Monday, 16 November 2015

Toft To The Top Of The Country - 3.10.15

It was fairly quiet on mainland so we decided along with the other group to head back to Unst for the Pallid Harrier again as it had decided to come back into roost after we had dipped it! Our first stop was the ferry terminal at Toft. The others were already there and headed off on the ferry but we stayed behind in the hope of seeing an Otter. Scan after scan was made until Steve shouted Otter and sure enough near the end of the left hand coast line there were 2 Otter catching fish and having a play. Finally I had seen a live wild Otter in the UK! After watching them for 20 minutes or so we got in the car and were just about to get in the queue when Brendon picked up a female Marsh Harrier ahead of us. Hopefully that would be a good omen!

American Golden Plover (right hand bird)
As Above!
Once off the ferry and onto Yell we drove up to Loch of Papil hoping to see the juvenile American Golden Plover from the day before. We arrived and picked out a small flock of Golden Plover but a few were hidden behind dips in the field. Just then a huge mass of goldies flew up behind us and split up into groups and landed all over the place. Things weren't looking great! But I kept scanning the flock and somehow managed to pick it out at the far right of the group. I got the others onto it but then the lady who owns the field drove through on her quad bike but amazingly didn't put the birds up. I cheekily asked if we could wander down a bit closer which she thankfully said yes to. We were joined by two older birders who until the following day I hadn't realised one of them was birding legend Pete Colston! Better views and photos were had and so off we went but not before a flock of 40 Snow Bunting flew through. Before getting on the next ferry Brendan G called to see if we'd seen the plover and to tell us that two of the group had seen what was most likely the Pallid Harrier fly through where we had just been!

Red-Backed Shrike (courtesy of Chris Sharp)

Unst's famous bus stop
We got onto Unst and headed straight to the Final Checkout café for petrol, tea and cake (remember the name)! Next stop was Baltasound where straight away I picked out the juvenile Red-Backed Shrike as it flew from post to post. After getting our fill of the bird we headed to Skaw which is the most northerly inhabited village in the UK. I say inhabited but its one farm and judging by the gates and fences they don't like birders! I walked up to a small patch of nettles and duly slipped on a hidden wet bit of wood and landed elbow first on a rock! Thankfully nobody was around to see! As I got to my feet a Yellow-Browed Warbler popped up on some dead docks and then flew over the burn to hunt on the rocks. Its no wonder Skaw has had some amazing birds over the years looking at the habitat there. Before we got to the harrier site we stopped in Norwick and birded around the garden of Valyrie which even has a sign birders welcome! I walked along the top edge of the burn to the right of the house and flushed a very interesting looking bird that just shouted PG Tips but despite more searching it vanished and I didn't fancy climbing into the bottom of the burn as it was over 10ft deep! Finally we arrived at Northdale and joined the others on a minor road pull in to give us a view over the valley. Again we waited and waited with only footy scores to keep us sane! A few Wheatear became one less when a Kestrel chased it into a patio window and then ate it under a patio table! Dave picked out a fine Merlin sat on a post but despite another couple of hours the Pallid Harrier chose not to come in again. Maybe the bird on Yell was it heading off finally? Back at Ulsta ferry terminal I was in the loo when I heard Chris shout 6 Otter! Sure enough in near pitch black were a group of Otter feeding. I picked out 3 by the time I arrived but a great way to end the day.

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