Monday, 27 October 2014

The Grand Bird Race

A bird race- a race within a day to see or hear as many bird species within that twenty four hours as possible.

(Poster by Melody Duncan)

On the 24th two teams set out, the Golden Oldies and the Nature Volunteers.
The Oldies comprised of South Mainland birders Paul Harvey, Roger Riddington and Gary Bell, including West Mainland birder Rory Tallack.
My team, the Nature Vol's consisted of myself (Logan Johnson), Karen Mackelvie (the driver), Freya Stout, Melody Duncan and Louis Duncan.

Both teams would set out early in the morning counting the species far and wide across the Shetland Mainland before meeting back at the Ness Boating Club for the results of the race.

Originally the race was planned for the 25th, but due to bad weather forecasted, it was changed to the 24th.
I was scoping out sites for birds on the 23rd when I got the call and had to cancel my searching for pre-sites and gather all my data together.

So finally the team was gathered at Karen's, we worked on our route and I worked out the times we would spend it each given place.
By 10 everything was sorted! bird sites checked over, schedules done, birds ticked off and our general ideas were ready for the day, due to our planned early rising, we'd be out by 05:45 so we were in bed by 1030.

The Day

The day of the race...

I was up by 0515 and the team all got up and going with us out by 0600,
15 minutes, in the dark, hunting for Red Grouse wasn't really that successful.

Kergord was our next destination for some Woodland species- Woodcock, Sparrowhawk, Goldcrest, Robin, Woodpigeon etc.
It was still dark when we arrived but we stood and listened around for species and also a look in the woods produced Rook, Woodpigeon, Goldcrest, Blackbird and Hooded Crow.
Though we had this plan to stake-out Kergord, we'd gotten a tip off that the other team would be here around 7, so we waited, everytime a car went by we'd end up diving behind a tree or flattening ourselves against the ground (though mind it was still before 7 in the morning!).
The other team was late, there was no sign after 5 minutes so we shot north to Upper Kergord to get a couple more species before we headed back to watch for the others.
Karen went through the trees and we waited and she shouted out "SPARROWHAWK", we ran down the park and it flew by and out of site.
I wasn't actually expecting a Sparrowhawk but now I know where to get one! with the Upper Plantation we added a couple more species Sparrowhawk, Redwing, Mallard, Grey Heron and Greylag Goose.

We were pulling by Kergord again and we saw a black Mitsubishi parked up, we knew it was them! we all ran out and they were already doing the Plantation!!
We ran and masses of Woodpigeons started flying out, 30 birds at least! but nothing else, we only spoke with the other team a few seconds and we didn't dare tell them what we'd seen.

From here we knew where to go, the engine was started and we shot north, straight to Voe in search of the Rose-coloured Starling.
It was the only one in Shetland, and we were hoping the others wouldn't go that far north.
First of all we had to find exactly where the garden was, I thought I knew where it was but it wasn't the place.
I had no idea where it was, we ended up going to the shop and we asked where about the place was.
The lady at the till gave us the exact place! I thanked her and we shot off! we got to Norderhoull and saw the RC Starling within 30 seconds and we were off again! it was a good bird and
 my first as well!
In total so far we'd got a few more species- Herring Gull, Starling, House Sparrow, Collard Dove

Not exactly a Rose-coloured Starling but this is a juvenile bird

The team shot south, in hope of getting Red Grouse in Girlsta.
I knew where to check as I've gone over it a few times with my Dad, we got out and did the hills, covering over 100 metres in a line.
Twice we did two different areas and nothing, Freya had stopped and she got a Grouse! we ran over and couldn't see anything so we fanned out.
I was walking along and two males went over the top of the nearest hill, I shouted "GROUSE!" and Karen came running, we started doing the hill again and nothing....
Our spirits were low and we were trudging back to the car when they flew up in front of me! everyone got their eyes on them and that definitely saved us from a depressing journey.

