! Not many birds were seen because of the weather, the Buff-breasted Sandpiper was probably heard (Frenchy saw it); a Dunlin was seen on the coast. Then we got a message that another group has a small “locustella” warbler in Ham and we hurried there. When we got there the situation was still under control and because we knew the rest of our group was still too far to get our messages, we decided to try to see and identify the bird right away. And we found it easily even though we had to almost step over the bird before it flushed. And it really was tiny – a really good “Lancey” candidate! After some flushing I managed to see the bird well enough from the breast so I could tell it was a Lanceolated Warbler, but we still needed some pictures. It was really difficult but finally potu managed to get one and right after that the bird had enough and flew in front of us and inside the Ham garden. And from there it was impossible to find anymore! But we still stayed there and tried until the rest of our group came to Ham but we just couldn’t see it. We still found a Reed Warbler, a Blackcap, a Lesser Whitethroat etc. Finally we decided to walk around the garden wall with Paul and check the tiny ditches and surprisingly the bird was there but of course it disappeared in to the rocky garden wall and went through into the garden and was never found again, and that was a pity because the bird would have been a lifer to Gav.

We continued south with Paul but because of the extremely hard southern wind we decided to turn west to Da Daal and go to check if there would be any shelter in the Sneck o da Smaallie. Someone should go there soon anyway. The walk through Da Daal was as awful as it always is and it was also very windy there and even windier when we reached the western cliffs. So we decided to do something very different and climb down the 30 metres deep Sneck o da Smaallie with potu. We somehow managed to climb through the narrow holes down to the bottom and found a Robin, a Dunnock and a Wheatear but unfortunately nothing rare. It would have been a perfect sheltered place to anything from the west. The place was very frightening with dead sheep and huge rocks stuck to a narrow crack-like gorge!

When we were walking back towards Ham we found a Greenshank on the pools between the Memorial and Ham, and in Ham we found a Reed Warbler again, but soon we headed back towards Ristie. On the way we talked with Neil who had been birding the whole day in the north because he thought that the wind might have pushed the birds there and he had been right. He had seen a Spotted Flycatcher, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Reed Bunting, Goldcrests and even a Richard’s Pipit and all near our home! We still decided to walk to the northern gorges but saw only a Chaffinch before it was too dark.

On the 29th of September we were out already at 8 a.m. and because of the southern wind we decided to start from the northern cliffs. Right away we saw 2 Purple Sandpipers and from the first gorge we found a Spotted Flycatcher. But then it started to rain so we decided to walk back to Ristie. At 10 a.m. the rain stopped and we were out again. We continued exploring the nearest gorges and found a Reed Bunting and a Goldcrest before we continued along the hillside towards Harrier. There we saw a good Shetland tick, a Mistle Thrush and while the rest continued towards south we climbed down to Harrier where we walked with our neighbour Andrew Grieve who had already been in Foula for several weeks – again. He had found the same Great Spotted Woodpecker that Neil had seen and we had heard in previous afternoon with potu. We were now sure we had heard the bird the previous evening, as the call was from where Andrew had now found the bird inside a building! The bird seamed to be pretty weak so we decided to carry it to Ham where it might get some shelter and find something to eat in the garden. Andrew turned to the road and we continued along the Burns towards Ham and soon Andrew alarmed that he had found a Great Grey Shrike. We found the bird immediately perched on one of the fence posts but then it seemed to fly inside one small garden walls but it just disappeared. We continued towards Ham and found a nice male Ring Ouzel and while we were digiscoping it we heard that Andrew and the Wrights had found a female Ring Ouzel. In Ham we saw a Hawfinch flying over us calling and together with Geoff and Donna who are living in Foula for at least the best time for birding we released the woodpecker into the garden.

On a very hard wind we continued north along the coast to Ristie and found again the same Buff-breasted Sandpiper on the highest hills. But it started to rain so digiscoping was impossible so we hurried to Ristie where the rest of the evening was spent trying to get clothes dry.

Good tick in our own garden!

