Friday, 29 April 2011

29th April

Another female Subalpine Warbler was trapped at Holland in the morning. This one was thought to have subtly colder plumage tones, and the measurements taken also suggest that it is an eastern albistriata bird. In particular, the relatively long wings, low tail to wing ratio and long primary projection are supportive of this subspecific identification. This week's Subalpine Warblers are the 9th and 10th records since the observatory records began in 1985, and this is the first time that two have been recorded in the same year.

The morning's other highlight was the discovery of five Dotterels on Tor Ness, equalling the earliest ever arrival of this species on the island.

Subalpine Warbler


There was not much in the way of common migrants. Counts came to 1 Grasshopper Warbler, 4 Blackcaps, 5 Chiffchaffs, 3 White Wagtails, 141 Wheatears, 1 Dunnock, 1 Robin, 4 Carrion Crows, 1 Brambling, 13 Lapland Buntings, 3 Sand Martins and 28 Swallows. A Greenshank, 9 Whimbrels, 10 Black-tailed Godwits, a Woodpigeon and 3 Collared Doves were also seen.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

28th April

With seemingly very few new birds around, a rather dull morning's birding was suddenly enlivened by the appearance of a fantastic immature female Goshawk. Originally found sitting in the trees at Holland, it spent a while being escorted about the island by the local crows and ravens before heading south out to sea. There has been only one other record of this species here in the last ten years.

Other migrants were, as mentioned, few and far between, but the day's counts included 15 Lapland Buntings, 2 Common Redpolls, the same Brambling, 2 Blackcaps, 2 Willow Warblers, 4 Chiffchaffs, 98 Wheatears, 1 Redwing, 1 Dunnock, the same Robin, 3 White Wagtails, 1 Sand Martin, 11 Swallows and 5 Carrion Crows. Five Woodpigeons, 3 Collared Doves, 1 Knot, 3 Black-tailed Godwits and 5 Whimbrels were also still present.


The two Common Redpolls were ringed at Holland in the morning.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

27th April

Very few migrants arrived on a much quieter day. The first House Martin of the year made its slightly tardy appearance in the afternoon, but other passerines were in short supply: 5 Sand Martins and 24 Swallows completed the hirundine line-up, while a Tree Pipit, 3 White Wagtails, 2 Dunnocks, the same Robin, 114 Wheatears, a Redwing, the same Blackcap, 5 Chiffchaffs, 9 Carrion Crows, 2 Chaffinches, a Brambling and 2 Redpolls were counted. At least 8 Lapland Buntings were also still present.

Raptors included a Kestrel, a Sparrowhawk and 2 Merlins, 2 Collared Doves were in the garden at Holland, and the best waders were 10 Black-tailed Godwits, 5 Whimbrels and 14 Curlews heading north overhead.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

26th April

It was another glorious sunny day, and most of the best birds were not found until after lunch. The highlight of the day was a Long-eared Owl that was seen arriving from over the sea in the afternoon. A Common Sandpiper was new for the year, as were 2 Sedge Warblers that equalled the species's earliest ever arrival on the island and a littoralis Rock Pipit.

Small numbers of other migrants were again dotted around the island, and included 4 Sand Martins, 38 Swallows, 8 White Wagtails, 2 Dunnocks, a Robin, 135 Wheatears, a Blackcap, 4 Chiffchaffs, 5 Willow Warblers, a Chaffinch and 6 Lapland Buntings. The day's corvid passage involved 3 Jackdaws and 4 Carrion Crows, while 5 Whimbrels, 3 Woodpigeons and 2 Sparrowhawks were the pick of the remaining non-passerines.

Just one Black-tailed Godwit remained from the recent mini-influx.

Monday, 25 April 2011

25th April

The good run of rare birds continued in the morning with a female Subalpine Warbler found, as is so often the case with secretive Sylvia warblers, hanging in a mist net. Biometrics were taken in the hope of assigning it to subspecies, and it seems to have been of the western race S.c.cantillans although the measurements were not 100 percent conclusive.

