Sunday 26 October 2014

making a difference.

Before we came to Shetland I had taken part in many different wildlife surveys and as soon as we settled in I signed up for a number of surveys here. Making any contribution to the understanding of wildlife in any region is very beneficial, you never know what is going to impact on a site or species and the only way to safeguard is to collect information for as long as possible by as many people as possible. Already threats have come in from the proposed wind farm in the central mainland, Yell and no doubt many others sites and conversations on the impacts continue.
                                                                                     Siskin, on the up, have you noticed this ?

Objections can be made if you know whats happening but like most areas in the UK things happen on the quiet and then its too late. In this weeks Shetland Times the newspaper highlighted the fact that an area of marshland in Unst is being drained in an attempt to prevent flooding. The area in Haroldswick which has attracted many species had been designated a local nature reserve, one of 31 in Shetland.
This unfortunately offers no protection and work had already been done with an excavator which had dug trenches several feet wide without  prior consultation.
                                                                          Eider Duck why are they declining in Shetland ?

These areas are important areas of bio- diversity as habitats for a range of species including either national or local rarities. The council has a list of the local nature reserves so why no consultation ? This area is well known and records have been taken into consideration when designating it a local nature reserve but many areas in Shetland are equally important and records from individuals can make a difference, so please submit records to relevant wildlife groups where ever you are.!!!!
                                                                       Gt Northern Diver, how many winter in Shetland ?

When oil birds are found, analysis of the type of oil is collected and can be traced to a certain oil field location, or types of oils. Its not just seabirds that are found, other birds have included Whooper Swan, Long Eared Owl  and even a Night Heron to name a few.

For the past five months i have been surveying the beach at Sandsayre, Only a Fulmar has been found so far and this was back in June. The survey takes place the last weekend of the month throughout the year. I will discuss the other surveys I undertake later this year.
                                                                                            Sandsayre beach

An easy one for everyone to make a contribution is to send in bird records , not just rare birds but common ones too.
Blackbirds do you know what you local population is ?

Black Guillemot
                                                                        Song Thrush, a large influx in Shetland this autumn

Monday 20 October 2014

Unst & more

It was good to get back up to Unst recently, the weather was good and both crossings produced Long Tailed Ducks. A flock flew along side the ferry going across to Unst with  a larger flock of 38 birds including some superb males just behind the first party. Gannets plunged into the sea and one gannet in particular got attacked by two Gt Skuas and was forced to crash land into the sea.

Whooper swans and a couple of Goldeneye was found at Uyeasound and on the way up to Baltasound many Greylag could be seen feeding beside the roadside. We did not see the Rustic Bunting or any other birders at Uyeasound so it must have moved on.

Coming into Baltasound a flock of Teal flew in and landed close to the shop. Also 33 Rock Dove fed along the shoreline, while  12 Red Breasted Merganser came into the bay. Turnstone, Redshank, Ringed Plover, Snipe and Curlew could also be seen here.

We Moved onto the gardens hoping to find Bluethroat and Little bunting which had been present for sometime. To start with a flock of 12 Brambling flew in a perched in a nearby tree, they appeared very nervous and kept flying off. A couple of male Blackcap joined two other female Blackcap's on a lawn, while a couple of Chaffinch kept appearing in and out of a hedge.

I followed the track up to Halligarth plantation, passing deserted buildings, one from WW2 which had held the Bluethroat earlier in the morning. No sign now but in the next garden a Siberian Chiff chaff put on a good show.

On past a house where a Reed Bunting showed well and then into the garden at Halligarth, one of the few woods in Shetland. On the edge of the wood a Yellow Browed Warbler fluttered through the branches then disappeared over the old house, then a female Blackcap and another Siberian Chiff chaff showed. A Redwing appeared on the wires then it came down to the edge of the wood but little else could be found, only a couple of Robin and three blackbirds inside the wood.

A walk down to the coast only produced Twite (18) Lapwing (22) Greylag (54), Pinkfoot (1) Red Breasted Merganser (2) Raven and Hoddie. I started walking back to the car stopping at the last garden for a look when first a Goldcrest, then a Common Chiff Chaff and another Blackcap showed. Then the best, twenty yards from the car a Bluethroat appeared dropping down out of a hedge, it stayed a few moments before flying up into the garden, what a superb bird.

The day after with the weather still excellent, we headed for Sumburgh and the lighthouse. Again no one around but a few birds showed The Snow bunting was allowing a close approach as did the Brambling's although fewer than a few days ago. A Redwing fed on the rose hips as did a few Blackbirds and one song Thrush.

