Wednesday, 29 September 2010
Birding is getting tougher up here on Shetland; a combination of strong wind and limited cover makes it difficult to pin down any passerines. At least the wind is coming from a vaguely favourable direction, and it feels as though birds are arriving, so it's worth plugging away.
We spent the morning down south, turning up Yellow-browed Warbler at Sandwick, an obvious arrival of Song Thrush and exhausted Goldcrests at Sumburgh, and a Common Redstart at Quendale.
This afternoon, I momentarily thought we'd hit the jackpot when a soft clicking call came from the sheltered edge of Catfirth plantation and something flicked down the fence line. Spotted Flycatcher - that call always catches me out in the autumn! A ringtail Hen Harrier was hunting nearby.
Finally we crept around Kergord again. Another Yellow-browed showed briefly, 2 woodpigeon made it onto the trip list, and a few Robins behaved like they should've been rarer...
Tuesday, 28 September 2010
Slightly disappointing day today... I had quite high hopes given south easterly winds and a reasonable selection of new birds on the islands yesterday.
We started up north at Isbister, hoping to see the reported Rustic Bunting, which would be a new bird for Dad. Although it was seen first thing, we couldn't find it despite much searching through and around soaking wet Iris beds. Eventually we gave up, and headed steadily south, checking several plantations on the way.
We found two or three Yellow-broweds again, and found another Barred Warbler at Sullom... this time a rather showy individual that posed for photos at close range. Through the afternoon, the wind has been strengthening all the time, and by the time we reached the plantations at Kergord it was pretty strong. The habitat here is superb, offering considerable cover, but we couldn't find much here - we'll have to go back!
Final stop was an area of sheltered cover in Scalloway, where a small flock of Brambling were feeding discreetly in the leaf litter, with smaller numbers of Goldcrest and Siskin.
Looks like the weather tomorrow might be terrible, with even stronger wind and rain. However, given the range of birds getting turning up on the east coast of England, I reckon it might be worth going out and getting wet!
Monday, 27 September 2010
Sadly the early morning trap round on Fair Isle didn't produce either quality or quantity, so we departed the island with just Lesser Whitethroat and Robin (!) to add to the trip list. The weather was glorious, almost flat calm and unbroken sunshine... Not exactly typical Shetland!
After arrival at Tingwall, the obvious destination was Sandwick to search for yesterday's Whites Thrush. Although it didn't come as a surprise following a clear night with a full moon, it was disappointing to hear that there had been no sign since first light, and our best efforts didn't change that. We turned up 2 Yellow-broweds and a Pied Fly before moving on down to Sumburgh Head for the Arctic Warbler.
I'd not seen this species since the mid 90s, so was keen to get good views and look at the ID features. An adult bird, there was only the barest hint of a wingbar on one side. The supercilium was really strong, often flaring upwards to the rear, but not meeting above the spiky and long bill. Primary projection was also rather long (approx two thirds the tertial length), legs bright yellow/orange, and underparts pale silver toned. It showed superbly at close range in the thin strip of roses, and I fired off yet more photos. That's an 8GB card full so far, and I've been deleting the obvious duffers as I go along!
After dropping TC off at the airport, we had an amble round the Boddam area. No sooner than we'd parked the car and started checking a patch of bushes, a Barred Warbler crashed through in front of us, popped up on top and then winged it miles down the road - a nice find, even if there are loads up here currently.
From here, we paid brief visits to Quarff and Aithsetter, where news broke of a Paddyfield Warbler at Quendale. Since this would be a new bird for Dad we headed down there, and almost immediately saw 'the bird' briefly in flight from the Iris beds on the burn. Initial impression was of a rather cold toned bird, but views on the deck when it landed were extremely sketchy and not close. Subsequently it only showed when flushed by local birders at close range, despite careful searching, so we never saw it well - they were down in the burn while we had a higher vantage point up above, though further from the bird. It did call on landing a couple of times: a chek or zek note.
I think by the time we left, some well respected guys were pretty convinced that the bird we were watching was in fact a Blyths Reed, and certainly everything I could see was consistent with that option, though I didn't see enough to be confident. Whether there had been a Paddyfield in the area earlier on, I couldn't say... But given the quantity of suitable and dense habitat on site, I wouldn't be at all surprised!
