It is always exciting driving up to Aberdeen on the way to Shetland, somehow the prospect of a week of quality autumn birding seems to make the 550 miles pass extremely quickly. Conversely the return journey can always seem rather a slog, especially as the only things waiting at the end of it are a family who have been saving up jobs for you (Dad hasn't done the washing up for a week, it must be his turn) and a return to the confines of an office and the daily joy that brings.
You can get lucky though with one last hoorah before all this hits, and as we went to sleep as the boat chugged down the east side of Shetland our thoughts were firmly fixed on Swillington Ings in West Yorkshire and a very small Chameleon of a wader.
This had started off life a few days earlier as a Temminck's Stint, and as better views were obtained and more photos taken had been promoted first to a Least Sandpiper, and finally up another notch to Long-toed Stint. This is about as mega as waders go really, and to have one present just five miles off our route south was surely too good to be true? Would it stay?
It would! I can't remember exactly when the news came through, but I am pretty sure we were on the road about an hour south of Aberdeen heading towards breakfast at Forfar. Matrix signs on the motorways continued to inform the convoy of birders all doing exactly the same as us that it was still there, and as such the 350 miles passed very quickly indeed. I eBirded the whole way, adding Jay to every county list we passed through, and just after lunch we arrived at RSPB St Aidans, an enormous old gravel workings. It was about a mile walk to the scrape the bird was showing on, and despite stiff legs we made it remarkably quickly.
A lot of people we had seen on Shetland were already there and more arrived after us - we were distinctly mid-table, no doubt the cost of breakfast and a loo stop spurned by real twitchers. The bird was miniscule, and did indeed have rather a long middle digit, and showed really well on a small island. Given the extent of the site and the layout of the pools, the bird had probably chosen the easiest and closest place to feed, remarkable really. As it was we saw it immediately and were then able to have a short stroll around the rest of the reserve before celebrating with an ice cream.
I am not a big twitcher these days. A few pangs of regret this week about the stonking Varied Thrush on Orkney, but realistically I am not much into this kind of thing any more. This Stint was ideal, only a very short detour, and probably one of the rarest birds I have ever seen. I doubt I would have travelled from London for it, but everything fell into place and amazingly I got to see it. Back in the car I also realised it was BOU 450, so quite a milestone and one I did not think I would ever reach. Many years ago this would have been a huge total, but today big league drop everything twitching is 530+. I am glad I am not part of that scene, but that does not mean that I don't really enjoy seeing rare birds, I absolutely do, and this was a fitting end to a great trip with excellent company.