 At Hillswick four Fieldfare fed beside the roadside, winter is on its way. Making my way over to the beach I flushed a flock of 16 Snipe, 36 Lapwing and many Starling. On The beach Ringed Plover (8) and Turnstone (16) fed near a stream that ran into the sea. On the way back a couple of Grey Heron at Urrafirth and Voe stood motionless beside the sea.

Today started wet and breezy but we traveled down to the south mainland where two House Martin flew over the airport. At Grutness, a Goldcrest and a male Chaffinch showed well in the garden. On the beach a Knot, Sanderling (22) Turnstone (26) Redshank (6) and Wheatear (4) fed amongst the seaweed.

A flock of Long Tailed Duck (9) including 4 superb males flew into the bay just as it started raining heavy, pity as it was a good photo opportunity.

Not much at Sumburgh Head except a flock of Twite (18) Redwing (4) Blackbird (10) while 129 Shag stood on the rocks below the cliff.

The remains of the Hurricane should hit Shetland later today with winds of 70 mph expected so it should blow a flew birds in.

Wednesday 15 October 2014


The week started well with excellent weather so we headed into Scalloway. Just outside Sandwick a Merlin was chasing a Raven, usually its the other way round, this was the third Merlin in a week. The Western Bonelli Warbler was still present but now further up the road and very active. I got several good views but it was impossible to photograph being high up and often in among the branches.

Plenty of common migrants still around with my first Shetland Blue and Gt Tits, also Chaffinch (4), Blackcap, Chiff Chaff (5), Robin (6) Goldcrest (2) Siskin (12) Collard Dove (5), Blackbird (12) Redwing (1) attracted to the wooded gardens.

On Monday we managed to get out in the sun, it was a superb day , still warm and just great for photography. At Sumburgh head only one other person present as i made my way up to the top. Song thrush, Robin and Blackbird found by a wall and then the sound of a whooper swan heading south drew my attention to a large flock of Geese heading my way, these Greylag past overhead calling and continue to head south.

At first only a flock of Twite (18) present around Lighthouse but on rough grass a Snow bunting  and a flock of 12 Brambling put up a good show and provided photo opportunities. A few Robin, Song Thrush and a Redwing kept appearing from the rose bushes.

Later in the week i caught up with the Long eared Owl at Virkie, not the best view but it  had just been flushed by two birdwatcher,  so it was a bit nervous. At Exnaboe a Sparrowhawk was chased off by a Raven and a walk along the road produced the following:

Blackcap (2) Goldcrest (2) Robin (3) Yellow Browed warbler (1) Song Thrush (1) Blackbird (12) Curlew (86)

A short distance away was Spiggie where many birds could be seen using the water, with a flock of 164 wigeon mixed in with Pinkfeet and Greylag at the southern end. At the northern end Whooper (14) and Slavonian Grebes (3) gathered close to the marsh where Teal, Curlew, Redshank and Tufted had settled in for a sleep. At least 8 Goldeneye followed the Whooper swans waiting for any food to be brought to the surface,

A Flock of 86 Lapwing headed south , closely followed by a Golden Plover flock 46 (birds). The last stop was Geosetter where a flock of Blackcap (5M 2F) flew up from a weedy area opposite the willows. Also seen here was a Yellow Browed warbler,  Goldcrest (2) , Robin (3) Wren (2) & Blackbird (2)

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Saturday 11 October 2014

Little birds still hurt

Little birds still dominate the scene here in Shetland. The Ruby-throat and Whites Thrush have gone but if you are after some more rare birds then a Bonelli Warbler in Scalloway , several Olive backed Pipits, Lancolated Warbler, Arctic Redpoll or Bluethroats may help ease the pain of missing the first two. On Friday I met one birder who had flown into Shetland hoping that the Rubythroat might turn up again.!!!

                                                                                                   Black Redstart

One of the best ways not to get caught out is to find your own birds, which is what i concentrated on this week. No major rarities but i was happy with what i found and photographed. Few birders around the places i went to but i did talk to one who said there was nothing around. When he said nothing, there was nothing he found interesting !

