Tuesday, 4 August 2020

1st-3rd August

With the recommencing of census on the 1st it goes without saying we've been experiencing higher counts of birds the last three days than in previous weeks. Fine weather on all three days allowed for good coverage despite sheep working taking up much of the 2nd for some. 
The 1st provided an early highlight with the first Willow Warbler of the autumn, a rather be-draggled looking bird that has perhaps spent the summer here, but we haven't seen it. A bird that clearly did spend the summer here was a moulting Song Thrush, first trapped on the 25th June. Three Swifts around the obs were amongst other fly-by birds such as a 1cy male Peregrine, a 1cy Kestrel and 2 Whimbrel. Finally the first Ruff of the Autumn was with Redshank near Holm. 
Despite being a very sheep work orientated day the 2nd provided some good highlights, 3 Crossbills left the island to the South mid-morning and Woodpigeon spent the day hanging around the obs, loitering in their usual nervous style. Another couple of Whimbrel were present including a rather showy bird near the lighthouse with a flock of 9 Curlew. Finally another showy bird for the day came in the shape of a Short-eared Owl on Brek that was seen in the evening hunting over the crop strips. 
The 3rd saw complete coverage and therefore provided good counts. a juvenile Goldeneye was seen briefly on Brides and a White Wagtail was seen carrying food to a nest near North Gravity. Our first quadruple figure counts of Golden Plover and Arctic Tern stood at 1116 and 1285 respectively rounding a good period in August. 

Short-eared Owl                                                                                                GG

Whimbrel                                                                                                          GG

Arctic Skua                                                                                                        GG

Saturday, 1 August 2020

28th-31st July

A rather quiet period in the month without a great deal to shout about. The 28th was frankly disgusting weather wise and didn't see much more than a few outstanding indoor jobs getting done! However a break in the weather the next day would allow us to venture out and see what the rain had left behind. It wasn't a great deal if I'm honest, a Common Tern was on Bewan with around 480 Arctic Terns, a brief sea-watch produced 2 Sooty Shearwaters and 5 Manx Shearwater and another Long-tailed Skua surfaced giving us our 14th bird of a remarkable influx, away from the birding side of things Gavin left for uni on the 29th, he's been a huge help this spring and summer especially on the ringing side of things and we look forward to seeing him again in October. 
With high winds dropping to almost nothing on the 30th the day was dominated by sea-watching and it proved fruitful. 332 Manx Shearwaters, 38 Sooty Shearwater, 18 Storm Petrel, 87 Puffin and good counts of commoner sea-birds made for a healthy day total and fairly constant views of Harbour Porpoise weren't bad in between Shearwater flocks either! The sea-watch did also produce one live and one not so alive Risso's Dolphin, the Fulmars, needless to say, preferred the not so alive animal. 
Finally the 31st saw what seemed to indicate the exit of the Long-tailed Skuas, they've entertained us for a while now and have proved an invaluable learning tool for those of us that spent long hours photographing and enjoying them! Away from Skuas a group of 43 Knot were on Bewan along with 8 on Sjaver giving us our highest count of the Autumn so far. It was otherwise a quiet day to round off the month, the final highlight being a Shoveler dazzled in the evening. With August looming we'll be back into passerine migration again soon and we're looking forward to it! 
Shoveler                                                                             GG

                                             Manx Shearwaters                                             GG

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

24th-27th July

A fairly productive few days with a dribble of a migrants passing through the island. The Long-tailed Skuas have remained on Tor Ness in varying numbers, we're not seeing the same birds every day so it begs the question where are the birds when they're not here? For example the adult bird went missing for two days before re-appearing on the 27th. Away from the skuas the highlight was a Roseate Tern seen briefly on several occasions between the 25th and 26th but was never seen particularly well. 
A pair of Grebes were seen flying over Bewan while we were setting up nets for another Tern session, the likelyhood is that they were Slavonian Grebes but they remain unproven. The Tern session was quite productive with 13 Terns trapped however a bumper catch of 38 Turnstone were the highlight along with singles of Dunlin and Mallard. 
The 26th also bought about a Short-eared Owl at Westness followed by a male Sparrowhawk that came off the in the same location. The following day saw the start of some heavy rain that continued into the night and is still going on now as I write! The morning however was birdable and again produced a few bits, five of the Long-tailed Skuas, including the adult. A lone Kestrel was seen heading West over Brek and 4 Whimbrels headed South over Garso.

