Thursday, 2 January 2020

2nd January

With the weather turning near apocolyptic over the next few days this was maybe our final chance to get some birding done for a couple of days.
It seemed the birds had read the weather and decided to stay tucked away out of sight. The long staying Green-winged Teal finally re-surfaced on Gretchen with 63 Wigeon and 17 Teal.
Bewan was uncharecteristally quiet with just the usual suspects. The year list additions for the day were a drake Red-breasted Merganser at Brides, 36 Twite in East Loch Park, 8 Grey Heron at Westness, a Black Gulliemot off the pier and a Meadow Pipit in Loch Park.

On another note I'm supposed to be off island for a few days so there won't be any further updates until 12th January.

Common Gull

1st January

Happy New Year!
Our first foray out into the wilderness of 2020 was quite productive.
Much of the usual stuff was accomapnied by a few unusal bits that we wouldn't perhaps expect to have on the year list at this early stage.
A 1st Winter Glaucous Gull was present in the small flock of Gulls sheltering from the wind at Bewan, the loch was otherwise playing host to its usual suspects. Small groups of Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Teal and Wigeon were also sheltering on the loch as were a pair of Goldeneye.
The beach at Brides was fairly busy with Wigeon, Goldeneye and Common Gulls all feeding in the surf, the loch was less busy but did have a lone Little Grebe in one of the small bays and the Mute Swan from the previous day had seemingly found its way from Bewan. Other birds of note were 2 Red-throated Diver, 4 Great Northern Diver, 4 Long-tailed Duck, 16 Redwing and 13 Fieldfare.



Tuesday, 31 December 2019

31st December

Thankfully the wind and rain seem to have abated a little bit and birding the island today was far more pleasant than the previous couple of days.
There isn't great deal different in what was around but a few notable highlights certainly gave us reason to keep going!
Probably the most exciting but a lone Shelduck on Gretchen was the first of few decent birds, Decemeber Shelducks aren't a regular occurance on North Ronaldsay so this was quite a welcome start to the day.
Bewan was our main source of birding action for the day a Mute Swan that certainly wasn't around yesterday was joined by a bathing adult Glaucous Gull. We don't see many adult white wingers so again a more than welcome sight.
Other day totals include: 1 Pink-footed Goose still at Vincoin, 34 Purple Sandpipers, 4 Grey Heron at Westness, 21 Fieldfare the bulk of which were in the fields surrounding Kirbest, 33 Redwing, 4 Robins, 14 Snow Bunting and 2 Reed Buntings.
See you all in 2020!

Glaucous Gull


Monday, 30 December 2019

29th - 30th December

Some bonus end of the decade coverage for you!
Strong South-Westerlies and intermittent showers made birding slightly ardous, but despite this there's still a smattering of left over migrants from the Autumn.
Lingering pockets of Redwing totalling up to 19 birds were joined by 2 Fieldfare at Southness.
A solitary Pink-footed Goose was still opposite Vincoin with Greylags and up to 3 Robins have been hanging around the observatory and Lurand as have flock of around 40 Twite.
3 Hen Harriers seem to have set up thier winter terrortories on the island and the 29th saw 2 Woodcock flushed from Holland in a very brief look before dark. Finally a flock of around 20 Snow Bunting were feeding around Sandar.
Otherwise things are pretty quite up here as we head into 2020, but you never know what might turn up!

Pink-footed Goose                                                                 George Gay

Sunday, 15 December 2019

15th December

A much better day with lighter, southerly based winds and some good spells of sunshine; a fine selection of wintering birds were found across the island during the day which included 9 Herons, 273 Wigeon, 169 Teal, the Green-winged Teal still, 3 Hen Harriers, single Merlin and Peregrine again, a lone Knot on the rocks off Torness, 161 Purple Sandpipers, a Woodcock in Holland, 12 Bar-tailed Godwits, a Black-headed Gull (scarce in the winter), 8 Skylarks, 17 Rock Pipits, 3 Robins, 3 Fieldfare, 3 Song Thrush, 60 Redwing, 75 Twite remaining in the Obs sacrificial crop and 25 Snow Buntings.

