Monday, 16 October 2017

Parrots and Snowballs in Shetland Part Four 6th-7th October 2017

6th and 7th October   Days 6 & 7

I did not sleep so well last night worrying about the wind and rain and some work issues that came back to haunt me in the wee hours. The wind was still very strong this morning but the rain showers mostly kept away and even when they did arrive were over quickly which seems to be a feature of the weather on Unst.

We made our traditional stop at Easter Loch to look at the Ring necked Duck, noting that the Tufted Ducks had increased to forty and there were now seven Eurasian Wigeon on the loch as well. The Whooper Swans had been joined by two more bringing their total to seven also. Our plan was to walk around the roads, gardens and waste ground of Uyeasound to see if we could flush anything good from the bushes, rough grassland and ditches. It did not go well. In fact it was dire and all we could come up with was a single Willow Warbler, a couple of Blackcaps and a Brambling plus a soaking from an unexpected shower.

We decided to try a new area called Lund, an isolated spot with a neatly tended graveyard overlooking an isolated bay surrounded by moorland. On the way there we encountered our first Pink footed Geese, a small group of seven resting on some flooded ground by the road. Arriving at Lund we met a local birder who had just walked around the area and found nothing. His name was Robbie and he told us he had moved to Unst from England twenty years ago with his wife. As there were no birds to be seen we got talking as one does and it transpired he was originally from Stow on the Wold just five miles from my home in Kingham!

Lund Graveyard
Colin and myself left Donald chatting to Robbie and gave Lund a try, just in case Robbie had missed anything in his search for birds but all I could come up with were some Blackbirds around the graveyard and a sickly juvenile Gannet on the sea whilst Colin  flushed a couple of Common Snipe from an iris bed.

Most of the morning had now gone and so far we had seen very little but by some miracle we managed to make contact with the internet and found that a Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll had been found and reported at Skaw this very morning.

It did not take us long to get there and parking the car in the usual place we walked up to the back of the croft buildings where the redpoll, according to some departing birders, was showing very well. We joined a small line of ten or so birders looking over a dry stone wall into the backyard of the farm buildings. 

Ready for action!
The backyard of the croft 
Frustratingly the redpoll was currently out of sight feeding in the grass but then flew up and conveniently perched on a mossy wall.

Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll
Arctic Redpolls come in two forms, Hornemann's and Coue's. The former is the  larger of the two races but both are startlingly white, accentuated, especially, by their pure white rump and underparts.They also have the habit of fluffing out their feathers so they appear almost spherical when perched and at rest, hence the nickname 'snowball'. The redpoll spent a lot of time preening, perched on the wall, its fluffy, loose plumage being blown around by the gusting wind which was now at last beginning to abate.

They really are beautiful and appealing birds with a pleasing demeanour. Their head is a delicate shade of  buff with a bright scarlet patch on the forecrown, the buff extending down and around the face and neck onto the upper breast. It has a tiny yellow bill, so small it looks out of proportion to the head, and complemented by a black bib.  The rest of the plumage is white and grey with darker streaks on the upperparts whilst the underparts are pure white. Most striking of all is the pure white back and rump which because of the bird's habit of fluffing it out is often very obvious.

We watched it preening and then dropping down to feed on seeds in the grass. Redpoll taxonomy is a bit of a nightmare and I do not propose to go into it here as it is all about to change as from 2018. Hornemann's Arctic Redpolls are one of the largest of the currently accepted redpoll species and/or races and approach sparrow size but can often look smaller and more delicate.They come from Arctic Canada and Greenland whereas Coue's come from the low Arctic in northern Eurasia and America. For an hour we watched this little gem flitting about the yard but nearly always returning to its favourite  moss topped wall.

Reluctantly I left as it became more mobile around the buildings and walked up the hillside to where Donald and Colin were looking for the Red throated Pipit and there I met up with Geoff Wyatt and his elder brother who are also Oxonbirders. We had a chat and then they left for Valyie, where we planned to follow shortly after.

Signpost to Valyie - up the hill!
We met up with the Wyatts again at Valyie but they had not seen the Little Bunting and we failed to find it also, despite checking all the weedy fields and suitable habitat. I followed my familiar route up the hill to stand by the house called Valyie, with Geoff and his brother.There must have been an influx of redpolls to the island today, as I watched a small flock of redpolls land in the tallest Sycamore in the garden of the house and much to my delight a Coue's Arctic Redpoll was perched prominently in the tree, its white tones contrasting with the browner Lesser Redpolls and greyer Mealy Redpolls it was associating with. So, in the space of a few hours I had seen both races of Arctic Redpoll which cannot be that bad.

