Late To The Party

I’ve not blogged in the past, but having got involved with creative writing about nature over the last year I’ve decided to set something up where I can share this as well as bird and wildlife news and views.

I may as well start with something of wider interest. In mid October I went to Out Skerries on Shetland. It had been a generally uninspiring season for visiting birders, and marooning myself on the tiny islands of Bruray and Housay put me in all or nothing territory. If the birding is slack on ‘Skerries’ I’ve made some good friends over the years, particularly the Anderson family whose Ty Mara house I stay in.

I arrived on Friday 15 October, a bit delayed due to ferry disruption. It was a squally breezy kind of day and other than hearing a Snow Bunting there wasn’t much to report. On the Saturday despite an unpromising weather synopsis a Red-breasted Flycatcher popped up on the roof and in the garden of the Hughson family at Nampara. Unfortunately I was on the way to the shop and left my camera at the flat and it was never seen again. After Steak Night with the islanders in the village hall that night my attention was focused on the forecast south easterlies coming up. Would they deliver?

Fast forward to Monday and they certainly delivered. There were hundreds of thrushes carpeting the island, as well as lots of Brambling and dotted among these a few Goldcrests. I put the hours and miles in hoping the biggie was out there. It was an absorbing day but I was kicking myself that I didn’t find anything good, though nothing was coming through anywhere else on Shetland either.

Tuesday morning the wind was beginning to veer away from ideal and hope was beginning to sour into frustration. Even news of a Hume’s Warbler at Boddam on the Mainland didn’t improve my spirits as stuff often filters through undetected for a day or two whereas there are few real hiding places on Skerries.

Redwing and Fieldfare were scattering at fairly long range and I mused as to how I would ever pick anything out if there was a rare bird on the isles. Walking the length of the defunct Skerries airstrip I got my answer when a stonking golden bird with striking wing patterns overtook me. I instantly knew what it was, a White’s Thrush from Siberia. I prayed it would stop as it was heading for uninhabited Grunay and the North Sea beyond. To my great relief it u-turned around me and landed on the hillside to my left, imaginatively known as Hillside.

I fumbled my camera into operation. I took half a dozen long range pictures, the first one is bloody awful and with hindsight I think it was because I was shaking. And then it flew east and I never saw it again, come to that neither did anybody else. I shared the image with Nick Addey, who I’ve shared time on Skerries with before and who’d left the week before. I won’t share with you the expletives I accompanied the pictures with.

White’s Thrushes are probably on the increase in Western Europe. They remain rare however and they are one of the most charismatic of the Siberian vagrants Skerries specialises in. It made my year, and two months on it still brings a smile to my face.

The best I managed with the superzoom bridge camera
Probably still shaking a bit at this point!

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