Friday 1 October 2010

Entertaining weather... And reasons not to twitch

Last couple of days have been more than slightly hard work! Yesterday, we had rain... Quite a lot of it, and persisting all day. Today, there's been a very bad case of wind. (No, not Paul after a double strength Madras, worse than that). It's currently blowing about 40mph, and strengthening... Gusts of up to 70mph forecast overnight, and lots more rain too. Lovely.

However, by dawn tomorrow, in theory everything will have calmed down. Hopefully this will mean everyone's out and about, finding various rarities as they emerge, battered and hungry, from under bridges, behind sheep pens and inside boatsheds.

We have seen a few things in the last couple of days though... Top of the rarity billing comes another Buff-bellied Pipit. Yawn, another one?! Then there's been a selection of flycatchers: 2 Red-breasted, 2 Pied, and about half a dozen Spotted. Warblers are nigh on impossible right now (we dipped the Booted, but didn't give it long, and had no real expectation of seeing it), though there are still plenty of Yellow-broweds about.

That brings me on to one observation about birding on Shetland. When a rarity gets reported, unless it's a real mega (think Zoothera, or Rubythroat), it's quite likely to be a waste of time twitching it. Why? Well, first there won't be anyone else looking...  birders are thin on the ground, and I suspect the locals have seen it all before. Furthermore, lots of good birds are found and identified when they're flushed, either unintentionally, or by someone actively working a patch. Nothing wrong with that at all (in fact, I wish more people down south actually searched for birds like this), but it does mean birds get moved about. Also, directions for regular Shetland birds won't be detailed... generally just the name of the village. (If you see one of these on your patch every year or two, why spell it out!) Finally, cover is pretty sparse. Even some of the best patches are pretty small, so they might not always hold birds for long.

As a result of various such factors we've dipped Rustic Bunting, Bluetail, and Booted and Melodious Warbler. Nothing amazing (none of them a UK tick, though Bluetails are always superb) so actually, if I had the time again, I wouldn't bother trying for some of these, I'd keep bashing the nearest sycamore, nettles or irises.

I guess what I'm trying to add to the Shetland vs Scilly debate is that the birding is very different up here. If you want to hare around and tick off birds that other people have found, you'll probably be disappointed. However, I reckon it probably rewards hard work more than Scilly... Keep plugging away and maybe you'll get lucky, with something good all to yourself.

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