Tuesday, 27 February 2018

26th and 27th February

Breezy and overcast first thing but by lunchtime the sun had come out and the wind had dropped off to literally nothing which produced a glorious afternoon and evening; the calm seas allowed 16 Great-northern Divers and 6 Red-throated Divers to be counted while the single Whooper Swan and Green-winged Teal remained in place.   Merlin and Hen Harrier were seen flushing the 321 Golden Plovers in Loch Park while in the fields 50 Skylark, 64 Fieldfares and 66 Redwings were seen and yet again, the Black Redstart and Kumlien’s Gull were still in place.

                The Beast from the East began to exert its influence on the island on the 27th with several light snow showers and a bitingly cold easterly wind; 216 Auk sp. flew past the seawatch hide in an hour first thing with the Smew on Bewan along with 10 Goldeneye.   A single Barnacle Goose was a new arrival near the airstrip with the second winter Glaucous Gull was again seen at Brides along with the Kumlien’s Gull still while 2 ringtail Hen Harriers were seen along with at least 2 Merlins, including another one seen heading out to sea towards Sanday (just island-hopping birds or different passage birds?).   122 Sanderling and 60 Dunlin were counted on The Links and 37 Snow Buntings were still twinkling around the southern fields.

Green-winged Teal

Monday, 26 February 2018

24th and 25th February

Still dry and bright on the 24th but with a stronger, colder SE wind as the so called ‘Beast from the East’ began to influence the island; it was a pretty quiet day’s birding though with the Kumlien’s Gull and presumably the same second winter Glaucous Gull at Brides Loch and the drake Green-winged Teal still on Gretchen.   Other little, random bits included the five wintering Herons still at Westness, the single Whooper Swan, Merlin and Peregrine zooming around, 45 Fieldfares still and the Black Redstart still lingering along the south coast.

                Lighter winds on the 25th and with the return of Fireman George, increased coverage led to some decent counts through the day; the highlights though, remained the same with the Kumlien’s Gull still, the Glaucous Gull back up at the north end and the drake Smew again on Bewan.   With all the loch covered and calmer seas, wildfowl counts included 284 Wigeon, 18 Gadwall, 13 Pintail, 16 Shoveler, 24 Long-tailed Ducks and 4 Goldeneye along with 207 Lapwings, 102 Oystercatchers, 2 Jack Snipe and an increased 43 Bar-tailed Godwits.

                Landbirds were still thin on the ground but did include 2 Peregrines, a Merlin which left to the south, over the sea towards Sanday, the Black Redstart still and a good total of 19 Rock Pipits with more of the coast walked.

Common Gull dropping shellfish onto the rocks


Snow Bunting

Friday, 23 February 2018

22nd and 23rd February

A very similar couple of days, remaining dry and bright but time in the field was marred by a strong, cold southerly wind which cut right through you; the Smew had moved to Hooking on the 22nd while both Merlin and Peregrine zoomed around Loch Park and the Black Redstart was still around the pier.

                There were now 5 Shelduck on the island with some of the breeding pairs sneaking back in while 4 Knot were with the Golden Plover in East Loch Park along with 136 Lapwing and 101 Dunlin.   On the land Skylarks were again obvious including 26 by the Obs and 50+ Fieldfares and 30 Redwings remained.

                A new 2nd winter Glaucous Gull was roosting out on Seal Skerry on the 23rd while an adult Iceland Gull was picked up dead near the seawatch hide and the Kumlien’s Gull remained at Brides.   5 Great-northern and 5 Red-throated Divers were off the north end, 17 Pintail were a notable increase along with 13 Shoveler and 20 Tufted Ducks, the ringtail Hen Harrier was seen again, a Jack Snipe was at Trebb and Skylarks were on the move despite the cold, strong with including a flock of 7 which came in low across the sea from the north, struggling against the wind.

The Hooking Great Black-backed Gull pair are already super aggressive and territorial!

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

20th and 21st February

A glorious day on the 20th with plenty of sunshine and a light westerly breeze; the nets at Holland were opened for the first time this year in response to the calm conditions and a slight increase in Thrush numbers with 19 new birds caught – pretty good for February up here!   53 Blackbirds, 45 Fieldfares and 75 Redwings were counted and were concentrated around Holland where there was also the first Woodcock of the year.

                Other little bits through the day included a Jack Snipe, the Green-winged Teal still on Gretchen, the Smew still on Bewan with 9 Goldeneye, the Kumlien’s Gull still favouring Brides and at least 73 Snow Buntings twinkling around.

                An even better day on the 21st with almost wall to wall sunshine and the merest waft of a SW breeze saw a few small increases in landbirds including 56 Skylarks, 70 Fieldfares and 91 Redwings while the first Sparrowhawk of the year came into roost at Holland House.

