Lost phone

Apologies for a non-birding post…

Bloody hell – ten or so years of having a mobile and never once losing it, and now it’s finally happened. And like a complete numpty, I of course don’t have a written list of everyone’s names and numbers, so they’re lost with the SIM card.

So… anyone that knows me, please email me your numbers! Will have a new phone and the old number back fairly soon I hope.


Am not sure whether or not this blog title makes any sense at all unless you’re from the West Country too… but hopefully it will – it’s a topical birding reference, and following the rip-roaring success that was the Pheasant rodeo advert, it’s a gratuitous opportunity to revisit another commercial I enjoyed immensely.

Enough suspense building and ambiguity… onto the birds. Came home this evening to perfect calm, not a breath of wind, and the sea glassy calm. Great Northern Divers stood out a mile even at extreme distance on the water, and if I’d still needed any of the breeding auks for the house yearlist, tonight would have been the night to rack them up. Puffin, Razorbill, Guillemot, Black Guillemot… all easily seen in a matter of moments. Walked around the golf course for want of anywhere better to go in such pleasant but unpromising (for migrants) conditions.

Sure enough, from a bird perspective not much doing. One Swallow hawking along below the cliff edge; a mob of irate Arctic Terns divebombed Fly (the Not Very Good Sheepdog) as we passed the Taing; and small parties of Turnstones were hanging out on the fairways, with a couple of nice summer-plumaged Dunlins for good measure. Mammals were good – had excellent views of a fishing Otter, and a pod of Harbour Porpoise just offshore.

Got back home to cook dinner, and edged one closer to the magic 100 for the house yearlist from the comfort of the kitchen window, armed with beer – a Grey Heron flying north-east over my lower field. Joy.

And so to the gratuitous advert – featuring Pablo the comedy stuffed dog. Probably not meant to make you laugh as such, but it reduced me to helpless giggles every time. A non-prize for the first person who can work out the link…

Crying fowl

It was a day of two halves – and I only considered it anything less than perfect about an hour ago. Up until then – just peachy.

You’ll recognise the seeds of the woe when I begin by saying that I woke up this morning to find my mobile had died in the night, so naturally I plugged it in to charge… and went outside to make the most of a fine sunny day to finish planting the other 100 brassicas, various leftover tatties, and some spinach and parsnips for good measure. So far, so good life. The day got significantly better in the afternoon when the sound of Starlings having conniptions made me rush from the kale yard to see what was bothering them. I was expecting and hoping it would be the Sparrowhawk that’s been around the area for the past few days, and which I’ve seen from just about everywhere except the house. I was delighted to see instead an owl trailing a comet tail of pissed off and highly excited Starlings flying over my back field – my first Long-eared Owl for the house list.

The rest of the day was spent digging, weeding and watering. It was only when I went inside, noticed the now-charged phone, switched it on, and started to work through the texts that the day soured (but only slightly). A text from BM at midday alerting me to a Long-eared Owl in the plantation… (ha!) …and then one from him 10 minutes earlier to say there was a Canada Goose in the ditch below West House. Oh balls. Easily the rarer of the two in a local context, and I’d missed it. Needless to say, scanning immediately from the house revealed no goose, and a subsequent walk around didn’t turn it up either. Only a few Willow Warblers in the plantation, and an acro that was best left unidentified briefly by the trap, before spanging off to some rosa rugosa a field away, and then not to be found again.

Heyho. The owl was nice.

You are my haw

Devoted most of the day to hot vegetable action – planted yet more tatties, 60 assorted brassicas, and chicken-proofed the side of the new yard that’s most vulnerable to hen-infiltration. Went down the isle after lunch to get some stuff from the shop, half-heartedly birding along the way – not a lot to be seen, for all it’s been south-easterlies today. Best I could muster was a Spotted Flycatcher until… I found this lurking inside an open garage door. There was just long enough to squeeze off one photo of a Hawfinch in its natural habitat – feeding on bird seed underneath a stepladder. Seeing me, it displayed typical Hawfinch evasive behaviour – and scuttled underneath the parked car beside it. Shetland… it’s just non-stop nature in the raw up here.

Cheap Haw

Other than that, nothing much doing at all, though the rain that’s finally arrived with the southeasterlies may be good for tomorrow. These spent the day lurking just offshore, with at one point 3 Great Northern Divers further out in the bay.

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Devoted this evening to watching the Drench pheasant rodeo advert over and over again. I’m easily amused.

