Wednesday, 3 November 2021

31st October - 3rd November

The south easterlies from the 30th October, continued into the morning of the 31st producing further arrivals of late autumn migrants. The winds then dropped off, producing a calm day on the 1st November, which coincided with the discovery of one of the highlights of the autumn. Reasonable numbers of common migrants remained on the 2nd, although a strengthening north westerly wind and rather grim conditions led to a bit of a clear out on the 3rd. 

Over 300 Redwings remained on the 31st, with a slight increase in Fieldfare amongst them. Despite this, totals for this species still remain low this autumn, a feature which appears to be happening across the UK. In addition to this, there were small numbers of Woodcock and Siberian Chiffchaffs. A northern acredula-type Willow Warbler was also present at Milldam and the Richard's Pipit at Senness was joined by another individual.

The morning of the 1st produced a late autumn rarity in the form of a large pipit sp., which we can now confirm as Orkney's first Blyth's Pipit (pending acceptance of course). First discovered in the field south of Holland, the bird proved highly mobile, flying north to the area around Milldam before it was lost around South Gravity. Initial impressions of the bird were of a compact, short-tailed bird - it wasn't immediately obvious that it was a large pipit, giving off a feel similar to smaller pipit species. The bird then flew off calling, giving short high pitched "chup" notes. Being unlike any Richard's Pipit call, this certainly sent the alarm bells ringing! Rediscovering the bird around Milldam, we were able to obtain some record shots and crucially a sound recording of the bird's call. Due to the identification challenge large pipits can provide, we decided to take our time with the ID and ask for advice from others who are more experienced with this species. We're very thankful to everyone who provided help on this bird! The features allowing the bird's identification are summarized below - please note this is only intended as a quick summary and not a full description style piece.

The bird's mantle is rather dark and distinctly streaked. The crown is also entirely dark streaked, giving the bird a dark-capped appearance.  Bill appears spiky with a straight culmen (Richard's tend to show more robust thrush-like bill with a decurved culmen). Pale lores and rather weakly defined supercilium behind the eye.

Overall structure and jizz: rather compact bird, clearly smaller than a typical Richard's Pipit, and with a rather short tail. The bird's small size and compact proportions were particularly noticeable in flight. Different impression to Richard's Pipit, which typically appear large and lanky, giving off explosive "shreep" calls during their conspicuous, bounding flight - initial impression of this bird meant it wasn't obviously a large pipit at first!

However, there is significant overlap in the plumage features between Blyth's and Richard's Pipits, with many features being variable. The existence (and occasional occurrence in Britain) of smaller Richard's Pipits complicates matters further still when relying on plumage and structural features alone for identification. Consequently, call is a much more reliable method of identification. Thankfully, we were able to obtain a sound recording and produce a sonagram from this, illustrating Blyth's Pipit's classic "chup" calls and confirming the identification.

This sonagram illustrates 3 "chup" calls - the first being slightly longer (indicated by white X mark), followed by two slightly shorter calls (indicated by white asterisks *). The calls create sharp triangular shapes, with a structure described by Magnus Robb as a "tentpole" on the Sound Approach wesbite:

Additionally, the two Richard's Pipits were still present at Senness and there was a scattering of common migrants around the island - a late Pied Flycatcher at Southness, 4 Siskins, 7 Blackcaps and 5 Chiffchaffs (including 4 Eastern-types), plus similar numbers of thrushes to the previous day.

Notable highlights on the 2nd included a Grey Plover, 2 Goldfinches and 20 Blackcaps, with at least one Richard's Pipit still present at Senness. The Blyth's Pipit was still nowhere to be seen unfortunately. The 3rd was a largely unbirdable day, although there was a notable clear out of thrushes, with less than a hundred Redwings noted. The recent run of easterlies appear to have come and end for now, with a westerly airflow returning. Whilst this doesn't look likely to bring large numbers of migrants, November always has the potential to turn up some top quality so we won't rule anything out!

Saturday, 30 October 2021

25th-30th October

 A very mixed bag in terms of birds over the past few days but a lot of it of fairly decent quality. A spell of winds that seemed to have a whiff of Easterly that produced some scarce migrants. 

The 25th was a mostly quiet affair however the appearance of a Red-breasted Flycatcher in Scarfie Geo in the afternoon provided some excitement, followed by a bit of panic. With some of the photos looking pale it needed re-checking but further photos revealed it to be dodgy light making it look pale. The 26th was equally quiet, the Green-winged Teal remained on Gretchen and the Little Bunting from the 24th was re-found in the obs oat crop. The following day was much quieter in poor weather but news on the neighbouring Papa Westray in the evening would mean most of the staff would be away for the subsequent two days. The 28th however did have its highlights before our flight West. The Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll made a brief re-appearance around the obs croft but was difficult to pin down, however in searching for it the team uncovered a Grey Phalarope on Gretchen, 9 Greenfinch and several Common Redpoll and Siskin. The trip for the Varied Thrush on Papay was largely successful and highly enjoyable if made longer by being delayed for fog on the 29th! The 30th saw us return and pick up where we left off, a big dump of thrushes in the afternoon saw over 800 spread across the island with a few Fieldfare and Song Thrush thrown in for good measure. A second Richard's Pipit of the Autumn was found around Senness in the rain as was a Lark sp. at Dennishill that had all the makings of a Short-toed Lark but seemed to vanish in near unbirdable rain and will have remain as unidentified. 

