Fetlar’s Siberian Accentor finders account
Posted by Brydon Thomason on Tuesday 8th November 2016 | Birding in Shetland
Brydon Thomason, Micky Maher & Stef McElwee
1) Taken from the yard it ended up and looking out over the field we found it in, showing the ditch it came out of and the area to left where it foraged around in marshy area of rank grass. 2) The all important and only image we got of ours and; 3) the very obliging Lund Siberian Accentor, which stayed another two days longer than ours.
“Just wait till our one on Fetlar- maybe Weds/Thursday??” These were BHT’s exact words in an email to MAM on the evening of 23rd October about the Lund Siberian Accentor. Both had been genuinely thrilled for Dave Cooper for such a superb and well deserved find and had enjoyed a good old bit of congratulatory banter with him. As it was on Unst however there was the inevitable, all be it fleeting thoughts of ‘if only’ and that their chance to cash in on the Accentor extravaganza had been missed.
Fast forward to 26th when BHT and MAM teamed up with SJM, for a day’s birding on Fetlar. On the ferry over there was at least some effort made to manage our expectations to a realistic level. Ten minutes on the island however, having started at South Dale, off-the-wall predictions from the far east were already flying out thick and fast.
As we approached the main croft and yard of South Dale, SJM enthusiastically hit us with “Lads, do you know the one ‘Sibe’ we haven’t actually mentioned today but should be thinking? Siberian Accentor!” To which BHT replied “You know what, after seeing the Lund bird I actually had a feeling for that very species at the very croft we are approaching, thinking Fetlar could easily have one and that’s where it could be”!
As we laughed it off two buntings rose from the roadside verge and flew a short way into an ungrazed field. One landed on the fence, clearly a Reed but the second bird had not been seen, having landed in the rank grasses. We detoured into and across the field- alas a second Reed rose from cover and landed on the fence. We continued through the small field, following a shallow ditch towards the intended cover of the yard where nettles, reed canary grass and dockings awaited…
Seconds later and barely three or four minutes after the ‘Sibe Acc’ banter, from our feet rose a small passerine that was bizarrely familiar to us. It landed in the grass no more than 20 metres away but due to length of grass, we could see no more than its head- baring the crippling crown streaks and ear coverts of a species that this October has become so very familiar to us and fellow birders and rarity hunters all over Europe. It was a brief and tantalising view before it scurried out of sight between tussocks of grass- this was it, mega time- we were most definitely in!!!
We attempted to counsel each other as we stalked cautiously to one side in order to get a better view- and there it was, creeping around between tussocks of grass, in the middle of a random marshy field- a SIBERIAN ACCENTOR!! It was a surreal and overwhelmingly knee trembling moment as the three of us stood side by side totally stunned, almost in disbelief that there right in front of us in the field we had just walked through because of two Reed Buntings- was ‘our’ very own Sibe Acc!!!
The immediate expletives and outbursts are, as one might expect under the circumstances, perhaps best left unpublished! MAM was the first to think quickly and keep it together enough to mention to rule out Black-throated.
Further shimmying to get that final 100% certainty view culminated in a joint feeling of adrenalin fuelled euphoria that If we could have bottled up to sell we would be very rich men! We punched the air, struck high fives and lost control in a celebratory huddle-group jump around; for a brief moment completely unaware of how our outbursts might affect our newly found Siberian Prunella or look to passersby!
We tried so desperately to keep it together though not one of us able to curb the frenzied state we felt. We were only a few hundred yards from the car, where sat all three of our cameras! BHT sprinted across the fields, returning with even more haste.
Perhaps not surprisingly given the commotion, we worked the area but to no avail. A wider search saw BHT discover it just 50 or so yards away in the more likely habitat of lush nettles and dockings grown up around an old midden of the yard. It flicked up posing nicely on a docking stem, more or less in full view but in typical docking stem/stand style, the auto focus jumped from stem to stem for a brief second before picking up the Acc- one in-focus frame and it flit back down into cover. This single photograph of the bird was to prove to be priceless- no other images were taken.
