Friday, 29 January 2016

Some NeWs and a couple of birdies

Well the title may throw you off a bit, its not the News we all watch on the TV but the Non-Estaurine Bird Surveys or NeWs for short, a survey being done between the 1st of December 2015 and the 31st of January 2016 specialising in seeing what is around our countries coastline, with me doing counts in east/west Yell, Mossbank, Brae and Lerwick.

Saturday 23rd January 2016

Having already finished my surveys on Yell it was time to start my surveys in the North Mainland, with me arriving in Brae the night before to do some school assignments and prep for my morning surveys.
Come the morning, Tommy and I headed quickly off to Voe to try catch the Dippers before having to do the surveys as they are preferred to be done between the tides.
Sadly there wasn't any Dippers but some bread interested Swans near the Burn of Daal made up for that with the potential to ring them in the future.
Going north to Sullom to get in a few other birds before the tides resulted in 3 Oystercatchers outside of Brae, I've seen several since the 16th and it seems they've started to come back to Shetland after wintering south.
Into Sullom and I gave the plantation there a run through incase an peerier (smaller) birds were wintering in there.
I gave it around half an hour and couldn't find anything, I'd pretty much given up until something with a greeny backside flew out of a tree just infront of me and disappeared round the same tree, I went in pursuit and waited, looking into a patch of firs.
Luckily having some patience paid off and a Goldcrest popped out and fed briefly before disappearing deeper into the trees! an unexpected year tick but I had a good feeling about this place.
Next we headed to the Sullom Quarry to see if the Rough-legged Buzzard was still around, luckily I spotted it almost instantly on a ridge not to far away and it soon flew closer, given good views.
Now time for the surveys, Tommy dropped me at the first house in the Mavis Grind area and I began walking the coast until I reached the Moorfield Hotel in Brae, now there was definetely a few interesting bits and pieces with 9-11 Grey Herons, 5 Oystercatchers, 5 Snipe, an Otter and a Slav Grebe, though I was surprised with the lack of waders, 2 Redshanks, 7 Turnstones and no Purple Sands or Ringed Plovers.
I met Tommy at the Hotel and we filled in the forms before shooting off to Mossbank and Sellaness.
Sellaness had two Oystercatchers but nothing else so we headed over to Mossbank.
I got out and did the surveys while Tommy went to the highest point he could find to fill out a few of the forms while I walked along the coast.
It was decent for the first half of the journey with many Snipe, 61 Wigeon and a couple of Common Gulls on the beach, soon I met with Mark Chapman at leg two to carry on the counts.
Mark was a great help, being able to pick out several Comorants, 2 Great-northern Divers, Tystie and also getting me Jack Snipe!! a bird that I have finally seen in binocular view!
After doing the surveys, Tommy met us outside the Mossbank pub and we all had a cuppa before sticking Mark home and then Tommy and I jetted off to Lerwick where we ended the day.

This rather sad looking Herring Gull was near the Shetland Catch looking a bit worse for wear

A bit more excitement came the next day when I headed out for a look onto Clickimin to see if anything could start me off good on my Patch Work Challenge, Whooper Swan 'JB4' was back on Clickimin with its mate, I've seen it for the past 3 consecutive winters with 'JB4' showing a very colourful colour ring on its right leg.

Ringing Recoveries

Recently I got an email, concerning a Oystercatcher ringed in Bixter in June 2015, Dave and I tend to ring out there and in the email it was said to be Dave's as he sends in the ringing records, I decided to check it out incase it was one of my birds and comparing the ring numbers and dates it was!!
My first ringing recovery! the bird had been ringed as a chick and had gone on to winter in Inverness where it had been caught on the 29th of December! quite a speedy recovery.

Also a second recovery came through last week and this time I found it, back in the last few days of December 2015, I spotted a Mute Swan with a ring on it at Scalloway, a couple of weeks later on the 16th of January I went back and managed to get the ring number off it and got it sent to Dave who combed through his notepads and found it was the one I'd rung in February 2015!

It seems that the Mute Swan comes here to winter every year

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

A jaunt of the Isles: From Unst to Sumburgh and almost back again

Well this past weekend has certainly been a packed one, with a trip to Unst and many sites in the North, Central and South Mainland I've got a bit to write about here.

Saturday 16th of January 2016

A trip to Unst had been planned with Tommy so we caught the 0840 ferry into Unst and started a day full of birding.

The wilds of Unst, it really has a landscape that can't compare to any in Shetland

First stop was Uyeasound for some Goosander, which we ticked quite easily before heading off to Easting to try and get the Surf Scoter which was wintering there.