                                   Grey Phalarope
                                   Grey Phalarope 
                The Papa Westray Varied Thrush, would've been rude not to include a photo of it really!

Sunday, 24 October 2021

20th-24th October

Whilst unfortunately there has been no repeat of the easterlies from earlier in the week, reasonable numbers of late autumn migrants have remained on the island during the subsequent days, along with a trickle of new arrivals including some quality scarcities. 

The 20th was a rather quiet day, with a Sparrowhawk being the only notable highlight among the remaining thrushes and Goldcrests. The following day was a similar story, although a Shelduck at Ancum along with several hundred Redwing around the east side of the island was enough to keep us going. 

The Green-winged Teal was seen again on Gretchen Loch on the 22nd, although it wasn't until the evening that the standout highlight of the day was found, with a smart Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll trapped at Holland. This perhaps wasn't a complete surprise given the recent run of northerlies, although a fine addition to the year list nevertheless. A morning seawatch on the 23rd was rather challenging in the freshening southerly wind, with birds passing quickly at distance. Counts included 24 Sooty Shearwaters, 2 Little Auks and 2 Arctic Skuas. On the land, a Mealy Redpoll and a trickle of Redwings and Robins were the only sightings of note.

Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll (George Gay)

An overdue addition to the year list was discovered on the 24th, with a Little Bunting being found in the observatory oat crop. No doubt the almost complete lack of easterlies this autumn have played a large part in the poor turnout for this species in 2021, along with many other expected eastern migrants (e.g. Yellow-browed Warbler). The bunting theme was to continue shortly afterwards as another year tick was discovered in the form of a Yellowhammer, found in the Rosa rugosa bushes in T4 next to the oat crop. Best of the rest included 2 "North-western" Redpolls at Holland and 11 Long-tailed Ducks in Linklet Bay. Whilst it's late on in the season now, we're optimistic for the upcoming week and the general feeling is we might be able to squeeze in some last minute finds if we're lucky! 

Long-tailed Ducks (Tom Gale)

Wednesday, 20 October 2021

16th-19th October

 We've finally had some easterlies to get our teeth into and although they haven't quite produced that big highlight bird that was going to round off our Autumn. However that said it's been brilliant seeing large numbers of common migrants around the island.

Saturday was a rather quiet day although a morning sea-watch produced good numbers of Sooty Shearwater but the highlight for the day was a Grey Phalarope that passed in the afternoon.

The following day looked more promising and with the winds switching into the east there more migrants about on the land. Good numbers of Blackbirds and Redwing had made landfall overnight but they didn't really have much of a supporting cast! A Goldcrest at Stromness and a Tree Pipit at Ancum were about all the land had to offer. The sea was again the provider of big highlights for the day another Fea's-type Petrel was the standout bird, a good showing of other sea-birds included a juv Long-tailed Skua, 18 Pomarine Skua, 4 Arctic Skua, 11 Little Auk and 2173 Kittiwake. 

The 18th was in simpler terms, absolutely hooching with migrants, a large overnight arrivals of Autumnal migrants included 3000+ Redwing, 700+ Blackbird, 40+ Song Thrush, 10+ Ring Ouzel, 30+ Goldcrest, 58 Robin, 6 Woodcock, 2 Long-eared Owls 200+ Brambling, 3 Chaffinch, a Lesser Whitethroat, a Willow Warbler and a Chiffchaff. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was the discovery of perished Cory's Shearwater under the lighthouse! 

The 19th was a day of trying to mop up anything that remained and eek out that star bird, however it was much the same story as the previous day although highlights included 4 Long-eared Owls in Ancum Willows, the return of the Green-winged Teal on Gretchen and 9 Woodcock. 

                                                Cory's Shearwater 


Saturday, 16 October 2021

12th - 15th October

Highlights from the 12th to the 15th of October have included 7 Whooper Swan, a Barnacle Goose, a Velvet Scoter, a Common Scoter, a Little Egret (fourth island record), 10 Manx Shearwater, 356 Sooty Shearwater, 2 Arctic Tern, a new juvenile Lesser Yellowlegs (our second of the autumn and the third island record), a Siberian Chiffchaff, a Chiffchaff, 8 Greenfinch and a Common Redpoll.

Lesser Yellowlegs and Little Egret

Tuesday, 12 October 2021

9th-11th October

 The quiet birding continues to be a dominating factor in almost everything we talk about at the moment, the weather has been firmly set in a Westerly direction for what feels like weeks. The 11th was probably the pick of the bunch weather wise with two days before being windy and at times quite wet! 

