Saturday, 28 September 2013


Thanks to Jules Allen, Bob Duckhouse and Dave Hutton taking pity on me and agreeing to put me up for a week, I suddenly found myself on an impromptu trip to the Northern Isles of Shetland. Annual autumn trips to this part of the world are the easiest way of adding those pesky specialities like LANCEOLATED WARBLER and PALLAS'S GRASSHOPPER WARBLER to my British List. Following a short flight from Birmingham to Aberdeen and a further quick sonic blast north from Aberdeen to Sumburgh, we eventually touched down on the Shetland Isles. By 11.00am we had picked up the hire car and we were on our way to the digs at Gord near Cunnisburgh.

BROWN SHRIKE (first winter) - Wester Quarff, Mainland Shetland
Photo by Roger Riddington

After slinging the bags in through the back door of our bungalow it was immediately onwards to Wester Quarff where we had an appointment with our first eastern vagrant of the trip, a first winter BROWN SHRIKE, a bird that Dan Pointon had located the day previously. Within a few minutes of lifting our binoculars we were watching the former MEGA rarity feeding along a fence line at the bottom of the valley. Whilst the shrike flitted around searching for tasty morsels I heard a sharp 'tick tick tick' call emanating from the overgrown garden of the nearby cottage. We all looked up to find a smart LITTLE BUNTING perched up in the hedgerow.

LITTLE BUNTING (first winter)
Photo by Dave Hutton
LITTLE BUNTING (first winter)
Wester Quarff, Mainland Shetland
Photo byDave Hutton

After a brief survey of the area the bird then flew a short distance into another garden further down the lane where it continued to show very well indeed. In this very same garden there not one but two Yellow-browed Warblers zipping around the stunted sycamores. Whilst watching these birds yet another Yellow-browed Warbler was heard calling from the garden opposite followed by another and another. There were at least five birds in the same tiny area. Other birds in the area included a small group of Rock Dove, several Raven, a Chiffchaff and a flighty Common Redpoll

Longwell, Mainland Shetland
Photo by Adam Archer

After all the excitement we then made our way back to our accommodation for a brew followed by a thorough search on foot around Gord and Longwell. Unfortunately we failed to find any of those skulking dream Locustella warblers along the ditches or amongst the iris beds. The only species of note was a flock of 4 Northern Lapwing, 120 European Golden Plover, a single Common Redshank and 5 Common Snipe opposite our digs and a trio of Bar-tailed Godwit and 13 Turnstone at Longwell inlet. It was time to head back home, dry off and put the kettle on once again. 

Then whilst we were settling down pondering where we should eat that evening I received a call from Ashley Howe. He calmly announced that they had just stumbled upon a PECHORA PIPIT at Levenwick whilst Dan Pointon was trying to pin down a potential THRUSH NIGHTINGALE he had just glimpsed. We quickly gathered our kit, pulled back on our muddy boots left the digs and after a short car ride down south we were on site.

Initially there was no sign of either bird in the small garden but then out of nowhere a silent, short-tailed pipit species appeared in flight over our heads. The bird then continued a short distance down the lane and landed on the road itself. Even through the bins you could make out the gleaming, double white stripes running down its back. A further view through the scope confirmed it without a doubt, it was a stunning PECHORA PIPIT, only my second ever sighting of this species in Britain. There was no sign of the probable THRUSH NIGHTINGALE within the dense vegetation of the garden but even still it was a pretty impressive start to our trip.


  1. Hi Arch - you overlooked the flushing to the pipit by an Anthony Worrall Thompson lookalike too busy on his mobile ;)

  2. Haaaaaaa I'll never forget that Phil, one of the highlights of the week!