Coue's Arctic Redpoll
Standing with Geoff at the top of the hill we watched a single crossbill fly in and land in the top of a conifer at the back of the garden. It was another Parrot Crossbill. The massive bill in silhouette was unmistakeable and just to confirm its identity it gave its distinctive soft, slightly melodic call as it flew onwards after a couple of minutes.

Lower down in the fields, in the ditches and along the fences were some Twite, a male Common Redstart, a couple of Common Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps, a Willow Warbler and a Lesser Whitethroat.

Common Redstart
We bade farewell to Geoff who was going home tomorrow and moved on to a place called Northdale which comprised a couple of houses and some bushes. It looked good habitat but we could only find the usual Common Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps plus a lot of Skylarks in a field full of old fashioned corn stooks, something I have not seen for years.

We went on to Baltasound and entered 'The Final Destination', the local store, where we bought some more provisions and had a coffee.

Warmed up and revived we moved on for yet another reconnoitre of Halligarth Woods.One of the Spotted Flycatchers had departed but the other was still feeding from the fence wire. The wood was quiet with just a Willow Warbler, a Blackcap and a Lesser Whitethroat present. We walked along past various derelict buildings and checked bushes and hedges making our way towards Baltasound Post Office. Passing yet another derelict house with some wind blown small trees in its backyard we flushed two redpolls from the trees which flew a short distance to land on a dry stonewall and commenced feeding on dead grasses.They were very white and on getting closer we could see they were Arctic Redpolls and were small, smaller than the Hornemann's Redpoll we had seen earlier in the day, so they could only be Coue's Arctic Redpolls and very pleasing it was too, finding yet more of our own Arctic Redpolls. They fed for fifteen minutes and then flew back towards the derelict house. I should add that there has been some mild controversy about the sub specific identity of these birds with some saying they are Hornemann's and others including us saying they are Coue's Arctic Redpolls.

Coue's Arctic Redpolls
We carried on towards the Post Office and found a small field at the back of the houses full of an unidentified yellow flowered crop and sheltering another Acrocephalus species but the views were again too brief to be sure what it was, although it looked more Reed Warbler than Blyth's Reed Warbler.

We resolved to return tomorrow to check it out as now the light was fading fast.Time to return to the hostel.

At last! As I awoke I realised it was strangely still outside and the wind had dropped to an acceptable level. I was feeling tired having stayed up until after midnight chewing the fat with John and Wee George and drinking too much red wine. It really was quite pleasant outside with some weak sunshine brightening the sky and today Colin would be leaving us to catch the night ferry from Lerwick to Aberdeen, but before he did we planned one more visit to Skaw to try and see the Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll and the Red Throated Pipit. When we got to Skaw we could find no sign of the redpoll and by common consent we decided on not looking for the pipit as there were a lot of birders wandering around the hillside and the pipit would just be constantly flushed and no one would get good views of it.

So it was decided to go to nearby Northwick and Valyie and on the way we found two Mealy Redpolls feeding by the side of the road and no less than four Northern Wheatears, each bird standing sentinel on top of a fence post. 

Mealy Redpolls
We followed the familiar routine of  walking up the road and checking the weedy fields and this time we found the Little Bunting but it flew a long way up to the gully running down the side of the hill to Valyie and perched for a minute or so in a small Sycamore before dropping down into the gully. 

The gully beside the road leading up to Valyie
We followed and it flew back over us and landed in an area of grass and weeds some way back and down towards Northwick Beach. It was decided to leave it at that and check the area when we got back there. The walk up the hill to Valyie was quiet with just a few Twite, Chaffinches and some Rock Doves feeding in the fields and a female Blackcap in the house garden.

Donald got busy chatting to a local birder up by Valyie so Colin and myself walked back down the road to where we had seen the Little Bunting land earlier. Right in a secluded corner we flushed it and it flew to a bare tree not too far away in a garden which at last gave us reasonably extended views of it before it flew off further.

A very distant Little Bunting
Donald rejoined us with the news that an Olive backed Pipit had been found at Uyeasound and in the very area we had checked with no success yesterday! We got there in record time and found four other birders staking out a small area of grassy waste ground between the local primary school and some small buildings by the pier.

