Thursday, 30 October 2014

The Canada Goose on North Ron 9th-11th Oct 2014

We don't see many Canada Geese on North Ron and those which we do see are usually the large, feral British birds. This individual was first seen on 9th Oct with Tundra Bean Geese (among which it clearly looked smaller) and was later seen/photographed with Pink-footed and Barnacle Geese.

 We're novices at the 'small race' Canada Geese and originally considered the bird might have been a Todd's Canada Goose Branta canadensis interior but we're now thinking it's too small and a shorter looking neck has led us to consider Lesser Canada Goose B.c.parvipes and Taverner's Canada Goose B.c.taverneri as possibilities.
Features of note include;
-largely brown breast and flanks with a small whitish collar at the base of the neck
-narrow brown fringes to coverts
-very obvious black gular line
-lower half of chinstrap appears creamy white, brightening to be whiter at the top
-possibly a rounded head shape
-difficult to be certain of the bill size/shape-seems medium sized, possibly too large for taverneri and perhaps a better fit for parvipes
-small overall appearance, size is only slightly larger than Pink-footed Geese with relatively short looking neck (perhaps not long enough for Todd's?) and fairly short looking legs with a similar looking 'carriage' to the Barnacle Geese.

Expert opinion would certainly be appreciated-anyone with much experience of these forms can email us directly at with their thoughts

30th October

A strong south-easterly wind left us all chomping at the bit to get out but heavy rain from mid-morning made for pretty torrid conditions. Only the west coat of the island was checked during the afternoon, but it was pretty evident that the majority of birds were dropping into the island during the very final hour of daylight so tomorrow looks like being an even better day. Several scarcities were found such as a soggy Short-toed Lark at Nether Linnay, where there was also a Hawfinch and a very late (and also soggy) Spotted Flycatcher caused some alarm briefly! A Red-breasted Flycatcher at Doo-geo in the near darkness will be double checked for the rarer option tomorrow, while counts from less than 20% coverage were 6 Woodcocks, 19 Robins, a Ring Ouzel, 19 Blackbirds, 28 Fieldfares, 15 Song Thrushes, 478 Redwings, 6 Blackcaps, 3 Chiffchaffs, 14 Goldcrests, 4 Bramblings, a Common Redpoll and 13 Snow Buntings.

29th October

A beautiful 'spring' like day, with no wind and plenty of sunshine. The calm seas finally allowed us to add Common Scoter to the year list with a bird off the links, where there were also 20 Long-tailed Ducks offshore. There were no stand out highlights, but passerines worth mentioning included a Grey Wagtail at Hooking, 2 Wheatears (Beacon, Hooking), 58 Meadow and 30 Rock Pipits, 718 Redwings, 190 Twite (which included 134 south in 3 hours), 2 Greenfinches and a new Yellowhammer at Neven.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

27th-28th October

A strong southerly wind on 27th encouraged more Whooper Swans to get moving with 73 recorded across the day and also passing through south were a flock of 12 White-fronted Geese. A 2nd winter Iceland Gull was at the north end but the only passerines of note on another blustery day were 4 unspecified Redpolls at Holland. Better conditions on 28th in moderate south-westerlies after heavy rain overnight resulted in another widespread arrival of Redwings at dawn. A minimum of 1200 were noted across the half of the island which was checked and among them came the odd highlight. Most notable were a Richard's Pipit in fields near Kirbest, a Yellowhammer at Neven, and a single late Swallow and Wheatear while other passerines included 4 Blackcaps, 4 Goldcrests, the Tree Sparrow and 66 Snow Buntings. Wildfowl on the increase were 7 Pintails, 21 Shovelers and 271 Wigeon, a couple of Woodcocks were flushed and a juvenile Iceland Gull off the Bridesness coast.


