Wednesday 28 September 2016

Change of venue

Autumn migration is on, not just for the birds but an army of birders that descend on Shetland for a 3 week period to see as many rare birds as possible

This week I have met up with a number of people i know from Sheffield and others who came up during the last two autumns. It good to see them again and to find out what motivates others. Gone are the days when everyone went to the Scilly Isles, Shetland now has its fair share of rare birds.

                                                                                                     Juv Swallow

With more eyes looking out, good birds are found on a regular basis. Outside this period there many only be able 40 or so people out in the field so a lot of birds are missed.


People have different ideas when trying to find birds:-

1. There are some that go to favourable locations either based on previous experience or recent records and cover every inch (centimeter now) of ground.

2. Some that wait for news of a rare bird found by someone else. I talked to two types again those in number one that will shift location quickly if news comes in of a good bird. A couple of people I have found sit in a car perhaps half way down the mainland and shoot of in any direction where a rare bird is found but only go for mega rare birds and are not bothered about anything else.

3. Others up for a good time taking in the scenery and birds but don't chase about as much

4. Those that come on an organised birding tour, being taken to rare birds

Some respect people's property and a few don't, giving birding a bad name. Most Shetland people are happy to welcome birders and share experiences.


But its all about the wind direction, easterly winds are the most precious but sometimes westerly winds still bring good birds to Shetland. These birds have been discovered all over Shetland in the last few days


Brown Shrike, Great Snipe, Hoopoe, Arctic Warbler, Greenish Warbler, Blyth's Reed Warbler, Gt Reed Warbler, Lanceolated Warbler, Paddyfield Warbler, Barred Warbler, Yellow Browed Warbler, Common Crane, Red breasted flycatcher, Olive backed Pipit, Red Backed Shrike. Pallid Harrier, Bluethroat, Short Toed Lark, Rose Coloured Starling, Radde's warbler

                                                                                           Juv Red Backed Shrike

I spend more time concentrating on taking photos not just of the rarer birds but the common ones as well. Most birders (Twitchers) are not interested in seeing a flock of House Sparrow, Starling, Twite or Raven they have no time for them, which is a pity.

                                                                                             Juv Red Backed Shrike

Anyway over the past few days I have caught up with Yellow Browed Warbler, Olive backed Pipit, Little Bunting and Red Backed Shrike but only managed to photograph the Shrike, I first saw this just sitting in a bush 6 feet away, it then moved to the back of the garden but would fly around giving great views. Only three other birders present

                                                                                           Juv Red Backed Shrike

This cannot be said about the Olive Backed Pipit, with around 40 other birders crowded into a small car park i decided to leave them to it as the bird had not been seen for around 45 mins but managed to see it perched on a fence two gardens away.

The Little Bunting gave several great views but i could never get my camera onto it before it flew away but i was the only one present for most of the time. The Yellow Browed Warbler at Quendale was only seen once, but i didn't have any luck with the Arctic Warbler. One photographer managed one photo in 6 hours watching.

                                                                                                Willow Warbler

One bird that kept me entertained was a Willow Warbler who managed to collect several Bluebottles and spiders - Down in one !

                                                                                                Willow Warbler

Not good viewing conditions after Monday with gales and heavy rain, but still birders are a hardy lot with many braving the elements.

Thursday 22 September 2016

Its all Twite

Before coming to Shetland we perhaps saw Twite only on the coast in winter, especially down in Norfolk.

In Shetland Twite is a cliff / moorland breeding bird, perhaps to many a LBJ (Little Brown Job) but actually on closer inspection is very colourful, especially the juv birds which are a nice orange colour. The male has a bright red rump patch in the breeding season.  Its twittering call is very distinctive.

Its good to get close to any bird, but in autumn Twite gather to form flocks, these birds at Quendale are part of a flock of over 100 birds.

The flock landed on posts, fence and gates down at the bottom of the path and started to preen this gave me chance to approach closer. I walked slowly down stopping every now and then, but the flock seem settled and continued to call to each other.

More birds arrived and they seemed happy with my distance, even the noise of the shutter didn't seem to spook the birds. At about 20 feet away the birds filled the frame so no need to get any closer. I noticed that more Twite had arrived behind me and started to chatter away, i was now surrounded, it was like something out of Hitchcock 'Birds'

Twite have declined like most birds, this is down to agricultural practices, but these birds had no doubt been drawn to stubble fields close by. Flocks often combine later in autumn in suitable habitat, leaving unsuitable areas Twite-less. Most birds leave Shetland in winter returning in February, with only small numbers here throughout the winter months

When every possible i have a 10 min rule where i stay with the bird(s) to photograph any interesting behaviour. These birds accepted me, I can usually judge how far i can approach without the birds taking flight, this is all down to experience and field craft.

Often I have seen photographers rush birds and have no success, its all down to patience. The welfare of the birds always come first and to some extent that's why I don't do any mass twitchers especially when the birders surround a poor bird that is exhausted and needing to feed.

The first time I remember this happening was back in the 1970's when i had just started to become interested in photographing Wildlife.  It all happened at Kelling Heath in Norfolk when a Red Footed Falcon turned up.

Word got round, no mobiles or pagers back in those days and within an hour over 100 birders had turned up- (Everyone into telepathy in those days). The bird was surrounded and had little room to move into so i walked away, i didn't want to add to the pressure.

