Thursday, 24 January 2019

Colourful Gulls

Earlier last week (Wednesday 16th of January), I headed down to Girdleness (Torry, Aberdeen) to try and get some Shag rings on the outer breakwater.
Safe to say after 2 hours I was pretty unsuccessful with virtually no Shags since and no rings read so I packed it in and headed off back into the centre of Aberdeen.

On my way back I happened to stop and check a few of the Gulls around a local Salmon smokers and safe to say it was a good idea! I managed to spot a metal-ringed Black-headed Gull waiting around for a chance at some grub so I decided to try nab the numbers of it.
After many photos and a few precarious positions on the road I managed to grab enough photos to piece together the full number.

This first individual probably took the most work into reading the ring number but luckily he was quite tame. This bird was originally ringed at Grantown-on-Spey in the Highlands on June 2018, a distance of 96km.

I'd just finished looking at the metal ringed bird when a rather well developed bird going into summer plumage flew by, with a yellow darvic ring! The camera was out again in a flash and I rattled out a flurry of shots on the ring allowing for the code to be quickly established.

Yellow 2VJC is a Black-headed Gull colour-ringed locally @ Forvie NNR at the Ythan Estuary by Grampian Ringing Group in 2014, making this bird around 4 years old.

Happy with my discoveries I headed off back to the city centre to get a few things before going home, on the way I stopped at Victoria Bridge, the link between Torry and the rest of Aberdeen, where there was at least 100 gulls feeding on the dropping tide, so I scanned them for any colour rings. The first flock that I scanned was mainly Black-heads, and there was one individual with a rather large white patch on its leg that caught my eye.... After a few shots from my camera I'd clinched a good enough photos to get a code off the Black-heads colour ring! in the field there was something about its metal ring that caught my eye, it seemed noticeably larger than the ones you usually see on British ringed birds, sometimes the European ringers use bigger rings on their birds so this had me thinking this was a potential European visitor.

Most certainly the farthest travelled bird of the trio, this beauty was initially ringed in Helgoland, Germany in 2013 and has been wintering in this area of Aberdeen ever since! this find was also my first foreign recovery of any bird. However a Brambling retrap from Norway that we caught two days later was quickly my second!

The rest of the nearby gulls were checked for rings but nothing was found so I packed it in and headed home.

Saturday, 8 December 2018

A day in the life of a trainee

A quick piece here that I did for the Grampian Ringing Group after a day out on the 11th of November 2018 ringing finches, tits and chasing Waxwings in Aberdeen.

Link to their website and the post can be found here:

Original Post Below
On an unseasonably warm November morning, several members of the group braved the darkness to head out to the finch ringing site at Girdleness, Aberdeen City for the final finch catching of the autumn.

After setting up both the finch net and starling net, with different foods, the usual waiting game ensued.

Finch Whoosh Net

Today's team and trapping site

After a few flocks of finches came and went our luck finally struck and a flock of linnet came down and we were able to capture them. After extraction was complete there was 15 finches all nicely in bird bags. At the end of the session we had ringed a total of 6 new linnet and retrapped 2 goldfinches, and another 7 linnet from previous sessions this autumn.
The second ringing session of the day involved some titmice ringing at some bird feeders in the Cruikshank Botanical Gardens in Old Aberdeen. The site seemed promising on arrival as the place was busy with coal tits (with a few great & blues thrown in). The next hour of the nets up proved to be a productive one and to end our catch, we'd managed a grand total of 63 new birds (24 blue tit, 24 coal tit, 14 great tit & a robin) and single retraps of coal & blue tit. However this session was particularly special for myself as I handled three new species in the form of coal, great and blue tit. For someone who has been ringing for several years, it would come as a surprise that I hadn't come across these species before but coming from Shetland we don't have many of these peerie fluffballs and usually, when they do show up, it ignites a twitch!

Coal Tit

Great Tit

Blue tits, however, were a species we were particularly interested in (not something people say very often!) due to a new national moult project that GRG has joined, that looks at the post-juvenile moult of blue tits. This project aims to give us a better understanding of how juvenile blue tits moult their feathers and allow for another piece of the moult cycle puzzle to be solved, more information can be found in the Autumn issue of the Lifecycle magazine. As the gardens seem to have a decent number of blue tits, it will probably see us returning for a few more titmice sessions in the coming weeks and months.

Blue Tit

For the final ringing session of the day we decided to cross the River Dee and head into Kincorth to locate the local flock of waxwing which was numbering over 100. In previous winters the group has colour-ringed many 100s of waxwings and contributed to our understanding of their movements through the UK during irruptions (see our previous blog posts). Arriving on the site, we set up a couple of mist nets, which hopefully would get us a few of these Scandinavian visitors. Over the space of the next few hours, the waxwing flock did several pass overs and at one point came as close as to land in a large tree near to the nets, but unfortunately never close enough to catch. The group will undoubtedly be trying again to ring waxwings if they stick around for the winter, there's enough berries in the area so only time will tell.

