Early Spider Orchids

Early Spider Orchids are now well underway down in Kent. Masses of variation amongst them:


Bearded Seal reprise

One of my Bearded Seal photos has been chosen as one of the ‘Your photos from around Scotland’ images for this week on the BBC website. Image #9 if anyone’s interested…



Drove around the island this afternoon trying to take portraits of Lapwings.

I know there are a million things technically wrong with these latter two, but I like the movement in them.

Otter in snow video

Shetland is currently smothered with snow. And while folk down south may see urban foxes, here we have urban Otters. In the snow. On film… enjoy!

Bearded Seal

Headed up to Yell this morning to follow up yesterday’s possible Middendorf’s Bean Geese. A slithery and uncertain drive for much of the journey as it had snowed (yet again) overnight, and the gritters didn’t seem to have caught up with it judging by the amount of roads still white with packed snow.

Good views of 3 fishing Otters en route, including one that tried to take a Black Guillemot from below – I watched the trail of bubbles on the calm sea bearing straight to the tystie, which realised what was happening at the last possible moment and flung itself into the air as the Otter surfaced where it had been resting. What a photo that would have made…

 Finally, onto Yell itself. Not knowing precisely where to look, I gave DP a call – only to discover I should have called him before setting out, as the geese had been outside his house yesterday for mere minutes before flying off again. Woe.

I figured that being up on Yell it might be worth going to look for the Bearded Seal that was first seen for a day in January, and then reported again last week. It was obviously just meant to be a mammal day, as I found it hauled out on the shore beside the road to Mid Yell. Absolutely awesome views – I took hundreds of photos, but can’t face going through them all tonight. Here’s a couple of random samples…

Snow Geese

Result – a work trip to Dingwall today delivered unexpectedly well. At 8.30am when driving into town I passed a field rammed with grey geese, and gleaming amongst them a white Snow Goose. Couldn’t stop as I was on my way to a meeting, but on my return in the early afternoon I stopped for a better look – and found not 1 but 3 Snow Geese – the white morph bird still standing out a mile, but on closer inspection also 2 blue morph birds nearby.

Attached photo my best effort with the phone! White morph is obvious, and one of the blue morphs is to the left.

New beginnings

All those worthy new year’s resolutions fell at the very first hurdle this morning with me not being arsed to get out of bed until nearly midday. So a very half-hearted mooch around the isle to see what was there to be seen. As follows, in roughly chronological order:

Hooded Crow; Starling; Rock Dove; Gannet; Redshank; Curlew; Herring Gull; House Sparrow; Blackbird; Redwing; Mallard; Cormorant; Shag; Kittiwake; Common Gull; Great Black-backed Gull; Twite; Goldeneye; Greylag Goose; Lapwing; Dunlin; Ringed Plover; Song Thrush; Turnstone; Golden Plover; Teal; Eider; Oystercatcher; Snipe.

A feeble total then of 29 species, almost certainly an all-time record low for the 1st of January, even by here’s low standards at this time of year. My apathy cost me the dead certs of Rock Pipit, Purple Sandpiper, Wren, Robin, Jackdaw and Raven, and the outside chance of Red Grouse. The big freeze (despite an overnight thaw) did for any hope of a Whooper Swan, and the complete lack of divers or Long-tailed Duck were down to the pretty choppy sea on the side of the isle I could do from the car. All in all, I am lazy and deserve what I got…

The house yearlist ended up on 105 species in 2009 – not a bad score on the whole I suppose, and a few new species added to the houselist as a whole – Dotterel, Long-eared Owl, Woodlark, and Pechora Pipit. (There may have been others, but am damned if I can remember them offhand without going to look in my notebook… and guess what? I can’t be arsed to do that for the blog either). The houselist as a whole stands on 149 species, so 2010 will surely be the year I get a landmark 150th species on the only list I keep with any sort of enthusiasm these days. I wonder what it’ll be?

There’s been a little discussion on other birding blogs of late about what direction various folks’ birding takes, and how one strikes a balance between patchworking and twitching. I’ve gone to an extreme I suppose – I’ve only twitched outside of Shetland twice in the past 6 years, for the Aberdeenshire Belted Kingfisher and the Orkney Sandhill Crane. I was asked by two keen local birders a year or two ago what my UK life list was, and they seemed a little surprised when I didn’t know a figure offhand – and I still couldn’t say now, though I know what I haven’t seen…

I did the house yearlist last year in a half-hearted comparison with what other Shetland birders were doing in the South Mainland, but it soon came to be precisely everything I now dislike about keeping a list – a certain pressure to try and achieve self-imposed targets, and a subtle shift away from what I enjoy most about birding – which is being outside, birding, for no reason other than wanting to be doing nothing else but. So… there won’t be a 2010 house yearlist – I’ve no desire whatsoever to see if 105 can be beaten or was exceptional. Am just not interested. All of which leads in a sort of logical way to the issue of blogging as well – after a surprising and rather disappointing exchange in recent months with one of Shetland’s local birders who’s been here a lot longer than I have on the subject of keeping a blog, I’ve been giving it a bit of thought. Why keep a birding blog? What does it actually achieve in the grand scheme of things? Answers on a postcard… This blog has hardly proved to be a showcase for excellent photos, drawings or prose, so… don’t be too surprised if Bitter Bonxie updates become a lot less frequent from here on.

It was fun at the time, and I hope you enjoyed it. I’m going to carry on birding and quietly doing my own thing – and hope you have a bird-filled and enjoyable year ahead too.

All the best.