Tuesday 30 September 2014

Magic days

Sunday started dry and sunny, but still windy. A large skein of around 100 Pinkfeet flew over the house calling, geese are always great to see and these counted as a Garden tick. Following these was a flock of 46  Twite.

We managed to get out in the afternoon and went to Veensgarth where initially no birds could be found  but then a flock of Common Redpoll flew in and landed in a tree close by - the tree may have been rarer. They flew over to the larger group of bushes and trees to join a very white , large Redpoll, this was the Arctic Redpoll which had been present for the past few days and it showed well until a group of birders turned up then it flew round the back to join the common Redpoll flock.

It gave further views to all and was joined by a Red Breasted Flycatcher close by which flew up onto a fence post several times. Raven, Hoddies and flocks of starling past by.

Moving down to Cunningsburgh we again locked onto another Red Breasted Flycatcher, this one giving very close views, and our 5th RBF since moving to Shetland. These flycatcher have arrived in the UK in good numbers recently It was good to see it catching flies, and coming back to the fence before digesting the insects. A Blackcap joined  the flycatcher in the garden.

Round the corner a very active Yellow Browed Warbler and a Pied Flycatcher put on a good show . O the way back to the car a couple of Swallow flew over, apparently they have nested in the area this year. Further  swallows put in an appearance as we made our way back to Sandwick. As we made our way past Mail a quick glance at the sea produced a couple of dorsal fins which instantly reminded me of Porpoise. Stopped in the lay-by at the top of the hill we looked back over the bay to see more than 20 Porpoise moving south, a great way to end the day.

Sunday 28 September 2014

Good news

I was so glad to receive a phone call from the camera centre in Lerwick on Thursday informing me that my 800 mm lens was back and fully operational. I wasn't able to get up to collect it until the following day as I gave an illustrated talk on `Close encounters with Nature ' to the social group at the Carnegie Hall in Sandwick.

Starlings gather

Heading down to the `Da Ness' is always a pleasure with so many good places to look for birds. Grutness beach was busy with birds with a reasonable size flock of Knot, three Turnstone and a couple of Redshank. Flocks of Starlings are all over the place and come the evening gather around Sumburgh Farm before finally heading over the cliffs and then down to a large cave to roost under Compass Hill.

After gales and rain Thursday night / Friday it was good to get out and on Saturday I completed my Beach survey and found no dead birds which is good, in three visits only one Fulmar found dead. On the beach Turnstones (54) gathered along with a few Redshanks, Starlings and a dozen Rock Pipits. A few wrens fluttered around the seaweed avoiding the oncoming waves.

A skein of Pinkfeet flew over but only four landed and joined a large flock of Greylag in a field. Around Sandwick on the short grassy fields a flock of Golden plover (98) joined Turnstone, Lapwing, Redshank and Ringed Plover. Golden Plover are always nice to see. It was still quite windy so sorry no photos from the day.
                                                                    Summer plumage Golden Plover

Thursday 25 September 2014


On Sunday although the light was poor we headed down to Hillwell/ Quendale. The wigeon population had increased to 234 birds with the larger part of the flock feed on grassland close to the loch. A few Tufted, Teal and Mallard could also be seen but numbers were down from last week.

The stubble fields continued to attracted a lot of birds with large flocks of waders, mostly Golden Plover, Curlew and a few snipe and Lapwing.  Flocks of starling and sparrows which are always nice to see moved to and fro from the fields to the farm buildings while Wheatears used the Hay bails as a look out post. The continued presence of a Sparrowhawk made life difficult for all the birds as the constantly flew up creating a spectacular sight.

While only a Robin showed around the farm buildings, Ravens continued to provide some great entertainment as they chased each other and were very vocal.

I decided to head up the road past the farm to look over Quendale bay and i quickly located four Porpoise just out from the beach. Gannets passed over looking for shoals of fish and the ever present Fulmars skimmed the sea. Flocks of Shag also gathered in the bay while some gulls, mainly Herring congregated where a stream entered the sea, also a few Oystercatcher fed here.

On the way home we passed Spiggie where Whooper swans had increased to nine and Mute to eight, small numbers of Tufted and Teal were also present. Gt Skuas (35) could been seen out in the middle of the loch bathing. Around the edge of the loch, white wagtails ,Wheatear, Meadow Pipit and skylarks flocked together to feed on grassland

Monday started still, bright and still mild - news coming in that two Sub-alpine warblers had been found in Unst showed that even though the wind had turned to a westerly direction good birds could still be found.

We headed down to Sumburgh area for the day on Monday but it was quiet. At Sumburgh Head i was the only person present and after two hours only a Barred Warbler, Redstart a willow warbler showed and three Wrens moved round the cliffs on the south side. It was a beautiful day though and down at Grutness, two willow warbler and a female Blackcap moved through some bushes while down at the pool six white wagtails flitted about.

Nothing down at Sumburgh gardens so I made my way to the farm where a Red Breasted Flycatcher perched on a fence before moving into the garden. Starlings were very vocal and a flock of around 50 or so flew up from a stubble field which also held 28 Skylark and some snipe.

At Boddam I was just in time to see 4 grey Heron taking off from the shoreline attacked by a couple of GT Black Backed Gulls. A Small flock of Turnstone , a few Curlew and Ringed Plover joined a couple of Dunlin in the channel.

