Thursday, 20 July 2017

18th and 19th July

The wind had dropped right off by early morning on the 18th leaving a lovely, sunny, warm day allowing us to get out and about trying various ringing projects; we targeted some Sand Martins at our newly started colony which proved to be very successful as we caught 15 birds, including a good number of fledglings (it is especially good considering that before this year only a single Sand Martin had ever been ringed on the island!).   The rest of the morning was dominated by Black Guillemots, both mist-netting some adults and searching for the chicks – its proving to be another good breeding year for this species.

Many of the Black Guillemot chicks are near fledging

                We did get out and do some birding as well with the White-winged Black Tern being seen briefly again at Bewan with 5,000+ Arctic Terns while a Spotted Redshank at Brides was new for the year and the highlight of today’s wader counts which included 51 Knot, a Purple Sandpiper, 140 Dunlin, 2 Black-tailed Godwits and a Whimbrel.   Other birds of note consisted of a Manx Shearwater off The Lurn, 2 Herons, 4 Collared Doves and 60+ Pied Wagtails again in the roost at Ancum.

                The calm 18th proved to be just a brief respite from the wind as by the morning of the 19th a very strong and increasing easterly wind was blasting across the island making time in the field very hard work; as is the theme for most of the blog posts, waders formed most of the interesting sightings with single Greenshank (the first of the autumn) and Grey Plover new in, along with counts of 754 Golden Plover, 238 Oystercatchers (reduced numbers than of late), 56 Knot, 55 Sanderling (slight increase than of late), 251 Dunlin, 10 Bar-tailed Godwit, 5 Whimbrel and 81 Redshank while just 2 Red-necked Phalaropes were still on Gretchen.

                The limited other sightings through the day included a single Common Tern with a reduced 2,650 Arctic Terns (although numbers do fluctuate at the top end depending on how many are feeding offshore), a Heron, 8 Teal and 7 Shoveler.

Golden Plover numbers are building up slowly

Three broods of Great Black-backed Gulls are now flying around,   photos Simon Davies

Monday, 17 July 2017

16th and 17th July

A windy morning gradually increased to become a very windy afternoon on the 16th with some very nasty, heavy squalls whipping across the island; the White-winged Black Tern was quickly re-found on the rocks at Bewan again in the morning allowing more folks to connect with this stunning Tern, it soon disappeared though and only made a couple of other brief appearances but with a conservative count of 5,290 Arctic Terns made today there were plenty of flocks for it to hide in!   The 5 Red-necked Phalaropes were still on Gretchen along with the two juvenile Garganey from Hooking.

White-winged Black Tern at Bewan and Gretchen

                The open cut fields were again full of birds as totals included 484 Oystercatchers, 732 Golden Plover, 19 Bar-tailed Godwits and 67 Curlew with 113 Dunlin, 51 Redshank and a Whimbrel around the coast.   A short seawatch in the morning was also productive with single Sooty Shearwater and Manx Shearwater, 395 Fulmars, 158 Puffins and 1,700 large Auk sp. heading past the hide while 8 Black-tailed Godwits came in off the sea from the north.

                More Déjà vu on the 17th with another trip up to Bewan in windy and wet conditions early morning to get more folks onto the White-winged Black Tern which lingered for longer on the rocks with the large Arctic Tern flocks.   The last people caught up with the Tern in the afternoon when it popped up on Gretchen, rested for twenty minutes before floating around Loch Park for a while and disappearing once again towards Nouster – so far it hasn’t stopped in one place for more than half an hour!

                Gretchen also provided most of the day’s other interest with the 5 Red-necked Phalaropes, 2 Garganey and a Swift hawking with 12 Sand Martins; elsewhere, birds included the Black-throated Diver in the bay, 3 Black-tailed Godwits, 190+ Dunlin and 45 Knot.

Redshank,   photos Simon Davies

Sunday, 16 July 2017

14th and 15th July

Another nice day on the 14th apart from the freshening westerly breeze but due to late night Storm Petrel ringing and mist-netting adult Black Guillemots during the day coverage was slightly reduced; the nets at Holland first thing produced a surprise juvenile Robin (there hasn’t been a Robin seen on the island for over a month and I’m not even going to speculate where it’s come from!).  

                Other birds of note included the Black-throated Diver still in the bay, at least 2 Red-necked Phalaropes still on Gretchen and one of the over-summering Chiffchaffs still.

The surprise Robin!

