We got incoming

A moderate south-easterly last night and this morning, though no signs of any migrants fresh in this morning when I checked the heligoland and plantation. All very peaceful, but on the cusp of May, and with south-easterlies, you have to assume the next day or two will deliver something, if only reasonable numbers of common migrants. Both Collared Doves still hanging around my hens this morning, and a Blackbird sitting on a nest tucked in a cavity in the drystone dyke outside the the back door of the house, her presence betrayed by a very indiscreet male Blackbird that scolded me as I walked to the car.

Saw my first Arctic Skua of the year last night on my way to JLI’s to watch the football, a dark phase bird motoring across the hill and straight out to sea. A bird on a mission if ever I saw one. That was the highlight of the evening – Arsenal’s performance certainly not anything to write home about.

Kumlien’s Gull

Stopped off on my way to the ferry this morning to check out the possible Kumlien’s Gull, and found it loafing on the beach bothering a piece of seaweed. Whilst I can’t pretend that gulls inspire any great enthusiasm in me, a Kumlien’s Gull is still better than a poke in the eye with a blunt stick. Probably. Just.

 I forget the current thinking on them, but recall there was talk at one point of a hybrid swarm somewhere in the Canadian arctic or other… something about all Thayer’s / Iceland crosses being a spectrum that could be generically labelled Kumlien’s? Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn – it’s showing a full suite of pro-Kumlien’s features, so whatever the provenance of Kumlien’s as a whole, this appears to be one.



Roll on some proper migrants…

Alpine Birds

Oh, how I’d like to think this was a post to celebrate finding a Rock Bunting or an Alpine Accentor this morning before breakfast… but of course, it’s not. (Though I would just like to put on the record my return to predictive form where birds are concerned – mist-netting yesterday evening in the plantation with BM, conversation inevitably turned to the birds we’d been seeing and could reasonably hope for after a day of south-easterlies in late April. I said it felt like a day for a good raptor, a harrier or a kite maybe – and 20 minutes later, got a text from the local grapevine to the effect that someone had just found a Black Kite. I should buy a lottery ticket and quit while I’m ahead…)

Anyway, getting back on track and adding to my collection of bird blogs from around the world – here’s a cracker from the Austrian alps: http://alpinebirds.blogspot.com/ Dale’s photos of Apline birds are mouthwatering, and the accentors in particular have set me thinking wishfully. Not just photos to be had on Alpine Birds – there’s video too. Coming soon to a drystone wall near me (I wish!)…

The dove from above

Eurekakakaka! Migrants, even if a couple are everso slightly plastic.

Working on the chicken and rabbit-proofing of the new yard on Saturday evening, my uber-finely tuned dove senses started jangling – in the gloom a slim silhouette on the telegraph wires looked good for a dove of some sort or other, but by the time I’d legged it back into the house for my bins, it’d vanished without trace.

Fortunately yesterday morning the mystery resolved itself as the irresistible magnetism of my hens (or more specifically, their corn) lured it and a friend back to feed in my chicken yard – a pair of Collared Doves. Migrants of a kind, and rewind 50 years or so and they would have been a mega. How times change – I look forward to the day I look out into my sheep fields and mutter to myself “oh god, not another bloody Cattle Egret….”

 So I finally got to use the camera and lens in anger, and it’s just splendid. Roll on something properly rare!


Other migrants around the house over the course of the weekend included a fly-by Swallow yesterday evening, and at long last a Wheatear (the latter found by the tried and tested technique of me sitting on my arse drinking beer in the sun and avoiding doing any of the countless pieces of work that needed doing outside). I’d earnt a lazy bird though, as on Saturday morning I’d been to extreme ends to add a bird to the house yearlist… Out walking along the shore to see if we’d had any lambs born overnight I noticed a solitary sandpiper on the rocks below me. It’d be fine if I could say that so casually if it’d been a proper Solitary! Instead, I had me a nice Purple Sandpiper. Only problem… the sandpiper and I were on the shore… and the house was a long way uphill. Shameless lister that I am, I legged it back to the house and from an upstairs window scoped the shore to ink Purple Sandpiper onto the yearlist. My dedication knows no bounds, and with the doves, the Wheatear and the Swallow the list finally passes the 50 mark. Still no Whimbrels…

Collared Doves still around the hens this morning (they know a good thing when they see one), and a Chiffchaff blasting the plantation with song. With a fresh south-easterly blowing, it feels rare today.

