Taiga Flycatcher, Fetlar

Just a quick blog tonight – to upload a photo of the Taiga Flycatcher I took my Shetland Wildlife party to see on Fetlar this morning. Top bird.

Taiga woods

More photos to follow in due course.

Later. A couple more photos. The bird was a real show-off once the rain stopped and the sun came out, and performed brilliantly for the perfectly behaved assembled birders (a big Shetland twitch this, some 20 people gathered to see it). People held back, and the bird clearly felt it had enough space to go about its business unhindered, and in the open. My second Taiga Flycatcher, and both in Shetland – this time far more satisfying views than the first bird. Everyone went away delighted – the question being whether having been present for some days before being positively identified as a Taiga, the bird will go away itself tonight as the conditions for migration seem perfect as I type – a light northerly breeze, clear skies, and a bright moon.

taiga feet

taiga, taiga burning bright


After the adrenalin rush of a spontaneous dash down the road to Orkney for a new bird, today was always going to be a little bit of an anticlimax. A party of Pink-footed Geese heading south over the house this morning as I left for work was the alkaseltzer to the post-twitch blues, and another incremental step closer to the 100 target I’ve set myself for the house yearlist. (An exercise I shan’t be repeating next year – I am well out of practice at the whole listing thing, and having meaningless targets to aim for is unexpectedly stressful, even when it’s as trivial as a house yearlist. 2010 new year’s resolution? No more lists, apart from the entirely passive self-found list).

Seemingly I wasn’t the only one to notice the thoughtless blundering of a very few over-zealous twitchers on South Ronaldsay yesterday – there has been plenty of chatter about it on Birdforum and elsewhere yesterday evening and today from other twitchers and some Orkney resident birders. Tempting though it was to post my photos of the transgressors in the act, I’ve taken advice that so doing is entering potentially hot legal water, should anyone feel sufficiently litigious. Heyho. Shame I didn’t have a wide angle lens handy to immortalise both the various birds fleeing and them standing out in the middle of nowhere trying to whistle nonchalantly and act inconspicuous all in one incontrovertible photo.

Of course, the only law they’ve broken is an unspoken one that most birders adhere to – a sensible code of conduct. Strictly speaking, they had every right (especially here in Scotland) to roam wherever they so please… it’s just the vast majority of birders who think that repeatedly flushing feeding birds (and not only vagrant cranes – just ask the wildfowl and waders in South Ronaldsay yesterday) is plain unacceptable.

Sandhill Crane

For the second time in 6 years, today I found myself twitching a bird outside of Shetland (there is a fine distinction being made here between going to see birds when I happened to be in the vicinity anyway, and making a conscious effort to leave my home shores!) – the first bird was the iconic Aberdeenshire Belted Kingfisher, and today’s was the equally inspiring Sandhill Crane on South Ronaldsay.

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I was out of Shetland on the first plane this morning, and by 9 o’clock was enjoying reasonable views of the bird. It was pretty skittish, as borne out by the runaround it led us once the twitching masses from the rest of the country arrived en masse shortly afterwards. At the first sign of human presence within a two-field radius (be it farm activity, dog walkers, householders hanging out laundry, or twitchers creeping up to get a closer view) it would take to the skies, circle widely, and eventually pitch down in a new field, usually just over the near horizon. I took a few record shots, then decamped to leave the masses to it while I went to see the American Golden Plover elsewhere on Orkney.


Having had excellent views of this confiding bird, I returned to South Ronaldsay, and timed my arrival well – Tim Cleeves was on the bird, and provided excellent directions to where the crane was roosting near the shore. I was slogging my way along the rocky foreshore to get to the bird unseen, when a stray twitcher walking towards the crane along the top of the banks above the beach took it upon himself to put the nearby large flock of geese up – and by the time I’d reached the approximate area of shore from where I could view the fields, the crane was long gone.

I went back to the car, and started to look again for it – but instead found the rest of the Shetland team stuck at the roadside with a dead car… and the crane on the brow of a nearby hill. More record shots ensued, before cattle flushed it once again – back to its roost site by the shore. We retraced my footsteps along the coast, and worked our way up behind an old drystone wall overlooking the bird. Fabulous views then for over an hour while it preened, went to sleep for a little while, and then took off yet again. Following images are chosen at random from many – I have a mammoth editing task ahead of me!

