Tuesday, 28 July 2020

24th-27th July

A fairly productive few days with a dribble of a migrants passing through the island. The Long-tailed Skuas have remained on Tor Ness in varying numbers, we're not seeing the same birds every day so it begs the question where are the birds when they're not here? For example the adult bird went missing for two days before re-appearing on the 27th. Away from the skuas the highlight was a Roseate Tern seen briefly on several occasions between the 25th and 26th but was never seen particularly well. 
A pair of Grebes were seen flying over Bewan while we were setting up nets for another Tern session, the likelyhood is that they were Slavonian Grebes but they remain unproven. The Tern session was quite productive with 13 Terns trapped however a bumper catch of 38 Turnstone were the highlight along with singles of Dunlin and Mallard. 
The 26th also bought about a Short-eared Owl at Westness followed by a male Sparrowhawk that came off the in the same location. The following day saw the start of some heavy rain that continued into the night and is still going on now as I write! The morning however was birdable and again produced a few bits, five of the Long-tailed Skuas, including the adult. A lone Kestrel was seen heading West over Brek and 4 Whimbrels headed South over Garso.

                                   Kestrel                                                                                  GG

                                   Long-tailed Skua                                                                  GG

Friday, 24 July 2020

20th-23rd July

The Skua-fest continued over the last four days with the total number of birds rising to eleven by the 23rd including two adults. Most the birds are surprisingly variable, we'll do a full round up of all the birds eventually. 
Otherwise things have been relatively quiet on the land, a steady but small passage of Swifts have kept our eyes to the skies but they haven't produced much more. A Storm Petrel session on the 21st produced 33 birds including a British and Danish (likely Faroese) control and a rather smart Leach's Petrel. The following night we decided to make an attempt ringing adult Arctic Terns, this proved partially successful with 15 birds caught of varying ages along with 13 Turnstone and singles of Storm Petrel, Redshank and Dunlin. We were also briefly buzzed by another Leach's Petrel. Other passerines have included 4 Common Redpoll on the 20th, a Redwing at Ancum and a Stonechat still by the school on the 21st, 2 Collared Dove on the 22nd one at the obs and then one later further up the island. Waders such Knot, Dunlin, Whimbrel, Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits and Redshank have been gathering in the fields but the turnover seems high so we're almost certainly missing a few numbers.  The final bird of the post was a Short-eared Owl seen late on the 23rd near Purtabrek.

                                   Adult Long-tailed Skua                                                        GG

                                   Knot                                                                                      GG

Sunday, 19 July 2020

18th-19th July - Long-tailed Skuas

As you may have already if you follow us on Twitter this post is going to be dominated by Long-tailed Skuas. The last two days have not only been highly educational for the wardening team but highly enjoyable too. This all started with a text from Dante saying he had two, then three 2nd Calendar Year Long-tailed Skuas on Tor Ness following a lone bird the day previous. I have to say I was skeptical to say the least
"Surely he's just got himself carried away" I said to Gavin in the car on the way up to Tor Ness.
I was wrong. 
Once we arrived we could see three birds buzzing around Dante's head as he looked on, awestruck with the situation he found himself (Who wouldn't?!). This was all added to when a further two birds joined the fray and the now five strong party of Long-tails headed out over the fields, presumably hunting, before coming back onto Tor Ness. 
This seemed unprecedented, 2CY Long-tailed Skuas simply shouldn't occur in the UK, they should be off coastlines in the Southern Hemisphere and there certainly shouldn't be a flock of them in British waters at this time of year. This seems to have been echoed throughout social media platforms, simply put...it's weird. Most sightings of 2CY birds seem to occur pelagically, for example most sightings from the Scilly Pelagics trips are of a similar age. 
Over the two days we've had at least seven birds, plus a couple of birds on Papa Westray all of which have been photographed. We need to go away now and write all this up, see if we can work out how many birds we've had and then do some extra digging into why this might have happened. Whatever comes of it, it's been a superb experience for all of us, they aren't birds that we're hugely familiar with so being able to study them extensively has been a privilege that none of us will forget anytime soon.
In the brief moments we've managed to tear ourselves away from the Skuas the cut fields have dragged in a good few Gulls and Waders, the highlights of which were a flock of 55 summer plumaged Black-tailed Godwits and a 1st Summer Little Gull to add to the adult that's been hanging around. 
The lochs have also dragged in Waders, the highest count of Dunlin for the year with a total of 520 birds mixed in with Oystercatchers and a few Redshank. 
On the land both days have produced four Crossbills, one of which found its way into T4 and two showed superbly in the surgery garden. Elsewhere the Stonechat was still below school as was a Woodpigeon. 

