Shetland Spring Birding Part 3

Party ’till the End

We were very fortunate to begin and end this holiday with sea mammals, Killer Whales to begin and Minke Whales at the end. In-between we squeezed in some 109 bird species, with many scarce and some rare bird as well ass all the islands specialties. the very last on the list a Thrush Nightingale. here’s part 3 of our report:

Common Crane unst May June 2013

This 1st summer Common Crane was seen every day on Unst, with its damaged wing (assume it had hit an overhead lines).

2013-07-06_103637In a little purple patch we found Greenland and Mealy Redpoll, Quail, and Wood Warbler in small area of Haroldswick. Baltasound yielded migrants too including Long-eared Owl and Cuckoo  and Otters on an early morning safari.

Fetlar for a Day

Known as the ‘Garden of Shetland’, Fetlar never fails! Here’s Brydon Thomason of Shetland Nature. Born and bred on the island, it’s clearly ‘his island’ and always gets nervous whenever I take groups over 😉 . This year it held easily the rarest bird of our spring holiday. BOOM! Blyth’s Reed Warbler….
fetlar and Brydon TBrydon Thomason “welcome to my island” 😉

tresta manse springExploring Tresta Manse on Fetlar in spring. The only mature garden on Fetlar, having seen Taiga Flycatcher, Grey-cheeked Thrush and nearby Sykes’s Warbler – you can understand I hope why every visit is anticipation filled. The garden held a Spotted Flycatcher this time… what might we find there this autumn?

Our day trip to Fetlar seems always to produce something special. This time a Blyth’s Reed Warbler no less- only the 7th May record for Britain and my 2nd record on Fetlar! Here’s the first one which was a group find. Redstart, Short-eared Owl and Siskin were all migrants and we found another Red-backed Shrike!

Blyth's Reed Warbler c Fetlar May 2013Blyths’ Reed Warbler, Fetlar forever!

BLths Reed bOOM

Group peaks with major rarity. Worth a big X for a Blyth’s Reed Warbler! 🙂

Spectacular Views

Back on Unst, as the week started to close out, besides all the birds and wildlife, the scenery was much loved. Some of the seacliff views off the west side of Hermaness. 

hermaness 3

hermaness 1

hermaness 2

The Subtle Stuff

Redpoll Sumburgh June 2013Greenland Redpoll ssp. rostrata. Pretty confident streaky long-bodied redpolls  (especially this one with its very buffy face) at Haroldswick and Sumburgh looked good for ‘North-westerns’. A Mealy Redpoll was also at Haroldswick. We also saw 1st summers (2cy) of both Atlantic and Continental Cormorants to compare (the latter rare on Shetland), normal and eastern (kobylini-type) Red-backed Shrikes, Greenland and nominate Wheatears side-by-side and acredula Willow Warblers. 

Rare and beautiful flowers on Unst 

On it’s rocky desert-like environment, the Keen of Hamar on Unst is always part of a spring itinerary, even for those not used to looking at wild flowers, it’s a special experience.

cheking the flora on unst

Moss Campion

Edmonstons Chickweed

(Above) Beautiful Moss Campion and endemic Edmonston’s Chickweed at the Keen.

226352_390699340985018_1488780327_nLike book ends, the last day of the holiday was marked by surprises which included rare birds and cetaceans. We got to be in on the identification wrestle with a Thrush Nightingale at Virkie and finished before dinner by finding 2 Minke Whales passing north off Sumburgh Head (this photo by Brydon Thomason of a Minke off Fetlar, showing the characteristic shape and dorsal fin).

Long tailed Duck Scatness June 2013 Like our guest, there came a time when this summer plumaged male Long-tailed Duck had to fly off.

Space and words in a report like this make it impossible to shoehorn in, all of the wonderful experiences and discoveries we had. Suffice to say it was such a starlight holiday- we are already planning next spring’s gig, with a special guest ‘new guide’ for Shetland Nature.

if you can’t wait that long, there are still places for this autumn birding holiday adventures!

About Martin Garner

I am a Free Spirit
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6 Responses to Shetland Spring Birding Part 3

  1. Still not getting rostrata for that redpoll, Martin. It’s not really that streaky on the flanks and its delicate in structure and I know that Shetland birders who saw it in the field thought it was flammea.

  2. Martin Garner says:

    Hi Mike.
    These as you know are a wrestle in the spring. However If I can press you to be a bit more specific. Roger R. who I am sure you know, knows his redpolls pretty well, saw and photographed the bird independently and felt it fit NW Redpoll better. I think he’s a ‘Shetland Birder’ ;). Another well known ‘Shetland birder’ didn’t see it but felt it fit NW best based on several photos. Second thing is, well I think it’s pretty darn streaky, so we will have to disagree there, but another character which I don’t immediately reconcile with flammea is the (actually remarkably ) buffy face almost like that of Twite at times. Need time to look through my photos of flammea from spring but don’t remember seeing any with such on ‘face’. Can you point me to photos of spring flammea in correct range with face pattern like this? I agree with the sentiment that it didn’t look esp. large in the field, but I only saw it alone and size can be tricky to assess, so not sure how trustworthy that is. But the plumage (more than the streaking) I still find hard to reconcile with flammea and so do (some other) Shetland birders.


    • I’ve only spoken to two people and not Roger. It is streaky, I agree, but are flammea just as streaky as that in spring? And it doesn’t look as boldly streaked on the flanks as an autumn rostrata, which I find strange: it is really an ‘adidas’ redpoll, with the triple-streaked flanks. I don’t think that the buffy face means much. I have had a very quick look through some of my photos and found spring bird I’m sure is a flammea with a buffy face. Size worries me for this bird. Rob F. said it was a small bird, as I’d expect flammea to be. True rostrata is a big, hulking bird. Usually obviously so. I just don’t see this from the photo, nor do I think that the ‘long’ appearance means much, other than it’s got its feathers flattened. Maybe it is a NW bird (but surely not a rostrata) but that means claiming it as islandica, no longer on the British List and a taxon even the Icelanders don’t claim to have a handle on. So I’m still not getting rostrata for this bird, but its maybe not claimable as anything else either. It is a bird best left as unassigned these days IMHO. But of the candidates, rostrata is still my 3rd favourite.

  3. testnis says:


    The redpoll in the hotel garden at Sumburgh was certainly a small thing. Saw it a couple of times, once with Twite. I did actually wonder about it being a Lesser Redpoll based on its size, although it clearly isn’t one based on its plumage. Agree with Mike though – some redpolls are best left unidentified…

  4. testfornis says:

    By the way, testnis is me (Rob F) – no idea what I’ve done with all these google sign-in things but this is the only one that works!

  5. Pingback: More siskins, redpolls, less greenfinches in Britain | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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