Saturday, 30 September 2017

About bloody time we found something!!

We have been working hard over the last week with no real rewards. Its been great being out in the field but given the SE winds we had been hoping for more.

We knew we had a weather window today so we were out into the field early to make the most of the bright and calmer conditions.

We started in Valyie valley and straight away there were birds active in the first garden. OK, they were probably birds that had been about for a while but the improvement in conditions meant they were actually showing. 2 male blackcap, lesser whitethroat, 2 redpoll and a couple of redstart were flitting about before we got to the garden. Tree pipit and reed warbler were in the little burn running up to the house but the garden itself was relatively quiet. Possibly due to the fact most of the birds didn't need the shelter from the bad weather. 2 yellow browed warblers were active around the area and it was evident that song thrushes were dropping in for the north, settling briefly then carrying on south.

The little bunting showed well at the bottom of the hill and we walked back to the car.

Dave Cooper and a tour group had already done the croft at Skaw so we headed to the north cliffs again. Song thrushes were again in evident with 11 seen along with a single fieldfare, 2 wheatear, 2 redstart, snow bunting, 2 siskin, Lapland bunting, grey wag, lesser whitethroat and 4 robins. Not much but enough to keep us interested.

Back at the croft we added garden warbler and a late house martin to the list.

Then the trip improved dramatically.

I will admit to slacking a bit at this point chatting to another birder and drinking coffee while Nick was working the croft. I didn't even have my bins around my neck when a bird dropped into the grass on edge of the croft in front of us. For some reason it looked like a bunting so I with the other birder to check it out. To my disappointment (at the the time) a pipit flushed out of the grass and landed a short distance away. I managed to get a few pics of the bird before Nick came round the corner. I suspect that we were both thinking it was something different but it wasn't until it flew again and called that we knew we had just found a RED THROATED PIPIT, our first quality find of the trip. The bird flew onto the beach then to the edge of the burn before dropping back into the croft and showed well on some fencing before dropping back into the grass.
We haven't had any signal on the island away from our digs so getting news out but thankfully the other guy had signal so we were able to call Paul French back on south mainland and get him to put the new out for us.
We left the bird in peace and waited for the first birders to arrive. A local birder followed by the tour group soon arrived and we relocated the bird in grass just outside the croft before moving to the beach were we left it showing well for the small group.

We couldn't match the excitement on the cliffs at Lamba Ness but did have another 2 redstart (8 for the day), fieldfare and another 8 song thrush.

We finished off the day doing 'our patch' adding sedge warbler to the trip list, a further redstart, yellow browed warbler and reed bunting.

A fantastic day and reward for all our hard work in the crappy weather over the last few days.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Raining cats & dogs and blowing a hoolie

We knew is would be a bit rough again today and we were not wrong. The wind howling around the roof of the house last night was a good clue that it was going to be a testing day for both us and the birds.

Strong winds and a mixture of  heavy rain and drizzle had us looking for some kind of shelter. We didn't bother with our usual patch and headed straight the Norwick area. The first garden still held a redstart and robin but it is a really hard area to see into; shame as it is really calm in these strong winds. The oat crop next to it held a willow warbler and a couple of blackbirds

The garden at Valyie was incredibly windy being high up the side of the hill but at least the 'back edge' was calm. We split up and Nick bagged a male redstart and dunnock at the back of the garden while I added a chiffchaff and yellow browed warbler. Conditions were awful so it was a surprise that we saw so much. Lesser whitethroat, 3 blackcap, brambling, robin and 2 mealy redpoll were in the two gardens in the valley. There seemed to be an increase in thrushes with 4 redwing and 2 song thrush in the area.

On the drive over the Skaw we flushed the most bedraaggled bird I think I've ever seen. The poor little common redstart looked so sad trying to shelter out of the rain. It was seen by several others so hopefully is will make its way to warmer places soon.