                                   Kestrel                                                                                  GG

                                   Long-tailed Skua                                                                  GG

Friday, 24 July 2020

20th-23rd July

The Skua-fest continued over the last four days with the total number of birds rising to eleven by the 23rd including two adults. Most the birds are surprisingly variable, we'll do a full round up of all the birds eventually. 
Otherwise things have been relatively quiet on the land, a steady but small passage of Swifts have kept our eyes to the skies but they haven't produced much more. A Storm Petrel session on the 21st produced 33 birds including a British and Danish (likely Faroese) control and a rather smart Leach's Petrel. The following night we decided to make an attempt ringing adult Arctic Terns, this proved partially successful with 15 birds caught of varying ages along with 13 Turnstone and singles of Storm Petrel, Redshank and Dunlin. We were also briefly buzzed by another Leach's Petrel. Other passerines have included 4 Common Redpoll on the 20th, a Redwing at Ancum and a Stonechat still by the school on the 21st, 2 Collared Dove on the 22nd one at the obs and then one later further up the island. Waders such Knot, Dunlin, Whimbrel, Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits and Redshank have been gathering in the fields but the turnover seems high so we're almost certainly missing a few numbers.  The final bird of the post was a Short-eared Owl seen late on the 23rd near Purtabrek.

                                   Adult Long-tailed Skua                                                        GG

                                   Knot                                                                                      GG

Sunday, 19 July 2020

18th-19th July - Long-tailed Skuas

As you may have already if you follow us on Twitter this post is going to be dominated by Long-tailed Skuas. The last two days have not only been highly educational for the wardening team but highly enjoyable too. This all started with a text from Dante saying he had two, then three 2nd Calendar Year Long-tailed Skuas on Tor Ness following a lone bird the day previous. I have to say I was skeptical to say the least
"Surely he's just got himself carried away" I said to Gavin in the car on the way up to Tor Ness.
I was wrong. 
Once we arrived we could see three birds buzzing around Dante's head as he looked on, awestruck with the situation he found himself (Who wouldn't?!). This was all added to when a further two birds joined the fray and the now five strong party of Long-tails headed out over the fields, presumably hunting, before coming back onto Tor Ness. 
This seemed unprecedented, 2CY Long-tailed Skuas simply shouldn't occur in the UK, they should be off coastlines in the Southern Hemisphere and there certainly shouldn't be a flock of them in British waters at this time of year. This seems to have been echoed throughout social media platforms, simply put...it's weird. Most sightings of 2CY birds seem to occur pelagically, for example most sightings from the Scilly Pelagics trips are of a similar age. 
Over the two days we've had at least seven birds, plus a couple of birds on Papa Westray all of which have been photographed. We need to go away now and write all this up, see if we can work out how many birds we've had and then do some extra digging into why this might have happened. Whatever comes of it, it's been a superb experience for all of us, they aren't birds that we're hugely familiar with so being able to study them extensively has been a privilege that none of us will forget anytime soon.
In the brief moments we've managed to tear ourselves away from the Skuas the cut fields have dragged in a good few Gulls and Waders, the highlights of which were a flock of 55 summer plumaged Black-tailed Godwits and a 1st Summer Little Gull to add to the adult that's been hanging around. 
The lochs have also dragged in Waders, the highest count of Dunlin for the year with a total of 520 birds mixed in with Oystercatchers and a few Redshank. 
On the land both days have produced four Crossbills, one of which found its way into T4 and two showed superbly in the surgery garden. Elsewhere the Stonechat was still below school as was a Woodpigeon. 

