Friday, 24 October 2014

SHETLAND! Part 2 Days 4-6

With the SIBERIAN RUBYTHROAT still just down the road it would have been rude not to continue to pay our respects, especially as it was now somewhat easier to see. The storm was building but this spot was sheltered so it was worth a visit regardless of what the weather was doing. Consequently we popped in on days 4 and 5 of our trip, before it departed overnight, leaving a handful of long faces among those who had travelled up for it on our Day 6 (8th October).

Day 4 saw us visit Channerwick after breakfast. With little shelter from the blustery wind it was difficult getting decent views of anything put up. There were few birds, but one that did get up was a big grey warbler, clearly one of the two barred warblers present here the previous day. There was also a handful of blackbirds and song thrushes that were new in.

We checked out Boddam where as well as finding something good the previous day I had also lost something... my iphone. I tried to re-trace my steps but it was negative news - the phone wasn't showing. I had dipped, though I found a yellow-browed, and yesterday's little bunting popped up in flight only, to say a brief hello and offer its condolences. Maybe I'd lost the bloody phone at couldn't have been at the rubythroat garden, surely, as someone would have found it and put news out?

To keep my mind off the lost phone (which incidentally is still lost) I had to keep birding. We went back to Sumburgh where a small fall of birds had taken place, mainly thrushes, but with a couple of robins and a few goldcrests. Birds were coming in and they were from the east. Hopefully the rare stuff would follow.

A few bits and pieces kept us entertained - a long-eared owl sheltered in grass beside a stone wall at Sumburgh; a dozen or so long-tailed ducks were in evidence nearby, and a slav grebe popped up at Loch Spiggie. We soon headed up the west coast to St Ninian's Isle where at least 3 great northern divers and a few bramblings were located.

The weather was seriously deteriorating now and it was no longer possible to look for birds. We'd resorted to doing more and more from the car but eventually we threw in the towel and headed for home. Only I didn't quite throw in the towel, doing the odd scan of the bay opposite from the front door while the others set about cooking or putting their feet up.

Suddenly I spotted something just beyond the white surf, between the troughs, about 200 yards out. 'LEACH'S PETREL!' I hollered and the others joined me. To my surprise they all got onto it, perhaps because it was making slow progress in what must have been 40-50mph winds (gusting possibly to 100 at times). An hour's seawatch then ensued, and we were rewarded with a continuous passage of whimbrels and a couple of little gulls. Hugh Harrop turned up after hearing about the Leach's (a scarce bird up here apparently) and moved on to the point. Shortly afterwards we heard the petrel was still lingering off the point and in fact it (or another) was reported again there the following morning.

Day 5

A quiet day in terms of rare birds as we continued to battle the elements. The wind was still as strong but was now ESE, eventually turning NE. It rained for most of the morning but we didn't slack and continued to kick every ditch and patch of bushes we came across. One of the first birds we saw in our rather modest garden while it was still getting light, was a fieldfare. It was the only one of the whole trip, surprisingly, yet further south at Sumburgh, thrushes were arriving in much larger numbers to the previous day - mainly song thrushes with smaller numbers of redwings and blackbirds, and lots of robins, too. 3+ yellow-broweds were in the burn at Geosetter, with one particularly showy bird there, and we came across ring ouzel, whinchat, jack snipe, woodcock, black redstart and short-eared owl throughout the day. Oh yeah, we saw a rubythroat, too. Again.

Day 6

Back at base at close of play on day 5 the big news was that a probable PG Tips had been found at Quendale. We'd seen very poor photos on Twitter and had all expressed doubts regarding the I/D. In fact we all agreed it looked more like a lancey, and this sentiment was echoed later on Birdforum when pics were posted there. I couldn't see the bird being a Tips, yet there was nothing on the photos to stop it being an aberrantly heavily streaked grasshopper warbler. The finders stuck to their guns on the I/D, believing the bird to be too large and dark-tailed for a lancey. Another crew who'd seen the bird before it got dark had also had this impression. Whatever it was, we really wanted to see this Locustella!

We arrived at first light to find no-one else present. We worked the burn, kicking up 4 or 5 reed warblers (trying unsuccessfully to turn each into a Blyth's) and after a couple of hours' searching we found the Locustella. We were joined by other birders but nailing the I/D was tough on flight views. I thought the bird looked small and so did most of the others present. Then Andrew got a record shot of the bird in flight. The tertials looked good for lancey and it was rung in as such. Soon afterwards the bird landed in the open below a fence. I was quick with the camera and grabbed some record shots. The bird scarpered but I had evidence on my screen it was a LANCEOLATED WARBLER -  those tertials didn't belong to a gropper, and no one was in any doubt now.

By now Baggers was beside himself. He needed lancey and it was to be his 500th BOU bird. Everyone was happy with the I/D but it was only when the bird flew to a small iris clump then proceeded to show in the open on the edge that everyone got the views (and photos) they were after. It was smiles all round, particularly from the original finder(s). There was no shame in not making the right call the previous day as their views (and pics) simply hadn't been good enough, especially as they were of a wet, bedraggled bird in poor light. This is the reality of field identification of many elusive birds (particularly skulking, flighty warblers) and anyone who thinks otherwise probably spends most of their time on their computer, where the birds are easy to identify in photos. In the field at the time, it's not always quite that easy!

At least it WAS in Britain this time, Garry!
Chris Griffin finally nails his superb find with the camera

celebratory drinks at Quendale
It was a nice day by late morning, sunny and settled, with a light north-east wind. We had bagged 2 'SIBERIAN' CHIFFCHAFFS earlier in the quarry along with a blue tit - normally a Shetland rarity, but that day 17 were seen throughout the archipelago, clearly (given the winds and supporting cast) Northern birds from Scandanavia.

We headed off to Virkie where Andrew popped in to Rob Fray's to see some moth or other. Baggers and Young George stayed in the car stuffing their faces with pies and pasties. Drastic action was called for at this point - I'd have to look for some birds, so I worked the famous line of willows, then the ditch behind Rob's place. Eventually something decent got up ahead of me - a GREAT GREY SHRIKE! I'd left my radio in the car again, and had to go back to get the others. They all eventually saw it but it remained mobile and was generally distant.

I spent the next hour or so working more ditches and fence lines. I found a hedgehog in a ball, and a few jack snipe got up. A nearby pipit initially claimed as an OBP turned out to be a tree pipit. More woodcock were seen that day and more yellow-broweds. Most other birds had been frightened off by Baggers' T-shirt (yes, THAT T-shirt). Or maybe it was his cheesy grin which was still stretching from ear to ear!

In Part 3 there are more good birds and Garry commits further crimes against fashion. Will we stay the course or get chucked off the islands by traumatised residents? And could I really have been jammy enough to get a 'lifer' up there on this particular week? Standby for the final gripping instalment in Part 3!

The George Cross - a unique way of traversing a large Shetland ditch involving a long rest in the middle, typical of today's birding yoof who wear low-slung trousers to be cool. Only joking George!
Geosetter Burn - always smells rare (except last year when I dipped a thick-billed warbler there!)

The local twite sheltering from the gale force wind, while Andrew gives them a good grilling

not everything on Shetland that looks rare IS rare!

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