Shetland Spring Birding Part 1

May 2013 with Shetland Nature

Orca Sumburgh

“Quick – grab your bags” was how the spring 2013 holiday began. No time for gentle introductions- a pod of Killer Whales was circling Sumburgh Head. Once disbelief had been quelled all up for the dash  to try to see them! With some help from friends we got everyone up just in time. Pumped up with adrenaline all guests were happy to press on for a couple Icterine RRof hours before dinner. We left the Orca pod to try to see a beautiful female Red-necked Phalarope at nearby Spiggie with a bathing ‘club’ of about 40 Great Skuas (Bonxies) as a backcloth. While watching the phalarope some of the group turned around only to find an Icterine Warbler on the fence-line; the first record of the spring on the mainland. Superb! We were already finding our own good birds. The 1st summer Ring-billed Gull was still present on Loch of Hillwell plus a host of fresh water birds and a Glaucous Gull. It’s fair to say the first couple of hours of this holiday had more than met expectations!

Here’s the holiday with Shetland Nature that I’m talking about

The next morning heralded our next ‘find’. A quick scan around Sumburgh farm revealed not one but 2 Red-backed Shrikes; a male recently present plus a new female with striking rich brown plumage. While watching the shrikes we also picked up Iceland Gull, Long-tailed Duck, Black Guillemot and Great Northern Diver.

red backed Shrike female Sumburgh Hotel May 13

This female Red-backed Shrike was new and a ‘find’ for us. Intriguingly it looked all brown above (no grey hindneck more typical of female) and at distance the dark patch through eye looked blackish. It made a good attempt at pretending to be a Brown Shrike from long range.

Gary bell Sumburgh birdThis adult male Red-backed Shrike gave lovely views at Sumburgh from the hotel garden (photo Gary Bell)

GN Divers Lerwick May 13

2 Great Northern Divers in Shetland sunshine.Great views obtained in several places with birds in different plumages. These 2 were from on the Noss trip out of Lerwick harbour (below).

Lerwick harbour was our mid-morning destination. A  migrant male Pied Flycatcher in gardens en route was eclipsed by a Canada Goose at Clickimin Loch, Lerwick. While the same size as 2 accompanying Canada’s, its darker, browner plumage with no white neck collar indicated its identity as likely a Todd’s Canada Goose– another ‘find’ and  a vagrant bird form North America (and a first for Shetland). Somewhat distracted we just made the pier in time for the spectacular boat trip out to the seabird colony at Noss.


Glaucous Gull (3cy?) from the boat in Lerwick harbour. But just as we were rushing for this boat we picked out this dark Canada Goose at Clickimin Loch. The dark breast and dark nape reaching right up to the black neck sock are very unusual to see (I have never seen one) in British ‘canadensis’. They are typical  features of vagrant Canada Geese though. this birds’ size and plumage suggesting ‘interior’ or Todd’s Canada Goose (or its variants). Also a couple of the scapulars are just like juvenile feathers. Although need to explore further this suggest the bird may be a 2nd calendar year.

Another Glaucous Gull in the harbour plus summer plumaged Red-throated and Great Northern Divers bejewelled our journey. Once there, the seabird cliffs provide a breath-taking spectacle yielding the kind of point blank views not usually possible with Gannets, Puffins, Razorbills and Guillemots plus lunch stealing Bonxies alongside the boat. Afternoon was spent taking spectacular scenery of east side of the South Ness including the tombolo at St Ninian’s Isle. We also found (another!) male Red-backed Shrike at Spiggie.

gannet 4 nossGannets on Noss

2013-06-30_132610Gannets and hand fed Bonxies from the boat

Gannets 6

Gannet fight noss

These 2 Gannets locked in quite a scary looking dual

Bonxie Noss May 13Bonxies came around the boat at pint blank range and Arctic Terns as always looked stunning


Jonathan who runs the ‘Seabirds and Seals’ Tours to Noss also took us into a cave for some underwater camera work. A fascinating look at the underwater world

arctci tern 1

Black Guillemot Lerwick May 13

Black Guillemots met us at each end of the journey

A rest around teatime prepared us for the late night outing to the magic of the Island of Mousa and the Storm Petrels. Famously described as the ‘sound of a fairy being sick’, the enchanting song of the petrels in the majestic and mysterious ancient broch created an unforgettable memory.

306966_530208373702229_709480754_nSuper moon and flat sea on route to magical Mousa (photo Jim Nicholson)

mousa 1


Storm Petrel by David Gifford

mousa 2Mousa Broch at almost midnight is surrounded by the bat like flight and strange calls of Storm Petrels. Easily one of the most memorable trips of the spring holiday.

Bound for Unst we began Sunday morning with a Short-toed Lark on Sumburgh Head with awesome views of Puffins nearby. Britain’s most Northerly Island was a place of exploration and discovery for the next few days.

stl-jn Jim NicholsonsShort-toed Lark was a bonus on Sumburgh head (photo Jim Nicholson) as well as spectacularly close views of Puffins, before we headed north to the last place in Britain…

Puffin sumb3

For more about Shetland Nature and various holidays, news and events go to  Shetland Nature web pages

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