Logan Johnson - Trainee (Shetland RG, adoptee of Grampian RG)

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Twitching a Tereks and some variation

These last few days have been pretty hectic, I am in the middle of my final exams for school before I venture into the big wide world, on the other hand Shetland has just been bombarded with rarities of extreme proportion that has every lister and twitcher scrambling for.

First news broke of a Mamora's Warbler in Unst found by Dave Cooper on 14th May 2018, a first for Shetland and an incredibly rare bird in this country followed shortly by a Black-faced Bunting found by Mark Warren, also in Unst and another big British rarity. Both were found around 6pm and I was sleeping ……. typically, with me only waking up 30 minutes later and not being able to reach the 6.55pm ferry up to Yell, I was scuppered for getting up that night and would have to wait til tomorrow (neither bird was ever seen again sadly).

While further south on the jewel that is Fair Isle, another fantastic rarity was found by Fair Isle regular and rarity finder extraordinaire, Keith Pellow, at North Haven in the shape of a Crag Martin (2nd for Scotland and 1st for Shetland), but shortly after during the following morning a Song Sparrow was found and trapped by Richard Cope on morning trap rounds, adding to the crazy rarities seen over the last 24 hours.

Now comes in my tales of trying to see these rares, the day the Song Sparrow arrived (15th May) I had an exam at 1pm and so couldn't go to Unst or Fair Isle on regular or chartered flights that afternoon so banked on a later chartered flight but sadly timing didn't work out. Luckily others did get in to see these birds and hopefully they'll stick around til early next week after my exams are finished and I plan to twitch the Sparrow.

But there was still hope for me, after not getting out to see any of these colossal rarities another great bird showed up on Virkie, a Terek Sandpiper had been found by visiting birders and I was not going to miss this one, around 5pm I got a lift down with Julie Redpath and the twitch was on!

Arriving at Virkie it didn't take long before we got distant views of Shetland's fifth ever Terek Sand, within 15 minutes the bird got scared off by an Arctic Skua and we lost it at the back of the pool. Though luckily it wasn't long before my and Julie had the bird fly back in and with it eventually being within 50 metres of us.

Eventually it walked towards the back of the pool and became rather distant so we called it a day and headed back north after a very successful twitch.

Many thanks to Julie for the run!

First sighting of the Terek, rather distant!

Terek Sand! my 284th bird species for Shetland and not one I expected to be seeing anytime soon

Now for a slightly different note, I've been getting interested in identifying Hoverflies in the last few weeks so here's a few from around Lerwick plus some birds I've had on the Clickimin and Seafield patch.

 Eristalis intricarius

 Melanostoma scalare

Eristalis pertinax

Sea Kale springing back to life once again

Two Knot, my first on the patch this year and a year tick

Osprey!! a stonker of a patch tick that was being mobbed by gulls over Pullar's and headed due west

Surphus sp

Silver Y

 female Melanostoma scalare

Bewick's Swan at Hillwell 06/04/2018

On Thursday 5th April, a Bewick's Swan was found by friends Dave Okill and Pete Ellis at Hillwell. This big white blob was the first in Shetland since 2011 when a bird was at Northdale, Unst for a few weeks.

This was a potential tick for us so Tommy and I decided to have a twitch the following day for it. Arriving at its last known site of a park west of Ringasta, we were greeted by a group of about 15 Whooper Swans, we were a good distance away from the birds and even a scope would of struggled with the distance so we were stumped on trying to get an ID. After 30 minutes we gave up and hoped that it wasn't in the flock and was instead at Hillwell, 3 swans were on the loch and another flock of 6 were up by the road in a newly plowed park. A quick scan of the 3 brought up no Bewicks and so the park birds were next.
I scanned them from right to left and the last bird hit me like a brick, it just screamed Bewicks at me, we'd found the bird! The camera came out and we both rattled off a few shots before just taking in the swan for a good while.

 Bewicks (on left), note that the yellow on the Bewicks bill looks like half a B and the Whoopers looks like half a W, B for Bewicks and W for Whooper is a good way to look at it.

Moving on we started checking goose flocks for any birds with collars or any other species of goose.
First bird found was DTI near the Mainland's shop having been originally ringed in Clumlie in 19/07/2015 making it 2 and a half years old.
The second was DNC seen near Bigton which had originally been ringed at Clumlie in 19/07/2012 making it 5 and a half years old.

The collar scheme was set up to try and establish where Shetland birds went during dispersal, with similar projects in Orkney and Iceland, however most Shetland birds rarely leave their breeding areas (South Mainland birds stick mainly to the South Mainland)

Moving on to Spiggie we had a hunt for the wintering Pied-billed Grebe, after a brief look Tommy spotted the bird in the NW marsh, it was looking rather splendid in its new summer plumage.

Pied-billed Grebe

Saturday, 24 March 2018

The first ticks of the year

My first post for 2018, though my round up for 2017 is still to come and a few other interesting sightings from the last two months.


It was around 1130am and my phone went off with the familiar and always exciting 'bleep' of the WhatsApp bird groups, looking at the message, Paul Harvey had re-found the Red-necked Grebe in Nesting. Red-necked Grebe, within the last few years, has been updated to a local rarity and during my birding years it hasn't been a bird I've been able to see.

