Sunday 7 October 2012

So, how was Shetland then?

Pretty good all things considered. Not mega by any means, but pretty good. Rare birds are common up there, on any winds it seems, though if it comes from the east, so much the better. During the week we were up there, it blew east - lightly - for about five hours. This delivered two Red-breasted Flycatchers, and almost nothing else. So much for the winds - one year I'll coincide my visit with a monster forecast. And probably see nothing at's just so random. Last week it blew almost exclusively from the south west. How a Pechora turned up and Fair Isle was carpeted in Lanceolated Warblers I have no idea.

As always the plan was to find stuff. And as always we spent the first couple of days mopping up the vagrants that had already been found. Day one, the day we arrived, saw us dip both OBP and Isabelline Shrike at Toab, but we did manage to dodge the showers and snaffle Little Bunting. The following days saw us mop up Siberian Stonechat, Buff-bellied Pipit, Pechora Pipit and Arctic Redpoll, but it really was slow going for the most part. Thankfully there is no shortage of alcohol on Shetland, and a series of increasingly heavy nights put rare birds out of our minds, and no doubt a great deal else besides. 

Team Shetland this year was Monkey, Hawky, Vince, Steve B and Matt E, the latter a keen twitcher and patch-worker from Sussex. He is foolishly attempting year list this year, and was thus keen to see anything he hadn't already seen, which including wanting to twitch a Red-breasted Flycatcher on Whalsay at the cost of £25 and an entire afternoon. Thankfully one turned up on mainland the next day. I think he ended the trip on 298, including a self-found Great Reed Warbler, so with quite a lot of autumn left to go, I'm sure he'll get there. The GRW won him the 'rarest bird' sweepstake, and rather than buy beer with it, he's decided to save it and spend it on petrol to Penzance in case he needs to twitch Scilly - an interesting combination of the sensible and the insane.

Talking of year-listing, I just added up my total for 2012, and I'm pleased to report that at 254, at this point it's comfortably the lowest that it's been since 2007, when I ended the year on a paltry 215 species. Last year I managed 271; I doubt very much if I'll come close to that this year. I've not seen Osprey, Monty's or Honey Buzzard, nor any Grouse, Quail, or even a Black-throated Diver. Pure sensibleness and discretion; I am very proud, especially given my feeble record, and I would be amazed if I even got to 260 (If I do, I won't be telling you....)

Despite the ridiculous evenings when committed rarity-hunters would have been tucked up in bed dreaming of Sibes, we managed to get out of the flat fairly early each morning, in varying states of fitness. Hawky for instance seemed completely immune to the ill-effects of curry, beer, and minimal sleep, whereas Vince was generally in a bad way and needed a great deal of cajoling to get him out the door. This was generally accomplished by stealing his phone and running away with it, whereupon he would have no choice but to follow, as he can't actually survive without looking at Facebook for more than about eight seconds. For my part I like to think I was relatively restrained, but there were definitely a couple of difficult mornings, no more so than the last one when we got up especially early for our flight having cleverly been out for a curry with 20-odd other birders the night before. This week I am on a complete detox (White Burgundy, which runs in my blood, does not count) and am determined to eat mostly fish and vegetables, neither of which I went anywhere near on Shetland. Such is the life of a autumn vagrant....

More tomorrow. Here, have a seal.

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