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
  8. YELLOW-BREASTED BUNTING
  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
http://www.rarebirdalert.co.uk/v2/Content/Finders-in-the-field-Black-billed-Cuckoo-Unst.aspx?s_id=70480854

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!

Kingfisher!

 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
http://www.rarebirdalert.co.uk/v2/Content/Finders-in-the-field-Hermit-Thrush-Shetland-Apr-2017.aspx?s_id=5991079

BirdGuides
http://www.birdguides.com/webzine/article.asp?a=6325

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.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

The year of records 'n' rares: 2016

What a year this has been, 2016, the year of losing celebrities and the best autumn in my lifetime.
Its been a bumper year for me, so below as always I've summed up the year as best I can month by month.

January

The year got off to a slow start but I had soon caught up and broken my own month record.
Highlights being Mourning Dove'Black-bellied' Dipper, Rough-legged Buzzard, Lesser Scaup, Jack Snipe, Goldcrest, Goldfinch, 5 Little Auk.
I relocated Whooper Swan 'JB4' back on Clickimin again on the 24th.
At the end of the month saw me and Dave take a twitch to Whalsay for a 'putative' American Herring Gull, I've never seen such a strange looking bird.
And also during the month I got an email concerning some recoveries of birds I had rung, my first three recoveries, 2 Oystercatchers from the same area in West Mainland (to Inverness and Wales) and a Mute Swan which I refound where I ringed it in Scalloway!

Year List by months end = 79

February

Like always a quiet month, with funnily enough the same amount of year ticks as last year.
Birding was restricted as prelims took over a good portion of the month.
On the 26th-28th I went down for a 'residential' in Edinbrugh for my collaboration in Reroute (Scotland's Youth Biodiversity Panel) but before it started I headed out east with my friend Andrew Russel for a spot of twitching, Black-necked Grebe, Caspian Gull and Water Pipit were all on the cards but in the end we only came across the Black-necked Grebe but it was a lifer so I was happy! biggest excitement had to be when we came across a very tame young fox which had quite a liking for bread!
Only my second ever Fox, you might say I had good views!
(courtesy of Andrew 'the twitcher' Russel)

Year List by months end = 83

March

On the 5th I finally saw my first Killer Whales with a pod of 5 off Sumburgh Head/Compass, views were distant but I was more than ecstatic!
The 12th resulted in a trip to Unst with Robbie Brookes to see Surf Scoter (twitched successfully) but also resulted in a couple of hours spent looking for a White-tailed Eagle which finally showed itself the next day but not to me.
It was good over the coming weeks to see the migrant and breeding species return to Shetland as winter finally ended and a Wheatear at Sumburgh on the 29th was the earliest record for me of the species.
A cycle to Fetlar on the 31st was slow going but produced highlights such as Glaucous Gull, Blackcap and Tree Sparrow (last two being year ticks).

Year List by months end = 100

April

The 6th-11th saw a trip to Fair Isle which resulted in one of my best April birding ever with highlights being Hawfinch, Black Redstart, Great Gret Shrike, Ring Ouzel, Grey Wag, Hornemanns Arctic Redpoll, first Bonxies of the year, a Hawinch ringing tick, the islands first Shelduck for the year, finally ticking Tree Pipit, Long-eared Owl, Stonechat, self-finding Fair Isles earliest ever Common Redstart and swallow.
As always April is the time we check the Raven nest sites, defiantly one of my favourite times of the year.
The 24th was an exceptional day with Garganey and 12 Pintail seen at Scatness, only 1 more bird and we would of equalled the Shetland record!
Finally the rest of the month was spent doing Ravens.

