Tuesday 3 October 2017

The NW wind does blow

And today it blew hard making any productive birding a real challenge.

We did our usual and headed to Valyie as this was probably the best place to find some calm conditions. 3 swallows and 3 house martin over the garden were new in and an increase of skylarks in the crop in the valley. At least 15 birds were present.
There were quite a few people not on the island so we thought we would do something crazy and try somewhere new in the hope of finding some more crossbiills.

While talking to the guys staying in Northdale yesterday the talked about a small plantation on the east  side of the road to Burrafirth which they named 'Pauls Pines' after one of their number stepped on a nail while checking it out last year.
It was a bit of a trudge over the moorland to get to it but we were hopeful of getting something there. Sadly it only contained a chiffchaff and chaffinch but it was worth putting in the effort; you never know and at least neither of us got injured.

Not a single bird was in Burrafirth so we decided to head home for lunch. To be honest we really didn't know what to do. The weather and number of people around left us undecided as to where to go.

We decided to walk to Houlland from our digs, down the burn checking the iris beds then up to the house and back along the road. We were rather surprised by the amount of iris near the house but they contained noting today. A reed bunting was still in the irisbed north of the road and then Nick flushed the probable grasshopper warbler we saw yesterday evening. Views weren't much better than yesterday but we did manage to get a couple of record flight shots. Although the tail looks short in my pics I suspect that it is just an artifact on the picture and in reality it was much longer.

Around the garden the redstart was still present along with a yellow browed warbler and a pink footed goose over calling.
On the walk back we stopped to chat to another birder when Nick picked up a little bunting saton the fence on the edge of Baliasta. The bird showed well briefly on the road before flying further down to the burn. A yellow browed warbler was in the next garden along with another next to our digs

We decided then to try Clingera for some shelter. There wasn't much but we did get a couple of redstart and 3 chiffchaffs. One of the redstarts was rather damp and showed well around the farm buildings.

Final stop of the day was another look at the parrot crossbills. They were rather more elusive than yesterday but still showed well.

Monday 2 October 2017

Loxia Luck

When we had a large looking crossbill fly out of Valyie this morning, never did we realise what was going to happen later on in the day.

We were at Vaylie as it is one of the areas on the island that we can get signal so we headed there in the hope of getting news about the pg tips that was on the mainland yesterday. The birds were pretty mush the same but we did have a two tree pipits behind the house along with a redstart and reed warbler along the road. A calling crossbill in the top of the garden flew down into the small pine plantation before heading up the valley towards Saxa Vord. Both of us commented on the size and that the call 'sounded different' We didn't get anything on it so left it. Nick also had a second bird fly out and head towards Skaw but I didn't see that one.
Ken Shaw joined us a short while later and also commented on the crossbill that the size and call were interesting

We headed to Baltasound to get some signal and any news on the pg tips. No sign so we gave up waiting and went birding.

With the wind now in the south-west, much of Haligarth was sheltered so we had a boot around the walled garden. 2 spotted flycatchers and a bunch of chiffchaffs we feeding around the edge and Nick had a single pied fly within the trees. The common rosefinch was still in the scrubby rosa bushes next to the ruined house. While I was on the outside of the garden a crossbill came in from the east calling. I thought it was going to drop into the wood but it just circled and headed towards Setters Hill. The bird was strikingly big and had a bright pink rump as it flew away.
I grabbed a couple of pics of the tree pipit and then we headed up to Setters Hill.

We took a side each of the small pine belt but only managed to locate a robin and a female blackcap. We walked along the back of the estate where the little bunting was still present along with a female redstart. At the end, I decided to cross the moor to the next estate while Nick retraced our steps. At the bottom of the estate, Nick radioed to say that he had found the crossbills, lucky really as his radio was about to die and he wouldn't have been able to reach me.
I headed back along the road towards the estate, flagging down Ken Shaw and his team, to find Nick watching the birds feeding in the pines. Nick had decided to walk through the trees and could hear them feeding above his head!!
With 2 males and 2 females present, it looked like the birds that were being seen around the area throughout the morning had come together into a little flock. A lot of discussion was had around the identity of the birds with the males almost certainly parrot crossbills and the females probably were too.
Watching them feeding amongst the trees you could really get a feeling of how big they were with large deep based powerful bills. They were certainly nothing like any common crossbill I have seen. It was really interesting watching the way the birds were feeding, pulling the cones off and dropping onto a lower branch to feed on them. Great birds but tricky to get a good photo.

As more people arrived we had out own twitch, we didn't realise there were that many birders on the island. Later in the day there were even people from South Mainland at the site. There were plenty of photos being taken and at least two people got some sound recordings so that should help with the description process.

With the weather getting poorer we headed to Skaw to seek some shelter. We didn't but we still had a boot around the area before the rain got too bad. Both the red throated pipit and little bunting were still present but the rain beat us.

After a short break to dry off and change waterproofs, we headed up to Burrafirth but there were only a few birds about and nothing new in.
Final stop of the day was a visit to our Houlland patch. The chiffchaff, robin and redstart were still present along with some frustratingly brief view of a warbler sp flushed from the wet areas below the croft. We concluded it was probably a grasshopper warbler but it disappeared before we could pin it down. Maybe tomorrow....

Last bird of the day was a new yellow browed warbler outside our digs.

It started as a frustrating day but ended up pretty good.

Sunday 1 October 2017

Upland disappointment

We didn't hear about the upland sandpiper on Fetlar until it was too late yesterday so we decided to head down to the south of the island so we were within striking distance of the ferry should positive news come in.

We did the west side of Uyeasound although it was very quiet. Single willow warbler, chiffchaff and a dunnock were the highlights!! We headed down to the ferry terminal to get wifi access and be ready to the 10:45 boat off the island. Sadly no news came so we went back to do the east side of Uyeasound. The whooper swan was back on the loch along with , yellow browed warbler, chiffchaff and willow warbler were in the large vegetated garden near the church. 2 black guillemot in the harbour.

News of a red breasted flycatcher at Clingera took us back to the Baltasound area for the rest of the day.
On arrival at Clingera we walked the burn leading into the property flushing a garden warbler from the rosa and then a couple of chiffchaff as we entered the wood. There were a few other birders in the wood who told us the flycatcher was still present but mobile They were not wrong, the bird was typically mobile and elusive, bombing around the little wooded area but in the end it seemed to settle down to a routine, favouring a small sycamore. Managed to get a couple of shots but it was a bit too dark really.  Alsso in the wood were 3 chiffchaff and a redstart.

After lunch we spent the rest of the afternoon birding around Baltasound covering Setters Hill, the sports centre area and the health centre garden. Highlights included the little bunting at Setters Hill, 2 garden warbler, 5 blackcap and willow warbler in the scrubby areas around the sports centre and a fieldfare on the football pitch. The sheltered health centre garden held a nice little selection of birds. Only our 2nd pied flycatcher was nice along with yellow browed warbler and several chiffchaffs.

With rain starting to set in we headed back to the car and headed to Skaw where we could get a little bit of shelter. A tour group were already present and had done the croft and found nothing new so we went to Burrafirth instead. Male blackcap and robin were new birds for the site but the biggest surprise were 8 swallows over heading south. In the current weather it will take them a while to get to Africa!

The weather was now grim so we headed home.

Gutted that the sandpiper didn't stick as it was a lifer for both of us. Hopefully the PG Tips will get on the list tomorrow if it is still about....

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.