The day was gorgeous and still, perfect for searching for Grebes on the water, I phoned up Tommy who was birding around the mainland and we organised to meet up around 3.30pm.

Fast forward 4 hours and we were dashing out of Lerwick on our way to Nesting. Arriving on site we spotted local Nesting birder Kristofer Wilson and Julie Redpath peering through scopes, quickly parking up, we spilled out the car to see if they had the bird, which to our luck was still in their scopes.

After only two records in Shetland during the last few years, I had finally laid eyes on a Red-necked Grebe, it was hard to contain my excitement after finally clamping eyes on this beauty.

It was a bit distant but views were still good though I was wanting to see it a bit better, it was only a couple minute walk to the shore so with my scope and bag I trudged down to the coast.
A minute or two after arriving my scope was set up and very quickly I was on to the bird.

Albeit rather distant you can make it out as the Grebe if you look closely

I'd gotten my fill of the bird and knowing that there had been the regular WBD in the area, I began scanning the voe and an interesting diver caught my eye.
This diver was not the WBD but instead a dark necked smaller bird, this bird spoke to me as odd. From the distance I did struggle to get a good look at it but it didn't look right for GND, having a black coloured neck, missing the usual brown collar and block fronted head. This got me thinking of Black-throat.

I decided to head back up to everyone and tell them of what I'd seen, when I arrived Kris said he had also seen the bird and had thought the same as me, so we set out to try get a solid ID.
Soon the four of us got eyes on the bird but it was so distant and the fading light made us struggle with the ID however we were pretty confident it was a Black-throat but I wanted to get better views, so Tommy and I headed over to the opposite side of the bay to get a better view.

Luckily we quickly relocated the bird and it was much closer than when we viewed it from the other side, I was about 90% sure it was Black-throated so I phoned up Kris and Julie to get another opinion, Kris soon showed up and clamped eyes on it as well, with the fading light we were more than certain it was a BTD, Julie had already put it out as a probable so news was out, I was happy for it to go out as that due to our views in the poor light and Kris would watch the area for the next while to see if it was around.

Kris managed to see the bird again in better light a few days later and confirmed it as a Black-throated Diver.


After having the glorious Red-necked Grebe tick the day before, I was not expecting to have any more excitement for many months but luck would have it that the special beep from WhatsApp would go off again.
At 1100, the WhatsApp group went off from Rory Tallack of a Stock Dove at Gremista, Lerwick. Stock Dove being a Shetland bogey bird and a much wanted Shetland tick I went into action to try and get to see it, only being a 30 minute walk away it was literally within running distance.
I had a few lifts that I could use to get there, I gave Dave a shout (who happened to be going for the bird) and we met up at 1310 to go on the twitch.
Arriving on site, the bird was easy to find feeding with another pigeon, I rattled off a few record shots and took in its peerie size before we decided to try and get closer.
Trying from another vantage point we managed to get within 10 metres of the bird by the roadside, where all of its colours showed pretty well.
It only stayed for a few minutes before shooting off back towards the centre of the park, but I was pretty satisified with my views and photos, its not everyday I get a Shetland tick and get so close as well! So with that Dave and I ended our skirmish for the day.

Stock Dove! a long-awaited Shetland tick and a very smart bird.

With those two additions in February it brought my list up to a respectable 282. A few birds to go till 300 but this being Shetland who knows what will turn up next!

Friday, 8 December 2017

Swan Count 2017

In Shetland November is a special time for us birders where we leave the comfort of our warm homes to drive around in every backroad known to man on the hunt for Swans.

On the 12th of November, my area to count would be Fetlar (though I usually help out Dave around Tingwall or Mark Chapman with the North Mainland) as Andy Cook was working.

I set out early on the 12th, aiming to make the 0725 ferry from Gutcher so I could get into the Isle early and make the most of the light, with a warm flask and some food I went off on my adventure.
On the journey across I decided to brave the freezing weather and hunt for seabirds off the ferry, after twenty minutes I had given up due to the conditions with Comorant, Gannet and Long-tailed Duck seen. Arriving on Fetlar I made my way straight east to Funzie.
At Funzie there was a good sized flock of gulls (numbering around 350) so I began picking my way through the flock for any white-wingers, after ten minutes I had my wish and I had found a 1st Winter Glaucous and an Adult, but no Swans on the Loch. A quick look up at Everland and then at Aith and Houbie produced no Swans but instead 6 Mallard, 1 Chaffinch, 2 Woodcock and good numbers of geese (several hundred). By this point I was getting to the end of my count, with only one loch left to check I headed over to the Loch of Papil.
I had just come down over the hill when I instantly picked out a handful of large white blobs on the loch, which gave the instant impression of Swans, I pulled up as close to the loch as I could and got the scope on the birds, Whoopers!!
By the time I'd finished I'd racked up around 13 birds and in that 3 different brood with 7 birds being juveniles, there was a few Tufteds and Goldeneyes on the loch as well but with the choppy conditions it was difficult to see anything else, so I was off west towards the ferry.(last years counts 0)

As I was heading to the ferry I decided to take a detour up to the Fetlar Mast as it was a place I'd never been and since it was such a high place it would [provide a great view. I only got halfway up when I decided to turn back, the pot holes were huge going up and I'd rather keep my car than try get a view. Luckily it was a good idea as when I came off the hill a white blob flew up from the side of the road, a Snow Bunting (Snaa Ful)!, it flew along the car for a few minutes before shooting off into the hill, after having given some stonking views.