Filthy twitching

Dropped in to Tingwall to see the long-staying Ring-necked Duck again this afternoon. This meant a detour of a mile from my normal route back into town, so strictly speaking constitutes a twitch I guess. I feel cheap and dirty now.

As usual, it wasn’t hard to find, and with better light conditions than the other evening at Loch of Brow, I managed to take a slightly more respectable photo of a duck at long-range. Messing around with the lens at home, it’s going to be awesome for photos of birds closer than half a mile away… and for them, it’s merely okay. I love it already.

Ting-necked Duck 090424


Other birds of note at Tingwall – a White Wagtail on the shore, and 4 Swallows hawking over the water. Either species is welcome to come and add itself to my feeble 2009 house list. Which has ground to a painful halt for now.

Move along…

…there’s nothing to see here.

And yesterday evening, there certainly wasn’t. Felt inspired by news of the discovery of a Subalpine Warbler down in the south mainland, and gave my end of the island a thorough flogging to find a nice sylvia all of my own. Predictably, nothing doing. In fact, apart from a half dozen confiding Twite feeding on the verge, a couple of Goldcrests and a Chiffchaff  in the plantation were all that was even vaguely notable. There’s an obvious dearth of Wheatears around the house compared to elsewhere on the isle, and I’ve still yet to see any Whimbrels this spring. Perhaps the Hoopoe has lulled me into expecting too much too soon.

In which I get a bigger digger

Complete result this weekend in the absence of any nice birdies to blog about. I devoted the weekend to getting last year’s kale yard dug over and ready for planting in the next week or two, and then gritting my teeth for the deeply unpleasant task of digging from scratch (by hand) the much larger yard I fenced in last autumn. To say I was dreading it would be the understatement of the century.

Dug a third of the old yard before the return of Mrs Bonxie with the news that AA and LE were rotovating the heligoland yard with a monster rotovator beast. I knew what I had to do – go ask them if they’d mind doing my new yard as well… completely shameless, me.  Fortunately they’re both absolute diamonds, and an hour later my new yard had been cleared of old wood courtesy of LE’s chainsaw, and rotovated thanks to AA and his big rotovator. Time saved? About a fortnight of digging in every free moment I had. Pain saved? Incalculable! They’re a pair of stars, and I’m hugely grateful.

Went over it today and picked out all the dock roots I could find, and will spray the whole thing in a week or so to kill off any grass and docks coming through. And then I can plant it wall to wall with tatties to break up the soil a bit this year, and suppress any more weeds coming through. (And attract me a nice locustella in the autumn, of course).

Will be busy in the evenings this week making it chicken and rabbit-proof. Both are magnetically drawn to my vegetables, and with dire consequences for all concerned. An early end and hot oven awaits the hen that breaks into the yard this summer. Meanwhile Daisy Dog will be tasked to deal with any rabbits. I hate the furry fuckers, but she lurves them. In a terminal sort of way.

Wood Duck

A proper lifer today, or at least, one can only hope it will prove to be… A message on the grapevine that RF had found a drake Wood Duck at Brow Loch was enough to send me south after work on a speculative outing before catching the late ferry home. That and an email from a friend in Iceland this morning to the effect that a drake Bufflehead had been found in the last few days in Norway… and happy memories of the now-accepted and not so many years past drake Hooded Merganser on Unst.

