Siberian Blue Robin, 2nd October 2001

Paul Brown

On the morning of 2nd October 2001, I headed out towards Holland House to check the bushes for migrants. Easterly winds earlier in the week had already produced a good run of birds, including half a dozen Yellow-browed Warblers, a Blyth’s Reed Warbler and at least three Olive-backed Pipits, so I had high expectations. However, after a couple of hours I had only tallied up a couple of Robins and singles of Blackcap and Chiffchaff, and, with an imminent threat of showers, I decided to cut my losses and head back to the observatory.

I was working my way down the sheep dyke on the west side of the island, partly for shelter and partly because that tends to be the place that holds birds when there is an easterly component to the wind, when a Robin popped up at the base of the dyke a little way in front of me. Beyond that was a Wheatear, and then from out of the base of the dyke a movement caught my attention.  Whatever it was instantly disappeared behind a boulder, but it looked interesting. All that had registered with me a dark grey-brown back and pale underparts but, a few seconds later, it appeared in full view and, despite having never seen the species before, I could clearly see that it was a Siberian Blue Robin.

I realised that I had to get every birder on the island (just eight people) onto it, and I phoned Kevin Woodbridge at the bird observatory: “Kevin, I’ve got a Siberian Blue Robin at Cott Banks near the concrete block wall. Get everybody!” I settled back to watch the bird, and within minutes the first people to arrive were enjoying close views.

The bird showed well for the rest of the day, although it could be secretive at times. A small group of Orcadian birders managed to make the afternoon flight onto North Ronaldsay and see the bird, and a single planeful of twitchers from further south also made it there during the same day. Unfortunately, the Blue Robin could not be found the next day, and only 25 people in total managed to see it.

This was only the second British record of the species, the first having been at Minsmere, Suffolk just a year before on 23rd October 2000.