The next week my wife, Lynne, and I went to Shetland for five days. Shetland is something of a Mecca for birdwatchers and Lynne has also wanted to go there for a while. I won’t bore you too much with the problems of flying on a very small plane and needing to carry a fairly large lens in hand luggage, but if I tell you I can’t print Lynne’s reply when she learnt that her entire hand luggage would have to be replaced with one lens in a rucksack you’ll get the drift. Shetland is treeless, rather like Iceland but less dramatic. In summer, days are long. You really get good value out of the daylight. Roads are good and traffic jams are unheard of. Petrol was £1.40 a litre then but probably cheaper now.
We stayed two days at Sumburgh, a few minutes from the RSPB reserve at Sumburgh Head. There were still puffins in early August but not that many. Still, there were twite, another lifer, and Lynne pointed out some small birds to me on the grass bank just over the wall. I looked and knew they were crossbills, another lifer, but it wasn’t till I got back to the hotel that I realised they were juvenile two barred crossbills, rare vagrants from northern Russia. What I didn’t know was that nearby there were adult birds that are very colourful! If only I’d had my iPhone then, I would have been able to access the Internet and see what was about!
Two barred crossbill
Next day was Noss, an island off the East Coast, sporting loads of Great skuas (bonxies), about 20,000 gannets, rock pipits, arctic skuas and some seals. It’s quite impressive to see so many gannets, and the smell stays with you for quite a while too!
Gannet, Noss, Shetland.
Great skua, Noss, Shetland.
Next was the island of Mousa for black guillemot, red throated diver and storm petrels. Well we didn’t actually see the petrels, which only come at night.
Red throated diver, Mousa, Shetland.
We then moved to the North West, where the highlights were Whooper swans with young and merlin.
Whooper swan with cygnet, Shetland.
Next a trip to Hermaness in the very North of the islands where it was blowing a gale. On reaching the cliffs after walking across the reserve I sat down to rest and watch the birds. Thousands of gannets wheeled below me over the sea, plunging every so often from a great height to fish. Fulmars soared along the cliffs; puffins came and went bringing food for their young.
Fulmar Hermaness, Shetland.
One puffin approached and then circled round again, …..and again, ….and again. I wondered why he didn’t go to his burrow. Then he landed 2m from me and stared at my feet. I was in ecstasy. A puffin with at least 15 sand eels in its bill was 2m away from me. I quickly took several pictures, one of which I regard as one of the best shots I have been lucky enough to get, and looked down at my feet to see what he was staring at. My leg was in front of his burrow!!! I moved away and he scurried in at last.
Puffin with sand eels, Hermaness, Shetland
A last day in Lerwick and then home. The last three months of the year started with the sighting of a green heron at West Hythe in Kent. I went with David Campbell on a very wet and dreary day and the heron never came out from the tree he was sheltering under. I don’t blame him!
Green heron, West Hythe, Kent.
The following month a night heron was found in exactly the same place! What are the chances of that? I went to see that one as well.
Night heron, West Hythe, Kent.
I had always denied being a twitcher, but as I also went to see the desert wheatear at Sandwich, the hooded merganser at Radipole lake (on the way to the Westcountry) and the hawfinch at Bookham I suppose I must have turned into one of sorts this year. I also saw black redstart for the first time at Portland Bill; a very nice bird.
Black redstart, Portland Bill.
Finally, I went to see waxwings at Folkestone, also a lifer and a very handsome bird.
Waxwing, Folkestone, Kent.
All in all it was a very enjoyable year. My thanks to David Campbell who was with me and educated me on many of the outings. I was never so dedicated or knowledgeable at that age!
Happy New Year to you all.