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…

Quality winter birding

A good day today with a couple of genuine surprises, most surprising being a party of 3 Stonechats including one male out on the hill, and a sulphurous Grey Wagtail standing out a mile as it tried to find something worth eating on frozen puddles. Stonechats were particularly photogenic in low warm winter sunshine on a reasonably calm day (temperature down to -8 deg C overnight last night, and only rose to a balmy -1.5 in the sunshine during the day today).

No sign of any interesting gulls, despite the promisingly northerly wind direction. They’ll be along shortly.

House! A yeartick at long last.

It’s only taken 2 months, but I finally have a house yeartick at long, long last. And no, it’s not the greatly anticipated Long-tailed Duck either. Oh no. That pleasure is still to come. What should I find feeding amidst the remains of the sheep’s breakfast outside the kitchen window this morning but a fine Jackdaw. Yay. It even had a bit of a monedula-stylee collar and everything. Sadly my camera was still out in the car, so had to make do with some snaps on a cheapy camera before it flew off, never to be seen again.

Suffice to say, I did look while desperately scanning the very busy sea for a Long-tailed Duck. Northerlies are not good for me adding Long-tailed to the house yearlist as I really need a good calm sea to scope them from the bedroom window – they usually do not come into the bay below the house, so are a scope-job at distance down the coast.

Mooched down the isle to have the usual fruitless look at the Eiders (almost 3 years to the day since I last found a King – they’re by no means a foregone conclusion here, despite our northerly location and good numbers of wintering Eider) and to see if the freezing freshwater areas had driven anything lurking out into the open. The usual small flock of 6 Purple Sandpipers at the Houb were being particularly confiding beside the car parking area, though the light was beginning to unhelpfully fade.

88 Greylags at Challister, nothing of note amongst them, and 5 Whoopers commuting between West and North Loch. North Loch broke all known records with a mammoth 5 (count ’em!) Goldeneyes. 20+ Purple Sandpipers around the golf course coast, but nothing else noteworthy apart from several Snipe being obvious in roadside ditches where the water remains unfrozen – not for long, I suspect as the temperature was bang on freezing late in the afternoon, and we had enough snow to whiten the grass.

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.