As we gathered around the area of cover in the yard by the old midden, we briefly ogled the single image nailed, again celebrated with gratuitous high fiving and back slaps, then moved cautiously closer. We presumed that like the other four Sibe Acc’s we’d seen between us already in the previous days/weeks that it would show intermittently as it scurried around amongst cover and show well at times- to our shock however, this was not to be the case! It flew out from the nettles but instead of darting into adjacent cover or perching, it flew off strongly and quite high northwards towards the next croft. It continued several hundred yards before seemingly descending towards it. That, unfortunately was the last we were to see of it despite pretty intense searching of any suitable nearby habitat.
There are so many elements that come together and make the discovery of rare birds so special and for none more so than the finders. It may be how rare the bird actually is; the chain of events or circumstances which led to it; how hard it was worked for or any number of others- maybe even the location or who you are with and the team spirited effort involved. For us and in this instance it was all these and especially the latter. We couldn’t have picked a better crew nor island to find it on.
Up to the date this was posted a staggering 212 Siberian Accentors had been recorded in Europe, 12 of which in Britain, ours being the 10th. It is widely expected that more will be added to this monumental figure. Quite a winter target bird for your local patch perhaps?
An interesting extract from Dutch Birding; Siberian Accentor breeds on both sides of the Ural mountains and beyond in Siberia, mostly north of the Arctic Circle. Its winter grounds are in eastern Asia: from southern Manchuria, Korea and Japan to central China. In autumn, it is also frequently recorded as a straggler in Alaska, USA. In Europe, there were c 32 records up to 2015, of which more than half in Finland and Sweden.
Book launch: Otters in Shetland – The tale of the draatsi
Posted by Brydon Thomason on Tuesday 1st December 2015 | News, Otters
At last – after years of planning and the inevitable blood sweat and tears endured with such a huge project, it is finally here and the story of Shetlands otters is communicated through our book Otters in Shetland – The tale of the draatsi.
As it is for anyone who puts their heart and soul into writing a book, especially one on a subject so special and emotive to them, we are immensely pleased and equally proud of this project.
With a gap of over 20 years since anything was published on Shetlands otters it was really important to us to tell their full story and bridge a gap between a science-based reference book and a photographic story-telling book.
From beginning to end the story flows with each and every page and chapter leading into the next; from the Islands and geography; the foundations of the food chain; how they live on the coast through to family life and so on. We also bring in fascinating interviews with Shetlanders who many years ago once hunted them for the fur trade which offers a unique insight into mans relationship in the isles both past and present.
Through our time photographing otters we have captured and documented many, in fact most aspects of their lives and in doing so have created a unique portfolio of images. Incorporated into the informative captions, which accompany these images we bring in the fascinating scientific research from Dr Hans Kruuk, a world leading authority on otters, who we were truly privileged to have write the foreword and to receive such praise from him is a hugely gratifying commendation to us.
Our publisher, The Shetland Times said in their recent press release: “The book has been gaining plaudits from experts in the field of wildlife and photography weeks even before its release date” and then went on to quote Hans Kruuk and wildlife cameraman Doug Allan.
Here’s a couple of extracts from the foreword by DR Hans Kruuk:
“…With all this, the authors make a large contribution to conservation, not just of otters but of the entire coastal ecosystem. Conservation is served by the simple statement of the beauty of the animals in the context of science and natural history, as well as by the detailed explanation of exactly what otters need to survive.
“The reader is made aware of the otters’ hardships in terms of exposure to cold waters, of the need to catch prey quickly as well as keeping their fur clean to keep out the cold – for which they need the many small sources of fresh water along the Shetland coast (which, incidentally, are almost absent in places where otters are few, such as Orkney or the Scottish east coast).
“The book is a thoughtful object of beauty, of otters, and of the Shetland coasts. The authors should be immensely proud of this great effort”.
Wildlife cameraman Doug Allan:
“This is a lovely book that deserves to be on the shelf of any Shetland visitor, or anyone who loves the wild outdoors. Sensitively but informatively written, illustrated by images that could only have been taken by photographers who clearly love, respect and understand their subject and the location. “Shetland should be grateful that there are people with the passion, tenacity and skills of Brydon and Richard, who’ve truly captured the wonder of Shetland’s best loved mammal”.
