Observant readers will already have noticed this one isn’t just about birds. It’s also not just about Skerries either. Before heading out to the isles I took part in the Relay for Cancer Research, a twelve hour overnight charity walk. There had been a Bearded Seal right in the centre of Lerwick, and I eventually connected with this rare Arctic wanderer.
When I did eventually arrive on Skerries on the Sunday morning it had been covered on the Friday by Shetland birders so I didn’t have great expectations in not particularly suitable winds. It was a big surprise to see and helpfully hear an elusive Greenish Warbler in the garden of Nampara. I’ve had a good record with this species on Skerries finding no fewer than four over the years.
A good start. Things just kept getting better though. I was pleased to see a decent sized group of Risso’s Dolphins off Housay when I picked up a couple of Orcas moving through behind them. The Killer Whales didn’t linger but there was no doubting what they were.
Birds continued to come in on helpful winds. A couple of Marsh Warblers were seen, including this one which removed any difficult ID quandaries by singing from a bush in the Nampara garden.
Marsh Warblers have a rich and varied song, incorporating excellent mimicry of birds they hear both in Europe and their African wintering grounds. The lookalike Reed Warbler has a much more restrained, repetitive song and good comparisons were to be had as there was at least one male of this species vying for attention.
A number of other migrants included Grey-headed Wagtails and Red-backed Shrikes as well as more common species. I also saw a very elusive Thrush Nightingale the same day two turned up on Fair Isle. Unfortunately it wasn’t posing for pictures and some Nightingale can look very similar, so even though both are rare birds in Shetland the record could not be confirmed.
The day after the Nightingale I saw something unusual looking the opposite side of the gully at Rocklea. Through binoculars it was clearly an adult Rosy Starling, the start of a small influx that year in Shetland. It apparently hung around for a couple of weeks in the end delighting a number of visitors.
The conveyor belt of new bird arrivals had seized up as the winds changed a bit. On a quiet Sunday afternoon I stoped at Bertha Anderson’s for coffee and a chat. I left saying I had better do some birding while I was here, walked over the rise of the hill behind their house and was gobsmacked to see a walrus on the beach below me.
I immediately knew it was ‘Wally’ a rather lost animal that had been touring islands and the mainland of Northern Scotland. It’s one thing seeing a creature like this, it’s another stumbling across it unexpectedly. It’s right up there in my Shetland highlights, and is the only time anything I’ve found something on Skerries has caused an inter-isles twitch. A fuller account can be found on Mike Pennington’s blog (When I Grow Up I Will Go There). In essence Wally stayed a few more days but was difficult to catch up with, and was later seen off Norway.
So in many ways this was the trip to Skerries had it all. Good birds and outstanding other wildlife. I hope this is a fitting way to end these accounts and I hope they’ve been enjoyable for readers.