Link and you’ll miss it

My links section (eyes right -> ) is in danger of becoming stagnant and out of date. First of all aPalling Birding announced that it was calling it a day, and now the excellent profanisaurus that was Skills-bills also throws in the (suspiciously crusty) towel. This is sad – these guys made for entertaining reading. How will I manage through the long dark days of winter without my regular updates on the migrant chomping skills of Ben the greyhound, or the progress reports on Tom’s kitchen? (Easily the most compelling saga of the autumn just gone). I guess I’ll have to content myself looking at Eider flocks for non-existent King Eiders. There’s always the continually sublime George Bristow’s Secret Freezer though.

This turning away from the public gaze is obviously catching at the moment, as yet more of Blurredforum’s grandees publicly announced their departures in the past few days: “I’m going now. Yes, I’m definitely going. Right now. You just try and stop me (please…). I’m way too serious a birder / too cool / too busy twitching birds in Ireland to bother with the likes of Blurredforum. Oh, and by the way… did anyone ever tell you that amongst us serious birders, Blurredforum and its members are a standing joke? So that’s it. I’m going now. Definitely.”

(Is there anything more painful than twitcherer types who call themselves “serious birders”? Shorthand of a kind for “the sort of bloke you really don’t want to sit next to on a long-haul flight”).

So, good riddance to serious birders who coyly absent themselves from online forums. Get over yourselves. And to Tim and Tom, sorry to see you go. Tom, this one’s for you – the nearest thing I could find to “McKinney’s Kitchen” on Youtube. It’s not Iron Maiden, but it has its merits…


Went out yesterday with no hope of seeing anything whatsoever, and the birding gods duly obliged. An hour and a half of walking the mutts around the patch turned up a single Woodcock, and a showing-characters-of-Siberian Chiffchaff. I should have put the effort in with the latter, but a) it was bloody cold and I wanted to get home and light the fire, and b) I couldn’t really be arsed. It’s that sort of apathy that let Iberian Chiffchaff languish in taxonomic obscurity until some clever chap sucked out its DNA and advanced the tickers’ lists by one overnight, and all of a sudden every man and his dog was claiming them in the field.

In my defence, it’d be a damn sight less of a chore to look at a Chiffchaff ssp in the balmy comfort of the Iberian peninsula than on an exposed Shetland peninsula in a northerly force 8. Hell, who am I kidding? I’m just lazy. So sue me.

Cock mad

Felt quietly optimistic when I finally rolled out of bed this morning ready to start a new day’s birding. The forecast day of westerly shite went elsewhere, so we had a reasonable day of sunshiney periods, and every field around the house was hooching with thrushes. More Redwings and Fieldfare today than yesterday (though god knows how many, and I wasn’t going to attempt a count as I was far too busy looking for Black-throated Thrush), still dozens of Blackbirds, and a new flavour in the form of Song Thrushes – 5 in total around the patch.

Went down the isle to do the swan count and check out one other place that showed some promise yesterday – just a Chiffchaff and 2 Woodcock. They were the vanguard for an afternoon of Woodcock madness, as I kept flushing the damn things all around the patch. There was more cock there than on Hampstead Heath on a busy Friday night. It was obscene. I’ve only seen 2 Woodcock on the patch in 5 years, so to find 11 this afternoon was bizarre. Where was my trusty shotgun when I needed it? I could have been sitting down this evening to Woodcock on toast instead of chicken noodles.

Other semi-notables were a Robin and another Chiffchaff, but I felt a little hard done by until I caught a glimpse of black and white in flight in Roadside’s yard. And almost 5 years to the day since I found my first Great Grey Shrike up here, I found my second. They’re not accorded scarce status up here, but really they should be. You don’t see that many of them.

No joy yesterday or today looking for the Hume’s. I think it’s really gone this time.

They think it’s all over…

Feeling hugely inspired by the events of Wednesday (and hugely relieved that JLI made it back to the isle in time to see the Hume’s Warbler yesterday), I spent every hour of daylight today birding. It was mainly crap, with some frustrating bits, and a few unusualish birds.