                                    Long-tailed Skua (bottom) and Arctic Skua (top).               GG

                                    Long-tailed Skua.                                                                  GG

                                   Long-tailed Skua.                                                                   GG

                                   Common Crossbill                                                                 GG

Friday, 17 July 2020

13th-17th July

A bit of longer period than intended between posts but often things get in the way this time of year! 
The 13th saw a rather disgusting day of wet and windy weather which meant we couldn't do a lot of the outdoor jobs or ringing that we wanted to get done. The birding wasn't exactly spectacular either although the Pectoral Sandpiper did make another appearance, this time on the dyke in front of Scottsha' before disappearing into thick cover, it would however re-appear and show well on the deck some two days later in the fields opposite school before being flushed by a Great Black-backed Gull. 
The Great White Egret was still on Hooking where it remained until the 15th, a Juvenile Crossbill was in the Funny Park and the Adult Little Gull has been seen nearly everyday over Garso.
The weather on the 14th was a much more settled affair and seemed to bring in a flurry of migrants, a Redwing was in Ancum Willows in the morning, the Stonechat that's been around the school made another appearance as did 2 Swifts in the North of the island. A female Crossbill was at Sangar and up to 11 Common Redpoll were on the island. 
The night of the 14th saw ideal conditions allowing us to do our second Storm Petrel ringing session of the year which yet again produced a singing Leach's Petrel but a failure to land it in a mist net! A more exciting moment was a 02:30am Common Sandpiper heard calling as it went over the nets in the twilight. The following morning was far less pleasant than the day that preceded it and when dawn broke about an hour and half after the Common Sandpiper's fleeting visit a drizzly fog had enveloped the isle. This didn't stop the first record of Long-tailed Skua for the year as a 2CY bird was chased around Gretchen by angry Common Gulls, the awful weather making viewing the bird hard. It was however photographed but forgotten about until the next day when it was found on Torness sat with up to 13 Arctic Skuas, the bird this time showed superbly and gave the obs staff chance to see an age that is seldom seen around British waters. 
Finally the 17th, a day dominated by Punding, Sheep Shearing, Tystie chick ringing and fish and chip night meant opportunities for birding were left to the time between deliveries of the aforementioned fish and chips. However a sub-adult Little near Scottigar and 2 juvenile Crossbills were ample reward for a few hours of deliveries! 

2CY Long-tailed Skua                                                         GG 

Pectoral Sandpiper making a hasty retreat!                        GG

Common Redpoll                                                                 GG

Sunday, 12 July 2020

9th-12th July

The 9th saw another day of fine weather so we promptly took advantage and got some more chick ringing done, Trinley provided a good number of Tysties to ring along with a brood of Pied Wagtails, a Herring Gull and couple of other bits. The 9th also saw a start to silage cutting which meant a veritable feast was created for the islands waders, although the cut fields have failed to bring anything in so far they've held good numbers of Oystercatchers with a few Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits in superb summer plumage thrown in to keep interest up. Other waders included a couple of Whimbrel. 
The 10th was started with a Storm Petrel ringing session in which we caught 33 new birds and two re-traps, hopefully we'll manage more in the coming days. The Great White Egret was still on Hooking and the Corncrake was heard singing around Peckhole again.
The following day was a little better migrant wise, a Stonechat was present below the school but the undeniable bird of the day was a stunning adult female Red-necked Phalarope on Bewan. The bird showed well for a short period before magically disappearing when backs were turned! 
The final day of this update was unexpectedly good, not only weather wise. The forecasted rain never really arrived and instead was replaced by long periods of unbroken sunshine. The adult Little Gull put on a fine display over Garso, even mobbing those watching at times. Again the bird of the day was a wader, this time a wholly unexpected Pectoral Sandpiper display flighting to a Snipe, sadly the bird didn't hang around and disappeared off towards Links.