Finally onto the ferry where I happened to meet Andy Cook who was heading out the isle to work, we chatted a bit about the Swan Count (with Andy adding one more juv Whooper to the list) and the good autumn we'd both had before the ferry came in and we headed off.

Arriving back on Yell I decided to take a quick run up to Cullivoe to see if there was any swans to add to the count. Cullivoe had a few swans, at least on Kirk Loch anyways where there was six Whooper Swans, two pairs of adults and one of which had a brood of two. Also on the loch was a lovely male Pochard, they can be quite a rare bird in Shetland now so its always good to see one.

Next place on the list before I headed home was Sand Water near Gutcher where Dougie Preston had found the White-winged Scoter, it contained a few Swans (just Whoopers), two parents with a brood of 4, and no White-winged Scoters or Ring-necked Ducks that had been seen in the area recently, so with that I headed off home.

Ladybirders Winter Bird Race #2

After a successful birdrace last November I once again joined the Shetland Ladybirders in their now annual winter birdrace to raise money for Shetland charities.

Though this time there was a twist, I decided to sheath my own team instead of being assigned to a Ladybirder team, so I reached out to a few bird-racing veterans and friends to help me out.
My key choices were Paula Moss and Karen Mackelvie, Paula being on my team on the last winter bird race and Karen being a team member for my first bird race in October 2015 and the more recent one in May.

Things looked to be good, I stayed at Paula's the night before and we were due to set off before sunrise the following morning, though the weather seemed bad I had hope.

Race Day
I was up by 6am and was rearing to go, little under an hour later Karen arrived and we had a quick cup of tea before setting out.
We decided to head to Karen's in Stromfirth to get some early morning Grouse, we walked a couple hundred metre stretch of good looking heather and nothing, only a couple of Snipe, our hope was deteriorating (as was the weather) so we trudged back to the car. We were just about to leave Stromfirth when Karen suggested to do one last piece of ground by the lochside, so we got out and we were hardly 100 metres in when a familiar call went up and 7 chunky birds flew up, Grouse!!
A few hectic minutes later and the whole team had nailed them, with that we headed to Kergord with heads held high.

Our aim in Shetland's largest woodland was to nab some of the harder woodland species that we'd struggle to get farther south. Rook, Grey Heron and 2 Pink-feet were all picked up from the car before we gave a bash at one of the plantations for Woodcock, Goldcrest and Sparrowhawk, loan behold we managed to flush a Woodcock from a dense clump of bushes (we only noticed it as it made quite a noise trying to fly out) and hear Goldcrests in the trees, but no Sprawk.
Up to Upper Kergord to try find this woodland predator but no luck, only another Woodcock and some Goldcrest so we headed back south, we were passing the Lindsey Lee Plantation when I thought we'd give it a quick try for Sprawk and maybe some Woodpigeons, I set off walking and tried to get anything to fly out but nothing came, we'd given up and were heading back to the car when I noticed that all the Rooks and Starlings went up, to which I said "I wonder what put all those birds up?" and what appeared? A Sparrowhawk!! it flew around for a good 30-40 seconds, a very nice looking juv/female, it even was brave enough to try and take down several Rook!!
Next back to Girlsta for a quick look and Comorant, Kittiwake and Eider were scooped up by the pier, a quick toilet break at the house and I'd just gotten to the toilet when the shouts of Sparrowhawk erupted from the kitchen! I eventually came out to see this absolute beauty of a bird just sitting there in the garden! (I had seen the Pigeons and Starlings fly out of the garden 10 minutes earlier so this is obviously what put them up), thought there was no time to waste and we headed off, shooting straight south.
A quick look at Wester Quarff for the King Eider and nothing, not an Eider in sight so Sandwick was next, Leebitton cleaned up Purple Sand, Rock Pipit and Gannet and Da Wart produced Golden Plover, Redwing and Ringed Plover. We decided to give Swinister Burn a quick bash when we met two of Sandwick birders, Glen and Juan, they gave us locations of a few tricky species but not before they tried to get us on to a Chiffchaff that was lurking in some dense bushes.
We never got the Chiffy but instead a flyby Blue Tit was an added bonus, though the boys had mentioned of at least 2 over by the Barclay Arms. Next stop was another jaunt to Da Wart to try get some crop specialities, Mipit, Twite and Chaffinch were all found but I was the one team member to miss Skylark so we couldn't count it as part of the rules (and it would be a bird we didn't see again that day).
Finally onto Spiggie and the wildfowl started pouring in, both species of Swan, Tuftie, Wigeon, Shoveler, Moorhen and Snipe were picked up with Little Grebe and Coot being some goodies.
Then we pushed south and headed to Setter Marsh (aka the Phalarope Marsh) where a certain North American goody was supposed to be lurking...
We arrived at the marsh and began scanning it for the Pied-billed Grebe, after a few minutes I spotted a small grebe in among some Moorhen, it took me a minute to get a proper view of it due to the strong winds but it looked exactly like the Pied-billed that I'd seen a few weeks previously, a few photos and another birder helped cement my suspicions that this was the Pied-billed, so another tick to help our already healthy sized list.
Through Ringsta and onto Hillwell where we added nothing new to the list so onto Quendale Bay where we managed to knock off Great-northern Diver after a lot of sea scanning, Oystercatcher was also picked up by the farm.
We had about 2 hours left and our heads started going into overdrive, we had no idea what the other teams were on and we were still missing a lot of key species
Merlin was nabbed on the way (after only brief views of one at Spiggie) before we hit Sumburgh and headed up to the Head and the Quarries before pushing our way back north and cleaning up Grutness, Scatness and Virkie along the way.
Going up the head we finally spotted the competition in one of the quarries, Helen Moncrieff and her team had already been up the head and couldn't find any Fulmar (as was much of the case around Shetland as we couldn't see any on the cliffs) so we were worried, both teams were trying not to divulge any information regarding birds seen incase it gave the other team an advantage.

