26 Oct 2017

Back to reality.

Its been a week since our return from Fair Isle and its back to the reality of work, darker nights and more local birds. The weathers been pretty poor but yesterday was a nice calm still day and one of our local Great -spotted Woodpeckers seemingly took the opportunity to bask in the sunshine on a tree close to its favoured feeder. In this sequence of photo's you can actually see it gradually getting sleepier and closing its eyes. It remained like that for awhile before flying off. Its one of the juvenile birds I ringed a couple of months ago and you can see the ring on the left leg. It can now be sexed as a female as its attained its adult plumage and has no red on the head. I know its one of the juveniles because I haven't ringed a female in the garden.

It certainly appeared that she was basking and dozing in the sunlight and stayed like this for a good 10 minutes.

The calmer weather has meant the Little Owl is again making its presence known and the darker mornings mean we are now hearing it calling from the garden in the mornings and the evenings.

The calmer weather has also meant Redwings have arrived from further north in large numbers and the nigh skies are now full of their 'tseep' calls.

I added a new species of bird to the new patch list during a rare respite in the weather earlier in the week when an evening stroll with Jan produced the goods with a flyover Crossbill!

With the vegetation beginning to die down and water levels rising I can now just see small patches of water in the pond opposite from a bedroom window. It'll be interesting to see how this winter compares with last winter and how many species of wildfowl I can get on the house list!

20 Oct 2017

Fair Isle 2017. Day 6. Nutmegged!

Conscious of the weather we'd been checking several times a day and were concerned that we might have to leave early if it looked like flights were going to be delayed. Wednesday dawned clear and still and walking the trap round with Richard it was apparent that there had been a huge clear out of thrushes during the night.

Walking the gully trap Richard flushed a Water Rail into the catching box and asked me to remove it before he opened it again to catch some of the small passerines still in the trap. Water Rail can be quite vicious and he was concerned it would attack some of the smaller birds in the catching box. Unfortunately the box door wasn't quite closed enough and there was just enough gap for the bird to squeeze through....... it flew past Richard and into a small pool so after removing the other birds we walked the trap again and found the Water Rail. It promptly bypassed me and nutmegged Richard before flying out of the gully.
After breakfast our worst fears were realised when Doddy knocked on my door and told me Dave Wheeler had been in contact and unless we left today it was unlikely we'd be able to leave before Monday as the weather was closing in and there were no weekend flights this time of year. Unfortunately we also had to leave within the hour! Wit hMark, Jase and Chris all having weekend commitments it was decided we'd have to go and after packing our bags, saying our goodbyes and loading the van we decided to walk to the airfield.

With a couple of good mainland birds the lads were keen to see (Rock Thrush and Two-barred Greenish Warbler) we decided to head straight  home rather than staying the extra day on Shetland mainland.

Ringing Loganairs help desk I was told that we could change our flights at Sumburgh airport as it would be cheaper than doing it through him. Arriving at the airport we were told we couldn't do it and a tense hour or so ensued with calls going backwards and forwards until it was finally resolved at no charge. Loganair really have to get their act together if they are to take business from Flybe.

We were all sad to leave Fair Isle but have already booked to go back next year. One day I will see Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler.

 Payney birding a geo

Distance walked: 13.2 km - a fair bit of that was spent pacing up and down getting more and more angry and frustrated at Sumburgh airport! Thanks to Lyndsey at Sumburgh for eventually sorting our flights for us!

Fair Isle 2017. Day 5. The day of the Swans.

Tuesday dawned clear and bright and eager to get out we set off as soon as we could after breakfast. News from 'down south', where Fred & Andy were staying at Springfield, was that there had been a good arrival of birds and it was looking promising. Straight away we knew the day was going to be special. Whooper Swans, Pinkfeet, Barnacle and Greylag Geese were streaming overhead making the most of the good weather to migrate. A spectacular sight.

Greylag Geese above, Whooper Swans below:

Fred & Andy had found a Grasshopper Warbler earlier and although they'd assured us it was 'just a gropper', news from Chris that it was very grey looking made us decide to have a look. Finding  Chris and Ken searching a few ditches looking puzzled we split up to search a wider area and sure enough a locustella warbler shot out from our feet before diving in to cover again. Eventually it perched up long enough to get good views and confirm it was indeed 'just a gropper'.

Jason had stayed at Quoy talking to one of the locals and when he joined us he told us that he'd had an interesting looking locustella in the ditch alongside the road so we all decided to head that way. One of the other Obs residents had also seen it briefly and thought it looked good for Lanceolated Warbler but despite our best efforts it wasn't relocated - with a number of culverts nearby it had probably shot up one of them.