The 9th saw the Richard's Pipit make a brief re-appearance in Kirkie Park West before seemingly evaporating into nothing. A Red-breasted Flycatcher was discovered around Senness in the morning and a Yellow-browed Warbler was still around Veracott while 2 Tree Pipits in the Gravity area and Sibe Chiffchaff made up the best of the rest for the day.

The 10th was a pretty awful day with howling winds and showers, the only highlight being a Hawfinch seen briefly in Holland. The 11th however saw things clear up a bit and a nicer spell of weather was more conducive to birding. A Pectoral Sandpiper was flushed off of Cauldhaim before re-locating to Sandsheen. The Sibe Chiffchaff was seen at Westness and good numbers of Snow Buntings were seen around the island. 

                                    Pectoral Sandpiper with Ringed Plovers

Saturday, 9 October 2021

6th - 8th October

Highlights from the 6th to the 8th have included 2 Whooper Swan, 71 Pink-footed Goose, 3 Long-tailed Duck, a Common Scoter, a Sparrowhawk, a Kestrel, 10 Jack Snipe, a Short-eared Owl, a Richard’s Pipit, a Tree Pipit, 3 Robin, 67 Blackbird, 59 Song Thrush, 932 Redwing, 7 Blackcap, 2 Yellow-browed Warbler, a Chiffchaff, 2 Willow Warbler, an unidentified ficedula flycatcher sp, 17 Chaffinch, 18 Brambling, 7 Greenfinch, 2 Siskin, a Hawfinch and 178 Snow Bunting.

Richard's Pipit

Wednesday, 6 October 2021

3rd-5th October

 A fairly settled few days of weather still hasn't produced any numbers of migrants and although there have been a couple of highlight birds the general feeling is of slogging around for little reward, perhaps that goes with the time of year though.

The big highlight of the last few days has been a Lanceolated Warbler trapped and ringed at Senness, it represents the 8th record for the island and our second in as many years following last years showy bird around Trolla. Elsewhere warbler numbers have been in short supply with low counts of Willow Warbler and Blackcap. A Reed Warbler was trapped in Holland on the 4th, while between two and three Yellow-browed Warblers have been hanging around in various thistle patches and the 5th saw Barred Warblers at Trolla and Stennabreck. Elsewhere a Common Scoter has been seen feeding in the bay at Nouster, the first Long-tailed Ducks of the Autumn were back in Linklet, a sure sign that winter can't be too far away! 

Pink-footed Geese continue to move South in small but steady numbers with double figures posted most days. A small influx of Blackbirds, including some all dark Scandinavian birds were present on the 5th but lower numbers of other Thrushes doesn't seem to bode well for a big Thrush movement. We've had a couple of frustrating getaways too, a Common Sandpiper like wader has been seen twice now but very poorly and never re-located despite good efforts and a Pipit at Westness gave everybody the slip in pouring rain on the 3rd.

It seems like we'll struggle for any big numbers of birds this Autumn but there's little we can do but get out, keep birding and pray for Easterlies!! 

                                   Lanceolated Warbler

Sunday, 3 October 2021

30th September - 2nd October

Highlights from the 30th of September to the 2nd of October included a Little Stint, a Black-tailed Godwit, a Redwing, 20+ Song Thrush, a Ring Ouzel, a Dunnock, a Redstart, a Black Redstart, 3 Robin, 6 Whinchat, a Lesser Whitethroat, a Barred Warbler, a Danish-ringed Reed Warbler, 8 Blackcap, the Arctic Warbler still, 3 Yellow-browed Warbler, 2 Chiffchaff, 3 Willow Warbler, a Goldcrest, 255+ Chaffinch, 15 Brambling, 14 Siskin, 19 Snow Bunt and 6 Lapland Bunting.

the Arctic Warbler is still here for its fourth day

Thursday, 30 September 2021

27th-29th September

 A blustery few days that finally resulted in a few land migrants for us to get stuck into. 

Tree Pipits were present on the 27th and 29th while good numbers of Chaffinch and Brambling have remained on the island for the past few days. Good numbers of Whinchat have also been present around the island. A Barred Warbler was skulking around in Holland but avoided the nets. Despite a soaking wet day there were still a few migrants around and a soggy Redstart at Scottsha' was joined by 3 Blackcap and 2 Grey Plover. As the evening wore on and the rain subsided a Marsh Warbler was discovered in the punds around Trolla.

Tuesday bought about a calmer day and with it a few more migrants worked their way out into view, a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers at the Shooting Gallery and Seaside were a nice surprise for folk birding the island. A Slavonian Grebe was in the bay at Westness and was new for the year, this period in late September and early October seems to have been good for them in recent years. The Flava Wagtail remained around Scottigar and an adult Common Tern passed the Seawatch hide.

The 29th was a better day all in all. A Red-breasted Flycatcher was trapped in Holland in the morning while a Ring Ouzel was in a field above Ancum. 4 Common Scoter were off the North end and a Barred Warbler seemingly arrived in fresh at the Beacon. Finally a message in the afternoon reporting rounded off the day nicely as a Arctic Warbler was found on the track down to Gravity. 

