Sykes’s Warbler

While the rest of Shetland south has gone quietly mad, here is just quiet. Spent yesterday tramping around the locale with just one (nice, bright, but still singular) Yellow-browed Warbler to show for my efforts. Meanwhile, the mobile went loopy. Brown Flycatcher, Fair Isle… eek.

The reason I was home and birding midweek was a Council strike that meant no ferries were running. No ferries running meant I had no way to get off the isle and into Fair Isle. Curses.

Today was unavoidably a work day, so took the precaution of stopping at Tingwall on the way in to the office to secure a place on tomorrow’s early Fair Isle plane. The Tingwall staff are lovely, lovely people, and too kind for words. By late morning, Fair Isle had got that little bit madder – an adult male Siberian Thrush. Hell hell hell… meanwhile the flycatcher had gone awol, and we all know that Siberian Thrushes never stick around… or at least, I do. Dipped the St Agnes bird; dipped the Foula bird. I fly tomorrow, and who knows what I’ll see.

Back to today – and my 4th lifer of the year. (This is unprecedented in recent years). Managed to get to Sumburgh and back in my lunchhour for a thoroughly tick-whorish visit to Sumburgh Farm and the newly discovered Sykes’s Warbler. I like warblers at the best of times, and this one was a beauty – a lovely pale, long-billed skulker. Got a crap record shot, and after all too brief a time watching it, I had to get back to work again. Grr.

What will tomorrow bring? Hopefully the Siberian Thrush (slim chance), a relocated Brown Flycatcher (slimmest of slim chances), and maybe a nice first for Britain (on Shetland’s current form, I’d not bet against it!). Returning on Saturday, so if the Thick-billed Warbler on Skerries would oblige and settle down somewhere, that would take care of Sunday…

Whatever happens, you’ll read it here first. Bitter Bonxie – all life is here.


What’s this got in common…

Picked up a text from JLI just as I was driving onto the 6.30pm ferry this evening – 3 Cranes at Vatshoull. I just lurve Cranes something chronic – such awesome birds. Felt dead tense all the way across – would they still be there? The text was a couple of hours old…

I needn’t have worried – even in the fading evening light, they were easily visible from the road, picking their way slowly up and down a spit in the freshwater loch. Hopefully they’ll still be there in the morning and I might manage a slightly better photo than the following:

Still, really pleased to have seen them – yet another excellent bird on the isle in the past fortnight. Apart from the Corncrake, it’s none of it been new to me, but that’s not really the point. This is pure birding – great numbers of common migrants, leavened with smaller numbers of scarcer species, and studded with the odd semi and full-blown rarity. You can keep twitching your Cretzshmar’s Buntings…

…with this?

Autumn begins here

In case I hadn’t already noticed, autumn officially began today. How do I know this? Because I’ve seen my first Yellow-browed Warblers of the year, so it must be autumn now.

At least 1 in the plantation, another calling but unseen (by me, though it showed well to JLI) in Roadside’s roses, and 1 more in the garden beside JLI. None of us had the time to get out properly today, so there will have been more for certain. Noticeably increased Whinchat numbers again, and a dead smart Wood Warbler in the plantation with the Willows and Yellow-browed(s). And in answer to Docmartin’s question – yes, I would too!

Short-toed Lark

Never got round to yesterday’s update, such as it would have been (Short-toed Lark still present, 9 Chaffinches, odds and sods of warblers, and my first Brambling of the autumn – and best of all, 20 minutes of watching a dog Otter feeding some 10 metres from me).

Minor update today, as going out on the lash tonight will be stopping all birding – Short-toed Lark still present as I left for work at 7.30am. Cute.

Citrine Wagtail

Have I said how much I love living and birding here? Well, I do. It’s great.

Take today – got up before first light to spend a couple of hours trying to get to grips with a shrike JLI found yesterday – a really furtive beast that eventually succumbed to BM’s mistnet later in the day and proved to be as JLI had initially called it, a Red-backed. Still, it was fun while it lasted trying to piece together an identification based upon split-second views of a shrike that dived into deep cover as soon as it sensed you were nearby, and resolutely refused to give itself up by sitting out on a fence like 99.9% of other Red-backed Shrikes do. Got some nice photos of Lesser Whitethroats massacring craneflies for their breakfast. Yum.

Anyhow, drove home to start work at 9am, and found another Red-backed Shrike flying over the road in front of me – this time a nice easy rufousy-orange one. Heading back into Symbister at lunchtime, I nearly ran over a wagtail on the road between Skaw and Vatshoull. It bombed off north onto the moor, leaving me thinking shit that looked pale…, and hurriedly reversing off the road and setting off on foot in hot pursuit.