On the 30th of September we slept longer. And when we woke up it was still extremely foggy but when we were out we already had a feeling that we were late. We checked first our own garden but found only a Robin and a Blackcap before we continued with Paul towards Harrier. While climbing the first hill along the road something left running almost under potu’s feet. It stopped in the grass just next to the road so that I could just see its bill – a Corncrake! We flushed it so we could see it all well and it landed just 100 metres from us. It was a good bird for me as I had missed the only Corncrake last autumn on Foula. In Harrier we saw plenty of flying Bramblings, Chaffinches and Siskins – all birds that we hadn’t seen at all last year! Just before Ham we found a Yellow-browed Warbler from some ruined buildings we had never checked before and when we were in Ham we got info that Andrew had found a Syke’s Warbler in our own garden! And we had just hammered it a couple of hours before! Now also Gav and Micky were there already and the bird was still present. So we ran to Geoff and Donnas apartment and asked if they were interested to see the bird and of course give us a lift too. And of course they were going, but Geoff was telling us something about some bunting in his garden but we were too excited to get to Ristie to see a lifer! The bird was still hiding in a bush in our garden when we ran the last downhill there and soon we saw it moving inside the bush and immediately Paul said that it wasn’t a “hippolais” warbler. Then we had to wait for 10 minutes to see it better but finally it came to a branch just in front of us and stayed there for a second but it was enough for us to tell that it wasn’t a Syke’s but a Paddyfield Warbler! So it wasn’t a lifer for anybody other than potu but only the second for me ever. We still looked at the bird for an hour before we decided to go birding again. Potu climbed along the cliffs as he had dropped his hat and gloves there, I went along the coast. Potu managed to see a Ring Ouzel, a Mistle Thrush and a new Yellow-browed Warbler, but I didn’t see anything before in Ham where a Pied Flycatcher was perched on Geoff and Donna’s fence, a Long-tailed Duck was swimming in the harbour and an Ortolan Bunting that Geoff had seen earlier and Garry after that but had just been re-found by the Wrights was now near Ham Little gorge. Actually the bird was now really identified for the first time and I managed to get a good picture of it before it flew to the other side of Ham Valley.

Kevin had come there too to see the bunting and he told us that he had seen a Richard’s Pipit near the next gardens south from Ham. Even though it was almost getting dark already we decided to try and hurried to south. The pipit wasn’t found so after all we walked back to Ristie along the road. When we could see our home we received a message that there was still a Red-breasted Flycatcher visible from the northern cliffs. We hurried there and I managed to see the bird shortly in flight far on the opposite cliffs before it was too dark to see anything anymore.

More quiet

The month changed to October and on the 1st day the weather was extremely windy. We started in normal time but pretty soon it was clear that there were no new birds and old ones were either hiding or blown away with the wind. We walked through a very wet Harrier where we saw the Great Grey Shrike and the Ring Ouzel again in Ham where the Ortolan Bunting was found again from the road. The shore was almost empty so after all we were back in Ristie already by 2 p.m. Others had been staying in Ristie the whole day, some hadn’t been out at all, and of course they had seen the best birds of the day: a Peregrine and Short-eared Owl. Micky had managed to leave by plane which was a big surprise, we thought the wind would have been too hard for the plane; he was going to Fair Isle next.

In the afternoon we used a ridiculous washing machine, cooked food for several days and so on. In the evening the wind was even stronger and it was also raining very hard again. Our window was leaking a little bit so potu got his passport washed.

On the 2nd of October we walked straight to Ham and saw a Bluethroat on the way. In Ham we saw the same birds: 2 Whinchats, a Rosefinch and so on. We were just about to continue south when we got a message from Paul that he had found a “locustella” warbler in the furthest part of Harrier. We checked that Geoff and Donna weren’t at home so we started to walk back towards north. Luckily we managed to get a lift from a young veterinary that was driving there to check water pumps. So we were there in a right place before Gav who was still in Ristie. When Gav finally arrived we walked to the irises where Paul had seen the bird going last and we found it easily. Unfortunately it wasn’t a Pallas’s but a Common Grasshopper Warbler. Soon Geoff and Donna arrived there with the Wrights and so we got a lift to the airport (potu actually went into the trunk!). We walked south to Hametoun and South Ness and found a new Ring Ouzel, 15 Snow Buntings, 7 Dunlins and so on.

When we were back in Ham 2 Barnacle Geese migrated over us and in the garden the Reed Warbler was showing well. On the shore we saw 27 Snow Buntings, still a lot of Lapland Buntings and on the sea a couple of Kittiwakes. Near Gaada Stack we saw a couple of Purple Sandpipers and an Oystercatcher. At home we took long afternoon naps that I could have continued until morning but of course I had to wake up to eat.

The 3rd of October was a bad birding day. But we had already been in Foula for 10 days and this was the first really bad day. Last year almost all of the first 10 days were like this. Anyway we walked through Harrier to Ham and then visited Ham Little gorge before walked back north along the coast. We used as much time to each place as possible but after all it started to rain again so the last kilometre or so we were almost running. An Oystercatcher, an Ortolan Bunting, a Reed Warbler, a Grasshopper Warbler, 15 Greylag Geese, 3 Jack snipes and so on were seen. In the evening everyone thought that this was pretty similar day than the worst ones last year but after all this was much better! Last year we didn’t have a single Chaffinch, Brambling or Siskin and just a couple of local Redwings and no other thrushes than Blackbirds, but now there we lots of them.

