Tuesday 22 October 2013

Leaving Shetland without the Big One

Shame that you can't book your weather prior to leaving on a rarity-finding trip. As expected, well, more or less, glass half empty and all that, it all kicked off after I left. Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll on Sunday afternoon in the Swinister Burn that I had searched on Sunday morning. Red-flanked Bluetail at Upper Voe on Sunday morning that we had checked on Saturday afternoon.... And the real kick in the nuts, a male Siberian Rubythroat on Fair Isle today, my first day back in the office. Maybe next time I should go for a month, but of course I can't. And in fact I don't want to. I should be grateful for the OBP and have done with it! On the whole twitching other people's birds is a whole lot easier. Got a car? Got a map? Got a lot of time and a bit of money? Job's a good 'un. This trip to Shetland was about finding stuff - with practically nobody there, if you don't go and look yourself you won't see anything. So that's what we did, we went and looked. And largely, as I have recounted, we failed. Not because we're useless, not because we didn't try, and not because we looked in the wrong places. But because rare birds are rare, and the same weather that might deliver them to Shetland's shores also makes finding them extremely difficult.

Saturday and Sunday were hard work. Driving winds, howling, horizontal rain. Not good birding weather, especially for eastern skulkers. Finding the OBP, on reflection, was nothing short of miraculous. Sunday was a little better, with more birds, in particular a new arrival of Thrushes, but with time against us we never managed it. I was able to find out about the Hornemann's at Sumburgh airport, about the Bluetail at Edinburgh airport. Inevitable. But that's the gamble, and you go in the knowledge of that. Is bird finding for me? Well, like I said, I can take it or leave it actually, but every now and again, why not? I can recommend it to all twitchers though, if all you do is follow the pager round the place, then you need to have a go yourself. You will appreciate it that much more when you know how bloody hard it is, how much luck is involved, and the amazing ratio of nothing to something. I've said it before, twitching is a mug's game. The obvious contradiction is that I have been known to twitch now and then, and will likely do so again. I crowed hugely when I hit 400 in the UK, but acknowledge fully that this does not make me an amazing birder in any way. I drove to a few places and saw a few birds that other people found.

But now that I've found a rare bird, I must be an amazing birder, right? Worth a few points on the scale? Hah, not by a long shot! But what if I'd found ten? 20? 50? Does that make me more worthy? Depends on who you ask. Some people put a lot of emphasis on that, others don't. If you ask me, I don't. Do what you enjoy. Twitching isn't wrong, just don't pretend that you're special because you've done a lot of it. Similarly, finding rare birds doesn't make you special either. I'm not saying those hardy souls who do a lot of that place themselves on any kind of pedestals, but if they did, that would be wrong too. Birding is birding, plain and simple. Do 100% of the one thing you want to do, or mix it up a little to keep it fresh. Twitch away, flog the local patch, or stick yourself on remote headlands at the right time of year. Spend all your time sea-watching, or devote yourself to taking photographs of Wheatears. As long as it about birds, that's enough. It's the best hobby ever. 

Check out this Shetland rarity. I saw 9, and am therefore amazing.


  1. Great report Jono, nice photo of you in this months 'Birdwatch' on page 4, luckily not page 3 looking at the Great Snipe. Keep up the good work.

  2. Perfectly summed up. You're a bit good at this writing lark - should do more of it. Ever thought of writing a book?