                Heavy, persistent rain that arrived in the morning of the 15th and lasted for most of the day formed another excuse for reduced coverage of the island but we were glad for a little break from the fine weather giving us a rest from the breeding bird work and letting us undertake some indoor work for a change!  

                The first Green Sandpiper of the autumn (and only the second of the year) was flying round Ancum Loch where there were also 2 Red-necked Phalaropes – the first time this year that they have been seen away from Gretchen (where there were still three present) and given the turnover of birds its anyone’s guess whether they represent new passage individuals or are part of the recent flock of five.   There were large numbers of birds roosting and feeding in the cut grass fields around the centre of the island which included 235 Oystercatchers, 600 Golden Plover, 120 Lapwings, 16 Bar-tailed Godwits and 65 Curlew.

                A bit of a surprise late in the evening was the reappearance of the adult summer White-winged Black Tern in amongst 3,000+ Arctic Terns on the rocks near the dwindling colony at Iris Taing – it was a real sense of Déjà vu, with the bird just showing briefly to one (the same!) observer who was out late at night before disappearing before anyone else could catch up with it!   Also seen as we were out chasing Terns was a decent roost of 60+ Pied Wagtails at Ancum.
Storm Petrel

Tysties getting excited!

and a hatching Fulmar,   photos Simon Davies

Friday, 14 July 2017

12th and 13th July

Gorgeous, warm, calm and sunny again on the 12th with a light westerly breeze and most of our focus went on to the breeding Black Guillemots and Arctic Terns, both of which have some large chicks now (although the Tern chicks are few and far between) so there was little time to look around through the day.   The main event was the now 5 Red-necked Phalaropes bobbing around on Gretchen (one shy of the island record count!) while other waders comprised 3 Knot, 16 Sanderling, the Black-tailed Godwit again, 15 Bar-tailed Godwits, 2 Whimbrel and 110 Turnstone.  

                Overnight ringing then produced 20 Storm Petrels caught on the coast near the Obs along with a new Leach’s Petrel also trapped.

Another Red-necked Phalarope picture

                The fine weather continued on the 13th although the light breeze had swung round into the east; an unseasonal Grey Wagtail in Nouster continued on from the excellent spring we had for this, not quite annual migrant while a single Swift, 13 Sand Martins and 3 Collared Doves were also on the land.   The 5 Red-necked Phalaropes lingered on Gretchen, as did the Black-throated Diver in Nouster with other counts in the cut fields and on the beaches comprising 2 Herons, 197 Oystercatchers, 508 Golden Plovers, 45 Sanderling, 76 Dunlin, 81 Redshank and 250+ Common Gulls while at least 650 Puffins rafting offshore was also noteworthy.

                There was some interesting breeding news as two fresh juvenile Garganey appeared, flying round Hooking – the female has been seen sporadically through the summer and her sneaky ways have obviously paid off!   Five juvenile Shoveler on Gretchen probably came from the island with younger broods of 5 and 2 seen on Brides also encouraging and the first Arctic Tern chick was now flying round The Links – unfortunately, it looks it will be one of the few this year.

                More overnight ringing then produced another 25 Storm Petrels and more interestingly another 3 Leach’s Petrels – already a fantastic year for these hefty, cackling Petrels and we’re hardly into the season yet!
Juvenile Garganey

Fledgling Arctic Tern

Some big Black Guillemot chicks are in the rocks now,  photos Simon Davies

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

10th and 11th July

A cracking couple of days weather wise – calm, sunny and warm allowed us to put some good time in with ringing and birding; waders again dominated the log on the 10th as counts included 354 Golden Plover, 98 Knot, 36 Sanderling (a marked increase), a single Purple Sandpiper, 140 Dunlin, 32 Bar-tailed Godwits, 3 Whimbrel, 48 Curlew, 80 Turnstone and the 2 Red-necked Phalaropes still while 170 Common Gulls in the recently cut silage fields was also a slight increase.             
Despite the big numbers of Arctic Terns on the 9th seemingly moving off south in the evening (unfortunately taking the White-winged Black Tern with them!) there were still huge numbers lingering on the rocks off Bewan with 3,950 birds counted but nothing different could be found lurking in the flocks.   Landbirds were represented by 2 Chiffchaffs caught in Holland (an elusive over-summering bird and a new arrival), 3 Collared Doves and 23 Sand Martins.

