Vis mig

That’s such an annoying piece of jargon, vis mig. Sounds a bit like Viz, which isn’t annoying at all, and still makes me laugh like a drain. But not as annoying as other contrived birder slang like Dick’s Pipit for Richard’s Pipit, or Fawn Yawn for a juvvy Rosy Starling. The former is always value when overheard, as part of the slang exactly describes the speaker – there’s probably a special word for this, but I can’t think offhand what it might be, so shall make one up – a twatonym.  As for the latter – let’s imagine you’ve just found a juvvy Rosy Starling – are you a) pretty pleased with yourself, or b) a smug condescending and bored-with-life twitcher? Yes, there’s no room for slang on this blog.

Plenty of vis mig over the past few days here (mwahaha, the irony!) during a spell of generally south-easterlyish wind. On Wednesday and Thursday evenings Redwings were heading east overhead in some (small) numbers as I worked outside – 10 and 2 per evening respectively. 2 Fieldfare on Wednesday morning, and another or the same pair flying east on Thursday evening. Friday morning a pair of Robins beating hell out of one another by the roadside, and in the evening a Pied/White Wagtail flew over the croft.

Yesterday a bit of a write-off, as the weather was shite and I spent the whole day digging and generally swearing in the kale yard. More of the same today (in nicer weather), but my first Great Skua of the year offshore first thing. (First thing today being 11.30am, as I took a couple of diazepam last night to ease the pain in the shoulders, and knew nothing but strange and wonderful dreams for 12 hours).

A little surprised Shetland hasn’t had more than the Calandra on Fair Isle, to be honest.


Infamous grouse

Hot damn, I had no idea what a close shave I had the other night. Imagine if I’d driven into that Red Grouse… forget happy dreams of grouse-on-toast for tea; the plucky little gamebird would have probably stopped me in my tracks, keyed the bonnet, and made off with the alloys, pausing only to nick the stereo to flog later to those dodgy immigrant Wheatears that are starting to appear everywhere on the hill these days.

Hard as nails, the whole gamebird clan. Now I know better than to mess with the grouse in da ‘hood.


Famous grouse

Driving home yesterday evening over the hill, came across an unexpected sight, and one that at first glance threw me. Having spent much of the afternoon discussing poultry, I clearly had chickens on the mind, as my initial reaction was to wonder what the hell a bantam was doing walking down the road towards my car in the middle of a heather-covered moor. The bantam finally realised he was about to be splammo’d and flew off, closely followed by a hitherto unseen partner – a fine pair of Red Grouse. My first of the year on the isle, and only the second time I’ve seen them on my patch – they’re usually far more reliable at the other end of the island.

Another arse end flight shot

Grabbed the camera from the passenger seat and managed to get a shoddy flight shot of the arse-end of the male as he zoomed away over the peat banks.

Meanwhile today my nesting office Raven is spending all her time now on the nest, making only very occasional forays away from the pylon. (This morning to menace some discarded pizza in the office car park).



What larks

Calandra Lark today on Fair Isle, and Black Lark in Norfolk (where that?). Like my Murphy’s, I’m not bitter.


Sorry, that just slipped out. Oblivious to all the lark-stuff elsewhere, I was feeling pretty good about myself today. Finished planting a buggerload (technical term = “many”) of potatoes, pleasingly finding I’ve still got tons of dug ground left over for various cabbagey Siberian Blue Robiny plants. And did tons of other crofty stuff besides, mainly involving chickens. It didn’t feel like a day for birding, being as it was a bitterly cold north-easterly, and I’d been promised south-easterlies later in the week. Little did I know…


Oops. There I go again. Forgot to mention our lochs are swimming with Red-throated Divers now, and saw my first Wheatears of the year on Thursday. Very nearly collected them on the front of the car, but that’s another story.  A pair of Eider sneaking around the shore below my fields this evening – they looked like they were up to no good. Either planning on doing over some houses tonight, or else thinking about getting down to some hot Eider action somewhere nearby. The filthy sluts.

