Autumn’s stirring

Some variable wind today that spent the morning havering between a southerly and a south easterly, before settling down this afternoon to a briskish south easterly. Went around the patch 3 times in the course of the day – a couple of Willows and a Garden Warbler in the morning (the Garden being an especially elusive and frustrating bird to identify with certainty, as it gave me the runaround for an hour in the plantation, never showing settled, but instead flushing from the depths of bushes and flying the length of the plantation before diving into cover. I was 95% sure it was going to be Garden, but the remaining 5% demanded certainty and a perched view).

Garden Warbler settled, I went down the isle to get some Herring from JLI, and check out the meadows. Looking good, with 4 White Wagtail and a half dozen Dunlin vaguely notable. No stints though.

JLI came along in the afternoon and we gave the patch a 2nd go. Definitely some new birds in during the intervening hours. 3 Black-tailed Godwit below my house, a Whinchat, 3 Garden Warblers, and 7 Willow Warblers.

Final walk in the evening uneventful, as patch smothered with fog.

Tomorrow’s forecast looks promising…


Set the alarm for 5.30 this morning, and by midday was beginning to rue my early start. I’d forgotten how sapping and depressing seawatching can be. Endless streams of Gannets and Fulmars, occasional Great and Arctic Skuas, a very few Kittiwakes, and odd handfuls of Shag and Black Guillemot.

Wind was blowing south/south-westerly, at about force 8, so not a particularly comfortable environment to be sat watching standard Shetland seabirds in, let alone with some meaningful rain showers thrown in for good measure. JLI’s text about summed it up: “Seawatching? Hard man!”. Just after midday, I finally got my just rewards – out of nowhere, a Sooty Shearwater cutting south in front of the Skerries in bright sunshine. Completely delighted with this, I expected more of the same. And of course, got nothing for 40 minutes, just same old same. Then a large concentration of Gannets massed offshore, diving repeatedly again and again. Estimated at least 50 birds in the flock, which eventually spent some 15 minutes sat on the heaving waves.

Before too long there were Storm Petrels amongst them – impossible to stay on them with the scope, as no sooner had I locked onto one than it would be obscured by the waves, and lost to sight. Hard therefore to gauge numbers, but am guessing it was approaching double figures.

Final icing on the cake came in a frantic (well, by the standards of the proceeding hours) 5 minutes, when first 3 and then a further single Manx Shearwater came past. The 3 went straight south, but the single bird circled the dispersing Gannet flock in a broad arc before going south too.

Gave it another hour, but in the end hunger and the cold drove me home. A good morning’s work, and in the shearwaters I’ve added 2 more species to my patch list. Thought treacherously to myself that I wouldn’t have to hurry to seawatch from here again…

Other interesting stuff today. Fat bastard Rock Doves stealing from unprotected stooks in the fields; and Harbour Porpoises feeding just offshore this evening. You start to take them for granted – look up from washing up in sink, see dorsal fins breaking the surface of the sea outside the kitchen window – “neesiks are back again…”. >yawn< Just another everyday occurence!

Rebecca Nason

It’s dark outside, there’s a brisk south-westerly blowing and it’s starting to rain. I really should be asleep, as I’m planning on going seawatching early tomorrow morning (why, I couldn’t exactly say. Everyone else I know is doing it at the moment, in Scilly and Bridges of Ross. So I feel obliged to try from the Taing here. I think I know who’s going to do best out of this deal…)

Instead of sleeping, I’ve been looking at photos in Rebecca Nason’s image library. They’re ever so good, and make me ashamed of my feeble attempts to take rarity pictures… Check it out, it’s terrific.

(I bet if Rebecca sees a Fea’s Petrel off of Scilly, you’ll be able to count the feather mites in it’s coverts in the photos she takes. Whereas if I see a Sooty tomorrow, you’ll just have to take my word for it…)


Go naked in Shetland

Am slowly getting used to this WordPress blog manager thingy, and in the past week I’ve discovered the statistics page, that tells you precisely how people have found your blog. It’s all usually very uninspiring, as 99% of people coming here come via a link on other, superior birding blogs (see blog roll opposite). The remaining 1% come here by accident, usually after searching for the likes of “Shetland + bitter + sarcastic”. Imagine therefore my surprise to see this today:

O-kay… this begs the question what sort of lunatic would even consider going walking in the nude in Shetland. I can’t imagine a worse place in the world to go tackle out. Granted, in Antarctica there’s a good chance your bits will freeze solid and snap off, but at least your only witness is likely to be a somewhat puzzled penguin. Here it’s usually unflatteringly cold, often raining, always with a shrivelling wind-chill, and unfailingly someone is watching you through a pair of binoculars. Every house has a pair, usually on the kitchen windowsill for easy access. It’s hard to imagine that someone out there in the ether is daft enough to be seriously considering a nude Shetland walking holiday. And yet people really do come to the islands woefully underprepared and unaware of the risks… Take this recent hilarious story on the front page of the Orcadian:

Sadly the reporter doesn’t say if they were nude or not. I imagine they almost certainly were.