Windy on the top

On the 4th of October we slept a little bit longer and at 9 a.m. we headed towards Harrier with Paul. A Grasshopper Warbler and a Ring Ouzel were found again. The weather was now beautiful but still too windy. So we started to think about a long walk first south to the church and from there up to the hills and to the top of them and along the tops back to Ristie. We had never been there, and now that it seemed there were no new birds, it seemed it wouldn’t rain and we would have a good following wind. The decision was easy when we got a lift from the same veterinary who was going to the airfield like almost all the islanders always had to (some were firemen and so on). So we managed to get to the church easily.

From the church we climbed up towards the 344m high Hamnafield. We climbed slowly and of course photographed views and even saw some birds. A Kestrel was even a new Foula-tick. The climbing was very easy and pretty soon we reached the highest peak of Foula, the 416m high Da Sneug. From Da Sneug we saw a view down to a huge valley that we had never seen before; there were several lakes and even ducks in furthermost lake: 22 Mallards, 9 Wigeons, 5 Teals and a Pintail. Before we had seen just some of them flying over us.

We continued to the amazing top of Da Kame from where there were stunning views to cliffs! It is the second highest, but the highest absolutely steep cliff of Britain. Then we walked down a deep hillside to the North Bank cliffs where were amazing numbers of Fulmars. Because of the wind there were also lots of Skylark, Meadow Pipits, Wheatears and even some Song Thrushes in the valley where it wasn’t that windy. The whole way until East Hoed the views were stunning and from there opened amazing views to Gaada Stack and Ristie. Now we were in Ristie a little bit earlier than normal and the sun was still shining so now we managed to get good pictures of Gaada Stack too.

We were in Ristie at 3 p.m. so we had plenty of time so we decided to do something clever – we shaved our horrible beards! When the others came back from their trip we found out that we had chosen the right day for the walk, they hadn’t seen too many birds. Gav had seen a Grey Wagtail in Ham which was good and also another Grasshopper Warbler had been found, now from Hametoun.

The most beautiful bird of the trip

On the 5th of October we were once again out before 9 a.m. and now walked straight to Ham. We had planned to go south to Hametoun before or at the same time than the others that almost every day got the lift there from Isobel when she was going to the airport.

But it was again too windy in south and the others never came there so we just walked through the wet parts and then continued back north along the coast. Now there were big numbers of Gannets very close to the shore and they are always amazing birds to watch! We continued until Ham where we found a nice bird – a Great Northern Diver was swimming near the harbour!

In harbour we met Isobel who had good news for us. We had run out of beer a couple of days earlier but now the plane had brought us 58 pints more! Amazing, first days we were starving without food, but now we had extra beer by plane!

We walked back to Ristie where the rest of us had been the whole day. They had got the beer from Isobel and it had been tasty! We already started to worry if we would run out of it again! And of course they had seen a new species, a Sparrowhawk. Our only good birds had been 3 Purple Sandpiper, a Kestrel, an Oystercatcher, a Reed Warbler and the most beautiful bird of the trip so far – a leucistic Reed Bunting, which unfortunately was too easy to identify first to something leucistic when we saw it flying and then to Reed Bunting because it was calling all the time. We saw this bird several times while we were walking south, it was clearly migrating.

Still more Foula ticks

On the 6th of October we slept longer again because the weather was stormy. From the window I saw the same Sparrowhawk and soon after 9 a.m. we walked towards Harrier and from there to Ham. The best bird was a Moorhen that we found in the ditch next to Burns garden where it was maybe trying to make friends with domestic ducks. Also a Ring Ouzel and a Great Northern Diver were still present. On the shore we saw a Red-breasted Merganser flying towards Ham harbour where it was found later.

We were back in Ristie already before 3 p.m. and I went directly to sleep. Potu still went out and climbed to the northern cliffs and an hour later he ran down to Ristie and told us that he had seen a Swift! He told it was just a Common Swift and he had seen it well, but anyway we had to check this bird – and of course a Swift was also a Foula tick. After some searching we found the bird and it was just a f)##/ng Swift. The time and the place could not have been better for almost any other species of Swift. We saw this bird very close and even got some pictures. There had been a Chimney Swift in Ireland just a day earlier, but we had a Common Swift. Sometimes it’s so wrong! A Sparrowhawk was seen again and from the cliffs we found a Black-tailed Godwit that soon flew over us. Now we had already seen 100 species in Foula in this trip with potu, last year we saw only 85 with Hanna. So the end of the day was good anyway, and most important there were some new birds in the island!

On the 7th of October we had an island bird-race! We were competing against a Finnish birders group in Norway’s best bird-island, Utsira (Andreas Lindén, Petri Kuhno, Tero Toivanen and Janne Kilpimaa) and the best Finnish bird-island Lågskär (Pekka Saikko and others). We started at 8 a.m. and 1 minute too early a Black-tailed Godwit had left towards the south from our own pools at Ristie. In Harrier and Ham we saw all the regular birds and luckily found the godwit again. While we were hammering the irises in Ham, the thing that we had been afraid of happened: I saw potu hammering the irises along the river when he fell down so that all I could see was just his hand waving when he disappeared to the deep ditch. My comment: “That’s it” maybe tells what I thought had happened to potu. He had thought to get over the ditch and fell down but somehow he had managed to fall down to the other side of the ditch and after all he wasn’t hurt at all and even more amazingly he hadn’t got wet at all! But it really had looked bad!