House listing

Worked from home today, but with a deadline to meet I couldn’t even spare myself half an hour at lunchtime to see what was occuring outside. Eventually got out mid evening to find JA already in the plantation, so headed home to start planting potatoes. Gave up as it was getting dark with over 150 in, and still not halfway. After them, the cabbages… If I can’t go to the birds, I need to make them come to me.

Evening wasn’t a complete write-off, as I flushed a Tree Pipit from the side of the driveway, and picked up a smart male Pied Flycatcher on a fence as I walked back from the plantation.  Simply a case of walking up to the house, into the garden, and scanning the fence… and there he was, another step closer to the elusive 100 target for the year. I haven’t sat down yet to do the “what might I reasonably still expect to see” sums – I think I’d rather be pleasantly surprised if the house can manage 100 in the space of a year.


Dropped into JLI’s for an enjoyable and beer-fuelled rundown on the day’s birding events this evening. It sounded like I didn’t miss much…

Apart from a Wryneck he found early on, it seemed that much the same birds as seen in the past 48 hours were being recycled around the isle, so having to go to work hadn’t cost me dearly. Got home after dark to throw together an unexpected but tasty fish supper and a enjoy a chilled out and relaxed evening. The calm before the storm… I have a lot of planting to be getting on with in the next few days. Wind still moderate from the south-east this evening, so maybe still a Red-backed Shrike or two in the offing tomorrow.

Any minute now…

… it’s all going to start happening. Surely. A noticeable increase in warblers yesterday evening and this morning, indicating either new arrivals or birds coming out of the woodwork now that the wind is easing off a little.

Moved the ponies yesterday evening, a considerable logistical undertaking as they’re pretty feral and so need to be chaperoned along the road from one field to the next. They’ve spent the past few weeks in the yard below Roadside knocking back the rosa rugosa and years and years worth of long dead grass. It’s looking splendid now they’re finished, with the roses considerably thinned, pathways forged through them, and the grass knocked right back to ground level and well-dunged. It’s certainly going to be easier to see birds in there now, and is proving attractive – there were a pair of female Bluethroats in there yesterday evening while I worked to remove the electric fence prior to the great pony drive.

Collected a couple of hundred assorted cabbage seedlings yesterday, so will need to get planting in earnest in coming days. Them and the several hundred potatoes I have chitting in the garage. All good preparation for the autumn. (Oh, and nice to eat too. But mainly migrant-bait!). Have earmarked another small plot next to the new kale yard that would be relatively easy to enclose and put some trees in as a windbreak and a further little bit of habitat improvement, but this brings home just how much I have to get done in the coming weeks. Never mention the new heligoland…

Dipping and tripping

When I start a post saying I’m absolutely buggered, it’s usually an accurate barometer of how good the day was. It implies an awful lot of effort’s gone into the day, which me being the generally slothful and lazy slacker I am, must mean the weather was looking good and I’ve made the most of it. More than that though… as yesterday proved, you need some good birds early on in the day to keep the momentum up, or else you risk easing off and thinking of better things to be doing with your time. Like drinking beer. Having a little nap on the sofa in the sun in the afternoon. Not birding. But today…

…I’m absolutely buggered.

Day started with a Tree Pipit just along the road from the house – an absolute classic bird that flushed with the usual characteristic call. They’re such obliging beasts, Tree Pipits. A call that does (well, to my ear anyway) precisely what it says on the tin – tSee! sounds a bit like tree! so they’re a complete doddle when they lift and shout their name. Shamefully, I did my best to encourage it towards the field behind the house, but it was like herding cats – it wasn’t going where I wanted it to, so I left it be and moved on to the loch behind the house. Common Sandpiper here on the shore, annoyingly flushing to the shore nearest the house where a bedroom window scoping wouldn’t pick it up. I dithered for a moment… flush it back, then hoof back to the house to scope it? Or leave it be, and press on? Common sense and the bird’s welfare won out, and I went on to walk around the golf course. South easterlies, drizzle… surely good for something? A nice rare wheatear maybe…

Of all the things I imagined I’d find, Dipper certainly wasn’t high on the list. In fact, it was right off the radar. So when I went to jump a ditch, clocked it crouched beneath me, and then watched it fling itself into flight along the shoreline I was… more than a little surprised. Dipper? Bizarre. I then spent a joyless couple of hours walking the coast as far as Vevoe checking the shore and every ditch that fed into it in minute and tedious detail trying to relocate it.

Birds meanwhile were clearly arriving. I had Swallows and House Martins hawking along the cliffs, and Spotted Flycatcher and Willow Warbler in the geos. JLI meanwhile, checking the shore behind me a little later scored Icterine Warbler and Cuckoo. By the time I was walking back along the road to check out West Loch on my fruitless Dipper hunt, I was beginning to feel the pain of unaccustomed exercise. JLI’s phone call, and the news it contained, couldn’t have been worse timed: 4 Dotterel on the hillside behind my house.