Pectoral Sandpiper                                                          GG

Little Gull                                                                 GG

Red-necked Phalarope                                                   DS

Thursday, 9 July 2020

5th-8th July

Predictably things have been quite quiet with migration having pretty much ceased. A spell of terrible weather on the 5th meant any breeding bird work was put on hold. The adult Little Gull was sat with no fewer than 350 Kittiwakes on the grass in front of the sea-watch hide as was a second calendar year Arctic Skua. Golden Plovers have been returning slowly with numbers climbing to just over 200 in various locations across the island. A good passage of Manx Shearwaters over past few days has seen over 150 birds pass the sea-watch hide, other sea-watch highlights from the past four days include a dark phase Pomarine Skua and a 'blue' phase Fulmar on the 6th and 2 Sooty Shearwaters on the 8th. The Great White Egret has remained on Hooking feeding in the Mares Tails over the past four days.

Arctic Skua                                                                          GG

Great White Egret                                                                 GG

Little Gull in disguise                                                            GG

Sunday, 5 July 2020

2nd-4th July

Bird news has predictably been thin on the ground. With little to report I'll keep the post short and sweet. Poor weather on the 2nd meant the day was dedicated to other tasks, the 3rd however was much better and we used the good weather in the early part of the day to make our first visit to the Tern colonies at Trinley and the North Links. The Terns were doing slightly better than we'd expected, we ringed 36 chicks which is a promising start with many more still on eggs and a few other colonies to visit once the weather improves again. We also managed to ring one of the Great Skua chicks and what a brute it was! 
The 4th was a little bit on the birding front, the adult Little Gull was back at Westness being beaten up by the nesting Black-headed Gulls. A eclipse drake Wigeon was on Garso briefly but the stand out bird of the day came after a phone call from Isobel at Hooking describing
"a large white bird with the Herons on the loch"
A mad dash down to Hooking revealed the bird to be the islands 5th record of Great White Egret. A very welcome surprise to all of us!

Great White Egret                                            GG
Little Gull making a quick escape!                                                               GG
Great Skua chick, its still a chick....just                                                       GG

Thursday, 2 July 2020

29th June- 1st July

It feels as though spring is well and truly done here and we're now onto summer and all the jobs that it entails. Bird wise things have gone a little bit quieter in the last few days. An adult Little Gull at Westness on the 29th and 30th was a welcome arrival. A few Whimbrels have been knocking around as they make their way South. A little bit left field from the usual bits on here, its a first for North Ronaldsay in the shape of Volucella bombylans (or so I'm told by those who know better!) it also represents the most Northerly record for the UK, so quite exciting really! The 30th also had a few other late arrivals the pick of the bunch being a Cuckoo that was found late on at Cruesbrek followed by a Stonechat at Howartoft and 3 Redwings, two at Howartoft and one at Westness. Another Stonechat between Quoybanks and Sandback on the 1st was about the only bird of note. On a final note we said goodbye to Phoebe, we thank her for all her efforts this Spring and hopefully we'll see her again soon.  

Stonechat                                                                             GG

Volucella bombylans                                                     GG

There's still plenty of Kittiwakes around!                   GG

Monday, 29 June 2020

26th-28th June

It would definitely seem that Spring has now finished here and we're into summer, although the bite in the Easterly wind would perhaps suggest otherwise! The prevailing winds for most of this month have done little in the way of brining in Eastern vagrants but I won't sit here and gripe, things could certainly of been a lot worse!
The 26th was by far the busiest day bird wise and by far the nicest weather wise. In fact wall to wall sunshine made for a pleasant days birding and good night for running the obs moth trap. We'll start with moth trap that contained no fewer than four new moths for the year, none of them particularly exciting. 
The American Golden Plover was still present behind the lighthouse, although a little flightier than the previous evening. 
Golden Plovers have been on the rise, numbers reached 145 on the 28th after posting totals of 77 on the 26th and 128 on the 27th.
Other wader numbers include 11 Knot, 112 Turnstone and single Whimbrels on the 26th and 28th. 
Land bird wise things have been pretty quiet, single Woodpigeons have been about all three days, the lone Siskin was still around the traps on the 26th and 2 Swift were over the obs on the 27th.
Finally 2 Hummingbird Hawkmoths on the 26th were seen flying around the dykes near Torness. 