Up at the head we sheltered against the car and tried scanning out to sea for some Fulmars, the wing was extremely strong up there and we all struggled to get our eyes on anything, eventually though we got our eyes on some Fulmars going north! another bogey bird aside we had a quick look up the head and managed a few Twite and a Snow Bunting! a gorgeous bird but it didn't stay long.

In the end there was nothing else up the head so we thrashed one of the quarries, a quick toilet break down at Grutness and then we shot off to West Voe of Sumburgh where we hoped to nab some duck and wader. Luckily we got just that and we managed to knock off Long-tailed Duck and some peerie Sanderling on the beach, as we were just about to head off Paula got off the phone to say that Hugh Harrop had just had a Great Tit briefly in his garden, we decided to play it safe and do Virkie and Boddam before we decided to head over, Dunlin and Bar-tailed Godwit were both picked up at Virkie but no Knot and no new birds added at Boddam.

From here we headed back west to Hillwell to try and nab Hugh's Great Tit, we gave him a call as we arrived and waited only a few seconds before everyone spotted a yellow blob fly in, the Great Tit!! With that tick we sent Hugh a quick thank you text and shot up north, the light was going to be gone pretty fast within the next hour and we had three choices:

1. Bigton for Paul Bloomers Robin
2. Scalloway and Trondra for Iceland Gull and King Eider
3. Lerwick for Iceland Gull, Glaucous Gull and Gadwall.

We decided to go for choice number 3 as it had the most potential for species and we'd had confirmation that at least two of the birds had been seen earlier in the day, plus it was our finishing point.
Arriving in Lerwick we shot straight up to Shetland Catch to try and get the two White-wingers we were aiming for, arriving on site we saw a few gulls but no white-wingers, a drive around the Catch and I spotted a white-winger on the deck and I got the bins up to see a 1st/2nd winter Glaucous Gull! after a few seconds we found another one, score! Further along we picked up an adult white-winger, Iceland Gull! absolutely great birds and another two ticks for the team, bringing us to a grand total of 67 (including Skylark), now it was time to go for 70.
A quick run to Pullars Loch for Gadwall produced no birds so Clickimin was our last hope before our time was up, on the way there we went via a road lined with trees at Sound where I managed to spot 2 Fieldfare in a park by the road! on to 68 and we were really feeling the adrenaline, Clickimin and Helendale was our last stop and could produce Gadwall and Woodpigeon.

At Clickimin we got out the car and the heavens burst open so we quickly retreated into the car for cover, seeing as there was only 15 minutes left of the race we decided to call it quits on 68 and headed over to Fjara (the finish line).
Within the next ten minutes the other two teams arrived and we began the final part of the day, finding out the winner......

The other two teams took a different route from us, heading as far north as Nesting and then coming south to Sumburgh. Linnet, King Eider and Chiffchaff were birds the other teams picked up that we completely missed and Robin was our most horrendous team omission though I had one briefly at Hoswick but it was only a flyby.