Arctic Terns

                The cut silage fields were again the place to be in the fine weather on the 11th with a Black-tailed Godwit in amongst increased counts of 360 Oystercatchers, 72 Curlew and 400 Golden Plover; other birds of note included a Common Tern in amongst a reduced (but still impressive) 2550 Arctic Terns, the lingering Black-throated Diver and 2 Red-necked Phalaropes and a new adult Mute Swan turned up to annoy the pair on Ancum which have now got three small cygnets.

We're busy ringing Black Guillemots at the moment, they are at a wide range of breeding stages with pairs still on eggs and chicks about to fledge.   The mist-netting of adults have produced some interesting results including a couple of birds have were ringed as chicks in 1995 and 1996.

Black-tailed Godwit,   photos Simon Davies

Monday, 10 July 2017

8th and 9th July

A few showers in the morning of the 8th gave way to a pretty nice day until persistent rain arrived mid-afternoon; there were again 3 Red-necked Phalaropes on Gretchen which, based on plumages were all different to the birds that have been present this last week showing an amazing turnover of birds in this fantastic Phalarope year.   The first 2 returning Purple Sandpipers of the ‘autumn’ were along the west coast along with 38 Knot, 71 Dunlin, 37 Redshank and a further increase to 525 Golden Plover.

                The Black-throated Diver was once again in the bay and a single Storm Petrel was offshore while on the land a new migrant Sedge Warbler was caught at Holland where there were also 6 Collared Doves and 12 Sand Martins whizzing around.

Sedge Warbler

                Overcast and breezy in the morning of the 9th gave way to a breezy and sunny afternoon and there were notable influxes of a range of species; as mentioned in the last post there was another huge arrival of 4,340+ Arctic Terns (including 3,000 at Bewan and 900 at Trinley) – an early date for such high numbers, perhaps indicating a poor breeding season elsewhere.   This big influx of Arctic Terns produced the day’s undoubted highlight with a stunning adult summer WHITE-WINGED BLACK TERN found late in the evening at Ancum with a big flock of Arctics – unfortunately it only hung around for a few minutes and therefore only showed to one fortunate observer (a well earnt reward for still being out in the field at 10pm!).   A count of 267 Dunlin (204 on the beach at Westness) also represented a big arrival as did 701 Golden Plover (with 478 near Holland).

                Some more quality was added with a Quail flushed from Trebb, a female Garganey on Ancum (an over-summering bird but there has been no evidence of any successful breeding), still 3 Red-necked Phalaropes on Gretchen and the Black-throated Diver remained.   Waders continued to show a good turnover of birds as counts comprised 83 Knot, 4 Purple Sandpipers, single Black-tailed Godwit and Whimbrel and 74 Turnstone.

                Other little bits included single Red-throated and Great-northern Divers, a Heron which came in from the north, 3 Red-breasted Mergansers, 4 Sandwich Terns and 39 Sand Martins including a fledged juvenile.

Two of the new Red-necked Phalaropes, both distinctive birds
Many Wheatear fledglings are out and about,   photos Simon Davies

Saturday, 8 July 2017

6th and 7th July

A pleasant couple of days, largely warm with the wind switching from the SE to the W; the biggest surprise on the 6th was the appearance of 2 fresh juvenile Stonechats at Holland, we’re as sure as you possibly can be that they were not from here and with the nearest breeding birds on Eday, it seems that that is the most likely source.   Another slightly unseasonal mid-summer Sparrowhawk was also seen at Holland along with 5 Collared Doves completed the other landbird highlights.

                Two Red-necked Phalaropes remained on Gretchen with the Black-throated Diver still in Nouster with a Great-northern Diver while other wader counts included 278 Golden Plover, 17 Sanderling, 3 Bar-tailed Godwits and 45 Curlew with a few small flocks seen heading south.


                Slightly wider coverage across the island on the 7th coupled with some obvious influxes produced some much-improved wader counts including 588 Golden Plover, 217 Oystercatchers, 59 Ringed Plover, 154 Lapwing, 6 Knot, 19 Sanderling, 47 Dunlin, 143 Redshank (including a big flock of 95 at Hooking and some obvious flocks heading south) and 51 Turnstone while a single male Red-necked Phalarope lingered on Gretchen.