Monday, 27 October 2014

26th October

Difficult conditions again today with frequent rain and a strong, blustery southerly wind blowing all day. Our fabulous week continues with a drake Green-winged Teal found at Bewan Loch mid-morning becoming the fourth American bird to have been seen on the island in the last 5 days! There was also a bit of an influx of Whooper Swans with at least 37 present while the Brent Goose was seen again at Trolla Vatn with 3 Pintails and 8 Gadwall also at the north end. The Iceland Gull was off Nevan, an hours sea-watch before the weather deteriorated revealed 2 Sooty Shearwaters, 2 Pomarine and 2 Artcic Skua's and a Little Auk, while the best of the passerines were a north-western Redpoll and 27 Snow Buntings.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

24th-25th October

After the stunning events of the 23rd, it was back down to earth today when thorough searches in the morning of the respective area's of yesterdays American visitors drew a blank. A return to more routine census in the afternoon turned up a few things though with 2 juvenile Iceland Gulls in Nouster Bay and 2 Greenland White-fronted Geese down the west coast the highlights. There were also 20 Whooper Swans (17 of which came in off the sea at Torness), 6 Barnacle Geese still and feeding in the swell with all the Gulls in Nouster were an impressive 300 Sanderlings. A late Swallow was also of note, along with 723 Redwings, 6 Blackcaps, the Tree Sparrow, Siskin, 4 'north-western' Redpolls and the Yellowhammer. A windier 25th wasn't without interest either and once again there were large numbers of Gulls present. One of the Iceland Gulls was still in Nouster while and also counted were 230 Common, 186 Herring and 246 Great-black backed Gulls. A Spotted Crake in the Irises at Westness was the clear highlight, but there also seemed to be a few new birds with 58 Song Thrushes showing an obvious increase especially given that less than 20% of the island was actually birded today! There was probably a few new Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs in too, plus an un-ringed (so assumed new) 'rostrata' type Redpoll at Parkhouse.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

23rd October

So where do we start with the 23rd!!! I guess we should begin by thanking hurricane 'Gonzalo' as it delivered some truly special birds to the island today. A Grey Phalarope found sheltering off the Links golf course was a decent start to the day but the pandemonium that followed has left us all a bit short of breath!!! At around 1.30pm, while trying to get a better view of a frosty Redpoll (it turned out to by an islandica/north-western type) a Merlin chased a bird into the gardens at Holland House. You'd have expected it to have been one of the 932 Redwings on the island, but astonishingly it was Orkney and North Ronaldsay's first BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO. This absolutely astounding find only stayed in the gardens, showing well, but deep in sycamores for just 2 or 3 minutes and was only seen by 3 fortunate staff members before leaving to the west to not yet be re-located. Such a brief encounter, but absolutely magical for the lucky few-it has to still be on the island somewhere so fingers crossed we'll track it down tomorrow. And it didn't end there.... With all available legs hastily searching the south of the island for the Cuckoo, a 'small Thrush' was reported at Cruesbrek and this  heralded a frantic sprint to the location and then it happened again. Just before dusk the second American bird of the day was identified-a GREY-CHEEKED THRUSH and another first for the island! There'll be an anxious wait for most overnight though as yet another Yankee mega eluded the masses (that's about 10 people) going to roost before most had arrived on site. Not quite sure where we go from here, but other bits and bobs from an incredible day include 14 Whooper Swans (9 new), 1113 Greylag Geese passing through, 36 Rock Pipits, a late Wheatear, 8 Chiffchaffs (including 2 'tristis', and 2 'eastern' types), 62 Twite and at least 6 north-western Redpolls and a Mealy Redpoll. A truly unbelievable, EPIC day, and one which the North Ron faithful will never forget...

Grey Phalarope-we wish we could show you photo's of today's American mega's but the Black-billed Cuckoo was so brief (and the finder opted to get his mates rather than reach for the camera) and it was almost dark by the time the Grey-cheeked Thrush had been identified-surely both will resurface and co-operate more tomorrow.

