2 Oct 2009

The Northern Isles - part 1

My now annual trip to Shetland started with a little detour to South Ronaldsay where I was keen to catch up with the Sandhill Crane that had taken up temporary residence. I was met at the airport by local birder Paul Higson who had kindly kept me informed of the cranes whereabouts before I could get there. Paul also arranged a car for myself and Ash Powell and  lent us his local maps. Top man!

A miserable windy day was made more bearable as, just as we were about to leave the airport, Paul came running out to tell us the crane had been seen by a local farmer and showed us the location on the map. 30 minutes later we were enjoying good but distant views of  the crane and had it to ourselves until the next group of birders arrived on the ferry.

Satisfied with our views we then drove to Grindigan where two American Golden Plovers were showing in a ploughed field along with good numbers of European Golden Plover and Lapwing. Using the car as a hide we spent several hours here - probably the best views I've ever had of American Golden Plover!

Great stuff. With time to kill we birded various other sites before returning to the airport and trying to get an hours sleep before our plane to Sumburgh. After driving through the night from Cheshire to Aberdeen to catch the first flight I was in dire need of some sleep.

With just over an hour to go before our flight we decided to return the car and get a hot drink. Thats when one of the most surreal birding events of my life took place. We'd just handed the keys back to Paul and walked away when he uttered a few choice expletives and shouted at us to come and see what was on his computer screen - a Yellow-billed Cuckoo photographed nearby and identified by the original finder as a juvenile Cuckoo! Holy shit. Grabbing the keys from Paul who was trying to contact the photographer we set off with Paul promising us a bed for the night if we missed our flight. Ash & I were first on the scene and for 40 minutes scoured nearby ditches and bramble patches before other local birders began to arrive. It transpired we were about 400 m away from where the bird was last seen and we all drove in convoy to the nearby Gloup car park where I recognised the fence in the photo Paul had shown us. One birder walked down the footpath alongside a ditch towards the quarry whilst others wandered off in different directions or stood wondering what to do. With time pressing I decided to actually walk  the ditch. Then it happened............... 300 metres from the car park the Yellow-billed Cuckoo suddenly flew out from beneath hmy feet and headed towards the quarry. Ash was the first to react to my yells and the bird was soon located on a ledge within the quarry. Much back slapping and congratulations all round and we made our flight with minutes to spare. It looked as if the bird was going to roost in the quarry but apparently it left just after us and Paul managed to catch up with it later. Two lifers in a day. An event that doesn't happen much these days! Arriving back at our accomdation on Shetland we were basically described as jammy gits.

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