Feeling like death warmed up

Ack. And ick. I’ve got a cold, and I feel like shit. So shit I’ve got a sick note from my mum and stayed off school to dose myself senseless with a self-prescribed cocktail of ibuprofen for my tonsils, paracetemol for my headache, hayfever tablets for the runny nose (this is genius, and really works. Why do doctors never tell you to do this? I probably don’t want to know…), buttercup syrup for comfort, and not forgetting diazepam to help me sleep, but mainly for shit and giggles.

 Hauled my ailing self around another tetrad on Saturday morning, well-aware I was coming down with a cold, and hating myself for it. Saw a grand total of 11 species in an hour, which was either because I was already feeling too fucked to care overly, or else because the tetrad in question really is a barren hole. I’m going with barren hole.

Ungumming my eyes and peering blearily out today, I can see I’m not missing much. 6 Oystercatchers loafing around in one of my fields show the spring invasion is continuing, and on the spring theme the House Sparrows are getting fruity in the chicken area. One of last year’s chicken-hatch, a Lakenvelder, has it in for Rock Doves and runs screaming at them when they land nearby. I feel like screaming too. I’m going back to bed.


Spent the weekend birding and digging – the former more BTO stuff, second timed tetrad visits and random roving records. Started the home tetrad from the comfort of the bedroom – with 270 degree field of view, taking in sea, maritime heath and grassland, it’s a quick fix for nailing a whole heap of birds and numbers accurately. Perfect for scoping from too, and without the vantage point I’d probably have missed Great Northern Diver and Oystercatcher. Nice to see the latter back, the first bird of the spring. Shall be sick to death of the sound of them before too long. Bird of the tetrad was a female Eider, probably the only one I’ll see on my patch all year long.

Sunday was find-a-King-Eider-day. Back to the pier, sifting through the Eider flocks offshore. Half a dozen Long-tailed Duck, a few Black Guillemots coming into breeding plumage, but no King. The king is dead. Etc. Messed around with the camera, trying to come to terms with the antique mirror lense. We hate each other. It’s days are numbered. Scored a Merlin hammering along beside the road on the way home, so the trip wasn’t a complete waste.

Nice shag

Back (reluctantly) to digging the kale yard. Am having to do this by hand, as it’s the first time it’s been cultivated in years, so is rank grass at the moment. Progress is painfully slow – it’s bloody hard work. The thought of all those migrants amongst the tatties and kale this autumn keeps me going. That and the thought of eating them. That is, the tatties and kale, not the Sibes. Though come to think of it, I bet there’s good eating on some of those zoothera thrushes…

Secret diary of the Kirkabister White-billed Diver

Monday – spent all day submerged off Kirkasbister, swimming around with just my beak sticking out of the water like a periscope. Could see occasional cars stopping and birders trying to find me, but haha, tough luck, losers. I’m not here for your gratification.

Tuesday – fancied a change, so spent daylight hours hanging out with the Red Grouse up on the hill. Nobody ever sees them unless they tread on them and flush them into the open, so was in dead good company.

Wednesday – buggered off to the Bluemull triangle for the day, and met up with a couple of my mates from up north. Busy minding our own business when fuck me, some spawny bastard chanced upon us and started firing off photos. Dive dive dive! Like Das Boot on acid, went deep and long and came up on the opposite side of Fetlar. Damn. There goes my clean sheet for the week. Must try harder.

Thursday – great day – headed out into the north sea, and saw fuck all, and fuck all saw me. “Oh such a perfect day, I’m glad I didn’t spend it with you…”

Friday – headed into town looking for hot chicks. Chatted up a nice bit of diver fluff on a voe east of Trondra, but beat a hasty retreat when I realised she was Red-throated. Nasty. Wouldn’t touch it with yours.

Saturday – weekend, woohoo! That means the usual suspects coming to try and see me, so had to be extra careful and take all precautions. Spent most of the day bobbing around on the duck pond at the end of the road at Kirkabister with all the dodgy geese. Took particular satisfaction watching a twat with a camera going slowly up and down the road looking out to sea. Not a fuckin’ chance, mate!

Sunday – kirk was unlocked, so nipped in the back and tore up the place after the service. Mwahaha. Spent the rest of the day persecuting otters along the shoreline, and beat up a couple of Great Black-backed’s that looked at me in a funny way. Headed out later hoping to get lucky and find a nice Shag…

Green-winged Steal

That’ll teach me to be smug and clever – while I was busy getting hot and bothered about freshwater Glaucous Gulls yesterday, somebody more conscientious than me took the trouble to check the small gang of Teal that hang out on Loch of Tingwall. And yep, turned up a Green-winged amongst them. Tch!

What the dallio. I’ll live. I may even go and have a look at it tomorrow, if I can tear myself away from Lerwick’s gull bonanza -two 1st winter Icelands at once from the office today. Life’s sweet.

White-winged nonsense

As promised to myself, spent a happy lunch hour checking out the choicest of Lerwick’s gull hotspots – the roof opposite Co-op, Holmsgarth lairage, the wire store, the sloping field opposite the garage at Gremista, Shetland Catch, and of course Rita’s kipper bay. I had so much fun it hurt.

 I just knew it was going to be good, as all morning a 1st winter Iceland Gull had been cruising up and down the harbour outside my office window, looking for fish offal. (That’s me, not the gull. It’d probably have settled for a ripe nappy bag). So I went to the trouble of digging out my untrustworthy 500mm antique manual focus mirror lense, and set out to take some seriously blurred photos of white-winged gulls. It took me until Shetland Catch to hit paydirt – another Iceland Gull floating over the carpark. Flushed with success, a quick look along the shore yielded a nice grotty Glaucous Gull. If scarce and rare gulls were birds (yeah, I know…), Ross’s Gulls would be the fit bird you thought was out of your league; Ivorys would be the tasty lass on reception you never realised fancied you all along; Iceland Gulls would be the girl you pulled in a club and don’t regret for a moment… and Glaucous Gulls are the fat huffer that you met in the chippy when you were shit-faced at the end of an epic night on the piss and (oh the horror) woke up next to a few hours later. They’re the mingers of the gull world.