Monday, 27 September 2021

26th September

Highlights from the 26th included a Whooper Swan, 16 Sooty Shearwater, 2 Peregrine (including a probable calidus Northern type bird) the Buff-breasted Sandpiper (which was ringed), 3 Ruff, a Black-tailed Godwit, 4 Jack Snipe, a Redwing, a Western Yellow Wagtail, 2 Willow Warbler, a Yellow-browed Warbler, a locustella sp, 35+ Brambling, 150+ Chaffinch, 2 Snow Bunting and 2 Lapland Bunting. 

juvenile Buff-breasted Sandpiper - first ever ringed in Scotland and first in the UK since 1995

Sunday, 26 September 2021

22nd-25th September

 A very windy few days have meant that new arrivals of birds have been a little bit thin on the ground, however a slacking of the wind on the 25th did allow for productive sea-watching conditions and other lingering species have kept things interesting.

The Lesser Scaup has remained between Bewan and Garso occasionally making trips out to sit on the sea but for the most part has been seen feeding on the lochs. Good numbers of Pink-footed Goose have also passed through the island on their way South with well over 500 birds between the 22nd and 23rd. Pectoral Sandpipers were present at Brides on the 22nd and Bewan on the 24th, while Snow Buntings have been slowly building up with 4 present on the 25th. A Yellow-browed Warbler was heard briefly in Holland on the 25th but blustery conditions probably aided the bird in its ability to keep hidden. A third Buff-breasted Sandpiper of the year was discovered in East Loch Park also on the 25th where it spent the afternoon feeding with the Golden Plover flock that seems to favour that area. Sea-watching over the past 24 hours has also produced well, 3 Long-tailed Skua, 2 Pomarine Skua, a Little Gull, 5 Manx Shearwater and 100+ Sooty Shearwater along with good numbers of commoner sea-birds made for interesting watching. A trio of Rosefinches was in Holland on the 25th along with a couple of Siskins, the Chaffinch numbers still remain high with over 100 birds recorded on the 23rd but it looks like they're beginning to leave with flocks seen dispersing on the evening of the 25th. A second Little Gull was in Linklet Bay on the 24th and lastly small groups of Whooper Swan are also passing through as they head South. 

Year List: 202

                                   Pink-footed Geese arriving with a Sooty Shearwater to left
                                   Wigeon avoiding the surf

Wednesday, 22 September 2021

19th - 21st September

Highlights from the 19th to the 21st included 6 Whooper Swan, a Dark-belied Brent Goose, 36 Pink-footed Goose, the juvenile Lesser Scaup still, an American Golden Plover (our 2nd of the year), 3 Pectoral Sandpiper, a Jack Snipe, 8 Ruff, a Peregrine, a Swift, a Tree Pipit, 2 Robin, a Red-breasted Flycatcher (first of the year), a Pied flycatcher, 3 Spotted Flycatcher, 4 Redstart, 3 Whinchat, 6 Willow Warbler, 4 Chiffchaff, a Barred Warbler, 4 Blackcap, 2 Brambling, 80+ Chaffinch, 7 Siskin and 2 Lapland Bunting.

Lesser Scaup and Red-breasted Flycatcher

Saturday, 18 September 2021

15th - 18th September

 A longer interval between blog post than intended this time so sorry to keep you all waiting! The weather has been somewhat of a mixed bag over the past few days but this can always turn up unexpected birds and in this case it did! The big news however was the departure of Maddy, having been on island since mid-March she now departs for Durham University, we thank her for all of her efforts in the obs and out in field.  

The 15th was rather quiet and lingering birds made up the vast majority of the highlights, 2 Rosefinches were still feeding around Holland but were joined by a Redstart that showed fleetingly on and off throughout the day, while a second bird was at Nether Linnay in the morning and a characteristically skulky Barred Warbler in Holland . The Dotterel was still on the Links but that otherwise summed up a very quiet day for new arrivals. A Pied Flycatcher has also been lingering in the Willows at Ancum.

The 16th was a very similar story with very little in the way of new birds, the highlights being 2 Lapland Buntings around Bewan and a lone Brambling in the Funny Park were all we had to shout about.

The 17th was a much different affair, the morning starting with a reconnaissance mission to investigate a dodgy Ringed Plover photographed the day before, but it turned out to be just that, however while sifting through Ringed Plover (a nightmare I thought was behind us following 2020's Semipalmated Plover) a wader started whizzing around the over the Ringo flock, after landing having been sworn at a few times because it was putting the Ringo's up, it transpired to be our second Buff-breasted Sandpiper of the Autumn and all bad feelings towards it were forgotten. With the day other seemingly fading away a trip back up North in the afternoon to have a look at the Buff-breasted Sandpiper would turn up an altogether rarer arrival in the shape of North Ronaldsay's first Lesser Scaup. A rather unseasonal juvenile on Bewan turned into a bit more of a cryptic bird than we thought, but good photos and careful research left us more than happy with the duck in question. 

