Shrikes

Woken by bright sunlight at 5am, so got up and out to have first bite of the cherry before any of the others or their visiting mates could spoil the party. Selfish? Well, maybe, but as BT, rarity finder extraordinaire in Shetland once said to me, you’ve gotta be in it to win it.

Of course, I won nothing as such, being as I didn’t find an earth-shattering rare, but nevertheless a good start to the day. 4 hours of doing the patch throughly turned up a selection of common migrants, including noticeably more Willow Warblers and hirundines than yesterday, and a 300% increase in Red-backed Shrikes – 3 males all visible at once from the road, each with it’s own mini-territory of fence and field. A great start to the day for me, but possibly not for the patch’s bumblebees.

Shrike a light

Weirdly, no Spotted Flycatchers, but 3 Whinchats including a well-marked male, the Marsh Warbler for it’s third day, and another acro (same one as yesterday, I think) that continued to defy identification, being a terrible lurker until flushed, at which point it would fly fast and direct to deeper cover. Spent a frustrating half hour trying to be patient and see it without pushing it, and then a completely pointless 15 minutes of being more direct, resulting in it spanging between a croft garden and the plantation, and back again… Gave up, and came inside to work. (With an enduring good feeling about the prospects for the rest of the day).

Almost forgot – I even walked around the golf course lured by dreams of Black-eared Wheatears. Of course that was silly and unlikely, but it was nice to see Harbour Porpoises feeding close inshore.

Flipper

And fnally, just found this one lurking on the CF card. Not a good one, but you get the picture – fences, shrikes… It’s a good place to be birding.

Another one, more distant

Goatsucker

Only used that title to see if I could lure some of the internet’s bottom feeders here and thereby boost my hit rate by purporting to cater to the more, ahem, specialised blog reader… when disappointingly this is only about a bird. Quite a good one, though, or at least for here.

Left the isle this morning after trapping a Spotted Fly, and finding 3 others and a putative acro on the patch between 6am and 7am. Weather seemed perfect – a humid south-easterly, occasional heavy brief showers, and best of all, mainland Shetland shrouded in fog. I wasn’t surprised mid-morning to find JLI on the phone, but sadly not with news of the anticipated mega. Nightjar instead. Which is a decent Shetland bird, and one which had the decency to stick around all day until I got home in the evening.

Obligingly sat on a low wall in a garden below the road, allowing for easy and unobtrusive photography.

Where\'s my blasted heath?

Came back to my patch afterwards with JLI. Nailed the Marsh Warbler again more easily than yesterday, then a cracking male Red-backed Shrike (punctuate with yet more Spotted Flycatchers en route). Walked the ditches into the plantation hoping for Bluethroat, but no joy. Instead, in the plantation a couple of Willow Warblers, a Garden Warbler, and then JLI flushed another warbler with bright yellow underparts. Little darling had the grace to give itself up easily in a fir tree and confirm JLI’s suspicions – a cracking Icterine Warbler.

We phoned J – he needs Icterine. Poor bloke came up north, we drove the plantation several times, and no joy. No sign of anything but Willows and the Garden Warbler. The same Icterine had pulled this trick earlier in the day, but we had a fallback to try and line up J’s lifer – another Icterine JLI had found earlier in the day nearby. Off we went, but same story – no sign of the bird. J clearly jinxed where Icterines are concerned.

We left him to it, and put in another hour in the field, but thick fog was making birding pretty thankless. A few more warblers, but nothing remarkable.

Still, a decent evening’s birding. Maybe tomorrow will be the day of the biggy…

The Omen

Finally the good weather’s over, and the wind’s coming from a halfway useful direction. While the rest of Shetland bemoans the end of our warmest driest Spring ever, the birdspotters welcome the return of some more typical Shetland weather. And just in the nick of time as we enter Spring’s hottest (for rares) two weeks.

Came home this afternoon to find a Spotted Fly mooching around by the trap. A good omen, I always think. Met up with JLI, and after half an hour of stalking the skulking little tease we finally clinched a Marsh Warbler in the rose bushes below the road from my house. Bingo. Also Lesser Whitethroat and a brief Swift overhead.

On to the plantation. Poorer here, just a Blackcap and a skinny female Sparrowhawk. BM arrived at this point, so stood gossiping and speculating until a text arrived from J further down the isle – Red-breasted Flycatcher still near his house. We went mobhanded, but no joy – no sign of the R-b Fly, but a further 3 Spotted Flys and a painfully well-marked Whinchat.

From here over to the east side, and our first stop at the Alma yielded a dark orange female Red-backed Shrike, and a female Redstart. More Spotted Fly action, and another skulking warbler eventually proved to be Garden. All the meantime the wind was picking up nicely, and as I type it’s ESE and feeling promising. Tomorrow will be good somewhere in Shetland. Hopefully that somewhere is here. 

Going Dutch

Got back last week from a works trip to Friesland in NE Holland. Have been there once before, though in November, so probably not seeing it at its best on that occasion. That trip was most memorable for a drunken evening in a bar with a Dutchman and a Belgian who spent an enjoyable hour ripping the piss out of a belligerent and aggressive German businessman. I think there may have been some history settled that night.