Never get bored of Barred

Tense day at work today, as I’d left my mobile on the kitchen windowsill, where it could do me no good at all. Of course, the penny dropped about a mile from home and the prospect of returning for it and missing my ferry was too awful to contemplate. So the day was spent blissfully (ha!) unaware of what I was missing at home.

Back this evening, driving past the plantation (JA ensconsed with scope and camera), onwards towards the heligoland, and caught sight of a passerine dropping out of the sky towards the bushes in the trap. Braked hard, and as it dived in I saw enough to know it was hefty and greyish. Abandoned the car on the road, dodged the ponies in the field, and into the trap. Something grey thundered up the ramp of the trap… and in. Barred Warbler. Gotcha.

Back down the isle to interrupt BM’s dinner with it, and then back home to get out and spend a couple of hours seeing what the others had missed. Not a lot, in fairness! Good views of a Red-backed Shrike as it snuck into a bush to roost, a really snazzy and showy Pied Flycatcher, the usual suspects of Willow Warblers and a Garden Warbler, and a family party of Swallow.

Tomorrow am on strike, and fancy my chances of a Common Rosefinch. Watch this space.

Shetland autumn birding

What with all these migrants deluging us so early in the season, and reading Blurredforum and seeing how many folk are planning on coming here this autumn for a week or two, some thoughts that may help those that do:

1. Thou shall not claim to have put any of the Shetland archipelago on the birding map. Nor shall you act as if you in some way pioneering the art of finding migrants here in Shetland. We’re all of us just following in the footsteps of those who’ve gone before here. Want to be in the vanguard of Western Palearctic pioneer birding? Go to Faroe. In the meantime, show respect where it’s due to the figures of the distant and not so distant past. On the subject of respect…

2. …Thou shall not trample through any crop you happen to stumble across hoping to flush a Pechora from its depths. Nobody here is growing those crops for the benefit of birders. They’re growing them to feed either stock, or people. They don’t want you trashing them. Similarly…

3. …Thou shall not climb over drystone walls. They collapse easily under the weight of a lardy birder. And they cost a fortune to get someone to come and repair.

4. And on the same vein, thou shalt not climb over wire fences putting all of your not inconsiderable weight on the wire. Some farmer or crofter paid good money putting a stockproof fence there – they don’t appreciate you knackering the tension scrambling over it. Use the gates provided (and cut down on your pork life, take some exercise)…

5. Thou shall not just wander into people’s gardens. Most folk here are more than happy for you to do so, but it’s good manners to ask first if you’re a visitor. Think how you’d like it if it were your garden that filled with random trainspotters wanting to photograph some rare piece of rolling stock that happened to be in a siding nearby.

6. Thou shall not beat hell out of any small trees or shrubs you find in order to flush that skulking migrant. This applies to trees and shrubs outside of gardens too. This is Shetland, and the wind, sheep and rabbits being what they are, chances are even those trees were put there deliberately by someone. They take a painfully long time to establish and grow. Don’t set them back by thrashing them to splinters.

7. Thou shall give your “crew” a funny and/or cool and/or self-deprecating name. It wouldn’t be the same without one.

8. Thou shall not sit in the South Mainland waiting for someone putting the legwork in to find a bird for you to twitch. You’ve come all this way – at least make an effort.

9. Thou shall know your common birds. Not everything here in the autumn is a rarity. (Sorry, a rare). It’s a truism, but rare birds are just that – rare. Even here. Sometimes a Siskin is just a Siskin.

10. Thou shall put at least the required amount in the tick box at Fair Isle bird observatory in the happy event that you go there and see a new bird. Why? a) it’s good manners, particularly when the sums in question are small, and b) Fair Isle Bird Observatory Trust are fundraising to build a new observatory, and every donation counts towards something important for the community there, the Trust’s work itself, and us smelly masses of birders having a focal point and a warm bed and a decent meal at the end of the day.

The Shetland Bird Club have some guidelines available via the always excellent Nature in Shetland website >here<

Meanwhile, here are some other useful life-lessons that may also prove helpful:

More warbler stuff

Blimey, it’s all go here. A text from BM this afternoon to say he’d got a Wood Warbler in his garden. Then this evening I refound JLI’s hitherto absent Barred Warbler in the plantation (am assuming it’s a re-find and not new in), and spent some time watching the still-present Paddyfield Warbler in the field, and making some notes. (How quaint! I used an actual pen and paper, and observed the bird closely from a discreet distance. What is it the youngsters do these days? Ah yes! I did not “digiwaste” it, nor “murder” it).

Actually, that wasn’t through want of trying. I did have the camera, but the damn thing was prepared to sit out and show well in between stuffing its face with flies, just so long as you didn’t go anywhere near it, move suddenly, or breathe in a funny way. It was easily scared. That said, I did manage a record shot (note the clinching field-mark – the ring!). Striking how pale it was in flight, and BM is easily excused for thinking Booted at first on a flight view. Even in the warm evening sunlight it looked kind of milky-tea brown.

Sky’s clear outside. Bet it’s gone in the morning.