Saturday, 31 January 2015

BGB - Helping out on the Patch

As part of the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, RSPB Shetland decided to host a ID course/hide making at Helendale House, Westerloch on Sunday the 25th.

I was asked to help out so I came along at 1035 and a few of the volunteers were already there.
Though, due to the weather, it was a poor turnout.
After about 30 minutes I went birding to the Loch with Louis, there was a few birds around, 4 Gadwall, a Teal and a Fieldfare.
We headed to the Broch and I saw this thing start running along the wire mese fence, I had a pretty good idea what it was, it appeared and ran straight in my eyesight, a Water Rail!! Louis was a bit taken back when I lifted him up and started pointing wildly but he understood why after he saw the bird.
It was my first one the patch so it was pretty big for me.
From here we went back to Helendale to join the rest of the group and to tell them of our finds.
Time was pressing on, not many birds were seen but a male Chaffinch occasionally called the familiar "Plink" which everyone soon understood.

By 1230 we were starting to clear up, the temporary hide was put away and as I was loading stuff into the Van, 3 or 4 Whoopers flew over calling!
I was carrying the last of my gear over to the Van when I heard this familiar hoarse call erupt from a bush, Blue Tit!! some stopped to look and Freya was scared half to death.
Though seconds later this silhouetted shape flew out from a bush and disappeared which was our bird, within the next 30 minutes both a Blue & a Great Tit showed up before everyone headed off.

Fieldfare in the parks at Clickimin

After a short break at the house I was off again to do the Seafield part of my patch.
Seafield was ok for this time of year, bringing up the usually seabirds and also a Purple Sandpiper, 2-4 Gadwall (some flew in but I wasn't sure if the originals had flown out) and a flock of 42 Shalders (Oystercatchers) which managed to land on Pullar's Loch without me noticing!

This juvenile Mute Swan was one of three that were on Clickimin but this is the only one that has stuck with the parents, though they aren't afraid of me so some excellent shots are guarantied! (Unless your in strong winds like I was)

One of the parents

I preferred to photograph this guy as he had a bit more difference in colour to him as the parents have only white, black and orange

Mammy & Daddy

Finally to round the day off I took a quick trip to Helendale to try and photograph the Blue Tit.
By this time it was 1450 and the camera completely disagreed with the lighting so there was no photos but some close views of a Blue Tit on a feeder.
A pretty good day on the patch, it helped as I have started in the Patchwork Challenge, which is a challenge to bird your patch as much as possible throughout the year and compete with other birders across the country.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Scoter in the Surf: Twitching time

At 1330 on Sunday the 18th of January, news broke of a Surf Scoter up at Skaw, Unst which was found by Mike Pennington.
At the time of the text I was in Weisdale helping my Dad shift some heavy stuff, if I'd left there straight away there wouldn't have been enough light to see anything, so I prayed it stayed until the next weekend.

On the Friday of the following week I checked up with Mike Pennington to see if it had been seen, Rob Brookes had it in the afternoon so I asked Mike if he'd be willing to give me a run to it and back, to my delight he said yes and we set in plans to go on the Saturday.

1015 the next morning I arrived in Unst, to see Mike waiting at the terminal, first things first we shot off to Skaw to see the Scoter.
The rain was on so we waited in the car for a couple of minutes before heading out, equipped for the weather (well I was missing some necessary items for the kind of weather).
Couple of minutes into it and we spotted the Surf Scoter,a lifer and another addition to my Shetland List No.230 which is the 2nd addition I've had this year, just 13 to go Tommy!
It was a great looking bird though, if a 1st winter drake (male) looks good then I can't wait to see an adult male!

Also as we came to a stop a female Black Redstart flew from out under a bank, a bird which had been present for a couple of days and was my first on the Island.

The 1st-winter drake, a nice addition on a cold day (I discovered how cold it really was after going round Skaw)

The Scoter got a bit more distant so we went round the headland at Skaw, seeing the odd Fulmar and very little.
A quick check at Valyie (pronounced V-lee) produced a Song Thrush (Year tick) and a Chaffinch before we went south to Baltasound to try and find some Bean Geese.
We never did find any Bean Geese but at Halligarth we did manage a grand total of 7 European White-fronted Geese (Unst Ticks) and some Herons were around as well.

A quick cup of tea at Mike's produced a Great & Blue Tit!! (the latter my first on Unst), maybe birding from the house isn't a bad idea after all.
But no we had to brave the outdoors again, a quick pop to Skibhoul and we were off again.
Westing was our chosen destination for (hopefully) some white-wingers and maybe something better like a Harlequin or maybe an Ivory Gull, its time we had another.

Of course there was no Harlequin or Ivory Gull at Westing but there was an Otter incredibly close in (though my shots weren't the best), a couple of gulls were flying around and some Purple Sands on the beach, probably the oddest thing was five Whooper Swans flying in and then going over a hill to the north.

