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Bobolink, Brake, South Mainland, Shetland – 28/10/2012

Posted by Roger Riddington on Wednesday 14th November 2012 | Birding in Shetland

In 2012, late October proved to be easily the best bit of the month in Shetland, although after Chestnut-eared Bunting, Siberian Rubythroat and Pied Wheatear, things looked to be settling down as November approached.

On Sunday 28th October, Paul Harvey and I were having a thrash round a few of our favourite spots at the south end of Shetland, focusing on weedy areas that might offer up a Hornemann’s Arctic Redpoll. Tree Sparrow, Lapland Bunting, Goldfinch were all nice birds for Shetland but not quite what we were looking for.

Mid afternoon, on a lovely day, we were ambling along the road at Brake, not really expecting anything exciting, but suddenly, Paul (who was ahead of me) turned and said: ‘get over here, quickly!’. I scuttled across to where he was standing and he said: ‘something yellow just dropped in with the sparrows…’. Whatever it was wasn’t showing; we stood there for a half a minute and then it popped up on the fence alongside a few sparrows, We could see it only through a big clump of dead grass but to be honest it was pretty clear that it was a Bobolink!

I got my camera out and fired off 20 or so shots, the bird still obscured by grass. The pics were not great but sufficient to get the record through. We hadn’t really moved at this point, and were just debating how best to approach it for less obscured views when it flew off, strongly, to the north and disappeared completely! That was something we hadn’t bargained for. I set off after it, Paul stayed put. After a good 20 minutes or more I got back to the farm with no sign of the bird. All we could do was hope it came back; remarkably, after another 20 minutes or so, it did just that, appearing on a five-bar gate 20 m from us, calling softly – an amazing call, that sounded like a distant coughing sheep!

It soon vanished again but reappeared ten minutes or so later when it was seen by most of the dozen or more people who turned up to twitch it, before disappearing again one last time.

Roger Riddington