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!