TV wildlife presenter Iolo Williams:
“Brydon Thomason and Richard Shucksmith have produced a gem of a book which brings the story of otters on Shetland right up to date. Visually, it is stunning, but it is also packed full of information on the ecology and history of this most charismatic of British mammals. Whether you are a fan of otters, a follower of British wildlife or a lover of beautiful books, this is a must for your reading list”.
Details of the book
The book, in hardback only costs £28.00 and is available to order through our publisher here or through us following the official launch date of 12th December.
In total we tell the story of Otters in Shetland through 35,931 words, 276 pages and just over 220 photographs.
We hope you like it!
Brydon Thomason and Richard Shucksmith
Book review: Discover Shetland’s Birds
Posted by Brydon Thomason on Friday 27th November 2015 | Reviews
There are few years that pass without exciting new publications being written about Shetland. We are so very fortunate here to have such an fantastically rich, renowned and fascinating cultural as well as natural heritage. It might be surprising then that since the late Bobby Tulloch published A Guide to Shetland’s Breeding Birds in 1992, such a sought after guide hadn’t been updated for over two decades. Of course The Birds of Shetland, published in 2004 was an outstanding but very different book.
Clearly a photographic guide was well over due and the recently published Discover Shetland’s Birds: A Photographic Guide to Shetland’s Breeding, Wintering and Migrant Birds has gone way beyond expectations to bridge that gap. Published by ‘Shetland Heritage Publications’ the guide concentrates on about 180 of the 450 species recorded in Shetland. With this the authors Paul Harvey and Rebecca Nason target the species visitors are most likely to see throughout the seasons in the Isles.
Few are better placed to write such a book. Both authors are widely respected ornithologists but the collaboration of Paul’s outstanding in-depth knowledge of the islands birds and Rebecca’s gifted artistic approach to her photography has come together to achieve much more than a field guide. Indeed its physical size and shape wouldn’t really be practical to have in the car or in your rucksack but so engaging and beautifully put together it is that you simply wouldn’t want to take it out the house!
What they have achieved with this book is a modern and simple approach to a bird ID guide that anyone from a garden birdwatcher, lover of wildlife or even the experienced birder can enjoy and learn from. The book begins by introducing the islands birds through from the breeding; wintering and migration season. The focus is then systematically on over 150 main species that are most likely to be seen. Each of these is covered in depth, from how to identify and key features to look for, with images covering different plumages, through to an eye catching and easy to use colour-coded calendar bar to show the months to see them. There are even a few of the scarcer and rarer species to look for, compared alongside the common counterparts.
Following the systematic species guide, which is obviously the main body of the book, they cover a very useful insight and guide into Shetlands birding hotspots and where to watch birds.
Without reservation this is a book that I am thrilled to recommend and to own a copy of myself, which several weeks after receiving I am still lifting off the shelf to enjoy or show friends!
The book is £19.99 in paperback and also available in hardback at £24.99 and can be ordered through Rebecca’s website or the Shetland Heritage Shop.
Shetland 2015: Autumn Birding Review – In association with Birdwatch Magazine
Posted by Brydon Thomason on Monday 16th November 2015 | Birding in Shetland, News
As Shetland becomes ever more popular in autumn, high expectations hang over the magical Northern Isles for what the winds may bring. So well placed is the archipelago that even without favourable wind and weather the isles will usually still manage to deliver. This year’s prime-time weeks in late September and early October were a classic example of this.
These migrant birding holidays always begin with optimism and anticipation and indeed with the Quendale Thick-Billed Warbler (successfully twitched with a guest from a previous tour) and then finding a nice Blyth’s Reed Warbler the day before the trips began, leader Chris Rodger knew anything was possible, despite a not-so-promising long-term forecast.
In a systematic ‘trip-list style summary’ he rounds up the highlights.
- National rarities: Swainson’s Thrush, Pechora Pipit, Pallid Harrier and Arctic Warbler.
- Regional rarities: Blyth’s Reed Warbler, American Golden Plover.
