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)

Saturday, 11 September 2021

9th-11th September

 A very mixed bag of weather over the past few days has resulted in some superb birds, the 9th was the last of the more settled weather being replaced by a fairly thick fog and light NE breeze on the 10th the 11th would be best described as a washout, but produced birds nontheless. 

The 9th saw the return of the 27's Pod of Orca around the island, unfortunately one less in their number than they should have had with the unfortunate demise of #151. On the avian front the still very obliuging Lesser Yellowlegs was still showing at Brides while the 2 Rosefinches remained in Holland and another 2 birds were at North Gravity and Nether Linnay respectively in the afternoon. Wood Warblers were present at the observatory and Ancum Willows. The bird of the day however wouldn't rear its head until the 10th, a Dove photographed near Greenwall in the early afternoon turned out to be the islands first Rufous Turtle Dove (ssp. Meena). The initial scramble to try and re-find the bird ended after a near three hour search with the bird being re-found between Howar and Greenwall where it spent the rest of the afternoon. It's taken and is taking a lot of work for us to be 100% certain of the birds identity, it's new ground for us here and for birding in the UK with it being the first early Autumn record for Britain, so while we remain confident we're still ploughing the books and online papers in the background. The 10th wasn't without other highlights, Barred Warblers were at the obs and Ancum Willow, while plenty of commoner migrants were around too, but understandably most of the afternoon was taken up by the Dove! 

The 11th was sodden and practically unbirdable at times! Again it seemed the birds weren't all that bothered, a smart Pectoral Sandpiper was at Brides in the afternoon. No fewer than 8 Rosefinches were present, a flock of at least 6 birds in Holland and two at Westness including a very smart male. There were plenty of common migrants again but again the potential bird of day remains a bit of conundrum, a Flycatcher seen at Westness in the morning displaying features of Collared, but with poor photos and appalling weather it couldn't be quite be nailed down, hopefully it's one for tomorrow! 

                                   Rufous Turtle Dove?
               Flycatcher sp.

Thursday, 9 September 2021

7th - 8th September

Highlights from the 7th to the 8th of September include 45 Sooty Shearwater, a Fea’s-type Petrel (we are starting to wonder if all of our recent sightings could infact relate to the same bird doing large feeding loops in the area), a Little Stint, 2 juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper (commuting between Brides and Hooking), a juvenile Lesser Yellowlegs (initially found coming in off the sea at Dennishead on the 7th the bird briefly landed on Bewan before disappearing within 30 seconds. Thankfully the bird was relocated at Brides an hour or two later and has been showing exceptionally well since. It represents just the 2nd record for the island since the observatory was opened), a probable Wilson’s Snipe (briefly on Hooking on the 8th - more about the ID features below), a Fieldfare, 2 Lesser Whitethroat, 2 Garden Warbler and 3+ Rosefinch still.

juvenile Pectoral Sandpipers

juvenile Lesser Yellowlegs

probable Wilson's Snipe
The bird shows three key features - extensively barred auxiliaries (overall more dark than light), extensively dark underwing coverts (again overall more dark than light) and a thin trailing edge to the secondaries. Other supportive features include the small size, cold tones and cold flanks (white between the flank barring). 

Tuesday, 7 September 2021

5th - 6th September

 The settled weather finally broke up on the 5th giving way to overnight rain and slightly windier conditions on the 6th. Both days had plenty of highlights although not all of them avian!

The 5th was dominated by a pod of a Orcas that spent the day touring the coast of the island, the pod consisted of some 10-15 animals from the 27's and the 64's both known locally in Orkney and Shetland. They provided much entertainment throughout the afternoon as they did close passes of the coastline and the pier just South of the obs, even making kills as Lenswick and Nouster as they went. On the birding front things were again a bit quieter on the land than we'd hoped for but a Wood Sandpiper flushed towards Hooking the morning did inspire hope, the bird of the day however came from a sea-watch again and in the shape of a 2cy Mediterranean Gull as it passed close to the Beacon in poor weather.

