Tuesday 30 September 2014

Shetland 2014 - day 3, Unst

Unst has been very good to me over the years, with three lifers and a whole host of good birds. It's the most northerly of the islands, and involves two ferries to get over, with the [poor, neglected] island of Yell in the middle. This time around there was yet another new bird awaiting me, a Rustic Bunting that had been knocking around since almost the start of August, faithful to the plantation and surrounding gardens at Halligarth. Amazingly we didn't go up there on our first day, but I am of course very patient when it comes to bird twitching.

A glorious morning, we were on Unst by half eight, and scouring Halligarth before nine. A Yellow-browed Warbler made itself known, and the plantation was eerily still. Usually it's somewhere you visit when the wind is howling, as the four walls afford shelter in at least one corner, but today there was barely a breath of wind and the sun was shining. Garden Warbler, Willow Warblers, even an Acro. Brydon gave us the gen on the Bunting, and even had a poke around in his garden for us, but there was no sign. Disappointing, but with a Subalpine Warbler just down the road our spirits lifted. Especially when we pulled up alongside a gaggle of birders who told us that they had a 'funny' Pipit. 'Funny' Pipits are always good, except when they're just Meadow Pipits being bastards. Happily this one turned out to be a Pechora Pipit, and in marked contrast to the one on Unst in 2012 showed amazingly well. As did the Subalpine Warblers. Yes, plural - there were two, and one of them was singing. So, in late September, on the most northerly island in Britain, I was stood in my shirt sleeves listening to a Subalpine Warbler singing and had just seen a Pechora Pipit. It was vaguely surreal.

We carried on our itinerary, Unst is not a big place, visiting first Skaw for a quick bash as well as hoping to see the established Little Bunting, and then pottered around Norwick and Northdale for a while, picking up Barred Warbler, Yellow-browed, and a Common Rosefinch - the last of the expected scarce, so we were now in uncharted territory. It was very pleasant, and very warm. A few other stops followed, but it was fairly quiet, so we went back to Halligarth for a second crack at the Bunting.

But this time with Double Deckers. I am sure I have mentioned the magical properties of this particular piece of confectionary before, but it is worth mentioning again. Almost any bird, no matter how skulky or invisible, can be persuaded to start parading around in the open by the simple expedient of eating a Double Decker. It works every time. A fortnight ago in Norfolk with that Barred Warbler (though one could argue that was a bit of a waste), I had to bring one into play for the American Herring Gull in Kintyre, and I believe I also drew upon their power for the Ivory Gull. There are countless other examples. So, in keeping with the prescribed ritual, I solemnly handed them out before we started looking for the bird. 


It took approximately five minutes before the bird popped up in a nearby hedge....

With this superb bird under our belts, there was just time to try for a nearby Bluethroat. This hadn't been seen for some 20 minutes, but the potency of the Double Decker was still fresh and I flushed it out of a rose bush immediately. This rounded off an excellent day in which we saw a mind-boggling array of quality birds, and I got a tick to boot. When it's good on Shetland, it is often very good indeed.

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