Thursday, 26 January 2017

Shetland twitch, 24-26th January 2017

Kevin McC picked me up at 05:00 on Tuesday morning and we set forth on the long journey to Aberdeen, passing almost every minute putting the world to rights. Naturally, we altered the route so that we could included Druridge Bay CP, a site with history for me as I dipped a Greater Yellowlegs there a few years ago. On the lake, we lapped up intimate views of the Pacific Diver as it fished actively, seemingly just in the shallows. An incredible location for such a thing to turn up, it beat my sighting of the Cornish bird a few winters back hands down. A variety of other birds on offer included a spanking pair of Red-breasted Mergansers and a seemingly healthy population of Tree Sparrows chattering in the dense bushes. Onwards we trekked, smoothly boarding the glitzy Shetland ferry in good time. After having a few drinks with fellow birder, Mickey, whom we bumped into in the bar, it was a quick tortellini then time for bed in our en-suite cabin for a beautiful night’s sleep…

Pacific Diver at Druridge Bay
Red-breasted Merganser at Druridge Bay
Bullfinch (left) and Tree Sparrow at Druridge Bay
The Tannoy announced our arrival at Lerwick and it was all systems go, starting with a full vegetarian breakfast with tattie scones of course. The hire car was quickly sorted, a metal tin with a primitive locking system but it got us to Sandwick in no time. After identifying ‘The Wart junction’ we soon established that the bird was not in the ‘wet field’, one of its favourites, and we started searching the dauntingly sweeping stubble field on the other side of road, which looked promising with its 175 Golden Plovers, 31 Lapwings, Turnstones, etc. To ensure we definitely weren't about to spend hours barking up the wrong tree, I headed back to the wet field, just to make extra sure it wasn’t there. A distant hollering could only have been good news and I fast-walked towards Kev, who had spotted the KILLDEER on a little puddle on the other side of the stubble field! Fortunately, it had continued idling by its chosen patch while everything else took flight. After a few minutes, it exploded into the air and let out a series of piercing cries before landing in a grassy field on the other side of the road and becoming much more lively, its reverie apparently abandoned!

Killdeer at Sandwick
Golden Plovers at Sandwick

With the wind strong and the bird distant, we decided to come back later. In the meantime, we checked out the Loch of Hillwell area, where highlights included four Twite and 17 Whooper Swans, and Lerwick, finding a small selection of seabirds including four Black Guillemots, five Long-tailed Ducks and 26 Eiders

Black Guillemot at Lerwick
Eiders at Lerwick
Shags at Lerwick

On returning to Sandwick, we instantly re-found the Killdeer, this time easily viewable from the road and giving a brilliant half-hour or so of comfortable viewing from the car before we headed back to the ferry, thoroughly chuffed.

Killdeer at Sandwick

After a swift couple of pints, which turned out to be unwise, and another tortellini dinner, we headed to our cabin for an extra early crash out. I normally have excellent sea legs but let’s just say my meal was a waste of money 30 minutes later and I reckon the beer was to thank. Getting horizontal as soon as I could, thankfully I soon drifted off and awoke after sleeping like a log. It seemed as though the breakfast announcement would surely go off any time soon but my phone was dead so I couldn’t check the time. I got up, had a shower and got my stuff together then headed out to the deck. Looking at the clock outside, it was 2 o’clock in the morning! I had 64 pence in my wallet, one penny too few to buy anything from the vending machines, and had left my keycard in the cabin. I tried to gamble on the fruit machines for enough money to buy a packet of Wine Gums, failed, then gazed blankly at a look back at the Premier League highlights of 2011. It went on to a chat between John Barnes MBE and John Conteh but by 5am I eventually felt like I could go back to snatch some more sleep. Fortunately, the drive home was a little simpler and very efficient thanks to Kevin’s excellent driving and jolly company.