Well it was an absolutely great day even with the weather and it would of never happened without the team, so many thanks to them and all the great memories!
  1. Wren
  2. Red Grouse
  3. Herring Gull
  4. Curlew
  5. Black-headed Gull
  6. Common Gull 
  7. Starling
  8. Hooded Crow
  9. Mallard
  10. Grey Heron
  11. Blackbird
  12. Rook
  13. Goldcrest
  14. Greylag Goose
  15. House Sparrow
  16. Pink-footed Goose
  17. Woodcock
  18. Raven
  19. Teal
  20. Great Black-backed Gull
  21. Sparrowhawk
  22. Goldeneye
  23. Red-breasted Merganser
  24. Rock Dove
  25. Turnstone
  26. Kittiwake
  27. Black Guillemot
  28. Comorant
  29. Eider
  30. Collard Dove
  31. Redshank
  32. Shag
  33. Lapwing 
  34. Purple Sandpiper
  35. Rock Pipit
  36. Gannet
  37. Golden Plover
  38. Redwing
  39. Ringed Plover
  40. Blue Tit
  41. Meadow Pipit 
  42. Chaffinch
  43. Twite
  44. Skylark (2 members only)
  45. Whooper Swan
  46. Mute Swan
  47. Tufted Duck
  48. Wigeon
  49. Snipe
  50. Shoveler
  51. Little Grebe
  52. Coot
  53. Moorhen
  54. Pied-billed Grebe 
  55. Merlin
  56. Oystercatcher
  57. Great Northern Diver
  58. Fulmar
  59. Snow Bunting 
  60. Sanderling
  61. Long-tailed Duck
  62. Scaup
  63. Dunlin
  64. Bar-tailed Godwit
  65. Great Tit
  66. Glaucous Gull
  67. Iceland Gull
  68. Fieldfare

Not a white-winged around 25/10/17

So after having been on Fair Isle for the last 6 days (19th-24th), (it was meant to be 5 days but weather kept me in, I didn't complain I got a Treecreeper!) It was time for another adventure.

After having missed the White-winged Scoter on Yell/Unst last week, I wanted to head up and give it another shot (even though it hadn't been reported for 3 days), so on Wednesday 25th October I headed up to hunt for it with James Bloor, who had also been on Fair Isle during my stay.

Meeting at Ulsta at 0930 we headed up to north Yell to look at the duck's original site, a quick look at Basta Voe on the way for the Eider flock produced no Eider or ducks of any sort and at Sand Water there was only a few Tufteds.
We decided to give Cullivoe a try but there was no Scoter-type duck on any of the lochs up that way so it was off to Unst.  The sea around Belmont produced no Scoter, but there was a few Dunter, the Loch of Belmont too produced no Scoter, but some Long-tailed Duck were present. Hope was getting pretty lost by this point and Uyeasound/Easting was our last remaining hope for the bird.
The seas at Uyeasound were too choppy to get a good look at anything in the water but Easter Loch was teeming with duck and swan so we spent a good few minutes scanning through them.
It was time for Easting after that, once home of the Surf Scoter than has been hanging around Unst for at least 4 years now, arriving on site it looked good, the bay was sheltered and there seemed to be a lot of birds in the water.
With the scope I began scanning the sea, Scarf (Shag) was quickly picked up as they were in good supply, and Tystie, Dunter (Eider) and Calloo (Long-tailed Duck) being found as well, with some RB Merg being highlights.
By now we'd completely given up on the Scoter, for all we knew it was in the Bluemull Triangle or gone off south to join the large Scoter flocks of Aberdeenshire so instead we went north to Skaw for Sibe Chiffy.
Arriving at Skaw it seemed pretty quiet, we managed to produce two Robin and for a while that seemed like it until a small bird flew out of a patch of thistles just on the edge of the compound, I managed to get my eyes on the bird and it turned out to be a Goldcrest.
We followed the bird and soon we found another, and another, and another, by the end of it we'd found around 10 birds, a brief Chiffy (possibly the Siberian) and a Lesser Whitethroat all in a peerie fenced in piece of park. Though after a few minutes the birds were all gone and we couldn't locate them anywhere around the croft house.

Time was getting on so we headed back south again and stopped off in Baltasound for a bite to eat before we headed off to the ferry and ended our trip in Unst.

Sadly we never managed to get the Scoter, hopefully its somewhere in Shetland just waiting to be found this winter, still it was a great day out and a worthwhile trip to Unst.

Fair Isle: Oh how its good to be back 19th-24th Oct 2017

Its been a year a full year since I've been into Fair Isle, and it was a long overdue trip this autumn to head to the magical island.

Thursday 19th October

After a check with Stewart & Triona a few days before I headed into the island on Thursday the 19th to begin a 5 day adventure (hopefully filled with a few good birds).
The day looked promising on the isle as the day before there had been both RF Bluetail and a long staying Black-headed Bunting (the latter being a potential lifer) so I had a lot of hope, after some food at Quoy I headed down to their crop strip and began my day hunting for the Bunting, I spent hours staring at the crop strip but no Black-headed Buntings were seen, the bird was last sighted about an hour before I arrived, you win some you lose some, though on the other hand I managed to get two Yellowhammer, which are always nice to see in Shetland.
Of course you can't have a day on Fair Isle without good birds, my phone pinged at one stage with news of a Dusky Warbler at the 'Reed Box' at the western edge of the Meadow Burn so I gave that a twitch, it gave a few good views albeit flighty, it was also joined by a good looking (though slightly sodden) Blue Tit and someone else found a Great Grey Shrike near the cliffs so it was a good day!

Whinchat at Quoy

Slightly sodden Restart at Quoy

Little Grebe!