- Scarcities: Red-breasted Flycatcher, Red-backed and Great Grey Shrikes, Little Bunting, Common Rosefinch and Bluethroat.
- Self-found by the group: Richard’s Pipit, Bluethroat and numerous Yellow-browed Warblers.
The evocative sight and sound of Whooper Swans arriving from Iceland was a regular feature, along with migratory movement of many Pink-footed and Barnacle Geese overhead on their journey south. On the sea, Long-tailed Duck numbers seemed to swell by the day, with Velvet Scoter and Slavonian Grebe also enjoyed. In addition to the many Red-throated Divers, some Great Northern Divers still retained stunning summer plumage. A fine drake Greater Scaup was seen at Loch of Norby.
Raptors (and owls)
Undoubtedly the star bird of prey was the juvenile Pallid Harrier, seen coming to roost at Northdale, Unst. Hen Harrier, Peregrine and Short-eared Owl were less frequent than the many migrant Kestrels, Sparrowhawks and Merlins, which were particularly numerous this autumn.
Waders to doves
As is true to form on previous Shetland autumn birding trips, Nearctic waders were sure to feature and this year came in the form of a ‘classic’ juvenile American Golden Plover, which really stood out among the European ‘Goldies’ at Sandwick. Many Jack Snipe were seen – mostly rising from marshes and often almost from underfoot, but some particularly obliging birds at Lambaness froze to the spot to show at close range their beautiful cryptic plumage. A smattering of migrant waders included Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, Knot, a late Eurasian Whimbrel and the always ubiquitous and subtly different ‘Icelandic’ (faeroeensis) Snipe. White-winged gulls were incredibly scarce this year on Shetland, though Arctic Terns and one Common Tern lingered for the group to see. An adult European Turtle Dove at Haroldswick was well scrutinised to eliminate meena Oriental Turtle Dove.
Pipits to thrushes
A self-found Richard’s Pipit at Lambaness was a highlight for the group, schreeping for Scotland as it bounded across Lambaness and a good example of quality scarce migrants that feature as team self-finds to add that extra gratification. This was the first of several seen. A ‘tiger-striped’ Pechora Pipit, twitched at Norby, eventually yielded to give excellent views as it crept through the irises. A combination of its genuine rarity value, Shetland speciality status and confiding nature ensured this was a firm favourite of the week. Braving gale force wind and rain on Unst, a female Yellow Wagtail was found by the group as was a Bluethroat, discovered hunkered down in a ditch at Burrafirth – if ever proving that ‘you have to be in it to win it’, no matter what the weather! Another fine Bluethroat was enjoyed feeding at close quarters at Quendale.
Undoubtedly a highlight came in the form of a Swainson’s Thrush on Unst – a superb end to the first full day of the trip. After a mad dash from literally the opposite end of Shetland, the group had to endure perhaps the most suspenseful wait in fading light for the bird to hop out from under some fishery crates in the yard of a shop! Hop out it did, revealing the lovely buff face and eyering and subtle underparts spotting, and it even gave a close fly-by to show off its underwing stripe. This was a tick for all bar one of the group, who also saw one with our Shetland Nature autumn birding group on Unst last year!
Warblers and crests
Perhaps the group that forms the major attraction for rarity-hunters on Shetland, warblers – a common and rare alike – were relatively thin on the ground this autumn. Despite this, the group did see a Blyth’s Reed Warbler (which had been found by Chris the day before the trip started) and several Barred Warblers. An Arctic Warbler was a rarer highlight; the group missed this bird on Unst, when it disappeared on the day it lost its tail. However, we caught up with what must surely have been the same bird several days later when a tail-less Arctic Warbler was found in central Mainland. To be fair, Yellow-browed Warblers didn’t disappoint this autumn – amazingly by far the most frequent warbler, but very much still a joy to see. As ever, the Shetland autumn trip allowed the comparison of side-by-side Common and Siberian Chiffchaffs. A personal favourite were the mornings when Shetland is seemingly awash with tiny Goldcrests – mass landfall of these wee 5-gram waifs signal ‘birds in!’.
