Wednesday 20 February 2013

Confessions of a Grosbeak Twitcher

As I've said many times before, I'm a pretty crap twitcher. I moan about it, I stress about it, I even occasionally deny it...... But sometimes you just go, and that's what I did. However I mostly go on my own terms. No calling in sick and chartering planes, no dropping everything and leaving immediately. I pick and choose what I go for, in the sure knowledge that this will cost me birds and I'll never get to the magical 500 (though the once-magical 400 is just a stone's throw away).

There was a time when a long-distance twitch was somewhere like Norfolk. Then one weekend it became Yorkshire. Madness. Then it was Cornwall. Then it went back to Norfolk, but via Devon..... In 2011 I twitched Scilly not once but twice. In other words the bar gradually got set higher and higher. 2012 was relatively calm, two trips to Wales being the furthest I went, although I did go sea-watching off Pendeen. Shetland however was out of bounds. Too far, too expensive. As you know, all that changed this weekend. When news of the Pine Grosbeak broke in January, it was interesting, but not something I was ever going to do. Nice bird, the first for over 20 years, but it was in Shetland and therefore sheer lunacy, and anyway I'd seen birds in Finland only last year. Two weeks later and I was rocking gently on the MV Hrossey. Young Bradders, twitcher extraordinaire (that's french for filthy), suggested a trip up for it based around a few days year-listing birding in the Highlands. Was I up for it? No, of course I wasn't.

L-R: Bradders, Nick & John dipping something near Glenshee
I couldn't leave Nick on the patch to find a pile of grippers, so he had to come to, and the fourth space was taken by John A, one of the filthiest there is - up there with the Prof, 500 but a distant memory. We left on Friday after school, and made Carlisle by late evening. A nano-second of sleep later we continued on towards Scotland, dipping everything in our path until we hit Aberdeen in the late afternoon and settled down in our diesel-freshened cabin for a bounce across the North Sea. As it happened we got lucky with the weather, and the crossing was essentially a non-event. The following morning, a mere 38 hours after leaving home, we came off the ferry and drove the thirty or so miles to North Collafirth, nearly at the top of mainland Shetland. We were the first on site.

Gradually the other birders who had been on the ferry all arrived, and we surrounded the garden at Forsa. Two Blackbirds. Justin L and a few others headed off to Greenbrae, Steph M to Saltoo. Soon after the radio crackled into life; the birds was at Greenbrae. Some minor wacky races (Bradders won) and we hopped out to learn that the bird has dived from a small group of trees by the road into the bulk of the plantation and had been lost to view, and that worse, Nick had seen it having sneaked off when we weren't looking! No drama though, we all walked around the other side of the plantation and with a very calm "here it is" for his 845th UK tick, John A announced its continued presence to the masses. All fifteen of us. After a journey of almost two days, we had scored just over an hour after arriving on Shetland. Tick and run, as they say.

The bird never really left the tops of the trees whilst we were there, so photo opps were rare, but I've a few I'm relatively pleased with. Clearly it wasn't quite like Finland, but to be there, next to that plantation in fine weather, with almost no other people and otters playing on the shore below was a great experience. Plus getting a mega-tick of course. With the tick under the belt so early on, and having watched the bird for about two hours we decided that we would carry on birding elsewhere on the island. The plan was going very much according to plan.

Snuffi scores

1 comment:

  1. Grosbeaks are fine and all, but I'm hoping you have otter pictures...