                Some decent wader counts through the day comprised 136 Oystercatchers, 121 Lapwings, the 2 Knot still, 28 Bar-tailed Godwits and 77 Curlew while other birds of note included an increased 3 Shelduck, Water Rails seen at the Obs and at Ancum Willows, the Green-winged Teal and the Kumlien’s Gull.

Finally decent pictures of the Kumlien's Gull!

Snow Bunting

Purple Sandpipers

Monday, 19 February 2018

18th and 19th February

A lovely day on the 18th with much calmer conditions and plenty of bright sunshine; a look from the seawatch hide first thing produced the day’s highlight of a fine White-billed Diver bobbing around in front of the hide from where it drifted off north up the coast.   In the calm seas we managed a few increased counts of other species including 11 Great-northern Divers, a good count of 322 Eiders (higher than any counts last year!) and 18 Long-tailed Ducks.

                The other notable birds through the day also involved wildfowl with all the lochs visited producing totals of 275 Wigeon, 11 Gadwall, 253 Teal, the Green-winged Teal still, 78 Mallard, 14 Pintail, 14 Shoveler, 4 Goldeneye, the drake Smew still, 36 Moorhens, 41 Coot and single Whooper Swan and Shelduck.

                The Kumlien’s Gull remained in the Brides area before floating to Nouster in the afternoon and the morning’s seawatch also produced 342 Auk sp. in an hour.

                The 19th was a totally different day with overcast conditions giving way to persistent rain which moved in from mid-morning and lasted the rest of the day; it was still fairly calm though first thing allowing at least 200 Black Guillemots to gather just offshore and begin to display to each other – it won’t be long before they start to come ashore!   Other birds through the day were limited but included 3 Great-northern Divers, the Green-winged Teal still, 60 Snow Buntings and 2 Knot with 190 Golden Plover in Loch Park.

With nothing else leaping in front of the camera, here's another picture of the Kumlien's Gull!

Saturday, 17 February 2018

16th - 17th February

A lovely couple of days with much lighter winds and plenty of bright sunshine and with the sheep round-up now complete there was more time to get out into the field; the two days were pretty similar with the wintering highlights present throughout which included the juvenile Kumlien’s Gull floating between the Obs and Brides, the drake Smew on Bewan and the drake Green-winged Teal on Gretchen while a little influx of 3 Glaucous Gulls on the 16th comprised an adult past The Lurn and two juveniles at the north end.

                Some good wildfowl and wader counts over the two days included a single Whooper Swan, 170 Wigeon, 165 Teal, 10 Pintail, 13 Shoveler, 22 Tufted Duck, 8 Goldeneye, 23 Long-tailed Ducks, 94 Oystercatchers, 54 Ringed Plover, 365 Golden Plover, 3 Knot, 94 Dunlin and 35 Bar-tailed Godwits while the ringtail Hen Harrier and young male Peregrine still cruised around.

                Wintering Passerines were also largely static with the Black Redstart and c100 Snow Buntings still around the south of the island, 9 Meadow Pipits, 8 Twite, 35+ Redwings and a Song Thrush but a Linnet which came in off the sea from the south and an increase to 24 Skylarks hinted at some early passage in the fine weather.

Kumlien's Gull

Bar-tailed Godwits

Thursday, 15 February 2018

12th - 15th February

A quiet few days with little change in the islands birdlife but we were hampered by some blazing strong, gale force winds and driving rain while sheep punding and fixing Heligoland traps took up plenty of time as well.   A feeding flock of 350+ Kittiwakes and 120 Auks (mainly Razorbills feeding off the north end on the 12th was noteworthy while hundreds of storm driven Gulls on the east coast on the 14th included 400+ Common Gulls, 130 Herring Gulls, 70 Great Black-backed Gulls and a single Black-headed Gull.

                A flock of 10 Twite at Neven were surprisingly the first of the year on the 12th (unusually no Twite wintered on the island this year) and a 2nd winter Glaucous Gull flew south past Trinley on the 15th.   Wintering Passerines remained constant throughout this period with the Black Redstart still, 50+ Fieldfares scattered across the island, 22 Skylarks and 80+ Snow Buntings seen daily while the ringtail Hen Harrier, Peregrine and Merlin popped up sporadically.

Reed Bunting

Sunday, 11 February 2018

10th - 11th February

A bit of a switch in observers on the 10th with George Gay off to do some fire training for two weeks and the extremely rocking and rolling boat bringing Simon Davies back for the season; limited coverage in the afternoon produced the regular drake Green-winged Teal on Gretchen and counts of 283 Golden Plover and 32 Dunlin in Loch Park.

                A pretty nice day on the 11th with some sunshine and a moderate (but increasing) westerly wind had us out in the field for some good coverage and a good selection of birds; highlights included the juvenile Kumlien’s Gull which reappeared in Nouster, a juvenile Glaucous Gull at the north end, the drake Smew still at Bewan and a Black-throated Diver in Nouster with 7 Great-northern and 2 Red-throated Divers.

