Sandhill Crane

For the second time in 6 years, today I found myself twitching a bird outside of Shetland (there is a fine distinction being made here between going to see birds when I happened to be in the vicinity anyway, and making a conscious effort to leave my home shores!) – the first bird was the iconic Aberdeenshire Belted Kingfisher, and today’s was the equally inspiring Sandhill Crane on South Ronaldsay.

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I was out of Shetland on the first plane this morning, and by 9 o’clock was enjoying reasonable views of the bird. It was pretty skittish, as borne out by the runaround it led us once the twitching masses from the rest of the country arrived en masse shortly afterwards. At the first sign of human presence within a two-field radius (be it farm activity, dog walkers, householders hanging out laundry, or twitchers creeping up to get a closer view) it would take to the skies, circle widely, and eventually pitch down in a new field, usually just over the near horizon. I took a few record shots, then decamped to leave the masses to it while I went to see the American Golden Plover elsewhere on Orkney.


Having had excellent views of this confiding bird, I returned to South Ronaldsay, and timed my arrival well – Tim Cleeves was on the bird, and provided excellent directions to where the crane was roosting near the shore. I was slogging my way along the rocky foreshore to get to the bird unseen, when a stray twitcher walking towards the crane along the top of the banks above the beach took it upon himself to put the nearby large flock of geese up – and by the time I’d reached the approximate area of shore from where I could view the fields, the crane was long gone.

I went back to the car, and started to look again for it – but instead found the rest of the Shetland team stuck at the roadside with a dead car… and the crane on the brow of a nearby hill. More record shots ensued, before cattle flushed it once again – back to its roost site by the shore. We retraced my footsteps along the coast, and worked our way up behind an old drystone wall overlooking the bird. Fabulous views then for over an hour while it preened, went to sleep for a little while, and then took off yet again. Following images are chosen at random from many – I have a mammoth editing task ahead of me!

Sandhill Crane doing stretching

Sandhill Crane doing follow the Curlews

On a lightsome note, many thanks to the 2 twitchers who walked across the open fields towards it, flushing the nearby Curlews, and hence the gulls and the crane in their midst. We got some great shots of it as it took off. 

Less flippantly, many thanks to the finder, Paul Higson for providing us with such a superb bird, and such awesome logistical assistance once we were in Orkney. Top man, and deserves to go one better and turn up a nice Cerulean Warbler sometime soon!

9 Responses

  1. Hey Jon

    must have been quite an experience! And a fantastic day for Paul too. Bit of a heartstopper I bet.

    Shame about those that only think of themselves in these situations but that’s people for you.

    Anything interesting on the music front up there? I keep playing In the Aeroplane Over the Sea at the moment… came to it a bit late. Oh, and send us some birds please, it’s hopeless down here


    • I’ll burn you a CD Tim of a recent heartstopping acoustic set up here. Just 4 tracks, but oh my! they’re good. Oscar Charlie’s vinyl EP still on track for an imminent release – the Abbey Road mastering is, um… masterful!


  2. I’m intrigued as to why you use the term “twitcher” (or derivatives thereof) four times in your post in a somewhat derogatory manner (i.e. twitching masses, twitchers creeping up, stray twitcher, two twitchers flushing bird etc) when quite clearly flying from Shetland at short notice and therefore presumably at no little expense makes you a twitcher too??

    • haha, get you! Somebody’s a little sensitive, no?

      Am using “twitcher” very specifically as a noun to describe someone who has “twitched” a bird – i.e. made a conscious effort to deliberately travel to see a particular bird. I make no judgement on that activity per se – after all, as you so pithily point out, yesterday I was indeed a twitcher. And very enjoyable it was too.

      If the behaviour ascribed to a very small minority of the twitchers present – wandering around the open fields or trying to approach the bird without employing any discernible fieldcraft – offends, don’t blame me for reporting it.


  3. Niiiiice pix Jon – wish I’d come with you now!

  4. Hiya Jon
    Good to meet you yesterday and many thanks for the lifts to the Crane and the ferry port – cracking head shot of the Crane and seems like you had a good day all round.

    I hope that you at least get a few more Willow Warblers on Shetland this September…

    Cheers and all the best

    • Good to meet you too, Rich, and happy to have given you guys a lift when it mattered!

      Hope we can raise our game up here and drag you that bit further north next time 😉

      All the best,


  5. Jon,
    You got better views than me. Great pix as always. Am a little miffed you grabbed the plover too as I failed to find that one too (searched those fields the other day as well) and have again failed to see it despite a serious effort on Tuesday. Perhaps new specs are called for 🙂 Looks like you had a great day out. We’ll see if we can’t find that Cerulean Warbler to lure you south again ….

    • It’ll need to be a Cerulean, Alastair – Yellow-billed Cuckoo, nice though that is, just doesn’t cut the mustard!


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