The White-tailed Eagle was still present in the morning, but departed northwards and out to sea in the afternoon. The year's first Whitethroat made its appearance just one day later than the earliest ever arrival, and the other warblers present were a Grasshopper Warbler, 3 Blackcaps, 7 Chiffchaffs and 4 Willow Warblers. The Whinchat was seen again near Ancum Loch, and other small migrants included 9 Sand Martins, 12 Swallows, 2 White Wagtails, 2 Dunnocks, a Robin, 139 Wheatears, a Mistle Thrush, the same Pied Flycatcher, 2 Chaffinches, a Redpoll and 7 Lapland Buntings. There was a lot of corvid activity throughout the day and, although it was not easy to be sure how many birds were involved, minimum counts came to 13 Rooks, 30 Carrion Crows and 2 Carrion x Hooded Crow hybrids. As well as the eagle, raptors were represented by 3 Sparrowhawks, 1 Kestrel, 3 Merlins and a Peregrine.

Subalpine Warbler


Sunday, 24 April 2011

24th April

An immature White-tailed Eagle, the highlight of the day and the most spectacular bird of the year so far, arrived late in the afternoon and settled for a while on the golf course. Excellent views were obtained as it was mobbed by the local gulls, Lapwings and corvids, allowing the colour-rings on its legs to be read. With luck, we should soon be able to find out where it was ringed; the absence of wing-tags suggests that it has come from the continent.

A Tree Sparrow seen briefly near the lighthouse was an unexpected species: although they were more frequent in the past, it has been nearly three years since the last record. Other notable sightings included 2 Tree Pipits and a Goldfinch; and the Pied Flycatcher, Great Tit and Lesser Whitethroat all remained from the previous day.

Counts of other migrants came to 3 Grey Herons, 4 Sparrowhawks, a Whimbrel, 5 Woodpigeons, 5 Collared Doves, 14 Sand Martins, 20 Swallows, 5 White Wagtails, 2 Dunnocks, 140 Wheatears, 1 Ring Ouzel, 1 Fieldfare, 1 Redwing, 5 Blackcaps, 7 Chiffchaffs, 8 Willow Warblers, 10 Rooks, 9 Carrion Crows, 1 Chaffinch and 3 Bramblings; and 25 Lapland Buntings were still present.

White-tailed Eagle

The Great Tit was trapped at Holland in the morning. It was identified as an adult female.

Yesterday's male Pied Flycatcher was still hiding in the sheep punds near Nether Linnay.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

23rd April

One of the better days of the year so far produced no fewer than six new species for the year-list. A drake Green-winged Teal, the fifth record of this species for the island, was found on Hooking Loch in the morning, and later relocated at Kirbest. Also on Hooking Loch was a drake Garganey. A Whinchat was only a day later than the earliest ever spring arrival of the species here, while Lesser Whitethroat and Pied Flycatcher both set new early arrival records: the former by one day, the latter by three. The first Grasshopper Warbler of the year was singing in the garden at Holland, and a Great Tit was found at Sanger.

Other small migrants were scattered around the island, including 5 Sand Martins, 14 Swallows, 3 White Wagtails, a Dunnock, 164 Wheatears, a Ring Ouzel, a Mistle Thrush, 4 Blackcaps, 7 Chiffchaffs, 4 Willow Warblers, 2 Chaffinches, 2 Bramblings, 3 Siskins and 2 Redpolls. 20 Lapland Buntings were also still present. The best non-passerines were 4 Woodpigeons, 4 Collared Doves, a Sparrowhawk, a Kestrel, 2 Whimbrels, 14 Sandwich Terns, 3 Grey Herons and 3 Pink-footed Geese.

Green-winged Teal

A Ring Ouzel became the latest addition to the ploughed field list.

22nd April

Despite a promising weather forecast, very little arrived on the morning's south-easterly airflow. A Manx Shearwater (the first of the year) was at sea, and a couple of Sand Martins and 6 Swallows were seen, but besides these there were very few new birds. The Greenshank was still present, along with a Whimbrel and a Black-tailed Godwit; one apiece of Brambling, Siskin and Redpoll were seen; 23 Lapland Buntings were again in the ploughed field at Twingness, and warblers were represented by 2 Blackcaps, 4 Chiffchaffs and a Willow Warbler.