Flycatchers to buntings
Both groups enjoyed three species of flycatcher, including some very confiding, and always photogenic, Red-breasted Flycatchers. Both Red-backed and Great Grey Shrikes were seen on Unst. Of the finches, Bramblings added colour while redpolls, although surprisingly scarce in the islands this autumn, encouraged ID discussion. A most impressive sight was a flock of 200 very confiding Snow Buntings, swirling all around us like an avian snowstorm on the wild windswept headland of Lambaness. A scarcity that we can usually look forward to throughout the Shetland is Common Rosefinch, which this year was hard won but eventually added to the trip list, unlike a Lapland Bunting which fed virtually at our feet. Of the scarcer buntings, a nice bright Little Bunting on Fetlar was timed well, found by fellow SN team members Micky and Brydon on the same day we were all on the isle. Perhaps a commoner example of the many Shetland scarcities to end on, but it does leave tantalising thoughts for what the review might start with for next year’s Shetland Autumn Birding trips!
Shetlands otters featuring on ‘Grand Tour of The Scottish Islands’
Posted by Brydon Thomason on Tuesday 13th October 2015 | News, Otters, TV Appearances
There is literally not a year that passes that The Shetland Islands are not featured on television networks throughout the United Kingdom and beyond. Regularly featuring on many of these and helping to promote how special Shetland is is something we are always very proud of indeed.
Having already worked with the BBC Springwatch crew earlier this year we were delighted to be approached by BBC Scotland to work with the Grand Tour of The Scottish Islands film crew to feature otters on their program. Overall the show was really good and showed an interesting diversity of life on the isles, made more so especially by Cheryl Jamieson of Glansing Glass, Andrew Magnie Thomson, Rhoda Hughson and Les and Joanne on Fetlar.
To watch the program on BBC iPlayer you can view here or you can see the short piece posted by BBC Scotland of us with the otters here.
The crew were really fantastic to work with; presenter Paul Murton, producer Kathryn Ross, cameraman Richard Cook and sound man Richard Paterson. As well as being really on the ball they were also great fun which helped phase the on-camera tension I always get when being filmed! On the day I was joined by Josh Jaggard which was a real bonus, having his sharp eyes helped to keep track of the family whilst we were filming, which relieved at least some of the pressure and help us get the footage we did.
We were thrilled to spend the several hours with a mother and her two cubs, throughout which enjoyed some really lovely behaviour from affectionate family group huddles to action packed foraging and feeding sessions.
With the weather in our favour, the otters performing and a thoroughly successful shoot, we couldn’t have asked for more. Read more about the otter tours we do here.
More from the BBC’s popular ‘Grand Tour of The Scottish Islands’ here.
Shetland Nature at Rutland Birdfair
Posted by Brydon Thomason on Thursday 20th August 2015 | News
Just a brief note to say that we are looking forward to attending and exhibiting at the British Birdwatching Fair, 21st – 23rd August, and that we very much looking forward to seeing friends, associates and anyone keen to know more about Shetland.
We are on stand 14 in marquee 3. Please do call by if you are there.
In the spirit of supporting the fair and fund raising for conservation causes we have donated a self catered stay in our Shetland Nature Lodge, which they are putting forward to the auction.
Also we will be updating blogs etc on our return next week with round ups on what we are delighted has been our busiest season so far.
2015 Season’s Summary So Far
Posted by Brydon Thomason on Friday 19th June 2015 | News
Well what a start to our 2015 core holiday season it has been, barely half way through and it has already been truly remarkable.
We have holidays running each week from late May through to mid August and each one has been full, which is something we are really thankful for and indeed excited by. In fact the only holidays left with spaces on, both outside the ‘core season’ and they too are limited, is one of two Late Summer Experience (an additional August date due to first one selling out) and Shetland Autumn Birding. It’s actually been a busy year all round with one or two bespoke itineraries, particularly Otter Photography through winter into to spring, as well as day tours too. Each week we have day tours running too, along with holidays this can often see us with as many as five guides out in any one week- a huge thank you to each and every one, as we always say, we couldn’t run to the scale we do without the help and collaboration we are so lucky to have.