Anyway. No “give us our bicycles back” stylee Euro-humour this time, but a better selection of birds to see, albeit there wasn’t much time to go birding. Stayed at a campsite outside Leeuwarden, with singing Redstarts around my lodge, and Grasshopper Warblers and Nightingales in the scrub nearby. So far so Kent, but just down the road I stumbled on this, which you don’t see in the UK every day (or since the 16th century. Allegedly):

Tasty on toast. According to some Tudor chroniclers.

Was out there for an agri-environment project conference, so spent plenty of time comparing projects (mine’s bigger than yours…) with folk from around the North Sea. Some cracking folk from the BTO and Natural England, and a couple of Belgian guys I’d met before who were good value too. The Friesian project was based on conserving nesting Black-tailed Godwits and Lapwings, something which seemed to be based around encouraging farmers to be more aware of what they’d got on their land, and working around it, i.e. not mowing chicks.

Slightly disconcerted to be taken onto a farm and walked up to active nests. It’s conservation Jim, but not as we know it. That said, you couldn’t knock the density of nests – in one small field (say 3 acres) there were 7 marked Lapwing nests. Got blinding views of Black-tailed Godwits mobbing Buzzards and crows. I missed being walked up to a godwit nest, though perhaps that was for the best – I felt uncomfortable enough standing alongside a Lapwing nest while the birds went nutty overhead and the farmer shared his obvious enthusiasm for his nesting farmland waders. Following courtesy of one of my UK colleagues – ladies, gentlemen and replica oologists (have got quite the fan club now of wild bird egg replica producers sending me comments justifying their art and product, more of which another day…) I give you Black-tailed Godwit nest. Hmm…

not as tasty as Lapwing eggs. According to some Dutch \

Had a great time out there, and came back enthused for all the rare migrants Shetland would surely be deluged with in the coming days. And of course, Fate being the shallow twisted harpy she is, the only migrant I’ve seen in the past week is a Chiffchaff. It comes to something that I was pleased to trap a Rock Dove this evening in one of the henhouses. Took it to BM for a ringing tick. Meanwhile, Trumpeter Finch on the Western Isles and Collared Fly in Orkney in the past 48 hours. Ho hum.

 

Been a while

Well, it has been. Last week was hellish busy, so never got a chance to celebrate my first new bird since, ooh, ages ago. Come to think of it, I don’t think I saw anything new last year… no, that’s a lie… nothing new in Shetland – it took a holiday trip to Scilly in October to add a vaguely tarty Blackpoll Warbler, and a vaguely underwhelming Wilson’s Snipe. Which may or may not constitute a species.

So… news of a Caspian Plover on Fair Isle was always going to be compelling. Had a meeting on Friday lunchtime, so no chance to go on spec first thing on Friday. Instead a frantic race to Tingwall, on the afternoon plane with seconds to spare, and the unpleasant prospect of a return trip on the Good Shepherd on Saturday.

News on landing at the airstrip not good at all – an empty charter plane stood to one side, and disconsolate birders were mooching about pretty aimlessly nearby. Met J, a birder I’m coming to know better now he’s bought a house on Shetland – he’d gone in on spec in the morning, and got lucky as one of the Obs staff relocated the bird after 5 hours of daylight searching. It’s shown for a while feeding, then vanished again. And not see since.

Spent the next couple of hours all on my own trekking around the south end, trying to locate the bird, and catching up with island resident friends I’d not see for months. Weirdly, no sign of any of the charter flight birders, apart from a couple by the grid out onto the hill.

Still, have some sympathy, as there was no sign of the bird at all. A nice smattering of migrants though, and saw a good variety of year ticks, best being a really showy Grasshopper Warbler I kicked from the ditch by the school.

5.15, and scanning Da Water, a nice marshy bit of field – a couple of Dunlins down there, and… a wader calling overhead. To say I picked it up on call sounds hugely arrogant, but in fairness, I just knew it was a call I didn’t recognise, so looked up. Treated then to a flyby as the female Caspian Plover passed overhead, then banked around in a level loop to fly steadily out of sight over the brow of the hill the school stands on. It was heading back towards Pund, where it had been seen earlier, but really wasn’t showing any sign of dropping down, and after 2 more hours of searching the Pund area, I’d not refound it again.

So, mixed feelings. I got about 30 seconds of very good flight views, which is a lot better than nothing. But not as good as getting to burn it up on the deck.

On the plus side, it was good to catch up with folk I’d not seen for a while, particularly JR, the bird’s finder. She described how it would feed in the open, walk into tussocky grass, and simply vanish. It was easy when out and feeding, confiding even, but hugely evasive once it stopped feeding.

Trip back on the Good Shepherd a joy on pretty flat sea – 3rd time lucky, and the first occasion on that boat I managed to keep my breakfast down.

Currently sweltering in the south of England. 27 degrees… that’s twice the temperature in Shetland.  No wonder I’m struggling.