Tuesday, 31 December 2019

31st December

Thankfully the wind and rain seem to have abated a little bit and birding the island today was far more pleasant than the previous couple of days.
There isn't great deal different in what was around but a few notable highlights certainly gave us reason to keep going!
Probably the most exciting but a lone Shelduck on Gretchen was the first of few decent birds, Decemeber Shelducks aren't a regular occurance on North Ronaldsay so this was quite a welcome start to the day.
Bewan was our main source of birding action for the day a Mute Swan that certainly wasn't around yesterday was joined by a bathing adult Glaucous Gull. We don't see many adult white wingers so again a more than welcome sight.
Other day totals include: 1 Pink-footed Goose still at Vincoin, 34 Purple Sandpipers, 4 Grey Heron at Westness, 21 Fieldfare the bulk of which were in the fields surrounding Kirbest, 33 Redwing, 4 Robins, 14 Snow Bunting and 2 Reed Buntings.
See you all in 2020!

Glaucous Gull


Monday, 30 December 2019

29th - 30th December

Some bonus end of the decade coverage for you!
Strong South-Westerlies and intermittent showers made birding slightly ardous, but despite this there's still a smattering of left over migrants from the Autumn.
Lingering pockets of Redwing totalling up to 19 birds were joined by 2 Fieldfare at Southness.
A solitary Pink-footed Goose was still opposite Vincoin with Greylags and up to 3 Robins have been hanging around the observatory and Lurand as have flock of around 40 Twite.
3 Hen Harriers seem to have set up thier winter terrortories on the island and the 29th saw 2 Woodcock flushed from Holland in a very brief look before dark. Finally a flock of around 20 Snow Bunting were feeding around Sandar.
Otherwise things are pretty quite up here as we head into 2020, but you never know what might turn up!

Pink-footed Goose                                                                 George Gay

Sunday, 15 December 2019

15th December

A much better day with lighter, southerly based winds and some good spells of sunshine; a fine selection of wintering birds were found across the island during the day which included 9 Herons, 273 Wigeon, 169 Teal, the Green-winged Teal still, 3 Hen Harriers, single Merlin and Peregrine again, a lone Knot on the rocks off Torness, 161 Purple Sandpipers, a Woodcock in Holland, 12 Bar-tailed Godwits, a Black-headed Gull (scarce in the winter), 8 Skylarks, 17 Rock Pipits, 3 Robins, 3 Fieldfare, 3 Song Thrush, 60 Redwing, 75 Twite remaining in the Obs sacrificial crop and 25 Snow Buntings.

Saturday, 14 December 2019

14th December

A little bit of bonus winter coverage for you!   Breezy with frequent showers but there were some decent spells to get out in the field; the birds seen were generally a continuation of the last blog entry and included 2 Herons, a single Pink-footed Goose with 420 Greylag Geese, 143 Wigeon, 8 Gadwall, 127 Teal, the drake Green-winged Teal still on Gretchen, 88 Mallard, 11 Shoveler, 35 Long-tailed Duck, 3 Goldeneye, 3 Hen Harriers, single Merlin and Peregrine, 95 Redshank, 191 Turnstone, 2 Skylarks, a Meadow Pipit, 3 Fieldfare, a Song Thrush, 65 Redwing and 13 Twite.


Thursday, 28 November 2019

26th - 28th November

Mainly windy (largely from the east until it moved into the NW on the 28th) and rainy with limited coverage; birds seen over the few days included 6 Herons, the Pink-footed Goose, 8 Pintail, a female Scaup on Brides on the 28th, 2 Hen Harriers, single Merlin and Peregrine, a Woodcock on the 26th, 7 Meadow Pipits, 10+ Robins, c70 Redwing, 2 Song Thrush, 2 Fieldfare, the Mistle Thrush still on the 27th,  40+ Twite and 30+ Snow Buntings.


Monday, 25 November 2019

23rd - 25th November

A decent day on the 23rd with lightish winds, remaining dry; a whole-island Goose count produced 644 Greylags and a single Pink-footed Goose, 2 Hen Harriers, a Woodcock, a Black-tailed Godwit on Gretchen (the second of the month), a little influx of 40 Redwings and 4 Song Thrush, 2 Siskins and still 75 Twite by The Obs.   After a wet and windy 24th when a Mistle Thrush was the only bird of note a better 25th produced a few bits including 8 Red-throated Divers, a Black-throated Diver again in Nouster, 7 Great-northern Divers, the Pink-footed Goose, 24 Shoveler, 19 Long-tailed Duck, 5 Goldeneye, 2 Hen Harriers, a Grey Plover, a 2cy Glaucous Gull at Bewan (a quiet autumn for white-wingers so far), a notable influx of 21 Fieldfare, 75 Redwing and a Mistle Thrush and 50 Snow Buntings.