So, what have we/our guests been seeing? What haven’t we been seeing is maybe a better question to ask! With Killer Whale’s, Risso’s Dolphin, Harbour Porpoise and Minke Whale all having already been seen on trips, cetaceans have already been very well represented. On the birding front it has already been remarkable with rare and exotic spring visitors, scarce migrants, iconic breeding species and superb spectacles. The rare and exotic; Rustic Bunting, Subalpine Warbler, Golden Oriole, Hoopoe, Greenish Warbler (actually found by group), Great Reed Warbler, Bee-eater, both the Unst ‘small race’ Canada Geese not to mention multiple Icterine Warbler, Red-backed Shrike and Marsh Warbler. On one day alone one of our groups found two Icterine Warbler’s and four Red-backed Shrike! Where else but in Shetland!
And the otters, oh the otters! True to form we deliver a truly unique educational encounters with Shetlands otters. Over the range of experiences for guests we run, from one-to-one specialist photo assignments, day tours and bespoke Otter watching holidays and on all of these so we/the otters have certainly not disappointed. These images from Otter photography guests so far this season showcases the kind of encounters we deliver to our guests. We are also launching a new holiday dedicated to Otter’s in 2016 The Shetland Otter Watching Experience.
2016 holiday dates and departures
With so many superb highlights already logged for guests this season and Shetland featuring on screen on BBC Springwatch its worth pointing out that our 2016 dates were uploaded to our website recently and are already starting to fill.
Visit our blog for our latest news posts and what we have been up to. In particular we have enjoyed working with and being involved with two film crews. It was particularly exciting working with BBC Springwatch helping out in the field with local knowledge and also having our hides used for filming. Also we were delighted to work on another program, due to air later this year with BBC Scotland’s Grand Tour of The Scottish Islands who we worked on otters with and got some superb encounters with one of the families we are working on, more on that nearer the time…
So if you are due to travel with us, we very much look forward to welcoming you and making your visit as exciting and memorable as everyone’s so far has been- and if you are one of those guests, we thank you again for your company and custom!
Bonxie club site bathing hide
Posted by Brydon Thomason on Wednesday 10th June 2015 | Brydon's Shetland Nature Blog, News
Following on from the success and popularity with photographers in working from my one-man Bonxie bathing hide last year I set up a new larger hide at a much better location. Thanks to Josh Jaggard and the use of a quad and trailer from Duncan, it was not as back breaking a project as it would have been on my own.
The behavioural action at these loch-shore club sites offers some superb opportunities to photograph these superb skuas. Often there can be as many as 50, 60 or even more birds at any one time and often down to 5 to 10m from the hide. It is of course especially good for bathing birds but also there is frequent squabbles break out so plenty of action.
We were really pleased to have BBC Springwatch use both this and the Arctic Skua bathing hides whilst they were filming on Shetland. Wildlife cameraman Raymond Besant was particularly pleased with the footage he shot from it;
We were able to get fantastic footage with the help of Brydon Thomason and Josh Jaggard from Shetland Nature who showed us their best locations. The purpose built hide where Bonxies gather at bathing club site was especially great. I was barely in the hide when they started landing in front of me, just 5 meters away! I’m used to working in small cramped cold hides, so to sit in a chair in a warm dry comfortable hide was a real pleasure. Even more so as a group of 50 Bonxies displayed, washed and fought with each other allowing me all the shots I needed.Raymond Besantwww.raymondbesant.com
BBC Springwatch presenter
There is arguably nowhere better to photograph a portfolio of these awesome skuas than Unst. The island is home to the third largest colony in the world, set in some of the wildest and most breathtaking backdrops. Hermaness especially offers outstanding opportunities for photographers. Just on the outskirts of the colony on the National Nature Reserve is situated one of Britains most important and impressive seabird cliffs and colonies which provide the Bonxies with the larder they so desperately need for their own circle of life, to feed themselves and their chicks.
Here is an image gallery/profile of this brutal but very beautiful bird, the Bonxie:
Please contact us for tailored photo assignments and tours.