Friday, 22 April 2011

21st April

A perfect calm and sunny day delivered a further smattering of common migrants, the highlights of which were the first Yellow Wagtail and Greenshank of the year. A further arrival of Wheatears brought their total to 253 birds, while small groups of hirundines totalled at least 10 Sand Martins and 20 Swallows. Corvids were also on the move, with 14 Hooded Crows (in addition to the resident birds), 4 Carrion Crows, 4 Rooks and 2 Ravens passing through. Counts of other passerines came to 1 Dunnock, 1 Robin, 2 Blackcaps, 6 Chiffchaffs, 2 Willow Warblers, a Chaffinch, 22 Lapland Buntings and the 4 Bramblings from the previous day. Other sightings included at least 3 Sparrowhawks, 3 Grey Herons, 3 Whimbrels, a Water Rail and 15 high, northbound Curlews.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

20th April

Much of the day was spent ploughing a field next to the observatory, so it was encouraging to see that 13 Lapland Buntings and 4 Bramblings were immediately eager to feed in the freshly turned earth. Elsewhere there was little change in numbers of migrants, with counts coming to 7 Swallows, 4 Dunnocks, 51 Wheatears (including several birds that were confirmed to be of the Greenland race), 8 Redwings, a Blackcap, 4 Chiffchaffs, a Willow Warbler and a Carrion Crow. A couple of Whimbrels and 2 Black-tailed Godwits were on the coast.

Three of the Bramblings and several Lapland Buntings were easily caught for ringing in the ploughed field.

19th April

A fair selection of common migrants were recorded throughout the day. 71 Wheatears and 27 Lapland Buntings were here, but most other species were only present in low numbers. 19 Swallows, 9 Sand Martins, 6 Rooks and a Carrion Crow passed through; 8 Chiffchaffs, a Willow Warbler, a Goldcrest and a Blackcap were found; a Ring Ouzel still remained, along with 8 Redwings; and migrant finches included 4 Redpolls, 3 Siskins, 2 Bramblings and a Chaffinch. A Common Tern was on the beach with 5 Sandwich Terns, and other non-passerines included a new Sparrowhawk, 3 Whimbrels, a Black-tailed Godwit and 2 Woodpigeons.

Monday, 18 April 2011

18th April

Two Ring Ouzels and a Tree Pipit were both new species for the year. 41 Lapland Buntings were at Kirbest; a Blackcap, 7 Chiffchaffs, 2 Willow Warblers and a Goldcrest were seen; 93 Wheatears were present, and a 1st-winter Iceland Gull flew past Bridesness. Other migrants included a Whimbrel, 5 Collared Doves, 5 Sand Martins, a Chaffinch and 2 Redpolls, and the female Sparrowhawk was seen again.

Good numbers of Wheatears continue to pass through.

Ring Ouzel

17th April

Counts of migrants from a fairly uneventful day included 2 Woodpigeons, a Collared Dove, 2 White Wagtails, 3 Dunnocks, 74 Wheatears, a Song Thrush, 4 Redwings, 2 Chiffchaffs, a Goldcrest, 3 Rooks, a Chaffinch and 11 Lapland Buntings. The 13 Pink-footed Geese were still present.


White Wagtail

Saturday, 16 April 2011

16th April

A few notable birds were seen, despite passerine numbers remaining low. An early morning Crossbill was a nice find, and a new species for the year. Other small migrants included a White Wagtail, 2 Sand Martins, 4 Dunnocks and 11 Lapland Buntings. A Black-throated Diver in Linklet Bay during the afternoon just about trumped the Crossbill in the bird of the day stakes: it is a very uncommon species here, and this individual lingered for a while at comparatively close range. A flock of 13 Pink-footed Geese was new; an influx of Redshanks, which had been present only in low numbers for some time, brought their total to 167; a Whimbrel and an Arctic Skua arrived; and 2 of the Black-tailed Godwits remained at Ancum.