So why so sanguine about the gripping lark news? Well… I made a special work-trip for the Black Lark in Wales all those years ago, so that’s kind of okay (though to be fair, they’re awesome, and I’d probably sell a kidney to find my own). Calandra… ooer, that’s getting harder to cope with. Missed one last year by virtue of being too stuffed after a big car accident to get to Unst to see it, meaning every Shetland lister and lowlister saw this top-notch beastie except me. So why so sanguine? Ah well, I have some lark news of my own. Well, not really my own at all, which is why I can’t share it. I’m the kid in the playground chanting “I know something you don’t…”

Edit : no, I’m not suppressing something. Tch, some people!


It’s nice to take a break sometimes from being a cynical, miserable curmudgeonly git, moaning variously about how much it hurts to do an honest day’s work, or marvelling at the depths people will plumb at the expense of the nation’s embattled birdlife.

There’s no better way of taking a break than looking at the Bogbumper blog. I probably should know what a bogbumper is. I’ve a feeling it might be a local name for a Snipe. Or maybe some sort of amphibian. Or possibly it’s one of those kerazy people who swim along a ditch in Wales during the annual World Bog Snorkeling Championships. Either way, it’s not important what it means. It’s the name of a great blog, with dead good photos of all manner of wildlife stuff, including but not exclusively birds.

To give you a taster, I’ve stolen (yes, stolen!) a couple of Katie’s recent photos to show off how despite being complete bobbins myself with a camera, it doesn’t stop me knowing people who can actually use the damn things, and publish consistently great images on their blog. How uplifting and generally spring-like is this? (and how in focus? she knows her f stops and everything…)

That Wordsworth missed a trick

However, it’s not all stunning macro work. There’s some genuinely groundbreaking pictures too. I challenge you to find a better photo of a Muntjac’s anals anywhere in the internet’s annals. (This is a very safe challenge. Who’s going to explain to their wife why their recent Google Images search history includes “deer + bum”?)

I think he bleaches...

Seriously though, I love Bogbumper, and I think you will too. Try it and see:

PS – I’m pretty certain this isn’t a bogbumper…

Probably not a bogbumper




Am sat at the kitchen table feeling buggered. Not literally, you understand, but frankly that probably wouldn’t make me hurt quite as much as I do right now. There’s not a bit of me that’s not feeling broken. Saturday was a day hellish activity, finishing digging the third veg patch, and then just for fun finishing building the drystone wall that’s to cut out the worst of the north-easterlies. Woe.

Today was (ha!) easier, being the small matter of rabbit-proofing the railing fence around the front garden, as Mrs Bonxie went mad on Saturday and bought a dozen shrubs in Lerwick. They need to be planted somewhere the fluffy bastards can’t nibble them to toothpicks. So I spent today fighting rabbit wire and stapling it to the fence. 1250 staples it said on the box. I used them all. I hurt.

This week – fun abounds in the evenings. Will start to put up the collection of pallets that have been accruing at the top of the drive to make yet another small sheltered yard, to be planted with a game cover mix and a few shrubby things. And sow the game cover there and in the churned up bit left where the ponies overwintered. Also barrow the immense dung heap onto the veg plots, leaving a super-fertile ex-dung heap to plant with willows. And (shudders) dig a fourth veg plot for onions and garlic. More woe.

It’ll all be worth it come October…

Fear the raven!

“Killer birds attack lambs and ewes”

the neighbour

The Scottish Farmer front page exclusive last week (April 5th 2008 ). In moderate and neutral language their correspondent reveals how “many newly born lambs have been viciously attacked and pecked to death” by Ravens, and also a “growing number of ewes… have had their eyes or insides torn to shreds by the sharp beak and talons of this aggressive bird“.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the RSPB, who apparently know a thing or two about birds, might be able to put this claim in perspective. Not according to The Scottish Farmer:

The RSPB claims the Raven is mainly a scavenger, but it now appears to have developed a taste for ‘live prey’“.