The birds were pretty much the same at Skaw as they have been over the last few days. The very wet reed warbler was in the nettle by the stream as was the blackcap and chiffchaff around the back of the buildings. As we moved through the back of the croft I flushed a bird out of the grass and onto the wall in the corner, a lovely little bunting and a nice find. The bird flew round the end of the building and despite searching, we couldn't relocate it (it was still there in the afternoon visit)

A brief look at the Burrafirth burn produced out first reed bunting of the trip and the reed warbler still present.

We revisited the morning sites in the afternoon adding our first trip tree pipit at Valyie and a 2nd reed warbler at Skaw but that was it and the weather finally got the better of us.

Weather looks better for tomorrow so we are going to find the 'big one' then. You heard it here first

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Tough conditions

We had seen the weather forecast all week and we knew that today and tomorrow were going to be tough and probably a write off and we were not wrong.

Although dry to start with, the gale force winds really were not very good for birding. we knew that it would be too strong for our usual Houlland path so hoped the SW of the island would be more sheltered and headed for Lund and Westing.

Well we were wrong with thinking it would be clamer but carried on with the plan.

The thistle bed at Lund has rare written all over it. Although some of the thistles seemed to have been cut and where not as thick, the nettle beds were great.  Last year we had a long staying little bunting and a siberian accentor turned up there later in the autumn. No such luck today with the wind keeping the birds very low. We did manage to find a blackcap, whinchat, song thrush and 4 redwing. 3 female red breasted merganser were in the sheltered bay.

The wind wasn't helping us still at Westing and had probably increased too. Along the beach to the small croft at the end, the sparse docks produced single willow and yellow browed warblers but anything in the croft garden was keeping very low. We walked up across the fields to track down a mystery wader we could see in the distance, turned out to be a ruff, before getting to the 'Westing willows'. Despite the low willow bushes being completely blown out, they did hold a redstart, redwing and a blackbird. The irisbeds in the burn produced nothing but we did flush a lesser whitethroat found under the van!

Clutching at straws we headed down too Uyeasound but again it was too windy to checking bushes so we added a few wildfowl to our trip list and headed back north to Burrafirth. The yellow browed warbler had moved on but we did find a reed warbler.
The news of a red breasted flycatcher new in at Skaw prompted us into a little twitch. On arrival, Dave Cooper had just been watching the bird before it flicked over a wall and despite searching the croft several times, we couldn't find it. Dipped again!
There were still a few bits around the croft including 2 robin, 2 blackcap, reed warbler, wheatear and a male siskin.

The weather was now really set in so photo editing, eating biscuits and drinking coffee was the plan for the rest of the day; we didn't venture out again!

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

More of the same

Pretty much a carbon copy of yesterday, Houlland first thing followed by Burrafirth, Norwick and the cliffs of Lamba Ness and Skaw.

The strong winds are not great for Houlland blowing hard through the garden but we did manage to add our first redwing of the trip along with the continuing robin and chiffchaff. 2 more redwing were on Baliasta village along with the male blackcap and 2 chaffinches.

Peregrine over the road on the was to Burrafirth then the yellow browed warbler still along the burn. We stopped in the small quarry near Qouys to see the male snow bunting. It was a rather showy individual

After not checking Norwick we caught up on a few of the migrants that had arrived yesterday. Nothing exciting but we ended up with 2 lesser whitethroat, 2 redstart, 2 robin, blackcap, 3 willow warbler, little bunting and whinchat. Highlight was my first long eared owl in years roosting on one of the large conifer trees in the garden at Vaylie.

The waders were nice on the beach in a bit of sunshine. After missing it on Monday, the purple sandpiper was showing well roosting on the rocks.