Black-throated Diver

Friday, 15 April 2011

15th April

The first Brambling of 2011 was at Holland in the morning, but other new migrants were thin on the ground: the most notable were 2 Sand Martins, 2 Swallows, 4 Dunnocks, a Robin, 2 Chiffchaffs, 2 Willow Warblers, a Siskin and a Redpoll. Northbound Curlew passage was noted again, with 16 birds passing through; corvid movement consisted of 5 Rooks and 3 Carrion Crows; the Wheatear count came to 44, and that of Lapland Buntings to 27; and birds remaining from earlier in the week included a Sparrowhawk and a Woodpigeon.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

14th April

A dark morph Arctic Skua was a new addition to the year-list, but most other sightings were of lingering birds. The 6 Black-tailed Godwits and the Sparrowhawk were still present, and other counts came to 72 Wheatears, 3 Dunnocks, 4 Chiffchaffs, a Willow Warbler, a Goldcrest, 3 Rooks, a Carrion Crow and a new record-breaking spring count of 75 Lapland Buntings.

Lapland Buntings are not usually a common species here at this time of year: the highest ever spring count prior to this year's invasion was just seven birds.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

13th April

The best birds of a mostly quiet day were a drake Common Scoter mingling with the Eiders off Twingness and a flock of 6 Black-tailed Godwits (the first of the year) on Ancum Loch. At least 40 Lapland Buntings were still present, some of which were even singing and displaying. A Peregrine was on the west coast and 2 Willow Warblers, 3 Goldcrests, a Siskin and 2 Dunnocks were seen.

Like the Lapland Buntings, some of the Snow Buntings on the island are well on their way to acquiring full, striking breeding plumage. But not this one.

12th April

A count of 106 Wheatears presumably involved at least a few fresh migrants; a White Wagtail, 2 Chiffchaffs and a Willow Warbler were also new birds. Other sightings included a Carrion Crow, a Mistle Thrush, 13 Redwings, 2 Dunnocks and a Goldcrest.

Monday, 11 April 2011

11th April

A wet morning, in complete contrast with the halcyon conditions of the day before, brought few new migrants. The first Willow Warbler of the year and 5 Collared Doves were the highlights, and a new Woodpigeon and Goldcrest were also seen. Most other sightings probably concerned vestiges of the previous day's arrival: 47 Wheatears, 44 Lapland Buntings, a Mistle Thrush, a Blackcap, 2 Swallows, a Sparrowhawk and a Siskin were the most noteworthy.

Wheatear numbers were greatly diminished from the previous day, but small flocks were still feeding in several spots around the island.

The first Willow Warbler of the year was caught and ringed at Holland.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

10th April

A beautiful summery day brought lots of birds and some thoroughly enjoyable birding. An especially early start was made in order to conduct the annual Black Guillemot count, and a total of 568 were logged around the island's coastline. While conducting the survey, it became clear that other migrants were arriving.

Wheatears were particularly numerous: the count at the end of the day came to 202 birds. Hirundines were more conspicuous than in previous days, with 10 Swallows and 15 Sand Martins seen; the latter of these counts is only 2 fewer than the highest ever Sand Martin day-total here. Lapland Buntings seemed to be arriving all day, with flock after flock descending on the arable fields at Kirbest during the afternoon and a minimum of 65 birds being seen.

Other noteworthy passerines included 221 Meadow Pipits (the highest count of the year so far), the first Blackcap of the year, a Mistle Thrush, 9 Redwings, 4 Dunnocks, 3 Rooks, a Carrion Crow, 12 Redpolls, a Greenfinch and a Siskin. A Sparrowhawk, a Kestrel and 2 Collared Doves were the best of the new non-passerines, while at least 2 Merlins, a Hen Harrier and a Woodpigeon remained from previous days. Visible Curlew passage, involving 46 birds flying north overhead, was seen throughout the day.

Several Lapland Buntings were trapped for ringing in the afternoon.

Wheatears were also ringed during the day. Measurments confirmed that all of the birds caught were of the race O.o.oenanthe, the form that breeds in Britain. Greenland birds are expected to pass through a few weeks later.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

9th April

Poor visibility for most of the day made finding birds difficult; even when the mist lifted, though, it was apparent that very few migrants were around anyway. Four Lapland Buntings and a Swallow were found, 11 Lesser Black-backed Gulls was the highest count of the year so far, and Golden Plovers also recorded a new peak count of 413. Birds lingering from earlier in the week included the Woodpigeon, a Dunnock, a Chiffchaff, a Goldcrest, a Rook and a Chaffinch.

Pied Wagtails have been arriving for about a month now, and several have taken up residence on the island.