21st-22nd October

Pretty torrid birding conditions on the 21st saw little seen but lingering thrushes with calmer conditions on the 22nd resulted in a better tally of birds. The 1stW drake American Wigeon was relocated on the coast off Bridesness, where 3 new groups of Whooper Swans passed south (totalling 15 birds) with the 4 still on Bewan Loch. The Yellowhammer and Tree Sparrow were both seen again and the Redwing total reached 819 birds. A sea-watch in the afternoon was hampered somewhat by poor visibility but 8 Sooty Shearwaters, 4 Long-tailed Ducks and an Arctic Skua were of note.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

19th - 20th October

A long awaited first for the year was at the bird observatory on 19th - a Yellowhammer, still present on 20th when a Knot was amongst 206 Sanderling in Nouster Bay. 59 Snow Bunting were seen and the Observatory crop Fields held 13 Brambling, 24 Twite  and a North-western Common Redpoll.
North-western Common Redpoll

Saturday, 18 October 2014

16th-18th October

With only a handful of common migrants still around the 16th and 17th were quiet. The American Wigeon was still present on the 16th and there was a Long-eared owl on the 17th.
On the 18th, with strong easterly wind and rain overnight which didn't stop until mid morning, when it backed southerly, it was soon clear that there were many thrushes around. Conservative counts included over 1300 redwing, 120 song thrush, 65 blackbird, 4 fieldfare and 3 ring ouzel. There were relatively fewer numbers of other small migrants - a dunnock, 6 robin, 15 blackcap, 4 chiffchaff (2 "eastern" types) and 22 goldcrest. Finches included 5 chaffinch, 12 brambling, 2 greenfinch and a siskin.
An influx of wigeon made a total of 360, with other ducks including 120 teal, 6 gadwall and 4 pintail. The most notable non passerines were 6 woodcock, a jack snipe, 2 woodpigeon and a marked influx of 102 rock dove.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

15th October

With redwings passing under clear skies during the night, there was an expected arrival with at least 204 present-although many cleared out during the day. The surprising highlight though was not from the east but from the west-a 1st W or moulting drake American Wigeon which spent the afternoon feeding in the rock-pools adjacent to Gretchen Loch. The count of 273 Wigeon was the largest for a while with their American cousin perhaps 'tagging a lift' with them while the Scaup was alos still present and 4 Long-tailed Ducks were off the north end. New passerines included a Yellow-browed Warbler in the Irises at Ancum Loch, 3 Lesser Whitethroats-included a halimodendri/blythi type trapped and ringed (we'll investigate this further), 4  'Siberian' type Chiffchaffs and 3 Greenfinches. There was also a late Swallow, Tree Pipit, 4 Fieldfares, 4 'regular' Chiffchaffs, 24 Goldcrests, 2 'north-western' Redpolls, 33 Snow Buntings and at least 3 Hen Harriers.

 American Wigeon

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

14th October

A few bits and pieces on a cloudy day, with a light easterly wind promising more as the week progresses. Leading the way were a female type Bluethroat in the Neven area and the first Yellow-browed Warbler for a while at Breckan, near Bridesness. A lengthy sea-watch saw 24 Sooty and 7 Manx Shearwaters, 365 Fulmars, a Pomarine Skua, 13 Great Skua, 3 Puffins and the first Little Auk of the autumn logged in 2 and a half hours while 1130 Gannets were recorded in the first hour. Also new in today were a Mistle Thrush, Pied Flycatcher and Common Redpoll. There were a few more Redwings and Blackbirds, but Song Thrushes were down to just 14. 17 Blackcaps and 8 Chiffchaffs also included some new birds while hangers-on included the Scaup, 9 Grey Herons, a Swallow, Tree Sparrow and 16 Snow Buntings.
'Siberian' Chiffchaff or just 'Eastern' Chiffchaff? One of 2 interesting birds today-this silent individual was in the Irises at Garso and we used to label these 'grey and white' birds as 'abietinus'. However the exact status of that particular form in the UK is currently unclear so this bird may in fact be a Siberian Chiffchaff after all. A second, much 'browner' toned bird which gave a thin, high-pitched 'eehp' call at Vincoin looked and sounded more like the real deal but sadly it evaded the camera! 