Sandhill Crane doing stretching

Sandhill Crane doing follow the Curlews

On a lightsome note, many thanks to the 2 twitchers who walked across the open fields towards it, flushing the nearby Curlews, and hence the gulls and the crane in their midst. We got some great shots of it as it took off. 

Less flippantly, many thanks to the finder, Paul Higson for providing us with such a superb bird, and such awesome logistical assistance once we were in Orkney. Top man, and deserves to go one better and turn up a nice Cerulean Warbler sometime soon!

A Fair Isle weekend

Back today from a weekend on Fair Isle – primarily there for work purposes, but Saturday (and what little I saw of Sunday after a great night out at a party at Setter on Saturday – a party that saw me get back to the Haa at 5am!) was reasonable for birding – an Arctic Warbler played hard to get, but was often visible if only distantly. Also my first Yellow-browed Warbler of the autumn put in a brief appearance.

Arctic doing not-a-Greenish

There was a definite bunting theme, as apart from a nice smart Little Bunting in the hand, there seemed to be quite a number of Lapland Buntings around – they were often calling overhead, and showed well on occasion. I was briefly stumped when I heard a familiar song – one I last heard in Western Iceland a couple of months ago – then the penny dropped – the AW’s were tape-luring in their garden, and that familiar song was of course Lapland Bunting.

Lapland doing seed

Other highlights a Common Rosefinch sharing the same garden as the Arctic Warbler, and a typically flighty Richard’s Pipit. A great weekend, and fine to see old friends and make a couple of new ones too. Left late this afternoon on the same plane that had just brought the crack team of PS and AS – if there’s a mega to be found on the isle this week, they’re the ones to find it! Back home to a couple of intriguing bird-related emails (watch this space) and confirmation that last week’s dragonfly is indeed a Common Hawker, and not the very similar Bog Hawker it was hoped it might be. Still, it seems as if it’s only the second record for Shetland, and a first for mainland Shetland (the other record being from, appropriately enough, Fair Isle).

Tufted Nothin’

As if a Blue-cheeked Bee-eater back down in Kent earlier this summer wasn’t gripping enough, my old adopted home county really pulled one out of the bag yesterday – a summer-plumaged Tufted Puffin. Ouch. To make matters that little bit worse, this was at Oare – a mere mile or so away from one of my homes down there. Woe.

Having said that, this morning started well with the Buff-breasted Sandpipers considerably closer than a mile to my current home – now officially on the house yearlist. A Tufted Puffin they ain’t though…

More Buff-breasts, and a dead dragonfly

A funny old day today – went to have my car looked at, and ended up being shown a dead dragonfly – MG had initially seen it zipping around outside his window yesterday, and then found it dead on the floor later in the evening. Not something you see every day up here, as the large dragonflies are entirely absent from Shetland. There’s some sort of damselfly here I think – a small blue one sp. No idea what species, which goes to show how much I know about odonata. So, am hazarding a guess only that the dead dragonfly below is a Common Hawker. It could so easily not be.

dragonfly doing dead

dead dragonfly doing 3/4 view

On much safer ground this evening – walking the golf course, I briefly stumbled across the Buff-breasted Sandpipers again – just enough time to snatch a few more photos, and then they were off. Still not calling when they fly, strangely I think. JA now back on the island, and missed them by a matter of just a few minutes.

getting buff

A lovely pair of Buff-breasts

The best and worst of news this morning – the visiting birders who’d found the vanishing Buff-breasted Sandpiper last Saturday had relocated it, now teamed up with a second bird. This time they had some photos, but… the birds had vanished by the time JLI got to the golf course. So when I eventually got out there this evening, I wasn’t feeling too optimistic – it’d been a fine, still sunny day, so the golf course would have had its fair share of disturbance from golfers and the groundsmen.

Sure enough, there was no sign of them where they’d last been reported. I walked along the coast, and was delighted to relocate them at the very furthest tip of the isle feeding busily on the short turf beside a cairn. I sent a text to BM and JLI (JA still away for the time being), looked back up, and they’d vanished. Nightmare. By the time BM made it down the golf course to join me, I’d scoured the immediate area to no avail. Spreading the search a little further along the coast, I refound them at considerable distance, went closer to confirm they were what I thought they were, turned to see where BM was, turned back – and they’d gone again.