Sunday, 24 November 2019

DNA results are in! (PART TWO)

These are more interesting (if you like that sort of thing!).   It proved to be an unprecedented autumn for 'Eastern Lesser Whitethroats' with an estimated 17 individuals recorded between 23rd September and 18th October.   A total of eight birds were caught in this period, all of which were analysed, the results of which appear below;

NUMBER 1 - 25th September

This, confiding, dumpy looking bird was thought to be maybe not a Siberian Lesser Whitethroat (the commonest race of 'Eastern Lesser Whitethroat' but its shape was altered by it missing half its tail, with the crucial T5 missing, clouding in the field and hand ID.   It was confirmed by mtDNA as S. c. blythi or Siberian Lesser Whitethroat.

NUMBER 2 - 26th September

This bird was caught at dusk so the pictures were a bit ropey but it was confirmed as a S. c. blythi

NUMBER 3 - 28th September

Also confirmed as S. c. blythi

NUMBER 4 - 3rd October

Another fine S. c. blythi

NUMBER 5 - 4th October

Also a S. c. blythi but the only one with a big white wedge on T5 and very bright, white T6

NUMBER 6 - also 4th October

Another S. c. blythi

NUMBER 7 - 17th October

This one was a bit of a surprise, when caught I thought it was 'just' another S. c. blythi but photos do suggest a bluer head, slightly less browny back and longer winged (wing length was slightly longer than the other blythi trapped).   Photos though, can be misleading, often accentuating the dark mask and especially in strong light, changing the mantle tones so, despite my thoughts in the hand at the time, this bird came back as a late, nominate S. c. curruca.

NUMBER 8 - 18th October

Similar to the previous bird in that when I caught it I was leaning towards it being Eastern (I was perhaps swayed by the date) but in photos, with the blue head, grey/blue mantle it looks an obvious S. c. curruca which is exactly what it came back as - it wasn't that obvious in the hand with your naked eye though!

DNA results are in! (PART ONE)

In recent years the face of bird identification for many species / races has been helped and accentuated by mtDNA analysis of feathers / faecal samples obtained through various methods; this year on North Ronaldsay produced a whole cast of birds caught and ringed where feathers were sent off for kind analysis by Martin Collinson and Thom Shannon at the University of Aberdeen.   The majority of results are now in and although most of them confirmed what we thought in the field / hand at the time it was great to get confirmation with a couple of slightly unexpected results at the end.

SAVI'S WARBLER - 11th May 2019

This surprise, cracking first for Orkney was confirmed as Savi's (even though there wasn't really any need to!)


This female was confirmed as a Collared Flycatcher


This cracking male Eastern Subalpine Warbler was confirmed as Eastern after being caught in the bar having flown in through an open door!


This one we needed help with!   It was caught at Upper Linney in heavy wing and tail moult (presumably not freshly arrived) so the in hand / field ID features were not clear at all, although Western was our best guess!

Friday, 22 November 2019

20th - 22nd November

Not much to report from the 20th but the 21st was a better day, a brisk easterly wind but at least it remained dry and fairly bright; the undoubted highlight of the day was a fantastic pod of c10 Orca hunting very close in, off the foghorn late in the day, they quickly moved further out being seen just off Seal Skerry at dusk – its been a poor year for sightings so it was great to get a quality encounter.   Other birds included the Green-winged Teal still, 11 Pintail, 4 Common Scoter (always a good island bird) past the Lighthouse, 2 Hen Harriers, a Merlin, 2 Jack Snipe, a Woodcock, 4 Siskins south and the big flock of Twite at The Obs still.   Wet and windy through most of the 22nd so sightings were again at a premium but a single Waxwing was at The Obs.

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

19th November

A wonderful calm day, almost still at times, remaining dry; more high Diver / Seaduck counts were posted sat on the calm seas including 27 Red-throated Divers, 39 Great-northern Divers, 37 Long-tailed Ducks and 27 Red-breasted Mergansers while other birds included 9 Herons, the Green-winged Teal still, 2 Merlin, a very distinctive pale, male Arctic Peregrine type along the west coast, a Little Auk on the sea off The Links, 20 Meadow Pipits, 90 Twite and 11 Snow Buntings.

