Friday 30 May 2014

Good days

It’s been a good few days for birds and the weather. Not that some people are happy, as recently I met a few birders how had been disappointed with the migrant birds that had been on Shetland. Like many people who look at the various birding websites, they see many superb birds and expect them still be around when they turn up. These websites can be useful, and sometimes birds stay around but many are recorded in people’s gardens and others only appear in the report after the bird has long gone, so they can be a useful historical record.


This doesn't deter the many birders who need to add the bird to their bird list and some go to extreme length’s to see the bird, hiring planes and sometimes helicopters to achieve their ambitions at great financial costs.
                                                                                Rosefinch- male

Spring migrants are colourful and some sing, but many of these long distant migrants are non-breeders in Shetland and pass through the islands on the way to breeding sites while others have been blown well off course by winds and end up in strange places

                                                                          Icterine warbler

The last few days have been very good and Shetland has many superb bird spots where you can find your own birds, as I don’t have internet access anyway. Staying in the south mainland I have recently found Bluethroat, Red Backed shrike, Red Rumped swallow, Rosefinch (male and female) Wryneck(see last blog) Icterine warbler (2), Black Redstart, common Redstart, Marsh warbler, Wood warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Brent Goose and lots of Spotted Flycatcher and Blackcap.
                                                                      Spotted Flycatcher

When you put the hours in you can find the birds, however you may see the bird but trying to photograph them is completely different even though is very little cover for the bird to hide  except behind the occasional wall or in rhubarb patch- that’s a sore point as Shetland bushes tend to eat rare birds.

I saw a Sub-alpine warbler the other year which disappeared into a patch of rhubarb and never came out. I was thinking that the Red back shrike had done the same this year but it turned up after a 2 hour wait.
                                                                        Red Backed Shrike

Well back to the weather and although Shetland often has a black cloud over it on a weather map its usually doing something else, we have had better weather than Sheffield, since moving here it has only been bad weather for two days out of 6 weeks, with the last few days hot and sunny superb.
                                                                                Brent Goose
                                                                               Young Mallard

Thursday 22 May 2014


When a Wryneck turned up at Boddam on Friday I thought it would disappear as quickly as it came. Next day I was informed that it was still in the same place so we made our way over and located the bird straight away, feeding among the seaweed.

Now Wrynecks are not normally known for feeding in this habitat, but are normally found in sunny open woodland in Europe. It no longer breeding in England but may still be present and breeding in small numbers in North East Scotland.

Although part of the woodpecker family it does not climb tree trunks or drum. At first glance it looks like a small brown bird, bigger than the house sparrows that were also feeding in the seaweed. When threaten it defends its self with snaking twisting movements of the neck -hence the name.

The plumage is patterned like lichen in a grey brown colour with dark bands along the head and back. The tail is relatively long and has a short bill. It spends a lot of time in trees well camouflaged but also comes onto the ground to feed, hopping around.

On Monday I took another look not expecting the bird to be present but it was and seemed content feeding on insects it found in the seaweed. It was very confiding hence the photos. On Monday no other birder were present, not a thing that would happen in England.
I still have a lot of photos to process and with a limited amount of space on my laptop hard drive. Hopefully soon I will be able to down load several hundred photos including the Night Heron I photographed at Raewick in April

Monday 12 May 2014

Missing birds

It seems strange that there is only one record of a Magpie reaching Shetland, this was found on Fair Isle in April 1987. Although along time before this bones have been found in excavations at Jarlshof near Sumburgh,, dating from the 9-10 Centuries. It has been suggested that these were actual brought into Shetland (bird alive or dead)

It does seem strange to find this out, living in the magpie capital of Britain before moving up to Shetland. Sheffield has a very high population of magpies, a bird that is sedentary- so no wonder it does occur as a migrant in Shetland . In Sheffield it has been blamed for the decline of small birds especially in gardens although a survey by the BTO found that magpies had no effect on song birds whether they were in large or small numbers. They are very loud birds always drawing attention to themselves and it is a bird that is easily identified.

In winter they tend to roost together and I saw over 24 birds coming into roost in a large bush beside the river don. At this time of year they will be breeding, with birds nesting from two years old. They lay 6 green/ blue eggs spotted with brown in April. after building a large dome nest.

Young birds stay together until about September when they disperse but many don't survive the first year. The oldest bird was found to live until it was 21.

Another bird very common in the wood of Sheffield is the Nuthatch, this very attractive hole nesting bird can even be found close to the city centre. Its habit of walking down the tree trunk is a common feature of its behavior. Its is blue / grey above and orange below with a black eye stripe making it very distinctive.

It is resident only in England and is again sedentary like the magpie making it very doubtful whether any birds would ever make it as far north as Shetland. Early records from Fair Isle in the late 1930's and early 1940's must have been misidentified. Any recorded movements nearly always show avoidance to open water.

Friday 2 May 2014


Spring is my favorite season, the flowers are out and the bird start singing. We have had a Robin singing since last October and they will continue to sing until early June. Lots of migrant birds will be coming back soon and they want to set up a territory as soon as possible to attract a mate.

On the cliffs of Shetland I wouldn't exactly call it singing but the calls are all part of the same thing to renew the bond between birds, with the Puffin coming out top every time. Its just part of the whole seabird experience, the sound, the sight and of course the smell.

Although Shetland doesn't have many trees the ones that they have are magnets for all song birds. Robins have now started to breed on a regular basis, Chaffinch can be heard along with Goldcrests at Kergord and usually something unusual turns up.

On our last visit a Song thrush was singing, a rare one at this time of year. Others like Icterine and Sub-alpine warblers have been found well off course from there intended destination. perhaps the one that catches the attention most is the very loud Shetland wren which seems to be everywhere.

The starling is interesting as it mimics other birds calls. We watched one singing away up at Sandwick who would mimic a Curlew, which is amazing. The birds with the most varied and loud songs will attract the best mates so its all about the `voice'

Normally a  post , gate or fence is used to sing from but birds like Meadow Pipit and Skylark don't have that luxury so the have to make do with a sky song. Flying high in the air and hovering giving out their magical song. A skylark was recorded singing for over an hour before descending.

Waders fly over their territory calling or use an occasional post and these birds sing well into the evening. Shetland is the ideal place to be in Spring with the Simmer Dim , a time when its virtually light 22 hours a day, it just needs the energy levels to keep going , and I am not just talking about the birds.
                                                                                                             Golden Plover

Bird song helps with identification especially some of the more difficult warblers and knowing songs can enhance your birding experience. It is difficult to start of with especially as most birds only sing for a few months a year, but seeing and putting a song together lives in the memory for a long time. DVD and CD's can help but there is nothing like being out in the field listening.

Another benefit at this time of year is that the birds are in breeding plumage, with some stunning colours that fade away as the year progresses. Have a great spring where ever you are.