The 18th started with fog. Again. However as the morning wore on the fog burned off and were left with a rather pleasant day. The Lesser Scaup was still on Bewan in the morning, as was one of the Lapland Buntings, once the afternoon rolled around however the Scaup was nowhere to be found and maybe took advantage of the break in the weather and has left the island? The first Spotted Flycatcher of the Autumn was behind the Old Kirk and a new Rosefinch was present in a mixed finch flock at Neven. The news of the day was a large arrival of Chaffinch onto the island, just over 100 birds seemed to have appeared overnight and gave that day a really Autumnal feel and were joined by a few Bramblings. 

Things still look interesting as the weekend goes on but with the 19th forecast as being quite a soggy we will have to wait and see! 

                                   Lesser Scaup

Wednesday, 15 September 2021

12th - 14th September

Highlights from the 12th to the 14th of September included a Buff-breasted Sandpiper, a Dotterel, 2 (or 3) Pectoral Sandpiper, a Short-eared Owl, a Whinchat, a Redstart, 2 Pied Flycatcher, a Robin, 5 Lesser Whitethroat, 5 Barred Warbler, a Garden Warbler, 2 Blackcap, 2 Common Whitethroat, a Reed Warbler, 2 Chiffchaff, 13 Willow Warbler, 6 Rosefinch and 7 Orca (the 27s pod back hunting again).

juvenile Buff-breasted Sandpiper (top) and juvenile Dotterel (bottom)

Saturday, 11 September 2021

9th-11th September

 A very mixed bag of weather over the past few days has resulted in some superb birds, the 9th was the last of the more settled weather being replaced by a fairly thick fog and light NE breeze on the 10th the 11th would be best described as a washout, but produced birds nontheless. 

The 9th saw the return of the 27's Pod of Orca around the island, unfortunately one less in their number than they should have had with the unfortunate demise of #151. On the avian front the still very obliuging Lesser Yellowlegs was still showing at Brides while the 2 Rosefinches remained in Holland and another 2 birds were at North Gravity and Nether Linnay respectively in the afternoon. Wood Warblers were present at the observatory and Ancum Willows. The bird of the day however wouldn't rear its head until the 10th, a Dove photographed near Greenwall in the early afternoon turned out to be the islands first Rufous Turtle Dove (ssp. Meena). The initial scramble to try and re-find the bird ended after a near three hour search with the bird being re-found between Howar and Greenwall where it spent the rest of the afternoon. It's taken and is taking a lot of work for us to be 100% certain of the birds identity, it's new ground for us here and for birding in the UK with it being the first early Autumn record for Britain, so while we remain confident we're still ploughing the books and online papers in the background. The 10th wasn't without other highlights, Barred Warblers were at the obs and Ancum Willow, while plenty of commoner migrants were around too, but understandably most of the afternoon was taken up by the Dove! 

The 11th was sodden and practically unbirdable at times! Again it seemed the birds weren't all that bothered, a smart Pectoral Sandpiper was at Brides in the afternoon. No fewer than 8 Rosefinches were present, a flock of at least 6 birds in Holland and two at Westness including a very smart male. There were plenty of common migrants again but again the potential bird of day remains a bit of conundrum, a Flycatcher seen at Westness in the morning displaying features of Collared, but with poor photos and appalling weather it couldn't be quite be nailed down, hopefully it's one for tomorrow! 

                                   Rufous Turtle Dove?
               Flycatcher sp.

Thursday, 9 September 2021

7th - 8th September

Highlights from the 7th to the 8th of September include 45 Sooty Shearwater, a Fea’s-type Petrel (we are starting to wonder if all of our recent sightings could infact relate to the same bird doing large feeding loops in the area), a Little Stint, 2 juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper (commuting between Brides and Hooking), a juvenile Lesser Yellowlegs (initially found coming in off the sea at Dennishead on the 7th the bird briefly landed on Bewan before disappearing within 30 seconds. Thankfully the bird was relocated at Brides an hour or two later and has been showing exceptionally well since. It represents just the 2nd record for the island since the observatory was opened), a probable Wilson’s Snipe (briefly on Hooking on the 8th - more about the ID features below), a Fieldfare, 2 Lesser Whitethroat, 2 Garden Warbler and 3+ Rosefinch still.

juvenile Pectoral Sandpipers

juvenile Lesser Yellowlegs

probable Wilson's Snipe
The bird shows three key features - extensively barred auxiliaries (overall more dark than light), extensively dark underwing coverts (again overall more dark than light) and a thin trailing edge to the secondaries. Other supportive features include the small size, cold tones and cold flanks (white between the flank barring). 

Tuesday, 7 September 2021

5th - 6th September

 The settled weather finally broke up on the 5th giving way to overnight rain and slightly windier conditions on the 6th. Both days had plenty of highlights although not all of them avian!

