Hot migrant action at last

Finally unblocked the first of JLI’s early season migrants yesterday, more by chance than by design – a speculative scan out of the kitchen window came good when a Lard Dove laboured past looking fat and plumptious. The 2009 house list advances like a very slow thing indeed.

No sign yet of the Greenfinch I know is roosting in the plantation every night, despite much speculative seed spreading. As for Snow Bunting… looking increasingly like that one is going to have to wait until the end of the year. Ditto Long-tailed Duck.

The joys of yearlisting. If I can get excited about a Woodpigeon, god knows what a Subalpine Warbler would do for my heart-rate.

Sublime and ridiculous

Saw my first Red Grouse of the year this morning, miles apart from one another, but strangely both wandering alongside the main road while the morning traffic thundered by inches away. Reminded me of that sure sign of Spring down south, the sight of freshly splatted male Pheasants every mile or so on the M20 and M25.

Meanwhile, a million miles away (well, a hemisphere away) there’s another birder blogging away on a group of islands in the middle of nowhere, and I’m delighted to flag up his blog for your love and enjoyment. Check out for a completely different yet strangely familiar birding experience. You can take the birder out of the UK, but you can’t take the rarity-finding out of the birder…

Spring’s here

Nothing terribly remarkable to blog about, but two ‘firsts’ for 2009 are notable – last night was a fine, still, damp sort of a darkness, and a Snipe was making the most of it to do a bit of drumming. I think of all the bird noises we get up here that I didn’t used to hear from the house down south, this is the most evocative and eagerly anticipated of all. It means winter is almost over… if only that meant it would stop raining!

Other first-of-the-year was today – a pair of Red-throated Divers loitering on the loch outside the house. One in full winter plumage still, so looking a bit incongruous. The sea was pretty calm this afternoon, so I made an effort to try to boost the house yearlist – adding the auk double of Guillemot and Black Guillemot. Thoroughly gripped though this week by JLI, who’d seen Snow Buntings and a Woodpigeon in my lower field. From the bedroom, I’d have been able to see those… but they weren’t there today. Heyho. Plenty of time yet.

What larks

Spent an enjoyable hour this morning trying to make sense of a paper examining the mDNA profiles of Skylarks… and it shook my world, I can tell you. Or at least, the bits of it I could understand were profound and earth-shattering. (NB, for profound and earth-shattering, read “only of any interest if you spent ages a couple of autumns ago trying to make sense of a small skylark sp that had turned up a mile from home”). In a spooky coincidence, there was a bog-standard common or garden Skylark singing over the house this morning when I left to catch the ferry to work. My first singing bird of the year, and the 2009 garden list advances inexorably. I wonder if I can get to 100 in the space of the year? A tall order, I suspect.

Other incidental news – Snipe calling from behind the house tonight, and Lapwings now beginning to hold territory along the airstrip. 27 Greylags on Saturday in one of my fields. Try as I might, I couldn’t find a Bean or a Pink-foot amongst them. Tsk.

Not quite Scilly

Am delighted to highlight this well-written and amusing blog (and doubtless plagiarise it shamelessly in future) as not only is it proof that even I can enjoy gulls (in moderation), it’s also a dead good read.

Based down in Seaton in Devon, GH sees all sorts of exotica I can only dream of. To quote the man directly – Pheasants, Long-tailed Tits, and lots of really tall trees.

trees… *drools Homerishly*

You know, I could go off a person so quickly…

Check it out. He even makes gulls sound interesting, and that’s no mean feat.

Bean there, done that

In which Bitter Bonxie emerges blearily from his winter hibernation, shakes the taste of stale Kittiwake from his beak, and resumes normal service…

 Welcome back. It’s been ages since I last bothered to write anything on here. That’s probably for the best, as there’s only so much comic potential to be wrought from tales of unsuccessful King Eider and White-billed  Diver hunting. And only so many photos of Iceland and Glaucous Gulls a readership (that’s both of you) can take. Or for that matter a birder can take while remaining sane in the short winter days. Suffice to say I’ve seen a few Iceland and Glaucous Gulls this winter.  There’s no way I can pretend I’m a great gull fan. They’re… well, they’re just birds. One man’s Yellow-browed Warbler is another man’s Iceland Gull – you just get them here at the right time of year.

I certainly can’t pretend to understand the current vogue for “getting into gulls”. (Now there’s somewhere you don’t want to go, on so many levels). Any specialist field that feels the need to describe themselves with an “ophile” on the end of the prefix is usually a little bit… well… odd. Apart from the glaringly obvious example, we have bibliophiles, audiophiles, galanthophiles… and now the already somewhat anorakish pursuit of birding (be honest now, it’s hardly parkour or snowboarding) has specialised still further and gives us laridophiles. Oh yes. You’re not a Serious Birder unless you hang out in da tip with the big larids of a winter afternoon.

It’s that sort of casual, easy contempt that means I won’t be finding any rare gulls in the near future. Instead of actively looking for high Arctic gulls, I’ve been taking a leaf out of BT’s book, baiting the beach below the house with dead stuff and freezer rejects, and hoping one would come to me. Got a tidy head start with one of the neighbour’s sheep handily turning up it’s hooves there, and topped that up with assorted other goodies. All to no obvious effect whatsoever, apart from the ghoulish observation that in a cold, salt-laden atmosphere a dead sheep’s skin doesn’t rot, but instead turns into a sort of taut leather on the bones. Yummy.

First blood of the year on the isle goes to BM, who found a Tundra Bean Goose last weekend on a bare rig above the Houb. I had to wait a week before catching up with it on Saturday, though a week is a short time compared to when I last saw any Bean Geese, which would have been at least 7 winters ago on Romney Marsh. A nice bird, as geese go, and a small relief insofar as it’s never nice to be the last resident birder on the isle to be missing something the others have seen.



Other exciting bird news… is rather few and far between. In the spirit of RF and SM’s 2009 garden lists elsewhere on Shetland I’ve started one as well. It’s not going very well as yet, but had the potential Water Rail blocker inked in a few weeks back when we had a good snowfall that forced the terrible lurker into the open.  List currently stands on a very modest 37 species.