Year List by months end = 121

May

The first half of the month was dominated by exams but some birding was fitted in.
Return of Terns is always good with my first Arctics on the 7th.
A first for Shetland, Rose-breasted Grosbeak was stressfully twitched between exams on the 4th in Burra.
A much relieved tick came in the form of White-billed Diver on the 5th in Basta Voe, Yell after many fruitless attempts
On a windy Saturday morning (14th), news came of a confirmed GREEN WARBLER on Unst (2nd for UK), a twitch soon ensued and I went with some Shetland veterans to successfully twitch it, after many fleeting views.
The 19th was a notable date with my first patch record of a Mouse with two on the beach at Seafield,
A volunteering stint at Fair Isle Birds Obs from 19th-27th and then extended to the 30th, a dream of mine to work there or even volunteer for a long time and definitely worth it and not just good for birds! some birdy highlights being BLACK-BROWED ALBATROSS, Rustic & Ortolan Bunting, Little Egret (self-found first for the island!), several Bluethroats, Woodchat Shrike, Corncrake, Red-backed Shrike, Crane, two Nauthusius Pipitstrelles and a host of many common migrants.
Jobs though labour intensive at times, cruise ships were much rewarding as cleaning out the Obs Wader Scrape, as it produced 3 Wagtail species in one day! it was also great to see many old faces and meet many new ones. Big thanks to FIBO for having me and all the staff and visitors as well, though the 5 hour journey on the Shepherd was a bit rough!

Year List by months end = 161

June 

As always a quiet month for birding but its when the ringing really takes off with waders dominating the month and the freedom of having no more exams until next year, not as many waders as past years but still good with even a trip to Yell but we only saw one wader chick.
Though the one bit of birding excitement was a singing Quail at Burravoe, Yell on the 19th, big thanks to Dougie Preston for the tip off as its the first time I've ever heard one!

Year List by months end = 162

July

Mainly dominated by a trip to China 9th-28th as part of the Confucius Hub project to learn the culture and language of China, dominated by classes and visiting areas around Tianjin and Beijing such as the Great Wall, Olympic Park, Forbidden City, Summer Palace and a mix of culture & food streets with a few lifers and birds seen such as Chinese Pond Heron, Chinese Bulbul, etc etc
The last few days of the month were spent getting back into ringing with the Divers, as July is the official start of the wonderful diver season.

Year List by months end = 163

August


Things really started to speed up in August in all senses for birding.
The month started off with Divers, with a few sites being tended to before the chicks fledged and then I moved on to a smaller kind of bird.
Storm Petrels then came mid month where I joined Phil Harris, Georgie Petrie and Glen Tyler on a few Storm Petrel sessions, it was good to get more experience with petrels and to rack up my ringing total a bit! A Leach's Petrel caught was also a nice year tick even if Fair Isle was catching Swinhoes on the same night!
My first real autumn birding on the 27th with Paula and Julie Redpath resulted in Wryneck and a s-f male Rosefinch at Spiggie!
The 29th was also a pretty good day for rarities as Paula and I head down to the South Mainland to twitch a Arctic Warbler at Geosetter and a Booted Warbler at Sumburgh, safe to say we managed to get both birds in the space of an hour and a half!

Year List by months end = 174

September

The month started off well with Wood Warbler at Mossbank on the 4th and a patch tick on my second patch of the Knab in Lerwick with 8 Mallard on the 5th!
I headed into Fair Isle again with family between the 9th-13th for our great-grandmothers funeral, one or two birds seen whilst there, Sooty & Manx Shearwaters, Lapland Bunting, Greenshank, Grasshopper Warbler, two Convulous Hawkmoths courtesy of Nick Riddiford and the Legend that is the Biking Birder, Gary Prescott.
The 13th was the day I equalled my own year list record with a Yellow-browed Warbler at Quendale.
The 29th resulted in my own personal year record of 181 being broken with a Pallid Harrier at Quendale and then a Pochard at Spiggie.
On the 30th news broke of a Brown Shrike in Aith which I twitched after school, saving me the 14 hour plus trip to Skerries for the one there!