What a shame because i came away this week with the following birds. Totals for week in South Mainland

Merlin, Short Eared Owl. Whooper swan (6) Reed Bunting, Sanderling (33) Wheatear (70+) Robin (100+) Song Thrush (100+) Redwing (35) Blackbird (50+) Twite (200+) Eider (12) Shag (77) Cormorant (4) Starling (300+) House sparrow (100+) Swallow, Black Redstart (3) Yellow Browed Warbler (2) Chiff Chaff (3) Goldcrest (8) Hoddie (20) Raven (70+) Oystercatcher (100+) Ringed Plover (6) , Brambling (6) Chaffinch (3) Barnacle Goose (30+) Pinkfeet (100+) Greylag (100) Mute Swan (17) Tufted (12) Wren (8) Gt Skua (1) Blackcap (5) Fulmar, Kittiwake, Herring Gull, Gt BB, Red Breasted Flycatcher, Black Tailed Godwit (5) Curlew (70) Golden Plover (106  ),Lapwing (50) Meadow Pipit (60) Skylark (60) Turnstone (66) Purple Sandpiper (6) Rock Dove (150) grey Heron, White Wagtail (20), Siskin (12), Snipe (6) Mallard (30) Black Guillemot

I did spend alot of time photographing the birds so I am sure many other birders would have seen more.

Its good to see any birds, Shetland is very fortunate in having good numbers of common ones, such as Starling, Sparrow and Blackbird for we should not take this for granted.Coming in from Sheffield we were too far from the coast to experience migrants so it was great to see so many robins dropping in after the gales earlier in the week.

As for Song Thrush, i recon i saw more in one hour at Sumburgh than in 3 years in Sheffield, even the local birders said numbers of this species have been unusual.

Siskin came over the sea wall exhausted and started to feed immediately. It seems this finch is on the up with good numbers in most areas. All these birds inevitably attracted birds of prey, with Merlin the only regular breeder in Shetland it was great to see one close up.

I came round a wall to see it sat on a fence post looking the other way, I knew that it would spot me straight away when it turned its head so I rattled a few  shots of, but it turned and stayed for a few seconds before taking off and flying very low after a flock of Twite.

The Short Eared Owl was great to see, it appeared to be flushed from a stubble field and flew over a wall and landed on the airstrip. It soon took off and flew north chased by a couple of raven. I remembered earlier in the year that i had good fortune to watch 12 SE Owls in the air at once at a North Lincolnshire hot-spot, sadly this area has been ploughed up.

I did see another SE Owl a couple of days later but it was not as close.

Monday 6 October 2014


After the excitement of the past few days things got back to normal  with some local birds around Sandwick.

Many geese have been flying over Sandwick in recent days, reminding us that its autumn The local population of wild Greylags has recently been joined by a flock of Pinkfeet, these are very nervous and at any sign of human presence fly off into a distant field.

They need to feed so a local stubble field provided a good spot to spend some time photographing them from the car. Picking a quiet single track road to park up the geese soon return and started to feed, usually with one or two guard geese who are on the look out for trouble.

With around 70 Pinkfeet and 25 Greylag it was a noisy affair, these were joined by over 100 Rock Dove . A  flock of around 200 Skylark kept flying around while several Herring and GT Black Back gulls caused some disturbance as they flew close to the flock of Geese.

After overnight gales and rain during the day on Thursday , things settled down until the news came in that a Siberian Ruby throat had been found in Levenwick, about 5 mins away. I was soon parking up at the north end of Levenwick and could see a large number of birders already heading to a spot overlooking a garden.

When i got there about 70 birders had binoculars trained on a bush, with no access to the garden a wall of birders surrounded the garden and peered at the bushes. This reminded me of a Red footed Falcon that turned up at Norfolk back in the late 1970's when the bird was surrounded by Twitchers. The Ruby throat was spending a lot of time very low down in dense vegetation, but i was lucky to get two views

The second one the best when it could be seen low down at the edge of the bushes, the it disappeared into deeper cover. No chance of a  photo as it was very mobile, no doubt someone with plenty of time will come away with some photos

Apart from some very poor parking all the birders had behaved well and respected the requests of the house owners to stay outside the garden, no doubt this bird will trigger off an influx of birders from down `sooth'. During Saturday the bird disappeared for a time before being relocated in another garden in Levenwick and it was seen again today but due to heavy rain became very elusive.

On Sunday i managed to find two Yellow Browed Warblers up near the hotel in Hoswick, but viewing was becoming difficult due to strong wind. I therefore decided to photograph a flock of Golden Plover (97) in Sandwick from the car.

Today is a day in with gales and heavy rain, so i pity those out in the field. At least it gives me time for some photo processing

I really cannot believe how good this year has been so far with another mega bird under my belt, the Ruby throat following on from the Yellow Rumped Warbler, Whites Thrush and Red Flanked Blue tail. What next ?