Monday, 13 October 2014

12th-13th October

After being spoilt so far this autumn the last couple of days have felt pretty quite as the conditions have been favourable for migrants to move on. Counts of Thrushes were much reduced with just 30 or so each of Redwing and Song Thrush on both dates and Blackcaps have been down to around about 15 daily, although ringing at Holland gardens has indicated a steady turnover. The most interesting passerines were the Grey Wagtail and Black Redstart still, 30 Snow and a Lapland Bunting on 12th and a late Whinchat, Garden Warbler and a flyover Redpoll on 13th. The Scaup and Goldeneye remain on Gretchen and there was some Greylag Goose movement noted with 340 on 12th including 190 south and 497 on 13th clearly also involving some incomers.

Scaup and Goldeneye

Saturday, 11 October 2014

10th-11th October

A couple of calmer days and while there was no obvious large scale arrival there was a trickle of incomers and attention was paid to some of the census areas which were neglected in the stronger winds. With so many in our part of the world, it wasn't that surprising when an Olive-backed Pipit was found at (the previously unchecked) Greenwall on 10th and photographs (and the lack of a ring) would appear to suggest its the 5th individual of the week. The other most notable new birds from that date were a drake Scaup on Bridesness Loch, Sparrowhawk, Grey Wagtail and Black Redstart. More routine fare included the Canada Goose, 30 Moorhens, 9 Jack Snipe, the Common Sandpiper still and there was an influx of some 167 Common and 9 Black-headed Gulls. Passerine totals were made up of 2 Tree Pipits (outnumbering OBP's for the first time in a while!), 25 Rock Pipits, 33 Robins, 2 Fieldfares, 96 Song Thrushes, 37 Redwings, 20 Blackcaps, 10 Chiffchaffs, a late Willow Warbler, 12 Goldcrests, 62 Bramblings, 14 Siskins, a Lapland Bunting and 23 Reed Buntings. Sea-duck and Divers were the most conspicuous newcomers in Nouster and Linklet Bays on the 11th with 11 Red-throated and 2 Great Northern Divers, 10 Long-tailed Ducks and 6 Red-breasted Mergansers plus a Slavonian Grebe at the former site. A Turtle Dove at Holland House was a good late record and the best of the day's other sightings were 4 Barnacle Geese, 8 Woodpigeons,2 Black Redstarts, 2 Garden Warblers, a Greenfinch and 28 Twite.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

9th October

A day with much more rain than was forecast with a light westerly wind increasing to become more breezy by the afternoon. None of yesterday's rare Pipit's were seen today but this could be due to the rotation of the census routes with only the OBP from the observatory really searched for. However given the stunningly bright moon and clear night it seems equally likely that many birds (rarities included) moved on with much fewer Thrushes and just a handful of re-traps at the nets from yesterdays large haul supporting this theory. There was still plenty to see though with a smart Long-eared Owl caught and ringed early on and there was a mid afternoon influx of Tundra Bean Geese with at least 14 present around the south end. The species has become more regular in recent years and after a pair had been seen in the morning, a group of 11 and then a single came in off the sea at Nouster (there could be 6 more) while there was also a Canada Goose with 135 Pink-footed Geese also present and 78 Barnacle Geese flew south. Also of note today were a Goldeneye, 2 Kestrels, a late Common Sandpiper, 11 Woodpigeons and a Short-eared Owl. Thrush numbers were reduced to as low as just 63 Song Thrushes and 60 Redwings. A Tree Pipit was still around and there was also a Grey Wagtail, a Redstart, 22 Blackcaps, 16 Goldcrests, half of yesterdays Bramblings and Chaffinch but an increase in Twite numbers to 30.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