                                    Long-tailed Skua (bottom) and Arctic Skua (top).               GG

                                    Long-tailed Skua.                                                                  GG

                                   Long-tailed Skua.                                                                   GG

                                   Common Crossbill                                                                 GG

Friday, 17 July 2020

13th-17th July

A bit of longer period than intended between posts but often things get in the way this time of year! 
The 13th saw a rather disgusting day of wet and windy weather which meant we couldn't do a lot of the outdoor jobs or ringing that we wanted to get done. The birding wasn't exactly spectacular either although the Pectoral Sandpiper did make another appearance, this time on the dyke in front of Scottsha' before disappearing into thick cover, it would however re-appear and show well on the deck some two days later in the fields opposite school before being flushed by a Great Black-backed Gull. 
The Great White Egret was still on Hooking where it remained until the 15th, a Juvenile Crossbill was in the Funny Park and the Adult Little Gull has been seen nearly everyday over Garso.
The weather on the 14th was a much more settled affair and seemed to bring in a flurry of migrants, a Redwing was in Ancum Willows in the morning, the Stonechat that's been around the school made another appearance as did 2 Swifts in the North of the island. A female Crossbill was at Sangar and up to 11 Common Redpoll were on the island. 
The night of the 14th saw ideal conditions allowing us to do our second Storm Petrel ringing session of the year which yet again produced a singing Leach's Petrel but a failure to land it in a mist net! A more exciting moment was a 02:30am Common Sandpiper heard calling as it went over the nets in the twilight. The following morning was far less pleasant than the day that preceded it and when dawn broke about an hour and half after the Common Sandpiper's fleeting visit a drizzly fog had enveloped the isle. This didn't stop the first record of Long-tailed Skua for the year as a 2CY bird was chased around Gretchen by angry Common Gulls, the awful weather making viewing the bird hard. It was however photographed but forgotten about until the next day when it was found on Torness sat with up to 13 Arctic Skuas, the bird this time showed superbly and gave the obs staff chance to see an age that is seldom seen around British waters. 
Finally the 17th, a day dominated by Punding, Sheep Shearing, Tystie chick ringing and fish and chip night meant opportunities for birding were left to the time between deliveries of the aforementioned fish and chips. However a sub-adult Little near Scottigar and 2 juvenile Crossbills were ample reward for a few hours of deliveries! 

2CY Long-tailed Skua                                                         GG 

Pectoral Sandpiper making a hasty retreat!                        GG

Common Redpoll                                                                 GG

