Walks, Whimbrel , Wren and Bushnell treats!

With our week on Shetland rapidly coming to an end, we headed back down through Unst, to head back to the mainland. We had seen lots of curlew throughout the week, but were keen to see Whimbrel. At first glance, this species looks very similar, but there are several features that set it apart from its more common look-alike. Being a much rarer species, the whimbrel us harder to find and even harder to get a good look at, but this individual proved us wrong! We spotted it and pulled the minibuses up so everyone could take a look. At this point, it moved to a prominent mount and then stayed there for ages, so everyone was able to see it through both binoculars and the scope!

The whimbrel is a smaller bird than the curlew. Its beak is shorted, more slender and not so curved. The whimbrel also has a distinctive head stripe that was clear in this individual. The only thing that would have bettered this view, would have been if a curlew had landed next to it for comparison!

We were also able to watch a golden paver, oystercatcher and redshank with chicks and then this rather obliging dunlin which came very close to the minibus!

As we headed South, we stopped off at other sites, trying to see species such as the red-throated divers. We had spotted these at a couple of locations. This site, close to the road, gave everyone the chance to have a good look at this beautiful bird…

We all delighted in the summer conditions for it was the summer solstice after all! As you can see, we were making the most of the longest day… the sun was shining, but the chilly wind meant we kept ourselves wrapped up!

Before long, we were back on the mainland and heading to a site where I had set some Bushnells. As we walked across the headland, so I could show the clients where I had set them, we found this beautiful sheep skull, that Mother Nature had started to reclaim. I placed it on a beautiful lichen post and it looked as if it should be an art pice in a museum of natural beauty!

When I first arrived in Shetland, I had set some Bushnells up on a remote site. We were able to show everyone the signs we look for that tell us that otter are around. The cliff edges were full of sprint and the fresh water pools showed signs of bathing. An otter has to keep its coat in tip-top condition and, after swimming in the sea, they like to bathe in fresh water. Little pools on the headland often show signs of otter entry and then roll points nearby, where they dry off, using the grass, heather and moss like a bath towel! As there were sheep around, I had not set my cam there, but rather on another spot where I knew there was a lot of activity. We stayed well away from the area as we explained the site to our clients, then I nipped in quickly to retrieve the SD card. The great thing about trail cams is that they can quickly and easily be positioned with little or no disturbance. They then film for you, without the creature knowing, triggered by their body temperature and movement.

We would have to wait for the evening for me to see what the camera had captured and everyone was excited by the site and its potential!

The last day on Shetland dawned bright and a message that the Bearded seal was back, meant we all wanted a last look at her. I am unlikely to ever see one again, so I was keen to squeeze in a couple more photos as well! She was looking good and posed for us. As we left, we heard the she had returned to the water and headed off for a day’s hunting!

We continued out drive around the island, dodging the mist and hoping it would clear for us. The skies brightened and we headed to a beautiful spot; St Nina’s, where there is a natural ‘tombolo’. This is a a natural sand causeway with sea on either side. We had a lovely walk, all along the beach, onto St Ninan’s Isle. This small island is famous for the remains of its chapel and  for the “treasure”: 28 Pictish silver objects and the jaw bone of a porpoise which were buried under a cross-marked slab close to the altar.

I couldn’t resist this photo opportunity of the group, before we all had to leave each other….

It was bright and blustery, so we decided we could do with one more puffin fix so headed , once again, up to Sumburgh Head. The winds meant that the puffins had to battle a little more to get back on to the cliffs and they seem to revel in ‘riding’ the gusts; perfect for photography!

Heading to the very top viewing area, whilst watching 2 grey seal, some guillemot and multiple fulmars, a tiny movement caught my eye. A pair of Shetland Wren were landing just below, with beaks full of food. Following their movements, we could see that they were disappearing under a large clump of thrift , where they obviously had quite a few young. We could hear the youngsters calling and they did not sound far from fledge. It gave me a wonderful opportunity to photograph the adults coming in, pausing for a second, with beaks laden, before disappearing under the sea pink to feed their young!

A few more puffin shots and we had to leave….

… and an angry fulmar….

I was able to share some superb Bushnell captures with our guests… possibly the best otter clips I have ever captured… a fitting way to end the week. There will be a separate blog post showcasing these captures when I have processed the hundreds of amazing clips! Here’s a little preview… screen captures from the video clips….

Saying goodbye is always the hardest part of a tour! We had all formed a great relationship and had a superb week of wildlife watching, banter and lots of laughs!

I would like to thank all those that joined Hugh and I on the ‘Ultimate Shetland Tour’ 2018 and I hope you enjoyed the week as much as I did! Thank you also to Hugh .. thanks to his incredible knowledge of the islands and his understanding of the weather conditions, it meant we maximised our wildlife encounters and clocked up an impressive species list.  What a trip!