Skerries – A Marvellous Encore

The best birding moments should be the ones you’ve prepared meticulously for. In my experience they’re not. They’re the ones that take you completely by surprise.

The last of the easterly winds were yesterday. Walking across a random part of North Hill I flushed an Olive-backed or Tree Pipit. It flew from the right of the picture above (taken today) to the left, crossing the bay, and it was tipping down. I wrote it off as an either or, and that was that at the time for that record and so I thought for the trip.

I was slow out to start this morning because, well because I had just written off the last three days on here with the wind direction changing. It was a lovely calm day though and birds that had previously been lying low were showing very well. This picture of a Goldcrest at Houll should give an idea, if you remember I don’t actually have a working camera and this is a phone shot.

Even the hyperactive Redpoll that had been nowhere near identifiable in previous days finally allowed close enough views to confirm it was a Mealy Redpoll, easily the most likely option. It seems to be a peculiarly Skerries thing that redpolls don’t give themselves up at all easily, but an honourable exception was to come later.

I ambled across the bridge to West Isle seeing a few Blackcaps and finches when at the schoolhouse I heard yesterday’s pipit again. I picked it up on the drystone wall opposite and was able to confirm it was an Olive-backed Pipit. I did get some video of the call, but I don’t have the wherewithal to know how to upload on here. The bird almost immediately headed south and I followed.

I was abruptly stopped in my tracks by a flurry of owls. That may sound like an exaggeration but when you haven’t seen one in months and four tumble into the air in front of you that’s what it feels like. They went in all directions so two Long-eared Owls and two Short-eared Owls may be wrong, certainly both species were present. Some crap phone shots follow, I never saw any of these birds again today.

I guess these birds arrived overnight as the very last birds coming in off the easterly winds. It was certainly a privilege to see them.

After lunch I headed back out in the calm conditions and as I approached the bridge a monstrous snowball of a Redpoll landed on it. I tried to get a phone shot but the bird shot off instead. Kia and Paul my hosts had just offered me use of a camera for owl shots, so I retraced my steps and borrowed one.

I found the bird again near the hall. The lens on the camera wasn’t that powerful and this is the best I got before it disappeared (uncropped and cropped).

It looked like rain was coming so I returned the camera. Rather than keep it indoors Kia and Paul offered to put a more powerful lens on it. The clouds moved on so I agreed to take it out. I thankfully refound the bird up above the hall.

Happy I had some kind of record shots I returned the borrowed camera then sought out the bird again. I generally just appreciated watching it, but the attached were taken late in the day on my phone and give an idea how approachable it was with care.

I know none of these images will win prizes, but what they don’t convey is the stonking snowball of a white rump the bird had.

Hornemann’s Arctic Redpoll is expected on Shetland every autumn, and 2022 has seen a better scattering of reports than most years. But there have only been three records of five birds on Skerries before today. I’ve been coming to Shetland seventeen years all in and it’s the first I’ve found. Today made a pretty good trip a very good one.

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