Ran in the general direction it had gone, and flushed it from a small boggy bit of moor, this time just a short distance before it landed and I could finally get binoculars on it. Citrine Wagtail! Superb, but one small problem – phone and camera both back in the car… Legged it back, collected them, ran back to where I’d last seen the bird, phoning JLI en route, and promptly flushed it again. Should say that “flushed it” does not mean “ran right up to it and booted it” – this was a bird that flew the moment you broke the skyline. It led me a merry chase across the moor, me sprinting along trying to not lose sight of it in flight, and then trying to stalk up to where I thought it had landed to get a photo without it sensing me and buggering off again. The happy outcome of this was the pair of us passing the Vevoe junction at one point, thus bringing it within my self-determined patch boundaries.

Eventually ended up right back where I began, within a few feet of my abandoned car, it feeding in the roadside ditch, and me finally able to get a few photos. Eventually being a long chase, but a very short time… in which JLI had arrived, and gave me a thumbs up as he stood beside his car and the wagtail fed briefly in the ditch beside him, before it flew yet again, this time high and down the hill towards Vatshoull. Despite searching, we couldn’t relocate it.

And so back to work for the afternoon. This week just goes on getting better and better. And there’s still half of September, and the whole of October to come…

Scooby snacks

Back to work today, a complete anticlimax after the past 48 hours. A little nervous about what JLI might turn up, but the texts from him were mercifully uneventful – the Short-toed Lark still around and being harrassed by a Yellow Wagtail; a Common Sandpiper on the shore; and a Pochard at Vatshoull.

I felt faintly foolish about the latter, as I noted this drake was there on Saturday, but never mentioned it to anyone. After all, it’s just a Pochard, yes? Ah, well, no… Turns out Pochard is something of an island rarity on here, and JLI reckoned this was his first on the isle for some 30 years. Oops. Maybe I should have said something!

Stopped off at the quarry on the way home, but the bunting appears to be gone. A further stop at the plantation to take some photos of something I noticed yesterday – a Red-backed Shrike larder. Have never seen one before, so this was kind of intriguing.

Crouching bunting, leaping lark

Somebody shoot me. Am absolutely fucked with exhaustion. It’s been a long, long weekend of more or less dawn-to-dusk tramping around birding, and it’s been so worth it. Kicked off today with the usual circuit of Skaw, before decamping to the quarry to try for some Yellow-breasted Bunting record shots (am under no illusions about how shite the camera lens is…) and more importantly, to take some detailed field notes. Someone had to!

Got the obligatory shite record shots, before heading over to Isbister for some hot migrant action. (A Chaffinch, one of several new in on the isle today – Isbister back on form of promising much, and delivering so very little in return for so very much effort.

From there back to the quarry to try and help some visiting birders connect with the now elusive bunting. Russ Heywood managed to briefly relocate it, but by the time we’d found the others birding elsewhere on the isle, it had vanished into thin air again. It’s strange – some of the Yellow-breasted Buntings I’ve seen have been spooky beasts that won’t let you anywhere near them (a couple on Fair Isle between ’92 and ’95 spring readily to mind), whilst this one and the Portland bird (’93?) are bombproof – the Portland bird ran between my feet at one point, and this one sits tight like a locustella until you step on it, and then flies a short distance before settling again to feed on fallen grass seeds and allow a close approach again.

Back home, and immediately found a Great Spotted Woodpecker digging in my compost heap. It flew a short way off, before discovering some nice woodwormy rotten timber on one of my outbuildings, and spent much of the afternoon ripping that apart. Possibly more fruitful than whatever it was finding in the chicken shit and kitchen scraps… Other notables were 6 Lesser Whitethroats around the house.

JLI and BM came along and we gave the plantation the once over before JLI had to leave for a prior commitment. No sooner had he driven away than he phoned us – he’d found a Short-toed Lark in the middle of the road! It flew into the fields alongside my house, so we walked up to it and got a few photos before it returned to the road, and then flew away in the direction of the airstrip.

Finished the day with the nets up in the plantation. Got a good double-figure haul of Goldcrests, but still no rare phylloscs this autumn. Yet…

Final scores for the past 48 hours:

Wryneck (2)
Red-breasted Flycatcher
Yellow-breasted Bunting
Short-toed Lark.

Plus good numbers of Redstart, Whinchat, Lesser Whitethroat, Reed Warbler, Yellow Wagtail, Tree Pipit etc etc. And a Great Spotted Woodpecker!