Best Stays With Skerries Birds Part 4 – May 2014

Red-backed Shrike

I haven’t been doing a very good job of getting these done, and I am conscious the quality of the pictures in this one are a bit mixed but hopefully someone will enjoy reading this instalment.

Jane came on this trip and it was a lovely week weather wise. I particularly remember sunbathing on the shore on Housay one day, but all week was mild. Whilst rain is good for dropping birds it’s not essential somewhere like Skerries if light easterlies cause drift migration. That’s what happened and we had an excellent week.

Initially it was relatively quiet but a Wood Sandpiper on the burn provided some entertainment. This is one of only two I’ve ever seen on the isles.

A couple of days in birding began to pick up welcome pace, and this was headlined by a stonking male Rustic Bunting. Unfortunately I only saw it for a couple of seconds as it lifted out of the Heligoland iris bed, paused briefly on a drystone wall then headed off never to be seen again I thought. The lack of photographic evidence was frustrating, but other scarce migrants were a little more obliging.

Icterine Warbler playing hard to get
Another of the rather more obliging shrike
First summer male Common Rosefinch. I know it was a male because it was singing, and a first summer because it lacked any red at all. This continued an inability to this day to see a rose rosefinch…

On the 27th an acrocephalus warbler was in the garden next to where we were staying. For an acro on Skerries it was surprisingly easy to view, and this and the fact it wasn’t in the iris bed literally over the road made me think it wasn’t a Reed Warbler. Although it never sang, presumably because it was a female, I managed to excel myself and get enough images to clinch it as a Blyth’s Reed Warbler. This was just as they started to become regular, and it was still a national rarity at the time.

Promising early views
Clinching image including wing formula, note also the long bill and supercilium going back behind the eye
Showing the features above and lack of warm tones a Reed Warbler would have on the upperparts

On our last full day the weather was set fair again and in the early afternoon we went for walk round the isles. I flushed a small bird and then fumbled viewing it through the binoculars before losing it to view. I knew it was something good and was kicking myself for not clinching it. Fortunately the bird returned to the general area later and I was able to confirm it was an Ortolan Bunting.

Initial views on relocation
In the garden later

A couple bird watching were day tripping on the ferry. We showed them the Ortolan, when I mentioned the Rustic Bunting earlier in the week they said they had seen it near the nurse’s house. We went for a look, and the bird was extremely skittish but we saw it briefly on the ground near the hall and I managed this dodgy record shot:

Bold head pattern of a male just about visible

Rustic Buntings can be surprisingly elusive, and the Shetland Records Committee accepted the two dates as relating to one bird. To be honest given the Ortolan was definitely new in a second bird seems equally likely but we’ll never know.

A great week of fine weather and quality birds. I’ve not majored on it in this account but also lovely time spent with islanders who were becoming friends.

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