Some best birds of the morning were a Willow Warbler, a Reed Warbler, a Great Northern Diver, a Jack Snipe, Common Redpolls, a Reed Bunting, a Dunnock and a Goldeneye that Gav had found in the previous evening on Mill Loch. We continued to the Memorial from where we saw plenty of Razorbills and Black Guillemots and some Common Guillemots and also saw 7 migrating Pink-footed Geese. While we were walking towards Ristie we realized that we hadn’t seen any ducks! They were all up in the lakes and right on this day none of them had been flying at all. Luckily we found a Wigeon and a Teal from the lakes on the way to north, but we didn’t get a Mallard at all. Others had been in the south again and they had seen a Yellow-browed Warbler, 2 Little Gulls and an Arctic Skua and so on. But none of us saw a Rosefinch or a Moorhen, maybe they had left. Altogether we saw 80 species which was much more than the Finnish groups total of 66 from Utsira (but in whole island there had been 91 species, but it is a big island with many birding groups). In Lågskär there had been 71 species. In the evening we were cleaning the house, burning the rubbish and eating all we had left. Paul even ate 7 pork chops!

On the 8th of October our 2 weeks in Foula were about to end. In early morning we still did some cleaning and then carried our luggage to Isobels car and then started to walk to the airport. At 9.m. we were on the way and we walked along the road towards Ham. Close to Harrier we flushed the last Foula tick for us when a Short-eared Owl was seen. It was my 105th species for the trip and altogether I’ve now seen 118 species on this tiny island. Altogether our group had seen 112 species in this trip and the other group had 3 extra species. While we continued towards Ham we realized that there were lots of birds everywhere! Redwings were everywhere and we counted more than 100 birds! Also a Grey Heron, a Merlin, a Black-tailed Godwit, a Long-tailed Duck, a Reed Warbler, a Red-breasted Merganser and a Ring Ouzel were seen once again.

At 11 a.m. our plane left and a new group of birders had arrived to Foula and Ristie. Also Isobel was on her way to Lerwick. I was lucky to get the seat next to the pilot so it was really nice to watch the views again. The weather was once again perfect, it was hardly any wind!
So we said goodbyes to Foula! It had been very different kind of 2 weeks than last autumn! The weather had been really good with almost no rain at all; of course it’s always windy there. Maybe the wind wasn’t still the right direction but maybe next time? Our group already booked Ristie to autumn 2012, but I think I’m not going to be there then, but you never know!

On the Main Island

Soon we landed at Tingwall and took a taxi to Lerwick where we easily got a rental Ford for the next week. Then we tried to find a place to stay which wasn’t as easy as we had thought because the B&B that we had planned to go was full because of some music festivals. We drove around the town for an hour and it seemed all the other B&B’s were also full or then nobody was home. In Gulberwick we saw a Water Rail walking in one garden and then finally Garry called that he had found a room but only for him and Gav. Then Paul decided to call to his old friend Paul Harvey and he promised that we could stay in his home. So finally we were ready to go twitching! We headed to Channerwick, where a Syke’s Warbler had been staying for several days already. When we got there the bird had been seen just a half an hour earlier but even though we tried very hard for next 1.5 hours we didn’t find it. Or at least we didn’t see it well enough. Once we saw a very good looking bird flying over us and landing inside a big bush where it disappeared. A Red-breasted Flycatcher was found many times in different part of the area, also several Blackcaps were seen. After all we decided to give up and go to find new birds somewhere else. We’d come back in the next morning.

We checked an empty garden on the way to Quendale where we walked on a irises along a ditch for on hour or so and found several Chiffchaffs, a Yellow-browed Warbler and a Merlin. On one lake we saw a Little Gull and then we still had time to go to twitch a Red-flanked Bluetail in Geosetter. The bird was found easily and it was a Shetland tick also for Paul. It was already dark when we continued to Sumburgh and to Paul Harvey. Paul and his wife were very nice to meet and we had a good lunch and then still went to Sumburgh Hotel for the rest of the evening.

On the 9th of October we had breakfast with Paul Harvey and then left again to Channerwick. The Red-breasted Flycatcher was found easily and a Grey Wagtail and a flock of Pink-footed Geese flew over us. But finally also Syke’s Warbler was found! We had walked through the area already once when it suddenly jumped just in front of me to the patch of balsam. The bird was extremely flighty but after all we all managed to see it well enough! It was always flying at least 50 metres and always disappeared into the bushes or other vegetation. When Garry and Gav came there we still managed to find it pretty easily but then it disappeared again, and we decided to continue towards north with Frenchy. Anyway this was a good lifer!

