Tuesday, 27 November 2012


They are back in good numbers. They arrived in Shetland in October with birds seen around the isles, often very confiding, feeding on berries as well as apples and pears put out to attract them into gardens. Some lucky people were able to feed them while they sat on a branch only a few feet away.

They moved south with only a few remaining in Shetland as we speak. These birds were joined by new ones coming in from the east so that in Sheffield at this present time we may have more than 700 Waxwings . I saw a flock of at least 300 birds fly over Carterknowle Road in the south of Sheffield only a few days ago

Birds come into Britain when food is scarce in Scandinavia and are always great to see, even the none birdwatcher is excited to see them. I was photographing a flock the other day near a main road, and had several people come up and ask me what the birds were and when i told them it seem to make their day.

Trying to get a good photograph is very difficult, unlike Shetland were there are few trees, the waxwings in Sheffield tend to feed from Rowan trees which are always near other trees or have large numbers of twigs to clutter up the background. So getting a clear background is always a challenge.

Birds down in Sheffield also seem to have more competition for food, with aggressive Mistle Thrush and later Fieldfare chasing the Waxwings off, also Blackbirds and Redwing join in so berries soon disappear. In addition to this waxwings are attacked by Sparrowhawks on a regular basis making them very nervous and less confiding.

Birds have often been around until mid April but birds tend to linger later in Shetland with one seen on the 4 June in Unst the other year.So make a special effort to go out to see them this year.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

You sometimes forget you are in Shetland, in spring on a sunny day you might be lucky to be watching a bird that should really be down in the warmer Med. But this could easily be side by side, (well nearly) to a bird from America, the Artic or the East

Over the years we have been lucky enough to have seen a few bird that we have seen in France & Spain . While not a common visitor, the Little Egret is wide spread in England and moving north quickly as a breeder. Although herons are not that common in Shetland we have seen one at Loch of Spiggie a few years ago. As a tree nesting bird they will find it hard to find a nest site, perhaps at Kergord in 50 years time !!

Marsh Warblers are normally found towards the end of May and into early June, and have bred in Shetland. We have seen several and including this singing bird at Hoswick a few years ago and with no other birder present on the day.

Perhaps the most exciting bird was the sub-alpine warbler found at Skaw on Unst, yet gain no other birders around . This was present for about a week. We saw it collecting nest material and moving in and out of a spearmint patch near the stream. It sang a number of times. One visiting birder managed to identify the song from that of an Italian raced bird. It goes to show that the level of expertise is fantastic, not just of recognising the song, but others are able to pin down the race of other species from looking at the birds plumage etc. This takes a tremendous amount of work and dedication to birdwatching and often involves many trips abroad to gather the knowledge.

One bird that was instantly recognised was a Bee-eater which we watched at Vidlin. It seem incredible that this could survive, but it stayed around Shetland for over a week and looked totally out of place as sheep walked past.

Turtle doves are very rare around South Yorkshire, but I have caught up with quite a few in Shetland, usually getting good views. Earlier this year we visited Royan in France where Turtle Doves seemed to be reasonably plentiful. Its surprising any are left as the French shoot about 100, 000 per year as they migrant over the Pyrenees

Black Redstarts are one of my favourite bird, we are lucky to have a pair or two breeding in Sheffield, one of the few cities in the UK. In Shetland they often appear late autumn and early spring and are always nice to find.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Shetland attracts all sorts of migrants, both in spring and especially in autumn. Both periods are exciting as you never know what will turn up.  In Shetland birds can turn up anywhere, much depends on the wind direction. When you think about it you could be watching birds from America, Asia, the med or the Artic all within a few miles of each other. That's the great attraction , expect the unexpected !!

When we saw the Killdeer in 2007 it was unexpected as it was first discovered at Banna Minn on the 6 April, so we thought it would have gone before we visited Shetland at the end of May. So to find that it was still there but now down at a little pool near Exnaboe was a big surprise. Most spring birds don't tend to linger, this one however decided that Shetland was a great place to stay and eventually continued to frequent the area until 15 April the following year !!!!!.

It seemed to be paired up with a Ringed Plover, spending all of the time around the small pool

Another one of my favourite american birds is the American Wigeon. These arrive late either in spring or autumn with an exceptional  flock of 10 birds, which included 6 males at the Loch of Hillwell in the southern mainland on the 9 October 2000. Recent spring arrivals have occurred in May and June with the latest being a male on the 9 June 1992.

It is interesting that a ringed bird seen in Shetland in 1966 had been ringed in Sheffield (my home town). Birds are brought to Shetland in westerly gales and during northward migration in spring. The green sheen around the head on these birds are truly memorable

more rare migrants to come soon