The pipit flew up from the grass giving its distinctive call and settled close to the shoreline. We walked slowly after it and it flew again, in a circle round us, to land in the grass. A couple of Meadow Pipits in the same area caused some initial confusion but by careful stalking we  got to see it regularly  and well, especially when it perched openly on a fence or rock. It was boldly marked on its face and with prominent black streaks on its buff breast whilst its upperparts were olive brown and almost unmarked. Most noticeable were its bright pink legs and feet. In the grass it was virtually invisible and could move with surprising speed, unseen, though the grass so you were never quite certain where it would appear next.

Olive backed Pipit
Wee George joined us as he has a video camera and likes to take video of the birds he sees. As we left he was in the company of just one other birder. This would never happen on the mainland of Britain.

Returning to Baltasound Post Office to check the field with the unidentified Acrocephalus warbler in it and on getting much better views of it this time, we were satisfied it was a Reed Warbler. A flock of Mealy Redpolls landed in the small trees bordering the field and four Red breasted Mergansers swam offshore. We left soon after as we had to take Colin back to the hostel to collect his car and possessions before he drove back to Lerwick to catch the ferry.

Colin and yours truly
Once we had said our farewells to Colin, Donald and myself drove to a quiet place called Westing but could find nothing of note there. Two Grey Seals came in very close to the shore looking at us and I sang to them which brought them a little closer still. It was now early afternoon with hardly any wind and the sea and land had taken on a stillness and calm, transforming the undulating landscape and smooth, rounded hills into sharp relief in the clear air. It was still grey skies but I could sense something of the magic atmosphere and isolation of these islands.

On the beach at Westing
Unsure of what to do now, we went back to Setters Hill Estate in search of more Arctic Redpolls which had been reported from there yesterday but we were out of luck. When we were just about to leave I could hear Parrot Crossbills calling quietly and looking deep into the conifers saw a male, brilliantly red in the sun before he dropped down and out of sight. The ability of these birds to just melt away is remarkable. Often they feed silently and unobtrusively and they are easily overlooked.We never found the male again but going into the plantation and standing under the trees I found a female, almost invisible in the tangle of branches and needles. Eventually she moved position and flew to a tree on the outer edge of the plantation where she gave much better views before flying off towards Baltasound. I saw no other birds in the plantation apart from the briefest view possible of a Yellow browed Warbler.

A final visit to Halligarth Wood revealed nothing of note except the lone Spotted Flycatcher still hanging on in its usual place on the fence wire.

It was then back to the hostel for another of Donald's culinary delights - Mince and Tatties and an early night.

to be continued

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Parrots and Snowballs in Shetland Part Three 4th & 5th October 2017

4th & 5th October  Days 4 & 5

During the night I awoke several times to hear the wind howling round the buildings and rattling the windows.We rose at seven and after breakfast with Colin and Donald we departed the hostel in Donald's car at eight. To say that the weather was rough would be an understatement. The near gale force wind I could cope with but the constant rain being hurled horizontally by the wind was another matter and you opened the car window at your peril if you were on the windward side.

We decided that the only solution was to bird from the car until the rain abated if it ever would. Fortunately the roads on Unst are hardly busy and we could stop virtually anywhere we chose and look out on the sodden fields on either side. First, however, we checked Easter Loch, just down from the hostel and found a flock of twenty one newly arrived Tufted Duck clustered in the middle but because of the wind and rain were unable to lower the car window to check them further in case there was a Scaup amongst them.

On the other side of the road, on the sea a Black Guillemot was diving close into the shore as was a Common Guillemot further along.

We drove on and birded the fields around Uyeasound, finding many waders sheltering in the fields where the topography enabled them some respite from the wind. There were good numbers of Ruff, their busy feeding action with hunched bodies and lowered  small heads distinctive. A large flock of  over two hundred Golden Plover were also spread over the fields and although we searched diligently we could find nothing resembling an American Golden Plover or even more fancifully a Pacific Golden Plover. It is always important to remember that on Shetland anything can turn up and often does, so no species can be discounted and it is sensible to bear this in mind at all times.

Male Ruff

Golden Plover
Other waders were using the fields as well and we found Curlews, Common Redshanks, Lapwings, Ringed Plovers and the occasional Dunlin and Common Snipe feeding on the soggy grass. Even a female Teal and some Mallard.