To Out Skerries

We drove to the N-E corner of the main island to Vidlin, where we got a ferry to Out Skerries which is almost as remote an island as Foula but on the eastern side of the main island. A Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler had been found there the previous day so there was also another car full of twitchers on the ferry. Soon after the ferry left we started seawatching. We saw some Cormorants, a Great Northern Diver, first Harbour Porpoises and a Minke Whale.

In the harbour in Out Skerries we heard that the Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler hadn’t been found during the morning so we decided to go birding around this island complex that is actually 2 islands very close to each other connected by a bridge.

Next 4 hours we walked around these islands which was surprisingly difficult because of many bays to go around and rocky areas that had almost no birds at all. But we managed to see some very good birds: we found a Blyth’s Reed Warbler and a Black Redstart and twitched a Lanceolated Warbler that was found very close to us. This Lanceolated Warbler was a typical island Lancey, it was hiding in a stony wall and after all we managed to see it only once very well for 10 seconds before it disappeared inside the wall again. Altogether we saw 53 species on Out Skerries, but unfortunately Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler wasn’t found.

On the ferry we seawatched again and saw another Minke Whale, a Puffin flying with a Razorbill and then potu suddenly said: “What the hell is that wader?” and it was a Grey Phalarope! A lifer to potu and a good local rarity again. And soon after we still saw a Short-eared Owl migrating over the sea. Very nice!

When we were back on the main island we drove straight to Lerwick harbour where we dropped Paul and said goodbyes. His holiday was coming to an end. He still had a long way to Nottingham to go. Soon we found Garry and Gav that had been birding in main island and quite successfully: they had found a Dusky Warbler and a Nightjar. Now it was my time to start driving so we followed them to the Bed&Breakfast where there was now room for us too. First we took a room only for a couple of days but even though the price was a bit high, the place was so comfortable and breakfast so good that we decided to stay there for the rest of the trip.

After a shower we went to eat to a Chinese restaurant nearby and after that we went tot a pub. But anyway we were back in B&B early and went to sleep at 10 p.m.


On the 10th of October we woke up about at 6 a.m. and an hour later left with Garrys “big red” towards north and Unst. After more than an hour driving and two ferries we were in Unst and we could start birding. First we tried another Dusky Warbler that had been found in one very big garden, but we found only a Yellow-browed Warbler. Next we went to the northern end of the island where we tried to walk through good looking areas but local fish-farmers pretty angrily told us that we weren’t welcome. Anyway we walked through the best looking areas and found a nice flock of 200 Snow Buntings but nothing else. So we decided to change to other places. We checked some more gardens and had 3 more Yellow-browed Warblers, a Reed Warbler, some Barnacle Geese altough the best ones were a Hornemann’s Arctic Redpoll and Siberian Chiffchaff.

We met an old friend Shetland Natures Brydon Thomason a couple of times during the day but he seemed to be extremely busy, also some other birders were met but nobody managed to find anything better. In the evening we drove very fast back to Lerwick and had Indian curry nearby and were out late as it was the last evening together with Garry and Gav.


On the 11th of October we had a good breakfast and after 7 a.m. we left birding with Gav. Garry was soon leaving to Tingwall because he was going to Fair Isle for a week. I was driving and first we headed to Geosetter, but we saw nothing there. On the way we passed again that good looking lake where we had seen a Little Gull earlier and we decided to come back soon to check it with potu. After a couple of empty gardens we headed to Quendale where we checked another side of the road and found again several Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests, a Grey Wagtail and a Rosefinch and then on the road back we found a Black Redstart.

We then checked Virkie willows before we dropped Gav to Sumburgh airport. He had a flight back to Manchester. We decided to buy flight tickets to London to last possible day so we could do birding in Shetland as long as possible. So we would fly from Sumburgh to Edinburgh and from there to London on Saturday 16th of October. And from London we’d start a new adventure…

From Sumburgh we went twitching! Garry had found a Spotted Sandpiper near Tingwall just before his flight. We got info how to find the right place from Paul and soon we were in Strand Loch. Some local birders were there so the bird was found easily. Lifer to potu! After we had got some pictures and video the bird flew further. We were just thinking what to do next when the locals came to tell that a Bonelli’s Warbler species had just been found in Lerwick. Unfortunately these guys weren’t going there straight and Hugh Harrop had already gone so we were on our own again. Paul gave us some kind of instructions how to find the place but it wasn’t that easy. I was driving first day on left side traffic and we were going to Lerwick town, somewhere behind the Tesco.

Somehow we managed to find the place and soon met Paul Harvey and Hugh Harrop and other twitchers. The bird had been missing for some time but luckily it was relocated very soon. The bird was too active but we managed to see it pretty well a couple of times so next thing was to hear it so we could identify which one it was – a Western or Eastern. But the bird was silent. The size of the bird seemed to fit better to Western but it’s not enough. Potu managed to get some kind of picture of it too, but still it was quiet. After all Hugh came to tell us that now they had heard it and it had said “tsip”, or at least that’s what we understood he had said, so no lifer for me – an Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler.