The 6th was a bit of a sea-watching bonanza coupled with what we thought had to be new arrivals on the land. A total of 520 Sooty Shearwaters, 2 Balearic Shearwaters, 20+ Manx Shearwater, a Fea's-type Petrel, a Leach's Petrel, 7 Storm Petrel plus good numbers of all the commoner sea-birds made for a great day of sea-watching and took the total of Fea's-type Petrels to 4 for the year! On the land Holland held most of the migrants with at least 3 Rosefinches present and a Barred Warbler that was later trapped in Holland and was also found to be very fat, with a fat score of 6 and an overall weight of 32.4g! Other land migrants included a Tree Pipit, a Short-eared Owl and 5 Willow Warblers.

                                   Orca #34 from the 27's Pod
                                   The 27's in Nouster

Sunday, 5 September 2021

3rd - 4th September

Highlights from the 3rd to the 4th of September have included a Black-throated Diver, 12 Common Scoter, 2 Fea’s-type Petrel (one seen on the morning of the 3rd and another seen on the evening of the 4th - potentially making up to 3 different birds since the 2nd), a Cory’s Shearwater, 150+ Sooty Shearwater, 3 Pomarine Skua, a Greenshank, a Willow Warbler, a Robin, a Minke Whale, a Basking Shark and 30+ Risso’s Dolphin.

Sooty Shearwater

Thursday, 2 September 2021

29th August - 2nd September

 A very settled few days of weather has meant the birding on the island has been nothing short of frustrating. A general lack of land migrants has meant a lot of attention has been turned towards the sea and it has been the saving grace in what has been a poor week.

A Barred Warbler on the 29th in the ditch near the school has been the passerine highlight, although it was challenged to its crown by a Woodpigeon that was seen heading South over the obs, other highlights on the land were limited to a Pale-bellied Brent seen touring the island on the 2nd and a Tree Pipit near the Post Office on the same date. A small scattering of Willow Warblers around the island has kept things going while the odd Lesser Whitethroat has had the same effect.  

The sea has been a much different story, the big highlight was a Fea's type Petrel that passed the Beacon on the 2nd, a bird that continues the islands recent good form over the years. Two Leach's Petrels on the 2nd, a Pomarine Skua on the 29th was followed by 3 on the 2nd while another superb record of Balearic Shearwater was seen passing on the 30th. Long-tailed Skuas were also seen on the 1st and 2nd. A drake Scaup in off on the 1st was a new bird for the year and 7 Common Scoter passed on the 2nd. 

Away from avian highlights a Tuna was seen breaching on the 30th while plenty of Risso's Dolphin were around the island on the 2nd. 

                                   Willow Warbler
                                  ......and an awful picture of the Pale-bellied Brent Goose

Sunday, 29 August 2021

27th - 28th August

Highlights from the 27th - 29th of August included a Black-throated Diver, 49 Sooty Shearwater, 16 Manx Shearwater, 104 Black-tailed Godwit, 8 Ruff, the American Golden Plover still, a Black Redstart, a Chiffchaff, 8 Willow Warbler, 2 Lesser Whitethroat, 2 Pied Flycatcher, a Common Rosefinch and a Basking Shark.

juvenile Ruff

Thursday, 26 August 2021

23rd-26th August

 A fog filled few days left us a little frustrated at the start of the week but eventually the weather cleared itself up and the early signs were somewhat promising that we might get a few migrants, however this quickly faded and it seems the fog has scuppered our chances of late August rares for the time being.

With the 23rd mostly fog bound birding was difficult to say the least, the American Golden Plover was and still is present in the fields around Holland, a short absence was only due to us not being able to see the Golden Plover flocks! Things seemed like they were picking up though as the late afternoon produced the first Pied Flycatcher of the Autumn at the back of the Shooting Gallery and a Kestrel over Brigg. An arrival of Ruff peaked on the 25th with 25 birds scattered across the island, the first juvenile Grey Plover was on the beach at Howar and a Little Stint was on Gretchen. 

Sea-watching totals have been fairly steady but with Tuesday and Wednesday mostly foggy the sea wasn't really an option but the 26th produced good numbers of Sooty Shearwater and Kittiwake to feed the appetite of the visiting sea-watchers! The first Tree Pipit of the Autumn was at Ancum also on the 26th and a small smattering of Willow Warblers gives an indication that birds might be arriving in dribs and drabs.

