Thursday, 10 October 2019

Unst, part 1 of 3 (05-10 October)

Saturday 05 October. Dave met me at Belmont ferry terminal at the south end of Unst and we birded our way north to Millfield visiting Easter Loch, Lund, Westing, Baltasound and Haroldswick Bay. Brenda welcomed me to their very comfortable home at Millfield where I dropped my bag and had a cup of tea before we headed out to Lamba Ness and Vaylie. For me with a Sussex perspective the better birds seen were Scaup, Siberian Chiffchaff, Barred Warblerblythi Lesser Whitethroat, Redstart, 3 Tree Sparrows, 5 Brambling, 15 Twite, 30 Mealy and a Coues's Arctic Redpoll. An excellent start and great to be birding with Dave again, after almost three and a half years. Having assiduously read Dave's blog (Birding North Unst, despite its original title it was interesting to visit the sites that featured regularly and be shown where Dave had some of his best finds. 
Coues's Arctic and Mealy Redpolls by the road to Lamba Ness
Dave and Brydon had tracked this bird down the previous day although it performed better for us
only my fifth ever Coues's Arctic Redpoll

showing unmarked under-tail coverts
frosty plumage compared to the Mealy

male Mealy Redpoll

Millfield, my home for the next two and a half weeks
Sunday 06 October. We spent all day birding the northern part of Unst concentrating on Norwick, Burrafirth, Haroldswick and Vaylie. A fairly quiet day, the better birds seen being Merlin, Yellow-browed Warbler, 6 Goldcrests, Ring Ouzel, 2 Fieldfares, 50 Redwing, a RedstartTree Sparrows, 4 Brambling, 8 Twite, 40 Mealy Redpolls and 25 Snow Buntings. Just before dark we received news of a Rufous-tailed Robin on nearby Fetlar, although only seen by one observer for a few minutes and not relocated in the following 90 minutes before dusk. Not very encouraging but I felt I had to try. Dave was happy to go despite having seen the Fair Isle bird. I'd dipped on the Norfolk one, missing the only Sussex Isabelline Wheatear in the process. Plenty to put right but I wasn't confident.
lifting potatoes in Norwick, all the family and dogs helped
Mealy Redpoll at Vaylie
male Mealy Redpoll
Norwick Sands and Millfield
Monday 07 October. We caught the earliest ferry from Unst to Fetlar arriving an hour or so after dawn by which time several birders from Mainland were expanding their search, although despondency appeared to have already set in. The weather wasn't good and we wandered around seeing Merlin, 2 Chiffchaffs, Blackcap and 8 Goldcrests. That was as good as it got and we headed back on the 1pm ferry, disappointed but not that surprised. Back on Unst we saw the Easter Loch Scaup and headed north. The rest of the day was spent around Vaylie where little had changed with 6 GoldcrestsRing Ouzel, 3 Fieldfares, 6 Redwing, the Redstart, 6 Brambling, and 20 Mealy Redpolls.
dawn at Millfield
Tuesday 08 October. We visited Skaw, Lamba Ness and sites around Norwick seeing Merlin, Peregrine, 2 Swallows, Yellow-browed Warbler, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, the Barred Warbler, 9 Goldcrests, 4 Ring Ouzels, Fieldfare, 20 Redwing, Redstart, Whinchat, Wheatear, 2 Tree Sparrows, 8 Brambling, 30 Twite, 3 Siskins and 3 Lapland and 12 Snow Buntings. before news that Mark Golley had found an Eastern Stonechat at Westling had us heading south. The bird was flighty and didn't give close views but appeared rather colourful. Dave's photos confirmed this and one of his in flight appeared to be a dead ringer for last year's Norfolk Stejneger's Stonechat, not that it would be officially acceptable without DNA. An Otter at Westling provided a more straight forward identification. Returning we saw a superb Pallas's Leaf Warbler behind the Post Office in Baltasound, a new bird on Unst for Dave, while a Jack Snipe flushed near Haroldswick was my first for nearly three years and finished off an excellent day.
Barred Warbler on Lamba Ness
we were amazed it was still around and finding food although it was covering big distances to do so. 

Brambling at Vaylie

Siskin at Vaylie

Mealy Redpoll at Vaylie

Stejneger's Stonechat at Westling (photo: Dave Cooper). ID subsequently confirmed by DNA.
Pallas's Leaf Warbler behind the Post Office in Baltasound
found by Brian, Jeff and Martin and a new bird on Unst for Dave

superb as always

Talcum powder mine near Haroldswick
one of Unst's non-birding attractions
Wednesday 09 October. We started visiting sites around Norwick before returning to Westling for better views of the Stejneger's Stonechat. Attempts were made to catch it, and came close, but no cigar. We went to Lund, Belmont and Easter Loch. The day's highlights were 11 Whooper Swans (2 adults, 3 adults and a pair with 4 cygnets), 27 Long-tailed Duck, 1300 Golden Plover, 60+ Ravens, single Swallow and Fieldfare, 25 Redwing, Tree Sparrow, 6 Bramblings, 50 Twite and 7 Mealy Redpolls.
Stejneger's Stonechat at Westling. Better views today but still too distant for my camera
swans on Easter Loch. Two resident Mutes had two fully grown cygnets, the first time they'd bred on Unst. They were very protective of Easter Loch and while we were there chased off a wandering pair of Mutes (rear bird doing so). Also present were a family party of Whoopers and we feared they might receive the same treatment.
adult Whooper

juvenile Whooper
Whooper Swan family

fifteen minutes later the Whooper Swan family were off, one of the more memorable sights during my visit

adults leading the way and bringing up the rear

Thursday 10 October. We visited Skaw, Haroldswick, Baltasound and Norwick. Birds seen in generally poor weather included 5 Pink-footed Geese (arrived at Norwick late afternoon), 2 Jack Snipe (Skaw), Great SkuaBlack-throated Diver (Haroldswick), Merlin, the Pallas's Leaf Warbler (now in the Health Centre garden), single Blackcap, Ring Ouzel and Fieldfare, 40 Redwing, Redstart, Whinchat, 3 Brambling, 20 Twite, 14 Mealy Redpolls, 2 Siskin and 6 Snow Bunting. While looking for the Black-throated Diver at Haroldswick we saw an Otter along the north side of the bay.
juvenile Gannet at Baltasound
it looked OK but presumably wasn't doing too well being 200m from the sea. With that bill we weren't investigating any closer.
Hooded Crow at Haroldswick

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