Sunday, 26 September 2010
We've had a glorious final day on the Isle today - the wind has finally dropped off, and gone round to the north east, and it's been relatively warm and sunny.
The only significant new bird was found late on, a Subalpine Warbler in the roses at Lower Leogh - it showed pretty well, although was very active and mobile.
Earlier on, we'd been up to the North Light again, to capture some better photos of the Buff-bellied Pipit. It was much more cooperative in better conditions, and hopefully the images will look as good full size as they do on the back of the camera.
Aside from that, we've seen a couple of Barred Warblers, Garden Warbler, a few Brambling, 3 Purple and 1 Curlew Sandpiper and a Merlin. I'll be up early tomorrow to squeeze in a couple of final hours birding before we fly off at 9.30am.
The new obs and all the staff have been absolutely fantastic - we're both very keen to return and see a few more of the Fair Isle specialities.
But first, a certain Zoothera thrush needs to be relocated tomorrow... Fingers crossed again!
Saturday, 25 September 2010
Still brisk northerlies today on Fair Isle, and consequently still very few birds. The two Buffys (pipit and sandpiper) remain, and Short-eared Owl and Sparrowhawk have arrived, but passerines are thin on the ground... Apart from Lapland Buntings, which are carpeting the south end of the island! We've added Black Redstart, Song Thrush, Knot, Greenshank and a few other similarly exciting species to the trip list, but hopefully the forecast change in the weather will deliver something new and rare! Judging by news from Norfolk and the Hebs, there's a distinct chance of something transatlantic...
Details for Friday...
Still howling northerlies up here, and basically no birds... But fortunately one of them was a good one! As we were heading down towards the south of the island, a quick scan across the fields revealed Tim Cleeves waving frantically to us. Cue quick march across the fields... "The pipit's back!"
Happily, the obs van was passing a few minutes later and we managed to cadge a lift up to North Light. As we arrived, another birder was pointing ahead of us - surely this would be the bird? Nope, it had just disappeared 10 seconds before, and there was no sign in the next two hours before we had to return for lunch, either.
So, an hour later, back we go, into the teeth of the gale. Third time lucky, and it showed quite well, though never close. It was pretty distinctive: almost completely plain on the mantle, dark legs, prominent pale eye ring and a bit of a supercilium, and obviously buffy tones to the breast and flanks.
Apart from that, we've seen little else: loads of twite, meadow pipit, and Bonxies as usual, and migrants represented by two snow bunting, single wheatear, swallow and redwing.
Thursday, 23 September 2010
Success! Much better day today, despite dipping the Brown Flycatcher at first light. We finally departed Tingwall at 10am, having just received happy news that a certain Locustella was still present.
After a slightly bumpy flight, we got dropped off down in the south of the Isle, at Leogh. The warbler had been seen just ten minutes previously but still subjected us to a nerve wracking 45 minute wait, before appearing on the verges of the lane. After a series of brief views in flight and glimpses on the deck, it finally ended up in a tiny walled enclosure, where it sat up no more than 5m away... Stunning!
The rest of the day produced a Corncrake, Buff-breasted Sand and we were in on the finding of yet another Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll, together with an apparent Greenland Redpoll as well.
Wednesday, 22 September 2010
What a dismal and depressing day! We spent EIGHT hours at Tingwall airport waiting for the go ahead for a flight onto Fair Isle... Most of it made worse by news of a Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler showing well, the continued presence of the Buff-bellied Pipit, and a freshly arrived Citrine Wag.
It would've been better had the weather been so bad there was no chance of a flight.. at least we could've gone birding then. But no, the cloudbase on Mainland and Fair Isle oscillated gently up and down around the minimum acceptable. It was OK at Tingwall for much of the afternoon, but not on the Isle. At one point, we were all set to go... "we can take eight people, no luggage, we'll bring the rest tomorrow, but let's go as soon as we can". Cue frantic repacking, weighing people, paying for flights etc... And then a final check put paid to that, so we went back to reading crappy novels, watching clouds and kicking stones. By 5pm, we were officially rained off for the day, and agreed to be back there for 8.30am tomorrow. Grrrr...
Frustrated, I went out for some last gasp birding around Lerwick. Checked helendale and seafield, but nothing doing in the rain. I considered going down to Quarff or Sumburgh, but reckoned it was too far.