American Golden Plover                                            GG

Hummingbird Hawkmoth                                        GG

Friday, 26 June 2020

25th June

With the wind abating the previous evening we thought it might be good to try and get our first Storm Petrel ringing session of the year going. 
The calm weather proved effective for an early session, meaning we caught 2 European Storm Petrels, one new and one re-trap and while doing the session we also heard and saw a Leach's Storm Petrel flying around the nets and singing occasionally, possibly mocking us slightly.  
The first Ghost Moths of the year were out lekking, with 41 around the obs croft just before we headed off to do Petrels. 
A Common Whitethroat sub-singing around the obs was an early highlight on a day that seemed intent on giving us something. The Corncrake was singing in its usual spot near Peckhole, another group of 4 Crossbill went South over the school and the drake Common Scoter was still in Linklet Bay.
The evening session at Holland wasn't really productive apart from a Song Thrush trapped on the last round and an evening wander around the traps produced a Siskin and a Stonechat but the day wasn't over there.
The final act of the day was a quick scoot about to look at Terns, it didn't produce any rare Terns but did produce a stonkingly smart adult summer American Golden Plover between Sjaver and the lighthouse, the 14th record for the island. Not what we'd expected but certainly something we were happy to accept. 

American Golden Plover (top RJB. Bottom GG)

Common Scoter hiding between the swell                         GG

23rd-24th June

The weather continued in the same Easterly fashion, migrant wise things slowly began to pick up as we entered the final week of June.
A drake Common Scoter off the Links was our third record of the species this year and the Little Terns on the links have also began to exhibit some interesting behaviour so we'll keep an eye on that. 
Elsewhere a Crossbill made its way into Holland from the Kirkyard and two more were feeding on Rosa-rugosa around the obs trapping area. A Chiffchaff was also in Holland as was the Whitethroat from previous days. 
The next day was much the same as the previous. Another unseasonal Redstart, this time a male was trapped at Holland in the morning, a Crossbill went out South over the Lurn and a Quail was singing around Brides. 

Crossbills                                                                              GG

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

20th-22nd June

Things have gone rather quiet over here. The winds are still easterly, we've had a bit of rain but its not really done much for our total of migrant birds. 
The 20th produced a couple of new birds despite what I've said above, a female Black Redstart spent the day feeding around the Mill and on nearby fences, not quite the late June rare we were after but a nice bird all the same. The Quail or a new Quail was heard singing on and off at Brides for the best part of the afternoon, we're hoping for a repeat of last years breeding but we won't be saying much more than that for now!
The 21st was wet and fairly bird-free.
The 22nd was an improvement in both the weather and the birding. We saw our highest count of Arctic Terns for the year with 959 birds counted, an encouraging sign to say the least. Another two species of Tern were also seen during the day, a pair of Little Terns were displaying at the North end of the Links and a pair of Sandwich Terns were seen flying over Garso. 
Lastly the ever fattening Common Whitethroat is still in Holland. 

Black Redstart                                                                GG
Fledgie Black-headed Gull                                              GG


Saturday, 20 June 2020

17th-19th June

It's safe to say the few days have been a bit frustrating, but theres little you can do but keep birding. The 17th was by far the pick of the days, the following two saw the island shrouded in thick prehistoric looking fog that hasn't really threatened lift meaning visibility has been under 30m, which isn't helpful really.
A Black-throated Diver in Nouster was probably highlight of the 17th but it had a fairly good supporting cast for the day. Up to 6 Black-tailed Godwits were on various island lochs, the bulk of them being on Ancum with an oddly plumaged Dunlin that set pulses racing briefly. With still visible skies a couple of Swifts and a couple of House Martins were around the Holland as were 2 Garden Warblers, 2 Siskin, a Willow Warbler, a Spotted Flycatcher and the Marsh Warbler was hiding out in Rare Bird Corner. 
The next couple of days have very little in the way good birds. The previous days Willow Warbler was trapped at nets in the morning as was a Blackcap and the Corncrake was again singing intermittently at Peckhole, as would do the next day too. Finally a Little Tern was flying along the Links in thick fog on the 19th. 
A rather fog bound Little Tern                                           GG