The Otter with its catch

Just-after catch 

A Black-headed Gull which was one of several around Westing

The Holm at Westing, with the old ruin of a crofthouse or a store

On the way out of Westing I picked up an adult European White-fronted Goose and then we were off to Uyeasound which only came up with several Teal before it was time for me to head to the ferry.

At 1415 I finally departed Unst after an amazing day for January, without the excellent driver/birder I wouldn't have seen anything at all so thanks to Mike for dragging me round and telling me about some good pieces of history! also for managing me to get four Unst ticks!.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

NGB Bird Race - Winter Warmer

Its been a while since my last post, I've been out once or twice since then picking up an ok selection of birds but the 17th had to be my biggest birding of the year so far.
As part of an event staged by NGB (Next Generation Birders) a singles/pairs bird race was to take place on the weekend of the 17th/18th, deciding to do mine on the 17th I checked to see if Dave was free and we headed out while doing the International Swan Count as well.

I came down from Yell getting my list started up and was on twenty odd after a run out to Seafield with my Dad.
Dave came by an hour later and we were off, Mute Swan, Tufted Duck and Greylag Goose were picked up along/around Clickimin but it was virtually empty so we went south to Burra & Trondra.
Doing the three isles (West & East Burra + Trondra) wasn't bad, we came out with quite a few additions to the list and a couple of Swans, Teal, Wigeon, Rock Pipit, Snow Bunting (flock of 25), Fieldfare, Redwing, Comorant, Great-northern Diver, the list goes on!
Scalloway was our next destination, heading to Ladysmith Rd (home of Shetland's 1st breeding Goldfinches) with staked out the place in hope of some wintering Goldfinches along with the Great & Blue Tits.
Half and hour later, with very little birds appearing we finally got what we wanted, first 3-4 Chaffinches flew in and afterwards a Robin, shortly followed by a Blue Tit (and the latter could be seen chasing the other!), finally with two Goldfinches in the sycamore right above the car! not bad if I say but time was against so we pushed north along the Tingwall Valley.
The Lochs were packed with Tufted Ducks (presumably the Clickimin birds) but no Scaup in among them, Oystercatcher was the only bird picked up before heading to Griesta (site of a recently 100% fire damaged house), after a quick talk to the policewoman in the car saying I was just wanting to look at some birds up the road, I headed up and picked up 10 Twite! the only place in the Central Mainland that I can find them with ease, Rook was also picked up and then it was onto Strand.
Nothing was managed here, no Goosanders or notin' bar some Mute Swans, I'd had an idea to head out to Breiwick/Califf for Golden Plovers as one autumn there was hundreds out there (I was looking for an American Golden Plover but that refused to be found).
We gave it a go, hopes started to dwindle but I looked onto the park where I'd seen them and they was some Lapwing! (we haven't been able to find these all day and now about 15 appear!), Dave turned around and there was also Golden Plover!! finally!
Lerwick was next and we had a few sites in mind, Dave made a call to Dennis Coutts to see if he'd had the Velvet Scoter out by his recently but he hadn't seen it since the storm.
By this time we were on a great total of 49 species! so I was striving for a minimum of 50.

Shetland Catch was our next destination, two species of white-wingers and a duck was in mind so we wanted .
Second Gull flock we saw I picked up a 1st winter Glaucous Gull (White-winger no.1!) and we quickly moved towards the sea.
Long-tailed Duck came next with several out in the sound and then Dave managed a 1st winter Iceland Gull! (White-winger no.2!) we quickly left and Seafield was empty of anything I hadn't already got.
Finally location of the day, Helendale, my own patch and a good spot for a few garden birds and wintering bits and bobs.
I went in quickly and brought out nothing and Dave came in, we spent the last half an hour of light here (1510-1540), first bird I picked up was a Merlin being harassed by a Hoody overhead (a patch tick surprisingly).
Dave flipped on the calls to see if we could bring any Great Tits in, some appeared but weren't really interested, by some I mean a grand total of 3!! which is pretty good, 4 Chaffinches also appeared and a Brambling calling somewhere! not a bad end to the day I have to say.
A few of the poor record shots I managed are below.

One of the Chaffinches at Ladysmith Road

And also the Blue Tit that was there

So after that I was back home on a total of 54 species for the day, one specie that was missing was the Wren which I managed to get on the path to the house the next day.
For January this is a great total, 65 could easily be possible if we'd started earlier and gone to the likes of the South End but that's for another time.
Without Dave it seems my total would of been much, much less than what we got so I can't but thank him for all his efforts and assistance.