Year List by months end = 184

October 

The month started off good with a trip to Unst with Tommy on the 1st for Paddyfield and Blyth's Reed Warbler. Blyth's Reed (possible self-found or relocation of Norwick bird), RBFly and Water Rail were all logged bringing the yearlist to 187.
Another trip to Unst on the 8th for White's Thrush was unsuccessful but sunny weather and good views of an Osprey made up for it!
The 9th was a day that went down in history as a SIBERIAN ACCENTOR (1st for UK) was found at Mossy Hill, Scousburgh by Judd Hunt and would prove to be the start of a UK influx (I did see it).
A trip to Fair Isle with Tommy from the 10th-17th was one that will stick in my memory, with rarities appearing in the form of Pechora Pipit, two of three Pine Bunting, OBP, Red-flanked Bluetail, Dusky Warbler, Siberian Stonechat and a 'Stenigers' plus a Shore Lark (self-found and a lifer), also a supporting cast of Waxwing (Sf), Blue Tit (self-found and 13th for Island), multiple Little Bunting, Yellowhammer, multiple Yellow-broweds, Great Grey Shrike and lots of common migrants to make it an ultimate trip.
Even though I'd left Britain's most remote island there was still birds to be found with an Isabelline Wheatear at Noss, Spiggie which showed nicely along with a Mistle Thrush (which was bird no.200 for the year!) bringing the total to 201 for the year!
The next few weeks were quiet as I was away down south for a residential as part of Reroute but I still managed to get a few birds in the shape of Desert Wheatear (21st), Pied Wheatear and Rose-coloured Starling (24th) and two Striped Dolphins in Scalloway!

Year List by months end = 204

November

This month saw a new menace released in Shetland, myself on the roads, now being able to drive (but only on L-plates at the moment) I went further round Shetland and did a bit more twitching than usual.
My first twitch as a learner driver was a North American Killdeer at Sandwick on the 13th which was an unexpected lifer but certainly much appreciated!
The 21st also saw my second ever birdrace fundraising for Hillswick Seal Sanctuary and was a great day with the three teams and my team personally got a respectable 67 species! including highlights of Green-winged Teal, Waxwing, Merlin, Scaup and Little Grebe.


drake Green-winged Teal (top) and Eurasian Teal (bottom) at Orwick Water, Muckle Roe

Year List by months end = 207

December

An extremely quiet month for birding, the short period of light and other bits and pieces played a big part in limiting birding but weather wasn't really a problem as it was quite a good month.
One possible new addition to the year list was a Buzzard sp that I saw at Mossbank on the 27th, the views were great but I had no camera and have a little experience with Common and Rough-legged.
Though I managed to get a new bird on the Mid Yell School List in the shape of a 2nd winter Iceland Gull which did a flyover on the 31st.

Year List by Years end= 207/8

Another crazy year, one that will forever go down in memory of birders nationally and locally, certainly it will be one I look back on when I'm old and remembering the ' good 'ol days'.
In both personal and birding life it will be one I won't forget, every year comes with ups and down but this years pros have shot past its cons and its a year where there has been faults but I'm proud of my achievements.

Many new faces this year and but also great to catch up with some many old ones back on Fair Isle who I'm now joining as the 'regulars'.

This year has seen me break an aim of mine and that is see 200 species of bird in Shetland in one calendar, I can safely say with 207/8 by 22.55 on 31st December 2016 that I have done that and with no less than 19 additions to my Shetland List included in that, so here's my additions this year:
Tree Pipit, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, White-billed Diver, Green Warbler, Woodchat Shrike, Ortolan Bunting, Little Ringed Plover, Osprey, Rustic Bunting, BLACK-BROWED ALBATROSS, Sooty Shearwater, Manx Shearwater, SIBERIAN ACCENTOR, Pechora Pipit, Pine Bunting, Shore Lark, Isabelline Wheatear, Desert Wheatear and Killdeer

Of course once again, this year couldn't of been what it was without the help of so many people, the list grows more and more every year, as more people come and go. Like always I thank everyone for the help they've given me across the last year, whether just pointing me in the right direction to a bird or driving with me miles on a twitch.
Once again thanks to Dave and all the Shetland Ringers for giving me some great ringing experiences.
Certainly some of the biggest thanks goes to my granddad, throughout the year he's been there for birding trips, twitches and just general driving and has been such a big help.
Thanks to Paula for the runs to so many birds this year, certainly without it I wouldn't have broken 200.
To all those at Fair Isle in the Obs and on the island, I've had a lot of great memories and trips there this year and its certainly made the year great.
Finally to all my family and friends who helped out in smaller ways throughout the year and to all the birders from whatever corner of the country they have come.

