Tuesday, 26 September 2017

An adventure of a lifetime

Its been a plan in the works for the last few days but a plan for a great cause.

On Wednesday 26th September 2017 news broke of a female Siberian Thrush on Unst and a Yellow-breasted Bunting on Outer Skerries (I managed to nab the Sibe Thrush on the day but I would have to wait a few more before I even managed to go for the Bunting) , I was really wanting to go for the Bunting as it has been a dream bird of mine for years, after hearing of the plight of the species further east, with the population suffering a serious crash of over 90% since the 1980's due to extreme overhunting in China, it seemed like it was going to become a mythical species that I might never have the chance to see. It used to be annual in Shetland up until the early 2000's, but now it seems it could easily be extinct within my lifetime.

Two frustrating days later on Friday the 22nd my plan was finally able to roll out.  After being unable to go on Dan Pointon's Charter and day tripping earlier on in the day due to school I instead caught the regular 1730 ferry from Vidlin, Mainland to Outer Skerries.
Thanks to my always extremely helpful grandparents I was fully stocked with food and sleeping equipment on my first solo trip to Outer Skerries(but hopefully it won't be my last one of the autumn)
The Skerrie's Ferry, the Filla, coming in

Getting loaded up

First sight of Skerries

The sun setting over the waves

The ferry trip over to Skerries was great with the setting sun behind us, but it wasn't all set yet and that's what I was banking on.
The ferry arrived in at 1835, 25 minutes earlier than what it had said on the timetable, and there was still enough light left to try and see a certain bird.
I'd met Phil Harris back on the Vidlin side before the ferry and he said the bird had been hanging around a derelict croft with a cannon in the garden! So when I arrived that's where I raced off to.
I wasn't 100% sure where I was going most of the time but there's really only one road on the islands so it can't be that hard to find where you are going.
Well somehow I did manage to take the wrong turn, the map I was reading showed the Chapel and the graveyard in the same place but they weren't, one was on one road and one on another and I'd taken the wrong road. A quick turn around and a left turn later I reached the graveyard and there was no birds in sight, it only took a second to find the croft which was adjacent to the graveyard so I trudged off there, hoping I'd be more successful.

A few 'pssshs' later around some very promising clumps of grass and nothing had flown up from the croft, I gave it another go and tried a fenced in patch of grass behind a small shed and this funny LBJ (Little Brown Job) flew out, it had back markings I had never seen before and it was completely wrong for a Meadow Pipit in shape and colour, it just screamed at me 'Bunting'.  With my heart racing I just knew this had to be the Yellow-breasted Bunting but in the back of my head I could hear myself saying 'don't get excited it's only the Little Bunting that's been hanging around', those agonising seconds took ages to pass but the bird eventually alighted on a dyke and I got my bins up to look at it, typically my binoculars weren't even focused but I could make out a very noticeable yellow breast! with bins finally focused I saw it, there in all its glory was the Yellow-breasted Bunting!!! I got one photo and then spent the rest of my time just looking at it, I couldn't believe that I was admiring my dream bird that I had come so far to see.

My one and only photo of the Yellow-breasted Bunting 

It could of been an age or only a few seconds later but the Bunting eventually flew around the back of the croft and out of sight, with that my bird was gone but I was still relishing from the excitement and happiness of seeing it, its still not gone now even though its been four days.

After the bird had left I went to celebrate with a cup of tea, I phoned my grandparents to tell them the news (without them I probably would of been a bit worse for wear as they helped supply me for most of the trip so thanks!).  I'd just ended the phone call and I was about to make my celebratory cup of tea when I noticed something fly in towards the back of the croft and perch on the dyke, I sprang into action and got my bins straight onto the bird, it had a very familiar, striking yellow breast, the Bunting had returned!! I started making my way back towards the croft to try and get another view of this eastern gem.  By the time I'd arrived the Bunting had dropped onto a rough grassy path behind the croft and gave some decent views in the poor light when it alighted on a nearby dyke, it was too dark for photos so I watched in awe for a few minutes before the Bunting appeared to drop into cover for the night so I left it in peace.

Finally I was able to sit down and drink my cup of tea, watching the sun's final rays touch Skerries for the day, it was an amazing end to a truly magical day.

But that was not the end of my adventure......