We bought something to eat from Tesco, even big chocolate cakes and continued to Wester Quarff, that we had told to be a good garden area. There we immediately found a Turtle Dove next to a school and in the gardens we saw about 100 Bramblings. But soon it came too dark so we left back to Lerwick. In the late evening I got a message from Frenchy that the Bonelli’s Warbler had just called in late evening and after all it was a Western! So I had got a lifer! We had bought the lifer cakes in right time! After fish&chips we were ready to take it easy already at 8 p.m.

A lifer and a really good self found tick!

On the 12th of October after a breakfast we headed to south again. I was very worried as I had got a message from my friend from Catalonia, Spain that a football match Barcelona-Valencia had been changed one day earlier than it was supposed to be. I had tickets to this game with several friends of mine from Parikkala, but our flight from London to Barcelona would be there a couple of hours too late. The game was the main reason why we were continuing our birding tour also to Catalonia!

But luckily we soon got something else to think when we heard that a Radde’s Warbler that had been found on previous evening was still present. But unfortunately Paul didn’t know the place. So we decided to drive until Sumburgh and sooner or later we’d meet some birders that could tell use the place. We did some seawatching there near the lighthouse but there was nothing interesting on the sea. Only a Red-throated Diver was found. Soon we met some birders that could tell that the Radde’s Warbler was in Sandwick so we decided to drive there. We were already pretty close to Sandwick when Paul Harvey called to me and gave us really good instructions how to find the place. Thanks to both Pauls! I’m sure that Frenchy had asked Harvey to call to me. The place was really difficult to find but finally we found this so called Sanick burns and there were already several familiar looking twitchers. Hugh Harrop had seen the bird just some 10 minutes earlier but it had somehow disappeared. We checked all the gardens and other places nearby and also hammered a long ditch several times without success. After 1.5 hours search the bird was finally found and friendly locals ran to tell us where it was. We ran there and soon this beautiful bird jumped in sight! A lifer! The bird was very active and flighty but potu managed to get a couple of really good pictures of it! Soon the bird disappeared but potu found it in a cemetery nearby after some searching. Then it flew back to gardens so we decided to keep on going somewhere else.

We now decided to head to the lake that we had passed a couple of times without stopping. On the way we found a Great Northern Diver on a beach at Spiggie and on Loch Spiggie we saw big flocks of Wigeons, Moorhens, 6 Slavonian Grebes, Tufted Ducks, a Scaup and a Long-tailed Duck. Then we saw lower down near the lake a couple of people walking near a good looking ditch and photographing something. We decided to go to ask what they got. I stopped the car and asked what they got, but before I got any answer I saw a shrike perched on a pole just 20 metres from us and what a shrike – a Daurian Shrike! It took less than a second to identify this bird, I had seen plenty of them in Kuwait. We got out from the car and I had my scope and camera out very soon. I started to try to get a picture of this rarity but this man came to stand in front of me and started to walk towards the bird! I asked nicely that could he move a little bit so I could get a picture of this rare bird but he said: “find your own birds” and kept on walking towards it! He didn’t even try to photograph it, just walked too close and flushed the bird! Luckily the bird landed to the other side of the road but maybe 100 metres from us and I managed to get a couple of pictures of it before it continued further and landed 200 metres of us. I still got a couple of pictures and a short video before a big flock of passerines attacked it and it just disappeared!

I said a couple of well chosen words to this man so he’d understand what he had done. I think he just had realized that the bird hadn’t been a Red-backed Shrike. I told him to call someone and sent an SMS to Paul Harvey while he was calling. Surprisingly I soon got a message from Frenchy about the bird so this man had finally done something right. Unfortunately the message was about an Isabelline Shrike as I didn’t know that Daurian was the right name for isabellinus. Soon Hugh Harrop came there and I decided to tell him what had happened as I was afraid that this crazy man could just get thanks instead of what he deserved! Hugh wasn’t surprised at all, he said that it was just what this man does! He also told that this man had been on his birding tour to Finland where a local guide, my good friend Harri Taavetti, had almost killed this man; he had been so annoying also there! I just told him that I wasn’t very far from killing him now.

Soon there were more and more twitchers coming and most of them were just standing next to a place where the bird had been first seen. After some time we decided to drive around the lake and check all the other possible places, the whole lake was surrounded by farmlands and fields were full of good places. About an hour later when we were on the other side of the lake potu saw all birders running near the first place, so we decided to drive back there. And there the bird was in one garden in a place where we had been checking the ducks. The bird was flying a couple of times between the bushes but soon landed to one bush where was a reason why it had been missing for some time, it had a passerine hanging on a branch there and it started to eat it again. Now we managed to get really good pictures and also videos of it eating a Blackcap! Amazing! There were about 40 twitchers and more were coming all the time. I still told to a couple of twitchers the whole story what had happened. And it was funny that crazy man was still standing in the original place some 300 metres of us and watching to those bushes while we were enjoying the bird! What a weirdo!