Arctic-type Peregrine                                   Dante Shepherd

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

18th November

A quiet day, dry with a moderate NW wind; birds seen included the Green-winged Teal, 9 Pintail, 9 Gadwall, 2 Merlin, 2 Peregrine, 46 Dunlin, 14 Meadow Pipits, a nominate looking Chiffchaff at Ancum Willows (only the third non Siberian this month), a further increase to 112 Twite and 8 Snow Buntings.

Red-throated Diver

Monday, 18 November 2019

17th November

Damp and drizzly through the morning but it brightened up by lunchtime and with light winds it wasn’t too bad at all; birds seen through the day included 24 Red-throated Divers and 36 Great-northern Divers (both highest counts of the autumn so far), the Green-winged Teal, single Hen Harrier and Merlin, a Woodcock, 28 Bar-tailed Godwits, a Little Auk off the Lighthouse, a Siberian Chiffchaff still at The Obs, a Siskin, 84 Twite and 56 Snow Buntings.

Snow Bunting

Sunday, 17 November 2019

16th November

A lovely calm day, almost still at times with a nice array of late autumn birds across the island; the calm seas allowed for some good counts including 20 Red-throated Divers, 3 Black-throated Divers (one in Nouster and two off Torness), 19 Great-northern Divers and 26 Long-tailed Duck while other bits comprised 12 Herons, the Green-winged Teal, a Hen Harrier, 3 Merlin, 2 Grey Plover, a single Knot (first one since 25th October), single Jack Snipe and Woodcock, 12 Meadow Pipits, 29 Robins still, 18 Fieldfare, 3 Song Thrush, 42 Redwing, 5 Siberian Chiffchaffs – two at the Obs, two at Holland and one at Sandback, single Greenfinch (last one on 30th October), Siskin and Goldfinch (last one on 14th October), 80 Twite, a Common Redpoll, 39 Snow Buntings and 3 Reed Buntings.

Siberian Chiffchaff

Friday, 15 November 2019

14th - 15th November

A brisk, cold northerly wind on the 14th brought a couple of nasty hail showers but it was a better, calmer day on the 15th, staying dry and bright; not too much to mention on the 14th but a group of 3 Short-eared Owls at Peckhole was a bit of a surprise seeing as the last one was on 30th October.   Some signs that the year is not quite over yet on the 15th included a Sparrowhawk (last one on 20th October), 2 Woodcock, a new Siberian Chiffchaff in Holland, a flock of 25 Siskins in off from the south, 29 Snow Buntings – including 18 out to the south and a Lapland Bunting at Kirbest (last one also on 20th October).   Other totals from the couple of days comprised the 10 Pink-footed Geese still, 2 Hen Harriers, single Merlin and Peregrine, 2 Grey Plover, 21 Meadow Pipits, 6 Fieldfare, 2 Song Thrush, 30 Redwing and 95 Twite – seemingly still birds coming in.

Purple Sandpipers

Thursday, 14 November 2019

13th November

A lovely winter’s day, calm, dry and bright but the light northerly breeze was pretty cold; a Coue’s Arctic Redpoll was seen at Sangar in the afternoon but couldn’t be relocated by the Obs staff while other totals included 10 Pink-footed Geese, the Green-winged Teal, 2 Hen Harriers, single Merlin and Peregrine, 2 Woodcock, 8 Skylark, 7 Meadow Pipits, 34 Robins (a notable increase but probably just birds feeding out in the open in the fine conditions), 12 Fieldfare, 75 Redwing, the Mistle Thrush again, 3 Siberian Chiffchaffs still, 75 Twite, 3 Common Redpoll and 48 Snow Buntings.


Tuesday, 12 November 2019

10th - 12th November

A mixed few days, nice and calm on the 10th, horrible blazing easterly and driving rain on the 11th and then a cold northerly on the 12th;birds included the Green-winged Teal still on Gretchen throughout, 6 Goldeneye, up to 2 Hen Harriers and 4 Merlin, a Long-eared Owl at Holland at dusk on the 10th (very poor autumn so far), an influx of 22 Meadow Pipits on the 10th, 15 Fieldfare, a Mistle Thrush new on the 11th, still 2 Siberian Chiffchaffs (Funny Park and Garso), up to 60 Twite still and a confusing, huge, pale Common Redpoll trapped at Holland on the 10th – almost an Arctic!