Next plan of action for me in the non-existent light was to find a place to kip for the night, I had not planned to stay anywhere or booked anything so I was taking my chances.
My options for the night were:
  1. Sleep in the chapel 
  2. Sleep in the ferry terminal toilet area
  3. Outside
Personally I thought the safest idea was the second option and it turned out to be not a half bad idea, for a public toilet it was very well maintained, clean and had most of the facilities one would need, heating, a toilet, sink and shower as well as a place to put my bike, making it a pretty good sleeping quarters for the night.  A bit of a sweep up later with the broom that was already supplied (another good feature of the place) and it was good enough to finally get some rest, bed gear was soon deployed and some of my food rations were consumed before I lay down, ready for day two and what it would bring.....
Home Sweet Home for the night

Day 2

My sleep was patchy with at least a few good hours behind me, I had breakfast at 0430 as I had woken up a bit peckish so a big meal was not needed when I woke up again 0600, I had planned to try and get to the Yellow-breasted Bunting site for 6.30, so after my miniature breakfast, I got dressed and when I looked outside about 20 minutes later I expected it to be pitch black but there was an orange and red glow coming from the horizon! that definitely encouraged me to get going and within the next ten minutes I was gone back to West Isle (Housay) to try and locate the Bunting.

On the cycle over to Housay from Bruray I managed to add a few more species to my Skerries List but nothing overly noteworthy even though I checked a few sites given to me by Dave the night before.  I arrived on Housay about 0700 and already I added Hooded Crow and House Sparrow to my Island list, a look around the derelict croft produced no Yellow-breasted Bunting though it was still early hours.

 The haunt of the Yellow-breasted Bunting, quite a nice peerie croft

I decided to try and find some more sites Dave had suggested to me and so I began trudging north towards Ward Hill to try and find a marsh.  After around an hour the only birds I'd really picked up were some Snipe, Meadow Pipits and Rock Pipits, Vogan's Voe especially was teeming with them, but since I hadn't really found much I decided to turn around and try again for the Bunting, this was when I finally spotted human life, in the shape of a fellow birder.
Within a few minutes I was deep in conversation with one of the finders of the Yellow-breasted Bunting, it was great to trade sightings (well the few I had) and get to thank one of the guys who found the bird because without them I would never of seen it!
But there was birds to be found, and we went our own separate directions, I did try again for the Bunting but with no success, as it had obviously left the island.
I decided to give another go at the iris bed by the graveyard on the way back to my bike, I was just deciding which part of the irises I would cover first when a medium sized, rusty brown bird flew in from the right, I quickly got my bins onto it and realised it was a Corncrake!! a few seconds later it lazily dropped into the irises and I couldn't believe what I'd just seen, I've only ever seen two before and it certainly wasn't a bird I was expecting to find on Skerries.
I decided not to try and look for the bird as I'd probably just got the best views that I was going to get, a further walk along the iris bed didn't produce any Pallas' Grasshopper Warbler so a migrant Wren and a Willow Warbler along the roadside were good enough for me.

A Skerries' Endemic, obviously not scared of humans

Over time I slowly headed back towards the ferry terminal, checking sites along the way but never coming up with much, I hanged around the ferry for a good 30 minutes earlier than the leaving time just so I didn't miss it.

One of several cannons around the island, many pulled up from ships that have wrecked on the coast

Finally the ferry pulled in about 9.35 and we left about 9.45 as I was the only passenger aboard, with that we left the island and my adventure of a lifetime had ended.

A great many thanks to the finders for finding the bird as I would never have seen the bird without them, many thanks also goes to my grandparents for all the supplies and gear for the trip, it made it a lot more easy to survive!

Rare Bird Alert Finders in the Field Link:

After that amazing trip my Skerries List obviously gained a few birds so in a rough order here they are:
  1. Gannet
  2. Shag
  3. Fulmar
  4. Comorant
  5. Starling
  6. Meadow Pipit
  7. White/Pied Wagtail
  9. Grey Heron
  10. Curlew
  11. Rock Pipit
  12. Herring Gull
  13. Great Black-backed Gull
  14. Great Skua
  15. Redshank
  16. Rock Dove
  17. Hooded Crow
  18. House Sparrow
  19. Snipe
  20. Raven
  21. Song Thrush
  22. Corncrake
  23. Kittiwake
  24. Wren
  25. Willow Warbler
  26. Twite
  27. Eider
  28. Tystie (Black Guillemot)
  29. Turnstone
  30. Purple Sandpiper

Monday, 25 September 2017

Some proper Patching

Its been a while since I've posted about 'being on the patch' but now this should be the first of a few new instalments.