Live prey, eh?  Well, it’s certainly a fact that Ravens are opportunistic feeders, and will on occasion exploit the weak or the vulnerable. They probably aren’t aware that they’re being “vicious”, and I’d suspect are probably just hungry. Still, our correspondent’s highly charged reportage sets the tone nicely for a diatribe from Davy Thomson, the vice-chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association. Surprise, surprise, a spokesman for the gamekeeping community who wants to see raptors and Ravens ‘controlled’ – that PR-friendly euphemism crops up yet again. Mr Thomson said,

There is no need for Ravens to be protected. Raven populations have increased 1000% over the past 10 years and it’s an absolute nonsense that we can’t control them. Buzzards are much the same.

“Ravens will gobble up every songbird and small mammal there is, starting at the top of the hill and working down. They’ll clear dotteril (sic), golden plover, ptarmigan and grouse populations, but all ground nesting birds are affected.”

Hmm. I seem to remember a very similar stance being adopted by our friends at Songbird Survival. It’s interesting to compare Songbird Survival’s website with that of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association.  For example,

By sheer coincidence, Songbird Survival (“Who are we? Ornithologists. Conservationists. Lovers of the countryside. Gardeners and farmers. Concerned RSPB members. Town and country people throughout Great Britain who are deeply concerned about the effects of increasing predation on songbird populations.”) and the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (“a non-profit making association of Scottish gamekeepers that is run by the gamekeepers themselves.”) both appear to believe that raptors (and corvids) are a significant cause of declining bird populations; that their ‘control’ is necessary to stem these declines; that gamekeepers are the ideal agents to deliver on this proposed management regime; and that the otherwise respected environmental bodies (RSPB, SNH etc) have got it plain wrong at the moment with their protectionist policies.

I’m a little puzzled that Songbird Survival and the Scottish Gamekeepers Association have such similar views, given how disparate their memberships appear to be. On the one hand, gamekeepers – an integral part of the shooting and fieldsports industry. And on the other hand, a group of ornithologists, conservationists, gardeners and concerned RSPB members, an organisation that states it has “no interest in hunting, shooting or fishing“. (

 Weird, isn’t it?


Office listing

No, I’m not that sad. Missing moving into our office until after the Brunnich’s Guillemot of a couple of years back had buggered off from the water below my window always meant that I’d not keep an office list. How to unblock a bird like that? And besides, the whole listing thing always strikes me (now I’m not living in the land of birding Mammon down south) as being a bit tragic. It’s hardly adding to the sum of human knowledge. Unlike my forthcoming observations of cannibalistic Fulmars, which will shake your world. And possibly your breakfast from your stomach, being as they’re accompanied by a super photo. You’ll have to wait and see… 

But… you’ll never guess what’s nesting 100 metres away from my office window as the, ahem, crow flies. Right at eye level too. Here’s the nest:

Big twig

Twiggy, isn’t it? How the hell they’re finding this much twiggage beats me, but maybe explains why we’re so short of trees here. It’s those damn Ravens. Yes, I’ve got a pair of urban Ravens nesting outside my window. Am delighted, although the novelty will soon wear off when they’re shitting on my car and dropping ripe roadkill rabbit chunks all around the car park. Until then, they rock.

Speaking of which, out and about on Wednesday, and noticed the sudden influx of in-your-face Meadow Pipits. All sitting on roadside fences and looking as smart as being small and brown allows. Better than that, stumbled across 10 Jackdaws at Gott, including a couple sporting corking white neck-rings, which makes them easternish sort of Jackdaw. They’re smart beasties. I wonder if having overwintered here any will linger to breed?


Had promised myself I’d dig the third vegetable plot this weekend, and the lack of rain might have fooled you into thinking I’d have got off my lazy arse and done it. Not so. The thought was there certainly, and I made a start. Unfortunately the wind was a wicked north-easterly, blowing strongly into my face, and after about half an hour I was going mad. They say that suicide rates are highest in the North American cities with high average wind speeds – and now I began to think there may be something in that. God it was annoying to stand in one spot and suffer it.