The Goosanders of Uyeasound

Haegrie (Grey Heron), one of 4 in Uyeasound

We arrived to a pretty cold Easting and walked out to the beach with the scopes, positioning ourselves on a hill so we could view the bay.
It was a couple of degrees below zero so we started to freeze up pretty quickly, there was a few Red-breasted Mergansers, Shags and a Great-northern Diver (year tick) but no sign of any other ducks, I took a few scans of the sea and found nothing, so after half an hour of freezing conditions we headed off to have a cuppa.
With tea and rolls digested we drove north to Baltasound with higher hopes, a first stop off near Skibhoul found us 4 Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, 2 Knot and a Mike Pennington which were all year ticks, we had a chat with Mike and he filled us in on two Chaffinches and a Brambling at the post office which I was quite excited about, so we thanked Mike and got on our way.
First look in the post office garden produced no finches of any sort, I had another place to check though and for me anyways it had a good track record.
A garden literally attached to the post office has contained a few good birds in my time, epsecially these past two years and thats where we headed, standing on the corner of the gardening we heard the twittering of a Chaffinch and the birds flew in with the Brambling and plopped themselves in a bush.
Two year ticks were nicely bagged then and I managed the odd photo before we had to head off to the ferry again and back to the mainland for some more birding.

Heading down to Yell we met Brydon Thomason waiting to head onto the ferry at Belmont as well so I had a chat with him as this was the first time I'd seen Brydon in months.
Ferry came and we headed over to Ulsta, having no time to twitch Glaucs at Cullivoe, arriving at Ulsta we also met Dougie Preston heading down to see the Dippers in Voe, it was a amazingly calm day and it seemed that all the birders were out in force!
Ferry came and it was time to head on, it was the first time I'd had a chance to bird off the ferry so Tommy and I headed up top for a look, hoping to spot any auks that may sticking around.
Brydon came and joined us and he managed to spot a Little Auk south of the ferry! though it was in a bit of tide and none of us could clap our eyes on it, its not exactly a species I'm good with catching up so was a shame to lose but Guillemot (a year tick) made up for it.

After we got off we shot off to Sellaness to try bag Little Auk and anything else that was around, a first look produced a female Goosander and a Slavonian Grebe (year tick) but no auks, a quick look at the Houb of Scatsta produced 180 Golden Plovers and some ducks but not much else so we shot off to Brae for a chippy.
With chippy grabbed we headed to Mavis Grind as our final place to try and connect with Little Auk, I took only the bins with me when we first got out and looked and the first bird I saw was a Little Auk!! Year tick! a couple of photos and then I began scanning the rest of the voe and between the two of us we picked out around 5! my highest ever total! but time was against us so we went straight to Sullom for the Rough-legged Buzzard.

peerie Rotchie (Little Auk), my first ever photos of the species and a great sight

Turning into Sullom I spotted a car which I recognised as birder Mark Chapman, so we pulled alongside Mark to see what he'd seen.
Well Mark had certainly had a few birds, with at least 11 Little Auks between Brae and Mavis Grind (including our birds) and the Rough-legged at the Sullom Quarry.

We came around the corner to the quarry and we saw a flash of a light coloured wing disappear in the far northwest corner, I thought at the time that it had just gone and thats all we'd see of it but I was wrong, it flew towards us, gracefully landing on a ridge halfway between us and its orginal position, a big mass of light brown and white feathers!
I quickly grabbed my camera and got a few distant shots before the scope came out, now I wasn't wanting to scare it off or anything so I decided we'd stay in the car, the awkward thing was we'd have to assemble the scope and then stick it out the window, tripod and all.
We were suprisgly successful and I even managed to digiscope the bird.

It may be my second bird but its the only one I've ever photographed!

Though it was soon time to go, I could of happily watched it for hours but we only had around an hour and a half of light left so we had to get moving to the Dippers in Voe.

It was oddly quite at the Kirkhouse Burn in Lower Voe, no cars we about and there was no sign of any birders which worried us, a look around the burn produced no Dipper but we didn't have time to walk all the way up it to comepltely check the area.

The Lesser Scaup at Nesting was our last biggie of the day and we found it almost instantly on the Loch of Houlland where we first saw it in November.

Lesser Scaup on Loch of Houlland, the bird was also on Benston as well

Loch of Benston was slightly frozen and had few birds so we quickly headed to Strand and the Loch of Tingwall iin the last of the light.
The loch at Strand was frozen over so there was no chance at any ducks or swans so onwards for some geese, a couple of flocks of Greylags were near the farm and I gave them a quick scan to find myself 8 Euro White-fronts!! not a bad find!
Light was really fading fast so Tingwall was our next stop, towards the north side it was pretty frozen and my hopes started to dwindle but as soon as we came to the south end it was full of ducks, Tommy managed to pick out two Little Grebes and two Coot, both year ticks! before I found some Rook at Asta (also a year tick), that was going pretty good and we'd just hit 18 year ticks for the day but I had one last trick up my sleeve.

