Wise Birding Holidays

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Shetland: The Northern Isles

Now half way through a trip to Shetland volunteering for the RSPB as part of Helen's Sabbatical. We are based on Fetlar and are carrying out various bird surveys on Fetlar, Yell and Unst for Species & Habitats Officer Malcie Smith and his assistant, Andy Simpkin. 

This is my third visit to Shetland, but the first trip during the Summer months and it is simply fantastic. Shetland at this time of year is all about the breeding waders and seabirds and staying on Fetlar is a real privilege. It feels almost uninhabited (the population is currently around 50) with birds nesting everywhere and it is great to see so many breeding waders doing so well, the exception being Whimbrel which has severely declined.

I have managed time for birding before and after surveys and have found a few scarce migrants including RB Shrike, Icterine Warbler and Marsh Warbler. Sadly did not find the Swainson's Thrush! I was birding my adopted local patch that morning, the Houbie Burn. I could see some birders peering into a garden in the distance. After having birded the burn, I went to speak to them and they had just clinched the id after having first seen the bird at around 9.30pm the previous night! Nice group of guys from Oxford  who found it and to be fair, the bird may well have never been found unless they had been staying in the B&B which overlooked the very dense and inaccessible garden the bird was hiding in.


The weather has been very cold not getting above 7-8 degrees the first few days and is still pretty chilly now, but still loving it. Birds still seem to be turning up too. Eye-browed Thrush on nearby Whalsay yesterday! More surveys still to do, but shall keep looking......

Here are a few highlights from the trip so far...
The view from our accommodation on Fetlar

Tresta Beach from Lamb Hoga

Spotted Flycatcher, Houbie Burn, Fetlar

Common Chiffchaff, Skaw, Unst

Shetland Wren, Houbie Burn, Fetlar

Icterine Warbler, Houbie Burn, Fetlar

Icterine Warbler, Houbie village sharing garden with a Swainson's Thrush

Swainson's Thrush, Houbie, Fetlar - possibly Shetland's first Spring record

Swainson's Thrush, Houbie, Fetlar

Marsh Warbler, Loch of Funzie, Fetlar - This bird took a good 2 hours to pin down until I was happy with the id.
It was very skulky and looked very pallid in the field, but the primary projection soon excluded the chance of anything
rarer! The pale tipped primaries, leg colour, contrast in flight feathers, head shape etc. all finally led to Marsh Warbler

Marsh Warbler, Loch of Funzie, Fetlar - amazing how different the supercilium looks in this photo!

Light phase Arctic Skua, Fetlar

Dark phase Arctic Skua, Unst

Great Skua, Hermaness, Unst

Arctic Tern, Fetlar

Common Gull, Fetlar

The inter-island ferry

Helen at the most northerly bus stop in the UK, Unst

Curlew Chick, Fetlar

Dunlin, Yell

Juvenile Lapwing, Fetlar

Oysterctachers, Fetlar

Golden Plover, Fetlar

Male Red-necked Phalarope, Loch of Funzie, Fetlar - with patience this is the safest place to watch and photograph
birds without causing disturbance

Male and female Red-necked Phalaropes, Loch of Funzie, Fetlar

Common Snipe, Fetlar

Red-throated Divers, Loch of Funzie, Fetlar - a number of birds regularly gather on the loch to preen before returning to nest sites

Gannet colony, Hermaness, Unst

The impressive Saito Outcrop, Hermaness, Unst - previous home of the faous Black-browed Albatross

Gannets and Chick, Hermaness, Unst

Gannets, Hermaness, Unst

Squabbling Gannets, Hermaness, Unst

Gannet, Hermaness, Unst

Puffin, Hermaness, Unst

Puffin, Hermaness, Unst

Out Skerries from Fetlar

Surveying in the warm Shetland summer!


Muckle Flugga Lighthouse, Unst
Fulmars, Fetlar

Thursday, 4 June 2015

AZORES: Introduction to Natural History Tour

Currently out in the Azores again guiding with Peter Alfrey for Azores Nature and the first Introduction to the Natural History of the Azores Tour.

Day 1  - Vulcanology Day on Sao Miguel

Day 2 - Travel from Sao Miguel to Graciosa via Terceira looking for waders in Cabo da Praia Quarry
Days 3/4 - Marine Life off Graciosa

Here are some of the highlights so far:

The King's view at Setes Cidades, Sao Miguel
Exploring lava caves on Sao Miguel

Vulcanic Stalagtites, Sao Miguel

Azores Chaffinch, Sao Miguel

Red-veined Darter - Paul da Praia, Terceira

Kentish Plover - good numbers have been breeding on Terceira in Cabo do Praia Quarry for a number of years

Barolo's (Little) Shearwater off Graciosa - This bird was in heavy wing moult and reluctant to fly

Barolo's (Little) Shearwater off Graciosa- showing heavy wing moult

Monteiro's Storm Petrel off Graciosa- At this time of year birds show very fresh plumage ready for the "hot" breeding season ahead

Portugese Man of War off Graciosa - one of many seen during the trip

Common Tern off Graciosa - good breeding numbers around Praia Islet in association with Roseate Tern

Monteiro's Storm Petrel off Graciosa

Striped Dolphins off Graciosa - one of three species of dolphin seen during the trip

Fin Whale off Gracosa - one of two animals that pass through the Azores at this time of year as they head north to their feeding grounds
Cory's Shearwaters off Graciosa

Praia Islet off Graciosa - the breeding site of the endemic Monteiro's Storm Petrel