No sooner had I sworn aloud than my phone rang – JLI had picked them up flying overhead back up the golf course. We all re-traced our steps, and started working our way north again. I relocated them a final time, and this time we managed to get within photographing distance. Needless to say, my battery failed at the critical juncture – and I am going straight to Amazon to buy a back-up when this post is finished! Will go for another look in the morning, albeit they’ve presumably been feeding up all day and tonight is clear and still… do Buff-breasted Sandpipers migrate at night?


vampire slayer

Fair Isle blog

It’s deathly here yet again today – a good trawl around the island this morning looking for waders (anything American would have done nicely, and specifically the pale snipe from a while ago, or yesterday’s Buff-breasted Sandpiper) produced absolutely sod all. The golf course particularly disappointing – the same 3 Ringed Plovers and 2 Dunlin as yesterday mooching around, and not a lot else. Found myself driving the heligoland and telling myself it should be good for an American warbler! Yes, it’s getting desperate up here.

Have spent the early afternoon doing some final getting-ready-for-winter type things – some exterior painting, putting pots away inside one of the byres, tidying up the mobile chicken breeding pens etc etc. Dull but inevitable stuff. Have come inside for a break and some tea, but I suppose another walk around is in order shortly. I may go and lift some tatties first. Happy happy, joy joy.

Stumbled across a new blog from Fair Isle this afternoon (told you I was skiving from my chores…) – the Bird Observatory warden, Deryk, is now blogging about island life in general and birds in particular (well, if there were any birds to blog about – Fair Isle also seems to be suffering the same general malaise as the rest of Shetland. Did I mention the wind was now northerly? Oh yes). It’s a good read, and will be essential reading once we start to go easterly. Which must happen eventually this autumn, surely.

Later. Final scores today – a single Willow Warbler still hanging on in there in the plantation, and a White Wagtail up in the field behind my house. Wind definitely north-easterly this evening.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper in the rough

An excellent start to the day – awoke at first light, felt the wrath of snorty north-westerlies battering the house, turned over and went back to sleep. Made another, more spirited attempt at getting up at 9.30am, and was mid-coffee when JLI called to let me know some visiting birders had found a Buff-breasted Sandpiper on the golfcourse. Perfect timing, as I could slurp the rest of my coffee, feed the hens, and then be collected by JLI to go and relocate said sandpiper, which had seemingly flown off shortly after being found. And which was, when we called as we walked onto the golfcourse, relocated by the finders, and still showing. Splendid.

And then not so splendid. It flew off with some Dunlin just before we reached the 2 birders who’d found it. And thus began my day on the golfcourse. I must have covered some 10+ miles trekking back and forth on the fairways. And the rough, of course. Much of this accompanied by JLI, and initially BM too. And you know what? Not a sniff of the bird did we get. A maximum count of 3 Ringed Plovers, and 2 Dunlin, and sod all else.

Still, having seen Buff-breasted Sandpiper before here (and from the bedroom window) I’m not over-bothered. It’d have been nice, but at least the visiting birders have something to show for their time on the island. One of them told me they’d come here as it was underwatched! It’s maybe not overwatched, but underwatched it certainly ain’t. (Apart from when I wake up, hear the sound of north-westerlies, and decide to have a lie-in).

Booted Warbler

Just going to prove that no matter how dire the weather appears to be for birding here in Shetland, you should never, ever give up. Whether new in, or lurking undiscovered for a while, it mattered not a jot when news broke this afternoon of a Booted Warbler in the South Mainland at Channerwick. With perfect timing, as I could leave work and head straight down there.

Only to find the bird was being a bit of a bugger to see. It was extremely unapproachable, and flew at the merest hint of a person within a 50 foot radius of it. A handful of us watched it spanging around the place, and I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time to fire off a series of photos, one of which proved to be reasonably in focus. Joy.

090911 Booted Warbler 007blogsize

It’s been years since I last saw a Booted Warbler (North Ronaldsay, I think) so this was a nice bird to see, albeit the views were hardly anything to write home about, and it’s easier to enjoy it after the event on the computer monitor. (Now there’s a sign of the times…) Spare a thought for JA who flew south today – while I doubt very much he needs Booted, it’s a bit of a kick in the bags to be away for the first decent eastern rarity of the autumn.