Almost-an-Arctic Redpoll

Sunday, 10 November 2019

8th November

Another lovely day, very calm with sunny spells but pretty chilly as befits the time of year; most species enjoyed a slight increase in numbers due both to slight coverage improvement and some new birds coming though; totals included 2 Merlin, a Grey Plover, 6 Skylark, 2 Waxwings – one at the Obs first thing and another single south down the island at lunchtime, 25 Robins, 23 Fieldfare, 7 Song Thrush, 98 Redwing, a Chiffchaff, 2 Siberian Chiffchaffs still, a Brambling, 3 Siskin, 68 Twite, a good 53 Snow Buntings and 5 Reed Buntings.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

7th November

A very different day with a very cold, brisk NNE wind cutting right through you and some nasty little hail / rain showers early in the morning; the Siberian Rubythroat was seen briefly at Antabreck again early in the morning but unfortunately couldn’t be relocated afterwards for a visiting birder on the lunchtime plane and wasn’t seen again.   Other birds through the day included 10 Pink-footed Geese, single Merlin and Peregrine, a Grey Plover, a Jack Snipe, 11 Robins, 6 Song Thrush, 50 Redwing, 4 Fieldfare, a single remaining Siberian Chiffchaff, 60 Twite and 2 Snow Buntings.

Twite (and a Sparrow!)

6th November

A lovely day, almost flat calm with varying cloud cover, great to be out in the field; the undoubted highlight of the day (and autumn) was a wonderful female SIBERIAN RUBYTHROAT found in the garden at Purtabreck by Pete Donnelly as he had a cup-of-tea and gazed out of the window, it had disappeared by the time everyone else rocked up but within the hour it had been re-found next door at Antabreck and showed well to everyone – the [some might say overdue] first for the island!   Other birds through the day included the adult Black-throated Diver in Nouster again, the drake Green-winged Teal still, a Hen Harrier, a huge female Peregrine, single Grey Plover and Woodcock, a bit of a late influx of 17+ Meadow Pipits, 18 Robins, 2 Siberian Chiffchaffs – one at Ancum Willows and a new one in Funny Park, 2 Brambling, 74 Twite, a Common Redpoll and 8 Snow Buntings.

Siberian Rubythroat                              Simon Davies

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

5th November

Not a bad day with moderate and decreasing NNE winds, remaining dry; most of yesterday’s Blackbirds and other Thrushes had departed overnight leaving a quieter day in the field but birds seen did include 4 Hen Harriers, 4 Grey Plover, 4 Woodcock, 6 Skylark, 10 Meadow Pipits, 21 Robins, 38 Fieldfare, 13 Song Thrush, 167 Redwing, a Blackcap, 4 Siberian Chiffchaffs still (including a new bird at Howar), 3 Brambling, a Common Redpoll and 26 Snow Buntings.

Common Redpoll

Monday, 4 November 2019

4th November

A slight improvement again with lighter NNE winds, remaining dry and some obvious new arrivals across the island; totals comprised 8 Herons, single Whooper Swan and Pink-footed Goose, the Green-winged Teal still, at least 4 Hen Harriers, 6 Woodcock, 7 Skylark, at least 4 Waxwings around the Obs including one seen heading south out to sea, 10 Robins, 119 Blackbirds (an obvious arrival in the south of the island, mainly comprising adult birds, 54 Fieldfare, 9 Song Thrush, 210 Redwing, 2 Blackcaps, 3 Siberian Chiffchaffs – two at Scotsha and one in Ancum Willows, 3 Brambling, 2 Siskins and a Common Redpoll.



3rd November

Still moderately breezy with the wind again in the NE but infinitely better than yesterday, remaining dry and birdable; the days birds included 2 Black-throated Divers in Nouster – an adult and a first-year (the first ones since May), a single adult Whooper Swan, the Green-winged Teal still, 4 Hen Harriers, 2 Merlin, a Woodcock, a Black-tailed Godwit, 390+ Herring Gulls, 2 Waxwings south over the airfield, 7 Robins, 80 Blackbird, 40 Fieldfare, 9 Song Thrush, 147 Redwing, 6 Brambling and 2 Snow Buntings.