We had a better day yesterday, in lighter winds and much more sunshine – even warm enough for birding in shirtsleeves for a while! Paul and I opted to head over to West Mainland for a poke around a few lesser-watched sites, starting with a quick look for the reported Red-breasted Flycatcher in Tresta. However, after only about ten minutes here, the plan changed when we heard that Hawky and Jono’s crew had found a probable Great Reed Warbler back down south at Rerwick and were trying to relocate it.
With a somewhat uncharitable hope that the ID might been incorrect (Thick-billed Warbler, anyone?!), we made good time getting down there and found the guys near some irises at the bottom of a reedbed – the latter not a habitat I’ve ever encountered on Shetland before. Shortly before we got there, they’d had further views and it was clear that the bird was definitely a Great Reed. Full credit to Matt Eade for a quality find – as one of the locals pointed out, arguably a better bird in Shetland than a Pechora! Views were limited to in-flight only, and I struggled to even get a record shot… this is not one of my finest photographic moments!
We also heard a Water Rail calling here, another relatively tricky bird to catch up with here. With the sun blazing down (well, at least pleasantly warm), we headed away from the twitch fairly swiftly in the hope of finding some birds of our own elsewhere. First stop was Geosetter, just down the road. Aside from doing my best to fall off a bridge into the burn, the highlight was another Yellow-browed Warbler found by the eagle-eyed Prof (though just after pointing in the opposite direction and shouting “Look over there!” to distract me… dirty tricks!)
Although easily seen up here, and also on the east coast in autumn, these are really superb little birds and often show well. I still haven’t got the killer shot that I’m looking for, though, so there’s a good excuse to keep searching for them!
We popped into Hoswick for a quick look at the trees by the Orca Inn, adding Wood and Garden Warblers to the trip list, before reverting to Plan A and the west side of the island. Around Tresta, we still couldn’t find the RBFly, only managing half a dozen Siskins. Down at the Gairdins i Sand, the Yellow-browed Warbler was stiil present and showing well, but without anything much else as support.
From here, we toured a route around Walls and Dale of Walls, stopping to check various likely looking sites, before heading up to the Melby and Norby area. Leaving Paul in the car for a quick snooze, I had a bit of a scare when I saw a small, dark dove twice in flight. Initial thoughts of Mourning Dove were soon banished (wrong general colour, and no evidence of the long pointed tail), and when we inadvertantly flushed it again, I managed some (awful) photos to pin down the ID as a Turtle Dove – not a species you’d expect this far north in October!
We also had the books out to check that it couldn’t be a vagrant Rufous Turtle Dove… but the combination of extensive white belly sharply contrasting with the darker breast, prominent bare skin around the eye, and the bird’s small size all point to the commoner species. Shame, but still a decent find, I think.
That evening, I organised a curry in Lerwick for several of the visiting groups of birders – 20 people in all. It was a good laugh and great to get everyone together for a chat and a beer, so thanks to everyone that came long. We also coughed up a fiver each to settle the bird finders’ sweepstake that had been running for the week – Matt’s Great Reed Warbler took the prize as the only BBRC rarity found this week. Perhaps not the mega-rare Sibe or Yank that we’ve all been hoping for, but a quality bird nonetheless.
And then the less said about today, the better! For the first time in the week, Paul and I have given up on birding, due to driving rain and a cold NW wind gusting over 40mph. Basically unbirdable this afternoon… so we’ll get all the cleaning up and packing done, ready to maximise time in the field in better weather tomorrow before we head home. The avian highlight of the morning was a group of 5 Swallows feeding low around a row of houses, and perching on washing lines to escape the weather. Probably wondering what on earth they’re doing up here… perhaps like some of the birders!