Currant affairs

Finally I’m indoors and sucking down a nice cold beer. Have spent much of today pruning and planting blackcurrant cuttings – 143 in the final reckoning. Impossible to say how may will strike, but even a handful would be a bonus. Good to see that the fuchsias, roses and snowberries Kath let me dig out of her garden have all struck, and are all showing signs of buds breaking through their bark.

Went around the island mid afternoon, for not a lot of return – bird of the day was in the plantation, a single Reed Warbler skulking at the margins of the leeward side. Apart from that, a smattering of waders at the Houb (highlight a single Knot), and Snipe of varying colours around Brough – ranging from warm-toned rufous orange birds to a single cold-toned greyish individual.

090830 Snipe3

090830 Snipe2

multiple-headed snipe-beast

two tone

Heading back out again now for one final walk around…

It’s all gone Leone

Home this evening to find the Houll fairly hooching with waders, presumably after a day of much less disturbance than usual – the wind and rain this afternoon will have kept some of the usual dog-walkers at indoors. Flocks of Golden Plover on either side of the entrance track, Ringed Plovers running down the track itself, Redshanks and Snipe on the little marshy pool, and… not unexpectedly after a week-long stay, no sign of the Pectoral Sandpiper.  Marshy pool itself looked excellent, and simply crying out for a yellowlegs. With the current westerlies, that may not be such a long shot. The weekend is predicted to be wall-to-wall westerlies, backing up southerly going into Monday. If that can’t deliver a nice American wader somewhere on Shetland… I’ll be surprised.

Tomorrow I’ll be planting a few dozen blackcurrant canes in the new vegetable yard, hoping some of them will strike and start to provide some shrubby cover (and berries) next year. Time allowing, there’s a ditch to be dug into the footprint of the new heligoland, and then the small matter of a football game to watch.  I daresay I’ll get out birding too in the course of the weekend…

All’s quiet on the eastern front

Back home this evening after another midweek trip to the Highlands. No Red Kites this time, alas. Just lots of Hooded x Carrion Crow types, mainly seen in their natural habitat – the carpark alongside the cinema on the outskirts of Inverness, drawn there by the happy coincidence of adjacent Burger King and Pizza Hut.

Back in the wilds of Shetland, the Pectoral Sandpiper was showing well this evening, and I concentrated on getting some photos of it with its reflection in the water. Just enough breeze to ruin a really nice portait.

090827 Pec Sand 006websize

A single Willow Warbler in the kale yard heligoland tonight, but a house year tick was also in the offing – 2 Swifts flying overhead meant a fast drive up to the house, and then another species on the list. Maybe 100 species is attainable after all…

Manky gulls #1

…being the first in an occasional series.

I really should be saving this for the depths of winter. And indeed, it’ll probably resurface then, when times are hard and the blogging’s not easy. However, have just been out for a sortie to some promisingly repulsive muddy pools on the lookout for a rare wader, only to find a selection of Lerwick’s finest manky gulls. And only single Redshank and Dunlin on the wader front. The Dunlin looking rather uncertain as the many young Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls were busy yopping down unidentifiable calidrid-sized lumps of gull fodder, presumably scavenged from the nearby landfill site.

So, for want of anything better to do, I took a couple of portraits of particularly minging specimens. One swallowing what appeared to be an entire filleted salmon carcase, and another drenched in purest green.

fishy manky

slimy manky

Meanwhile, what better to banish wader woe than going to another birding blog I stumbled across recently, and have been enjoying enormously in recent days. It’s the well-written and amusing Wanstead Birder. Try it – you might like it. As much as gulls love bathing in slime and then eating something decomposing. In other words, a lot.

Of migrants and squid

A couple of tantalising texts during the course of the day from JLI – a Barred Warbler flirting around the heligoland yard, and a Black-tailed Godwit in my lower field. Hard to say which I wanted to stick around more until I got home. Shameless yearlister that I am, the godwit won out, so I was relieved to find it in my neighbour’s field this evening – a nice dark still largely summer-plumaged individual, feeding nervously by itself amongst the grazing sheep. Another one of those species I was hoping would appear on the house-yearlist, but certainly could not count upon. They’re annual, but that’s not to say I’m in the right place at the right time every year to see them.