Yesterday we called in at Wester Quarry which was very quiet although a large flock of Raven and Rock Dove fed beside the road. Only a Chaffinch and Wood Pigeon (migrant) could be found in the gardens. In Lerwick at least 20 Black Guillemot fed in the harbour giving close views, now in their smart grey and black plumage. A few Grey seals came close as well.

Monday 22 September 2014

List secured

After the Pallid Harrier the other day, Shetland migration season is producing a range of good birds. We headed down to the south mainland  where there are several excellent birding spots. On Friday fog and easterly winds looked promising.

The fog  started to cleared later but by then a superb Red Flanked Blue-tail, Barred Warbler (2), Little Bunting & Red breasted Flycatcher,  had all given great views

                                                                     Superb Red Flanked Blue-tail

With a supporting cast of Redstart (4), Goldcrest (5), Robin, Blackcap, Brambling, Redwing, Swallow, House Martin, Kestrel (4), Willow warbler(5) Chiff Chaff (2) Knot (34) Oystercatcher (8)  Redshank, Snipe(6), Curlew (19), Lapwing (6), Raven (6) Twite (30) White Wagtail, Hoddie, Gt Skua , Wheatear (8), Starling (300) House Sparrow (150) , Gannet, Kittiwake, Fulmar, Shag, Rock Dove (12), Meadow Pipit (30) skylark (12), Blackbird (15), Herring Gull (22) Gt BB (2) Rock Pipit (6) Mallard (12)


I bet that a lot of people (Birders) are relieved that the vote for a Scottish independence was a NO. I have met many birders that are listers and they need as many birds on their lists as possible. If the English birders had lost their Scottish birds then they would have seen a big drop in their lists. I know of a few that would have instantly struck off the Scottish birds - so bye bye to birds like Golden eagle, Ptarmigan, Capercaille, Crested Tit.
                                                                                         Willow Warblers

As for Scottish birders then they would have lost birds such as Avocet, Cirl bunting, Nuthatch, Magpie. All birders keep some sort of list, either on paper or in their head, its all about competition and providing evidence of expertise. Well I say expertise but many people just respond to birds found by others and don't really identify the birds for themselves.

                                                                                   Red Breasted Flycatcher

I met a couple of birders a few years ago in Shetland that spent the whole holiday chasing other people's birds and couldn't  even identify a Siskin that appeared at Kergord. That life !!!!!

In Shetland there are a lot of very experienced birders, who have lived in the isles for a number of years. They may be ringers, study a patch or spend time really looking at birds so if something unusual turns up, which regularly happens in Shetland then they are in a better position to identify the new bird.

                                                                     Lets not forget the little house sparrows

For those new to bird-watching then most birds are rare in a sense that they haven't been seen before by the observer but they may not be rare nationally. Lists are very precious and there is an element of one up man-ship so birders have to see a new bird and they will travel the length of the UK to see this bird spending hundreds of pound to get there as quick as possible. Sometimes it works , but a bird can be here one minute gone the next.

Several years ago I got talking to some birders that had come to live in Shetland for a few years to bump up their lists, they worked at the fish factory and would work all hours but would disappeared if a rare bird turned up. Its quite noticeable that during the past few days a number of twitchers have turned up, eager to boost their own lists.

                                                                   Fulmars ever present around the cliffs

So back to lists and at present the number of birds seen in Shetland stands at  453 inc Fair Isle (2012) - Shetland Bird Report (596 birds on UK list at December 2013), which represents a fair number of migrants as Shetland has only around 70 regular breeding species

                                                                           Gannets pass Sumburgh Head

Thursday 18 September 2014

Pallid and more

I was very sad to hear about the death of Jim Wood, many of you will have seen his superb wildlife photos taken in Shetland and the Spey Valley. I met Jim on the first day we moved to Shetland back in April and we used to meet up to photograph the birds in and around the south mainland. Jim knew all about where and when to go to certain spots and could be seen out during all weather and at all times of day. Jim will be missed by many people.

Meadow Pipits are still moving through Shetland, corresponding with the national trend. Flocks of over 40 have been see feeding on short grass at Scatness, Sandwick, Grutness and Compass head during the past week

                                                                           From  BTO / Bird track

A couple of Buff Breasted Sandpiper showed down in the south mainland along with a couple of Little Bunting and two Red breasted flycatcher but I was unable to get away from the house with builders present. Migration is hotting up, with Yellow Browed Warbler & Barred Warblers further up north, flocks of Pink footed geese are passing over , with 20 over the house the other day.

I did manage to catch up with a distant Pallid Harrier down at Hillwell which returned the following day. Thanks to Hugh Harrop with the identification.  

It was also good to hear that Hen harriers bred in the Upper Derwent Valley near Sheffield this year. Unfortunately out of 5 young 3 died

                                               Long distant Pallid Harrier on Wednesday 17 9 14

A bird that will be in Shetland throughout the year is the Raven. Back in the Sheffield, Ravens could be seen in the Derwent valley but didn't manage to breed due to persecution. Here Raven are common, especially at Quendale where 100's gather, coming down off the hill to feed in the surrounding fields. They always seem wary but occasionally you can get close, they are large birds with a powerfully beak

Still a few Butterflies about, with a couple of Red Admiral in the garden on Tuesday and Large White Monday and Thursday.

On the mammal front several dead Polecat/ ferret have been seen on the main road , this follows the spring trend. A couple of very active brown rats scurried among the rocks down at Boddam and as usual many seals, both common and Grey are very evident where ever you look on the sea.

On Clickimin Lock 40 Tufted Ducks gathered, this species is certainly more abundant now than when we first started coming up back in the late 80's