Saturday, 14 December 2019

14th December

A little bit of bonus winter coverage for you!   Breezy with frequent showers but there were some decent spells to get out in the field; the birds seen were generally a continuation of the last blog entry and included 2 Herons, a single Pink-footed Goose with 420 Greylag Geese, 143 Wigeon, 8 Gadwall, 127 Teal, the drake Green-winged Teal still on Gretchen, 88 Mallard, 11 Shoveler, 35 Long-tailed Duck, 3 Goldeneye, 3 Hen Harriers, single Merlin and Peregrine, 95 Redshank, 191 Turnstone, 2 Skylarks, a Meadow Pipit, 3 Fieldfare, a Song Thrush, 65 Redwing and 13 Twite.


Thursday, 28 November 2019

26th - 28th November

Mainly windy (largely from the east until it moved into the NW on the 28th) and rainy with limited coverage; birds seen over the few days included 6 Herons, the Pink-footed Goose, 8 Pintail, a female Scaup on Brides on the 28th, 2 Hen Harriers, single Merlin and Peregrine, a Woodcock on the 26th, 7 Meadow Pipits, 10+ Robins, c70 Redwing, 2 Song Thrush, 2 Fieldfare, the Mistle Thrush still on the 27th,  40+ Twite and 30+ Snow Buntings.


Monday, 25 November 2019

23rd - 25th November

A decent day on the 23rd with lightish winds, remaining dry; a whole-island Goose count produced 644 Greylags and a single Pink-footed Goose, 2 Hen Harriers, a Woodcock, a Black-tailed Godwit on Gretchen (the second of the month), a little influx of 40 Redwings and 4 Song Thrush, 2 Siskins and still 75 Twite by The Obs.   After a wet and windy 24th when a Mistle Thrush was the only bird of note a better 25th produced a few bits including 8 Red-throated Divers, a Black-throated Diver again in Nouster, 7 Great-northern Divers, the Pink-footed Goose, 24 Shoveler, 19 Long-tailed Duck, 5 Goldeneye, 2 Hen Harriers, a Grey Plover, a 2cy Glaucous Gull at Bewan (a quiet autumn for white-wingers so far), a notable influx of 21 Fieldfare, 75 Redwing and a Mistle Thrush and 50 Snow Buntings.


Sunday, 24 November 2019

DNA results are in! (PART TWO)

These are more interesting (if you like that sort of thing!).   It proved to be an unprecedented autumn for 'Eastern Lesser Whitethroats' with an estimated 17 individuals recorded between 23rd September and 18th October.   A total of eight birds were caught in this period, all of which were analysed, the results of which appear below;

NUMBER 1 - 25th September

This, confiding, dumpy looking bird was thought to be maybe not a Siberian Lesser Whitethroat (the commonest race of 'Eastern Lesser Whitethroat' but its shape was altered by it missing half its tail, with the crucial T5 missing, clouding in the field and hand ID.   It was confirmed by mtDNA as S. c. blythi or Siberian Lesser Whitethroat.

NUMBER 2 - 26th September

This bird was caught at dusk so the pictures were a bit ropey but it was confirmed as a S. c. blythi

NUMBER 3 - 28th September

Also confirmed as S. c. blythi

NUMBER 4 - 3rd October

Another fine S. c. blythi

NUMBER 5 - 4th October

Also a S. c. blythi but the only one with a big white wedge on T5 and very bright, white T6

NUMBER 6 - also 4th October

Another S. c. blythi

NUMBER 7 - 17th October

This one was a bit of a surprise, when caught I thought it was 'just' another S. c. blythi but photos do suggest a bluer head, slightly less browny back and longer winged (wing length was slightly longer than the other blythi trapped).   Photos though, can be misleading, often accentuating the dark mask and especially in strong light, changing the mantle tones so, despite my thoughts in the hand at the time, this bird came back as a late, nominate S. c. curruca.

NUMBER 8 - 18th October

Similar to the previous bird in that when I caught it I was leaning towards it being Eastern (I was perhaps swayed by the date) but in photos, with the blue head, grey/blue mantle it looks an obvious S. c. curruca which is exactly what it came back as - it wasn't that obvious in the hand with your naked eye though!

