Today was all about expeditions. Back in Colombia, my good friend Diego Calderon was setting off today to trek deep into the Santa Marta mountain range, up into the remotest areas of paramo, seeking the almost mythical Blue-bearded Helmetcrest. This hummingbird was only rediscovered very recently after an absence of records that spanned not just a few years, but many decades. Now, just a comparatively few months after the rediscovery of this stunning bird, only a handful of birdwatchers have seen one. Diego will, with any luck, be one of the fortunate few.
I very much hope to make that particular pilgrimage one day soon. But for today, my own expedition was much more modest – a quick jaunt at lunchtime across the hill that separates the town of Lerwick from the smaller Shetland town of Scalloway.
While I was in Colombia a Scalloway couple discovered a Rufous Turtle Dove in their garden. This is a big deal as British birds go – there have only been 11 previous records of the species in Britain, one of which was in Shetland – way back in 1974. They’re particularly beautiful doves, with plumage a palette of soft blush pinks, powdery blue-greys and frosted tortoiseshell russets.
I saw one in Oxfordshire back in 2011. But with one just a few miles away from Lerwick, it seemed rude not to go and take a further look at this latest individual. I’d tried yesterday too, but in the short time available to me had not seen the bird. Though I had watched a large hen Sparrowhawk hunting actively in the surrounding gardens…
The Sparrowhawk was still there today, hammering through the sky with intent from time to time. Fortunately though she’d not got near my quarry – the Rufous Turtle Dove was blithely preening and roosting in the secure depths of a conifer.
I didn’t have long with it, just enough time to snatch a few hasty record shots and enjoy a brief look at the bird before the Sparrowhawk came blasting right through this particular garden, panicking every bird in the area. When the commotion died down there wasn’t a bird to be seen, just the anxious alarm calls of Blackbirds echoing from the depths of nearby shrubs. It was time for me to go too.