Our wader watching from the car took up about an hour and a half and then the rain ceased so at least we could get out of the car to bird, provided we could stand up in the wind. Skylarks and Meadow Pipits took to the air as we left the car but a fierce though short lived rain shower soon had us seeking shelter in the car again but this was thankfully the last rain shower to assault us for some time.

We decided to bird Halligarth Woods again, enacting another Shetland pre-requisite to finding good birds viz check the same areas every day, often more than once, as often the situation can change literally within hours with regard to birds being present. It is, if you like, playing the averages in the hope that sooner or later something will turn up.

Inside Halligarth Wood
This time, after checking that the Spotted Flycatchers were still present, we ventured into the wood itself and checked the corners that were out of the wind. At first it is difficult to discern a small bird flicking through the twigs and leaves as the wind keeps the leaves in constant movement but in a while you get your eye attuned and birds magically appear. Sadly there was no rarity today but a Pied Flycatcher and a Common Redstart were new, as were some Bramblings in the tree tops.

Common Redstart in Halligarth Wood
A Wren, of the darker Shetland sub species zetlandicus, put in a brief appearance, creeping like a mouse under some fallen branches and then disappearing without my seeing it go. We covered Halligarth comprehensively but there was nothing else to find so  it was back to Skaw for another try at seeing the Red throated Pipit. The weather now looked to be almost settled so we were confident that we would meet with success.

Back at Skaw we left the car, just as a Kestrel flew over us pursued by a flock of mobbing Twite.We went back up the grassy hillside and found the Red throated Pipit feeding in the grass but just as we were about to get some photos another vicious rain squall arrived which from my point of view put an end to any ambitions about better images, let alone seeing the bird satisfactorily. Oh well, there will be another time as Skaw is a really good birding spot and we are bound to return. A Common Chiffchaff flew out of the grass and headed for the croft as we walked down the hill, two Great Skuas flew high overhead and out to sea and the Kestrel returned still pursued by the flock of Twite.

Just before we left  Donald pointed out what appeared to be a series of black stumps ranged in close formation on the grass on a distant green slope above the beach They were in fact Shags, roosting after feeding in the bay below. 

Roosting Shags at Skaw
A visit to Valyie was to complete our day, just a short drive back along the road from Skaw. On the way we found a Whinchat feeding from the roadside fence and some Reed Buntings in the flooded ditches. 

The weather had now once more relented, there was even some fitful sunshine, so we spent quite some time at Valyie, as an elusive Little Bunting had been reported from here for a few days now but we could not locate it. This area just says 'birds' with special strips of corn and seeding plants in the fields left to attract the birds and the ditches full of dead reeds and grasses. As we walked along the road, inland from the car park overlooking Norwick beach and bay, both female and male Blackcaps flew out of the grass and reeds as did a Lesser Whitethroat.

The road turns uphill beside a burn that falls down in a gully from the steep hillside. The house at the top of the hill is called Valyie and is 'birder friendly' and you are free to walk around the back of the garden which contains Sycamores and Conifers and is a magnet for passing birds. The husband of the lady who owns the house is now deceased but was a birder and his wife has carried on the tradition of welcoming visiting birders and keeping the habitat suitable for attracting birds. I walked to the top of the hill and stood by the house looking up into the trees in the garden but today there was not much to see apart from another Blackcap, a Common Chiffchaff and a Brambling.

Twite and Chaffinches were feeding in the weedy field sloping down the hill from the front of the house, and in the gully with the burn running down it, on the other side of the road, there were more Blackcaps and a Garden Warbler but then another different warbler appeared. It was an Acrocephalus, either a Reed Warbler or possibly a Blyth's Reed Warbler but I had only the briefest of views before it disappeared into cover. I called Colin who was nearby and we eventually flushed it again. Sadly it was only a Reed Warbler but at least it had provided some brief excitement to the day.

A couple of hours of just gentle birding in this area brought the day almost to its conclusion.We walked back to the car and looked over Norwick beach and bay. A White Wagtail and a Sanderling  gleamed white in the weak evening sun as Turnstones fussed amongst the rocks and seaweed, some late Swallows flew overhead  and Grey Seals watched us from the sea. If only the wind would die down!

Views of Norwick beach and bay
It was time to head back to the hostel with one unscheduled stop on the road back to look at an adult White tailed Eagle, sat on a distant hillside and then it was full speed for home and the promise of another culinary delight from the hands of Donald together with a good old blether (Scots word for gossip) with John and Wee George, comparing our respective day's birding exploits and what we had planned for tomorrow.

