Thursday, 16 October 2014

Shetland 2014 - Day 8 - The Lancy, the Rubythroat and a fond farewell til next year

I woke up the next morning slightly bleary eyed after quaffing some fine single malt in celebration of our find the evening before and packed my bags ready for the off... This was our last day on Shetland and we had to get down to Quendale to nail that Lancy for sure, so after packing our gear in the van we made our way to the south of the island and arrived at Quendale with the news that people had already been up, seen the bird and confirmed it was a Lancy, but we wanted to make sure for ourselves.

As we made our way up the burn we found the group of birders who seemed to be watching a patch of irises.... good stuff, they'd got it pinned down OK then.... we made it to them and I was introduced to Adrian Kettle who showed me a picture of the Lancy that he'd taken earlier showing the tertial pattern.... that nailed it. Totally and utterly.... the clean, crisp brown edge to the tertials.... longer than the secondaries.... bang on for Lancy. We follwed the bird around a while and got some absolutely stonking views of it sat out on a tussock of grass. I grabbed some shots and, on reviewing them, saw that I'd got the undertail coverts in the photo... pale with dark streaks.... the tertial pattern was there too.... brilliant... that ticked everything to be able to put in a full and nailed on description to the British Bird Rarities Committee. 
Lanceolated Warbler (Locustella lanceolata), Quendale, Mainland
Eventually the bird settled down in a patch of irises and sat right on the very edge of the iris bed in the open for several minutes only 15 foot away giving all of us the opportunity to see every detail through our bins. It was great to put the ID to rest for ourselves but we would certainly have preferred views like that the night before.
Lanceolated Warbler (Locustella lanceolata), Quendale, Mainland
 We wandered back down to the tea-rooms to get a celebratory cup of coffee with a few other guys who had made it down like Adrian Kettle, Andy Lawson and Garry Bagnell (which was very kindly paid for by Garry as thanks for finding the bird - his 500th BOU species) and discussed what the plan of action was next.
Post-Lancy celebratory cuppa.
We all agreed that seeing as the bird had been showing well for the last few days, (and it would be rude not to), that we should go and check out the Rubythroat again.

We arrived at Levenwick and decamped but the peace was soon shattered as a pager message came up saying there was another White's Thrush, this time by the south exit to the main road of Levenwick! Fred Fearn was with us and this was his main bogey bird, so he shot off in search of it.... the rest of the guys heading off to help. I decided that I wanted to stay with the Rubythroat and try to get some better pictures so I joined the crowd (of 5!!), including Rebecca Nason and Jim Nicolson and settled in to wait for the Rubythroat to show again..... It didn't take long as per usual and it had obviously got used to people..... It showed unbelievably well... staying in the open for quite some time before running back into the undergrowth. It did this several times and even showed down to 10 foot (unfortunately hidden behind the undergrowth but amazing through the bins!) and I can't complain with the images I got...
Siberian Rubythroat (Luscinia calliope), Levenwick, Mainland

Siberian Rubythroat (Luscinia calliope), Levenwick, Mainland
 What a bird.... most definitely the highlight of the autumn for me... no matter what else turns up.

After a while the guys came back to pick me up with the news that there was no-one around where the White's had been reported from and no sign of the bird either.... The directions to the bird were horrifically vague and with nobody around there was very little hope of finding it... We even started thinking that it could have just been a misidentified Song Thrush as there a small flock of Redwings and Song Thrush in the field next to the southern exit and the guys had got up there within 2 minutes of the report coming out. Who knows.... The rest of my group decided it was time to move on to the south of the island in readiness to catch their flight later on, but as Fred was staying for a few more days, needed the White's and I was catching the ferry later, I stayed with him and scoured the area. We checked every garden and every ditch we could find before finally having to accept that the bird had either moved on. We did find a female Black Redstart in the corner of on of the fields though which was a pleasant surprise. 
Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros), Levenwick, Mainland
  It was almost time to catch the ferry back to Aberdeen but we still had to quickly check Seafield at the back of Tescos in Lerwick. There wasn't much there but a Brambling showed beautifully in the sunshine.
Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla), Seafield, Mainland
It was then time to say goodbye to Shetland for another year.... how on earth this year can be beaten is beyond me... we ended up seeing 8 BB rarities, I had 2 new self-found birds in Lanceolated Warbler and Bluethroat, 5 lifers in the form of Rustic Bunting, White's Thrush, Myrtle Warbler, Pallid Harrier and Siberian Rubythroat and plenty of memories that will stay with me for a long time to come. Shetland is a very special place and I can't wait to be back next year!!
The last goodbye



Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Shetland 2014 - Day 7 - Quendale and THAT Locustella

We awoke to yet more wind and rain... the wind had been S/SSE for the past few days so we all felt there had to be something out there to find... Indeed as Phil, Mark and I wandered around Helendale in the showers, leaving Sean and Al at the house in the warm and dry, Phil looked at us and said, ''We're going to have something today... It just feels good''... We had to agree, there were plenty of bits and pieces moving and dropping into cover in Lerwick.... Redwings, Blackbirds, loads of Robins everywhere.... he was right.... it felt good.... but it is easy to say that knowing what happened later that day, but it really did feel like there were more birds about even though the weather was pretty terrible.

We picked up Sean and Al then headed back to Wester Quarff for another look around but found very little apart from a few more Brambling, plenty more Redwing and a small flock of 7 Goosander on the sea. By this point, time was moving on after our late start so we decided to give Quendale a bash before we headed back home for the night. 

I've always found Quendale hard work..... no surprise there.... it's got a small amount of scrub near the mill but after that it's pretty much a solid half-mile of iris and nettle beds leading up the valley to a small quarry.... It holds birds well enough, but it's tough going and through the week I'd lost count how many ditches, burns and iris beds I'd tramped through for precious little, but if you don't try.....

So Phil and I took up the challenge, walking either side of Quendale burn and it wasn't long before birds started to appear out of the irises and nettles.... three Whinchat, a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers and a few Blackcaps darted up the burn, but as we got almost two thirds up the burn a small brown bird skipped out of the irises next to my feet and flicked low up the bird.... I'm afraid I can't repeat exactly what I said, but it was along the lines of "Flip me, flip me, flip me!!......". Phil, who had picked up another bird flying up the burn further along said "It's a Redwing....".... Needless to say, from the way that I started gibbering and pointing to the patch next to my feet he soon realised that we'd been on different birds. I told him where I thought it had landed and we moved slowly forward.... As we got nearer to the spot where it disappeared it shot out again and flew half way up the hill, landing briefly in a rabbit hole, before heading further up the hill landing in short grass next to the fence. We looked at each other with that look that both of you don't know what the buggering hell it is, but you know it looks kind of good and we started to sprint up the hill.

I decided to go wide and get to the top of the hill and walk down towards Phil at the bottom in case it flushed again (in the hope it would go back to the burn) and sure enough, as I neared the fence it flew out and headed back towards the burn, dropping out of sight behind a gate near to where I originally found it. I managed to fire off a few pictures, most were impossible to tell what planet we were on because they were so blurry, let alone if there was a bird in the frame, but I clicked through until we found a single frame with a bird in it.... I zoomed in.... we both looked at it.... "F@#*, it's a Locustella.... it's got a black tail!! It's a PG Tips... isn't it?" (PG Tips is birding speak for a Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler... a very rare vagrant from the far east and a bit of a Shetland speciality!)
Photo 1 - *knees start to go*
I tried ringing Sean, but the battery died just as I pressed 'call', so Phil rang Mark.... "We're up the burn, we've had a Locustella, possibly PG Tips..... GET UP HERE!"... We waited for them to arrive planning what the best course of action was.... 5 minutes went by.... No sign of the rest of the guys.... Phil rang Mark again... "Where are you?........ What do you mean you're still by the mill? Get up here and give us a hand!....... What do you mean it's just an OBP?!?! That's not what I said..... I said PG TIPS!!!". 