I have changed my patch recently as I've stopped birding at Clickimin/Helendale/Seafield and now I have moved over to the Knab a mile or two away on the other side of Lerwick due to me being at the Anderson High School, while being at my new patch I haven't really birded it as much as I've always seen it as quite poor due to it being a barren cliff with next to no cover, but to be fair I have been wrong about that and really if I'm not trying to see birds I'm not going to get them.
So recently I've started birding it more to try and find my own autumn goodies among everyone else's finds, last weeks good bird was a group of 5 Knot (patch tick) which took the patch total to 28, though they were initially found by a visiting birder who'd come up for the Black-billed Cuckoo.

Today (25/09/2017) saw another addition to the Patch List, after a good 20 Turnstone feeding on the short grass in the graveyard it looked like a good day, walking along the cliff line at (what I believe to be called) South Ness, I managed to flush two small, brown backed waders with white bellies off of the cliff  where they appeared to be sheltering from the strong South Easterlies, I quickly got them in the bins and they were Common Sandpipers!! they were quite flighty birds and I flushed them again in the next geo, one decided to land within view this time and allowed for some rather rubbish photos.

Common Sandpiper as shown by rather large red arrow

A further walk around the east end of the Knab produced nothing else of interest so that ended my denner time birdwatch, I gave it a second go after school around 4pm but the wind had picked up and anywhere on the east side of the patch was being completely blasted by the winds so I gave up and headed to the west side, hoping the geos were more sheltered.

Well it was safe to say that nowhere was sheltered, even the west geos were being pummelled the winds so I tried some of the ditches around the golf course and at least that produced two very unhappy Mipits who didn't seem to be enjoying the winds either, after having found something worth noting I was happy to head back, ending my first proper patch birding of the autumn.

 One of the rather sad looking Mipits

Thursday, 21 September 2017

BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO 18/09/2017 The Dale of Walls

Another one of those stop-press birds that I tend to write about a lot but I do quite like seeing stop-press rarities!

On the 18th of September news broke around 1200hours about a BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO at Netherdale, Dale of Walls in the West Mainland, chiefly found by Rory Tallack, I wasted no time in organising a trip out there, I knew this thing would be gone the next day or would die (as these birds have a tendency to do this side of the pond) so I was not chancing anything.

I organised with my granddad to head west from Lerwick around 1530 and we were on site by 1620 (after having gotten lost due to a bit of confusion with the junction and the poor weather not helping) and as soon as we arrived I could already see a trio of birders at the back of the croft looking quite intently at a clump of Japanese Knotweed so I set off.
It didn't take long but soon John Coutts got me onto, what was to be, my 272nd bird for Shetland, a Black-billed Cuckoo!!!! I couldn't believe my eyes at what I was seeing, I have dreamed of finding one of the American Cuckoos, but seeing one that day made me happy enough!
It moved around quite frequently and even decided to come and land about 15-20 feet away from the four of us! giving more than amazing views, soon the bird became a bit more mobile and Gary Bell turned up to get some views and photos, I was pushing time a bit so I headed off, though this wasn't the end of my twitch.

 The Black-billed Cuckoo in all its wonderful glory

On the way back I had a message from Paula who was on her way out to twitch the bird too, I ended up meeting her just outside Walls and I traded cars to take her back out there to see it, I thanked Tommy for the trip out and Paula and I headed back west to see the bird.

We arrived back at Dale of Walls at 1745 and the light was fading and the bird had gone AWOL down the burn, so Paula and I went separate ways, I headed up back towards the croft and Paula began working the bushes along the burn, about 10 minutes later we had our first success as Gary Bell had the bird come zooming up the burn and land in a bush by the bridge as a couple of local and south birders arrived, soon we were all enjoying great views of the bird and after a few more minutes it shot off back to croft, with the bird gone we decided to head off too.

Though we weren't even the last people to see the bird that day, Andy Cook from Fetlar had come to see it with the last drips of daylight, we quickly flagged him down and gave him the last details of the bird, I got a message from him later that day to say that he'd got it so it seems everyone who went that day got it.

The next day of course the bird had disappeared as expected, even though a few people had tried to twitch from south it could not be located, hopefully it didn't succumb to death or starvation like others but it was a glorious bird to see so thanks for Tommy and Paula for running me about that day!

