Tuesday 9 October 2012

Pechora drama on Unst

Unst is possibly my favourite island in the Shetland archipelago. To get there requires a drive up a neverending hill to Toft on North Mainland, and then a short ferry across to the island of Yell. Poor Yell. I'm sure I've said it before, but nobody ever stops on Yell, they just drive straight across it to the ferry terminal on the northern side where they can escape to Unst. I've done exactly this three times now - in fact I'm not sure I've ever been stationary on Yell.

The target today was Pechora Pipit, found the previous evening in the village of Norwick, which is at almost the northern tip of Unst. In addition to the lure of the Pipit, Norwick also had the massive (quite literally) draw of a Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll, my second on the Shetlands. I'd seen the first in 2010......in Norwick. On arrival we were greeted by a familiar face from Wanstead Flats, young Mr Croft, up on a Mattanganna special. The Redpoll, he said, was showing fabulously well just behind us, and the Pipit was probably down the road a bit. No prizes for guessing where I went first!

Yup, no contest. A massive, white, scary, CLOSE finch, or a skuly pipit thing.....The Redpoll was magnificent, flying around peoples' legs, perching on anything, totally unconcerned. At one point it disappeared off somewhere, and whilst chatting to a fellow birder, I noticed movement near my feet. The Redpoll had returned, and was about a foot from my foot. It looked hungry, so I moved away. The weather was unfortunately rather unkind, with lashing rain and really rather amazing wind, but the bird laughed in the face such trivialities. Not so the weak and feeble humans, who took shelter behind cabins and buildings. I spent a good hour, probably longer, as the bird - along with Greenland-type Redpolls, fed happily around a particular driveway, before reluctantly heading away for a small Blyth's Reed Warbler dip. Refreshed, it was time for the Pipit. The less said about this particular incident the better I suppose, but all present got to see it, if only in flight. Certainly not twitching's finest moment, but I can think of a great deal worse. Mixed messages about whether access to the field had been granted, denied, or somewhere in between, saw two go in and confirm the continued presence of the Pipit in a large patch of weeds. Did any of the 30-40 birders present on the road, including yours truly, object? Did they hell! Three more joined them in a dense patch of weeds, and lo the Pipit flew up, around them, and plonked down behind them again. Job done, the Pipit was left in peace, and the twitching mob departed. Meanwhile the field owner, apparently unimpressed and - depending on which version you have heard - probably rightly so, had to be bribed with flowers and chocolates. Or at least that is what I heard. It later transpired that she was concerned about a Ram on one side of the Pipit field getting in with the sheep on the other side of the Pipit field and causing lambs to appear much earlier than desired, and that the previous day a gate had been left open, presumably by a birder. This is all third or fourth hand, so I have no idea whether it's accurate or not. I think it all got sorted out in the end, but I heard a few people say that increased numbers of birders on the islands during October is creating a bit of pressure, and that a small number of locals would rather we all went to Scilly instead. I only met perfectly wonderful Shetlanders, mildly amused that southern softies would brave the weather to come and look at small brown birds, but I guess it's the same everywhere. Anyhow, crappo views, but Pechora on the list, and with no fence-hopping from me and only a teensy bit of silent acquiescence-induced guilt.

Back on the mainland, we went to look at a Spotted Sandpiper that Hawky had cocked up the previous day. It was of course blindingly obvious. Had he not being trying to explain the ID features to me in chinese, I might have pointed out his error. As it was, I thought he was saying "Look at this great Spotted Sandpiper I have just found, let's go get a Chicken Chow Mein and Special Fried Rice to celebrate." 

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