It wasn't too long before they made it up the burn after that, but still walking quite slowly..... it wasn't until we showed them the picture that they started to realise we did have something that could be good. We decided to back-track a bit and walk the same section where the bird had originally flew from and sure enough, as we got near to the exact spot, it flushed again flying up to the fence to the left of us, perching briefly on the bottom wire.... I snatched a few more record shots... still not enough to say definitively what it was, but on the views Al, Sean and Mark all agreed it looked good for PG Tips. The big dark tail really stuck out in the bins and the photos showed it too. It also seemed to show plain dark undertail coverts contrasting with the belly which when we looked on the Collins app was a feature of PG Tips.... It was beginning to look better!
Photo 2 - "Jesus boys, it's looking good for PG Tips"
Photo 3 - That contrast is obvious... it has to be PG Tips right?
It then flew out and landed in the middle of a stubble field where we couldn't find it but it didn't stay there for long before it flew back out, landing near Phil halfway down a grass bank where it ran down into the irises. We still hadn't managed to get a decent view of this bird and Al was quick to push me to the front saying "Get some bloody pics, we're going to need them if we're going to nail this!". I set up my camera to compensate for the terrible light and Al slowly made his way into the iris bed hoping to coax the bird into the open when it flew out, landing on the side of the burn in short grass. It sat there for what could have been seconds or minutes, I'm not entirely sure, but I managed to get a few better pictures as the guys grilled it the best they could through their bins.
Photo 4 - good super.... nice gorget... bi-coloured bill... still looking good!
Photo 5 - that looks capped to me.... it has to be a PG Tips!
We decided to put the news out even though we weren't 100% sure of what the bird was, but we knew the more birder that saw it, the more opinions we'd get of the bird and hopefully we could nail the ID, so we put it out as a 'possible' PG Tips on the news services. While we waited we reviewed what we'd seen and what we needed to look for to clinch the ID, but at that time all of us, (including Sean who was the only one of us to have seen PG Tips before), were leaning towards PG Tips rather than Lanceolated Warbler or Grasshopper Warbler. It was quite a nervous wait until the first birder arrived. Eventually a further 9 people made their way up to where we were and we tried an organized flush through the irises. Nothing. Not a single bird. We decided to try again and not too far from the original spot it flicked out again... It dropped into the irises a bit further on, so we carried on, this time when it flew, it went up the side of the quarry and landed on the bare earth. Everyone managed to see it as it sat there for a few moments until it flew up and over the lip of the quarry, disappearing inside.

We decided to leave it to roost in the quarry as we thought it might hold it until the morning, but speaking to the rest of the observers everyone was happy at the time that it was a Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler! I spoke to Rob (@GlamBirder on twitter) and he said he would put out the news that the bird was still present and had gone to roost in the quarry, but that we still wanted it as a possible until we were absolutely sure.... but it looked good! We were on a high on the way back to the house, Phil and I deciding to go back to the house and sort out notes and photos to make 100% certain before we asked the news services to 'mega' it.

As we looked at the photos, we started going through all of the ID features we thought we could see on the screen and we waited for Fred Fearn to arrive to give us his honest opinion. When he walked in after having a couple of celebratory pints with Al, Mark and Sean at the pub we showed him the photos and asked for his take on the ID. He wasn't certain.... he said he could see why we thought PG Tips to start with, but the photos didn't show enough of the features for him to be happy and the features that were there weren't as clear cut as he'd expected..... We started to feel a bit concerned that we'd made a mistake so we put the photos up on Birdforum and sent them over to Paul Harvey as well to see if he could help.

It didn't take long before the messages started coming in.... 'Looks like you've found a Lancy'...... 'Not PG Tips... looks more like Lanceolated'..... and then we got an e-mail from Paul Harvey..... 'Lancy'.... Balls..... It's easy to make excuses for a balls-up..... the light and conditions were rubbish, the views were awful.... yes, indeed that was the case here, but simply and honestly put, we messed up.

We put the seed of what we thought it was in our minds too early (my fault, I have to admit).... and although the bird showed hints of the features of PG Tips, I for one, turned those hints into absolute features in my mind, so I found it difficult to look past what I thought it was. In the heat of the moment, it's very easy to do... especially in the situation we found ourselves in at Quendale, but sat there.... looking at the photos on the screen, all those mental blocks were scraped away and I saw the real bird underneath.... it was absolutely a Lanceolated Warbler.... Double Balls! 