8th October

With the easterly winds of the previous two days subsiding overnight to leave dry, cloudy conditions at dawn we certainly had high expectations of a few things crawling out of the woodwork today. And it didn't disappoint with plenty of variety and included c120 birds trapped and ringed but once again we only managed to cover about a third of the island with ringing commitments and rarity chasing causing distractions. It began with the confirmation that the 3 Olive-backed Pipits from the 6th were all still present and correct, with the Observatory bird lingering all day after a brief jaunt northwards early on and 2 birds still at Nether Linnay, where a Corncrake was also flushed early doors. A fourth Olive-backed Pipit was then seen at Westness (with the nearby Nether Linnay birds both checked for and both still present shortly after) and quite where the individual trapped and ringed at Holland Gardens at dusk fits into things we'll have to wait till tomorrow to find out-could there be 5!!! After last week's magical half hour it happened again early afternoon when the autumn's second Pechora Pipit was discovered at Sandar (a nice 50th birthday present for the finder) just after a Blue Tit had been located on the coast near the airfield. The former was generally elusive but showed well in flight many times and occasionally 'running' through the grass and becomes the 5th island record whereas the Tit showed brilliantly, was even heard singing and is only the 6th island record and the first since the previous 5-all in 1988!! It seemed odd to leave a national rarity to go and twitch a common garden bird but that's the northern isles for you. So here's the tally for another hectic day...Non-passerines included the Brent Goose still, 62 Barnacle Geese, 129 Pink-footed Geese, the autumn's first Long-tailed Duck, 12 Grey Herons, 2 Kestrels and a Short-eared Owl, 5 Jack Snipe, a Woodcock and 12 Woodpigeons. There were 2 Tree Pipits, a 'flava' Wagtail, 24 Robins, Black Redstart, 4 Ring Ouzels, 136 Song Thrushes, 57 Redwings, 20 Blackbirds, a Grasshopper Warbler (caught and ringed at the obs), 23 Blackcaps, Willow Warbler, 4 Chiffchaff, 12 Goldcrests, Pied Flycatcher, 97 Bramblings, 26 Chaffinch, 11 Siskins, 18 Snow and 2 Lapland Buntings. Not a bad day, so a few hours sleep and we'll do it all again tomorrow..
Blue Tit

7th October

There was another massive arrival of birds today-but it was frustrating that we just couldn't get out there and count them. The conditions were incredibly difficult with heavy rain not subsiding until after lunch and by then we were chomping at the bit as we could see it was littered with thrushes outside just from the warm and cosy Observatory lounge! A 3 hour scramble of the westernmost coast, equating to about a third of the island being covered we returned Thrush totals of 490 Song Thrushes, 292 Redwings, 73 Blackbirds and a Ring Ouzel. None of the OBP's could be found (but are just as likely to still be present)  but the Short-toed Lark was still at Nether Linnay. Also counted were 2 Kestrels, 7 Woodcocks, 13 Woodpigeons, 48 Skylarks, 13 Robins, a Black Redstart, 20 Blackcaps, a Garden Warbler, 20 Chaffinch, 114 Bramblings, a Greenfinch and a new 'north-western' Redpoll. Tomorrow could be fun...

Monday, 6 October 2014

6th October

Well, here we go again... A strong, touching gale force south-easterly wind had whipped up overnight and from dawn it was pretty obvious there were birds everywhere. The sheltered walls and boulder beaches along the west coast were particularly lively with Song Thrushes shooting out from what seemed like every corner. While the conditions made birding difficult there was plenty of top quality on offer, headlined by not 1, not 2 but a staggering 3 Olive-backed Pipits!! All were found mid-morning with birds discovered at Gretchen, Torness and Nether Linnay, and all were observed at the same time and photographed (there might actually be a fourth present with another possible heard/seen in the south of the island on a couple of occasions but not confirmed). Nether Linnay was clearly the hotspot of the day with a Short-toed Lark in the stubble field there and a Little Bunting in the sheep pund. There were also 2 Long-eared Owls along the west coast and other non-passerines seen today included 4 Grey Herons, 30 Whooper Swans, 203 Pink-footed and 37 Barnacle Geese, 255 Wigeon, a Kestrel and Merlin in the west and 3 Jack Snipe. It was the passerines though that summed up what the day was all about, although the figure of 211 Song Thrush in the log was likely double that number as they proved almost impossible to count by darting all over the place. There were also 73 Redwings, a Ring Ouzel, 33 Blackbirds, plus single Tree, 21 Rock and 116 Meadow Pipits, 9 Blackcaps, 27 Bramblings, 18 Snow and 3 Lapland Buntings. It really was another great day on North Ron!!
Olive-backed Pipit 1-Found by Sara mid-morning right next to the hide at Gretchen before moving the short-distance to the Lurn in the afternoon
Olive-backed Pipit 2-First found along walls at the north end of Torness just a few minutes after bird 1, before moving into the Irises and crop field at Nether Linnay.
Olive-backed Pipit 3-Found in the weedy fields at Nether Linnay. This individual was particularly bright-faced and was seen alongside bird 2 on several occasions over a 2 hour period.

