Do you come here often?

Wind had swung into the southwest (at last!) overnight, and remained reasonably fresh with it until midmorning, when it eased somewhat. Dry and sunny for much of the day, the ground got a chance to dry out a little, and birding around the isle was less of an endurance test than yesterday.

Arrivals and departures. No sign of anything new in, but some familiar faces seen once again in the more clement conditions – 4 Robins, double figures of Blackbirds, the 3 Snow Buntings still in Brough, and the Chaffinch there too. White-fronted Geese had gone, as had the Garden Warbler at Saltness.

Came across a snipe in Brough that gave me cause for a double-take…

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Got lots of photos of it crouching and eyeballing me right up until the point when a car came up behind me and hooted its horn (I was using my car as a hide on the single track road). Needless to say I jumped, the snipe flushed and flew, and I didn’t get any photos of it in flight as it bombed away at right angles to the road. I moved the car, and spent much of the afternoon returning to the spot in the vain hope it would have returned. Alas not. The snipe below are, just for the sake of comparison, a typical (adult, I think) faroeensis Snipe and the good candidate for (juvenile, with some adult-type feathers coming through – better seen in other photos) delicata from nearby in August. (Also see yesterday’s Nature in Shetland website for a photo by M Pennington of a Snipe on Unst).

faroeensis (top) delicata(?) (below)

Aren’t snipe ace? All constructive thoughts gratefully received.

A late warbler…

A late start today as until 10.30am the rain was torrential, and just stepping outside the back door was enough to be wringing wet. A walk around the immediate surroundings revealed nothing whatsoever apart from a Song Thrush – even the Robins were conspicuous by their abscence. Fewer Redwings and Fieldfares too, and the scores of Blackbirds had moved on as well. The wind was still fresh from the south-east, so I had to be optimistic in the face of the facts.

The White-fronted Geese were back in Brough, but that seemed to be as good as it got for that part of the isle. I did the whole place on foot for the sum reward of a single Chaffinch – a bird that’s been in the same place for at least a week. Finally, something vaguely interesting on the shore down below JA’s house – 3 Snow Buntings. Cute. They stuck around just long enough for a couple of photos before flying off high over his house and inland.

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On then to Symbister. Saltness produced bird of the day (heaven help us) – a Garden Warbler. How late is that? Pretty late. Latest ever was 20th November, according to Birds of Shetland. Judging by the state of this one’s tail feathers, it’s been through the wringer.

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Cath’s garden yielded a Woodcock, plenty of Rock Doves, and no sign of the hoped for Oriental Turtle… Sandwick dead quiet, but the melanistic House Sparrow showed well.

Sparrow doing shallow gene pool

And that was about it. Not a great day, but maybe tomorrow something good will come out of the woodwork.

Sweet duck all

Inspired by the presence of a Green-winged Teal and an American Wigeon in the south mainland in recent days, I went out at lunchtime today to check out some freshwater and find my own North American duck. Loch of Tingwall should have been an easy starter for ten, but no sign of the expected Ring-necked Duck (not reported for ages, but having been seen there before not strictly speaking a new bird, of course). Never mind, there was always Trondra and Burra.

God knows where all the Eider had gone, but it certainly wasn’t in the voes around Burra and Trondra, so no joy with a speculative King Eider or Surf Scoter. The freshwater bits of Burra were utterly Wigeon-less, and a grand total of 5 Teal didn’t include a Green-winged. Maximum excitement came in the form of a spectacular roost of 63 Ringed Plovers at Bridge End. Checked ’em all too… One of these days this’ll pay off!

Later. Back home this evening in (yawn) yet another ESE gale. Will these damned easterlies never end? On the basis of the past 3 weeks, more easterly flavoured gales are nothing to get excited about, but still… better this than south-westerlies. All of which means that this weekend will really have to be the final assault on finding something more decent on the isle this autumn. I have the whole of Saturday and Sunday clear. The weather will be (marginally) less shitty in 24 hours time. I have the island to myself. The odds are as good as they can get this late in the day. Am holding out for a Desert Wheatear, but frankly, would take a late Pallas’s Warbler at a pinch.