I found myself in a weird place at that moment.... the sheer excitement and joy of finding a 'mega' lifer that I'd felt on the way home had been stripped away.... I'd seen Lanceolated Warbler a few years earlier on Unst, so although finding one now was still massive, it didn't feel the same..... I felt happy that I'd found a lifer for the rest of the group, but still had a sinking feeling that it wasn't a PG Tips, we'd made a mistake and it wasn't a lifer. Triple Balls. Needless to say I don't feel like that now, but at the time it was a bit of a mindf@#* and I went to bed feeling a little bit sorry for myself! Birding's an odd game!

Anyway, we went to bed knowing that we'd found a Lanceolated Warbler but we all hoped that it would still be there in the morning so that we could absolutely nail it without any more doubts.

Shetland 2014 - Day 6 - Mark gets the Horn and the tale of two Buntings

As we woke up the weather was still pretty grim, albeit better than it had been predicted first thing so we trudged out to Veensgarth to get Mark the Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll that Al and I had jammed on the previous evening.

It didn't take us long to pick it out (as it flew across with three other Redpolls), but unfortunately for Mark, it landed in full view for us, but totally obscured from the other side of the bush... precisely where Mark had wandered over to!! It took off again and headed over to a garden 100m away but it was only a few minutes later (and when Mark had got back to where we were) when it flew in again and fed on a thistle in the open only 20 metres away. At first, Al and I thought it may had been a different bird to the night before as it didn't look like the snowballs the other Hornemann's Arctic Redpolls we'd seen previously often do. We discussed the possibility of it being a Coue's but none of us could be absolutely sure of what it was (although we were all agreed it was stunning and definitely an Arctic Redpoll!).
Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll (Carduelis hornemanni hornemanni), Veensgarth, Mainland
We then found out there was a Radde's Warbler that had just been found at the Sumburgh Hotel, so we set off down there to try and connect with it. Unfortunately on arrival we learnt from Hugh Harrop that it had been found sheltering underneath the Shetland Wildlife tour bus with its eyes half-closed and released into the potato field, only for it to flop on its side before slowly making its way into cover, not being seen since. The likelihood was that this was one of many vagrants whose migration had taken just too much of a toll on it's fragile little frame and had most probably died amongst the crop. It's very easy to forget just how much of a struggle migration can be for some of these birds. While we were talking with Hugh we saw a Long-eared Owl huddled up against a stone wall but also took the opportunity to talk to him about the Veensgarth Redpoll. He said that he was happy with it being a Hornemann's and explained that even though he felt it was an interesting bird, the face wasn't 'smashed in' enough and it was just bulky enough around the neck so he'd put it down as Hornemann's-type, probably a 1st-winter female.... No wonder it didn't look quite right to us, the vast majority that end up on our shores are the classic big fat male snowballs! We took the opportunity to have a look around the walls hoping for a Locustella or a rare pipit but the best I could manage were a few Twite (not that I was complaining.... I think they're stunning little birds!).
Twite (Carduelis flavirostris), Sumburgh Hotel, Mainland
We decided to make a move and try Wester Quarff but before that we went to have a look for yet another Little Bunting that had been showing well at Boddam, not too far from the beach, but when we got there the wind was howling and there was no sign of the bird. We had a wander around the area it was frequenting and Phil and Al picked it up as it flew from a track into cover in a garden. We walked up the track and a bunting shot out to land on the barbed wire fence.... but this was a Reed Bunting... I continued on and another bird flew out and landed in the grass behind a shed... I crept to the corner of the shed, looked round the corner and tucked down in the grass was the Little Bunting..... our third of the week! I managed to fire off a couple of record shots before it took flight, went round the shed and landed back on the track where Phil had originally found it. It showed really well there as well as flying over onto the main road picking at the verge for food.
Little Bunting (Emberiza pusilla), Boddam, Mainland
Little Bunting (Emberiza pusilla), Boddam, Mainland
We watched the bird for a little while until it flew from the road and tucked itself away in a garden at the top of the hill, then we decided to make our way over to Wester Quarff.

