Wednesday, 3 November 2021

31st October - 3rd November

The south easterlies from the 30th October, continued into the morning of the 31st producing further arrivals of late autumn migrants. The winds then dropped off, producing a calm day on the 1st November, which coincided with the discovery of one of the highlights of the autumn. Reasonable numbers of common migrants remained on the 2nd, although a strengthening north westerly wind and rather grim conditions led to a bit of a clear out on the 3rd. 

Over 300 Redwings remained on the 31st, with a slight increase in Fieldfare amongst them. Despite this, totals for this species still remain low this autumn, a feature which appears to be happening across the UK. In addition to this, there were small numbers of Woodcock and Siberian Chiffchaffs. A northern acredula-type Willow Warbler was also present at Milldam and the Richard's Pipit at Senness was joined by another individual.

The morning of the 1st produced a late autumn rarity in the form of a large pipit sp., which we can now confirm as Orkney's first Blyth's Pipit (pending acceptance of course). First discovered in the field south of Holland, the bird proved highly mobile, flying north to the area around Milldam before it was lost around South Gravity. Initial impressions of the bird were of a compact, short-tailed bird - it wasn't immediately obvious that it was a large pipit, giving off a feel similar to smaller pipit species. The bird then flew off calling, giving short high pitched "chup" notes. Being unlike any Richard's Pipit call, this certainly sent the alarm bells ringing! Rediscovering the bird around Milldam, we were able to obtain some record shots and crucially a sound recording of the bird's call. Due to the identification challenge large pipits can provide, we decided to take our time with the ID and ask for advice from others who are more experienced with this species. We're very thankful to everyone who provided help on this bird! The features allowing the bird's identification are summarized below - please note this is only intended as a quick summary and not a full description style piece.

The bird's mantle is rather dark and distinctly streaked. The crown is also entirely dark streaked, giving the bird a dark-capped appearance.  Bill appears spiky with a straight culmen (Richard's tend to show more robust thrush-like bill with a decurved culmen). Pale lores and rather weakly defined supercilium behind the eye.

Overall structure and jizz: rather compact bird, clearly smaller than a typical Richard's Pipit, and with a rather short tail. The bird's small size and compact proportions were particularly noticeable in flight. Different impression to Richard's Pipit, which typically appear large and lanky, giving off explosive "shreep" calls during their conspicuous, bounding flight - initial impression of this bird meant it wasn't obviously a large pipit at first!

However, there is significant overlap in the plumage features between Blyth's and Richard's Pipits, with many features being variable. The existence (and occasional occurrence in Britain) of smaller Richard's Pipits complicates matters further still when relying on plumage and structural features alone for identification. Consequently, call is a much more reliable method of identification. Thankfully, we were able to obtain a sound recording and produce a sonagram from this, illustrating Blyth's Pipit's classic "chup" calls and confirming the identification.

This sonagram illustrates 3 "chup" calls - the first being slightly longer (indicated by white X mark), followed by two slightly shorter calls (indicated by white asterisks *). The calls create sharp triangular shapes, with a structure described by Magnus Robb as a "tentpole" on the Sound Approach wesbite:

Additionally, the two Richard's Pipits were still present at Senness and there was a scattering of common migrants around the island - a late Pied Flycatcher at Southness, 4 Siskins, 7 Blackcaps and 5 Chiffchaffs (including 4 Eastern-types), plus similar numbers of thrushes to the previous day.

Notable highlights on the 2nd included a Grey Plover, 2 Goldfinches and 20 Blackcaps, with at least one Richard's Pipit still present at Senness. The Blyth's Pipit was still nowhere to be seen unfortunately. The 3rd was a largely unbirdable day, although there was a notable clear out of thrushes, with less than a hundred Redwings noted. The recent run of easterlies appear to have come and end for now, with a westerly airflow returning. Whilst this doesn't look likely to bring large numbers of migrants, November always has the potential to turn up some top quality so we won't rule anything out!

Saturday, 30 October 2021

25th-30th October

 A very mixed bag in terms of birds over the past few days but a lot of it of fairly decent quality. A spell of winds that seemed to have a whiff of Easterly that produced some scarce migrants. 