The 5th was dominated by a pod of a Orcas that spent the day touring the coast of the island, the pod consisted of some 10-15 animals from the 27's and the 64's both known locally in Orkney and Shetland. They provided much entertainment throughout the afternoon as they did close passes of the coastline and the pier just South of the obs, even making kills as Lenswick and Nouster as they went. On the birding front things were again a bit quieter on the land than we'd hoped for but a Wood Sandpiper flushed towards Hooking the morning did inspire hope, the bird of the day however came from a sea-watch again and in the shape of a 2cy Mediterranean Gull as it passed close to the Beacon in poor weather.

The 6th was a bit of a sea-watching bonanza coupled with what we thought had to be new arrivals on the land. A total of 520 Sooty Shearwaters, 2 Balearic Shearwaters, 20+ Manx Shearwater, a Fea's-type Petrel, a Leach's Petrel, 7 Storm Petrel plus good numbers of all the commoner sea-birds made for a great day of sea-watching and took the total of Fea's-type Petrels to 4 for the year! On the land Holland held most of the migrants with at least 3 Rosefinches present and a Barred Warbler that was later trapped in Holland and was also found to be very fat, with a fat score of 6 and an overall weight of 32.4g! Other land migrants included a Tree Pipit, a Short-eared Owl and 5 Willow Warblers.

                                   Orca #34 from the 27's Pod
                                   The 27's in Nouster

Sunday, 5 September 2021

3rd - 4th September

Highlights from the 3rd to the 4th of September have included a Black-throated Diver, 12 Common Scoter, 2 Fea’s-type Petrel (one seen on the morning of the 3rd and another seen on the evening of the 4th - potentially making up to 3 different birds since the 2nd), a Cory’s Shearwater, 150+ Sooty Shearwater, 3 Pomarine Skua, a Greenshank, a Willow Warbler, a Robin, a Minke Whale, a Basking Shark and 30+ Risso’s Dolphin.

Sooty Shearwater

Thursday, 2 September 2021

29th August - 2nd September

 A very settled few days of weather has meant the birding on the island has been nothing short of frustrating. A general lack of land migrants has meant a lot of attention has been turned towards the sea and it has been the saving grace in what has been a poor week.

A Barred Warbler on the 29th in the ditch near the school has been the passerine highlight, although it was challenged to its crown by a Woodpigeon that was seen heading South over the obs, other highlights on the land were limited to a Pale-bellied Brent seen touring the island on the 2nd and a Tree Pipit near the Post Office on the same date. A small scattering of Willow Warblers around the island has kept things going while the odd Lesser Whitethroat has had the same effect.  

The sea has been a much different story, the big highlight was a Fea's type Petrel that passed the Beacon on the 2nd, a bird that continues the islands recent good form over the years. Two Leach's Petrels on the 2nd, a Pomarine Skua on the 29th was followed by 3 on the 2nd while another superb record of Balearic Shearwater was seen passing on the 30th. Long-tailed Skuas were also seen on the 1st and 2nd. A drake Scaup in off on the 1st was a new bird for the year and 7 Common Scoter passed on the 2nd. 

Away from avian highlights a Tuna was seen breaching on the 30th while plenty of Risso's Dolphin were around the island on the 2nd. 

                                   Willow Warbler
                                  ......and an awful picture of the Pale-bellied Brent Goose

Sunday, 29 August 2021

27th - 28th August

Highlights from the 27th - 29th of August included a Black-throated Diver, 49 Sooty Shearwater, 16 Manx Shearwater, 146 Black-tailed Godwit, 8 Ruff, the American Golden Plover still, a Black Redstart, a Chiffchaff, 8 Willow Warbler, 2 Lesser Whitethroat, 2 Pied Flycatcher, a Common Rosefinch and a Basking Shark.

juvenile Ruff

Thursday, 26 August 2021

23rd-26th August

 A fog filled few days left us a little frustrated at the start of the week but eventually the weather cleared itself up and the early signs were somewhat promising that we might get a few migrants, however this quickly faded and it seems the fog has scuppered our chances of late August rares for the time being.

With the 23rd mostly fog bound birding was difficult to say the least, the American Golden Plover was and still is present in the fields around Holland, a short absence was only due to us not being able to see the Golden Plover flocks! Things seemed like they were picking up though as the late afternoon produced the first Pied Flycatcher of the Autumn at the back of the Shooting Gallery and a Kestrel over Brigg. An arrival of Ruff peaked on the 25th with 25 birds scattered across the island, the first juvenile Grey Plover was on the beach at Howar and a Little Stint was on Gretchen. 

Sea-watching totals have been fairly steady but with Tuesday and Wednesday mostly foggy the sea wasn't really an option but the 26th produced good numbers of Sooty Shearwater and Kittiwake to feed the appetite of the visiting sea-watchers! The first Tree Pipit of the Autumn was at Ancum also on the 26th and a small smattering of Willow Warblers gives an indication that birds might be arriving in dribs and drabs.

