This morning, we all headed up to Fetlar, one of the 100 Shetland Islands which lie at the “cross roads of the North Sea”, roughly equidistant between Scotland, Norway and the Faroe islands. It involved 2 ferry crossings, but is well worth the trip if you are ever in Shetand in the summer months, as the islands boasts the greatest density of breeding wading birds in Shetland and it is a truly beautiful island.
The Gang – Paula, Andy, Me, Lyndsey and Pete
Paula and me on the Fetlar Ferry
Fetlar has for long been an island renowned amongst ornithologists and naturalists. It is Britain’s premier site for the beautiful red-necked phalarope – boasting over half of the country’s breeding population and it was this species we were really hoping to see. When we came 4 years ago, they did not show.
We headed straight up to the small loch where the Phalaropes like to feed and met up with Hugh Harrop of Shetland Wildlife with David Lindo (Urban birder) leading a group.
They told us that they had seen the Phalarope that morning, so we were hopeful. Moving to a smaller loch near Loch Funzie, where Lyndsey had spotted one, we crept over with all our gear. There, on the far side, my first phalarope was feeding. These tiny birds are stunning to look at and are renown for their lack of fear, often coming up and feeding right at photographers’ feet! We lay down at the edge of the Loch, poised, and my heart was racing as the Phalarope turned and started heading straight towards Lyndsey and I… it got closer and closer!
We could not believe it; like a tiny wind-up toy, this dainty bird fed right in front of us, often too close to photograph! What an incredible experience and the grin on Lyndsey’s and my face said it all!
Pete and Andy had similar experiences and we all came away with photos we had only dreamed of getting! We were all very happy!
We then split up and all went off to different areas of the island in search of other species. The Great Skuas, or Bonxies, nest on one of the hills so we drove up a track and photographed a couple of individuals from the car. These birds are formidable hunters and stunning, powerful birds.
Fetlar has a small airstrip and this is a spot that is great for a range of species. Again, we laid down in the long grass and kept still. Within a few minutes, a Golden Plover’s distinctive single-note call could be heard and it appeared , gradually moving closer to me…
As if it was not enough to get close to these stunning birds, a number of Whimbrel were also calling around us. Again these birds started appearing all around and were soon close enough to photograph. Whimbrel are a smaller version of a curlew, with a more distinctive eye stripe.
I even managed a shot with a Whimbrel and a Golden Plover!
A few Ringed plover were also scurrying around on the runway..
After about an hour of crawling around, ‘commando-style’ in the long grass, we climbed back in the car and photographed a beautiful Arctic Skua…
Heading back to Loch Funzie again, Wheatears seemed to be the dominant species, constantly appearing on rocks and posts, feeding youngsters tucked away in stone crevices in the walls. I have never really photographed these pretty little birds, so chose a spot where a pair were catching insects. As I had hoped, the male alighted on one of the stunning lichen rocks right in front of me!
The female also posed beautifully for me!
There seemed to be a perfect synergy between these birds and the lichen-clad rocks…. you can find just about every colour on the birds, also on the rocks. I was captivated and could have spent hours photographing them!
With time ticking on and two ferry crossings to get back to Cheyne House, we visited Funzie Loch one more time. No more Phalaropes, but two pretty Dunlin were feeding along the loch side and I crawled along the ground to get a few shots.
Buzzing after a truly incredible day, we headed back to the port to catch the ferry back to Yell, then another back to the mainland… another unforgettable day on Shetland!!