More Shetland Two-barred Crossbill action

Went down to Sumburgh after work this afternoon and spent a happy 3 hours wandering around looking for (and eventually at) Two-barred Crossbills. Numbers of them there have been climbing steadily over the past couple of days, and were up to 9 by this morning. Needless to say, I maintained my usual Two-barred Crossbill record of not having it easy to begin with, and spent over an hour without seeing any at all, just heaps of Twite buzzing around the place. Eventually cracked and phoned PVH for some more specific directions.

Spent half an hour wandering thrift fields he’d seen them on the evening before. Still no crossbills. Back up to the lighthouse, and finally some joy. A juvenile bird loosely associating with some Twite, and feeding on the turf right beside the lighthouse. Fabulously confiding, and 10 minutes later I was just a few feet away from it as it fed unconcerned beside me. Even I was able to manage a reasonable photo or two.

Wandered back down towards the car, and went for a speculative walk up the hillside opposite the lighthouse. It was still sunny, and reasonably sheltered from the fresh wind. I’d been there no time at all when I heard crossbills calling, and picked up 6 Common Crossbill flying over the brow of the hill and past me. Closely followed by a larger flock of 10 birds – all Two-barred Crossbills! They were pretty spooky and hard to approach, nowhere near as tame as the first bird, so once I’d counted and recounted them, I concentrated on stalking the only adult male amongst them for photos.

Got a few, but at fairly long range, and with my shit lens they’re not great. If only I’d got the new lens I keep promising myself… Still, not as bad as they might be either.

CF card filled, I settled back to watching them all feeding on thrift, plucking the flowerheads and rapidly grinding them in their bills, shaking their heads to dislodge the chaff. I stayed sitting in the sun watching them for a while before they flew, straight towards me. For one brief moment I was in the middle of a flock of flying Two-barred Crossbills – I could even hear the sound of their wings whirring as they shot past only a foot or two away. An absolutely spellbinding experience. Only one thing left to do – I hoofed it back up to the lighthouse, and found the first juvenile bird still where I’d left it, roosting on the metalwork beneath a water tank.

11 birds in all – 2 more than previously reported. I don’t know which ones ‘mine’ were, but frankly couldn’t care less. They were stunning. I don’t think the autumn is going to be able to better that for an awesome birding moment.

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