Midway through fish and chips back at base, the mega alert goes off. "BROWN FLYCATCHER SUMBURGH". There was some swearing.
Can't remember if I blogged the fact previously, but I've dipped both the last two brown flycatchers in Yorkshire, (ie including one a few weeks ago) so they're not going down very well.
I'm setting an early alarm now, to give us an hour after dawn tomorrow. Cross everything!
Tuesday, 21 September 2010
With only one full day available for birding on Shetland in this phase of the trip, we opted to travel up to Unst, the most northerly island, today. Leaving Lerwick at about 7.30, the drive took about 2 hours, with reasonably slick ferry connections (cost: £12).
We started off near the top end of the island, at Norwick... perhaps influenced ever so slightly by the lure of big white fluffy finches! After only a few minutes searching, we found our target: a cracking Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll, feeding with 7 Common Redpoll in a weedy field, before perching up on telegraph wires. Fantastic bird, incredibly striking. Although it's not a BOU tick, it's already inked in as a trip highlight.
We spent quite a while searching the superb garden at Valyie (surely owned and tended by a birder?), getting brief views of a barred warbler, plus chiffchaff, willow warbler, blackcap and spotted fly. At least 5 Bonxies sailed about high above, somehow looking much more athletic and elegant than they do lumbering past on a seawatch.
With no sign of the recent Melodious Warbler, we headed first to Skaw (nothing much), then Northdale (found another rosefinch with 3 chaffinch and sparrows), then Haroldswick. The latter site produced a rosefinch and another hornemanni in quick succession, plus a ringtail hen harrier nearby.
Halligarth plantation, near Baltasound, looked like it could be absolutely amazing in good conditions, albeit hard work. We didn't get more than a showy Wood Warbler for our efforts, but I'd like to return and give it longer.
By now, the weather was on the turn, wind picking up and the first spots of rain in the air. We headed south back onto Yell, for a look around Burravoe in the hope of relocating the previous day's Citrine Wag. No joy though, and we headed back to base in increasingly poor weather.
Hope it's good enough to get onto Fair Isle as planned tomorrow!
Monday, 20 September 2010
Arrived at Sumburgh just after 3 this afternoon, apparently with some luck!
5 minutes after collecting the car, we got a message "River Warbler at Quendale". Aha... That's just over there! Admittedly it didn't show well, to us at least, but a quality bird bagged in very quick time.
Given the supporting cast of two point blank rosefinches, redstart, spotted flycatcher and the yellow-browed warbler vanguard in the Sumburgh hotel garden, we headed up to Lerwick quite content!
Friday, 10 September 2010
I think David was mildly impressed by how well thumbed my Birds of Western Africa book was when I got back. Mostly I was just thinking about what I might see next time when I take David back there but I did see a few things and some of them are even one up on David! They’re not in any particular order…
African Pied Wagtail at Axim
Do you see why I was oh so smitten with Cape Three Points. It was heaven. If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend the Ecolodge we stayed at, which is run by Akwasi and Ketty. Their website is http://www.escape3points.com. They are interested in the local birds and butterflies and would love someone to go out and do a three week project surveying and photographing their birds to give their guests an idea of what they can expect to see during their stay. Does anyone know someone who might be interested??? It’s a cracking spot. The rainforest comes right down to the beach so there is a great variety of birds just on their land. I didn’t stray too far and was thrilled with what I found in just a day and a half.
I really couldn’t hold myself still enough to get a focussed photograph of this Scorpian
Finally, Mona Monkeys at Tafi Atome
Tuesday, 7 September 2010
I couldn’t begin to count the amount of time I spent waiting for the butterflies in Ghana to land and be nice to me but they just wouldn’t. They were everywhere but these are the only ones I managed to get… Once again, apologies for the quality, the Lumix does what I need but not much else!
I was actually really excited to see two pairs of butterflies breeding as I’ve never seen it before. I have to say it does seem to take a remarkably long time to do the deed though. I felt like a bit of a gooseberry after a while!
Next are my moths. As you’ll see, most of them were taken in the same location, which was the toilets of the Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary. I saw significantly more moths than monkeys and I’m rather ashamed to admit that one of the girls actually had to throw me out of the toilet once she realised the error she had made in inviting me into her cubical to take some photos. They were beautiful though…