Thursday, 15 October 2009

Last day

With low cloud and drizzle shrouding Sumburgh yesterday we thought we weren’t going to get off for much of the day, but fortunately the fog lifted for long enough to get our plane in (taking off in fog is a lot easier than landing). Several incoming flights weren’t so lucky, and throughout the day we heard planes going over without landing.

Yesterday morning’s birding was restricted to kicking around south Mainland for a few hours. We didn’t see much until we got to Sumburgh Head, when the following 'incident' occurred...

At about 12:20 Rob found a thrush skulking under the rose bushes, and after some manoeuvring Mark and I managed to get onto it as well. The views were terrible – the bird was sitting hunched up with its back to the wall, under the roses, and behind some chicken wire, but from what we could see we were certain it was a 1st-winter male Black-throated Thrush. Result! And bang in the middle of my ‘window of opportunity’ theory (otherwise known as ‘WOO’) that good birds turn up at the lighthouse around midday.

But then things went very wrong. While we were trying to get better views of it, a thrush came up out of the rose bushes and flew off towards the lighthouse. Assuming that this was the bird, we ran after it, but after about 15 minutes searching in the fog all we could find was a rather drab 1st-winter Ring Ouzel! Could this have been what we’d seen? Surely not, especially as it had a completely dark bill, and Rob and I are both sure that we saw a largely yellow bill on the original bird under the roses. But doubts had set in, and we were now beginning to wonder whether we had somehow fucked up big time. Confused, we fled the scene to try and collect our thoughts, using our flight off Shetland as an excuse for not hanging around longer. After some discussion we decided that, rather than try to push such a brief sighting, we could only honestly say that we now weren’t sure about the bird. Mark and I got on our plane and left Rob alone to face any ‘music’ that might be forthcoming (‘stringing in the rain’ probably).

However, on our arrival at Edinburgh airport the story was given a further twist when Rob texted to say that Steve Minton had briefly seen a Black-throated Thrush perched on the wall by the roses after we left! This gave rise to a variation on the ‘two bird theory’: presumably we had initially seen a Black-throated Thrush, then wrongly assumed that the Ring Ouzel which flew out was the bird we’d been watching and that therefore we'd made a mistake. But in yet another twist there’s strangely no mention of it on his blog, so I’m wondering whether he now isn’t sure what he saw either. Unless it reappears somewhere, it’s probably best forgotten about really, whilst remembering in future that the bird that flies out of the bush isn’t necessarily the bird you were watching in the bush!

Anyway, thrush stringing aside, the holiday list finished on an untidy 98, two more than last year, although the quality this year was in an altogether different league. Total haul for the 12 days was 7 BB rarities of 6 species: Taiga Flycatcher, Lanceolated Warbler, Red-flanked Bluetail, Western Bonelli's Warbler, Spotted Sandpiper and 2 Arctic Redpolls. Scarce migrants consisted of: Short-toed Lark, 2 Little Buntings, 2 Bluethroats, 2 Common Rosefinches, Ring-necked Duck and about 15 Yellow-browed Warblers. Of course, the latter aren't really scarce any more, but I'm old enough to remember when they were, so they still feel like something good when you see one.

Had I been so inclined, I could have had another two ticks: Veery and Blyth's Reed Warbler, of which there were at least three twitchable individuals. And without even going to any other islands we could also have seen at least 3 Pechora Pipits, 3 Olive-backed Pipits and 3 Arctic Warblers.

In terms of numbers of good birds, this was my best Shetland trip ever, the only disappointment being that we found absolutely nothing ourselves. Although there have been over 50 BB rarities in Shetland since the beginning of October, for some strange reason hardly any were in south Mainland where we were based. And it wasn't just us – the area has been pretty well covered, but no-one else has found much either, the honourable exception being Steve Minton with the Lancy at Scatness.

I have no idea why south Mainland hasn't produced the goods this autumn – the weather has looked perfect several times, but each time there has been nothing here and rarities a-plenty further north. It just goes to show that you never can tell with rare birds. In 2007 everything was down here and there was very little further north. Maybe next time it will be the other way round again. And we’ll probably be going to central Mainland every day...

1 comment:

beast said...

Bit of a bastard 'that' thrush eh?!
Fuckin annoying when that sorta thing happens...but...goes with 'the territory'....[would have been a nice 'parting gift' as well]...!
Shed loadza thrushes locally now...500 plus redwing on/over local patch...bout 50 odd fieldfare...n quite a few blackbirds, some of which may be of continental origin. No black throated thrushes tho....wotta surprise...!

Over-all tho i guess you saw some quality birds on not a bad 'session' was it?!