When we decamped from the van yet another Yellow-browed Warbler announced its presence and I managed to pick up a Willow Warbler in a small sycamore in the small garden just behind us. We wandered over to a small walled field next to the house and Phil saw a bird fly up from the weeds and land on the wall... it was another Little Bunting!! We got a couple of decent views of this bird as it perched on the wall on occasions, but we eventually left it to it and checked the rest of the gardens, walked the burn and walked a circuit without finding all that much. A flock of 50 Brambling feeding in a field on the other side of the valley was nice to see though.
Little Bunting (Emberiza pusilla), Wester Quarff, Mainland
The rain had set in again so we travelled back north, opting to try and see the Arctic Redpoll at Veensgarth again, but we couldn't find it in the plantation, there were a couple more Yellow-browed Warbler though, so we decided to end the day there and headed back to camp.

Shetland 2014 - Day 5 - Blues and Reds

The weather had settled down a little bit in the morning so we chose to get down to Hoswick and wait on news for the Rubythroat as we felt the crowds might have dispersed and it would be great to see it again if it was there.

I had a wander round to the Orca Inn picking out a Yellow-browed Warbler, a couple of Blackcap and a Great Tit in the surrounding sycamores. We carried on to Cliff View Cottage, where the Eastern Olivaceous Warbler had been the previous October and as I got round the corner something flicked out of the garden, hovered briefly and dropped into the dog roses on the edge of the garden. I called Al and Sean around and as they appeared the bird shot out and flew straight past me, dropping into a building site across the field.... The rusty-red on the sides of the tail were obvious and all of us shouted Bluethroat at the same time. We went over to the building site to try and relocate it, but after half an hour of searching for it, the bird was nowhere to be seen. 

We walked around to the other side of the garden where we met Phil and Mark, who had just had what they thought was probably a Barred Warbler disappear into cover and we watched a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers before deciding to give the Rubythroat another go.

As we arrived, there was only a small crowd of around 15 birders gathered at the end of the drive where the Rubythroat had relocated to so I lay down on the grass at the side of the crowd and waited. It didn;t take long for the Rubythroat to appear, wandering across the drive and along the edge close to the vegetation, but it showed wonderfully well... much much better than when we'd seen it a couple of days ago... it really was quite special sharing such a magical bird with such a small crowd and every 20 minutes or so the bird would show on the path after vanishing on its circuit of the garden, one time coming to within 10 foot of us - catching us all off guard and no-one being able to get a shot of it! I was pretty pleased with what I managed to get from that session though and I stayed for a little while longer whilst the rest of the guys went to check Channerwick.
Siberian Rubythroat (Luscinia calliope), Levenwick, Mainland
After they came back to pick me up we moved on to the other side of the island to check out Geosetter, a few Yellow-browed Warblers (not much of a surprise there then!) and a showy Pied Flycatcher were the best we could manage there.
Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca), Geosetter, Mainland
We made our way back towards Lerwick and the Pallid Harrier was reported again back at Tingwall, so Al and I stayed in the van as we dropped the rest off and headed down to try and find it again. We had no luck with the harrier, but while we were there Chris Rodger arrived with the Shetland Nature tour group and as we were chatting, a couple of guys appeared saying they'd just found a Hornemanns Arctic Repoll by the pumping station in Veensgarth. As we could see the plantation from where we were stood, Al and I decided we'd go and have a look. We got there with no sign, a Pied Flycatcher was flicking through the back of the plantation, so we moved slightly round the corner and picked up a couple of Redpoll moving through the back. We kept scanning and the white blob finally flew in and settled on a low branch of one of the trees at the front for a minute before flying through the back to feed on the thistles behind the trees giving decent but obscured views. Not the best views of Hornemanns I'd ever had, but an obvious Arctic Redpoll all the same!

We went back to the house and told the rest of the group we'd jammed onto the Hornemann's to find out that Mark needed it for a lifer! At least we knew what the plan for the morning was going to be then!

Shetland 2014 - Day 4 - Wild, wet and windy, a Pallid Harrier and the Golden Godwit!

The morning started pretty late due to a combination of awful weather (and a few aching heads!)... but news of a Rosy Starling up the road at Breiwick got us moving and out of the house. Unfortunately the bird must have moved on as we couldn't relocate it and so feeling pretty damp and miserable we made our way back to the house for a cup of tea.... only for Dan Pointon to call Al to tell us he'd just relocated the Pallid Harrier flying towards Tingwall Airport just up the road from Gott.... I needed this as a lifer, so we dropped Al off and set back out to look for the harrier.

We drove down to the airport expecting to find Dan watching the bird flying over the airfield itself, but upon arrival there was no-one around.... we'd got mixed messages from Al and after driving part-way to Gott, we decided to get some height and scan for the bird (without much hope!).... We parked up in a car park on the main road overlooking the airfield and almost as soon as I stepped out to scan the fenceline on the other side of the valley, I picked it out sat on one of the fenceposts around 6-700 metres away. We got the scopes out to confirm it was the bird, then put the news out.... it was obviously quite a quiet day as within 10-15 minutes there was a bit of a crowd starting to form in the car-park.... We also found out that the Rubythroat hadn't been seen all morning (which explained why there was such a crowd for the Pallid), thankfully for the many who had travelled up overnight to twitch the Rubythroat it was relocated later on a little further down the road in the same garden where we'd seen the Pechora Pipit last year!
Phone-scoped shot of the Pallid Harrier (Circus macrourus), Tingwall, Mainland
The weather was still awful, so we decided to go back to the house and take it easy and get ready for the Shetland Bird Club evening that was being run by Rebecca Nason later that evening at Sumburgh Head.

As we made our way down to the lighthouse the weather cleared up providing us with a stunning sunset as we arrived.
Sumburgh Sunset
We chatted to Rebecca and her partner Phil for a while until the main event got underway.... a Mystery Bird ID Quiz.... 50 photos taken by Rebecca of birds taken on Shetland... it was tricky, with a summer-plumaged male Pine Bunting causing us all to become unstuck and several birds in the hand giving the ringers amongst us some headaches, but by the end the totals were added up and amazingly I had won! A total off 44 out of 50 gave me the chance to hold the 'Golden Godwit' for 5 minutes (as it couldn't be taken away from Sumburgh for 'security purposes'), along with being presented with a wad of bird reports and a bottle of Famous Grouse! Suitably embarrassed (although a little proud it has to be said) after having my photo taken to document my dorkishness and we were heading back to the house ready for another day of searching for the big one!

 



