Monday 16 October 2023

Autumn in Shetland Part Two - October 2023

1st October -  A Greenish Warbler at Grutness

Buoyed by our success of yesterday we headed south of Lerwick to a well known rarity hotspot, a garden at Grutness that you can overlook from the road that leads to the towering buttress of Sumburgh Head, the southernmost point of Shetland.

The owner of the garden is not that enamoured of birders standing, quite legitimately, on the grass verge overlooking a wall into the garden below but an uneasy truce has been reached where each tolerates the other provided cars are parked sensibly and do not obstruct the entrances to the house and yard which lies opposite.

Myself, Mark and Andrew parked well away at Grutness Harbour and walked back along the road to view the garden where about twenty other birders were already present. We had come to see a Greenish Warbler that had taken up temporary residence in a shelter belt of sycamores that bordered the far side of the garden, which at this time of year was still managing to remain colourful due to a number of bright dahlias growing in the most sheltered part.

Greenish Warblers are not uncommon annual vagrants to Britain in both Spring and Autumn and they are now so frequent that records since 2005 are no longer considered by the BBRC (British Birds Rarities Committee). The European and west Siberian population has expanded westwards to eastern Poland, the Baltic countries and southern  Finland with occasional breeding in Germany, the Czech Republic Sweden and Norway.Their wintering area is normally the Indian  subcontinent. 

Speaking to other birders we learned the warbler had been seen this morning but was proving elusive, often disappearing for long periods. Its tiny hyperactive presence amongst the constant movement of the wind tossed leaves of the sycamores can be hard to pick out as it flits at high speed from twig to twig.What you mainly saw of it was a flash of white and pale moss green plumage as it sped from one point to another, whilst at other times it was but a silhouette amongst a bewildering fretwork of twigs and branches.Only very occasionally did it stop for a fraction of time and then you could, if you were quick, get a proper view of it

Although it had not been seen for quite some time when we arrived, in no less than five minutes  a murmur and movement amongst our fellow birders signalled its re-appearance.True to form it was constantly in  energetic motion, only perching for seconds in the open. I comprehensively failed to get any images of the sprite before it was gone.

I waited and it returned to reprise its elusive behaviour.  I could see it  well enough in my bins but locating it in the camera was a different matter. Pointing the camera at where it was, on virtually every occasion it had gone in the brief time I had available to focus

Finally I got it in my camera and followed it moving through the leaves until  I had an opportunity to capture its image.

The weather did not help as savage squalls of rain, in between sunny periods, made life very uncomfortable but this is Shetland in October  and this kind of weather is hardly to be unexpected. I was soaked  despite waterproofs and cold but persisted and in the end felt reasonably successful in getting a photo or two of this hyperactive bird.

As we stood in the rain and wind a report came through of a suspected Lanceolated Warbler further north  and  the verge rapidly emptied of birders. We stayed put as we had been through this before. No way were we going anywhere until the identity of the bird was properly confirmed. Often it turns out that the bird is at best a similarly skulking Grasshopper Warbler and at worst a Wren. It transpired that the bird seen was on view for seconds only, flying across a narrow road and was suspected to be no more than a Wren.

No confirmation ever came about the mystery bird's identity so our decision to remain where we were was vindicated. Now that there were only four of us the warbler showed less concern  about coming more out in the open and it proved easier, well relatively, to see it well. 

However the rain curtailed matters as it was now relentless.Even on Shetland there is a time when you have to accept that it can  prove counter productive to remain birding in such conditions.

We called time on the Greenish Warbler and retired for a coffee and to dry out at the nearby Sumburgh Hotel.

The rain abated and venturing out we made a point of going to see the Cattle Egret that has been true to its name and can be found residing with a herd of black cows not far from the hotel. 

I tried to feel enthusiastic about seeing it, I really did, as it is a rare bird on Shetland but they breed just down the road from me in Oxfordshire and roam the surrounding countryside in flocks and are now almost a commonplace bird in the county.

I was much more enthusiastic about trying to find some Snow Buntings that were frequenting the rocks at Grutness, especially as the sun had now come out! So typical of the capricious Shetland weather.

They proved a little hard to find at first, that is until one popped up on a rock to give their location away, although we only ever found two, despite more having been reported. The pair were hunkered down in a large area of white and grey rocks, feeding on the seeds of the grass that grew between the rocks.

Typically confiding,  they maintained close contact with each other as they ran amongst the rocks and then would come to the top of the rocks every so often to  check on the surrounding area for any sign of danger. 

In winter plumage they are a pleasing combination of buff, black, grey and white, the colours helping them  to merge in the rocks as they shuffled on black legs across the grass, nibbling at grass seeds with corn yellow bills, the upper mandible curiously concave.

We sat in the sun  each of us on a rock and watched the buntings as they moved amongst the rocks and stones around us, first visible and then not. After they moved some distance from us we carefully skirted around them to leave them in peace. 

A pleasant end to a day's birding on Shetland.

No comments:

Post a Comment