Wednesday, 15 October 2014

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........

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