Booted Warbler

Just going to prove that no matter how dire the weather appears to be for birding here in Shetland, you should never, ever give up. Whether new in, or lurking undiscovered for a while, it mattered not a jot when news broke this afternoon of a Booted Warbler in the South Mainland at Channerwick. With perfect timing, as I could leave work and head straight down there.

Only to find the bird was being a bit of a bugger to see. It was extremely unapproachable, and flew at the merest hint of a person within a 50 foot radius of it. A handful of us watched it spanging around the place, and I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time to fire off a series of photos, one of which proved to be reasonably in focus. Joy.

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It’s been years since I last saw a Booted Warbler (North Ronaldsay, I think) so this was a nice bird to see, albeit the views were hardly anything to write home about, and it’s easier to enjoy it after the event on the computer monitor. (Now there’s a sign of the times…) Spare a thought for JA who flew south today – while I doubt very much he needs Booted, it’s a bit of a kick in the bags to be away for the first decent eastern rarity of the autumn.

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Red-necked Stint string

It’s still quiet as the crypt here, and Shetland’s birders are all reduced to trying to find American waders. Without, it has to be said, conspicuous success. Some sort of rare peep would certainly kickstart the so far moribund autumn. So with rare peeps in mind, and reading Gavin Haig’s most recent post regarding birding japes on the always splendid Not Quite Scilly blog, I have a tale of Red-necked Stint stringing to share with you. 

Once upon a time (I forget precisely when, but it’d have probably been the late 90’s) my good friend Jeff had been to the Birdfair at Rutland Water, and had availed himself of Rare Bird Alert’s free one week trial of their fledgling text message system, in which all the news they usually broadcast to their pagers was piped directly to your mobile phone. Despite it being late August, this nevertheless meant that Jeff’s phone was rather busy – so busy in fact that I rather doubted he would be looking too closely at precisely who had sent him any given message.

The scene was set, and come the weekend I found myself stuck at work on one of the hottest days of the year. It was blisteringly hot, and needless to say nobody was looking to buy a new car (I was gainfully employed to flog cars back in the day) – preferring instead to sit in the garden and drink beer, take the kids to the beach, or in the case of Jeff, go to Dawlish Warren in south Devon for a spot of light birding. I was bored, and as the showroom got hotter while the day ground on, the devil found work for idle hands. I sent a text message to Jeff, reading thusly:

“***MEGA ALERT*** RED-NECKED STINT Adult showing well at Lodmoor NNR, Dorset 11.50am at least”

Now, I fully intended to follow this up with a phone call to Jeff, pointing out the deficiencies of using a mobile phone to take rare bird messages, pointing out how open it was to hilarious abuse by so-called friends, and pointing out how real birders had a pager. Unfortunately at that very moment the first punter of the day chose to walk into the showroom, causing an unseemly rush as 4 salesmen all on 100% commission-only pay sprinted to intercept her, and salvage something from a day hitherto spent leering at passers by from our un-air-conditioned prison. I was nearest, and some 30 minutes later she left the showroom the proud owner of a new car, leaving me smugly calculating how much I’d made from the deal.

The smug grin faded somewhat when I remembered Jeff. I dialled his number. He took the call, and from his hoarse, shuddering wheezing I gathered he might only recently have been running. For about half an hour. Carrying a heavy telescope and tripod. Over shingle and soft sand. On the hottest day of the year.

gasp-gasp-wheeze have you heard? Red-necked cough-cough-wheeze Stint at Lodmoor gasp-gasp-retch“.

Oops. I broke the bad news. After a stunned silence, he regained the power of speech with a wonderful and colourful eloquency, and sitting at my desk with an dew-spangled can of ice-cold Coke I felt truly sorry for my exhausted, angry and overheated friend standing beside his car in sunny Dawlish. Now, some 10 years on… it seems funnier again, somehow.