With the weather looking largely settled for the next few days it doesn't feel like anything is going to pop out anytime soon, but with September looming on the horizon the rarities can't be that far away....right?

                                   Pied Flycatcher

Monday, 23 August 2021

18th - 22nd August

After a prolonged spell of of settled weather it was time for something a little bit different and in turn a little bit more disruptive. A cracking day of warm weather and sunshine on the 20th and the wind swinging into the east was always going to be a recipe for fog! Once the thick haar had descended over the island it left birding as a near impossible task with visibility down to less than 40ft at times so the 21st and 22nd were fairly devoid of migrants and anything else for that matter.

A successful couple of days sea-watching saw a dark phase Pomarine Skua and an adult Sabine’s Gull added to the year list, accompanied by 48 Manx Shearwater, 53 Sooty Shearwater, 15 Storm Petrels, 6 Great Skua, 3 Arctic Skua, 65 Puffins, 1 Red-throated Diver, 1655 Kittiwakes and a probable Long-tailed Skua, but distance and heat haze made for a difficult ID.

The long staying Snow Geese from Germany finally departed on the 20th. Another long stayer that hasn’t departed yet is the American Golden Plover, and after a few days of skulking about in Holland gardens, the now ringed Wood Warbler reappeared. 

The only thing other than fog that the easterlies brought was a single Willow Warbler on the west side on the 21st. 

American Golden Plover

Wednesday, 18 August 2021

15th-18th August

 A much quieter few days have followed what seemed like a manic three days from the last post, but I guess things haven't really got started yet! The weather has had a much wetter look to it over the past four days and as such we've slowly began to see Gretchen and Ancum make a start on re-filling, although its very slow progress! The wind has also been a prevalent factor with Westerlies being the main order of the day.

The American Golden Plover has been the stand-out bird on all four days and seems to have now settled into a routine of plodding around with the Common Gulls at the front of the Old Kirk. It's even been heard a few times when it's been flushed. Other birdy highlights have been a little hard to come by although not all-together absent. A total of 9 Ruff were seen on the 17th along with a Greenshank at Howar. The summer plumaged Grey Plover has also been holding the fort on Tor Ness. 

A big female Peregrine was in East Loch Park on the 17th eating what we feared to be the AGP but thankfully it wasn't and it still very alive! The Hen Harrier is still hanging around favouring the obs croft and Hooking.

The weekend is looking promising with Easterlies on the way but with the winds going slack tomorrow its time for a sea-watch! 

Year List: 184

                                   Grey Plover

Sunday, 15 August 2021

12th-14th August

 A bumper few days of birds including a couple of head-scratchers! The weather has also been a bit of a mixed bag with some more of that much needed rain thrown into the mix. 

The 12th appeared as though it was going to be a fairly quiet day on the birding front, although that said the earlier parts of the morning had produced the first Wood Warbler of the Autumn in Holland and a Kestrel also over Holland. The bird of the day however turned into a bit of an identification saga. An Acro found feeding on the edge of the sand-bank on the Links quickly raised eyebrows, it was apparent pretty quickly it wasn't a Reed Warbler, a lack of warm tones to the rump and tail and an overall con-colourous appearance ruled it out. Splitting Marsh and Blyth's Reed however was a more difficult problem. The immediate gut reaction was the bird looked like a Blyth's Reed but a slightly longer primary projection would be expected cast doubt into the minds of the obs staff. A bit of asking around, an obliging bird and good photos allowed us to come to the conclusion of it being a very early Blyth's Reed Warbler, maybe not such a surprise as they seem to be slowly spreading West with birds breeding in the Netherlands this year. Otherwise the day was fairly quiet with other birds of note being the Barred Warbler now straying towards Milldam, a Hen Harrier and a Peregrine.