We were watching the Daurian Shrike for more than an hour and still more people were coming. Finally we decided to leave south and to the airport to find out what we could do with our flights. There we found out that the only clever possibility was to change our London-Barcelona flight a earlier, but it wasn’t very early either, we’d be in Barcelona only 1.5 hours before the match. And the change of the tickets was ridiculous expensive! Only that we changed the flight cost as much as our original flights! And new tickets were horrible expensive! But we had no choice!

While we were driving towards Lerwick we still stopped to see the shrike and there were still plenty of twitchers. Paul Harvey and Rob were there too so after some talking we left to Lerwick where we ate again in Chinese before went to sleep very tired but happy!

Visitor from taiga

On the 13th of October in the morning the weather was very bad. So first we just went to Scalloway to see a small castle before we checked some garden areas nearby. But almost nothing was found. When the rain stopped we were driving around Lerwick along the main road when 2 Red Grouses flew over us. We headed to Tingwall where we checked a couple of lakes and found a Coot and a Slavonian Grebe. We also checked Strand Loch where we stopped to photograph a Swan Goose that we had already seen earlier but hadn’t been interested in it at all. Then we headed to Quendale, where had been found an Olive-backed Pipit. When we had parked in front of the Quendale Mill a big bearded man came to talk with us and told that there was “a little biRRd inside the mill”. We followed him and soon saw that there was a Goldcrest inside a mill store. I managed to catch this tiny bird very easily and released it out to the garden. The big man was very happy!

Then we walked along the hillside towards the Quendale valley and soon found the first pipits. But they were all Meadow Pipits. Near so called Rifle Range we saw many other twitchers but it seemed they had lost a bird for some time ago. So we continued further along the valley. But soon we saw that other twitchers were running and waving to us so we walked back. There one birder had seen a good looking bird and he had managed to get a picture of it. After he had found the best picture he walked straight to me even though there were 15 other birders there and asked if it was the right bird, and yes it was. So we decided to wait in that place because that was also the place where the bird had been found. After some waiting we saw a lonely pipit flying towards us and it landed to some kind of feeder – there it was, an Olive-backed Pipit! We managed to see this bird for some seconds with telescope before it dropped behind a feeder. Soon it flew up to the valley with Meadow Pipits but luckily it landed so that we found it from the ground with scopes and I managed to get a couple of pictures before it flew further up and disappeared. We still waited for some time for this, potus one more lifer to came back and saw a Polecat coming to the feeders, but the pipit wasn’t coming back anymore so we decided to leave. While we were walking back we saw other twitchers flushing the pipit one more time and now it flew over the whole valley and landed very far to the other side. We hammered all the irises along the ditch but didn’t find anything so soon we were back to our car.

We still continued south and walked around Scatness for some time but then it started to rain. We were just thinking what to do next when Frenchy sent a message that a Rose-coloured Starling had been found in Cunningsburgh. It was pretty close and because we knew the road where the bird had been seen we found the place easily with my navigator. So after less than 15 minutes we were there. But the bird had been seen already 2 hours earlier and was now missing. There were plenty of Starlings everywhere so we started to scan through them in the fields. This young bird had been seen on a feeder where plenty of Starlings were but even though we tried to find it for 1.5 hours we couldn’t find it. Only interesting observation was a Hedgehog that we rescued from the middle of the road. After this we drove to Lerwick where we managed to arrange our car rental until our flight and we managed to arrange that we could leave the car to the airport. In the evening we finally found a good European restaurant, Italian, where we could get service in good English and get pizza! So potu didn’t have to worry how much coriander there is in his food – he can’t eat it at all!

On the 14th of October after breakfast we headed west and checked a couple of bays and lakes that we hadn’t seen before and some garden that we had checked with Paul before Foula. But only Red-breasted Mergansers, a couple of Slavonian Grebes and a couple of Red-throated Divers and so on were seen. In Tresta garden we had nothing and it seemed that there was a big rain cloud coming from the west so we turned back. We headed to Kergord garden where we soon found a couple of other birders that were waving us and saying: “the bird is just in front of us, come here”. We sneaked there and asked what they got, but right then we saw a Red-flanked Bluetail jumping in front of us! This bird was extremely tame and it was catching some insects just on our feet! Unfortunately the weather was very bad and there was no light at all, but still we managed to get some pictures of it. I think it was getting close to us on purpose because Robins were attacking it always when it went further. Also a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers were seen and heard, but soon the rain started and when also several cars full of twitchers arrived we decided to leave. We went to our B&B and walked to an internet cafe to check if everything was ok with our flights. We had got all the booking references but we still hadn’t got the e-tickets to our flight from London to Barcelona. This was a bit strange but I thought that this was one of the flights that the ticket is not necessarily needed, at least I hoped so.

