The title of this post reflects my hopes for my four day Shetland trip that’s starting tomorrow evening. Despite an obvious highlight, birding locally has been quite quiet, so I’m hoping that Shetland will provide a selection of decent birds. RBA or Birdguides will show that Shetland has had a wail of a time in the last week or so. Hopefully the high quality birding will continue there through till the end of the month, and at a long shot hopefully its annual late September PG Tips (Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler) will appear on the mainland rather than on Fair Isle! A trip report will appear on here when I’m back.
I haven’t had a chance to benefit from the current strong easterlies locally due to being busy. Thus, this month’s local birding has continued on a Nearctic wader theme. After the Pec episode at Slains, I was vaguely hoping Rigifa Pool might come up with the goods and conjure up a Nearctic wader. As expected, this wasn’t to be on two checks of the pool on 15th and 16th September, but the local patch mentality made up for that. In other words, I perfectly enjoyed connecting with two site firsts in the form of 2 Black-tailed Godwits and 4 Common Snipes on 16th. Other waders that were about included a juvenile Dunlin and up to 40 Curlews on both days. Up to 20 Teal and 4 Pink-footed Geese were about on 15th. The main pool is too high at the moment to attract any Calidrids, but the two smaller pools surrounding it had some muddy edges which looked great for something decent. The Dunlin was on here, but I can imagine a Pec dropping in if the levels stay the same. Will be popping back in at the nearest opportunity.
Last Friday (21st) I toddled up to Strathbeg in the hope of connecting with a long overdue lifer of mine; Buff-breasted Sandpiper. There had been two earlier in the week, but since it had decreased to one. However I headed first to the Ythan due to low tide. Plans for a careful check of the estuary from Inches up to Logie Buchan were for the most part scuppered by rain, but I did manage to check from Inches before it set in. The highlight was a fresh juv Curlew Sandpiper amongst a posse of 15 Dunlin and a flock of 100+ Redshanks towards the new houses, as well as 2 Bar-tailed Godwits. From what I could tell during my brief stint before the rain set in, the estuary didn’t seem to be as lively with waders as it had been earlier in the month, with Lapwing numbers seeming quite low and no Golden Plovers seen. Aside from waders 10 Red-breasted Mergansers, increased numbers of Common Gulls and sizeable Pinkfeet flocks were all singns that winter was on its way. Before moving on to Strathbeg, I couldn’t resist a check of the Slains’ Pools, including the tiny one which held the Pecs. There was nothing on the pool apart from a Curlew, but for the second time running I flushed a Snipe from the stubble field. It will be interesting to see if this short trudge produces Snipe again.
On arrival at Strathbeg I had a brief check of the Visitor Centre before making my way over to the Low Ground. There wasn’t much on the pools save 2 Greenshanks, but three White Wagtails (adult and two juvs) were of interest here. Once at Tower Pool it became evident there were plenty of Pinkfeets on the Low Ground. I set up the scope randomly at the right end of the flock, which proved to be a slice of luck as I immediately connected with the juvenile Buff-breasted Sandpiper in amongst them at quite close distance, albeit slightly obscured. Relief and happiness set in; it felt great to have at last connected with a Nearctic bogey bird of mine. The bird in question quickly moved away from the flock and into full view, feeding busily with erratic bursts of speed as it scuttled along the Low Ground. It soon joined a Ruff, providing perfect structural and plumage comparisons. The Buff breast was positively dwarfed by the Ruff (even though the Ruff was a female), and it appeared far daintier than the latter overall despite having a noticeabley long primary projection, with the comparatively short and delicate bill adding to this impression. It had uniformly sandy/pale buff uppers concolorous with its unders, unlike the Ruff which showed much darker uppers and centres to the wing coverts contrasting with more orangey unders which became clean white towards the vent. The large eyes of the Buff breast were also striking when compared with the Ruff/ The latter seemed almost squint eyed due to the dark marks around the periphery of this area.
Whilst appreciating the differences between the two species, I noticed both of them suddenly standing alert. The next minute both of them had flown, the Low Ground descending into madness as a Buzzard flew through. I managed to keep on the Buff Breast in the scope until it disappeared from view, briefly noticing plain uppertail coverts (white sides to these on Ruff) and a gleaming white underwing. It headed east, and did not return once out of view. That was my lot, having only watched it for a few minutes. I thanked my lucky stars that I’d arrived at that point in time and got onto it quickly, otherwise I could have missed it. A lovely little thing though which was much enjoyed during that brief spell; a valuable NE Scottish lifer, as well as a much needed British lifer. Apart the dominant 800+ Pinkfeets, it was otherwise quiet on the Low Ground, with the best of it being 3 Black-tailed Godwits and a Snipe. Distantly on the loch, however, no less than 40 Whooper Swan were counted, another sign of winter. Despite it being quiet and the Buff-breast experience being short lived, I headed home glad with a successful day.
Finally, I’ve made a couple of brief trips to Girdle Ness in the last couple of weeks. The 16th yielded 5 Purple Sandpipers and a Barwit at Greyhope Bay, whilst a wander as far as the Battery on Sunday was disappointing for migrants, only producing a Wheatear by the allotments. There’s probably far more going on out there as I’m writing this, but with Shetland imminent in the next 24 hours I should hopefully have my passerine desires catered for. Until I’m back…
Thanks for reading,