Monday 13 October 2014

Siberian Rubythroat - Shetland 2014 kicks off with a bang!

I am just back from yet another cracking week (4th - 11th Oct)on Shetland. It was my 4th visit and the 3rd in the last 4 years. Shetland really is the place to be in late September, early October, when anything can, and invariably does happen. On this occasion the crew consisted of myself, Paul Hawkins, Tony Brown and Nick Croft.

Tony, Nick, me and Hawky

 I had almost finished packing on Fri 3rd, when I got a text from fellow birder, Lee Brown, which read something like "You lucky b*stard, Siberian Rubythroat, mainland Shetland". I immediately got on-line for more details. Not only was it an adult male, but it was at Levenwick, just 10 minutes from Sumburgh airport.

I went to bed very excited that evening, crossing everything that it would be there the following day. I got virtually no sleep as I had to be up at 2am to go collect Hawky, then meet the other guys and drive to Birmingham for our first flight. Most of the talk on route was about the Rubythroat, all of us hoping it would do the decent thing and stay. Our first flight left on time and we arrived at Aberdeen at 8.05am. Checking Birdguides, there was no news! Surely if it was there it would have been reported. We started to get that sinking feeling. Then 15 mins later, via Twitter, we are informed "Rubythroat still present". "Yes!"

 It was pouring with rain as we took off from Aberdeen, landing around 50 minutes later at Sumburgh, Shetland, in equally wet conditions. Playing it cool, we pick up the hire car and drive to Sumburgh lighthouse, where we are staying for the week.

After changing into our wet weather gear we drop off our bags and head to Levenwick. We arrive to find 30-40 birds surrounding a garden. There's loads of cover and the bird was only being seen for a split second every now and then. The rain continued to fall and wet got wetter, colder and less convinced we would see the bird. 2.5 hours later with no sign of the Rubythroat and soaked to the skin, we had, had enough. Very disappointed we left. Back at Sumburgh lighthouse we unpacked, had a hot drink and as the rain eased headed back out to bird the local area.

As luck would have it by late afternoon it brightened up a bit and we decided to check the walled garden at Grutness, which just a few days earlier had hosted a Yellow Rumped Warbler. As we walked up another birder was already checking the garden and had found 2 Yellow Browed Warblers (the first of many we would see during the week). We chatted, and asked what else he's seen, when he quite nonchalantly said "Oh, I take it you know the Rubythroat has been relocated in another garden". "Whaaaat!". We'd birded our way down to Grutness from the top quarry, so we had no car with us. Luckily Hawky was feeling fit and said he's go get it and off he ran. He was back impressively quickly bearing in mind it was all up hill, and we were zooming the 10 miles up the road for the 2nd time in a few hours.

We arrived to find a big crowd gathered at the end of a hedge lined driveway, and advised it had been showing on and off on the drive way, including just a couple of minutes earlier. The crowds got bigger and bigger as more people arrived, people straining their necks to try and get a view. After a short while a quick glimpse was had as it scuttled across the drive from under one hedge to another. Another 20 minutes passed and no further sign.

The hoard of photographers at the end of the drive

Then from around the corner and birder is waving for us to move to the side of the house where apparently the bird had been giving great views to the few that had been stationed there. Everyone piled round where unsurprisingly, it was no longer showing. The light was now starting to go. It was gone 6pm and I was beginning to worry I wouldn't get a good view of this smart bird. Then out of nowhere, there it is, on a set aside patch of dirt away from the drive away. Its beautiful ruby red throat glowing in the rapidly fading light. 2 minutes later it showed again, under a small Sycamore where is hopped around for a 10 seconds giving almost everyone on site a decent view. Everyone except Nick! Myself, Hawky and Tony couldn't celebrate too much as Nick was still Rubythroat-less, but inside I was jubilant. Fingers crossed it would still be there tomorrow so we could get Nick onto it.

Over the next few days we saw the bird on a number of occasions, including one special session where we were the only 4 birders on site. We stayed in the car and blocked the drive and the bird performed amazingly well showing down to 15-20 feet for decent chunks of time. The only slight downer was that I had left my camera back at the lighthouse, so the cracking pic below is from Tony.

 Boom! The back of Tony's camera!

 Another from Tony

I popped back later and again parked the car across the drive but the bird only showed once and at least twice the distance. Photos aside, what a bird. Probably may favourite bird ever seen in Britain.

The best I could do