Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Another trip to Shetland and another Siberian Accentor

Almost three weeks ago I sat composing a blog post about what had been going on here on the smallholding. I wanted to get it published before I headed off to Shetland. I was just about to put the finishing touches to it when hot bird news had me heading North unexpectedly early, not to Shetland but to the Outer Hebrides. From there it was straight onto Shetland for my annual 9 days of rarity hunting (covered in my last post). Then the long drive back to the farm. Within a minute of arriving back there was news of another bird on Shetland.
I spent three days back on the farm before the lure of that Black-faced Bunting had me driving back up to Aberdeen airport, back on the plane and onto the ferry to the Isle of Bressay.

I never quite got round to finishing that smallholding blog post.

Back on Shetland

Unlike the previous week, the weather on Shetland was more in keeping with what might be expected, cold and windy. This made the bunting, a ridiculously flighty bird at the best of times, extremely difficult to locate. Eventually, after two hours, we got a sighting as it flew away and alighted on the bottom of a gate about 100m away. Brief scope views were had by all before the bird disappeared again and we were back to square one of the search.
Over the next three hours the bird led us a right merry dance, giving just fleeting glimpses in flight, usually heading away low over the fields. There were just four of us searching a large area. Eventually we pinned it down in a ditch and I managed a good view through the telescope for all of about two seconds.
No. It's not in this picture.
At this point, after 5 hours, we decided to call it a day and head back over to Shetland Mainland.
A curry and a bed in a birder's house finished the day off nicely. The list is now on 516.

Next day it was out into the field again, for our ferry was not until the evening. Every time we told the locals we were off on the ferry tonight, they chuckled and wished us good luck! For we would be heading through a south-easterly gale which would probably dump a load more rare birds onto Shetland and have us heading back up in a few days.

Highlight of the day was Dan finding a Red-flanked Bluetail in Kergord plantation. A decade ago this would have been MEGA, but we now get double figures every year. Still a good bird to find, but not one which has anybody jumping onto aeroplanes.
Come the evening we bade farewell to Dan and boarded the ferry for our 12 hour crossing. We were issued a weather warning card and given the choice whether we wanted to take the crossing or not. We had little choice and I just prayed I wouldn't feel ill.

Just 20 minutes after we set sail and people were already being sick! The boat was lifting and falling, leaving you feeling weightless one minute before crashing down through the waves. We opted not to eat but to get our heads down and sleep it out.

My sleep was a very interrupted one, but I was just pleased not to be feeling any ill effects. In fact it was quite fun, like a rollercoaster crossed with the log flume.
At some point I fell into a deeper sleep and was awoken by the captain announcing that the restaurant was open for breakfast and that we would be arriving on time. We were now within the calm waters of Aberdeen harbour.

We just had the 450 mile drive home to do now, so we opted to take the East coast route down the A1 to put us in prime position for any new rare birds arriving. A stop at Torness power station gave us a Yellow-browed Warbler, Pallas's Warbler and a Great Grey Shrike as well as bushes full of commoner migrants. I met an elderly gentleman who had last seen a Yellow-browed Warbler in 1948 on Fair Isle. He must have been one of the original pioneers. Further south and we decided to head for Sunderland docks where a Siberian Accentor had been found the previous day.
Exactly a week ago one of these gorgeous birds had us abandoning our flight off Shetland. That was the first one ever to reach Britain.
How things have changed! As I write, we have now had FIVE and it looks as though we will get a few more yet. This bird is undergoing an unprecedented migration event. Never has such a mega rare bird become quite so common in such a short period of time.

The Sunderland Siberian Accentor was trickier to see than the one on Shetland, for it had bushes and trees to hide in, but we still saw it well. Unfortunately a Chiffchaff kept chasing it away. If you'd told me a week ago that I would have seen two of these and driven past another, I'd have laughed at you.

As for that post about what's been happening on the smallholding, I'll get onto it right now. I just need to get safely through to the end of the week and it's half term. I'll have 11 days to zoom around the country chasing birds. Odds are it'll be quiet. At least if it is I'll be able to catch up with all the work that needs doing on the farm.

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