A face only a mother could love

Took a long series of shite photos, of which the above is the least embarrassing, not saying much I know. It was big, ugly, and a Glauc. Nuff said. Onwards and upwards to Rita’s Kipper Bay – a small bay that surely has a proper name, but is alongside the industrial unit housing Rita’s Kippers, and with such a fishy connection is irresistible to white-winged gulls, and Icelands in particular. There’s always an Iceland Gull there. Even when there isn’t one. You’re just not looking hard enough. And sure enough, a particularly plump specimen was waddling around with the Great Black-backed Gulls. It had clearly gorged recently on Rita’s finest as it was too stuffed to care about me faffing around getting close and steady enough to manage a clearish photo. I really must get an auto-focus lense.

 Kipper-begging Iceland Gull

 Finally, a quick spin along the Tingwall valley looking for ducks, and whoa! what the fuck have we here? Snowy Sheathbill! Proof if any were needed that Shetland truly lies at the migration crossroads for Siberia, Southern Europe, North America and, er, Antarctica. I know it was cold over the weekend, but really?


The half mile range, incompetent photographer and prehistoric camera/lense all conspired to make this domestic duck look just like a Snowy Sheathbill. If you squint a bit, and ignore the green grass and Loch of Tingwall in the foreground… No no no, not a farmyard duck, but lo! another Glaucous Gull gave pornstar views (that is, early 1980’s, grainy multiple-copied Betamax, East German pornstar views). Still, it was another Glauc, and in an unexpected place. Which made it alright in my book. Not quite up to dimly-lit club standards, and nowhere near receptionist, but… all the better for being unexpected.

Wintery stuff

Started the day with a thorough check of the Eider flocks off the pier – masses of them, seemingly more than last winter, but no King. Found 2 (well, maybe one, but seperated by enough time to make me think there were 2 individuals involved) last year here, but fuck all so far this year. Gave up in disgust, and didn’t bother looking at the lochs on the way home – the big freeze will have shifted wildfowl around Shetland in the past day, and all one-way traffic from this island.

Later on, took the mutts around the Taing again, making the most of a rare Shetland winter’s day – almost flat calm, and after 24 hours of on and off snow and plummeting temperatures, frozen everything. Every area of standing fresh water was frozen solid (the acid test being Fly galloping across the loch without going through and drowning), and masses of icicles hanging off the cliff faces along the shore.

Icy stuff

 Needless to say I saw very little by way of birds. The large gulls had all buggered off (no great loss there), and despite perfect sea-duck finding conditions, not so much as a Long-tailed Duck to be seen. Even Eider tend to be rareish at this end of the island, so quite why I live in hope of finding a King or a Steller’s on my patch I really couldn’t say. White-billed Diver is far more likely, but again no joy today – just 4 Great Northern Diver close inshore. Highligh of the seawatch were at least 10 Harbour Porpoises heading along the shore towards the Skerries – can’t think I’ve ever noticed them at this time of year before.

Wasted some time taking pictures of frozen peat-banks with Fly lolling around on them like a fat lardy collie. Back to checking sites on the Mainland in my lunch hours next week…


Frozen swonnicles

It’s cold as a witch’s tit here today, an eye-watering, snot-running north-easterly storm-force wind coupled with the occasional horizontal snow shower. Snow at that speed really, really hurts. You wouldn’t think it, but it bloody does. Not a promising day for birding in Shetland, and even the local Starlings couldn’t be arsed to come and steal my chickens’ corn this morning. Obviously a day to go out birding in the last hour of daylight and find, oh, fuck all most likely. Secretly I was hoping for a white-winged gull of some sort, the sea being altogether too rough for rare eider fantasies.

Busy sea

Took the mutts with me to lengthen my odds even further. Fly is a sort-of sheepdog, and can sort-of be trusted off the lead. Daisy is a lurcher, and cannot be trusted with sheep, rabbits or small children. Basically, anything that runs away is fair game. So Daisy stays on the lead, and the lead stays firmly around my wrist. Which means trying to look through binoculars in already wind-buffeted conditions is made all the harder by the spinning dog tugging at your arm as she tries to get away and bite Thumper’s head off. Perfect stringing conditions!

Regretted the idea within seconds of setting foot on the golf course – all the large gulls were together at the very far end of the island, so I had to walk out to them while sea spray from breaking waves on the cliffs came sideways at me across the fairways. Salt on my lenses… Iceland or Glaucous be damned, this is looking good for an Ivory at least… But it was cold… so bloody cold… and of course, once I reached the gulls there was just the usual crowd of Great Black-backeds and Herrings. Bastards. And now I was soaking wet, and cold cold cold. Dogs none too impressed either, though Daisy had killed a sitter en route – an unfortunate bunny huddled beneath a drystone dyke out of the wind – so at least one of us had had a result today.

Decided to look on the sheltered side of the island for divers, but in the end couldn’t be arsed as I lost all feeling in my hands and feet. Did however find two Whooper Swans on the tiny loch out near the Taing, so a new species for that square on the BTO survey. Not a complete disaster then, though the swans may have thought otherwise as spooked by our sudden appearance, they took off into the wind and flew backwards out to sea, vanishing from sight in a bank of falling snow. Oops.

 Pissed off Whooper