DNA results are in! (PART ONE)

In recent years the face of bird identification for many species / races has been helped and accentuated by mtDNA analysis of feathers / faecal samples obtained through various methods; this year on North Ronaldsay produced a whole cast of birds caught and ringed where feathers were sent off for kind analysis by Martin Collinson and Thom Shannon at the University of Aberdeen.   The majority of results are now in and although most of them confirmed what we thought in the field / hand at the time it was great to get confirmation with a couple of slightly unexpected results at the end.

SAVI'S WARBLER - 11th May 2019

This surprise, cracking first for Orkney was confirmed as Savi's (even though there wasn't really any need to!)


This female was confirmed as a Collared Flycatcher


This cracking male Eastern Subalpine Warbler was confirmed as Eastern after being caught in the bar having flown in through an open door!


This one we needed help with!   It was caught at Upper Linney in heavy wing and tail moult (presumably not freshly arrived) so the in hand / field ID features were not clear at all, although Western was our best guess!

Friday, 22 November 2019

20th - 22nd November

Not much to report from the 20th but the 21st was a better day, a brisk easterly wind but at least it remained dry and fairly bright; the undoubted highlight of the day was a fantastic pod of c10 Orca hunting very close in, off the foghorn late in the day, they quickly moved further out being seen just off Seal Skerry at dusk – its been a poor year for sightings so it was great to get a quality encounter.   Other birds included the Green-winged Teal still, 11 Pintail, 4 Common Scoter (always a good island bird) past the Lighthouse, 2 Hen Harriers, a Merlin, 2 Jack Snipe, a Woodcock, 4 Siskins south and the big flock of Twite at The Obs still.   Wet and windy through most of the 22nd so sightings were again at a premium but a single Waxwing was at The Obs.

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

19th November

A wonderful calm day, almost still at times, remaining dry; more high Diver / Seaduck counts were posted sat on the calm seas including 27 Red-throated Divers, 39 Great-northern Divers, 37 Long-tailed Ducks and 27 Red-breasted Mergansers while other birds included 9 Herons, the Green-winged Teal still, 2 Merlin, a very distinctive pale, male Arctic Peregrine type along the west coast, a Little Auk on the sea off The Links, 20 Meadow Pipits, 90 Twite and 11 Snow Buntings.

Arctic-type Peregrine                                   Dante Shepherd

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

18th November

A quiet day, dry with a moderate NW wind; birds seen included the Green-winged Teal, 9 Pintail, 9 Gadwall, 2 Merlin, 2 Peregrine, 46 Dunlin, 14 Meadow Pipits, a nominate looking Chiffchaff at Ancum Willows (only the third non Siberian this month), a further increase to 112 Twite and 8 Snow Buntings.

Red-throated Diver

Monday, 18 November 2019

17th November

Damp and drizzly through the morning but it brightened up by lunchtime and with light winds it wasn’t too bad at all; birds seen through the day included 24 Red-throated Divers and 36 Great-northern Divers (both highest counts of the autumn so far), the Green-winged Teal, single Hen Harrier and Merlin, a Woodcock, 28 Bar-tailed Godwits, a Little Auk off the Lighthouse, a Siberian Chiffchaff still at The Obs, a Siskin, 84 Twite and 56 Snow Buntings.

Snow Bunting

Sunday, 17 November 2019

16th November

A lovely calm day, almost still at times with a nice array of late autumn birds across the island; the calm seas allowed for some good counts including 20 Red-throated Divers, 3 Black-throated Divers (one in Nouster and two off Torness), 19 Great-northern Divers and 26 Long-tailed Duck while other bits comprised 12 Herons, the Green-winged Teal, a Hen Harrier, 3 Merlin, 2 Grey Plover, a single Knot (first one since 25th October), single Jack Snipe and Woodcock, 12 Meadow Pipits, 29 Robins still, 18 Fieldfare, 3 Song Thrush, 42 Redwing, 5 Siberian Chiffchaffs – two at the Obs, two at Holland and one at Sandback, single Greenfinch (last one on 30th October), Siskin and Goldfinch (last one on 14th October), 80 Twite, a Common Redpoll, 39 Snow Buntings and 3 Reed Buntings.

Siberian Chiffchaff