Sunday, 14 October 2012

Seeing no birds on Shetland


So, having spent the first two days effectively mopping up the previous week's finds, the mission changed. We were going to find our own birds, yes siree. Now I could be massively long-winded here, as per normal, or I could cut straight to the chase. Shetland is a funny old place. Although the locals say that the winds are irrelevant and the best birds arrive no matter what the weather, my experience is ever so slightly different. I am now a veteran thrice over - three weeks I've spent up there - so that makes me an expert. My view is that if the wind blows relentlessly from the south-west, you're going to find Piss All. You can flog as many plantations as you like, wade every Iris bed between Sumburgh and Hermaness, and check every garden in every hamlet. If you're lucky, you'll refind one of last week's Yellow-broweds. If you're unlucky, you might get a Mipit. Or a Blackbird. In between bouts of heavy drinking, we worked pretty hard. As usual, being wellied-up, I was sent in. When I tell you that the most exciting moment was a Reed Bunting in some boggy morass near Fladdibister....

L-R: Hawky, Matt, Monkey
On Tuesday we became momentarity excited as the south-westerlies died away for about forty-five minutes and were replaced by a light (0.2mph) easterly. This delivered precisely nothing, and the wind then swung round to the north-west and whipped up to 3,000mph. We birded the rest of the week with ever-increasing despondence, and needed ever-more alcohol to keep the motivation up. This was no bad thing - as well as a rare bird-finding expedition, it was also a holiday, which should not be forgotten. Birds is one thing, craic is another, and in the absence of the former, the latter came to the forefront.

 It is any wonder that we didn't find much?

Not really, no.

Whilst it would be wrong to say the whole thing descended into a drunken farce, with team members incapable even of buying essentials like toilet paper such was their fixation with buying crates of Stella, rarely have I eaten so badly and treated my liver so poorly. Six blokes in a house with mountains of take-away, gallons of booze and just one bathroom (complete only with kitchen roll at times....) is not a recipe for success. Nonetheless we had a good time, too good some might say. And when we finally did procure some toilet paper, person or persons unknown wasted most of it. The cause, however, was just....

The Bradders/Profmobile, which could so easily have been a vessel of salvation in our time of need....

In howling winds we continued birding, seeking the shelter of fish and chip shops and indian restaurants when the need arose. We found virtually nothing, not because we're crap (or were drunk), but because there was nothing to be found. Teams with greater dedication than ours found virtually nothing either, and for a while it looked the sweepstake might be won with nothing better than a Red-breasted Flycatcher, with a Barred Warbler as runner up. Not that RB Fly isn't a good bird, but it's hardly what you go to Shetland with dreams of coming across. However on the final day Matt came up trumps and saved our drunken blushes with a fine Great Reed Warbler at Rerwick. Initially spotted as 'an Acro' from the road at the top, we dived terrier-like into yet more Irises. Matt got it briefly on a fence and called it 99%, and definitely not a Thick-billed, leaving little room for doubt, whereupon the little sod gave us the slip for well over an hour before Hawky, having given up by this stage, came across it much further down the valley. It promptly vanished yet again before Bradders, having been drafted in and harbouring secret hopes of yet another ID faux-pas, relocated it in the reed bed (go figure) back up the valley. Rarer than many monster Sibes on Shetland in autumn, the bird only ever really showed in flight, but was enough to win Matt the coveted "bird-finder" sweepstake, with winnings being extracted at yet another Indian restaurant that evening. Sadly he declined to immediately spend them on three large bottles of Cobra, insisting instead that it was destined for his twitching fund. He's so filthy though that this is effectively bottomless, far better to have struck while the iron was hot and blown it on booze....

I had to find somewhere else to put my dead sheep. We found this very telling. Clearly so many islanders have in the past dumped their dead sheep in skips intended for dead fridges that the Island Council has felt the need to make them a specific exlucsion, right up there with Asbestos and Flares.







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