The 13th was another a day and another head-scratcher a quiet day on the birding front was interrupted by the discovery of a moribund Swift on the grass near the lighthouse. For the most part this wouldn't be enough to interrupt census but when the bird arrived back to the obs and was measured the biometrics suited the identification of a Pallid Swift. The two measurements that pointed towards this where the distance between the eyes taken across the crown and the gap between the outermost tail feather (T5) and the second outermost tail feather (T4). The crown measurement came in at 20.5mm and the tail at 4mm which would both sit the bird firmly inside the range for Pallid, however the bird itself didn't represent a Pallid Swift in plumage characteristics. Without DNA analysis available for the species as they're genetically identical the bird has to go down as a Common Swift, but nonetheless an interesting bird. Sadly the bird was in very poor condition, some 9g's lighter than it should have been, when it was picked up and passed away despite our best efforts to feed the bird up.

Finally the 14th presented a more straightforward bird, after a successful net session in which the Wood Warbler was trapped and ringed the trip back to the obs produced a surprise American Golden Plover feeding in East Loch Park with European Golden Plovers. The bird spent the day with Golden Plover flock eventually showing quite well in the Standing Stone field. 

For some unknown reason the blog won't let me update the year list! For now I'll put the total at the bottom of each post.

Year List Total: 184

                                   Blyth's Reed Warbler 
                                   American Golden Plover
                                   Wood Warbler 


Wednesday, 11 August 2021

8th-11th August

 The first spells of rain for what seems like months have been a more than welcome change to the dry weather that we've been experiencing this summer. A short spell of Easterly based winds has also provided the first signs Autumn is well and truly just around the corner! 

The main highlight from the last few days have been a trio of Barred Warblers, the first arriving on the 8th near Scottigar before a second bird on the 10th at Phisligar and a third at Kirbist the following day, with the Phisligar bird still present on the 11th. A number of Wood Sandpipers have also been hanging around with two birds together at Brides on the 11th and a slightly more site faithful bird at Bewan on all four dates. A lone Green Sandpiper has been patrolling up and down the West coast while Garden Warblers at Senness, Lenswick and the obs have kept things feeling Autumnal. It also appears that dispersing raptors are finding the island as they leave breeding grounds with both Peregrine and Merlin being seen in various locations over the past four days. The long staying Rosy Starling at Lenswick made a brief re-appearance on the 8th despite us thinking it may have left.  A Short-eared Owl has also been hanging around and was last seen on the 8th around Kirbist.

Away from avian highlights the moth trap produced the best numbers of the year on the night of the 10th and produced arguably the moth of the year in the shape of the islands second record of Blood-vein, common to those of you that run traps further South it certainly woke us up! A late night ringing session at Bewan wasn't quite as successful as we'd have liked but a juvenile Arctic Tern, a Dunlin and a Teal gave a bit of variety to proceedings. 

With rain set in and the wind in something that resembles an Easterly direction there could be yet more birds over the next few days, however with the wind originating from mainland Scotland and whipping around that could be wishful thinking, but you never know! 

                                   Short-eared Owl
                                   Eurasian Teal in the hand

Saturday, 7 August 2021

4th-7th August

 With Autumn slowly grinding it way into view our first little spell of Easterly winds have predictably produced little in the way birds but have got the Autumn kicked off in some way.  The 4th produced the first Garden Warbler of the year, a rather smart juvenile at Sangar. In the meantime the Quail ended its near 20 day stay and departed the island on the 5th. The 5th also gave us our first Cuckoo of the Autumn at Rue, a juvenile bird that showed quite well before vanishing. A Green Sandpiper was seen on the 6th and 7th hanging around Doo Geo on the West side of the island while Common Sandpipers were present at the pier and around the North end and the Curlew Sandpiper that spent the latter half of July here is also still present. The latter of the two dates would also see our first Reed Warbler of the year at Viggay, a predictably skulky and flighty individual that got us well in the mood for the Autumn ahead, another Acro on the year list would be highly welcome! A total of 5 Willow Warblers have been seen over the past day or so and with an influx of Painted Lady butterflies the signs seem promising for the next week ahead. 

Away from the birding we made inroads into ringing Fulmar chicks with the first 40 being done on the 6th, but theres plenty more vomity fluffballs to deal with in the coming days! Away from avian highlights the island football match was played today with both teams sharing the spoils in an exciting 4-4 draw. 

                                   Willow Warbler