Shetland normally wouldn't have so many birders present. these numbers are in addition to me          1. Greenish warbler (1 person) Booted Warbler (3 people), Lanceolated Warbler (4 people) 4. Rose Breasted Grosbeak (no others)  that's in addition to me and all were well behaved.

This all changes the last week in September and first two weeks in October when birders migrate to Shetland or the Scilly Isles. A lot of good birds arrived  here in last few days but due to work not seen them - Hoopoe , Barred, Marsh and Arctic Warbler, Wryneck, lots of Yellow Browed Warblers, Bluethroat, Lapland and Little Bunting, Rose Coloured Starling, Red breasted Flycatcher, Isabelline Shrike and Pallid Harrier . Hope some stay around for the weekend.

Back to the Twite, it was  good twenty minutes before the birds flew off and this was all down to a Merlin flying past.

More Shetland photos at

Sunday 18 September 2016

Lanceolated and other warblers in Shetland

The weather yesterday was superb, short sleeve birding for a change. Friday had brought a number of rarer migrants such as Little Bunting, Red Breasted Flycatcher , Rosefinch and Red backed Shrike along with a number of common migrants.

                                     Wood Warbler earlier in the week

With the fog clearing many birds left Shetland leaving just a few but replaced by others. At Sumburgh quarry no Little Bunting only a Willow Warbler and a few Blackbirds but on the way out I saw a Hobby moving fast chasing Swallows, it briefly settle on a pole before leaving south. This was also spotted by a couple of birders coming down the road. This is a rare visitor to Shetland and the third Hobby i have seen in the isles.

                                                              Lesser Whitethroat

At Grutness garden two birds showed, a Garden Warbler briefly before it disappeared over the wall, returning before flying west. The other was one of my favourite warblers, a Yellow Browed, which fluttered through the bushes in search of insects- it seemed fairly settled.

                                                                                          Yellow Browed Warbler

News came in of a Lanceolated Warbler at Sumburgh between the gardens and the farm, as i was only 5 mins away I made my way over to the spot where 4 other birder searched for this small brownish bird. This species is well known for its sulking nature, keeping low in vegetation and this was no exception seen first in a ditch then beside a wall.

It briefly popped up onto the wall and posed for a few photos before heading back into the iris bed.  It was my first Lancy and by all accounts this was a very showy bird. Later a group of ringers caught the bird, why they have to do this I cannot hazard a guess.

                                                                                                  Lanceolated warbler

What benefit would there be ? It seems that every rare bird must be ringed with a Booted Warbler a few weeks early getting caught in nearly the same place as this Lancy. Seems as though a lot of people are not happy with the amount of trapping that is going on in Shetland, especially when it is pointless with a number of people tweeting about it.

                                                                                                         Willow Warbler

Not long ago the Green Warbler on Unst was caught and DNA taken just to be on the safe side, despite several birders confirming the ID from field observations.

We are now in the grip of Autumn migration where we see a large number of birders descend on Shetland. The number of observations increase with more eyes searching out birds so hopefully more interesting birds detected. A few birders came across a Pallid Harrier over at Hillwell which moved off west.

                                                             Kestrel at Sumburgh Head

Other birds such as Pied Wagtail, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Wheatear, Twite, Wren, Mallard, Shag, GTBB, Herring Gull, Common Gull, Gannet, Curlew, Redshank, Lapwing, Gt Skua, Fulmar, Rock Dove and Eider all seen on the day

More photos at

Tuesday 6 September 2016

Sunny Sunday

The weather has been very good over the weekend, with Sunday having easterly winds although these appeared to be very light winds.


                                                                            Unseen fly past by Sanderling

Having not been to Hillwell and Quendale for a while we made tracks down to the mill area. At first not much about with a few sparrow in the bushes beside the burn. Lots of croaking Ravens flew over joining around 100 Rock dove feeding in a crop.

                                                                                 A few of the Rock Doves

At the dam a Willow Warbler flew out and perched on the gate, then a Whinchat appeared then disappeared. It was looking better as I made my way back to the mill just in time to see a group of local birders led by Paul Harvey. They said the same, not much about as we headed in opposite directions.

                                                                                              Willow warblers

On the far side of the burn a Grey Wagtail fed and when this flew off a Green Sandpiper appeared roughly in the same spot.

A phone call from Paul Bloomer who was part of the bird group informed me that the Common Crane was at Hillwell, so having missed the bird numerous times I finally caught up with it. It seemed quiet content feeding then preening before settling down behind some tall grass, no wonder I had not seen it before, it looked like it had completely disappeared but now I could see its head in deep cover.

On the loch Pintail (4) Wigeon (66) mallard (12) Teal (12) Moorhen (4) Ruff (28) Curlew (12) Snipe(2) Redshank (2) Oystercatcher (1) Mute (2) Tufted (5). Then Paul mentioned a Black Redstart beside the farm building but despite waiting 1/2 hour it didn't show


As we passed Hillwell in the car the Black Redstart was seen on the roof of the farm buiding just before it shot over the other side. With hardly a cloud in the sky is was looking a good night for the Aurora which was predicted at KP4+ (see


You can see more photos of Shetland at my website for canvas prints of Shetland