With the weather looking largely settled for the next few days it doesn't feel like anything is going to pop out anytime soon, but with September looming on the horizon the rarities can't be that far away....right?

                                   Pied Flycatcher

Monday, 23 August 2021

18th - 22nd August

After a prolonged spell of of settled weather it was time for something a little bit different and in turn a little bit more disruptive. A cracking day of warm weather and sunshine on the 20th and the wind swinging into the east was always going to be a recipe for fog! Once the thick haar had descended over the island it left birding as a near impossible task with visibility down to less than 40ft at times so the 21st and 22nd were fairly devoid of migrants and anything else for that matter.

A successful couple of days sea-watching saw a dark phase Pomarine Skua and an adult Sabine’s Gull added to the year list, accompanied by 48 Manx Shearwater, 53 Sooty Shearwater, 15 Storm Petrels, 6 Great Skua, 3 Arctic Skua, 65 Puffins, 1 Red-throated Diver, 1655 Kittiwakes and a probable Long-tailed Skua, but distance and heat haze made for a difficult ID.

The long staying Snow Geese from Germany finally departed on the 20th. Another long stayer that hasn’t departed yet is the American Golden Plover, and after a few days of skulking about in Holland gardens, the now ringed Wood Warbler reappeared. 

The only thing other than fog that the easterlies brought was a single Willow Warbler on the west side on the 21st. 

American Golden Plover

Wednesday, 18 August 2021

15th-18th August

 A much quieter few days have followed what seemed like a manic three days from the last post, but I guess things haven't really got started yet! The weather has had a much wetter look to it over the past four days and as such we've slowly began to see Gretchen and Ancum make a start on re-filling, although its very slow progress! The wind has also been a prevalent factor with Westerlies being the main order of the day.

The American Golden Plover has been the stand-out bird on all four days and seems to have now settled into a routine of plodding around with the Common Gulls at the front of the Old Kirk. It's even been heard a few times when it's been flushed. Other birdy highlights have been a little hard to come by although not all-together absent. A total of 9 Ruff were seen on the 17th along with a Greenshank at Howar. The summer plumaged Grey Plover has also been holding the fort on Tor Ness. 

A big female Peregrine was in East Loch Park on the 17th eating what we feared to be the AGP but thankfully it wasn't and it still very alive! The Hen Harrier is still hanging around favouring the obs croft and Hooking.

The weekend is looking promising with Easterlies on the way but with the winds going slack tomorrow its time for a sea-watch! 

Year List: 184

                                   Grey Plover

Sunday, 15 August 2021

12th-14th August

 A bumper few days of birds including a couple of head-scratchers! The weather has also been a bit of a mixed bag with some more of that much needed rain thrown into the mix. 

The 12th appeared as though it was going to be a fairly quiet day on the birding front, although that said the earlier parts of the morning had produced the first Wood Warbler of the Autumn in Holland and a Kestrel also over Holland. The bird of the day however turned into a bit of an identification saga. An Acro found feeding on the edge of the sand-bank on the Links quickly raised eyebrows, it was apparent pretty quickly it wasn't a Reed Warbler, a lack of warm tones to the rump and tail and an overall con-colourous appearance ruled it out. Splitting Marsh and Blyth's Reed however was a more difficult problem. The immediate gut reaction was the bird looked like a Blyth's Reed but a slightly longer primary projection would be expected cast doubt into the minds of the obs staff. A bit of asking around, an obliging bird and good photos allowed us to come to the conclusion of it being a very early Blyth's Reed Warbler, maybe not such a surprise as they seem to be slowly spreading West with birds breeding in the Netherlands this year. Otherwise the day was fairly quiet with other birds of note being the Barred Warbler now straying towards Milldam, a Hen Harrier and a Peregrine.

The 13th was another a day and another head-scratcher a quiet day on the birding front was interrupted by the discovery of a moribund Swift on the grass near the lighthouse. For the most part this wouldn't be enough to interrupt census but when the bird arrived back to the obs and was measured the biometrics suited the identification of a Pallid Swift. The two measurements that pointed towards this where the distance between the eyes taken across the crown and the gap between the outermost tail feather (T5) and the second outermost tail feather (T4). The crown measurement came in at 20.5mm and the tail at 4mm which would both sit the bird firmly inside the range for Pallid, however the bird itself didn't represent a Pallid Swift in plumage characteristics. Without DNA analysis available for the species as they're genetically identical the bird has to go down as a Common Swift, but nonetheless an interesting bird. Sadly the bird was in very poor condition, some 9g's lighter than it should have been, when it was picked up and passed away despite our best efforts to feed the bird up.

Finally the 14th presented a more straightforward bird, after a successful net session in which the Wood Warbler was trapped and ringed the trip back to the obs produced a surprise American Golden Plover feeding in East Loch Park with European Golden Plovers. The bird spent the day with Golden Plover flock eventually showing quite well in the Standing Stone field. 

For some unknown reason the blog won't let me update the year list! For now I'll put the total at the bottom of each post.

