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Promoting opportunities for young birders – with A Focus On Nature

Posted by Brydon Thomason on Thursday 23rd October 2014 | Birding in Shetland

This season we have been delighted to work with and support A Focus On Nature by offering them the prize of a week in Shetland birding in prime time autumn migration. They used the prize for their University Birdwatch Challenge competition, which we hosted over the first week of October. The two mustard keen young birders were David Hunter, (a 3rd year Zoology student at the University of Reading) and Amy Robjohns (a 2nd year Environmental Science student). Helping and supporting organisations such as AFON create and facilitate opportunities for young birders, naturalists and photographers is something we feel very important and are delighted be part of. Here Amy shares her experience of a week’s Shetland autumn birding with us…

David Hunter and Amy Robjohns

Summarising my recent trip to Shetland is tough as I had a wonderful time with fantastic memories. I’m really grateful to A Focus On Nature and Shetland Nature, as well as their sponsors including Swarovski Optic, Opticron and Wildsounds, for giving me such a great experience. I’d never really been up north before, so to get the chance to go birding on the northern most island in Britain (Unst) during prime time autumn migration has provided me with new experiences and unforgettable memories! I think the 31 lifers says it all, but it’s not all about the new birds. It was great to see mammals too – Otters and Grey & Common Seals – and to see just how different it is in Shetland.

Seeing Grey and Common Seals right outside Tesco in Lerwick was quite something, made even more amazing by the fact that we’d already seen Black Guillemots, a Siberian Rubythroat (Yes – a Siberian Rubythroat!!), Yellow-browed Warblers, Merlin… [the list could go on] and it wasn’t even 10am by the time we’d seen all this (and more) and done our weekly shop! This was all thanks to Rebecca Nason and Phil Harris, the SN team members who met us on arrival and gave us our first taste of the Islands. We had a great day with them, a lovely couple who certainly knew their birds!

Siberian Rubythroat. Photo by Rebecca Nason.

I was then still rather amazed that we continued to travel north… We’d already spent about 10 hours on a train and 14 hours on a ferry, yet there was still more land to cover! The scenery was also something I was struck by. It’s so beautiful, and more wild than down south. There are less trees too.

From Monday to Friday we birded mainly around Unst (the most northerly island in Britain) with Brydon, owner of Shetland Nature. It’s always a good experience to bird with experts and this was no different.  We saw a lot  – mostly common migrants for Shetland, but also some more unusual and scarce species such as a Great Grey Shrike, Bluethroat and Wryneck, oh and Blue Tits – which is bizarrely a rarity in the islands! We got to learn a lot of fieldcraft and improve our birding skills as well as seeing loads of birds.

Great-grey Shrike. Photo by Brydon Thomason.

While we were birding with Brydon, we found some good common migrants but it was the Olive-backed Pipit, a rarity from Siberia and a Black-throated Diver, a rarity on the islands, that was particularly exciting. The excitement of discovering, learning their identification, assessing features and how to separate them from commoner species were all parts which made finding birds so much better than twitching birds!

Olive-backed Pipit. Photo by Brydon Thomason.

We also got to visit Hermaness, the most northerly point in Britain which was great. Some Gannets were still breeding, and the Great Skuas were spectactular, especially when they flew really close to us!

Friday was probably one of my favourite days. It started with 2 Glaucous Gulls from the living room window, and then we were off to Fetlar. There we found a Barred Warbler, Black-throated Diver alongside a Red-throated Diver and just to make the day even better, had amazing views of Otters! After this, we then had another Olive-backed Pipit and a Siberian Stonechat. What a day!

Amy and David at Hermaness. Amy and David looking out to Muckle Flugga.

Saturday was our final day so we slowly made our way back towards Lerwick, birding as we went. This gave us a chance to explore Yell for a bit which was nice, and we got close up views of Scaup – one of many species I’d never seen before, and also Twite. We then finished the day and trip on an Eastern Bonelli’s Warbler. What a way to finish!

On our final day Brydon invited Logan Johnston, a very sharp eyed 15 year old local birder to join us which was really cool and interesting. Comparing notes from each others local patches was quite something!

On our final day Brydon invited Logan Johnston, a very sharp eyed 15 year old local birder to join us which was really cool and interesting. Comparing notes from each others local patches was quite something!

This trip was a great experience for me, especially as I’d rarely travelled up north, so was able to see species that are much less common in Hampshire which was wonderful. Birding with an expert also helped a great deal as I feel I’ve learnt a lot, particularly about fieldcraft which will come in handy for the future! In short, I’m very grateful to have been given the opportunity to go to Shetland and loved every minute of it!!

Amy Robjohns