Saturday, 25 October 2014

THE GOOD OLD DAYS 7th September, 1995 and 2nd September, 1997.

2nd September, 1995
We had just arrived for a birding holiday in the Shetlands on the overnight ferry from Aberdeen to Lerwick. The weather was promising being fine with a light easterly wind and Doreen and myself decided to look for migrants along the east coast north of Lerwick on Mainland Shetland. After visiting a couple of sites we decided to check out Gletness an area we had never visited before.

As we parked our car, we felt the area looked promising being right on the coast with a few chalets with gardens, a nearby field with a reedy ditch with bushes and a small stubble field. As we checked the gardens we were soon seeing migrants chiefly Willow Warblers but also the odd Redstarts, Wheatears etc. I then decided to walk through the small stubble field whilst Doreen watched from the car. I walked about a third of the way through the stubble when a small party of House Sparrows flew out and with them was a bunting similar in size to the sparrows with good white outer-tail feathers. Luckily, the sparrows landed on the nearby fence running along the edge of the field and the bunting joined them (if only we had digital cameras in those days).

It was only some 10 yards or so from me and clearly showed two prominent white wing-bars, yellowish wash on the under-parts, a buff supercillium and a typical bunting bill with a pinkish hue on the lower mandible. I was able to watch it for several minutes before the sparrows flew back into the stubble field and the bunting joined them. I carefully walked back to the car to tell Doreen that there was a Yellow-breasted Bunting with the sparrows and we both immediately returned to the field and slowly walked where the sparrows had landed. The sparrows again flew to the fence and the Yellow-breasted Bunting was with them. We had similar close views for several minutes before the birds returned back into the stubble field, and we were both satisfied that the identification was correct and we returned to the car to find a telephone box to alert local birders and advised them that we would not re-enter the field for 45 minutes allowing them time to drive to Gletness.

Around six local birders joined us and I re-entered the field whilst the other birders remained on the other side of the fence. The party of sparrows again flew from the field to the fence again with the bunting and the other birders all obtained good views as it sat with the sparrows on the fence for several minutes before returning back into the stubble field. One of the local birders tried to find the bunting on the ground in the stubble field but unfortunately he flushed it and it flew high over our heads and appeared to land in nearby grassy fields. Unfortunately we were unable to re-locate it again and although I checked the field and area the following day there was no further sign.

Yellow-breasted Bunting has a breeding range in the boreal zone from Kamchatka Sakhalin and Japan through Russia into Finland. In Finland the breeding population was around 180 pairs but since the 1980's this breeding population decreased quite rapidly and it is probably now extinct as a breeding specie in Finland. This was probably due to large-scale clearance of much of its wintering habitat for agricultural use.
(per Hagemeijer and Blair)

It was an excellent start to our Shetland holiday being a British tick for ourselves and my only previous record was a brief view of one in Nepal a few years earlier. The record was accepted by BBRC and published in their annual report as a 1stW/female.

2nd September, 1997.
Doreen and myself were spending an extended holiday on the Out Skerries and we were helping the local ringer Edwin Tait. We had permission to set some mist-nets in two small clumps of rape seed being grown on the island. As I was birding the area, I noticed a single bird in one of the mist-nets and at first I thought it may be a House Sparrow of which we had caught several already, but as I approached it I realised it was a 1stW/female Yellow-breasted Bunting. I quickly took it quickly out of the net, put it in a bird-bag and took it to Edwin to ring and process it. Needless to say Edwin was highly delighted as it was a ringing tick for him and Doreen photographed it before it was released. It flew to a small grassy mound nearby where it landed. We decided to leave it for the time being and I checked the area later in the day but there was no further sign of it.

After finding one in 1995, it was excellent to ring one and to be able to photograph it. The record was accepted by BBRC and published in their annual report.

(photographs taken by Doreen Cooper)
1stW/female Yellow-breasted Bunting on Out Skerries on the
2nd September, 1997.