A day of Grey

Another enjoyable day birding around the isle, although nothing earth-shattering to show for it. Started around home with the now highly territorial complement of Robins, and a couple of Chiffchaffs in my tattie yard. They certainly weren’t there yesterday, which begs the question of where these things come from. I suspect passerines make landfall on the hill and work their way inland over the course of a day or two. Nothing was likely to be making a wind-assisted landfall on the isle today, as there wasn’t a breath of wind to speak of – very calm and mild, and the sun was out for much of the day.

Working my way around the island, the 3 White-fronted Geese had moved to Challister, and were now keeping well apart from the Greylags at Brough. The Greylags however had attracted another grey goose species, in the form of a pair of Pink-footed Geese. Isbister, Sandwick and Symbister were all more of the same as the day before, and I found myself checking Ringed Plovers and Teal on Symbister meadows in the extremely faint hope of something more interesting lurking amongst them. Desperate times…

13 Long-tailed Duck in the channel between the island and Linga, and finally I was onto Brough. A whole lot of effort for little return (1 Chiffchaff, 1 Woodcock) until I stopped to check the now vacant pig field for snipe, and caught a flash of sulphur yellow – a Grey Wagtail. Bird of the day I suppose, and that tells you all you need to know about how disappointing the last 3 weeks of south-easterlies have been.

Grey Wagtail doing nice arse

Grey Wagtail doing long

Have a gander at this

Big trek around the isle today in fine weather after yet more fresh south-easterlies and rain. Noticeable increase in Robin numbers, with 18 logged on my travels. Song Thrushes still much in evidence too, but warblers significantly down again – just 1 Chiffchaff to show for the whole day, and 4 Goldcrests. The main warbler event failed to happen – the Dusky Warbler JA had identified a couple of days ago was no longer around – and it was easy to be definitive about this, as the crop it had been favouring had been reduced to bare earth and stubble by sheep. A couple of Twites there, but no Dusky.

And so to Isbister. As always, it promised so much. All those fences simply crying out for a Long-tailed Shrike… and as ever, there was nothing to show for it. (Well, apart from the day’s only Chiffchaff, and yet more Robins). I think I may have cracked the conundrum that is Isbister during today’s visit – a thorough couple of hours doing it turned up no fewer than 7 cats at large. You do the math.

Heading back for home, and a quick check of the Greylag flock at Brough crossroads. Bingo. 3 albifrons White-fronted Geese. All the geese flushed when a family came to the nearby playpark, and the White-fronts peeled away from the Greylags and headed north. For a moment, I thought I was in with a chance of following them north and getting them from the driveway as they flew by, but they circled Vatshoull, and headed back to Brough. Woe.

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Last roll of the dice

Excellent day today birding around my end of the isle – after another night of fresh south-easterlies and some more heavy rain, it had eased back to a light breeze by first light, and with fog sitting just offshore there were clearly new birds coming in to the land they could see. Thrush numbers back up again, with double figures of Blackbird and Song Thrush accompanying increased numbers of Redwing and Fieldfare. A walk around yielded 5 Robins (an increase), 2 Black Redstarts (1 new bird), 1 Brambling (presumably the semi-resident bird), and 5 Chiffchaffs. Also approximately 10 Goldcrest, though harder to be sure of them as those in the depths of the plantation tend to sit pretty tight.

Black Redstart doing new

New birds for the house yearlist aplenty in the space of an hour – a Jack Snipe flushed from the ditch at the foot of the drive (the first of 3 individuals I found during my walk), and a Woodcock flushed from the shore up towards the house a little later. It pitched down into the field behind the house, and was found again up there easily enough as it crept along the base of a drystone dyke. Okay, 2 new species isn’t really “aplenty” but they all count, and getting 2 species in a day this late on is a bonus.

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Chiffchaffs much darker than the ones we had here last week – clearly from somewhere different, though god knows or cares less what race any of these might be. Happened on yet another black feral cat at Roadside – looked a lot bigger than the 2 recent casualties. The mother, perhaps. Daisy Dingo spinning on the lead to be slipped, but in the end we all settled for scaring it away from where it was evidently trying to catch a Robin with a temporary territory. (Note the shit photo of a black cat running away – one for the red-tops in a quiet news week, surely. The Beast of Skaw…)

Feral cat doing tomcat humping migrant grave

Feral cat doing bad news like Daisy gets around

So nothing rare or even scarce, but it felt like there was potential in the air. You wouldn’t have been surprised to find something, even this late in the game.