The wind continued to howl outside. It has been relentless for three days and nights now.

One of the ubiquitous Shetland Ponies
The next morning duly arrived with a continuing strong wind moaning around the building and driving rain hitting the windows of the kitchen as we ate our breakfast. Would the wind ever die down? We did some more birding from the car, visiting Easter Loch yet again where we found five Whooper Swans newly arrived and the Tufted Ducks still there and now accompanied by three Common Goldeneye, but we decided that more drastic action was required and so headed for Mainland in search of Rustic Buntings, one each having being reported yesterday from Voe and Cunningsburgh.

Whooper Swans on Easter Loch
We duly set off in the rain and wind, crossing from island to island via the ferries and, arriving on Mainland found that the weather was just as bad here.We stopped at Voe to look for the first Rustic Bunting but needless to say there was not a sign of it anywhere. We drove on to Cunningsburgh where it had at least stopped raining and found the site of the second Rustic Bunting. It was a derelict house (there are quite a few in Shetland) right by the main road and surrounded by a walled garden of nettles and low bushes. Several birders were staking out the garden so this looked more promising.We were informed by a birder that the bunting had been seen to fly into the garden and was thought to be hunkered down in the rank vegetation by the back garden wall. We waited quite some time and in the end everyone got impatient and it was decided to flush the bird. A birder walked in and covered every nettle patch, bush and blade of grass in the small garden and nothing flew out.The bird was not there and had obviously given the birders the slip earlier and we had wasted our time. A quick cast around other likely looking spots nearby, even some gardens over the road proved fruitless. 

The day was rapidly turning into a disaster and we were pretty downcast but then a text to Donald's phone alerted us to the fact that there was a Buff bellied Pipit showing very well at Grutness which is south of Lerwick near Sumburgh. This particular Buff bellied Pipit had been seen at Grutness two days earlier but then flew off and was not seen yesterday but had now, by all accounts, returned.

While on the subject of communication I should point out that Unst is truly appalling with regard to the internet and general mobile phone communication. There just seems to be no mobile phone signal apart from one or two hotspots on the island. None of us could get any news from RBA and it was potentially a big problem as we would not learn about any major rarities until possibly it was too late. Indeed one birder on Unst failed to learn about an Upland Sandpiper, a major rarity, on nearby Fetlar, last week as he could not access any up to date birdnews on his phone. On Mainland the signal was much better but for  those, like us, mainly staying on Unst and trying to bird that island there was a severe problem in getting up to date news. By dint of talking to other birders, getting updating texts and the like we just about managed to cope with this inconvenience but it was far from satisfactory.

The Buff bellied Pipit, potentially, could save our day.We were only thirty minutes away and the three of us set off for it immediately, as no doubt would be many other birders on Mainland. We arrived at Grutness to find a line of birders already peering over a dry stone wall at some standing water, rocks and wet grass on the other side. 

Birders twitching the Buff bellied Pipit
I joined the line and enquired of a birder to my right if the pipit was still visible and was told it was hidden just below a bank a few metres in front of me. I never saw it on the ground, for as he spoke the pipit flew away strongly and over to the far side of a large pool where it dropped own to feed in the short grass by a Shetland Pony. 

Buff bellied Pipit habitat
Well at least I saw it but I wanted to see it much closer which had apparently been possible earlier  We waited to see what would happen and slowly the pipit worked its way back towards us  before finally flying back to our side of the water and proceeding to energetically walk about in the grass, coming astonishingly close. By now there were many birders ranged behind the wall and space was at a premium but we all squeezed in somehow and got our pictures of this transatlantic pipit as it paraded through the grass before us. It was never still for more than a few seconds constantly searching for food in the grass.

Buff bellied Pipit
After about ninety minutes it flew once more to the other side of the water. Happy now with this minor triumph we adjourned to Donald's car and out of the wind had some tea and light refreshment and reviewed our images. We could hardly have failed to get some good ones as the pipit was at some points literally only feet away from us.

This Buff bellied Pipit was an example of the American race Anthus rubescens rubescens which is darker than the Far Eastern Race A.r.japonicus and breeds in North America and western Greenland. Both races are closely related to Rock and Water Pipits but the Buff bellied is slightly smaller, has a finer bill and paler lores. Its underparts are buff, suffused slightly with a pink hue, its legs are dark and the upper parts are much less streaked than a Meadow Pipit.

