Two-barred Crossbill

Made a 5 minute detour on the way to catch the ferry home this evening, and went to Sandgarth to see a female Two-barred Crossbill. Not the easiest bird to see by any stretch of the imagination, being rather elusive in some of the very best habitat I’ve seen on Shetland – lovely dense fields of hogweed, young trees, and irises. I’d forgotten how good it was here, as it’s years since my first and only visit (for the Taiga Flycatcher).

First bird I clapped eyes on was a female Crossbill, and shortly afterwards a bright red male feeding alongside her. Rather naively I assumed the Two-barred would not be far away, but 15 minutes later I was sure she was nowhere nearby.

Crossbill on hogweed

Crossbill on hogweed

Went out to wander the mown paths through the fields of hogweed, hoping to stumble across her. Still no joy. Time was pressing, and I had 20 minutes left before I had to race for the ferry, so headed back towards the car. Picked up Crossbills calling in flight overhead – the male and female bombing past me, and up towards the main road. They pitched onto vegetation right beside the verge… with 2 more female crossbills. One clearly a Common, and the second eventually turned to profile and show a brief flash of white on the wings.

Legged it back to the car, alerted the 2 other birders nearby, and after a tense couple of minutes we had it in scopes. Phew. Too distant to photograph, and I had to go pretty much straight away for the ferry. Not a lifer, but only my second sighting of this species. The first time was with an ex-girlfriend, and there lies a sorry tale, which will have to wait for another day. Not as exciting as our Little Bustard twitch to Cornwall that ended up with me face down, naked, her on my back and me biting a leather belt… but that story will have to wait too. Am an old, grizzled ex-twitcher unworthy of being part of the scene these days. But in my day, I could’ve been a contender…

Crossbill

Crossbill

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Petrels

Finally got to bed last night at a halfway sensible hour, after spending the previous two nights petrel-luring with BM and JLI. Used an old but powerful Yamaha amp and some beefy TDL speakers to really blast petrel noises out to sea. We’re 30m above sea level, so with a carrying south-easterly the sound should have made it a fair way out, despite some intermittent sea fog.

Had made up a Storm Petrel cd with this in mind, and played it on repeat from 10.30pm through to 2am each night. Wednesday night I was still in the house eating a late dinner when JLI came to the window – the first petrel had flown past them, and it was a large one… Legged it out, to see Storm Petrels now flitting around, but no sign of the big guy. Stuck on the Leach’s cd, which cleared the Storm Petrels immediately, but after half an hour of no birds, we went back to the Storm cd. Later on the Storm Petrels were incredibly confiding, coming right up to us and giving stunning views.

Storm Petrel on the drive

Storm Petrel on the drive

With fog closing in, went down to the road, and looked back up to the croft. In the light of the moth-trap, you could see the petrels silhouetted against the white ‘room’ the light cast. Storm Petrels were like bats, small and moving through the air like the ash from newspaper on a bonfire. Then a different bird came by – noticeably bigger, and completely different flight action – like a small falcon. In the next 5 minutes it made a couple of passes at the edge of the light. Leach’s, surely?

BM got the nets up on Thursday, and while we had no repeat of the teasing large petrel, we did catch 17 Storm Petrels so the evening wasn’t a complete write-off. Nice birds to have on the garden list! It’d be better if we could get the net and speakers right down at the shore – I need to work on the logistics of getting mains power that far away from the house without electrocuting myself…

Meanwhile, have got some of the pallets up around what will be next year’s large potato and cabbage yard. Have put the sheep in there for now to graze it down to nothing, and will then give it a blast of Round-Up prior to starting to dig. Am aching just thinking about how long that will take.

Finally, contender for worst bird photo ever taken. Ever. It’s a Storm Petrel in flight. In the dark. In the fog. Flying away from me. Etc.

Petrel bum

Petrel bum

The things twitchers say

Ah fuck. Come to think of it, I will have a bit of a rant about johnny-come-lately twitchers and the twatty jargon they use. I’ve already mentioned the abomination that’s “Icky” and “Melody” (see Blurredforum for a great example of the use of both, and the general arsiness of twitchers), but that’s just the tip of a great big guano-stained iceberg.