Shetland 2014 - Day 3 - A Ruby in the dark

We woke up to the wind howling outside and chose to head north to check out the plantation at Voe as well as the gardens in Lower Voe... We wandered around with not a great deal to show for our efforts other than a single Pied Flycatcher, a couple of Yellow-browed Warbler and a very brief  Barred Warbler that only a couple of us saw. We consoled ourselves by visiting the pie shop in Voe and cleaned them out with a fine selection to keep us going for the day!
Phil after raiding the pie shop in Voe
We then headed on to Kergord with pretty much the same results... just a couple of Yellow-broweds but I did flush a Woodcock from one of the ditches and a Merlin shot over the woods mobbing a Raven. Our next port of call was Eswick where a couple of Little Buntings had been showing well the day before.... We got brief views of the first, in a cabbage field around 1 mile from Eswick, and only managed to hear the other 'ticking' away in the plantation in Eswick itself, the wind was obviously keeping it tucked away within the shelter of the trees. We also saw a Great Northern Diver in the bay and a performing 'Mealy' Redpoll. We gave up trying to see the Little Bunting there and opted to go back to the cabbage field, this one showed again briefly before darting back into the cover crop, we did get some cracking views of some of the Brambling there too though.
Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla), Eswick, Mainland
It was only moments later when Phil started showing Mark how to age 1st-winter male Blackbirds when things got a little bit crazy as Al shouted for us to ''Get in the f@#*ing car.... Pointons got a Rubythroat at Levenwick!''..... Mother. Of. God..... We were half an hour away...... It was 3:50pm.... enough light for a while at least.... Al put his foot down. The closer we got to Levenwick, the quieter and the more tense the car got.... this was a magical bird, one of the holy grails of 'sibes'.... This bird was only the 12th record of this ├╝ber-rare beast in Britain, the vast majority coming from this northern archipelago, and to make it even better it was a male.... complete with a full ruby-red throat.... Our nerves were tingling as we came into view of the crowd around the tiny garden filled with fuschia bushes.... Phil had driven as he'd already twitched the Gulberwick bird in 2011 and so, as we pulled up next to the garden, the rest of us piled out while he tried to find somewhere to park. Finding somewhere to view was an absolute nightmare.... There were very limited spaces where the area it was darting in between bushes could be watched and there were already banks of people there waiting. 
Crowd at the Rubythroat twitch (that's me just to the right of the light blue coat!) (Pic by David Gray)
I got a brief glimpse of it scurrying underneath a bush, but nothing to say more than it was small and brown... no look at its face or throat.... For well over another hour and a half it was the same story.... a flick of the bird and too much noise from the crowd forcing it back into the shadows in moments..... it was immensely frustrating.... Eventually people realised that if they didn't shout or talk loudly and kept silent the bird would prove a bit less secretive and it wasn't long before it hopped out in full view for a couple of seconds.... unfortunately I was too far back to see it, but it did at least mean that most of the people at the front began to leave as they'd seen it well enough.... So I moved to the front..... I was now in a perfect place if it came out again so I got my camera ready, and hoped the light held enough to get a record shot... After a tense wait the bird appeared behind the bush, I got my bins on it and it ran across the small gap that was on it's circuit.... I saw it fully for the first time and the leap of joy and excitement that I felt inside was incredible.... WHAT. A. BIRD!! I lifted my camera up just in case it came out into the open and just as I was setting the ISO it popped out into view of the viewfinder, sat there face on!! I froze, almost totally forgetting to click the shutter, but thankfully I remembered just in the nick of time before it dashed off back into the undergrowth.
SIBERIAN RUBYTHROAT (Luscinia calliope), Levenwick, Mainland
The adrenaline surged through me and I was literally shaking as I walked away from the front of the crowd and saw Phil stood at the back.... He grinned as he saw me and after a congratulatory handshake we went to find the others.... By now all of us apart from Al had had decent views, so I grabbed him and showed him to the place where we'd just seen it.... eventually he got better views and we all found Dan Pointon to shake his hand and congratulate him on finding a staggeringly awesome bird.

No-one spoke that much on the journey back to Lerwick.... the feeling of utter contentment and slight disbelief of what had just happened was overwhelming and nothing really needed to be said for the time being! 

That night we went into Lerwick to have a celebratory drink.... but one turned into two, two turned into a Jager-bomb, then a Jager-bomb turned into several..... The result of this was Al showing his moves to the Stone Roses, plenty of games of pool, Mark proving his ability to hold two fingers up (quite a lot), many repetitions of The Kaiserchiefs 'Ruby, Ruby, Ruby' and some very merry and rosy faces by the end of the night!

Yes, Mark is singing Ruby, Ruby, Ruby........




Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Shetland 2014 - Day 2 - Unst

After a bit of a celebration after seeing two stonking rares the night before, we all awoke a little bleary-eyed but ready for the next days birding... we had thought about it the day before and all agreed that Unst would be the destination for the day as Al and Sean both needed the 'Eastern' Subalpine Warbler at Baltasound and Mark and I needed the Rustic Bunting at Halligarth (that had been there since August!).

Thankfully due to a change in ferry timings, the mad dash across Yell wasn't as mental as it could have been and also gave us the opportunity to have a quick look for the female King Eider that had been hanging around with a flock of Common Eider in Basta Voe.