I was thinking things were getting quiet when I decided to give the Bunting another go but a flyover Hawfinch and news of a Little Grebe at South Harbour got me running (I'm probably the only birder in the UK who would run for a Little Grebe), arriving on site at South Harbour a good number of birders had gathered (many familiar faces from past years as well), it was difficult to spot anything in the swell yet many got their eyes on a grebe a good piece away though I never managed, unhappy with my views I decided to head up onto Meoness to try and get better ones, safe to say I wasn't disappointed! I managed to get my eyes on the bird fairly close in and from this range I could at least agree we had been seeing the Little Grebe, island tick! Clive, Peter, Phil Harris and Mark joined me up on Meoness and by this point the grebe had moved eastwards towards Mid Geo.

With those views I decided to head back up the isle and give it another shot for the Black-headed Bunting but after 30 minutes I called it a day and later headed up to the nightly log.

Friday 20th October

Next morning was up early for the always enjoyable trap rounds, with a good sized group of people we managed to catch a few birds and I rung some as well.
The wind had fairly gone up by the time I cycled down the isle and after a quick shower and some breakfast I was off again, I gave the Quoy crop strip another go and decided to keep with my route of doing some of the south before going up the west cliffs.
With this I managed to see the Dusky Warbler again which was always good though it wasn't any less flighty before I went up the west cliffs, though they didn't produce much either bar a few common migrants and a few Woodcock.

Blue Tit

Just after denner, the phone rang and it was the text message system about a Firecrest up at the Obs, after hearing of a few on Shetland I wasn't surprised that one had made it here, Stewart and I decided to head up to see this beauty at the Obs to brighten the day up a bit.
Arriving at the Obs we met a good few birders hunting for the Firecrest, within a few minutes it popped out and showed down to a few feet! it was some crazy views and you didn't even need bins to watch it. 
Happy with our views, we popped back down the isle to go look at a mystery warbler that had been found at Haa. arriving down the road we found the other half of the islands birders looking into a drain where the mystery warbler resided, after a bit of talk we found out it was an Locustella Warbler (Lanceolated/Grasshopper family) and people were thinking it to be Lancy but time would tell.
After 10 minutes several more people arrived and the Obs team arrived with a net, where it was duly set up and we tried to get the bird into the net, a carefully exercised flush later and the bird was soon caught and ID'd.

Sadly it was not the Lanceolated we were expecting but instead a very yellow Grasshopper Warbler, and for me was a very nice ringing tick as the Obs boys let me ring it (much thanks to them!).

Certainly worth the trip down, and a great ringing tick - Grasshopper Warb at Auld Haa

21st Saturday

The day started windy and ended windy but that didn't stop be from doing traps as usual, the highlight of the morning was an awesome Woodcock that was trapped.
After having breakfast at Quoy I went out again, doing the south of the island before shooting up the west cliffs, with this technique I managed to get a few birds, Whinchat & Stonechat at Quoy, the Dusky Warbler was still at the Reed Box with 2 Chiffy. The cliffs were more quiet with a few Robin and a Woodcock the main birds of note before I ended up heading back to Quoy.

In the afternoon I did try find the Richard's Pipit that was knocking about Quoy but no luck so I called it a day to finish off some work before heading up to the Obs at night.

22nd Sunday

Still a bit of wind throughout the day and overall not what we expected for the wind directions but still good. Traps again in the morning before I picked up a Blue Tit below the school and then another two at Burkle which happened to bring the residents of the house come rushing out as Deryk needed it for his garden list.
I decided to mix things up a bit and do Springfield to the Walli Burn, the lighthouse and then up the west cliffs to see if I could pick up anything different.
A nice Ring Ouzel at Springfield was a nice splash of white in among all the Blackbirds and 4 Woodpigeon at Meoness were good, next bit of excitement came when John Best at Utra waved me over to come help him get a Robin out of his shed which had somehow got in, ten minutes later and after a run about we finally managed to release the bird.
male Brambling

male Ring Ouzel

Going up the West Cliffs I met David Parnaby who informed me of a Shorelark he'd found up at Gunnawark, being a bird I've only seen once before (or once found myself) I decided to go give it a try as they were great things.
Arriving up at Gunnawark I searched for the Shorelark but the wind didn't help and there appeared to be no sign of it so I decided to strike farther north and try some of my favourite places on the Isle.
First of two stops on my journey was Troila Geo, Troila most recognised for the large amount of cliff face pilled at the bottom of the geo which blocks it off from the sea.
I sat at the top of the Geo for a while and had two Goldcrest feeding on the cliffs next to me and a few Robin down below were the only other birds of note.

Troila Geo

Next came South Naversgill which gives you a really good look at the sea below, here I didn't manage much of note but instead two Goldcrest came quite close and fed around me.

South Naversgill

From here I walked back down to Quoy, not picking up much of note before calling it a day.