So, I was only a couple of miles from Brow Loch when a second message came through – to the effect that it should be taken seriously, as the bird was both fully winged, and wary. I met RF heading away from the site, a happy man… and just PVH watching the bird as I pulled up.

A superb looking duck, it was hanging out with the local Tufted Ducks at the far shore, and way too far away to manage a photo. Went for a coffee at PVH’s, then back an hour later. Still nobody else there, but the bird a little closer, and near enough (i.e. within half a mile or so) to allow a record shot at full bore on the lens in the gathering dusk. I decided not to try to closely approach the shore on foot on the basis that I didn’t want to be the selfish chump responsible for flushing the bird and it subsequently becoming difficult to see / gone altogether.


A terrific bird then, and I guess as good a set of credentials as any Wood Duck in the UK will have, short of a North Carolina ring on its leg… Alternatively, this moment of pure genius from Masked Strike might help to explain things…

Taking stock of Hoopoe and Hawfinch

An excellent day today – bright sunshine, clear skies, and a moderate south-southwesterly. I spent most of the day working on building some more chicken runs for the breeding trios and quads, but all the meantime kept half an eye on the sea, skies and fields around me. Masses of displaying Curlew activity, and Skylarks and Wrens singing constantly kept me company. First addition to the house yearlist were a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers in the bay below the house, a somewhat overdue yeartick.

Then distracted by a phonecall from MC – he was watching the Hoopoe one of the non-birding islanders had found yesterday. I’d had a text first thing yesterday morning from JLI to let me know about it, but hadn’t got back to the isle until after dark, and figured I’d make the most of the fine weather at home this morning. However, confronted with the reality of a Hoopoe in a scope… my good intentions crumbled, and I drove down the isle to give it a couple of minutes. A smart enough bird, it was doing its best to feed on the short turf above a boulder beach. It looked a typically nervous specimen of its kind, and not likely to take a close approach kindly, so I left shortly afterwards to head back home to crack on with my carpentry.

But only briefly – I dropped everything when a small dark dove dropped down into the field beside me – it was looking good for Stock, but there’s a nasty feral-pigeon-thing here at the moment that does a passable Stock imitation from a distance, so it needed a second glance. Joy, a Stock Dove. Not just new for the house yearlist, but new for the house period. A few hours later, things went dove mental when I noticed 3 Stock Doves in the field beside the house. As soon as they copped me stalking them they were off, flying away a couple of fields, pausing briefly, and then away again down the island.

I finished the afternoon down at the other end of the island checking some gardens as a reward for finishing the hen runs. Pied Wagtail on the meadows, and a Hawfinch in Cath’s garden (the Hume’s Garden, lest I forget).

I’d have pretty photos of all of these birds (mergansers aside) if Warehouse Express weren’t so bloody useless. Have treated myself to a new camera and lens at long last, and the nice lady at Warehouse Express promised me it would be sent next day delivery a fortnight ago. I chased them last Tuesday – they admitted it hadn’t been sent yet, apologised profusely, and promised it would be in the post that very afternoon. Still no sign of it today. So whatever you do, don’t buy a camera from them, or believe their blandishments and promises. They’re just leading you on, the teases. It’s like being back in 6th form all over again…

More migrants

Two days of south-easterlies, and it’s all go here. There’s been a massive fall of Goldcrests – at least 6 of them in the plantation, and briefly outside my back door before they realised conifers were in again this season.  And Robins… I can hardly move for the 2 of them. 3 Chiffchaffs too threatening a breach of the peace. Slightly less sarcastically, there’s an obvious influx of Blackbirds, and I booted 11 from the plantation this afternoon when I got home from work. Also 6 Fieldfare, and 10 Redwing.

All very exciting, though I’ll save the “I’ve got thrush” blog title for the day I finally find a rare thrush here. Meanwhile, top banana is a male Brambling, presumably the same one I found mooching around my sheep fields last weekend. Nothing else untoward happening here yet. It’s still waaaaay too early though to be expecting anything out of the ordinary.