Arriving at the site where the flock of Eider could be seen we scoped through the flock, but we struggled for a time picking the bird out.... that was until Dan Pointon came over and pointed out it was the one sitting on a bouy with its back to us. Looking at it for a while I was quite surprised how grey the bird was.... I always thought females were a bright gingery colour, and after a bit of discussion in the mini-bus on the way to the Unst ferry, we concluded that it could well be a 1st-winter female.
1st-winter? female King Eider (Somateria spectabilis), Basta Voe, Yell
Getting off the ferry on Unst we made our way to Baltasound to look for the 'Eastern' Subalpine Warbler. We found the road it was frequenting and it was Dan again who told us where the bird was seen mostly.... a single sycamore in the last garden in the row of houses. There was no sign of the bird for a while until someone said they'd found it in a small bush around the corner from the row of gardens... no sooner had we got half way to it the bird flew back towards the gardens it had been favouring and we lost it behind the houses. A quick run back to where we were and a good scan of the gardens proved fruitless but we knew the bird was around, so we hung on a while waiting for it to re-appear again. Sean and I went back down to the single sycamore and as we got there I saw a bird fly in and disappear amongst the leaves. We looked into the tree unable to see anything moving until I moved to get a different angle and there, picking insects from the underside of the leaves, was the 'Eastern' Subalp. I called everyone over and we got great views as it crept through the branches, often hanging upside-down searching for invertebrates to eat.
'Eastern' Subalpine Warbler (Sylvia cantillans albistriata), Baltasound, Unst
After a little while the warbler flew out of the tree again and back round the corner, so we moved on to look for the Rustic Bunting only a few hundred metres away up the road at Halligarth.... This proved to be a bugger to find... I got there a little later than most people and found out that Mark and Phil thought they heard it briefly as they got there, but we searched the area for a good half an hour without any luck. We were beginning to think we were going to move on and try later when, as Mark, Phil and I walked around the front, we heard it 'tic'. Moments later it flew up from the roses in front of us and perched in the top of some sycamores momentarily before dropping into the canopy. We managed to see it a couple more times in flight during the next 45 minutes, but not well enough to photograph unfortunately... at least we'd got to see it and a 3rd lifer for me in just 2 days!

We were then told about a Bluethroat on the far side of the bay at Clingera that had been showing well in the morning, so we went over to have a look... unfortunately we couldn't find it but a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers and a Lesser Whitethroat was good compensation.

We thought we'd try further north at Norwick, as well as looking for the Temminck's Stint that had been spending a while up in Haroldswick. We stopped at the cafe for supplies and met Chris Rodger and the Shetland Nature group he was leading who had been up in the north of Unst for the morning and they told us that the Temminck's hadn't been looking too well the night before and that there wasn't much up at Norwick, so we decided to give the Temminck's a go and then head back to look for the Bluethroat again.

We searched hard for the stint with no sign of it anywhere, but we did get to have a look at the replica Viking boat that was displayed at the side of the road!
Viking longboat at Haroldswick, Unst
  We went back to Clingera to have another look for the Bluethroat finding Dan Pointon and the rest of his group already there.... they had seen it a couple of times fleetingly as it had moved around doing a bit of curcuit, so Phil and I had a walk into a little compound where a small stream ran under a bridge next to a grazed field. As I got to the bridge a bird flew out from the corner of the field and as it went past me I saw the rusty sides to the tail and instantly knew it was the Bluethroat. It flew into a patch of trees and I called everyone over to try and refind it. It didn't take long and I found it again searching through the leaf litter under some sycamores. We got great views over the next half an hour as it went around on its curcuit, once coming to land on a branch no more than 20 foot away and also seeing it out in the open in the corner of the field where I'd originally found it.
Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica), Clevigarth, Unst
It was getting towards the time to catch the ferry so we made our way back via Lund to have a look for a Marsh Warbler that had been there for a few days in a nettle bed. We got some pretty decent views of the little skulker, but not good enough to get any better pictures than just record shots.
Marsh Warbler (Acrocephalus palustris), Lund, Unst
We also stopped along the way to have a scope up of some duck which at first glance looked like a mixed flock of Tufties and Scaup, but turned out to just be Tufties, but we also picked out some Wigeon along the edge of the loch, one of which was a stunning leucistic individual.
Leucistic Wigeon (Anas penelope), Loch of Snarravoe, Unst
After getting the ferries back to the Mainland we got some fish and chips and headed home to recharge for the next day.