Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Hard work!

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

Getting breezy

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

Warblers, near and far

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

Farewell to Fair Isle

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

Quiet times... No Yanks here!

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...

Two days, two ticks...

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

PG Tips in the bag...

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

Not Fair! Isle try again tomorrow...

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

Up North...

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

Shetland: not a bad start!

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

Suzanne’s month in Ghana – bad photos of birds, plus a few extras…

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…

Laughing Dove in AccraP1000805_edit

African Pied Wagtail at AximP1010716_edit 

Cattle Egret at the Botanical Gardens, AccraP1010090_edit 

African Wattled Lapwing at the Botanical Gardens in Accra – I got attacked by ants for these shots… P1010103_edit P1010105_edit 

Cattle Egret at the Botanical Gardens in Accra P1010108_edit 

The first of many. Pin-tailed Whydah in OsinoP1010140_edit 

Northern Grey-headed Sparrow at the project site in AdabazeP1010217_edit 

Yellow-mantled Widowbird at The Sabre Trust’s long term project siteP1010240_edit 

Firefinch sp. at Cape Three Points – can’t decide which one!P1010485_edit 

Bronze Mannikin at Cape Three Points  P1010493_edit 

Woodland Kingfisher at Cape Three Points P1010535_edit


Another Pin-tailed Whydah at Cape Three Points P1010545_edit P1010546_edit 

Water Thick-knee at Cape Three Points P1010552_edit 

Plantain Eater at Cape Three Points P1010561_edit 

Sunbird sp. at Cape Three Points – I think Copper but David wasn’t convincedP1010563_edit 

Vieillot’s Black Weaver at Cape Three Points P1010591_edit 

Orange-cheeked Waxbill at Cape Three Points P1010595_edit 

Common Bulbul at Cape Three Points P1010601_edit 

Definitely a Copper Sunbird at Cape Three Points P1010604_edit 

Black-necked Weaver at Cape Three Points P1010619_edit 

Senegal Coucal at Cape Three Points P1010626_edit 

Very distant African Green Pigeon at Cape Three Points P1010634_edit 

African Pied Hornbill at Cape Three Points P1010639_edit

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 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.


Bats at Wli waterfalls rudely awoken for the tourists’ satisfaction… Mind you, it was quite a spectacle and the noise was unreal.P1000865_edit P1000866_edit

Lizards in various locationsP1010436_edit P1010208_edit P1010209_edit

I really couldn’t hold myself still enough to get a focussed photograph of this ScorpianP1010203_edit 

Finally, Mona Monkeys at Tafi AtomeP1000938_edit

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Suzanne’s month in Ghana – moths and butterflies

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!

P1000840_edit_blog P1000860_edit_blog P1000864_edit_blog P1000945_edit_blog P1000979_edit_blog P1010093_edit_blog P1010530_edit_blog P1010538_edit_blog P1010539_edit_blog P1010541_edit_blog P1010570_edit_blog P1010576_edit_blog 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…P1010585_edit_blog P1010588_edit_blogP1000918_edit_blog P1000919_edit_blog P1000921_edit_blog P1000925_edit_blog P1000928_edit_blog P1000929_edit_blog P1000930_edit_blog  P1000981_edit_blog P1010133_edit_blog P1010154_edit_blog P1010155_edit_blog