Lesser Florican - August 2023

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Sunday 19 November 2023

Veery, Orca & a Deaths Head Hawk Moth - Shetland 30 September 2023

Since my first visit to Shetland in 2012, I have desperately been trying to intercept a pod of Orca from the various headlands around the archipelago. I've had numerous near-misses and it felt as if my dream of encountering my first Orca (of any 'type') on Shetland wasn't going to come. 

This year, Emily and I spent 8 days here from 30 September, grabbing the train from Farnham and arriving into Aberdeen a mere nine-hours later, via Kings Cross. The journey was smooth, stress-free and importantly, on time. During our train journey, a Veery had been found on mainland Shetland and a pod of Orca had also passed the same site whilst the rare thrush was being watched... what a duo and perfect timing for our arrival the following day.

Anyway, after a sleepless overnight ferry journey (even with a cabin) we arrived, collected our vehicle and drove straight to the Veery, which showed straight away, but in damp conditions so any photos were poor. Situated along the Lunna peninsular and after securing some lovely views of the trans-Atlantic vagrant, we set out to check the various bays heading back south towards Lerwick. Whilst at South Nesting Bay, I was searching for White-billed Divers when quite astonishingly, a pod of Orca had been sighted off Ocraquoy, just to the south of Lerwick. With seatbelts securely fastened, I went into full rally mode and sped towards south Mainland. Being a Saturday, observers were out in force and updates were coming through on regular occasions.

Drifting around a corner, Em spilt coffee over her lap which added to the chaos, before we arrived at a decent viewpoint to the south of Cunningsburgh, making record time it seemed. Several others had arrived and rather nonchalantly, they explained the Orca were on view... WHAT!! Several panicked scans failed to find anything, until we realised we were looking too far out... they were in the bay below us!

Fairly soon, a huge sigh of relief marked the sighting of my (and our) first Orca and over the next 30-minutes, we were treated to an incredible and unforgettable performance. I knew bull Orca were big, but the size of the dorsal fin of each bull was crazy and beyond all expectations! There were eight individuals involved (the 27s pod) and they casually moved south until out of sight. After a quick celebration, we drove down to Leebittern and waited for the pod to come through. 

Well, they came through perilously close to shore, apparently grabbing a seal in the process, before continuing on their way towards Mousa Sound where despite running after them, slowly disappeared, but what a start to our time on Shetland!

Afterwards, and for a calm down, we went to Hoswick to secure a Yellow-browed Warbler for the trip list; twitched the Citrine Wagtail and Bluethroat in Lerwick, and whilst shopping for the week in Tescos, got news of a Deaths Head Hawk Moth just around the corner. I was desperate to ditch the shopping, but that was refused, so it was a tense wait to see this huge moth. 

We then drove to Walls and found our accommodation, a discrete cottage with sheep and chickens as neighbours and a friendly Hedgehog. It had probably been my best six hour period on Shetland!!



Citrine Wagtail

Deaths Head Hawk Moth

our cottage