From despond to delight, all precipitated by one tiny, rare, vagrant bird, but that is birding.Now fired with a new found enthusiasm we set about another tilt at seeing the elusive Rustic Bunting at Cunningsburgh.

A similar scenario to last time greeted us, with birders looking at an area of waste ground by the derelict house where they were convinced the bunting had last been seen. We waited half an hour but nothing showed, then Colin heard a Rustic Bunting call and it was well away from where the bunting was supposed to be. The bunting flew from a wall behind us and disappeared around the side of the derelict house. I saw it and some of its plumage features but you could hardly call it satisfactory.We followed to where we thought it might have landed but it had given us the slip once again and we gave up on it. Even if we did find it we were only likely to get the briefest of views of it in flight and in this wind it certainly would not sit out in the open.

I had been badgering Donald all day to take us to see some more Parrot Crossbills in Lerwick but he had been showing a distinct lack of enthusiasm but finally relented at my umpteenth request.The crossbills were in a little road off the main road into Lerwick and were, by all accounts, showing very well. This influx of Parrot Crossbills to Shetland is the first for 25 years and possibly reflects a lack of food in their normal range which is northwest Europe and western Russia.

We found the road easily and drove up to the end. A lone, tall Lodgepole Pine was standing on the corner of the road in a garden and a black 4x4 was parked on the other side of the small road opposite the tree and a hedge below.

The pine tree under which the Parrot Crossbills fed
As we drove up to him the man in the 4x4 pointed to the ground under the tree and we were confused and wondered what he was trying to communicate. I followed the direction of his finger and there on the tarmac path, out in the open sat a male Parrot Crossbill with an enormous pine cone in its claws, tearing it to bits with its bill. Unbelievable! I had expected them to be up in the pine tree not below it. This individual was predominantly red but still showed vestiges of the yellow plumage of immaturity so may be less than two years old although it is impossible to be definite because there is so much variation in their plumage. Showing well was surely an understatement in the case of this bird. We drove closer and closer and stopped the car a few yards from the crossbill. It took no notice. Eventually, emboldened I opened the car door and got out to give myself more flexibility with the camera. The crossbill ignored me. I moved closer still. There was no obvious concern from the crossbill. All it was concerned with was finding a suitable cone, of which there were plenty scattered on the path. I was within seven feet of it, standing by a fence and then it hopped towards me. It was now only three feet away but then turned, not due to my presence but because it discerned there were no cones where I was standing. It hopped back to the hedge, then hopped into the road and drank from a puddle before returning to the path to attack another cone. On the ground it was apparent just how big it was, looking for all the world just like a small parrot with that enormous bill, huge head, bull neck and stout body. 

This was truly an unforgettable experience and it became even more remarkable when another Parrot Crossbill dropped from the tree and also proceeded to attack a cone on the path. This bird was younger, an attractive combination of yellows and greens with just a bit of orange red plumage beginning to show through.The colours of autumn. It also had a prominent pale wing bar on its brown wings.

I just clicked away at these two fantastic birds, feet away and oblivious of all the attention they were getting. The redder bird then flew up a few feet onto a twig carrying a cone in its bill which it wedged into a fork and proceeded to strip. Shortly after the other bird joined it, turning upside down to nibble at the bark of a twig

We must have watched them for almost two hours before the rain returned. Other birders were regularly arriving but there was never a crowd only about half a dozen people at any one time. What luck that we had seen them when it was not raining .

We rejoiced at our good fortune as we sat in the car driving back to Unst. Each of us were agreed that this encounter was unique in our birding lives and was one of those unforgettable and unlikely to be repeated events that make our hobby so rewarding and memorable at times like this.

The weather was now set fine for the evening as for once had been correctly predicted by the forecast and as we drove towards the first ferry to Yell and while I still had a phone signal I booked a table for us at the Saxa Vord Resort  on Unst for tonight, as we fancied a change from eating at the hostel and we could take the opportunity to celebrate the Parrot Crossbills.

Once on Unst we returned to the hostel via Easter Loch as our Tufted Duck flock had yielded a female Ring necked Duck which if the weather had been better in previous days we would surely have discovered for ourselves. The wind was still ferocious and with the light fading I sheltered behind a nearby wall to view the Ring necked Duck.

The Saxa Vord restaurant did us proud with a fine meal and a couple of beers and then we drove through a night of predictably returning rain and ever present wind, back to our beds in the hostel.

Quite a day! What would tomorrow bring?

to be continued ...........