Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Shetland day 3: an audience with the Rev of Brae

Day 3 of our Shetland adventure began with a return to East Burra to meet up with Gary T for The Ceremonial Loaning Of The Spare Lens. Say what you like about the birding community, but there are some generous folk within it and Gary is one of them - not many people would lend a delicate £1500 piece of kit to a relative stranger without some kind of collateral! I handled the new lens with appropriate reverence, and was keen to try it out straight away. 

Red-breasted Flycatcher
The opportunity arose quicker than expected as we headed towards Loch of Tingwall to find news of a Red-breasted Flycatcher breaking literally around the corner. Cliff Smith, the Crocs-sporting finder, seemed quite alarmed when we rolled out of the Volvo as his finger was still hovering over the 'send' button on his message to the Shetland '21 Whatsapp Group. The RB Fly was a lovely show-off, being joined by an equally bold Spotted Flycatcher, and a more bashful Redstart along the same fence line.
A classic Shetland species in lovely dappled light
Some pleasant mooching around a few sites in balmy conditions followed, producing only common migrants and a Yellow-browed Warbler. Our intention was to bash previously unbashed bushes and find our own rarities, but news of a Red-eyed Vireo, more expected on Scilly than Shetland at this time of year, proved too tempting to resist. The bird was in the extensive community woodland at Brae, and on arrival we were greeted by a sight like an arboreal zombie movie, with what seemed like a couple of hundred ashen-faced birders wandering around aimlessly among the trees in search of the 'REV'.
Alas the Flycatcher would not look my way when perched on this mossy rock
We split up and after some considerable time chasing shadows, I found myself almost in the right place at the right time when the bird sat up in a sycamore. Howard nearby could see it but I couldn't from my position, and it disappeared deep into the trees. At times like this there is only one thing for it: stick to Bradders like glue! Sure enough, within 5 minutes of joining him sat quietly in a spot where the bird had been seen a few times previously, he picked up the Vireo, got me on to it and we enjoyed our first decent view. I lined up the lens, but the bird flew as impatient birders ignored pleas not to rush towards it so no photos were possible on this occasion.
Red-breasted Flycatcher
We headed off for what we hoped would be the quieter life in Wester Quarff, only to find ourselves walking into a minefield of Shetland village politics, with some residents welcoming the visiting army of olive-clad birders at this time of year, and some most definitely not welcoming them. To the extent that they had involved the police, the council and the highways department in an attempt to deprive birders of one of the best places to leave their vehicles before wandering down the road. 
Spotted Flycatcher
At one level, it was reassuring to be reminded that, while many things divide the Scots from the English, and indeed the Shetlanders from the Scots, there is still one thing which unites us across this great United Kingdom. Namely, the ability to generate a massively disproportionate sense of outrage at that worst of all possible sins: child abduction, hate crime, inconsiderate parking. But at another level it was a bit of unnecessary unpleasantness in a place where the overwhelming majority of locals seem to welcome visitors, be they birders or otherwise.
Anyway, we sated ourselves with distant views of a Barred Warbler in the garden which shall no longer be viewed, and I even snaffled a sighting of another Red-backed Shrike in the garden where birders remain welcome having dallied whilst the rest of the team went in search of an elusive Bluethroat next to the former car park which is now officially a 'turning circle' and therefore off limits to visiting birders.
Spot the Barred Warbler in that garden, photographed from a respectful distance!
Amazingly, by this time another Red-eyed Vireo had been found a few miles from our digs by pals of BBT and was reportedly giving outrageous views, so we bade our farewells to the bitterly divided hamlet of Wester Quarff (pop: 2), and hot-footed it to the bright lights and big city of Sandwick (pop: 200). Unfortunately by the time we got there the lights had dimmed somewhat, and the bird had appeared to head off to roost just seconds before our arrival. Still, the first 'REV' of the day had been a tick for Jono, leaving us with absolutely no choice but to return home and join him for a celebratory drink.
Pied Flycatcher

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