17th July 2018
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Past Times: Peeress sees rare bird

From The Shetland Times, Friday 8th May, 1959

One of Britain’s first life Peeresses, Lady Katherine Elliot, widow of Col. Walter Elliot, spent the week-end in Shetland, and managed to keep appointments as well as visit Fair Isle. Accompanying her was her young nephew, Mr James Dugdale, a keen ornithologist.

They were fortunate in choosing this week-end to visit Fair Isle, for the observatory there had just identified an American song sparrow – the first time this bird has ever been recorded as found anywhere in Europe.

In the field the bird looks rather like a hedge sparrow, with a longish tail. It has a black mark on the breast, very noticeable in the field, but not so noticeable in the hand. Its overall colouring is a mixture of brown and grey, and the head has buff and green stripes.

The bird was located on Ward Hill, where it was trapped in a coil of wire. It was rescued by a member of the observatory staff, ringed and released, but was still in the vicinity of the observatory this week.

The observatory’s theory is that the bird must have been carried all the way across the Atlantic by the very strong westerly winds experienced lately. It is not a bird which is normally caged, hence it cannot be an escapee. Its normal habits do not include migration over the sea, therefore it is unlikely it crossed the Atlantic on a vessel.

Lady Elliot and her nephew came out from Fair Isle on Tuesday to fly south.

Before going into the island she had several engagements elsewhere in Shetland. On arrival at Sumburgh she was met by Mr John H. Spence, director of education. As a member of the Carnegie U.K. Trust she had expressed a desire to visit the Courtney Hostel in Lerwick and some village halls.

At the hostel the party was joined by Mrs C. F. Johnson, chairman of the Bursaries and Hostels Sub-Committee, and they were shown round. Both visitors were greatly impressed. Indeed, young Mr Dugdale, who has just left Eton, remarked that although quite a large sum of money had been spent on his education he had never enjoyed such comfort as provided by the hostel.

Mr Spence took Lady Elliot round part of the Shetland mainland, to give her some idea of the background under which the various organisations in Shetland must work.

The same evening, Lady Elliot, who is chairman of the Scottish Council of Social Services, was entertained to dinner by members of the recently-formed Shetland Council of Social Service. The Shetland Council was represented by Messrs Edward Thomason, John Johnson, and Thomas Johnston.