Oh shit.

An island tick. A year tick. A house tick. Shit shit shit.

I ran like a chequebook birder fresh off a charter – pounding along the road at a good clip. By the time I’d covered the mile to the plantation, I was gasping for breath. JLI’s car was parked beside the road. He’d left the keys in the ignition, so I tried to phone him and ask if I could borrow it, but went straight to answerphone… so I did what any good friend would do under the circumstances.

I stole his car.

Straight up to the house, charged upstairs, scope to the south-east window, picked out JLI and his son on the far side of the loch, followed the direction they were looking in, and found the birds. Yay. And then back to his car, along to the end of the road, and time to ‘fess up. JLI mercifully sanguine about the whole thing. The Dotterels meanwhile were oblivious to the drama, and were beauties. 2 males, and 2 females.

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Hey! I can see my house from here...

Pressed on and added Knot to the house yearlist before linking back up with JLI to cover some other bits of the isle. Gave Brough a good thrashing, then into Symbister and more of the same. A couple of Sparrowhawks spooking the local Starlings were notable; also Pied Flycatcher, Redstart, Redpoll; reasonable amounts of Willow Warblers; and a couple of Garden Warblers.

Back to the north end of the isle, and another good going over for the plantation and the shoreline. Gave up eventually after 10 straight hours in the field (with a welcome 20 minute drying-out and bacon-rolling break at JLI’s house). But only to spend 30 minutes scouring the shore with the scope from upstairs until I’d finally nailed the Common Sandpiper for the house yearlist. Result.

Sexy beast



A good day, but not as good as we’d anticipated it might be. JLI and I spent the morning scouring the island and becoming increasingly despondent – there were migrants, but not the deluge we’d been hoping for. A smattering of species around the isle – Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Redstarts, a few Willow Warblers, a couple of Whitethroats, and the most noticeable arrival from the previous day – reasonable numbers of Lesser Whitethroats.

The sunny and clear weather was less than perfect for delivering a fall, but was clearly getting some of the newcomers’ sap rising – lots of singing Lesser Whitethroats, and yesterday’s male Bluethroat in the plantation even managed a brief burst of song. No sign of yesterday’s Icterine Warbler, though that’s not terribly surprising given that species’ ability to dissolve never to be seen again in a matter of moments, let alone overnight. (Take last year when we gave JA a call to come and see one we’d pinned down in the plantation – he turned up within 5 minutes, and not a sniff of the Icterine could we find. Whitethroat, Willow Warbler… but no sign of the lifer JA was hoping for. Icterines are uncanny and mysterious creatures).

I came home at lunchtime half meaning to get on with planting tatties, but the lure of boosting my feeble house yearlist proved too strong, so some serious scope work ensued. Managed to add Spotted Flycatcher, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, and in the evening a Whinchat at serious range.

I did venture out though after a report of a small bird with a blue throat at Vevoe – and perhaps unsurprisingly, that turned out to be a male Bluethroat. Suitably inspired, back to the plantation and in a nearby garden yesterday’s Bluethroat fed on the the lawn like a common or garden Robin. Absolutely stunning. Finally, back home and a female Bluethroat on the compost heap – again, probably a leftover from yesterday. A good addition to the yearlist though.

And now lots of Bluethroat porn… mmm….

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Lesser Scaup joy (and more besides)

After being teased all day by JLI’s texts of migrant goodies at home, there was only one thing I could possibly do after work. Hurry home and catch up on what I was missing? Obviously not. I had a score to settle with the Loch of Benston Lesser Scaup.

The wretched thing was still on the far side of the loch, so it was a case of some good old-fashioned fieldcraft to get myself close enough to get satisfying views, take a few notes (untrendy, I know, but I’m quaint like that) and try my hand at some photos too. It took an hour and a half of stalking around the side of the loch to get within reasonable range of the drake Lesser Scaup as it fed with a couple of Tufted Duck, and to have the sun behind me. I used every available bit of contour in the surrounding fields; moved only when all the ducks had dived; and ended up on my belly amongst the sheep shit by the shore. Glamorous stuff. Worth it though…

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I felt and smelt pretty sheepy by the time I got to the evening ferry, to meet my tormentor (JLI) in the ferry queue. We were both back too late to see the Rustic Bunting BM had found at Brough, but worked the plantation in the last of the evening light to score Icterine Warbler and brief views of a cracking male Bluethroat. Tomorrow could well be a good day…