“RB Flicker” – you what? Since when was a flycatcher a flicker?

“Dick’s Pipit” – the clue’s in the name, people. Oh, the irony.

“Grotfinch” – yes, I know anything but a spring male Common Rosefinch is basically a bland, beady-eyed brown blob, but it’s still a good bird.

“Glonk” – baffling. Glaucous Gulls really are ugly bastards, but they don’t deserve this level of contempt.

And so on. For a full-on rant about twatty bird abbreviations and jargon, check out Rob Fray’s website. He’s bang on the money. Another thing though – it’s noticeable how many “new” birders and twitchers are doing this jargon-peppered thing. Why is that? Surely not laziness (how hard is it to say Icterine Warbler?). Trying to be cool? Unlikely – let’s be honest, birding isn’t cool – just ask any of a long and distinguished line of disgruntled ex-girlfriends. Trying to sound like one of an exclusive, in-crowd? Ah-ha…

To all of those newly Swarovski’d, digiscoping, RB Flickering birders… this one’s for you:

Killer Whales

Bull

Bull

Or should that be Orcas? I never know. “Orcas” sounds a bit cooler, a bit like calling Great Skuas “bonxies”. But anyone calling a bonxie a bonxie outside of Shetland runs the risk of sounding like a bit of a twat. You never hear them calling Eiders “dunters” or Puffins “tammie nories”. But by their logic, they should. They’re the same wazzocks that call Icterine Warblers and Melodious Warblers “ickies” and “melodies” respectively. Someone shoot them, please.

Anyway, this wasn’t meant to be a rant about nouveau twitchers and their try-hard jargon. This is all about a great afternoon at the office. Well, not literally. This was on the way home this afternoon. As you do. I bumped into a pod of Orcas on the east side (thanks to the wonderful local grapevine) – at first mooching around lazily offshore, before motoring north at pace hunting seals.

Orca eyeball

Orca eyeball

I made it 6 animals – 1 bull, 4 females, and 1 youngster. The bull and 3 females peeled away from the other 2 to hunt more purposefully, and I managed to catch up with them again some miles up the coast. They’re being studied by a team of cetacean researchers, hence the guys in the boat alongside.

boat

boat

Obviously completely unphased by their watchers, they showed the full suite of classic Orca behaviour – spy-hopping, tail-slapping, rolling, and catching juicy seals.

tail slapper

tail slapper

Fabulous to watch them working the fractured coast from the shore – they went into every little bay, swimming along the rocks at the water’s edge, making sure they didn’t miss a lurking seal. Nothing random about these guys.

rolling

rolling

All the seals along the coast were heading into shallow water as fast as they could, right up to the beach edges. Seemingly these Orcas don’t do the chucking-themselves-onto-beaches thing their Southern Ocean cousins indulge in. Just as well for the families watching them at the water’s edge at times. Apparantly there are two types of Orca round Shetland – ones that eat fish, and ones that eat seals. These would be the seal-chomping kind – which reminds me of one of my all time favourite jokes…

… this baby seal walks into a club.

Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve been a lovely audience, thank you and goodnight.

Right conditions wrong time

Grr, this is all a little frustrating. It’s pretty much perfect outside as I write – a fresh south-easterly, humid, showery weather… but it’s July. That can mean only one thing – it’s a rare swift sp or nothing now until August when the first Greenish Warblers start filtering through. (NB – not that any have filtered through to here since I moved up here 5 years ago…)

JLI found a Pallid Swift here a few years ago (on my kitchen window list, hoho) in early July, and Spurn scored a resounding double a few days ago with both Pacific and Little Swift within a matter of minutes of one another. What I think I’m trying to say is that there’s clearly some hot swift sp action going on in the UK at the moment, and Shetland can ‘do’ rare swifts in early July, so if at Spurn, why not here? Today, preferably.

Shall go straight to north loch when I finish work anticipating something with a white arse-end hawking over the water.*

* it’ll be a bloody Wheatear flying from the airstrip to the golf course. But I can live in hope…