No sign again of the Hume’s, but a couple of Waxwing still in the area unable to kick their glace cherry habit. No sign of the Chiffchaffs or Blackcaps there either. I reckon there’d been a bit of a turf out. We did have some incoming though, in the shape of noticeably more thrushes (Redwings, Fieldfares and Blackbirds), a couple of dozen Goldcrest scattered around the place, and a couple of oddities of a kind – 2 Woodcock, one on the patch and one at Sodom; and a Black Redstart in the trap kaleyard. No sign of the expected Pallas’s Warbler though.

Much joy as Arsenal beat Man Utd. The day could get no better than that, surely?


Hume’s Warbler

Keen readers of the blog (you both know who you are) will have noticed the utter lack of any updates for over a month now. There’s a good reason for that – the complete lack of birds to talk about. I could tell you all about my week’s holiday birding the island from dawn to dusk with the rarity finding dream team of JLI and PS (that’d be the week that we saw 2 Yellow-browed warblers, 1 Barred Warbler, and 1 Little Bunting. Oh, and a white-winged lark…*) But that’d be boring. It was bobbins, we put the effort in and saw very little, we got soaked through on a daily basis by the constant south-westerly rain showers, we struggled to keep the faith. PS fled to Out Skerries, and having ditched his Jonahs found Richard’s Pipit and Siberian Stonechat, then went a little mad on the mainland finding White’s Thrush and Long-tailed Tit (the latter the rarest bird he’s ever found in a Shetland context!). JLI and I ground on, and still found nothing.

Last weekend I found myself on the pier checking the Eider flock for King Eider, and checking the Great Northerns for White-billed. Classic signs of winter birding activity.

But on Tuesday evening I got a phone call from a lady here on the island who knows a thing or two about birds, and enough to recognise a Yellow-browed Warbler when it turns up in her garden. Except this one was “dull” and she was suspicious enough to want a second opinion. Mindful of what had turned up on Unst at the weekend, I spent a tense Tuesday evening listening to Hume’s Warbler calls…

First light yesterday found me lurking uncomfortably in Cath’s garden like some sort of warbler pervert. Gave it an hour and a half, saw nothing apart from a couple of Chaffinches, and returned home to work from home for the rest of the day. It just wasn’t meant to be. Mid morning, and Cath phoned again – it had reappeared briefly. I was back at her house by lunchtime, and after checking the garden (no bird) she kindly let me keep an eye on the garden from inside her house, fortified with tea, chocolate biscuits and a pair of Waxwings feeding on glace cherries in her front garden. Birding comes no comfier than this.

Migrants were in short supply. Just a couple of Blackcaps feeding along the edge of the lawn, and the Waxwings didn’t linger having stuffed themselves with cherries. I gave it as long as I decently could before returning home to work. Just as I was getting to my feet to leave, Cath announced the bird was back. And there not 12 feet away was a dull greyish version of a Yellow-browed Warbler, initially doing that hovering thing before diving into a small larch and out of sight from the house. Shit.

I hurried outside, and could immediately hear it calling – a very different call to the rising sweet sound of a Yellow-browed (siuwEE)- this sounded a bit like a higher pitched House Sparrow, with a definite downward inflection at the end (swEEoo). Grabbed my laptop from the car and gave it a quick blast of Hume’s, and good as gold it came to the front of the larch to check me out. I returned the favour for a while before it buggered off down the garden when next door came out to hang out their laundry.

So, good news – Cath let me know about it, I eventually saw it, and nailed it – and it’s a first for the island. Bad news – BM away on holiday in Wales, and JLI in Norway landing fish. Worse news – no sign of it today in worsening weather conditions after a clear night last night.

On the whole, while I feel bad for them – I can’t help but be pleased with the bird itself. Thanks, Cath.

* the white-winged lark – just a Skylark with broad white secondaries. Get you going for a minute? It did us.