Whilst chewing the fat and nattering amongst ourselves and deciding what to do next a male Siskin plonked itself down and started feeding unconcernedly alongside us.

A showy Garden Warbler, obviously tired and fresh in, was devouring crane flies alongside the road and we watched this for awhile before heading north to the Obs for a welcome shower and dinner.

Distance walked: 21.2 km

Fair isle 2017. Day 4. A wizard day!

Crap. Thats the only way to describe the weather. Crap but improving to shitty in the afternoon. Undeterred we ventured out into the remnants of storm Ophelia and headed north into a strong north westerly gale! Spirits were high though, even with depleted numbers as Mark had failed to surface for breakfast after a few to many sherbets the previous night celebrating Ken Shaw's 65th birthday.

This was Fair Isle at its stormiest best.

Once again there were hundreds of Redwings in the sheltered areas and a small fall of Wheatears - including some gorgeous Greenland birds.

Deciding it was to miserable for a packed lunch we returned to the Obs for lunch and ventured out into improved weather in the afternoon and headed south. Despite some serious foot work being put in we failed to find any rarities but there was plenty of commoner stuff to see.

 Hooded Crow
 Female Redstart
 Shetland Starling - race zetlandicus

Swans and geese were taking advantage of the tail winds and started appearing over the island in good numbers heading south towards the Orkneys and then on to the mainland. Three Lapland Buntings showed fairly well on the track alongside Boini Mire.

With the daylight fading we started the long walk back to the Obs. On arrival we heard a merlin had been trapped in one of the heligoland traps and I decided to stay and see it being ringed.  Susannah duly arrived in the Obs vehicle and Sara came out holding a large bird bag which she passed to me. Uncertain what to do I was about to hang it up in the ringing room for one of the wardening team when Sara told me Dave Parnaby had told her to give it to me or Richard to ring and release!!!!
With no sign of Richard the honour fell to me and with an appreciative audience of admirers (for the falcon, not me) I duly ringed and processed the 1st year female Merlin. Wow.

That certainly made my day! Wing length suggested it was an Icelandic bird and as most of the Shetland nest sites are monitored and the young ringed this makes sense - I was even more privileged than I thought as, talking to Cieran later, it transpired he'd never ringed a Merlin as all the others caught when he'd been there were controls from Shetland mainland.

Distance walked :22.34 km.

19 Oct 2017

Fair Isle 2017. Day 3. The day of the thrushes.

Sunday dawned and I went on the first trap round of the day. It soon became obvious there had been a major fall of Redwings and other thrushes and we had to phone the Obs to bring more bird bags!
There were Redwings carpeting every area where they could shelter and feed.

Most of the birds  caught were of the Icelandic race coburni which were noticeably bigger and darker than the Scandinavian iliacus. Some were approaching Blackbird size and could be identified by their darker upperparts, denser red flanks with heavier streaking and buff in the supercillium. Many of the birds also had very dark undertail coverts. Catching a few Scandinavian birds allowed a good comparison.

Icelandic Redwing on the left - notice the heavier and darker streaking and the buff in the supercilium.

Undertail coverts of Icelandic Redwing.

Icelandic and Scandinavian Redwings - the Icelandic bird is on the right and has much darker and denser flank streakings and a richer, rustier red flank. 

These features can also be easily seen in the field! 

Apart form the big influx of thrushes there wasn't much new about.

Distance walked: 21.69 km 

Fair Isle 2017. Day 2. The pipits

Despite a dreary start to the morning enthusiastic team of Jase, Mark, Chris & me picked up our packed lunches, donned our waterproofs and were out soon after breakfast and didn't return until just before dinner.

We'd briefly seen a Red-throasted Pipit at Sherva the previous day and there'd also been a Richards Pipit reported so, kicking around in ditches, we headed that way. The Red-throated Pipit was typically furtive and crept around among the thistle stems but afforded good views with a bit of patience.

A female Redstart was hunting for insects along the same fence line and the wide ranging Richards Pipit did us a favour and dropped in to the same field!

Despite extensive searching we failed to find anything else unusual so went back for seconds of the Black-headed Bunting!

A walk around the sacrificial crop at Bulls park was dubiously rewarded with perhaps the dullest looking bird on the British list - two juvenile Common Rosefinches.

Tired and dirty we retired to the Obs for a shower and a quick beer before a well earned dinner.

Distance walked: 20.86 km