1990 - 2000

Ruppell's Warbler

3rd - 19th October 1990

Late September 1990 produced a female Lesser Grey Shrike on the 29th around the fences at the Brough crossroads. On the 1st of October 2 Arctic Redpolls and a Short Toed Lark were found at Isbister by birders twitching the Shrike. Despite this there were few migrants around and it seemed like there was as many rare birds present as common ones!

On the morning of the 3rd of October I could see Michael Williamson birding in the Hamister area below our house so I decided to join him for an hour or two before lunch. He informed me that Skaw was dead so we decided on Skibberhoull for our first destination.

Nowadays the Skibberhoull yard has no crop but in 1990 there was a large kale crop surrounded on three sides by mainly fuchsia hedges. There was only one migrant in the yard, a back on view of dark grey with white on the outer tail. Obviously some sort of Sylvia Warbler and somehow you just knew it wasn’t going to be a Lesser Whitethroat. It disappeared immediately so we widened the search to the next patch of cover without any luck. On our return to the yard MW said “there it is” followed by “it’s got a black bib”. A few stressful seconds were endured before I got onto it but suddenly there it was, basically slate grey with a jet black head and throat, broad white Moustachial streak and a red eye-ring. A male Ruppell’s Warbler, perfect for your first A-list find as it is completely impossible to get wrong!

BM was out birding with John Coutts so in pre mobile days we had to split up and try and find them. MW caught up with them at Symbister so back we all went and to our relief the bird was still there. BM later mist netted it. I took Angela along to see it and took some photos which were so bad you wouldn’t believe it (nothing much changes).

The next few days was to be my first experience of mass twitching. Vast flocks of lunatics dying to be run over by passing cars. I even heard of one genius who sold his sitting room suite so he could afford the trip to Shetland. You have to assume he was single, or at least soon to become so!

The Ruppell’s graced us with a long stay being last seen 19/10 and was a third British record at the time.

Black-Throated Thrush

19th - 23rd October 1993

1993 was quite a good year. In spring I caught a Great Grey Shrike on the 4th of April which had been rung in Belgium. The 21st April at last saw me adding Grasshopper Warbler to my island list with BM trapping one at Marrister. The 23rd of May produced another new bird for me with a Shore Lark behind what is now Jon Dunns house at Skaw. BM got Autumn going with our first (and so far only) Aquatic Warbler mist netted at Skaw on 20th September.

On the 19th October BM was at work when he spotted a first winter female Black Throated Thrush out the window. You wonder how much attention his patient received at that time! Unfortunately (for me) I was at sea but apparently it stayed in the area around the surgery most of the day. we came home on the 21st and I wandered around vainly searching. A male Pintail in the field behind our house was a house tick and little consolation. Back at sea on the 23rd I got news it had been refound at Skibberhoull. Stuff happens! (First for Whalsay)

Ivory Gull

13th December 1993

The 13th of December 1993 was one of those rare glass calm winter days. A morning had been spent sea angling with my father off the east side of the island and we came ashore with a good catch of haddock. We were gutting the fish on our way home and by the time we reached Symbister a good flock of Gulls were following the boat. On reaching the small boat marina the Gulls headed off and we tied up, stopped the engine and continued gutting the fish.

I was sitting on the stern of the boat and a shrill cry made me look up. Hovering within arms length of me was a first winter Ivory Gull with its pure white plumage, black spotted wings and dirty blackish face. Somehow I managed not to fall overboard in amazement. I had no binoculars with me and there was no need, the fearlessness of the bird meant it was almost taking the guts off the knife. BM was at work so I went to fetch him and pick up my binoculars (much to my fathers annoyance as he had to deal with the fish on his own). Brian saw the bird which by that time was sat on the end of the marina digesting its feed.

With the light starting to fade in the afternoon it flew out the harbour entrance only to turn up at the Shetland Catch factory in Lerwick the next day where it was to remain for almost two weeks. The sight of such an amazing rare bird at such close range has to rate as one of the most memorable of birding moments.

Isabelline Wheatear and Lanceolated Warbler

20th September 1994

1994 started with two more overdue additions to my island list with a female Goosander on the Vatshoull loch on 20th March and a Red Necked Grebe in the North Voe on 24th March. The 12th of May was to be less fun with my first BBRC rejection. An elusive Thrush Nightingale was at Brough and was almost trapped when it went into a small stone sheep house. BM got a net across the door and kindly allowed me to go in to flush it. So knee deep in shite with trainers on, in I went only for the bird to escape through a small previously unseen hole in the roof. A description with lots of detail would have been a massive string and sure enough "Not Proven" was the verdict. Without even a hint of bitterness(!) they can shove it - it WAS a Thrush Nightingale.

