Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Day three of my Shetland & Orkney trip for Speyside Wildlife with fellow guide Ray Nowicki. 

Guests: Liz, Chris, Joan, June, Daphne & David , Mary & John , Margaret & Terry.  
We descend to a late breakfast and don’t get away from the hotel until after 10.00am. It’s going to be a lazy day after last night’s late return. We wind our way down to Quarff and spend the next hour and a half searching the voe and nearby coastline for Otters. Unfortunately, there's no sign, but the usual assortment of coastline birds including Arctic Terns being chased by Artic Skuas (and vice-versa), Cormorants on the fishcages (popular!), Black Guillemots, Red-throated Divers and waders.

The main entertainment was provided by Hakki, a local, chatty five-year old who arrived on his bicycle and introduced himself, his brother (Haldin) and Mum and Dad (Valerie and Brian but he “just calls them Mum and Dad”). We thought we had lost him at one point, but he returned with Haldin to continue his performance (capped by his questioning of a holidaying couple nearby “What are you going in there for? What’s that wire across the gate for?”).
We leave Hakki and Haldin (thankfully!) and head southwards to Bigton to view St Ninian’s Isle and the sand-topped tombolo – the only one in Shetland. There are loads of Fulmars dotted around the voe, and the cliffs of the island are covered in nesting birds. We get our best views to date of Puffins (Tammy Nories), with several sat out on the water. A roadside stop for photos of the island provides us with Painted Lady, Red Admiral and Large White butterflies, and in Bigton we take the chance for some ice cream indulgence.
We arrive at a quiet Loch of Spiggie for lunch to find the hotel have excelled again in providing one too few rolls in the lunch box and no sugar for the teas and coffees (at least they consistently forget something everyday!).

We have lunch in the company of bathing gulls and terns with several of the Kitiwakes and Arctic Terns sat out on the fence posts drying off. Two Greylag Geese are stood on the far side of the loch and a wander up the road provides a couple of roosting Common Terns on the rocks. The fields are full of Oystercatchers who periodically take off and chase it other round in their inimitable noisy fashion (turn it down!).

We move round the loch to an area of shallow pools along the south side which provides much more interest. The most obvious bird is a Whooper Swan and whilst looking at it we find a group of four Wigeon, including a couple of smart males with golden foreheads. A Grey Heron stands sentinel-like along the pool edge, and a family  of Moorhens pick their way along the muddy ground. On the far side of the loch is a Mute Swan and a second Whooper is seen in the distance on nearby smaller loch. Ray then spots the first of three Goldeneye (two females and a male), before Steve yells “Quail!”. Ray, Terry and Margaret all hear it, but despite cupping our ears for some time, we don’t hear it again. Up to 40 Bonxies are bathing in the loch – one of the largest concentration we have seen, and a lone Raven drifts silently over.
We move on towards the Pool of Virkie, picking up another three Ravens in roadside fields. We arrive at Virkie to what at first glance appears to be a rather dead high tide pool. The single Redshank and Ringed Plover fly off as we get out of the vans. Steve quickly picks up four Shelduck on the far side, and closer examination of the shore reveals dozens of Ringed Plovers (including lots of juvvies) and several Dunlin. John calls a Common Sandpiper, but it duly disappears and none of us get on to it. A Swallow flies around the nearby houses and a couple of juvenile Pied Wagtails pick at flies along the high tide line. Wheatears are dotted around and another Raven drifts over (its turning into a good day for Ravens).
With the pool exhausted, and with the tide dropping, we make an end of day call in to Boddam Voe for another Otter watch. The voe is relatively quiet. A derelict building is busy with nesting Starlings and House Sparrows, but the shoreline is deserted. The hillside opposite holds a gang of six Ravens (told you it was a Raven day) and over at the top of the voe is a lone seal stretched out on a rock. We move along to get a better view of the seal which turns out to be one of the few Common Seals of the week so far. It stays put, outstretched on the rock occasionally wriggling its flippers or scratching an itch. Redhanks, Curlew and Ringed Plovers pick around in the seaweed around it.
With still no sign of Otters we depart for the hotel to relax and for some to enjoy a drink before another sumptuous meal, entertaining conversation and the day’s checklist.

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