Finally Happy New Year! lets make 2017 just as good!

2016 Photos September-December

Seeing as I have posted little this year I thought I should share my photos at least until I get my blog posts sorted, so here's a selection of photos from September to December in backwards order that I just want to share.


Green-winged Teal (Top) and Teal (Bottom) at Muckle Roe during a bird race in November


Killdeer at The Wart, Sandwick in early November, only the third Shetland record

Isabelline Wheatear at Noss, Spiggie late October


"Stejnegeri's" Stonechat (subspecies of the Siberian), Fair Isle in October


Self found Shorelark in Fair Isle in October

The bird was a lifer and a much desired tick after dipping one several days before

One of several description species I found this year

Olive-backed Pipit, Fair Isle in October down to 15 feet



'tristis' Chiffchaff, Fair Isle in October

Self found Red-breasted Flycatcher, Fair Isle

Red-flanked Bluetail right on the top of Ward Hill, Fair Isle in October, I happily missed lunch to see this bird


Pine Bunting at Quoy, Fair Isle in October

The first of a string of records in Shetland and the UK

One of four on Fair Isle that autumn

Pechora Pipit at Fair Isle in October that stayed for roughly two weeks

Yellow-browed Warbler that I ringed in Fair Isle in October

Sheepdog in Unst October

Osprey and Raven at Norwick, Unst early October

Only my third in Shetland following birds in Fair Isle in May and September!

Sunset over the North Mainland
Brown Shrike at Aith at the end of September

Sneezewort at Loch of Voe in September

Sanderling at Virkie in September

Mid Yell black & white

Saturday, 26 November 2016

The 200 barrier

This year I set out to achieve 200 species on my year list having failed the past two years but getting my highest year list total ever.
Though this year felt good even though it got off to a poor start.

After coming off Fair Isle in the middle of October I was on a respectable 199!! I spent the last two days hunting for Mistle Thrush across the islands cliff, the peak number of 11 at one stage that didn't even help for me to see a single one!!

An Isabelline Wheatear had been found the day before I came off Fair Isle (16th) at the Loch of Spiggie, so the next day I headed straight down for that.
I arrived on site and Mark Chapman was looking for the bird but he hadn't seen it so I had a look around the surrounding fields and I spotted this large thrush in the park.
It was big and the ID hit me straight away, a large white bellied thrush with spots running down and a greyish head, Mistle Thrush!! then another thought clicked into place, I'd just broken 200 for the year!

I'd finally reached my target, and you could say I was a bit more than happy, to be honest I felt I would struggle to reach my target but here I am, already reached it!
I had a funny feeling that Mistle Thrush would be my 200th, and that I would have it on Shetland, typical that I spent days hunting for them in Fair Isle!
Though a lifer was still to come, Rob Fray rolled up and asked us if we'd had the Isabelline Wheatear to which we said no as we couldn't see it anywhere, that was because A) we were looking on the wrong side of the road!
Rob had just had it on the opposite side of the road from us so we turned our attention there, it only took a few frantic seconds but we tracked it down! a lovely pale Wheatear, much paler than our own ones, would be my 201st bird for the year and a lifer!
The bird bounded around for a bit before disappearing around a hill and that was the last we saw of it!
I was pretty pleased with that, we thanked Rob and tried our shot at a Bullfinch he'd seen up the road and a Pied Wheatear down at Scatness but with no luck, though our day had certainly been good!