Early Autumn was quiet and when on the 20th September a carload of birders pulled up with the age old "anything about" question I could only tell then of a single Yellow Browed Warbler. Soon afterwards I met them again. "Hello there's an Isabelline Wheatear on the golf course". WHAT. Not knowing the isle they went to the north end, got out and found a first for Shetland first bird up! BM soon arrived and we had splendid views and were able to compare it with 3 Northern Wheatears. After a considerable time we were back at our cars, Brian was parked a bit further south and taking a short cut strode across a ditch almost treading on a small brownish Locustella Warbler. It only flew a few yards and then pitched down and crept through the grass like a mouse. Unbelievably it was a Lanceolated Warbler another island first within 200 yards of the Wheatear! BM got the net up and it was quickly caught. Another good day at the office.

Savi's Warbler

29th May 1995

Spring 1995 was ok, another bogey bird Sandwich Tern had given itself up with a single bird at the houb on the 6th of April. The first of May saw me twitch a White Stork on Unst with BM. We also took in the Black Browed Albatross at Hermaness. This turned out to be a wise decision as 95 was to be "Albert's" last year on Shetland. May was fairly quiet until the last few days with a female Subalpine Warbler caught in the Skaw trap on the 26th.

On the evening of the 29th I came in on the ferry after a football match in Lerwick to the news BM had trapped a Savi`s Warbler at Vatshoull! Perfect timing. I touched base to pick up the camera then took Angela along to see the bird. Again my attempts at photography was pathetic, a succession of brown blurred blobs.

Brian released it back at Vatshoull and good views were had the next day (my 30th birthday!) despite long periods of skulking. (first for Whalsay)


9th June 1995

On the morning of the 9th June I got a phone call from a non birder. "There's a Beefeater in the Hamister meadow". I was fairly sure he meant Bee-eater and not some massive cow murdering bird of prey! The Hamister meadow is about 100 yards from our house so me and Angela hurried out for a look. We came down the road and there it was sitting on a fence with its dazzling multi-coloured plumage, a Bee-eater sure enough. Oh for a decent camera at that time. It allowed quite a close approach and was dropping off the fence onto prey amongst the marsh marigolds in the meadow. What a photo that would have made. It spent a few hours in that area before BM saw it last flying towards Symbister. It turned up at Vidlin on the mainland the next day.

The rest of 95 saw no more major rarities on the isle. A Rose Coloured Starling turned up amongst its common cousins near the Huxter loch on 22nd of June and was my first adult of this species. November saw an unprecedented influx of "Exilipes" Arctic Redpolls into Shetland and quite a few were on Whalsay.


29th September 1998

After two quiet years autumn 1998 was an outstanding time for rare birds starting with an Eastern Bonelli`s Warbler which I twitched at Grutness at the South mainland. BM caught a Thrush Nightingale in the Skaw trap 10/9 and two birders found a juvenile Woodchat Shrike on the golf course 11/9. The end of September was even better with a large fall of good birds.

On the 29th I was checking a few of the Symbister gardens when the late Willie Arthur stopped alongside me in his car. Willie was quite a keen birdwatcher and I think he couldn't quite believe his eyes as his first words were "has anyone seen a Spoonbill in the Symbister meadow". I rushed the short distance down the road and as expected a juvenile Spoonbill was wading through the small loch. With no mobile signal I drove to my parents house to alert BM. Not recognising my voice Brian sounded sceptical as Spoonbill would be a typical "wind up" bird from some comedian. He was at the bottom of the Brough rigs and once he realised it was me, had to run a long way uphill to his car. As it happened there was no need to rush as the bird stayed until the 9th of October commuting between Symbister and the Sandwick loch. Four Rustic Buntings were in the field about 50 yards from the Spoonbill and also on the isle were Ortolan Bunting, Bluethroat, Red Breasted Flycatcher and 6 Yellow Browed Warblers making the 29th of September a day to remember.

On 5th of October I twitched a Little Bustard at Quendale and after the winds eventually swung to the west a juvenile Rose Coloured Starling at Brough was our last good bird of the year on 12/10.

Two Barred Crossbill

26th September 1999

After the highs of the previous year 1999 was to be another quiet year. Spring passed without any major surprises and my first good bird was off the boat when a Great Shearwater visited us twice on the 15th of August as we were catching herring off Unst.

In late September a gang of birders were staying on the isle and on the 25th reported a possible juvenile Two Barred Crossbill. The next morning BM phoned to say they had refound the bird and it was a Two Barred and was showing in the Gardentown/Setter area with 3 Common Crossbills. I hurried to the scene and was rewarded with close views admittedly of a real scruff of a bird. I certainly wasn't complaining however as it was a first for the island.

The remaining highlights for the year were missed by me, as while at sea BM caught a Radde's Warbler at Skaw on the 24th of October and had a Pallas's Warbler at Symbister the same day.