Sunday, 1 July 2012

Shetland 2012- Day II: Redneck Country

As we arrived back appropriately tired and all birded out I attempted to make a decision as to what should be done about the next day. It was set to be duller than the previous, but dry and the wind not really be a factor. I therefore took a gamble; the stakes being a day in the cold with no reward. No pressure then, as I headed over to Fetlar!

Fetlar is known as the 'Garden of Shetland', a reference to its verdant landscapes brought about by the Serpentine rock on which it is placed. I don't know who the gardener is, but a good bet would be the RSPB as they own most of the area and for the sake of the birds keep it fenced off. This was a pity, as it meant we were limited to the main road mostly. Not that it mattered mind, our quarry for the day was a small and unassuming wader that lived here and pretty much here alone. No prizes for those who've already got it, the Red Necked Phalarope.

Now because of Schedule 1 law I cannot disclose their location, so I won't because i'm an upstanding example of law-abiding society and have nothing but the bird's best interests at heart. Obviously. But if you want more information then look at the RSPB's webpage, they seem to be quite keen on splashing the location about. They've even got a hide!

Now if I said 'Fetlar holds 90% of the UK Phalarope population' you'd be impressed and i'd be right. If I said there had a handful of pairs then i'd still be right. The fact is that the Phalaropes of Fetlar are on the southernmost tip of their range so they're not exactly plentiful, hence why they're a gamble. Still, with a healthy degree of optimism I kicked off the vigil with a wonderfully mis-identifed Dunlin (I was on Phalarope mode)...!

...and then her mate joined in, and they even came closer...!

...but alas the Dunlins wandered where I couldn't go, right off into a no access area! Typical! Still, I had some shots of a species i'd always wanted to see in summer and one of my 'target birds'. Some other birders arrived now, sensibly on the later ferry and soon we were chatting away. However, a cry of 'what's that?' went up and the mysterious bird was soon ID'd as a Black Kite, a bit of a mega when you think they live in S. Europe!

Sadly the local Bonxies moved it on, so I concentrated instead upon them...!

...and then mum wandered back saying she'd seen something that was 'definitely not a Phalarope', but did have a white neck, foraged along the shoreline and was sort of grey. The assembled birding ears pricked up, and soon I was running along to the spot where it was seen. Sure enough, a male Red Necked Phalarope was visible a way off but coming towards my position. Another photographer, in fact the winner of BWPA 2011 Richard Shucksmith, joined me and we waited together whilst mum made a cuppa back at the car. The fieldcraft with phalaropes is rather mis-represented on Birdguides and other photo websites. The Phalarope is not 'tame', nowhere close, but it is tolerant of humans if they keep still. It is a super subject if you're patient, but certainly on Fetlar you can't just walk up to them and expect them to keep still. You have been warned! I thought finding them'd be the hard bit, but I was wrong! The male got close, but infuriatingly stopped short behind some reeds...!

...he then flew off to the far side, and we had the wisdom not to follow him. In the next hour he was visible on the far side feeding up round the edges, but the highlight for the time being was a stunning Whimbrel, just as I thought yesterday's shots couldn't be topped...!

But alas he too was gone, so I contented myself with this little Arctic Tern fishing in the shallows at the edge of the loch...!

These wee Terns are literally everywhere, and a hell of a lot more attractive than any gull! But as time wore on the male looked the only bird on the loch and I wasn't going to get up out of my position in the long grass for anything, not even food, drink or a wee! This was one bird I was determined not to miss and it was this determination to see the male than nearly scuppered everything. I chanced a glance backwards to see the assembled birders not looking at the male, but at the faqr shore. Surely it wasn't, not...a SECOND PHALAROPE? Sure enough it was, a female too so more pretty. A short walk along the lochside with Richard we reached a position where we could see the bird clearly, she was asleep in a boulderfield off a prominentary. I've perfected the art of crawling on the beaches of North Wales and the Dee, this was no dress rehersal but the real thing and any false move, any involuntary movement or wiggle of the lens could screw things up quite badly and with so many people watching I didn't want to ruin it. Luckily she stayed asleep and as I watched from the headland and Richard from the beach, the assembled birders (some from a tour group) decended on belly to the waterfront. She was completely unfazed by the shutter-noise, my rather ignominious entry to the loch (it was a steep drop!) and even my innane chattering. So i've included a choice few images of what was in all honesty one of my best opportunities ever, I apologise for the sheer number of images...!

...a little bird but big character...!

...'what'choo lookin' at...?'

...'sorry, I didn't quite hear you...!'


What a bird, an absolute stunner and something I will always remember. I'd like to thank Richard though for helping me with the fieldcraft otherwise i'd have probably crawled right over to the male, put it up and no one would've got anything! I'd also have spent the night in the car as I had no idea the ferry back was booked, so thanks for the heads up! But again there was a tough act to follow, how could I possibly improve on Phalaropes, Whimbrels, Bonxies, Dunlin and Black Kite? Well tomorrow was Unst, the northernmost point of the British Isles, so there was always room for something special...!


  1. Nice shots Joe. I have to disagree about the phals tho, all the occasions I have had them they have been very approachable,. Obviously you can't run up to them but standard field craft on how,to approach birds always sufficed. Glad you enjoyed your holiday tho.


  2. Interesting, perhaps it was just this male then cos he seemed a little reluctant to get close! The female was everything i'd hoped for, what a brill bird!