In fading light we could still photography these tiny beauties of Little Grebes

Two Mute Swans have been knocking around Scalloway this winter and that was a bird I was still needing, the place I'd always seen them was the Burn Beach near Scalloway's version of 'The Street', I saw them as soon as we appeared and I rushed out to try and get a ring number off the adult (as the last time I came I noticed a shiny ring on its leg).
Tommy came over with some bread which encouraged them in and the adult bird came out the water and displayed its ring quite nice to allow me to get the whole sequence off it.

Allowing pretty close views I was able to photograph the foot in pretty good detail!

Pretty much by this time it was too dark to go anywhere else and we'd just about exhausted all the birds we could find for the time being, though a trip down the south end tomorrow seemed quite promising.

Sunday 17th of Janurary 2016

Today was time to catch up with a few more birds down the South Mainland to add to the ever growing year list.
Tommy and I headed down the South Mainland with a first stop off at the Burn of Swinister in Hoswick, Sandwick to try and find a wintering Yellowhammer which had been seen a day or two ago.
Combing the burn and a nearby Hostel picked up Twite, Skylark and Carrion Crow, all new ones for the year but no sign of the Yellowhammer so we headed farther south.

Carrion Crow at Swinister, it was in among a flock of Hoodies and 4 migrant Rooks

Boddam didn't really have anything of note and the goose flocks at Fleck appeared to be all Greylags so next was the Pool of Virkie.

Boddam Voe looking amazing in the winter light

Now things started to pick up, with Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwits (year) Shalder (year), Knot and Grey Plover! (year) all at the Pool it seemed the year list was going up fast with my total reaching 70 (3 birds off my previous January best).

Grey Plover, only my third record ever, with the first in Northumberland 2013 and 1 last year

Comorant on some lights at the Ness Boating Club

Time though was catching up on us and a quick trip to Grutness got us Sanderling and then off to Hillwell/Ringasta which chucked a whole pile of birds into the mix with Moorhen (year), lots of Whooper Swans, 3 Barnacle Geese (year), hundreds of Greylags, 6 Pink-footed Geese (year and two were colour-ringed) and some Euro Whitefronts.
Pretty much from here we ended the day at Spiggie where we met Hugh Harrop scoping out a Taiga Bean Goose!, Hugh happily put us on to it and after a few photos we headed off due to me having to get north to the ferry.

A large number of Gulls on the ice at Spiggie

Taiga Bean Goose, first time I've seen one of these in two years, thanks Hugh!!

We ended the day pretty well with me breaking my all time January year list of 73 by one bird! only halfway through the month and I've still got a few weekends of birding to go so who knows what the total will be by the months end.


Tuesday, 12 January 2016

New Year Update

Well folks we are now well into the New Year as I write this on the 12th of January, the first few days birdwise were quite rocky with only 6 species seen on New Years Day and another in the following days, it wasn't a good start for trying to beat my 200 bird target for the year but no matter!

On the 4th had me doing Non-Estuarine Waterbird Surveys around Mid Yell and that got me up to 23 species of bird with one of the oddest being a Goldfinch, a very impressive bird for Yell/Shetland in winter! quite difficult to get sometimes as well, but House Sparrow eluded the list!
The 5th had me out at Vaster doing surveys as well and that got me onto some much needed seabirds and the list rocketed up to 37 with two raptors found in the shape of Peregrine and Merlin.

Peregrine being mobbed my Crows

It was quiet until the 9th with school taking up any more birding days until the weekend which brought some other good species, the Mourning Dove was still present at Murrayston, Lerwick on the south-west corner of my Clickimin patch, would be a shame not to get in on the list! and Sparrowhawk was mobbing crows over Helendale.
Sadly the Sea Kale at Seafield was covered by people cleaning up the car park at Fjara Cafe and now it has 2 foot of gravel and stones on top of it, maybe once again, leading to its extinction in Shetland before its had a chance to even colonise.

But as a write this I'm now on a total of 45 species and hope to be getting a few more this upcoming weekend, with Surf Scoter on Unst along with a few others goodies and Black-bellied Dipper, Rough-legged Buzzard, Green-winged Teal and Lesser Scaup all hanging on in the North Mainland it seems like its to be a good year!