After not seeing the Barred Warbler in the heligoland kaleyard, I was definitely in the right place at the right time in the plantation. In the hour before dusk the place came alive with warblers feeding in the still and rather humid gloom. At least 6 Willows (at one point all out on the fence beyond the enclosure, with I think 1 or 2 still in the trees), and a brief but excellent view of my first Grasshopper Warbler of the year. Again, a species that I don’t see annually on the isle, but sadly on this occasion nowhere near the croft…

BM came along and we set up a mistnet, but by the time it was ready the warblers had vanished into the depths of the trees – just one Willow Warbler to show for our efforts.

Back home, am typing this now in between ladling inky black fish stock onto a risotto – I came home tonight the proud owner of a couple of kilos of fresh squid, so I’m taking my time to do some of it justice, and cook one of my favourite meals – risotto nero. Mrs Bonxie says food shouldn’t be black. Mrs Bonxie is wrong. 😉

A day of yuck… and an Icterine

A really grotty day today – strongish south-easterly wind, persistent rain, and generally wet and grey. Lovely! Met JLI mid-morning, and did the plantation and various bits of cover here – 3 Willow Warblers, and 3 Garden Warblers. A final walk along the shore came good, as a warbler flicked up the cliff face in front of us to give a flash of a wing panel… an Icterine. Very nice. Clearly new in as we’d walked the same length of coast some half hour previously, it was flycatching furiously from the rocks and clumps of spent Thrift.

While JLI went home for lunch, I took advantage of a lull in the showers to go down to the shore with the camera. Complete result, as I found the warbler now on the rocks below my field. Less of a result – it started raining again, so I didn’t linger with it, took a few shots, and legged it back to the house.

Icterine doing bedraggled

Back out again in the afternoon with JLI, another round of the area failed to turn up anything more than the same recycled Willows and Gardens, so we headed south down the isle to see if we could do better elsewhere. A few more Willows, and the first Pied Flycatcher of the autumn were our just desserts (and the Pectoral Sandpiper is still welded to its favourite marshy pool). The next few days might be good.

Back to the Sandpiper

Back on the island, and not much doing. The strong south-easterlies never materialised in the afternoon, and a good trudge around the golf course was just that – a trudge. An awful lot of effort for 4 Dunlins… and a few mushrooms that are now drying in the conservatory.

The Pectoral Sandpiper is still on the Houll, and I dropped in to see it again on the way home, with a vague hope it might have attracted a friend. No such luck, but it was still showing well, and I made a few sketches with half a mind to a watercolour, and took some more photos.

pec's appeal

another aspect

Red Kites

A nervy day away today – work called me south, so I was anxiously phone-watching awaiting the text that would tell me JLI had nailed a good ‘un. Fortunately (for me, at least!) it never came. I’ll be back in the morning, so it’s all to play for.

Managed a little from-the-car birding on my way from Inverness to my meeting – a couple of carrion-spotting Red Kites circling over the main road. First ones I’ve seen since I was last down here a year or so ago, and as impressive as always.

Pectoral Sandpiper, Common Rosefinch, and…

The south-easterlies have duly delivered a bird from an unexpected point of the compass – a Pectoral Sandpiper, pleasingly found by BM at the Houll. I’ve been checking the margins of this loch daily for the past few weeks, as it was looking hugely promising for once – the dry summer here has meant that all our lochs are much lower than usual, and a good wader was surely on the cards.

Apparently calling when in flight, I didn’t get to hear this as I let the lens and the 2x converter do the hard work and make up the distance between me and it, rather than push it and flush it.

Just nipped out to see it in my lunch-hour, as am working from home today, needing some peace and quiet to work on some heavy duty data. Who knows what we might find later on… (edit – a Teal on North Loch – house yeartick!)


ex-pec-tation mounts from now on

Later. Met JLI at the plantation at the end of lunchtime, and finally connected with the Common Rosefinch. Not an obliging bird at all. 5pm… time to get back out there and see what else is to be had. The wind strengthened considerably mid afternoon, and a short, heavy shower of rain might have been well-timed. We will see!


Eastern promise

Some good fresh south-easterlies and showers overnight… hopefully something interesting will come in with it. Fired up by the news of a Greenish Warbler on Fair Isle, I made an effort this morning on my way to work to drop into the plantation. Nothing doing, just the now long-staying (well, the for the past few days) solitary Willow Warbler. With any luck it’ll soon have phylloscopus company of a rarer kind.

No sign first thing of yesterday’s Common Rosefinch, but am guessing it will be hanging around the place somewhere. Will make more of a concerted effort to see it this evening, as didn’t bother looking for it last night – too busy watching football with JLI. So, am praying it’ll link up with my sparrows or Twite, though not with any great expectation of success – rosefinches rarely seem to come up onto the ridge, preferring the more sheltered fields below the road.