What a bird! This doesn’t really come into the sort of taxonomically obscure, hard-to-identify bird that Martin loved best. But he would still have enjoyed it immensely, he would have been in his element among the small crowd gathered on Shetland today. And he’d probably have asked a couple of questions that no-one else thought to ask as well.
It was easy enough to age and sex this terrific Rose-breasted Grosbeak as a 2CY male, with a nice mix of retained juvenile and newly moulted feathers – mostly juvenile remiges (it’s moulted the two innermost tertials on both sides), retained primary coverts and alula, new median and greater coverts, new central tail, old outer tail (etc). It was singing as well! Just occasionally, it delivered a few beautiful, really Blackbird-like, clear fluty notes. It’s the first for Shetland and fourth for Scotland (two Outer Hebs, one Orkney, not including one on an oil rig in Sea Area Fair Isle in 2012).
‘Another Facebook mega’ – the last three mega-rarities in Shetland have all been found at garden feeders, with images posted on Faceboook for the birding community to find there. It’s a major health risk – if you’d just lifted a large pan of boiling tatties off the stove and just happened to glance at your iPad before tipping them into the colander in the sink, you could end up with scalded feet and a right mess on your kitchen floor. Joking aside, the future is surely here though – surfing social media to find images of unidentified megas is the next best thing to being out in the field. First it was Oriental Turtle Dove in Scalloway last November, then Mourning Dove in Lerwick on Boxing Day, now this, in a lovely little garden in the birding backwater of West Burra. So you can forget autumn, all you glory seekers, that’s sooooo last year. Come to Shetland when it’s friggin’ cold and spend your time checking garden feeders.
And the (Facebook) trend will surely continue. To ensure you don’t miss the next monster on your patch, make sure your social media skills are up to scratch.
Grateful thanks to my old Birding Frontiers/Champions of the Flyway team-mate Adam Hutt (in Yorkshire) for being the first to tell me about the Burra Grosbeak – and especially to the owners of all three gardens chosen by the two pigeons and today’s star bird – all of them typically friendly and accommodating.