Apologies to anyone checking the blog daily for the lack of an update yesterday – we only got back from Unst at 10:30pm, after birding til dusk and then enjoying a great meal in the Baltasound Hotel with Martin G and his Shetland Nature group (feat. Nick Croft of Wanstead fame).
Our birding on Unst started immediately we drove off the ferry at Belmont, looking for the recently found Black-headed Bunting. This gave us the runaround for while, before Jono and I walked the perimeter of the stubble field, and found it down near the shore on its own. After a while, it moved back up to join the sparrows below the house, where it showed well.
Next stop was Uyeasound where, as well as checking a number of promising gardens and crop fields, we enjoyed a very striking Lesser Whitethroat, possibly of the eastern race halimodendri. Every time it popped up in front of us, one or other of us commented for the umpteenth time on just how strikingly sandy brown it was above (if anything, warmer toned than the photo suggests). The mask also appeared more diffuse than we’d expect on a regular curruca; there was very little contrast between the mantle and the nape, and Martin later pointed out that the bill appears rather fine and ‘spiky’. Finally, the primary projection is relatively short, with only six exposed primary tips beyond the tertials.
Certainly none of us had ever seen a LW looking like this before, so the comments above may be off the mark… if you have any thoughts on this bird, please leave a comment.
From here, we headed on north up the island through Haroldswick, where a juvenile Peregrine singled out a Lapwing from a flock and rather mercilessly appeared to play with it for the sheer hell of it!
Our final stops were Northdale (smart juvenile Hen Harrier, an elusive adult Bluethroat, Yellow-browed Warbler), and Norwick – one of my favourite birding site in the UK. We didn’t find or see anything particularly noteworthy, but it really didn’t matter: by this time, the wind had completely died, and over the sound of the surf it was still enough to hear Chiffchaffs’ bills snapping as they sallied out after insects. And we had the entire place to ourselves, not a soul there. Magic!
Today, we made a somewhat painfully early start to be down at South Voxter by 7am in the hope that yesterday evening’s Great Snipe would still be present. To cut a long (and tediously squelchy) story short, it wasn’t, so we returned to base for a spirit-lifting fry-up mid morning! Rather shockingly, we hadn’t seen a Barred Warbler all week, so news of a relatively showy bird at Busta House (thanks to Dave Acfield) persuaded us to go for a look. Happily, this didn’t take too long to find, unusually clambering around high up in the sycamore canopy, showing a lot of the strongly marked chevrons on the undertail coverts.
Having spotted a ‘new’ plantation on the map at Voxter (just east of Brae), we just had to have a look… and ended up speechless at one of the most extraordinary birding encounters I’ve ever experienced. It’s worth a whole blog post (and a lot of photos) on its own, so you’ll have to check back later to find out what it was!
We broke our return to Lerwick at Kergord, where in addition to the now-expected selection of Yellow-browed Warblers, I was delighted to find two male Hawfinch feeding discreetly in the leaf litter. Again, it was so quiet that you could them crunching seeds!