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A purple patch of good finds for the team

Posted by Brydon Thomason on Thursday 11th October 2012 | Birding in Shetland

Following relentless strong westerly winds towards the latter part of September, it seemed as if the winds would never change. Accompanying the Red-Eyed Vireo (which at the time of writing is in second place for bird of the year in Shetland, pipped to the post by the mega Magnolia Warbler on Fair Isle!), was a scattering of Pectoral Sandpipers which rewarded many hours in the field for a couple of the team. But often in Shetland during the rarity renowned last week of September, all it takes is a break in the weather, when the wind drops off completely and all is calm and you just know its game on! This was exactly how the weather systems appeared to fall into place from the 21st September…

As is so often the case, birding, or perhaps more so rarity hunting, is much more enjoyable and indeed productive as part of a team. This was certainly the case for myself and birding comrade Micky Maher over that week which saw us enjoy a nice run of good finds together including two Blyth’s Reed Warblers, a Booted Warbler as well as the Greenish Warbler at Norwick we found with our good friend Mr P, AKA Mike Pennington. However the Great-Reed Warbler they found at Norwick was a much rarer bird in autumn in Shetland, being only the third ever recorded in the isles in this season. They are normally more ‘on the radar’ in spring here. A good haul of at least five Little buntings were a nice little supporting cast throughout the week with Roger and Gary turning up two in the South Mainland. Funnily enough two of the three Micky and I found together were at the same sites of both the Booted Warbler and one of the Blyth’s Reeds!

With the finding of the Booted Warbler as we were pieceing together our first adrenalin fueled views, we could hear a buntings ‘tick’ call continually – we almost didn’t know where to look! But that is autumn in Shetland and just how it can often be. Crazy to think that a bird as gorgeous as a Little Bunting, (after landing on the fence to confirm it was not a species that might eclipse the Booted) can be so quickly dismissed! It was almost the exact same scenario a few days earlier when we were cautiously trying to ID the Blyths Reed at Halligarth next door to my house; a Little Bunting and a Hawfinch were both in the Sycamores above the roses it favoured!

On this same day as our Booted and just ahead of leading our Autumn Birding holidays, Martin Garner got into the grove of the Shetland action with Roger Riddington scoring with an Olive-Backed Pipit while Rory Tallack proved once again that birds can turn up any where in the isles by finding a Lanceoleted Warbler way out on the West side of Shetland’s Mainland. This was indeed quite a discovery for such a sought after North Isles speciality normally associated with smaller islands such as Fair Isle where it is renowned.

Moving into the end of the month the good fortune continued with Micky finding a superb Hornemann’s Redpoll with Pierre-Andre Crochet on Unst which along with a Pechora Pipit in the same area proved to be two extremely popular birds for visiting birders. Another popular and obliging rarity was the Spotted Sandpiper, initially found by Ryan Irvine and co-identified by Micky. Probably most popular of all and indeed rarest find was the Buff-Bellied Pipit found by Roger and perhaps best of all was that it was found by carrying out the once a month voluntary beached bird survey with his wife Agnes, a memorable Sunday outing indeed!!

For more of Shetland’s latest bird news (and to see all the other highlights from this amazing week) we recommend following our close friends at Nature in Shetland on facebook where you will also find link to their sightings page and website.

There is plenty of the autumn still to come, we hope our team finding purple patch continues!