Thursday 22 September 2016

Its all Twite

Before coming to Shetland we perhaps saw Twite only on the coast in winter, especially down in Norfolk.

In Shetland Twite is a cliff / moorland breeding bird, perhaps to many a LBJ (Little Brown Job) but actually on closer inspection is very colourful, especially the juv birds which are a nice orange colour. The male has a bright red rump patch in the breeding season.  Its twittering call is very distinctive.

Its good to get close to any bird, but in autumn Twite gather to form flocks, these birds at Quendale are part of a flock of over 100 birds.

The flock landed on posts, fence and gates down at the bottom of the path and started to preen this gave me chance to approach closer. I walked slowly down stopping every now and then, but the flock seem settled and continued to call to each other.

More birds arrived and they seemed happy with my distance, even the noise of the shutter didn't seem to spook the birds. At about 20 feet away the birds filled the frame so no need to get any closer. I noticed that more Twite had arrived behind me and started to chatter away, i was now surrounded, it was like something out of Hitchcock 'Birds'

Twite have declined like most birds, this is down to agricultural practices, but these birds had no doubt been drawn to stubble fields close by. Flocks often combine later in autumn in suitable habitat, leaving unsuitable areas Twite-less. Most birds leave Shetland in winter returning in February, with only small numbers here throughout the winter months

When every possible i have a 10 min rule where i stay with the bird(s) to photograph any interesting behaviour. These birds accepted me, I can usually judge how far i can approach without the birds taking flight, this is all down to experience and field craft.

Often I have seen photographers rush birds and have no success, its all down to patience. The welfare of the birds always come first and to some extent that's why I don't do any mass twitchers especially when the birders surround a poor bird that is exhausted and needing to feed.

The first time I remember this happening was back in the 1970's when i had just started to become interested in photographing Wildlife.  It all happened at Kelling Heath in Norfolk when a Red Footed Falcon turned up.

Word got round, no mobiles or pagers back in those days and within an hour over 100 birders had turned up- (Everyone into telepathy in those days). The bird was surrounded and had little room to move into so i walked away, i didn't want to add to the pressure.

Shetland normally wouldn't have so many birders present. these numbers are in addition to me          1. Greenish warbler (1 person) Booted Warbler (3 people), Lanceolated Warbler (4 people) 4. Rose Breasted Grosbeak (no others)  that's in addition to me and all were well behaved.

This all changes the last week in September and first two weeks in October when birders migrate to Shetland or the Scilly Isles. A lot of good birds arrived  here in last few days but due to work not seen them - Hoopoe , Barred, Marsh and Arctic Warbler, Wryneck, lots of Yellow Browed Warblers, Bluethroat, Lapland and Little Bunting, Rose Coloured Starling, Red breasted Flycatcher, Isabelline Shrike and Pallid Harrier . Hope some stay around for the weekend.

Back to the Twite, it was  good twenty minutes before the birds flew off and this was all down to a Merlin flying past.

More Shetland photos at

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