Tuesday, 7 October 2014

SIBERIAN RUBYTHROAT - the full story

It was 3.44pm on Friday afternoon. I was faithfully patrolling my all to familiar empty clifftop bushes when the slow drip started up...

MEGA Shetland SIBERIAN RUBYTHROAT 1w male Mainland at Levenwick

Well blow me down!

Initial thoughts - Now what did I promise myself? Which species qualify for the expensive and time consuming long haul North? Anything American? Top Sibe? Arctic Sp? Surely this was one of them.

Being honest it took me a surprising three hours plus to decide to try and put a plan together. I'd managed to arrange another six day window off work and this was only day 2...very lucky indeed. So, I had the time, no problem. With my wonderful partners approval...of course!

Next problem...cost! I'd chartered to Shetland last year for the CAPE MAY WARBLER because it was probably my "most wanted" bird to see in Britain. This species has also always been very special to me, as an almost mythical bird from the East...the Holy Grail? Yes, there have been a few records of late but that's no guarantee for the future...and it's a MALE (it turned out to be the first ever ADULT!).

Are there any Charters available? Is there another/cheaper way?

Believe me I'm not made of money and the fact I had until next Wednesday, the cheaper albeit longer option seemed more attractive! I had a fish around on the online forums for latest info' and made a few phone calls. I also called the charter company I'd used previously.

Anyway, the plan came together when I saw a post from Andrew Kinghorn on Facebook saying he was going and he'd booked a flight? I'd twitched with him before a couple of times so I contacted him and he told me he'd booked with Fly-be from Aberdeen, flying at 7am Saturday morning. He was leaving at 11pm tonight from his house in Durham and he had a spare seat.

OK, I'm in! After what seemed an eternity booking a place on the plane I set off from home around 8.30.

The journey up was interesting as it involved FOUR road closures! Don't you just love the British road system. Oh, and don't forget the 50 mph average speed check areas! Anyway I arrived at 11.15. Shortly afterwards two other intrepid twitchers arrived Chris Bromley (16) and James Shergold (20). I was the "old man".

The journey was uneventful and we arrived at Aberdeen around 5.30am. We took off on time and landed at Sumburgh at 8...

...we picked up the hire car and were heading for Levenwick at 8.20. We arrived and joined the expectant crowd huddled together peering into the chosen garden. The weather was grim, very grim. Heavy, persistent rain. I'll make this bit brief. We spent four hours stood waiting without a sniff of the bird. Various claims were made but none of us saw anything. By noon I'd had enough. Soaked to the skin doesn't cover it. My "waterproof" coat had failed the Shetland test. We reached a local shop were I took my coat off. I might as well have never had it on! I can honestly say it was the worst morning I've had twitching in 28 years.

Things were not great at this moment.

We needed to use the car heater to get dry(er) and warm up (I had a heavy cold before I left home). I was seriously asking myself at this juncture if I was getting to old for this lark!

It was till persisting it down so we decided to try for the juv PALLID HARRIER that had been reported at Tingwall Airport. On the way we came across a family of Whooper Swans. Andrew informed us that they breed here...

When we arrived a group of around 50 birders were looking at the bird which was showing distantly over the airport runway...

I said it was distant!
As it drifted off over the hills we followed it and I managed a closer image through the gloom...

We were now warmer and definitely drier now so we returned to the original site. Numbers had thinned by now but we started a second stint. Thankfully the rain had eased which lifted spirits somewhat.

Around half 4 a shout went out. "They've found it in the Pechora garden". I didn't have a clue where this was but it obviously didn't matter as we just went with the flow! That was after I'd picked myself up out of the ditch I'd fell into whilst grabbing my camera from the car.

The new site wasn't any better for viewing as it was a narrow driveway with thick cover either side. Still, we had hope again.

At 5.15pm I saw an ADULT MALE SIBERIAN RUBYTHROAT in Britain!!!

Oh happy day indeed! No photos unfortunately, as it was far to quick for me! I wasn't going to beat THIS cracker anyway!

To try to keep costs down we'd booked on the ferry back on Sunday evening (something I definitely wasn't looking forward too). The youngsters, well two of them at least, were going to sleep in the (very small) car...I wasn't...so I sorted out a B&B in Lerwick...

View from my room
We had another hour or so Sunday morning but the bird remained very elusive so we decided to have a drive onto Yell as James wanted to add the female KING EIDER to his British list. Unfortunately we couldn't locate the bird amongst it's commoner cousins but we enjoyed tremendous views of a Bonxie over the moorland...

Back to Levenwick. Around 4.30 I obtained my best view of the RUBYTHROAT as it came out albeit briefly onto the path, no more than 20 feet away. I got a great view of the all important throat. Brilliant stuff!

Thoughts were now turning to the journey home. Mine were particularly turning to the sea conditions! A few wags commented on how bad the weather was going to turn. I tried to dismiss this as I looked for my trusty Stugeron tablets. I don't get on with the sea. Another advantage of flying!!

We boarded at 5pm, two hours early due to the tides. As I booked my ticket the lady informed me that we still wouldn't be able to dis-embark until 7am Monday as the staff wouldn't be there at 5. Great!

Within half an hour I'd had enough of the oil rig drunks and so had the young 'uns, so we got a cabin.
What a decision! We were all well down on sleep. Next thing I heard was an announcement for breakfast at 6am!! Considering the horrendous sea conditions (the Ferry was cancelled Sunday morning) we'd all managed a great nights sleep.

We left the Ferry at 7 and made our way home.

That's it then. A successful and very enjoyable, if prolonged Birding adventure. I met a few friends from the past and the atmosphere on the island amongst the twitching community was friendly and helpful. I'd like to shake the hand of the Birder who re-found it! Oh and thanks for putting up with the "old fart" chaps.

They get some great birds "up North". I still prefer Scilly though!

Postscript - Twitching never sleeps. SCARLET TANAGER on Barra.

This brings back painful memories. I'd booked the first flight over to Scilly (as I always do) on Saturday 22nd October 2011. On Friday news broke that this species was present at St Leven, Cornwall. Could I get a later flight enabling me to try for it first thing on Saturday?

I managed it and was full of hope as I arrived at dawn. No sign and time was running out as my late morning flight was approaching! MEGA alert SCARLET TANAGER St Mary's, Isles of Scilly!!! By the time I got there it had disappeared...


mq said...

Brilliant stuff Al.....

Alan Whitehead said...

Cheers Pal. Glad you liked it