The rain had stopped again so we still went birding. We drove to Seafield but the Bonelli’s Warbler wasn’t found. A Hawfinch was seen and also a Merlin. On the sea we saw a Great Skua that was only the 3rd after Foula. Then we drove to Cunningsburgh even though we hadn’t got any info about the starling. We parked to a bus-stop and immediately realized that there was a photographer photographing something on the feeder and there it was a young Rose-coloured Starling! The bird had been seen from mid-day but none of the birders we had met had heard about it. For about an hour we were photographing this potus 14th lifer of the trip on the feeder or inside the bushes but it never was showing very well and then it started to rain again. Of course then the bird landed for the first time to the grass, but even though the rain was very hard we got a couple of pictures where the bird was on the ground too. In the evening we went to eat at the same Italian and had good hamburger meals before it was time to go to sleep.

Last day on Shetland

The 15th of October was our last day in Shetland so we decided to go birding where the most birds were – in the south. We drove straight to Sumburgh where we watched the sea for some time again, but saw only a 2 Merlins, a Great Northern Diver and 40 Long-tailed Ducks.

Soon we continued to Toab where there had been a Radde’s Warbler the previous evening but we couldn’t find the bird even though we heard that it had been relocated later on the other side of the village. On Pool of Virkie we saw again Dunlins, Ringed Plovers, a Black-tailed Godwit and also 2 Sanderlings that were our 136th species in Shetland and 196in Britain during this trip. Also another Great Northern Diver was seen in flight. When we were driving to Quendale we saw the same Black Redstart again and in Quendale we hammered the irises very well but found nothing! When we were back to our car we saw the same Grey Wagtail again. It really seemed that the best birding season was over; it was so quiet in Quendale!

On Lake Spiggie we saw a Little Gull and a couple of hundred Wigeons. The Daurian Shrike was found from the irises along the ditch where it was first found. Luckily the bird now landed very nicely to the irises and we could get perfect pictures. Soon it took a mouse from somewhere and started to eat it, but now it was behind the bushes. But luckily it changed soon to a passerine and landed very beautifully in front of us and started to eat its prey. A big van parked behind us to a parking place and we were wondering why anyone was getting out. Then we noticed that there was maybe the bravest and toughest twitcher we had ever met, a paralyzed young man sitting on a wheel chair with a scope attached with a thin stand to arm of the chair. I went to help him to find the bird to his scope as it was really difficult because of the too thin stand. It was really nice to help a birder like that! And the bird was showing better than ever, it was feeding the passerine just 15 metres from us! We looked at this show for a half an hour before we decided to leave it finishing its lunch.

We still stopped in Cunningsburgh but the Rose-coloured Starling wasn’t found. In Wester Quarff we had again plenty of Bramblings but nothing else. In the afternoon we went to see landscapes in West Burra and the fjord-like views were pretty nice. In the evening we had pizza again and then went to B&B to pack our luggage and to sleep.

And the journey continues

On the 16th of October we woke up at 5 a.m. and at 6 a.m. we were on our way to Sumburgh airport. We left our car to a parking place (amazing that I had survived one week on left traffic without any mistakes) and at 7:40 our flight left to Edinburgh. We said our goodbyes to Shetland – we’ll be back!

On Edinburgh airport we were an hour and 20 minutes before our flight to London. The London city airport situated on the other side of the town than Heathrow, so we had to take a metro. After more than an hour and 4 changes we finally were in Heathrow. I had been too scared of the time that only then I watched what the time was and we had just a little bit more than an hour to our flight to Barcelona. And if the day had been already awful it came much worse when in check in our flight tickets weren’t found at all! I had booking references on my email, but they didn’t help. After some time there were 3 women doing their best but nothing helped, they asked us to buy new tickets! We had already paid more than £600 for this flight so my Visa account was already used too much! I had just managed to increase my limits to my Visa when one of the women told us that Iberia had made a mistake and our tickets had been found! So they just told us to run to the gate, the plane was about to leave very soon! So we ran down the long corridors to the gate and surprisingly there was nothing happening yet.

We were finally on our way to Spain, Catalonia and Barcelona!

I have to thank Paul French who made everything so easy for us again, he even checked this trip-report and made it much better, but also Garry Taylor, Gavin Thomas, Micky Maher, Paul Harvey, Rob Fray, Geoff and Donna, Kevin Shepherd, Paul and Neil Wright, Andrew Grieve and many other amazing helpful birders around Shetland must be thanked! Thanks and see you again!


Shetland, Foula 15th of September to 5th of October 2009

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.

Freiston Shore

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!

Amazing day!

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!