                Other highlights through the day included a Quail flushed from Sandar and the Black-throated Diver still while other little bits comprised a Heron, 15 Teal, a Pintail, 2 Wigeon, 7 Gadwall and 38 Sand Martins.   With many of the Arctic Tern colonies struggling on the island, birds are starting to gather on their traditional rocks near Bewan and with an island count of 1,216 today (including hundreds of 1st summer birds) it’s definitely a place to check daily through July and August for that rare one…
Red-necked Phalarope

Swallow fledgling

Many of the Ringed Plovers have nested in the Arctic Tern colonies; this tiny chick was at Trinley

Thursday, 6 July 2017

4th and 5th July

A stunning day on the 4th, flat calm, warm and sunny, perhaps summer is finally here; 2 Red-necked Phalaropes remained on Gretchen while other wader counts included 368 Golden Plover and 38 Bar-tailed Godwits.   Offshore, the Black-throated Diver was again in Nouster along with 3 Red-throated and a Great-northern Diver, a single Red-breasted Merganser, 2 Manx Shearwaters, a Storm Petrel and a Sandwich Tern were seen.   5 Risso's Dolphins were also seen heading south off Torness which including a distinctive, almost white individual.

                On the land an excellent count of 46 Sand Martins were swooping around Ancum and was more than double the previous high count for the island (returning migrants plus the little breeding population), a Chiffchaff was in Holland and a Heron was stalking the lochs.

                With a glorious, flat calm morning we concentrated on mist-netting some Black Guillemots and monitoring the Arctic Tern colonies on the 5th so coverage was slightly reduced but there were now 4 Red-necked Phalaropes on Gretchen including two which were seen to come in off the sea along with 190 Golden Plover, 22 Knot, 37 Dunlin, 17 Bar-tailed Godwits, a Whimbrel and 32 Redshank while a Sandwich Tern was still in Nouster and a Manx Shearwater and 3 Red-throated Divers were offshore.

                The Arctic Terns around the island are having a poor year as visits to all the colonies, which should be at early / mid chick stage have revealed that there are only three sites where birds are still going (Gretchen, Trinley and North Links) although previously failed individuals are swelling numbers with second attempts at these sites and there were some decent sized chicks running around, especially at North Links.
Tysties are doing well

But have to deal with constant Arctic Skua attacks

who have their own chicks to feed!   photos Simon Davies

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

2nd and 3rd July

Still breezy on the 2nd but this gradually eased down throughout the day leaving a lovely afternoon and evening but it was a very quiet day (coverage was also a tad limited!) with the 3 Red-necked Phalaropes still on Gretchen with a few Dunlin and Knot coming and going through the day.

Another blog post, another Red-necked Phalarope picture!

                It was sunny throughout the 3rd but the little breeze kept the temperature down; a pod of 4 ORCAS were seen off the north end of the island in the afternoon and included a big bull with probably the same group later seen moving through the firth between us and Sanday just as we were finishing dinner – luckily, due to the fine weather we had been tempted to eat outside!

                The 3 Red-necked Phalaropes were still faithful to Gretchen with the gradual build-up of post-breeding waders the main feature of the day including 275 Golden Plover, 19 Sanderling, 120 Oystercatchers, 62 Curlew and 70 Redshank while 3 Herons were on Ancum.   Breeding news was a bit of a mixed bag with new broods of Teal and Gadwall seen on Ancum and some Sand Martin fledglings out and about but unfortunately a couple of the Arctic Tern colonies visited today had low numbers of chicks compared to previous visits or had actually failed completely and several dead Common Gull chicks were found, seemingly dying of starvation.
Orca heading towards Start Point, Sanday


Snipe,   photos Simon Davies

Sunday, 2 July 2017

30th June and 1st July

Overcast with light, spitting rain throughout most of the 30th with a seawatch first thing fairly quiet just producing 4 Manx Shearwaters, a Storm Petrel and a steady stream of Guillemots carrying fish towards Westray and Papa Westray.   The 2 Red-necked Phalaropes were still spinning around on Gretchen while a Ruff was new in with 112 Golden Plover and a big flock of 83 Lapwing at Brides.

                The Black-throated Diver was again in Nouster Bay with a Red-throated Diver, 3 Red-breasted Mergansers and a Heron while a new brood of fledgling Twite appeared out of nowhere at Rue – two pairs have bred on the island this year.

Arctic Skua chick

                It was a glorious, sunny, calm morning on the 1st but this soon gave way to thick cloud, spots of rain and a blazing force 7 wind by the afternoon; the 2 Red-necked Phalaropes were still on Gretchen but did spend long periods elsewhere and there was another influx of 262 Golden Plover with flocks spread around the island with 25 Bar-tailed Godwits on The Links.   Two Common Redpolls were the only new passerine migrants and a Heron flew in from the south attacked by every Arctic Tern in the south of the island.