Friday, 8 April 2011

8th April

A first-winter Iceland Gull was in Linklet Bay in the morning, and a second bird was seen in the afternoon. There was not a lot else to report: 2 Swallows were near the lighthouse, a Woodpigeon was near Bridesness and a Lapland Bunting was at the north of the island. The day's Wheatear count reached 39 birds, and a Chiffchaff, a Goldcrest, a Robin, a Rook and a Siskin all remained.

Today's Lapland Bunting was a particularly smart specimen.

A small number of Redwings have been present for most of the winter, but we are now seeing a few more of these, and other thrushes, passing through on migration.

Numbers of Swallows should increase over the coming days.

You can probably guess who has just got a new camera for his birthday!

Thursday, 7 April 2011

7th April

A very windy day produced nothing more noteworthy than 4 Rooks and a Carrion Crow. Counts of other passerines included 34 Wheatears, a Robin, 2 Dunnocks, 2 Goldcrests, a Chiffchaff and 2 Lapland Buntings.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

6th April

The first Swallow of the year was the most notable of very few new migrants to arrive on a very wet day. The date is a bit earlier than usual for this species on North Ronaldsay, but still four days later than the earliest ever arrival. 31 Wheatears, 4 Dunnocks, a Robin, 16 Redwings, 9 Fieldfares, 3 Goldcrests, 2 Chaffinches and a Rook were also seen.

5th April

A first-summer Iceland Gull on the Links was the day's highlight. Other new migrants were few in number, but included 2 Jackdaws. The Stock Dove was still present, along with 27 Wheatears, 2 Dunnocks, a Robin, 2 Goldcrests and 10 Lapland Buntings. The Golden Plover flock reached 341 birds, and a couple of Pink-footed Geese were amongst the Greylags.

Increasingly strong westerly winds brought good numbers of Eiders into the island's sheltered bays.

Monday, 4 April 2011

4th April

A Stock Dove was the most unusual sighting of the day, and another new species for the year. Wheatears increased to 29 birds; 36 Fieldfares, 21 Redwings 5 Goldcrests and 9 Lapland Buntings were logged; and a count of 9 Sandwich Terns was the highest yet this spring. Other species seen included 4 Great Skuas, 2 Dunnocks and 2 Robins.

One of the Wheatears was wearing colour-rings; we should soon find out where it was ringed. In other colour-ring news, one of the Twites that was on the island last month has just been refound on Fair Isle.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

3rd April

A variety of notables, spread thinly around the island, made for a reasonably interesting morning census round. Three taxa made their first appearance in the year's log: a Collared Dove, a White Wagtail, and three northbound Carrion Crows. Three Grey Plovers were on the Links, a Woodpigeon was at the north of the island, 8 Lapland Buntings were in the field at Kirbest and counts of other small migrants included a Grey Wagtail, 2 Robins, 9 Wheatears, 2 Song Thrushes, 21 Redwings, a Chiffchaff, 2 Goldcrests and 5 Siskins. The Knot was still present, 2 Sandwich Terns were in Nouster Bay again and a Great Skua was seen at sea.


Lapland Bunting

2nd April

After a miserable morning, the weather improved and a small number of new migrants had appeared: 36 Fieldfares and 21 Redwings were seen; 10 Wheatears, 2 Robins and a Common Redpoll were in the northern part of the island; and a little corvid passage comprised 5 Hooded Crows heading south and 5 Rooks. The first Knot for some weeks was seen, and a Great Skua was off the coast. Birds remaining from previous days included the Yellowhammer, a Grey Wagtail, a Chiffchaff, 4 Chaffinches, 2 Siskins, the Greenfinch and 2 Lapland Buntings.

Friday, 1 April 2011

1st April

The first day of April, and of the new rotational census regime, produced fewer birds than was hoped for. At least 9 Redwings were at Holland, but the Yellowhammer, a Grey Wagtail, 2 Wheatears, a Robin, 4 Dunnocks, a Song Thrush, a Fieldfare, a Chiffchaff, the Greenfinch, 2 Siskins, 5 Chaffinches and 4 Lapland Buntings were probably mostly residue from earlier in the week.

The Yellowhammer was trapped in the morning. In-hand examination of the crown feathers confirmed that it is a male; the ageing was not quite so definite, although we suspect it to be an adult bird.