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Blackpoll Warbler

30th September - 3rd October 1985

After a whopping thirteen lifers in 1979 it would take me eight and a half years to record my next thirteen (unlucky for me). In the years 82-84 my only addition was Sooty Shearwater proving that in my teenage years birding had slipped down the priority list somewhat. It took until 1985 to get going again with a Bean Goose at Saltness (neither myself or BM can now remember whether it was a Tundra or Taiga).

On the 30th September 1985 a day of fresh westerly's wasn't  helping my search for migrants. Only two birds were seen all day a Blackcap and a puzzling Warbler with double white wing bars on the roadside fence above the Heligoland trap at Skaw. I tried hard to turn it into a Yellow Browed Warbler but it just wasn't! The indistinct flank streaking amongst other features just wasn't right.  At this stage in my birding career I didn't even own a North American field guide. Why would I, we never get yanks - or at least not till that day.  Luckily for me the bird did the decent thing and went in to the Heligoland trap.  BM's eyes were on stalks when he saw what had been caught.  He quickly identified it as a Blackpoll Warbler, a first for Scotland and I had never heard of it!  The following day I went to the South Mainland with Brian to twitch a Brown Shrike a  first for Britain and from the completely opposite end of the compass.  The Blackpoll remained around the trap area and was last seen on the 3rd of October.

Hornemans Arctic Redpoll

30th April 1987

1986 passed without any major rarity though with only one entry in my diary in October I obviously hadn't killed myself with effort in the autumn. 

On the morning of the 30th of April 1987 I opened my bedroom curtains at Saltness to the sight of a Redpoll ten meters or so away on a fence and facing away from me.  It was a real "snowball" of a bird.  The pure white rump extended up its back to a point above the top of its wings.  It was obviously a Hornemans Arcitc Redpoll so I immediately phoned BM.  Though it had moved on by the time Brian had arrived we soon found it again around a rig and small garden a few hundred yards further north.  It was last seen on the 1st of May and was a new bird for me and is still by far the whitest Arctic Redpoll I have seen.

Broad Billed Sandpiper

18th May 1988

1988 started with a Willow Warbler wintering at Hamister, unprecedented in Shetland.  (No it wasn't a Chiffchaff!).  Mid May saw a nice spell of easterly winds, a Coot (very good Whalsay bird) was at the Houll loch on the 12th.  The 13th was one of those mental days with birds everywhere.  Me and Michael Williamson were out looking and although we didn't manage to find anything to warrant a major twitch we had a good list of sub-rares.  Four Red Backed Shrikes, Coot, Black Redstart, Sedge Warbler, Wryneck, Wood Warbler, Yellow Wagtail, Icterine Warbler, Spotted Redshank plus Common and Wood Sandpiper and with loads of common stuff it was an enjoyable day. 

Over the next few days things slowly quietened down.  A phone call from BM on the 18th changed all that however, he'd found a Broad Billed Sandpiper at the Houb.  On my arrival it had gone missing and after a short search I found it back on the spit.  I had been expecting a miniature Snipe-like wader but encountered a bird in winter plumage and was closer to Sanderling in colouration.  It gave excellent views over the next few days with a Brent Goose present on the 20th and was last seen on the 22nd of May.

Greenish Warblers

28th August 1988

On the 14th of August 1988 BM trapped a Greenish Warbler at Skaw.  Me and Michael Williamson were both away at the herring fishing and missed it so I assumed we had missed our chance to add the species to our lists. 

On the 28th of August BM phoned to say MW had caught another Greenish Warbler in the Skaw trap.  I went along and saw the bird in the hand before its release at Hamister.  BM went back later to Hamister to try for a few "in the field" photos.  He was pleased to find that the Greenish was still present and was snapping away when he noticed it wasn't ringed.  Then the ringed bird appeared.  What was the chances of releasing a Greenish Warbler into a yard that held another bird!  Back we all came to watch both birds together in one bush.  The mist net went up and bird number 2 was caught and ringed as well.

Pectoral Sandpiper

25th September 1988

On the 24th of September 1988 BM found a Pectoral Sandpiper on the pool at Skaw Taing.  As it was second day of me and Angela's wedding (we had the hall to clear up followed by a band playing at night) Brian decided against telling me.  This was probably wise as my disappearing down the golf course in the middle of the festivities may have resulted in the shortest marriage ever!  So with a heavy head I staggered down the golf course at 9.30 am on the 25th.  Still being a bit tired and emotional I got my directions wrong and went to the wrong side of the land.  This turned out to be an inspired decision as I turned up a Hoopoe before at last re-orientating and finding the Pectoral Sandpiper.  Quite a productive weekend.  One more good bird was found in 88 when my uncle Bobby Irvine turned up a Black Bellied Dipper while trout fishing at Nuckra Water which we all managed to see.

Barn Owl

10th October 1989- 1st February 1990

November and December 1988 saw a small influx of Waxwings  and (more unusually) Blue Tits. I somehow managed to miss both species completely until I caught up with a Blue Tit in a Saltness garden on the 1st of February 1989. 89 was to be largely uneventful with our first rare bird being a male Red Necked Phalarope on the North loch of Skaw on the 5th of July. Autumn was to be no better but BM at least found a juvenile Rose Coloured Starling on the rig above the Skaw trap on the 25th of September. I came back from a fishing trip the next day and successfully added it to my island list. Our best bird of the year was again to turn up with me away at sea. A pale breasted Barn Owl was found by BM around the dykes above the Houb. It was to be seen intermittently at Challister and lastly at Alma, Isbister until the 1st of February 1990 but is sadly still missing from my list.