4 Feb 2013

Pine Grosbeak.

Pine Grosbeaks are on most birders 'must see' list in the UK. They're almost mythical. Breeding high in the Arctic tundra they occasionally have irruption years where they swarm through the Baltic countries and then stop when they reach Norway. Every irruption year British birders say 'this'll be the year'. Last year was no exception. Come the autumn, come the bird(s). Thousands of them flying west from Siberia and Russia in a feathered horde. A handful turned up in Denmark and Holland. 'This is it, this'll be the year' was the cry.............................. Feck all.

Until last Thursday. News broke that one had been photographed in a Shetland garden on the Tuesday but with negative news all day Friday it looked as if another opportunity had passed us by. There have only been 11 records since 1950 and the majority of those were inaccessible 1 day stayers. The last (un)twitchable one that wasn't, if you get my drift, was in Easington in November 2004. It had spent 3 days coming to drink in a puddle on someones drive and was thought to be a Crossbill. Re-identified (like this one) from photo's it duly disappeared the day we all got there. No one saw it apart from the house owners. Prior to that the only other long stayer was a bird that took up territory in Shetland from March until April 1992. The previous record to that was in 1975. This was going to be a very popular bird.

Saturday saw me once again ringing in Barry's garden in Burton.. The phone pinged. A message from RBA. Rebecca Nason had refound the Grosbeak!! Cue pandemonium as Fred's Tours sprang in to motion. Within hours a flight had been arranged and a minivan booked on Shetland!

Leaving the house at 04.15 I met up with the other lads to drive up to our designated pick-up point and we arrived at Sumburgh airport without drama bang on schedule at 10.45 when the airport opened. Star Car rentals were waiting for my credit card and within 15 minutes of landing we were heading north to Collafirth where the bird had been seen the previous day. By this time we knew the Grosbeak was still present. Two thirds of the twitch completed - 1/3 get there, 2/3 know the bird is still present. 3/3 actually seeing it. There isn't a fourth third or even a fourth quarter. Planning doesn't usually include getting home. We don't think that far ahead.

A low pass over Fair Isle...

An hour later we arrived to find only 3 other people on site. 'You want the good news or the bad news' we were asked. Sounded ominous. It transpired the bird hadn't been seen for 50 minutes. Given the gale force winds it wasn't surprising. Our look was in. Before we'd even finished exchanging pleasantries we were whistled over into the field behind the garden where the Grosbeak had just showed itself. Result! Over the next couple of hours the bird started showing exceptionally well but the high winds and dull weather made photography a nightmare.

What a beaut. There were never more than 20 of us present and the bird performed admirably - as Grosbeaks usually do. Although secretive on their breeding grounds once they irrupt they become ridiculously tame and I've seen them in Finland coming to berries in peoples gardens. It looks as if this bird has actually been present since November when it was photographed in another garden nearby. Judging by the stripped buds on the conifers it favoured it seems to be thriving.

With our flight scheduled at 16.00 we meandered back to Sumburgh looking for Otters and a reported White-billed Diver. We got the otters but no diver. Satisfied we all crashed out on the plane and I was back home by 20.30 with a well deserved beer.


Tammie Lee said...

lovely to see your photos. i have just posted the pine grosbeaks i have been seeing this winter. A blog friend shared your link in his comment, so here i am enjoyed what you have shared about these darling birds. This is the first winter that i have had them as a regular visitor. When they disappear for a few days, I miss them and wonder if they will return.

Phil Woollen. said...

Thanks Tammie.