I gave up, and found something even more knackering, but less frustrating to do – building a spur of drystone wall across the north aspect of the kale yard. The yard falls away here to a dung heap, so while the yard’s original wall behind the dung heap keeps stock out from the field beyond, it’s no use at all for shielding the main yard from northerlies. Something needed to be done! So I made a start – a twenty foot long foundation that after a day’s work rose to a doughty one and a half foot high. It’s hard work in every way – having to barrow stones in from elsewhere on the croft, and then fitting them together. At least as you get higher it gets quicker, as the wall should taper from a wide base and you need fewer stones towards the end. This will end up being some five feet high, and will mean the yard is completely enclosed.

A few migrants trickling through last week here – some Greenfinches elsewhere on the isle, and a flyover Pied / White Wagtail the other evening. A Skylark singing overhead on Sunday as I worked was another ‘first’ notable event of the spring, and last night as I drove home a summer plumage Red-throated Diver was on West Loch at the edge of my patch. It’s all go here…

Egg collectors of all shapes and sizes

or Meet the Ebayers #2

Good news yesterday as one of the UK’s small but disproportionately damaging band of egg collectors was sent to prison for 23 weeks. Richard Pearson, a 41 year old painter and decorator was also fined a paltry £1,500 – which given that when police swooped on his house they discovered an egg collection numbering over 7,000 eggs, works out at a miserly 21 pence per egg fine. Species represented in the enormous haul included Avocet, Black-necked Grebe, Black-tailed Godwit, Chough, Golden Eagle, Little Tern, Osprey, Peregrine and Red-throated Diver. Back in January, Pearson denied all the charges laid against him – a baffling state of denial when you see what greeted investigators in his house:

He claimed he had been given the eggs by the notorious egg collector Colin Watson. (Watson, you may recall died in tragic but irony-infused circumstances when he fell out of a 40 foot high larch tree while climbing to “look” at a Sparrowhawk nest in 2006). However, handwritten diaries enabled investigators to match individual eggs to specific incidents, and Pearson finally pleaded guilty yesterday at Skegness mag’s court to two counts of possessing wild birds eggs and three counts of taking eggs from the wild.

So Pearson will be out of commission for the coming breeding season, for which we and countless rare breeding birds can breathe a collective sigh of relief. Will 23 weeks in prison and £1,500 be enough of a lesson to stop him from re-offending in future? It’s a compulsive activity, egg collecting, and clearly addictive. Watson, by the time of his death had amassed several convictions for egg collecting spanning 14 years, and had been fined in excess of £4,600. You do the math.

Which leads me to a bizarre subculture – replica egg collecting. You what? Yes, good old Ebay is the shopfront for scores of buyers and sellers of replica, hand-painted wild birds eggs. For example, meet widdildenny:

The following is a sample widdildenny sales pitch for a replica Little Tern egg:


Okay… I can appreciate that a tern’s egg is a beautiful thing, and I can just about understand how someone might, just might, want to possess an accurate replica of a particularly pretty egg, but why does an accurate replica of a Little Tern egg need to have the “feel of a blown egg”, and come complete with “blow holes at both ends”?

Similarly, another seller (magicalbagofgoods) describes his wares as “ANATOMICALLY CORRECT IN SIZE,SHAPE & WEIGHT,COLOUR & LUSTRE TO THAT OF A BLOWN EGG”. So it’s not just the accurately reproduced markings on the eggshell that matter – being like a blown, collected from the wild egg seems to be terribly important too. If that’s not pandering to a very specific market, I don’t know what is.

And you know what, the sellers of these things are doing a roaring trade. Just look at how many widdildenny’s sold in the past few weeks, and to lots of different customers:

widdildenny recent sold items

It’s a whole different world out there… Want to know what makes an egg collector tick? Hear all about it in a BBC interview: