Wednesday, 15 October 2014

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.

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