  1. Raven 
  2. Hooded Crow
  3. Great Black-backed Gull
  4. Curlew
  5. Gannet
  6. Shag
  7. Common Gull
  8. Rock Dove
  9. Starling
  10. Collard Dove
  11. Herring Gull
  12. Black Guillemot
  13. Black-headed Gull
  14. Eider
  15. Goldeneye
  16. Gadwall
  17. Mallard
  18. Redshank
  19. Turnstone
  20. Kittiwake
  21. Red-breasted Merganser
  22. House Sparrow
  23. Greylag Goose
  24. Mute Swan
  25. Tufted Duck
  26. Blackbird
  27. Snipe
  28. Grey Heron
  29. Fieldfare
  30. Comorant
  31. Redwing
  32. Great-northern Diver
  33. Wigeon
  34. Teal
  35. Ringed Plover
  36. Rock Pipit
  37. Snow Bunting
  38. Fulmar
  39. Moorhen
  40. Whooper Swan
  41. Chaffinch
  42. Robin
  43. Blue Tit
  44. Goldfinch
  45. Oystercatcher
  46. Twite
  47. Rook
  48. Lapwing
  49. Golden Plover
  50. Glaucous Gull
  51. Long-tailed Duck
  52. Iceland Gull
  53. Merlin
  54. Great Tit
  55. Brambling

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

New Year's Birding: Fair Isle

Its the new year, 2015 has come! though not without a little birding.

For the turn of the year I headed into Fair Isle, a peerie bit of birding was done in the final hours of the daylight which brought to me a Buzzard (Shetland Tick), a Sparrowhawk, two Barnacles and a Merlin along with a few other bits and pieces.
After the bells of New Year a party was held and in the early hours I finally got to sleep before preparing to go New Year's Birding with Tommy and Henry.

The first bird of the year was a Snipe picked up by Henry at around 1 but my first was a Greylag flock, the first 19 species I picked up before meeting with Tommy and Henry.
We managed to get a good haul but missed a few species, Buzzard, Water Rail, Kittiwake (all seen by others), Golden Plover, Skylark and Curlew though all were found later on.

Though we enjoyed ourselves, some of my highlights had to be the Snow Buntings on Meoness, three Tundra Bean Geese and a Sparrowhawk in the Plantation.
A good day spent and I managed a few bad photos of some birds, which the day total for the island was 40 (5 down on last years count).

A bit unfocused but the Buzzard from the 31st at Hessawalls

Buzzard again with landing gear extended

Purple Sandpiper on South Harbour, the 1st

Iceland Gull north of Setter on the 1st

 3 Tundra Beans at Shirva, also the 1st

Part of a flock of 81 Turnstones outside Quoy on the 4th

Sunset from Nether Taft on the 4th

From the rest of my trip I picked up several other species and added to the Fair Isle year list with Woodcock (41st), Teal (42nd), Great-northern Diver (44th), Wigeon (45th) and Skylark (46th).

Over the several days I was birding in wind and rain, force 9 gales, pounding showers and hail hunting for those year ticks.
By the time I left Fair Isle, the year list was on a total of 48 species (with quite a few editions from Susannah and also a Mealy Redpoll from Deryk), it was a great time though, my Fair Isle list went up by two birds which brought my total to 169.
My Shetland List also got an addition on the last day of the year in the form of a Buzzard (on the 31st of December 2011 my last addition was a Rough-legged Buzzard on the Shetland Mainland), 28 additions were added to my Shetland List last year, more than half of 2013 additions!

An update on the Warden's Blog on the happenings over the festive period-

But below is the New Years Day count (not all of which were seen by myself).

1. Snipe 2. Greylag Goose 3. Mallard 4. Blackbird 5. Herring Gull 6. Starling 7. House Sparrow 8. Hooded Crow 9. Redwing 10. Fieldfare 11.Rock Dove 12. Great Black-backed Gull 13. Fulmar 14. Common Gull 15. Redshank 16. Turnstone 17. Eider 18.Shag 19. Rock Pipit 20. Robin 21. Song Thrush 22. Wren 23.Iceland Gull 24. Purple Sandpiper 25. Snow Bunting 26. Gannet 27. Grey Heron 28. Tundra Bean Goose 29. Sparrowhawk 30. Black Guillemot 31. Raven 32. Barnacle Goose 33. Merlin 34. Common Guillemot 35. Buzzard 36. Water Rail 37. Goldeneye (Susannah) 38. Kittiwake (Susannah) 39. Twite (Susannah).

Monday, 5 January 2015

Pomarine Skua, Ulsta 05/01/2015

I arrived back from Fair Isle today and today was actually a school day so I was working my way back up north to Yell.
Before the ferry crossing I checked my phone for the recent sightings on Nature in Shetland, it had been updated for yesterday and one thing that caught my eye was a Pomarine Skua at Ulsta, Yell.
A bird that has been present for a few weeks, and at the time I was thinking to keep an eye going for it.
As the ferry was getting into Ulsta I spotted this dark bird, thinking at the time it was a crow I raised my bins to a dark skua with light primaries and some barring to the wings, it was slightly bigger than an Arctic and had more bulk of a Bonxie but no doubt I knew what this was! it was the Pomarine! (later looks in the Collins Guide confirmed my suspicions) my first Lifer of the year and No. 229 on my Shetland List!

I have to say though it was one unexpected bird to see!