Sunday, 9 October 2016

STOP PRESS: Siberian Accentor first for UK

News broke today at 1520 of a SIBERIAN ACCENTOR (first for UK) in a quarry north of Mossy Hill, Scousburgh by Judd Hunt.

This was literally the biggest thing of the Shetland Autumn, I was bouncing off the walls of the Yell Sound Ferry when I got the news.
I couldn't live with myself if i missed, today was the day or nothing as I was off to Fair Isle the next morning! But I had a trick up my sleeve.
Tommy was waiting at the other side to pick me and he was ready to head off anywhere, we had been hoping for a quiet day of birding in the North Mainland but nothing ever goes as planned on here!

I gave Tommy a quick call to brief him on the plan and when I got to the other side we headed straight down the Ness to the bird, stopping no where on the way and sights only for Siberian Accentor.

We went straight up to the top of the hill and we met Dennis Coutts, as soon as we rolled down the window he gave us the directions to it and we were off! We could see masses of people lining the quarry and I phoned Dave to give him directions as he was enroute.

I got straight out the car on arrival and ran up the south side of the quarry and plopped myself down and it was literally right there, slap bang in the middle of the quarry and feeding away!!

I watched it feed for a good few minutes before Tommy arrived and we both got to watch it feeding, virtually oblivious to the 50 people viewing it!

It disappeared for a bit and then Dave rolled up and it reappeared, I quickly ran over and got Dave onto it, he was as impressed as I was at first sight of this impressive bird!

Light was fading and We deceided it was time to go, this bird would probably be gone too with the clear night but it was well worth seeing and one magical day (No photos published as having problems doing it on the Ipad!).



Friday, 30 September 2016

Brown Shrike

News broke early afternoon of a possible BROWN SHRIKE at Whitelaw Road, Aith in the West Mainland, I was currently in school and seeing it was a Friday I'd be able to escape and head out there after school

After a few mix ups with buses I managed to get out there with Tommy and arrive on the scene at around 1645 to see a small 'flock' of twitchers gathering to see the bird.
It was quite distant when we arrived and almost needed a scope but it eventually came closer to provide better views.
The general consensus pulled towards Brown Shrike and as of writing this most people agree on its identity of being Brown Shrike.

But I'm pleased on seeing the bird, it was good to get out for the twitch after school had ended as a bit of a release from the week and good to get that extra bird for the year list, I was going to go to Skerries for the one there but it would of been a 14-hour round trip for the bird which I wasn't too fond of!

A tad distant but still better views than the last one I saw which was 300 metres away!

Year List Record Broken

Headed down the South Mainland yesterday to see if I could clear up a few year ticks before the bad weather kicked in this weekend.

Quendale was our target destination for Great Reed Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher and Little Bunting but none of them were seen after half an hour and only birds of note were a Willow Warbler, Green Sandpiper and a Grey Wagtail.
30 minutes later we'd gone and come back after a visit to Hugh Harrop's, we'd been given better info to the location of the Little Bunting so we were heading off there when I spotted a few guys with scopes looking around the Loch of Hillwell.
This time of year I'll ask any birder if they've seen anything because you never know what they may have seen.
I shouted to the closest guy and he'd said they'd just had a PALLID HARRIER go by and drop down into the dunes at Quendale!!! I shot out the car and the two with the scopes pointed out to me where it landed and I was gone to find it!

Paula and I headed out to the site and I ran across the dunes to look for it, I got halfway out to where it had landed and could see it gliding away from me, it turned a few times to flash a great orange belly! it just screamed at me Pallid. It got a piece away and in the bins you could see the frosty forewings, it was great!
It dropped back into the dunes and I returned back to the car absolutely beaming, I'd just broken my own personal year list and was now on 182!

We paid a brief visit to the 20 or so twitchers who were gathering and watching it on a far away fence post, I had a brief look of the bird before asking if anything else was around to which one birder informed me of a male Pochard in among the Tufted Ducks at Spiggie! it was another year tick so we quickly raced off for it.