The 25th was a mostly quiet affair however the appearance of a Red-breasted Flycatcher in Scarfie Geo in the afternoon provided some excitement, followed by a bit of panic. With some of the photos looking pale it needed re-checking but further photos revealed it to be dodgy light making it look pale. The 26th was equally quiet, the Green-winged Teal remained on Gretchen and the Little Bunting from the 24th was re-found in the obs oat crop. The following day was much quieter in poor weather but news on the neighbouring Papa Westray in the evening would mean most of the staff would be away for the subsequent two days. The 28th however did have its highlights before our flight West. The Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll made a brief re-appearance around the obs croft but was difficult to pin down, however in searching for it the team uncovered a Grey Phalarope on Gretchen, 9 Greenfinch and several Common Redpoll and Siskin. The trip for the Varied Thrush on Papay was largely successful and highly enjoyable if made longer by being delayed for fog on the 29th! The 30th saw us return and pick up where we left off, a big dump of thrushes in the afternoon saw over 800 spread across the island with a few Fieldfare and Song Thrush thrown in for good measure. A second Richard's Pipit of the Autumn was found around Senness in the rain as was a Lark sp. at Dennishill that had all the makings of a Short-toed Lark but seemed to vanish in near unbirdable rain and will have remain as unidentified. 

                                   Grey Phalarope
                                   Grey Phalarope 
                The Papa Westray Varied Thrush, would've been rude not to include a photo of it really!

Sunday, 24 October 2021

20th-24th October

Whilst unfortunately there has been no repeat of the easterlies from earlier in the week, reasonable numbers of late autumn migrants have remained on the island during the subsequent days, along with a trickle of new arrivals including some quality scarcities. 

The 20th was a rather quiet day, with a Sparrowhawk being the only notable highlight among the remaining thrushes and Goldcrests. The following day was a similar story, although a Shelduck at Ancum along with several hundred Redwing around the east side of the island was enough to keep us going. 

The Green-winged Teal was seen again on Gretchen Loch on the 22nd, although it wasn't until the evening that the standout highlight of the day was found, with a smart Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll trapped at Holland. This perhaps wasn't a complete surprise given the recent run of northerlies, although a fine addition to the year list nevertheless. A morning seawatch on the 23rd was rather challenging in the freshening southerly wind, with birds passing quickly at distance. Counts included 24 Sooty Shearwaters, 2 Little Auks and 2 Arctic Skuas. On the land, a Mealy Redpoll and a trickle of Redwings and Robins were the only sightings of note.

Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll (George Gay)

An overdue addition to the year list was discovered on the 24th, with a Little Bunting being found in the observatory oat crop. No doubt the almost complete lack of easterlies this autumn have played a large part in the poor turnout for this species in 2021, along with many other expected eastern migrants (e.g. Yellow-browed Warbler). The bunting theme was to continue shortly afterwards as another year tick was discovered in the form of a Yellowhammer, found in the Rosa rugosa bushes in T4 next to the oat crop. Best of the rest included 2 "North-western" Redpolls at Holland and 11 Long-tailed Ducks in Linklet Bay. Whilst it's late on in the season now, we're optimistic for the upcoming week and the general feeling is we might be able to squeeze in some last minute finds if we're lucky! 

Long-tailed Ducks (Tom Gale)

Wednesday, 20 October 2021

16th-19th October

 We've finally had some easterlies to get our teeth into and although they haven't quite produced that big highlight bird that was going to round off our Autumn. However that said it's been brilliant seeing large numbers of common migrants around the island.

Saturday was a rather quiet day although a morning sea-watch produced good numbers of Sooty Shearwater but the highlight for the day was a Grey Phalarope that passed in the afternoon.

The following day looked more promising and with the winds switching into the east there more migrants about on the land. Good numbers of Blackbirds and Redwing had made landfall overnight but they didn't really have much of a supporting cast! A Goldcrest at Stromness and a Tree Pipit at Ancum were about all the land had to offer. The sea was again the provider of big highlights for the day another Fea's-type Petrel was the standout bird, a good showing of other sea-birds included a juv Long-tailed Skua, 18 Pomarine Skua, 4 Arctic Skua, 11 Little Auk and 2173 Kittiwake. 

