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Rough-legged Buzzard(s) – a double whammy!

Posted by Brydon Thomason on Wednesday 5th January 2011 | Birding in Shetland

With 2010’s influx of Rough-legged’s in Britain in late autumn/winter my enthusiasm to find one for myself (having never found one) was peaking and given there had already been a few, I was fairly sure I could be in with a chance. I had made several trips up the very rough track to Valla Field (a distinct advantage of driving a Freelander!) and Saxavord and other similar sites on Unst since late October as I figured they were fairly likely RLB sites although Snowy Owl and Gyr are also on my radar for these sites.

Persistence at last paid off when on the 29th of December my luck was in and soaring along the very wild and rugged West facing rocky hill side of Valla Field was a stunning Rough-legged Buzzard. How perfectly placed it looked in such a beautifully remote and dramatic landscape. Two days later I took my wife Vaila and one year old son Casey along and enjoyed good but distant views, all except wee Casey of course who slept through the whole encounter!

Rough-legged Buzzard, montage, December 29th 2010.

The sheer rocky ridge along the west facing hill (not at all dissimilar to the Arctic landscapes they are so at home in) which drops down to a flat and fairly green plateau called Collister which is scattered with small lochens and old ruined crofts which overlook the oceanic Atlantic horizon to the West. It is undoubtedly one of my favourite places in Shetland with its stark beauty well out of view of any main roads.

It was here that I was drawn to for my New Year’s Day walk (which is something of a personal tradition). Having walked the hills which lead to the North I had been slightly disappointed not to have seen the Rough-legged and continued down to Collister. To my surprise I met the Buzzard drifting north as I continued south along the cliff-tops.

I hurried across to the foot of the hills where I watched it gain height and begin to soar and glide in the up-drafts. But hold on a second I thought to myself as watched on in disbelief through my trusty Zeiss 10×42’s, a second bird drifted into my field of view, there was two of them!! I couldn’t and for a second didn’t believe my own eyes, two Rough-legged Buzzards together. I had ended the year by finding one only days before in 2010 and I began the year of 2011 by finding another, an RLB double whammy- happy New Year indeed!