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Siberian Thrush 6th October 2016, Uyeasound, Unst, Shetland

Posted by Brydon Thomason on Tuesday 22nd November 2016 | Birding in Shetland

Siberian Thrush. Photo by Richard Somers Cocks.

A finders account by one of this year’s clients, Anthony Griffiths who had chosen this year to be his first year to experience Shetland in autumn…

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in natural history and Birding in particular. As the years have passed I have become more keen on seeing and even more so, in finding, rare birds.

I have long dreamed of visiting the fabled Shetland Isles, especially in October, to witness autumn migration at its best. This was the year that I managed it for the first time, but it certainly will not be the last.

I chose Shetland Nature to be my guides for this trip as I share the ethos of the company to group find birds by well organised searches of any suitable habitat across the islands rather than simply chasing after other peoples finds.

We had had an excellent start to our trip encountering several Shetland specialities including a fantastic  Lanceolated and Blyths Reed Warblers on our first day.

We then had a ‘Thrushtastic’ afternoon on Fetlar with an amazing White’s and a very confiding Swainson’s Thrushes within a mile of each other!!

On the 6th October we were on Unst all day. We  started at the valley of Norwick where there was a steady, significant movement of common thrushes and finches, (mostly Bramblings) streaming down the valley all morning along with Goldcrests in every bush, certainly a very promising start to the day!

We then spent an hour or so wading through the boggy fields below Norwick trying to flush the Great Snipe that had been present there for several days. We did flush a heavy bird with heavily marked underparts but had frustratingly brief views.

Sadly the day then went a little quiet, but only for a while! We dipped Common Rosefinch at Haroldswick and the long staying Hornemanns Arctic Redpoll at Clingera.

Looking for a bird to keep the day moving we headed to Uyeasound where a Barred Warbler had been reported as ‘showing well’, not  a comment you hear relating to this species very often! When we arrived we met a birder who was just leaving who told us where it was last seen, it was sunbathing on a bush in one of the few large gardens in the Hamlet. Sadly, however, by the time we got there, of course there was no sign!

The group spread out to search for it and we were soon joined by 2 other teams of birders and there were soon around 15 of us searching the gardens and fields of Uyeasound. After about 1/2 hour we were starting to feel that we had missed our chance. I had been chatting with Howard Vaughan and David Bradnum, 2 members of a team that we had already bumped into several times during the week. We had just started to spread out again when a moderate sized thrush shot past first Howard and then myself and we could immediately see the unmistakable black and white underwing of a thrush of Siberian origin which instantly set the adrenaline flowing as any member of this group would be a superb find on Shetland, or anywhere in the UK for that matter!

Howard initially shouted “Whites!!!!’ as he had seen the spotted underparts but something didn’t feel right as the bird wasn’t big enough. It then flew directly over David and a few others where it briefly alighted on a tree and they could clearly see the very bold eye stripe and the shouts from the side of the house were very loud and very clear, ‘SIBERIAN, its definitely a  SIBERIAN!!!!’

The bird then rocketed back round the house, back over Howard and myself across a small field and dived into a large Rosa bush in a very small back garden of a terrace house by the harbour.

I had, fortunately, unclipped my Camera and managed to fire off a series of shots as it flew across the field, more in hope than expectation, that I would capture any usable shots but I was delighted to review them once the bird had taken refuge in the Rosa and see that, although they were never going win any prizes,  I had somehow managed to get a few shots that were able to confirm the identification. The black and white underwing pattern was clear, as was the very bold supercilium and it was also possible to see the dark blue upperparts indicating that the bird was a first winter male.

Once all the birders in our group and the other ‘teams’ had gathered, at a reasonable distance from the garden, our first aim was to get the news out to allow the other birders on Unst to connect with ‘our’ bird. As there was only about an hours light left it was going to be very difficult for anybody not already on Unst to connect that night. The main problem was that nobody had any mobile reception, fortunately though somebody managed to jump onto a local wifi connection and the news was out! The grape vine obviously went into full flow as it was only a few minutes before cars started to speed into the Hamlet with birders pouring out well before the wheels had stopped!

After a short while of staking out the garden it popped up onto the fence for just long enough for me to take a couple of shots before it flew out of the garden and out over the bay at, which time we thought it would carry on and be lost but it obviously thought better of it and did a turn and shot back into its new favourite garden, promptly vanishing back into the Rosa. It soon came out again and landed in view by the large warehouse where some of our group managed much better shots than I had managed of the bird on the ground in full view, these were the real ‘money’ shots showing all the salient identification features ( apart from ‘that’ underwing!)

It continued to show on and off in ‘its’ garden for all up until dusk.

We hung around for a while, getting more views of the bird and just generally soaking up the atmosphere of  being part of the finding of such rare bird. This (assuming it is accepted) was only be the 10th record for the British isles!

It is such a great feeling to be able to see the anxious faces of red faced birders running to the site turn into huge grins as they catch that first sight of a new bird.

What an incredible end to yet another magnificent day on Shetland, Gary Drove us back to our accommodation, the bus was a mix of stunned silence and euphoria.

Once back at the hotel we soon found ourselves in the bar, toasting the day with a pint or 2 of the local brew!

Sadly there was no sign the following morning, we reckoned that somewhere around 50 birders managed to see the Thrush on that Thursday evening.

Many thanks to the great organization of Shetland nature, our excellent guide ( Gary Bell) and to whoever managed to arrange for such productive Siberian Easterly airflow for the whole of our trip, continuing for the whole of October resulting it what must surely go down as one of the best Octobers for Eastern rarities on record. Not a bad year to pick for my first trip to Shetland, and to coin a phrase…….I’ll be back!

Anthony Griffiths