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Red-flanked Bluetail

Posted by Rory Tallack on Friday 15th October 2010 | Birding in Shetland

As a relative newcomer to birding, this autumn has challenged my ability more than any other.  The Skyes’s Warbler in August was closely followed by some particularly problematic identifications in the forms of Blyth’s Reed and Paddyfield Warblers.

A few weeks later and I was beginning to feel as though I was not far from being ‘all birded out!’ However with Will Miles back in Shetland after three weeks on Fair Isle and October only half way through, I knew my autumn wasn’t over just yet…
After a quick ‘Izzy Shrike’ twitch we arrived at Troswick where Will’s girlfriend was staying temporarily.  It was getting close to dark so birding was far from my mind and with Sarah only 20m away, it was even further from Will’s.  As I turned off the engine I thought I saw something move out of the corner of my eye.  “Was that a warbler?” I asked.  “Not sure, but it’s just landed on the fence there”.  About 5m from the car a bird was sat on a wire fence.  In this light, even at such close range, ‘bird’ was about as much as we could work out.  We both lifted our bins.  It was facing us, clearly showing off pale underparts, orangey flanks and a pale eye-ring.  “Good gosh, Will, I do believe it’s a Bluetail”, I exclaimed (or words to that effect).  The look of disbelief on Will’s face suggested he had come to the same conclusion but he was unable to get anything resembling a word out. Twenty minutes later it was dark and despite shaking hands and next to no light I managed to get some identifiable footage of the bird (video grab above). Fifteen minutes later it was dark and the bird was never seen again.

I used to believe that the most satisfying finds are those which require thought or those which have been hard-earned after hours in the field.  This one, however, has made me think again – no effort, easily identified and perhaps my favourite find to date.

Although ‘Bluetail’ has in recent years become much more regular in Britain, any birder will surely agree that it still retains an element of that near mythical status it once had as a vagrant. This bird was one of up to a record breaking nine individuals in Shetland this autumn.

Rory Tallack