The 18th was in simpler terms, absolutely hooching with migrants, a large overnight arrivals of Autumnal migrants included 3000+ Redwing, 700+ Blackbird, 40+ Song Thrush, 10+ Ring Ouzel, 30+ Goldcrest, 58 Robin, 6 Woodcock, 2 Long-eared Owls 200+ Brambling, 3 Chaffinch, a Lesser Whitethroat, a Willow Warbler and a Chiffchaff. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was the discovery of perished Cory's Shearwater under the lighthouse! 

The 19th was a day of trying to mop up anything that remained and eek out that star bird, however it was much the same story as the previous day although highlights included 4 Long-eared Owls in Ancum Willows, the return of the Green-winged Teal on Gretchen and 9 Woodcock. 

                                                Cory's Shearwater 


Saturday, 16 October 2021

12th - 15th October

Highlights from the 12th to the 15th of October have included 7 Whooper Swan, a Barnacle Goose, a Velvet Scoter, a Common Scoter, a Little Egret (fourth island record), 10 Manx Shearwater, 356 Sooty Shearwater, 2 Arctic Tern, a new juvenile Lesser Yellowlegs (our second of the autumn and the third island record), a Siberian Chiffchaff, a Chiffchaff, 8 Greenfinch and a Common Redpoll.

Lesser Yellowlegs and Little Egret

Tuesday, 12 October 2021

9th-11th October

 The quiet birding continues to be a dominating factor in almost everything we talk about at the moment, the weather has been firmly set in a Westerly direction for what feels like weeks. The 11th was probably the pick of the bunch weather wise with two days before being windy and at times quite wet! 

The 9th saw the Richard's Pipit make a brief re-appearance in Kirkie Park West before seemingly evaporating into nothing. A Red-breasted Flycatcher was discovered around Senness in the morning and a Yellow-browed Warbler was still around Veracott while 2 Tree Pipits in the Gravity area and Sibe Chiffchaff made up the best of the rest for the day.

The 10th was a pretty awful day with howling winds and showers, the only highlight being a Hawfinch seen briefly in Holland. The 11th however saw things clear up a bit and a nicer spell of weather was more conducive to birding. A Pectoral Sandpiper was flushed off of Cauldhaim before re-locating to Sandsheen. The Sibe Chiffchaff was seen at Westness and good numbers of Snow Buntings were seen around the island. 

                                    Pectoral Sandpiper with Ringed Plovers

Saturday, 9 October 2021

6th - 8th October

Highlights from the 6th to the 8th have included 2 Whooper Swan, 71 Pink-footed Goose, 3 Long-tailed Duck, a Common Scoter, a Sparrowhawk, a Kestrel, 10 Jack Snipe, a Short-eared Owl, a Richard’s Pipit, a Tree Pipit, 3 Robin, 67 Blackbird, 59 Song Thrush, 932 Redwing, 7 Blackcap, 2 Yellow-browed Warbler, a Chiffchaff, 2 Willow Warbler, an unidentified ficedula flycatcher sp, 17 Chaffinch, 18 Brambling, 7 Greenfinch, 2 Siskin, a Hawfinch and 178 Snow Bunting.

Richard's Pipit

Wednesday, 6 October 2021

3rd-5th October

 A fairly settled few days of weather still hasn't produced any numbers of migrants and although there have been a couple of highlight birds the general feeling is of slogging around for little reward, perhaps that goes with the time of year though.

The big highlight of the last few days has been a Lanceolated Warbler trapped and ringed at Senness, it represents the 8th record for the island and our second in as many years following last years showy bird around Trolla. Elsewhere warbler numbers have been in short supply with low counts of Willow Warbler and Blackcap. A Reed Warbler was trapped in Holland on the 4th, while between two and three Yellow-browed Warblers have been hanging around in various thistle patches and the 5th saw Barred Warblers at Trolla and Stennabreck. Elsewhere a Common Scoter has been seen feeding in the bay at Nouster, the first Long-tailed Ducks of the Autumn were back in Linklet, a sure sign that winter can't be too far away! 

Pink-footed Geese continue to move South in small but steady numbers with double figures posted most days. A small influx of Blackbirds, including some all dark Scandinavian birds were present on the 5th but lower numbers of other Thrushes doesn't seem to bode well for a big Thrush movement. We've had a couple of frustrating getaways too, a Common Sandpiper like wader has been seen twice now but very poorly and never re-located despite good efforts and a Pipit at Westness gave everybody the slip in pouring rain on the 3rd.

