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All eyes on rare Rubythroat

Twitchers flock to Gulberwick to see rare Siberian Rubythroat. Pic. Austin Taylor

GANGS of birdwatchers have been flocking up to Shetland to catch a glimpse of one of the rarest birds to alight in the UK.

Siberian Rubythroat in Gulberwick. Pic. Austin taylor

The adult male Siberian Rubythroat has almost mythical status in birding circles, hailing from the other side of the Ural mountains and only sighted eight times in Britain, six of those being in Shetland.

Excitement has been heightened as previous sightings have been of females or juveniles, which do not have the distinctive scarlet patch on their throat.

The latest arrival turned up in Shetland’s south mainland on Tuesday, but it was Wednesday before its identity was confirmed.

Now more than 100 birders have travelled to Alan Ockendon’s house in Gulberwick to feast their eyes on this tiny creature that has blown into the far north.

“I was working in the garden and was on warbler watch as there were several different types about, when I saw this flash of red,” Mr Ockendon recalled.

“The next day I sat and waited for about half an hour and it eventually appeared. I had no idea what it was, it looked like a robin. Then it suddenly looked up, the light fell on it and it was as if someone had switched on a fairy light on a Christmas tree, with this brilliant flash of red underneath its beak.”

One of Larry Dalziel's photos of the rare bird

He called his ornithological neighbour Larry Dalziel who confirmed its identity and put the word out on UK birding networks, since when twitchers have been turning up in droves by plane and boat to stand outside Mr Ockendon’s garden and see this rarity.

A team from the British Trust for Ornithology were on nearby Fair Isle at the time and chartered a plane to join the crowds.

Paul Harvey, of the Shetland Biological Records Centre, explained the excitement, saying the Siberian Rubythroat had reached “near mythical status” in this country.

Other sightings have been on remote islands like Fair Isle and Foula, apart from a dead one which turned up in Bixter. “I remember seeing that dead bird and thinking that was my last chance,” Mr Harvey said.

This one is both a more dramatic spectacle, but also easier to get to see.

No one understands why a tiny bird which should be migrating from Siberia to warmer climes in south east Asia, has headed in the opposite direction and ended up in Shetland.

Mr Harvey said that over the last 10 years there has been an increase in these “incredibly rare” birds turning up in this part of the world, but while there are several theories, there is no evidence to explain it.

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