We managed to get back to Fetlar last week for the 14th time since 1987. On all but four visits it had been foggy and as we set off from Toft towards Yell it didn’t seem as though it would be any better this time. For once we had a direct ferry from Yell- Fetlar rather than having to go via Unst.
You couldn’t really say it was busy with a fuel lorry and a motorbike besides us. This ferry is smaller than the Yell ferry and it allows you to look over the sides, not that you could see much for the fog. The odd Gannet and line of auks came out of the murk before we saw land.
No problems with the roads over there as the only road takes you quickly to the far side of the island and to the RSPB reserve at Funzie (pronounced Finnie). A tour party of birders from Orkney already had their telescope on something over the far side of the loch and it wasn't the Red Throated divers that had just flown off.
Parking in the lay-by, which in the past had produced close views of one of Fetlar’s star birds- the Red Necked Phalarope, we made our way over to the end of the Loch and there in the distance was two male red Necked Phalaropes. You could have easy missed them as the hide behind a small stone; they are only the size of a starling- a lot smaller than people think.
Red Necked Phalarope
The party from Orkney moved on leaving only one other birder and he told me he was from Yorkshire as well and the only reason he had come to Fetlar was to see these birds. This is a shame really as Fetlar has much to offer, the problem is the lack of time on a day visit. I managed to get some photos as they moved closer, at this stage they were joined by a third bird. After a feeding frenzy, they started to spin like a spinning top (if you can remember these), this disturbs insects in the water and with their very fine bills they pick them up.
On our very first visit back in 1987 we managed to see the ‘Three’ that Fetlar sometime revealed. The big one at that time was the Snowy Owl and we managed to see one of the young raised back in the 1970’s. This was one of two present on the island before myxmatosis hit and they moved to Unst for a short time.
This has left two of the big three, the Red Necked Phalarope and Whimbrel both seen on this visit. Fetlar also has a large number of waders and we saw Curlew, Ringed Plover, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Redshank, Oystercatcher, snipe, Turnstone and Dunlin.
Red Throated diver
Red Throated the divers re appeared as we were having a coffee in the car, landing very close to the car just as the sun came out. With Skylark and meadow Pipit singing away Arctic and Gt Skua passing over chasing Terns which actually had sand eels it was a great end to the day.
With coming about a month later than usual the colours of the flowers was stunning and we must return just to see the flowers.
It’s a fragile existence on Fetlar, they rely on tourist to boost the island’s economy but now less people are going. It’s worth looking beyond the birdlife; there are otters and whales if you are lucky, the Fetlar interpretive centre is worth a visit as is Brough Lodge.
On the way back the fog had cleared and the ferry had four cars on board. As we arrived in Yell everyone was ready for the rush to get down to the other side of the island to catch the next ferry to the Shetland mainland, this takes 20 mins on a fast road and we had 21 mins- what a luxury. We zoomed past the Windhouse in Yell which recently has had Nightjar and a Scops Owl and past some great views of the mainland which were partly hidden by fog before arriving at the ferry terminal. It didn't look promising as the queue was long but the larger ferry managed to gobble up around 30 cars before spilling them out at Toft.