Year List Total: 184

                                   Blyth's Reed Warbler 
                                   American Golden Plover
                                   Wood Warbler 


Wednesday, 11 August 2021

8th-11th August

 The first spells of rain for what seems like months have been a more than welcome change to the dry weather that we've been experiencing this summer. A short spell of Easterly based winds has also provided the first signs Autumn is well and truly just around the corner! 

The main highlight from the last few days have been a trio of Barred Warblers, the first arriving on the 8th near Scottigar before a second bird on the 10th at Phisligar and a third at Kirbist the following day, with the Phisligar bird still present on the 11th. A number of Wood Sandpipers have also been hanging around with two birds together at Brides on the 11th and a slightly more site faithful bird at Bewan on all four dates. A lone Green Sandpiper has been patrolling up and down the West coast while Garden Warblers at Senness, Lenswick and the obs have kept things feeling Autumnal. It also appears that dispersing raptors are finding the island as they leave breeding grounds with both Peregrine and Merlin being seen in various locations over the past four days. The long staying Rosy Starling at Lenswick made a brief re-appearance on the 8th despite us thinking it may have left.  A Short-eared Owl has also been hanging around and was last seen on the 8th around Kirbist.

Away from avian highlights the moth trap produced the best numbers of the year on the night of the 10th and produced arguably the moth of the year in the shape of the islands second record of Blood-vein, common to those of you that run traps further South it certainly woke us up! A late night ringing session at Bewan wasn't quite as successful as we'd have liked but a juvenile Arctic Tern, a Dunlin and a Teal gave a bit of variety to proceedings. 

With rain set in and the wind in something that resembles an Easterly direction there could be yet more birds over the next few days, however with the wind originating from mainland Scotland and whipping around that could be wishful thinking, but you never know! 

                                   Short-eared Owl
                                   Eurasian Teal in the hand

Saturday, 7 August 2021

4th-7th August

 With Autumn slowly grinding it way into view our first little spell of Easterly winds have predictably produced little in the way birds but have got the Autumn kicked off in some way.  The 4th produced the first Garden Warbler of the year, a rather smart juvenile at Sangar. In the meantime the Quail ended its near 20 day stay and departed the island on the 5th. The 5th also gave us our first Cuckoo of the Autumn at Rue, a juvenile bird that showed quite well before vanishing. A Green Sandpiper was seen on the 6th and 7th hanging around Doo Geo on the West side of the island while Common Sandpipers were present at the pier and around the North end and the Curlew Sandpiper that spent the latter half of July here is also still present. The latter of the two dates would also see our first Reed Warbler of the year at Viggay, a predictably skulky and flighty individual that got us well in the mood for the Autumn ahead, another Acro on the year list would be highly welcome! A total of 5 Willow Warblers have been seen over the past day or so and with an influx of Painted Lady butterflies the signs seem promising for the next week ahead. 

Away from the birding we made inroads into ringing Fulmar chicks with the first 40 being done on the 6th, but theres plenty more vomity fluffballs to deal with in the coming days! Away from avian highlights the island football match was played today with both teams sharing the spoils in an exciting 4-4 draw. 

                                   Willow Warbler

Wednesday, 4 August 2021

1st - 3rd August

 Highlights from the 1st to the 3rd of August included a Pintail, 16 Sooty Shearwater, 37 Manx Shearwater, 61 Storm Petrel (30 from seawatches and 31 ringed), a Curlew Sandpiper, 2 Ruff, a Whimbrel, the Quail still, a Short-eared Owl, the Rosy Starling still, a Willow Warbler and 6+ Risso’s Dolphin.

Fulmar chicks

Sunday, 1 August 2021

25th-31st July

 With the final week of the month being dominated by thick fog and less birds than we'd have liked we're now looking forward to the Autumn that lies ahead. It's clearly ready to go with the first Willow Warbler of the Autumn appearing in the willows at Ancum on the 29th along with the first Fieldfare at Waterhouse, a bizarre arrival date for the latter species! Away from the migrants for a little bit and it seems we've managed to get as many of the Tystie chicks as humanly possible for the season and looks to be a very strong total, although I've not managed to add it up yet! 

Night time ringing sessions have also been a bit of a staple with efforts for Storm Petrels, Arctic Terns and Waders all producing good results, the Terns were especially good with 38 new birds trapped over two sessions including a very exciting Finnish control! 

Elsewhere the wader numbers are steadily rising and our hopes of pulling out a Nearctic (or Eastern) goody out of the many flocks haven't faded. The first Ruff, Common Sandpiper and Greenshank of the Autumn have all passed through the island in the past week again giving a feeling that things could soon kick off! The pair of fence hopping Snow Geese are still on Garso, barely a surprise given the general lack of wing feathers at the moment and the Quail at the obs has continued to give a good account of itself often waking guests up in the small hours of the morning. Finally the Rosy Starling is still feeding at the bottom of the Lenswick track and has been with us for the best part of three weeks now! 

                                   Rosy Starling