23rd Monday

This was the biggy day we were hoping for, everyone felt it in the air that today had potential so we were out in force that day. I did my daily routine of doing the trap rounds early on and that got us .........
I decided to wait around at the Obs til after breakfast so I could do after breakfast traps, though me being me I happened to miss them as I was too busy speaking to people in the Obs, though I did find out from Sussannah that I would be in the isle another day as it was extremely unlikely the planes would be flying, so I decided to head back south.
It was around 10 ish by the time I'd got in, I started with my breakfast and I was in the final stages of making a cup of tea when my phone went off "Kevin (Kelly) has Black throated Thrush out the back of Pund now", safe to say I near spilled my cup of tea, I'd seen Black-throated Thrush before many years ago in Lerwick but the light was poor, so me being me I dropped everything, grabbed a bun,  ran out the door and went straight for my bike.

I decided to ditch the bike and leg it over the parks as it seemed like a better option, I could see people coming in from all directions and converging on Pund, getting closer I could see David Parnaby, Kevin Kelly and another birder but things didn't look good, when I arrived I found out the bird had disappeared up onto Hoini.
(By chance that morning I had mentioned to Kevin to go find a rare for everyone to twitch, safe to say he managed that!) 
Within the next 15 minutes everyone arrived and a big search of Hoini begun, conditions weren't ideal, it was very windy and I struggled to keep my eyes on most of the thrushes but it was safe to say that we never found the bird, though me and James Bloor managed to get our eyes on the mobile Hornemann's Arctic that had been around for the last few days, the bird was flighty and the Obs team went to track it down to confirm the ID while I decided to push south and finish off my breakfast, on the way south I saw a Short-eared Owl and I flushed two Blue Tit below the School Brae which was a nice surprise, Rebecca Nason was just down the road looking at Da Water so I went off to tell her about the birds, it was a good idea in the long run as she had just found a very late Greenshank! Speaking with Becca for a bit I decided to head up to the Kirk to get a better look at the bird, I was watching the Greenshank on Da Water when I noticed a very small teal sized bird gracefully swim off the bank next to it.

Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll

The rather late Greenshank

It took me a second to figure out what the bird was due to the winds but it soon became clear it was a Little Grebe! presumably it was the bird from a few days ago but still an exciting find! just at that point, Deryk Shaw, Phil Harris, Rebecca and their daughter Ayda came up the road, waving them over I got them onto it as some of them had missed the bird from a few days ago.
Finishing with that I headed up the road to mention to a few other birders of the grebe and the Greenshank and on the way back Deryk told me he'd just got word of a Brent Goose near Upper Stoneybrek by the cliffs (Brent is an island tick and a bogey bird for the trip), for this I thanked him and I bolted over the parks towards the bird.

It didn't take me long but I eventually found the dark-bellied Brent Goose feeding just above the cliffs, it was quite pleasing to track this bird down and add another addition to my island list which isn't too far off 200. 

Brent Goose!

By this point it was denner time so I headed back to Quoy.
Throughout the day it rained a lot, I got my jacket soaked through twice on two different outings in the afternoon and the only birds to show were 4 Reed Bunting and 4 Woodpigeon but it was a great day and I couldn't ask for anything else, if you don't go out you are never going to see any birds!

24th Tuesday

As it was my last morning I decided to give it one last bash at the traps, in the end it was worth it as we caught one great looking Mistle Thrush and a few other bits and pieces. Usually on my last day I either thrash the island for birds or visit family and friends, so today I decided to take it easy and I visited a couple of members of family before my flight.

When I finally arrived back at Quoy it was good to hear the planes were still flying and that I was getting out, we'd sat down for denner when my phone beeped and I didn't really expect much from it but of course when I looked I was wrong! "Treecreeper in Troila"! I waited to finish denner first and Triona gave me a quick run up to the airstrip so I could get up there before my flight, it only took me around 10 minutes to run from the airstrip though I was pretty knackered when I got to the top, crawling the last 20 metres I joined David Parnaby at the edge of the cliff. I was absolutely knackered but I still attempted to try look for the bird (which had disappeared on my crawl up!), David stayed for a bit to try help me find it and within a few minutes he'd found it again at the bottom of one of the cliff faces!! I quickly tried to get on to the bird before it disappeared again, David got me on to the spot and a peerie brown blob shot up the cliff, the Treecreeper!!
Yes! Treecreeper! Shetland tick no.277

For the next five to ten minutes we watched this wonderful blob climb up the cliff feeding for insects, it was great to finally see one of these in Shetland and in such a weird place as well! it was such a good way to end the trip. Eventually I had to leave to go for my plane which was due to be arriving within the next 15 minutes, I thanked David for finding it and for helping me out (I owe him a pint for this one) before I headed back down to the airstrip.
Luckily for me the plane was delayed so I had another hour to wait before my flight, Stewart came up to join me before I headed off, a while later the Obs guests came up for the flight and we eventually saw the plane come in. It was time to say my goodbyes after an amazing trip in, I thanked Stewart for everything and gave the rest of my goodbyes before we set off, leaving this once magical island once again.

Many thanks to Stewart & Triona for having me and always and to the islanders & Obs for always helping me out.

Hoini and the west cliffs

Gone once again