A Link to the Rare Bird Alert Finders in the Field Write-up by Rory Tallack

The No.26 - Onwards to the Levenhall Links (Musselburgh Edition)

Its been a while since my last post but hopefully this will be the start of some more frequent ones.

I was staying in Edinburgh over the weekend (8th-10th September) as part of a Reroute residential meeting, the flights didn't work that well so I couldn't get back home until the Sunday, a day after the meeting had finished so I decided to head out to Musselburgh on the east side of Edinburgh as there had been a good few birds (Red-necked Grebe, Black Tern and Spotted Redshank), that I wanted to see, in the area.
So the night before I made a plan to visit the place by public transport, I had never visited Musselburgh by public transport before so it would be one of two adventures I'd be having that day.

I woke up at 0600 on the Sunday and set off to grab a bite to eat before my bus, it took me a while before I finally decided where to get on the bus but thanks to the friendly barista in 'easycoffee' I was sorted and was heading on the No.26 at 0730.
It took around 40 minutes before I reached Musselburgh and soon I was off to another unexplored part of the city, the Musselburgh Train Station. It took around 45 minutes to get there, grab my train ticket and then make it to Musselburgh Lagoons/River Esk mouth.

It was great to be finally doing some south birding after so long, and it was a real treat seeing such big numbers of Mute Swan and Black-headed Gull that you just don't see in Shetland, one treat that I did find was my second ever Kingfisher sitting happily on a ladder, the last Kingfisher I saw was just a blue streak so seeing it in its full orange and blue glory was amazing!


 Levenhall Links aka Musselburgh Lagoons

Next came the mouth of the River Esk which was absolutely teeming with waders, ducks and swans, it was such a expanse of ground it was difficult to see any of the farther away waders, a couple of Bar-tailed Godwit and Dunlin were only real birds of note that I could see and a young Herring Gull trying to catch a Pipit was pretty odd.
Moving further along the shore, I heard this strange squeaking noise which I had never heard before, next thing I knew a winter plumage/juv Sandwich Tern flies in (not exactly a Black Tern but good enough!), the first one I'd seen in a while. A few more goodies were picked up while trying to find Red-necked Grebe, a pair of Great-crested Grebes and some possible Velvet Scoters were a good addition to the trip list, not always easy birds to get back home!
Next it was time to go to the Levenhall Links and check the wader scrapes, passing by some woods yielded Great-spotted Woodpecker, Blue Tit, Magpie, Woodpigeon and a pair of Little Grebes on the boating pond. 
Arthur's Seat in the distance

The mouth of the River Esk

Finally reaching the Links my main excitement grew, as I remember this place was amazing for waders and geese, this time was no exception, there were a few Greylags but there were good numbers of waders on a couple of the scrapes with a Black-tailed Godwit and 3 Ruff making a nice find. After a while I met a few birders who informed me of a Spotted Redshank and a Semi-palmated Sandpiper  that had been seen in the area that day! Hearing that news certainly had me more excited and scanning the pools for a good while, more birders came and went but one couple came with a scope and I asked if they could scan the far away wader flock for the Spotted Redshank as it would have been a lifer for me, ten minutes later and I had my wish, the couple with the scope had picked it out among some Redshanks!

Spotted Redshank is the bird on the right hand of the gulls, photo taken through a scope
I've been trying to catch up with Spotted Redshank for a few years now, from Northumberland to Shetland and now to Lothian I've been looking for them but now I've finally landed one! this Spotted Redshank was a beauty, the couple with the scope let me have a look through it to get a better look and boy it was amazing! Its grey plumage was great, the face notably whiter than a normal Redshank and a much thinner bill as well, it was gorgeous. It wasn't long before a Curlew Sandpiper was picked up as a well, a bird I have very rarely seen before so that was a nice addition to the trip list.  Time was soon getting on though, with no Semi-palmated Sandpiper in site and my time running ever shorter I decided to head off and go to the train station, ending my day at Musselburgh.

A Bee sp on Creeping Thistle

It was an eventful day, with a lifer and a few nice birds I hadn't seen in a while, I always love exploring these new places and hopefully Musselburgh will become a regular site for me once I go to University, but that's a story for another time.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Hermit Thrush on Noss 19/4/17

First post for a few months now, things have been relatively quiet with me due to preparations for exams and many things but hopefully this is the start of some more blog posts.