We did the cliffs at Lamba Ness and Skaw again and although there were not that many birds we did manage to add a couple of new species for the trip; pied flycatcher on Lamba Ness and a spotted fly at Skaw. Also between the two sites were glaucous gull, 6 grey heron, 2 lesser whitethroat, snow bunting, redstart, mealy redpoll, 5 song thrush and 4 wheatear.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

A day of 2 halves

Bit of a strange day to be honest but one that you learn to expect on Shetland. Despite the calmer winds and brighter conditions this morning, everywhere seemed pretty quiet. Our morning walk around the patch only produced a chiffchaff still at Houlland and another with a yellow browed warbler near the school. I did manage to get a few pics of the YBW and hope for better as the trip goes on.

Our first jaunt around the Haroldswick was tough going in the strong wind. 11 grey herons (groups of 7 & 4) over, chiffchaff, robin and yellow browed warbler was all we could muster.

We decided to go and have a look around Skaw then have some lunch. The croft was quiet and to be honest, we were a bit fed up. I suggested we have a look down on Lamba Ness and if nothing else, do some seawatching.

Instead of seawatching we decided to check the sheltered cliffs which turned out to be a good decision. First birds seen were a couple of robins, not much but they were migrants. Then a male redstart appeared from nowhere. A good decision to check the cliffs and were were getting interested. Our check around the end of the cliffs also produced wheatear, blackbird, mealy redpoll and a nice little group of dunlin. With birds about, we decided to head back to Skaw and do the cliffs north of the croft. Nick and I had checked them last year so we thought it was worth a go.
On the drive back up Lamba Ness we added kestrel, whinchat and a song thrush to the list.

As we got to the top of the cliffs there was a group of large gulls bathing in a pool of water. As they flushed I said to Nick that it would be good if there was a glaucous gull with them. There wasn't but Nick looked down into the geo and said 'there is a glauc down here' A rather beefy 1st winter was showing well.

As at Lamba Ness there seemed to be birds about. Another couple of goldcrests, 2 wheatear, 2 chiffchaff before Nick called 'dolphins offshore' and we were treated to a show from at least 10 Risso's dolphins feeding in the bay. Although a little too far for photography, they showed really well through bins. There was a nice mix of adults and youngsters with one of the adults being so pale and scarred that you could actually see it underwater! They were impressive with their tall swept back dorsal fins, I can only imagine how impressive an orca would look.

Nick was a little further up the cliff edge when he called 'little bunting'. Bugger, I was messing about with the camera further back but managed to get great views as it hopped around the grassy edges of the cliff calling regularly. It eventually came up onto the clifftop and after a bit of commando crawling through the grass I managed to get a reasonable shot.

Back at the Skaw croft, a new lesser whitethroat was in plus a chiffchaff and the same male blackcap that has been there for a coupe of days

After a slow start it turned out to be a good day

Monday, 25 September 2017

Our little patch

Although there are lots of great sites on Unst, Nick and I have our own good little patch on our doorstep at the end of our road at Houlland.

Parking on the road before the final house, the walk up has a nice crop field that is currently being grazed by sheep. Nothing in there this morning apart from a couple of skylark.

The garden itself is a nice mix of mature sycamore, fushia bushes and rosa but despite being small is can be very hard to see anything in it. The Blyth's reed warbler last year was a nightmare to see! The garden was quiet this morning holding single chiffchaff and yellow browed warbler.

Dropping down the side of the fields to the loch is a small ditch that although has only held a few meadow pipits so far, it looks good for something. Small patches of meadow sweet are always worth checking before we head up another small iris filled valley that held a reed warbler this morning.

Combining this area with the nettle patches and dense gardens around our digs should keep us bus every morning


Several areas checked today including Baltasound, Halligarth, Norwick, Burrafirth, Northdale and Setters Hill provided us with a decent total of 8 yellow browed warblers, barred warbler (Northdale), 2 lesser whitethroat, jack snipe (Burrafirth), 3 chiffchaff and 3 blackcaps. Highlight of the day was a juv common rosefinch found by Nick at Halligarth that managed to disappear before I get there despite being only 10m away!

Nice otter tracks at Norwick