                Some good counts of waders and wildfowl comprised 176 Wigeon, 86 Teal, 5 Pintail, 15 Long-tailed Ducks, 10 Goldeneye, 13 Red-breasted Mergansers, 205 Lapwing, 2 Knot (the first of the year), 166 Sanderling, 264 Purple Sandpiper, 111 Dunlin and 16 Bar-tailed Godwits while a ringtail Hen Harrier and a young male Peregrine floated around.

                Wintering Passerines were more obvious in the sunny conditions with the Black Redstart still at Howar, 8 Skylarks, 11 Meadow Pipits, 15 Rock Pipits, 2 Robins, 44 Fieldfare, 34 Redwings, a Song Thrush (surprisingly, also the first of the year), 7 Reed Buntings and an excellent flock of 103 Snow Buntings around Nouster.


Fulmar sweeping round the sheep dyke

Long-tailed Duck

Thursday, 8 February 2018

29th January- 8th February

The last few days of January weren’t much to shout about in terms of new birds, a second Iceland Gull of the year was found on the 29th at West Beach and another bird initially thought to be another Iceland Gull was found flying round the pier on the 31st the bird wasn’t checked thoroughly as we needed to collect food from the plane, so it went down as an Iceland Gull and it subsequently disappeared despite raising some initial questions. 
It wasn’t until nearly week later (4th Feb), when it was finally re-located that it was re-identified as a 1st winter Kumlien’s Gull, good things come to those who wait I guess!
The same brutish 1st winter Glaucous Gull was also seen on the 31st at Bewan along with our first Shelduck of 2018! Other final January highlights included the lone Pink-footed Goose and a pair of Great Northern Divers.
February kicked off with a horrendous windy day on the 1st but despite the bad weather there were plenty of Gulls about, 161 Great Black-backs were supported by 97 Herring Gulls and 194 Common Gulls all sheltering or feeding in various spots, the Larus highlight reel wasn’t complete without a cast of white-wingers, three Iceland Gulls of varying ages, 1st winter, 2nd winter and an adult were all feeding on the sea-weed at Quoybanks, while an adult and a 1st winter Glaucous Gull were making the most of the wind around the lighthouse. Snow Bunting numbers were also high totalling 111.
The 2nd saw the same pair of Glaucous Gulls joined by a further 1st winter bird and one the Iceland Gulls from the previous day was also present, the biggest shock of the year, more shocking than the Cranes, was the brief re-appearance of the Northern Harrier, the bird didn't stay long and was seen heading South towards Sanday.
The 2nd also bought about the arrival of our third returning staff member in the form of Lewis Hooper back for a full season of birding, ringing and various amounts mischief.
The 3rd was a stark contrast to the months opening day weather wise and a calm descended over the island, with barely any wind it allowed for good sea conditions and better numbers of Divers were seen offshore 9 Great Northerns and 4 Red-throats made for more healthy reading! As did a lone Puffin seen chugging its way along the Firth between here and Sanday.
The long staying Smew made and overdue re-appearance on the 4th along with the initial re-finding Kumlien’s Gull, it wouldn’t be identified fully for another couple of days due to poor views, but it had certainly put tails up!
Most of our efforts the next day went into re-finding the gull, but this proved a fruitless endeavour! It wasn’t until the 6th when the bird was seen in the morning that we had a clear of what is was going to be, it then pulled another disappearing act on us!
It wasn’t until later that day and we were tending to a sheep break in below the obs that the bird flushed off some sea-weed and went onto the sea. This time we were ready for it and managed to get a few pictures and furiously took field notes while sending photo’s to various sources, although we had a pretty good idea it was a Kumlien’s we wanted to be 100% sure! The other highlight for the day was a 1st winter Black-throated Diver drifting past the sea-watch hide with a pair of Red-throated Divers.
The 7th bought an excursion to Eday for the long (not so) staying Snowy Owl. It wasn’t there. The less said about that the better!
The 8th proved far better, after a pretty rank start to the day weather wise things brightened up. The early bad weather didn’t stop us getting an early Greenfinch on the board, always a good year bird as they’re not exactly common on the island. It wasn’t the only morning offering either, a pair of Black-throated Divers were seen off the North end and a ringtail Hen Harrier and male Merlin were also at Trebb. There was also a good chorus of Skylarks making their presence known giving the feeling that Spring isn’t a million miles away, even if it does keep snowing!
The now showy Kumlien's Gull

Kumlien's again...

Very showy indeed!

A bit more straightforward than above!
The theme is...Gulls with white wings, here's the 1st and 2nd winter Iceland Gulls

Terrified Purple Sandpipers running away from other Purple Sandpipers