5th October

There's a storm brewing... There wasn't a great deal seen today but some visible passage over the south-west end of the island indicated plenty of birds on the move, and perhaps signalled at an exodus of many of the recent arrivals. 3 Lapland Buntings, 31 Skylarks, 2 Chaffinch and 60 Meadow and 2 Rock Pipits were noted in 2 hours along with 30 more Pink-footed Geese. An hour and a half's sea-watch was particularly productive with 48 Sooty Shearwaters passing and there were now 17 Whooper Swans present while grounded passerines were limited to a handful of Warblers, the Pied Flycatcher and the lingering north-western Redpoll.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

3rd-4th October

The 3rd was a quieter day, with the Hawfinch still present at Holland House but a Collared Dove (unusual at this time of year) there too was a surprising highlight. 50 plus Bramblings, 5 Snow Buntings and the 'north-western' Redpoll were still around as were 5 Jack Snipe and the best a 3 hour sea-watch could offer was an Adult Pomarine Skua and 12 Sooty Shearwaters. The 4th began in much the same way with a 3.5 hour (rain prolonged) watch of the sea from dawn producing 62 Sooty and 25 Manx Shearwaters, 890 Fulmars (including 2 'blue' phase), 849 Gannets and the days highlight-a Scaup which came in with a group of Wigeon and Teal. Pink-footed Geese were on the move again with 755 passing over once the rain subsided, along with 39 Barnacle Geese. 9 Whooper Swans were at Bewan Loch, and there were now 3 Woopigeons present, 224 Meadow Pipits suggested some southbound movement, a Yellow-browed Warbler was in the Irises at Kirbest and the Hawfinch remains.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

2nd October

It was another blustery one, with a strong southerly wind throughout making the birding tricky at times. The days highlights comprised the Bluethroat still at Viggay banks early in the morning only and 2 Yellow-browed Warblers in the north of the island. An elusive 'locustella' Warbler provided some fun and games in the Irises at Garso Loch before eventually giving itself up to be confirmed as a Grasshopper Warbler while 4 Jack Snipe were found in the process. An adult Pomarine Skua and 31 Sooty and 3 Manx Shearwaters were clocked during a 2 hour sea-watch, the Brent Goose remains at the north end and raptors included 2 Hen Harriers, 2 Merlins, a Kestrel and a Peregrine.
Grasshopper Warbler
Hen Harrier

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

1st October

Neither of yesterday's headline makers could be found today but there were still some smart new arrivals to be enjoyed in the bright and breezy conditions. Bird of the day went to an obliging 1st winter (female) Bluethroat in coastal Irises on Viggay Banks, near Bridesness found by one of our birding guests late afternoon which went on to show well to staff. Earlier, a Hawfinch spent the morning in Holland gardens where a Pied Flycatcher was also present. The Brent Goose was still at the north end, while other lingering birds included the Ruff near Holland and late Common Sandpiper at Trinley. We haven't had everyone's counts in yet but at least 3 Jack Snipe were flushed, a Sand Martin seen along with a Tree Pipit, 3 Yellow-browed Warblers and at least 43 Brambling.

Bluethroat (photo by Kevin Kelly)