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