On the 19th of April I was sitting in school with ten minutes remaining when I had a quick look online to see if there was anything worth looking at. Something that always catches my eye is the Bird of Noss Facebook page because its always about some interesting wildlife that has been seen on the island. First thing I noticed was a photo of a rusty-orange coloured thrush with a brighter tail of the same colour. Alarm bells started ringing for me and I quickly got into reading the chunk of paragraph above it which helped to confirm my alarm bells. Craig Nisbet, one of the wardens on the island, had found a Hermit Thrush. I could pretty much see Noss from where I was so I knew I had to somehow get there for it.

I headed out class just before the bell and raced up to my room in the Janet Courtney Hostel to check for any messages on my phone, as soon as I switched it on I got a rush of messages. I sent one into the Shetland group seeing if there was anyway we'd be able to get over to Noss for it.
Andy Denton, the other warden, said they would take people on the 3.30pm ferry but not the 4pm, looking at the time it was 3.30pm, knowing I couldn't make it to the ferry I started running down to it in hope someone would be able to take me across which I knew was very slim.

I was almost at the ferry terminal when I passed someone who then began shouting at me, I turned around to see Phil Harris, lifejacket and bins at the ready. Now I had a pretty good idea what he was up to so I went and asked Phil if he had a space on his boat going over to Noss which he did so the twitch was on!

Just after 4pm, myself, Phil & Rebecca along with their daughter Ayda and Glen Tyler left Lerwick Harbour and went round the South end of Bressay to get to Noss, we arrived around quarter to 5 and after around five minutes spent pushing the boat back out to shore (which resulted in me being in knee depth of water) we trekked across the island to East Punds Geo (conveniently on the north-eastern edge of the island, just about as far away as you could get).
We were nearing the geo when about 8 people came from over the hill and started walking towards us, mainly consisting of the birders who made it over on the 3.30 but also the two wardens, Andy was good enough to take us up to the site and show us the bird.

A few minutes later we arrived to a breezy East Punds Geo but all seemed quiet and there wasn't a bird to be seen, I managed to find a Willow Warbler (year tick) but there was no sign of the Thrush and after 20 minutes we were starting to think it had gone.
Then things happened quickly, everyone noticed a starling sized bird fly up out the Geo and land directly on top of the stone dyke at the geo mouth. Shouts started coming from everyone, IT WAS THE THRUSH, it dropped behind the dyke and a stressing few minutes ensued as everyone came from their positions around the geo to try get a look of it. Me I was pretty much running and I joined Andy who had a good view of where it went and soon Phil & Becca were with us too, none of us could see it but Glen had it on the opposite side of the wall so we joined him.

There in front of us sat Britain's 12th Hermit Thrush, Shetland's 5th and my 270th bird in Shetland. It was better in the flesh than It was in the photos but I was so happy to see it, we spent around 30 minutes watching the bird feed on the ground and coming within 20 feet of us. By this point the light was going and we started walking back to the boat, with Phil and Glen heading back on the boat and me, Rebecca and Ayda going overland to get the ferry. That was the end to one lucky twitch and maybe one of my jammiest so far.

Big thanks to Phil and Becca for taking me over on the boat and the run home because without them I would never of seen the bird! and of course to Craig and Andy on Noss, mainly for finding the bird but also for helping with relocating it and the info giving to me before hand so I knew where I was going!

(I would add some photos but sadly my computer is not playing ball!)

A couple of links below of the finders account from Craig

Rare Bird Alert


Saturday, 14 January 2017

Welcome to 2017

Its a new year.
Now 2017 has begun and the big question every birder asks is raised once again, what do you think we'll have this year?
Will it be another first for the UK? will we have a huge invasion of finches, crossbills or Waxwing from Scandinavia? Is there going to be some long-awaited rarity that hasn't been seen on our shores in decades? Well there is no answer, only time will tell.

This winter has been mild and allowed for a few birds to overwinter, Chiffchaff, Blue Tit and Dunnock being a few of the notable species.
Also as I am writing this we are currently experiencing a small influx of white-winged Gulls into the isles with around 37 Glaucous Gulls in Unst on the 9th.

This year I have finally given up trying to beat 200 for my year list after having conquered the barrier in 2016 by reaching a good 208 after 3 years of trying.
So obviously my year list has gotten off to a slower start with only 39 birds by the 14th, mainly just common birds but also a self-found Little Auk in Burravoe, Yell on the 7th was a treat.

Lonely Little Auk in Burravoe

But as the days lengthen then there is more birds to be found and soon before we even know it spring will be here.