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.

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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More hot Little Bunting and pussy action

Now there’s a blog title. If that shameless attempt at luring sad wankers (and frustrated adolescents) to my swell my blog’s visitor-roll doesn’t work, I don’t know what will. Enjoy.

Covered most of the isle today, though not I think seeing an enormous amount that was actually new in – but plenty of recycled birds from previous days. A Brambling in my tattie yard first thing had presumably relocated from a few hundred yards away (and had moved on to the heligoland kale yard later on); and the Black Redstart JLI found yesterday on my drive was still there, mainly in the vicinity of the dead black feral cat by the foot of the drive. I feel a note to BB coming on…

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Working my way down the isle just turned up a few Goldcrests, Robins and yet more Bramblings, but the latter mainly still in the places and numbers I’d seen them a week ago. Feeling a little disillusioned (but obscurely heartened by the lack of news from elsewhere in Shetland) I went to see the Little Bunting JLI and I found a couple of days ago. The perfect antidote, it was showing well.

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Little Bunting doing straining

Little Bunting doing done a poo

Little Bunting doing a Holloway

Little Bunting doing being plain lovely

Also nearby the same Lesser Whitethroat we saw 2 days ago.

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Back home for lunch, and to dig some tatties I’d promised JLI and family for their Sunday lunch. Climbing into the yard, and there in front of me was a new Little Bunting. Result. Less resultful was it taking off, dropping briefly into a patch of weeds, and then going over the hill and towards the more sheltered heligoland yard. Heyho. A brief but significant bird for me – 102 on the house yearlist. Met up with JLI in the afternoon, delivered said tatties and some cabbagey stuff too, and after a beer to fortify ourselves it was back out into the field to give Brough a good going over. Brough delivered as usual, with a female Redstart and 2 Ring Ouzels (male and a female). All of which could easily be semi-residents, as have all been seen in Brough in the past week already. Oh, and a Chiffchaff, to which we didn’t need to play tristis calls in order to eliminate, er, tristis. 😉

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And so the day ended. Or rather, not quite… Back home for tea and crumpets, and time to get the dogs in from their dog-run for the night. And what should greet me when I went to the dog-run door? A hugely excited lurcher, and a freshly killed feral cat. Daisy Dingo clearly got a taste for pussy after the August feral cat kill, and had struck again with another of the small black feral numbers that have been lurking about the place recently, and this afternoon had shown the spectacular ill-judgement of slinking into the Dingo’s dog-run. That’s 2 down in the past 2 days – one road-kill, and one dog-kill – and given how attractive 1 dead cat was proving to be this morning for a Black Redstart, imagine what sort of chat 2 dead cats together might attract tomorrow…