It seems like we'll struggle for any big numbers of birds this Autumn but there's little we can do but get out, keep birding and pray for Easterlies!! 

                                   Lanceolated Warbler

Sunday, 3 October 2021

30th September - 2nd October

Highlights from the 30th of September to the 2nd of October included a Little Stint, a Black-tailed Godwit, a Redwing, 20+ Song Thrush, a Ring Ouzel, a Dunnock, a Redstart, a Black Redstart, 3 Robin, 6 Whinchat, a Lesser Whitethroat, a Barred Warbler, a Danish-ringed Reed Warbler, 8 Blackcap, the Arctic Warbler still, 3 Yellow-browed Warbler, 2 Chiffchaff, 3 Willow Warbler, a Goldcrest, 255+ Chaffinch, 15 Brambling, 14 Siskin, 19 Snow Bunt and 6 Lapland Bunting.

the Arctic Warbler is still here for its fourth day

Thursday, 30 September 2021

27th-29th September

 A blustery few days that finally resulted in a few land migrants for us to get stuck into. 

Tree Pipits were present on the 27th and 29th while good numbers of Chaffinch and Brambling have remained on the island for the past few days. Good numbers of Whinchat have also been present around the island. A Barred Warbler was skulking around in Holland but avoided the nets. Despite a soaking wet day there were still a few migrants around and a soggy Redstart at Scottsha' was joined by 3 Blackcap and 2 Grey Plover. As the evening wore on and the rain subsided a Marsh Warbler was discovered in the punds around Trolla.

Tuesday bought about a calmer day and with it a few more migrants worked their way out into view, a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers at the Shooting Gallery and Seaside were a nice surprise for folk birding the island. A Slavonian Grebe was in the bay at Westness and was new for the year, this period in late September and early October seems to have been good for them in recent years. The Flava Wagtail remained around Scottigar and an adult Common Tern passed the Seawatch hide.

The 29th was a better day all in all. A Red-breasted Flycatcher was trapped in Holland in the morning while a Ring Ouzel was in a field above Ancum. 4 Common Scoter were off the North end and a Barred Warbler seemingly arrived in fresh at the Beacon. Finally a message in the afternoon reporting rounded off the day nicely as a Arctic Warbler was found on the track down to Gravity. 

Monday, 27 September 2021

26th September

Highlights from the 26th included a Whooper Swan, 16 Sooty Shearwater, 2 Peregrine (including a probable calidus Northern type bird) the Buff-breasted Sandpiper (which was ringed), 3 Ruff, a Black-tailed Godwit, 4 Jack Snipe, a Redwing, a Western Yellow Wagtail, 2 Willow Warbler, a Yellow-browed Warbler, a locustella sp, 35+ Brambling, 150+ Chaffinch, 2 Snow Bunting and 2 Lapland Bunting. 

juvenile Buff-breasted Sandpiper - first ever ringed in Scotland and first in the UK since 1995

Sunday, 26 September 2021

22nd-25th September

 A very windy few days have meant that new arrivals of birds have been a little bit thin on the ground, however a slacking of the wind on the 25th did allow for productive sea-watching conditions and other lingering species have kept things interesting.

The Lesser Scaup has remained between Bewan and Garso occasionally making trips out to sit on the sea but for the most part has been seen feeding on the lochs. Good numbers of Pink-footed Goose have also passed through the island on their way South with well over 500 birds between the 22nd and 23rd. Pectoral Sandpipers were present at Brides on the 22nd and Bewan on the 24th, while Snow Buntings have been slowly building up with 4 present on the 25th. A Yellow-browed Warbler was heard briefly in Holland on the 25th but blustery conditions probably aided the bird in its ability to keep hidden. A third Buff-breasted Sandpiper of the year was discovered in East Loch Park also on the 25th where it spent the afternoon feeding with the Golden Plover flock that seems to favour that area. Sea-watching over the past 24 hours has also produced well, 3 Long-tailed Skua, 2 Pomarine Skua, a Little Gull, 5 Manx Shearwater and 100+ Sooty Shearwater along with good numbers of commoner sea-birds made for interesting watching. A trio of Rosefinches was in Holland on the 25th along with a couple of Siskins, the Chaffinch numbers still remain high with over 100 birds recorded on the 23rd but it looks like they're beginning to leave with flocks seen dispersing on the evening of the 25th. A second Little Gull was in Linklet Bay on the 24th and lastly small groups of Whooper Swan are also passing through as they head South. 