Next came Strand, I was hoping for a Merganser, Mute Swan or maybe even a Goosander.
But nothing. The Loch was bare of any birds and only Curlew and Greylags were present.
My phone bleeped and it was a text from Paul, they'd just had a Red-breasted Flycatcher at the Lea Gardens in Tresta! we had a choice, get another specie which we couldn't get anywhere else or stay on course.... we went west to Tresta,
A couple of us got out when we arrived and asked the owner, he hadn't seen or heard anybody and we managed to get a Chiffchaff.
Well if you don't take the risk, them you won't see the bird.

We shot off back to Tingwall, on the way Karen got this call, it was a man from BBC Radio Scotland but the signal kept going and we couldn't really make out what he was wanting.
Finally Karen stopped the car and spoke to him, he was actually wanting to interview us as we were doing the race, a meeting point was arranged. Tingwall Loch.

At the Loch, we added a lot of species to the list- Whooper Swan,Tufted Duck, Wigeon, Teal, Goldeneye......
We were eyeing up a few ducks and then this knocking came from Karen's window, we turned and it was the man from the radio!
He asked us to come outside and he just asked us a few questions and our best birds of the day, it took a couple of minutes.
It was great to be interviewed and made the day even more worthwhile, but the downside was it would be on the radio at 6:30... in the morning.
By the end of that we'd reached 33 Species, just a lot to go!
Anyways! we headed off to Scalloway, hoping for Blue Tit, Goldfinch, Grey Wagtail and maybe a Siskin.

First spot we checked was a place called "The Sunken Garden", yesterday Dave (Okill) and I were scoping out sites and we got 4 (!!) Blue Tits there along with a Grey Wagtail! not bad.
Anyways on our checking of the place we got no Blue Tits at all but the Grey Wagtail did fly in and disappear among the trees.

Next was Ladysmith Road, a brief look there yesterday had pulled up a Goldfinch (my first of the year).
So that's what we were hoping for, Ladysmith was really the only site we could find Goldfinch in the isles at the moment.
We managed to add Brambling to the list but no Goldfinches, we were heading back to the car when I heard this funny call and then Melody spotted something in the conifers above us, she pointed it out and I raised my bins to see three Goldfinches!!!
We'd got them! they were not soggy as my bird from yesterday but they were beauties! with a couple of calls they flew off and that was the last we saw of them.

Everyone got back in to the car and we headed off to Sycamore Avenue in search of some Blue Tits, we spent a few minutes waiting and then one bird called in the trees to our right! another bird off the list!
Next we headed into Lerwick after briefly meeting the other team at the Sunken Garden, Clickimin was our first stop, three of us scanned the Loch, getting Scaup and also Gadwall with the help of the others who showed up.
A look in Helendale produced nothing and then we were off to Seafield.
Fulmar, Shag, Eider, Rock Pipit, Turnstone, Purple Sandpiper we are present at Seafield, all ticks and then we were off!
Lerwick Harbour got us Black Guillemot and nothing at the Catch, we were off to Sandwick when I got a text from Paul about an Olive-backed Pipit at the burn of Swinister!
A quick look at Leebitton got us two Slavonian Grebes and a Ringed Plover before we were off to the burn in search of the OBP.
The team headed up the burn, we managed Chaffinches and a Woodcock but the OBP eluded us, there was no sign (but turns out we were going down the wrong way!!).
We also checked a garden for a Hawfinch but that came up with nothing so we got some Jackdaws at the south of Hoswick.
Paul dropped me another text, they'd had a Bluethroat at Levenwick! they were finding all the good birds!
We went straight into Levenwick, I spotted out the site of the Bluethroat and we looked around, there was no sign of it.
I headed back to the car and Louis shouted for me, I started into a run, Karen & Louis had, had something disappear into a garden.
I spotted a small brown bird in between some bushes, there it was!! the Bluethroat! it dived into cover and we ticked it!
South again and we tried Spiggie for Mute Swans, we managed a couple of Mute's, some Pink-footed Geese and Lapwings (all ticks).
We scanned the Setter Marsh or as it was once known "The Phalarope Marsh" (as it used to house breeding Red-necked Phalaropes) for a Pintail which had been reported there but no luck.
Hillwell came next but we couldn't spot any different species so we quickly headed to Fleck and then Brow Loch but we couldn't find any Golden Plovers or Pochard!! ahh!! we were running out of time and species!!