Sunday, 12 July 2020

9th-12th July

The 9th saw another day of fine weather so we promptly took advantage and got some more chick ringing done, Trinley provided a good number of Tysties to ring along with a brood of Pied Wagtails, a Herring Gull and couple of other bits. The 9th also saw a start to silage cutting which meant a veritable feast was created for the islands waders, although the cut fields have failed to bring anything in so far they've held good numbers of Oystercatchers with a few Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits in superb summer plumage thrown in to keep interest up. Other waders included a couple of Whimbrel. 
The 10th was started with a Storm Petrel ringing session in which we caught 33 new birds and two re-traps, hopefully we'll manage more in the coming days. The Great White Egret was still on Hooking and the Corncrake was heard singing around Peckhole again.
The following day was a little better migrant wise, a Stonechat was present below the school but the undeniable bird of the day was a stunning adult female Red-necked Phalarope on Bewan. The bird showed well for a short period before magically disappearing when backs were turned! 
The final day of this update was unexpectedly good, not only weather wise. The forecasted rain never really arrived and instead was replaced by long periods of unbroken sunshine. The adult Little Gull put on a fine display over Garso, even mobbing those watching at times. Again the bird of the day was a wader, this time a wholly unexpected Pectoral Sandpiper display flighting to a Snipe, sadly the bird didn't hang around and disappeared off towards Links.

Pectoral Sandpiper                                                          GG

Little Gull                                                                 GG

Red-necked Phalarope                                                   DS

Thursday, 9 July 2020

5th-8th July

Predictably things have been quite quiet with migration having pretty much ceased. A spell of terrible weather on the 5th meant any breeding bird work was put on hold. The adult Little Gull was sat with no fewer than 350 Kittiwakes on the grass in front of the sea-watch hide as was a second calendar year Arctic Skua. Golden Plovers have been returning slowly with numbers climbing to just over 200 in various locations across the island. A good passage of Manx Shearwaters over past few days has seen over 150 birds pass the sea-watch hide, other sea-watch highlights from the past four days include a dark phase Pomarine Skua and a 'blue' phase Fulmar on the 6th and 2 Sooty Shearwaters on the 8th. The Great White Egret has remained on Hooking feeding in the Mares Tails over the past four days.

Arctic Skua                                                                          GG

Great White Egret                                                                 GG

Little Gull in disguise                                                            GG

Sunday, 5 July 2020

2nd-4th July

Bird news has predictably been thin on the ground. With little to report I'll keep the post short and sweet. Poor weather on the 2nd meant the day was dedicated to other tasks, the 3rd however was much better and we used the good weather in the early part of the day to make our first visit to the Tern colonies at Trinley and the North Links. The Terns were doing slightly better than we'd expected, we ringed 36 chicks which is a promising start with many more still on eggs and a few other colonies to visit once the weather improves again. We also managed to ring one of the Great Skua chicks and what a brute it was! 
The 4th was a little bit on the birding front, the adult Little Gull was back at Westness being beaten up by the nesting Black-headed Gulls. A eclipse drake Wigeon was on Garso briefly but the stand out bird of the day came after a phone call from Isobel at Hooking describing
"a large white bird with the Herons on the loch"
A mad dash down to Hooking revealed the bird to be the islands 5th record of Great White Egret. A very welcome surprise to all of us!

Great White Egret                                            GG
Little Gull making a quick escape!                                                               GG
Great Skua chick, its still a chick....just                                                       GG

Thursday, 2 July 2020

29th June- 1st July

It feels as though spring is well and truly done here and we're now onto summer and all the jobs that it entails. Bird wise things have gone a little bit quieter in the last few days. An adult Little Gull at Westness on the 29th and 30th was a welcome arrival. A few Whimbrels have been knocking around as they make their way South. A little bit left field from the usual bits on here, its a first for North Ronaldsay in the shape of Volucella bombylans (or so I'm told by those who know better!) it also represents the most Northerly record for the UK, so quite exciting really! The 30th also had a few other late arrivals the pick of the bunch being a Cuckoo that was found late on at Cruesbrek followed by a Stonechat at Howartoft and 3 Redwings, two at Howartoft and one at Westness. Another Stonechat between Quoybanks and Sandback on the 1st was about the only bird of note. On a final note we said goodbye to Phoebe, we thank her for all her efforts this Spring and hopefully we'll see her again soon.  

Stonechat                                                                             GG

Volucella bombylans                                                     GG

There's still plenty of Kittiwakes around!                   GG