                Breeding wise, at least 15 Sand Martin burrows were counted along The Links with at least 3-4 seemingly active and 24 birds seen, there were still 110+ Black-headed Gull fledglings lingering around Hooking but a large proportion of the adults have already dispersed off island and there were 3 Dunlin fledglings in Loch Park.   Ringing wise the most interesting event was a control Rock Dove which we caught at Holland and was subsequently found to have been ringed as a chick on Fair Isle in 2015 – our first off island recovery as they are not really your typical migrant although we often see birds coming in off the sea and there is an obvious influx in the autumn.
Red-necked Phalarope

Snipe chicks are awesome!

This big, ominous Submarine was actually the highlight of the 1st!   photos Simon Davies

Thursday, 29 June 2017

28th and 29th June

Nice and sunny again through the 28th but with a brisk, chilly NE breeze to take the edge off but there was plenty of interest spread through the day with the undoubted highlight a cracking adult PACIFIC GOLDEN PLOVER found mid-afternoon in the standing stone field with the first decent arrival of 97+ Golden Plovers of the autumn – they are becoming a bit of speciality here, as its the 11th North Ronaldsay record!

Pacific Golden Plover

                There were now 3 Red-necked Phalaropes busily feeding away on Gretchen while other wader counts included 102 Knot, 23 Dunlin, 33 Bar-tailed Godwit and 151 Turnstone but other birds of note were thin on the ground with just the Black-throated Diver again in Nouster, a Heron and 4 Collared Doves of note.   A recently fledged juvenile Dunlin in Loch Park became only the second confirmed breeding for the island (after the first in 2015) – although it was a bit galling that we failed to find the nest or the chicks when they were younger!

                Still sunny in the morning of the 29th but the wind was even more brisk and even more chilly and brought persistent rain by mid-afternoon; the 3 Red-necked Phalaropes were still showing very well on Gretchen, Golden Plover showed a slight increase up to 115 and the distinctive dark phase Arctic Skua with the notch in her wing hatched two tiny, fluffy chicks – hopefully they can avoid all the marauding Bonxies.
Red-necked Phalaropes

Little fledged Dunlin

We managed to round up the Shelduck brood on Gretchen!   photos Simon Davies

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

26th and 27th June

A glorious day on the 26th with light westerly winds and plenty of warm sunshine; the day’s highlight was a marvellously confiding female Red-necked Phalarope on Gretchen – our ninth of the year so far (assuming, of course that they are different birds but with none of them showing any signs of displaying or breeding and most staying less than a day we can fairly safely say that they were all just passage birds).   Other birds of note were few and far between with 72 Turnstone counted, a flyover Redpoll sp. and Lapwings starting to form larger post-breeding flocks including 40 just behind Cott the best we could dredge up!

Despite being super aggressive, its unclear whether our two pairs of Bonxies have actually made a nest or not!

                Another beautiful day with plenty of sunshine on the 27th but the wind had switched round to the east adding a bit of a chilly feel to proceedings; there were now 2 Red-necked Phalaropes feeding frantically on Gretchen while other wader counts included 75 Knot, 24 Sanderling, 25 Dunlin, 66 Turnstone and a notable increase to 43 Golden Plover with a Red-breasted Merganser at Bewan the only other new bird of note.

Gorgeous Red-necked Phalarope on Gretchen

Many of the Wheatear pairs have nearly fledged chicks now, productivity seems to have been pretty good.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

24th and 25th June

The 24th was a really difficult day to be out in the field with a blazing westerly wind sweeping across the island slowly increasing up to a gale force 8 by the afternoon bringing with it some vicious showers; a Great-northern Diver in Nouster and a handful of Manx Shearwaters and Storm Petrels offshore in the morning were the only birds of note through the day.

                The wind was still brisk through the morning of the 25th but it gradually eased down through the day and there was slightly more to look at, especially in the afternoon; 2 Quail flushed together from the side of the road near Rue were the highlight while returning birds were more in evidence with 3 beautiful summer plumaged Black-tailed Godwits, 10 Golden Plover and 96 Turnstone on The Links and 14 Wigeon and 10 Gadwall on Hooking.

                Other birds of note included a Woodpigeon and 14 Sand Martins still (lingering around the sandbanks along The Links looking a bit suspicious!) while there were at least 157 Black-headed Gull fledglings around Hooking Loch – the best total of fledged birds for many years!

The Oystercatchers were given a hard time by everything as they were trying to collect food!