The last legs of our journey came.... Sumburgh, the Pool of Virkie, the Hotel, Grutness, Scatness, Scord..... all in the space of an hour... could we make it? could we get our target species?!?.....
If we tried we could, we did Virkie got Bar-tailed Godwit.
Did Scatness with Pete Ellis (who happened to be there), got Shoveler and Black-tailed Godwit.
Went to West Voe of Sumburgh, snatched up Stonechat and Dunlin from the other teams scopes.
Grutness- Sanderling
Scord- 2 flyover Comorants and a Great-northern Diver
Sumburgh Hotel- finally Twite!! and Skylark

With six minutes remaining we rushed to Scatness trying to get no.70 for our list, we tried and tried, we couldn't pick up any more species.
We headed to the boating club, we stopped though to count up our list to make sure we'd got everything in check, Karen and I compared lists and she had more than me! I'd missed several species!! our list was now 72!! we'd broken the 70 barrier!!! we headed to the club in triumph!

The man from the radio and his accomplice were ready and waiting for our arrival, a quick interview and we were in.
Though there is one person I thought I should mention, a man though only days before I was speaking to on Fair Isle, and Clickimin Loch yesterday and today, Will Miles, for an ex-AW of Fair Isle he sure gets around.
Anyways onto the big decider!! we were greeted inside by a clap from everybody and then our lists were handed in to the referee- Martin Heubeck.
The totals were counted, we had a grand total of 72 (Gary had made of rough estimate of 60-68 species for the day so we didn't do bad!) and the Oldies had a greater total of 88 species!!!

Due to a handicap though, if the other team had 10-20 more species than us it was declared a draw, anything over 20 was a win for them and anything under 10 was a win for us.
So in the end it was a draw!! the Radio men had a prize though..... The Golden Binoculars, which was awarded to both teams.

The two teams. Back from left- Paul, Rory, Roger, Gary. (Photo by Jim Nicolson)
Front from left- Freya, Louis, Logan, Melody

A couple of photos were taken of the two teams and then soup was dished out, I had mine and had a chat with everyone around before having to jet back north to catch the ferry to Yell.

BBC Radio Scotland: Out of Doors. View our interview at  - 57.00-64.00

It was a really good day, it was an early start but I'd love to do it again, we're hoping to make it an annual event, maybe one in spring in well so you'd catch both migrations.

And just to add at the bottom here, our list for the day, which ended in the grand total of 72 Species.

  1. Rook
  2. Woodpigeon
  3. Blackbird
  4. Hooded Crow
  5. Robin
  6. Wren
  7. Goldcrest
  8. Redwing
  9. Mallard
  10. Grey Heron
  11. Greylag Goose
  12. Sparrowhawk
  13. Raven
  14. Starling
  15. Collard Dove 
  16. House Sparrow 
  17. Herring Gull
  18. Rose-coloured Starling
  19. Curlew
  20. Blackcap
  21. Snipe 
  22. Red Grouse
  23. Chaffinch
  24. Redshank
  25. Rock Dove
  26. Great Black-backed Gull
  27. Long-tailed Duck
  28. Black-headed Gull
  29. Common Gull
  30. Chiffchaff
  31. Tufted Duck
  32. Whooper Swan
  33. Goldeneye
  34. Wigeon 
  35. Teal
  36. Oystercatcher
  37. Brambling
  38. Grey Wagtail
  39. Blue Tit
  40. Goldfinch
  41. Scaup
  42. Gadwall
  43. Rock Pipit
  44. Turnstone
  45. Shag
  46. Eider
  47. Fulmar
  48. Purple Sandpiper
  49. Black Guillemot
  50. Kittiwake
  51. Ringed Plover
  52. Slavonian Grebe
  53. Woodcock
  54. Jackdaw
  55. Bluethroat
  56. Meadow Pipit
  57. Mute Swan
  58. Moorhen
  59. Wheatear
  60. Lapwing
  61. Pink-footed Goose
  62. Gannet
  63. Bar-tailed Godwit
  64. Black-tailed Godwit
  65. Shoveler
  66. Stonechat
  67. Dunlin
  68. Sanderling
  69. Comorant
  70. Great-northern Diver
  71. Twite
  72. Skylark

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