Year List: 202

                                   Pink-footed Geese arriving with a Sooty Shearwater to left
                                   Wigeon avoiding the surf

Wednesday, 22 September 2021

19th - 21st September

Highlights from the 19th to the 21st included 6 Whooper Swan, a Dark-belied Brent Goose, 36 Pink-footed Goose, the juvenile Lesser Scaup still, an American Golden Plover (our 2nd of the year), 3 Pectoral Sandpiper, a Jack Snipe, 8 Ruff, a Peregrine, a Swift, a Tree Pipit, 2 Robin, a Red-breasted Flycatcher (first of the year), a Pied flycatcher, 3 Spotted Flycatcher, 4 Redstart, 3 Whinchat, 6 Willow Warbler, 4 Chiffchaff, a Barred Warbler, 4 Blackcap, 2 Brambling, 80+ Chaffinch, 7 Siskin and 2 Lapland Bunting.

Lesser Scaup and Red-breasted Flycatcher

Saturday, 18 September 2021

15th - 18th September

 A longer interval between blog post than intended this time so sorry to keep you all waiting! The weather has been somewhat of a mixed bag over the past few days but this can always turn up unexpected birds and in this case it did! The big news however was the departure of Maddy, having been on island since mid-March she now departs for Durham University, we thank her for all of her efforts in the obs and out in field.  

The 15th was rather quiet and lingering birds made up the vast majority of the highlights, 2 Rosefinches were still feeding around Holland but were joined by a Redstart that showed fleetingly on and off throughout the day, while a second bird was at Nether Linnay in the morning and a characteristically skulky Barred Warbler in Holland . The Dotterel was still on the Links but that otherwise summed up a very quiet day for new arrivals. A Pied Flycatcher has also been lingering in the Willows at Ancum.

The 16th was a very similar story with very little in the way of new birds, the highlights being 2 Lapland Buntings around Bewan and a lone Brambling in the Funny Park were all we had to shout about.

The 17th was a much different affair, the morning starting with a reconnaissance mission to investigate a dodgy Ringed Plover photographed the day before, but it turned out to be just that, however while sifting through Ringed Plover (a nightmare I thought was behind us following 2020's Semipalmated Plover) a wader started whizzing around the over the Ringo flock, after landing having been sworn at a few times because it was putting the Ringo's up, it transpired to be our second Buff-breasted Sandpiper of the Autumn and all bad feelings towards it were forgotten. With the day other seemingly fading away a trip back up North in the afternoon to have a look at the Buff-breasted Sandpiper would turn up an altogether rarer arrival in the shape of North Ronaldsay's first Lesser Scaup. A rather unseasonal juvenile on Bewan turned into a bit more of a cryptic bird than we thought, but good photos and careful research left us more than happy with the duck in question. 

The 18th started with fog. Again. However as the morning wore on the fog burned off and were left with a rather pleasant day. The Lesser Scaup was still on Bewan in the morning, as was one of the Lapland Buntings, once the afternoon rolled around however the Scaup was nowhere to be found and maybe took advantage of the break in the weather and has left the island? The first Spotted Flycatcher of the Autumn was behind the Old Kirk and a new Rosefinch was present in a mixed finch flock at Neven. The news of the day was a large arrival of Chaffinch onto the island, just over 100 birds seemed to have appeared overnight and gave that day a really Autumnal feel and were joined by a few Bramblings. 

Things still look interesting as the weekend goes on but with the 19th forecast as being quite a soggy we will have to wait and see! 

                                   Lesser Scaup

Wednesday, 15 September 2021

12th - 14th September

Highlights from the 12th to the 14th of September included a Buff-breasted Sandpiper, a Dotterel, 2 (or 3) Pectoral Sandpiper, a Short-eared Owl, a Whinchat, a Redstart, 2 Pied Flycatcher, a Robin, 5 Lesser Whitethroat, 5 Barred Warbler, a Garden Warbler, 2 Blackcap, 2 Common Whitethroat, a Reed Warbler, 2 Chiffchaff, 13 Willow Warbler, 6 Rosefinch and 7 Orca (the 27s pod back hunting again).

juvenile Buff-breasted Sandpiper (top) and juvenile Dotterel (bottom)