Arriving at Spiggie it took me only a few seconds to spot the stunning male Pochard in among the Tufteds, 183!!
With that we pretty much headed home, stopping in the Spiggie Hotel Bar for a coke or two and then we were off after a great day out.

Distant male Pochard, slap bang in the middle

Sunday, 28 August 2016

First Autumn Birding 2016

The blog has been a bit quiet in recent months due to me falling out of the routine of doing it.
But that doesn't mean I haven't been busy, I did a volunteering stint in Fair Isle in May and racked some amazing species with Black-browed Albatross being the highlight!! also I went to China for 3 weeks during the summer and it was amazing.

Now the autumn has come and its time to get out and find some migratory birds, I headed down with Paula Moss and Julie Redpath to the South Mainland yesterday (27th).
Things were pretty quiet in Sumburgh with us missing Wryneck, Tree Pipit, Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper but instead getting Ruff, Pied Flycatcher and Kestrel, it was alot less birds than had been seen in the week with over 50 Willow Warbler in Sumburgh.

Hillwell and Spiggie would be our last areas to check before we headed back north, Hillwell had the summering Common Crane and about 40 Ruff which really brightened up our afternoon!
Quendale Mill was next where Paula and I had had Greenish and Reed Warbler earlier in the week.
Sadly there wasn't the same birds there and all we could find was 2 Willow Warbler and a Green Sandpiper.

So with that we headed north to Spiggie but were quickly pulled back to Hillwell when Paul Harvey and Roger Riddington had found a Rosefinch and a Wryneck!! two much desired species for the group.

We raced back and were quickly onto the Wryneck which sat down on a post for a good few minutes before flying off so next was to find the Rosefinch,
I was hunting around for the Rosefinch when Hugh Harrop came down the side of the park so I waited for him, I had a quick scan and I saw this scarlet coloured head half hidden behind a fence post, alarm bells started ringing!!
It hit me straight away that it was a male Rosefinch, everyone came down and got their views before it flew off down the burn and disappeared.

After that we had to head back north, it was a pretty successful day if I do say so seeing as I bumped my year list up to 172, equaling my October best, only 10 species off beating my yearlist record!


Saturday, 14 May 2016

GREEN WARBLER: Baltasound, Unst 14/05/16

I was out doing a Breeding Bird Survey on Mainland Shetland when a text came through of a probable GREEN WARBLER at Baltasound, Unst which had been initially Id'd as a Greenish the day before.
I phoned up Dave and he was going so I said I'd join him and we shot up for the 1355 ferry to Yell.
At Toft terminal we rendezvoused with Georgie Petrie and Pete before catching the ferry up and speaking with Andy Cook from Fetlar who was also heading up.
Ferry came in and we headed straight up before catching the next ferry to Unst and then heading straight to 'SHE' in Baltasound for the Warbler.
Several cars of birders left when we arrived but many were still around, bird has been sighted 10 minutes before we'd arrived and had dived into cover again, usually showed well every 15-20 minutes, so now the waiting came set in

We waited an hour and many people had left so it was just our group, one or two of us had spread out to check other sites and then George found the bird a couple of hundred metres away! we legged it but it would not be refound again.
10 minutes later, Pete and I headed back to the site where George had found it and we picked it up again before it shot off towards the main plantation on the east side of SHE!

We spent the next 10 minutes checking the bushes and gardens in SHE but with no luck so Pete and I went back to check the main plantation.
I went up the east side and within a minute I was greeted by a bird feeding in the trees, I quickly raised the bins and bam!! the Green Warbler!!!! I shouted out to everyone else and you could here them running towards me.

Green Warbler if accepted 2nd for UK, first for Scotland/Shetland

The bird happily fed for 20 minutes and I managed some record shots, even better was that everyone present got to see the bird and with that we headed for the 1715 ferry, eating celebratory lemon tarts from Andy Cook on the way down, we were definitely some happy birders.