22 Feb 2019

Tengmalm's Owl,Bixter, Shetland

When photos appeared of a Tengmalm's Owl roosting outside the window of a private house at Bixter, Shetland the twitching community went into meltdown. With a bird at Spurn in 1983 being suppressed and the only recent record being of an unobtainable bird a few months ago on Orkney (incongruously photographed sitting on a rather run down outside toilet - a suitable place for an owl who's normal habitat is described as 'dense forests with small bogs.....' ) it all became a bit manic. A lucky few got to see it the same day and plans were made for a quick raid if it was seen the following day. It wasn't, although, by all accounts, the weather was foul.

Fred & I discussed our options if it was seen again and we decided we'd move with extreme haste if it was seen again. Roll forward to Thursday morning and Mrs W was up early to go to the gym so I rolled out of bed and went down to make a brew around 6.55. Just as  I was checking my phone for messages Fred rang. The Tengmalm's had been seen at dawn hunting along a fence line near the same house. We were going! I left the house exactly 20 minutes later and met up with Fred at his works before heading north to met up with a few other birding acquaintances for our flight to Sumburgh. Whilst driving we got the incredible news that the bird had been found roosting in a pine belt sheltering the garden it had originally been seen in and we started getting gripped off by mates who'd risked going over on the overnight ferry!

As Fred was driving I arranged hire cars and once we'd arrived at the airport Fred arranged accommodation through our old friends at Self Catering Shetland. With all the pieces in place all we had to do now is see the bird!

Picking up the cars and heading north past Lerwick and Tingwall to Bixter we received the unwelcome news that the bird had moved and was lost to view. Along with the by now persistent  drizzle that news put a definite damper on what had been expected to be a easy roll up and see the bird............

Luckily the birding gods were with us and as we were literally 5 minutes from site news percolated through via the WhatsApp grapevine that Julian Thomas had re-found the bird! Talk about the highs and lows!

Immediately we got there we were met by local birder Jim Nicolson who directed us to the best viewing point!

The bird was roosting up close to the trunk of a pine and partially obscured but occasionally shuffled round and preened.

We decided to wait until dusk to see if the bird moved and I'm so glad we did! By now a few other birders had arrived and we waited until it was dusk until the bird moved into a slightly clearer position.

After peering around and occasionally looking skywards, when it heard geese or blackbirds flying overhead, it suddenly flew up the side of the house and perched on a fence post near the household compost heap. By now it was virtually dark and photography was becoming a case of point and hope for the best. With the ISO cranked up to maximum all photos were inevitably going to be very grainy.

Suddenly the bird flew staright to the top of a pine and perched there in all its Tengmaly glory for us all to 'ooh and aaagh' over. What a result! For a couple of minutes we could have been in a pine forest in Finland before, with a quick beat of its wings and an undulating glide, it was gone!

A very happy bunch of birders decamped to Lerwick and after getting our accommodation sorted we decided on a celebratory Thai curry and a few beers!

Alarms were set for 6.15 the next morning with the intention of going to 'Shetland Catch' at first light to look for white-winged gulls and then a quick trip to Spiggie for the long staying Pied-billed Grebe before our flights home. Both visits were successful with both adult Glaucous and Iceland Gulls being seen at the 'catch and the grebe being typically elusive at Loch Spiggie.

it was a very happy group that boarded our flight at Sumburgh airport for the trip home to Cheshire.

18 Feb 2019

Short-eared Owls, Parkgate

I spent a few hours at Parkgate yesterday afternoon, raptor watching, as one does on a bright winters day. What a treat! An adult male Hen Harrier put on a show along with a sub-adult male and a ring-tailed Harrier. Several Marsh Harriers were also present and wherever you looked there seemed to be great White Egrets.

A female Sparrow Hawk and a single Peregrine also put in an appearance and the air was filled with the calls of Pink-footed geese that moved about the marsh in small parties.

Star birds though were the three (possibly four) Short-eared owls that appeared as it was getting dusk and put on a show for the assembled birders - at one point I even managed to photograph one of them with an unfortunate Short-tailed Field Vole that was destined to be reincarnated a a regurgitated pellet.

What a great way to pend a few hours!

14 Feb 2019

Patch tick! Gadwall

Jet lagged and freezing cold after flying back on a redeye from the Caribbean I looked out the study window contemplating whether or not to venture when i noticed a few ducks on the pond opposite the house. The water level is lower this year as the farmer has tried to drain the field so the birds are harder to see. Scoping the open water revealed a couple of Shoveller, a pair of Coots and a pair of Gadwall! A patch and garden tick!

Now I was glued to the window and over the next few hours added a few more birds to the patch year list - Greylag Goose (4), Grey Heron and Stock Dove (6).

Despite going AWOL, when the farmer severely pruned the tree they nested / roosted in, the Little Owl(s) remain in the area but I haven't been able to pin them down to a particular tree. The male has started singing again so hopefully they'll breed again. I've had a chat with the farmer and he's given me permission to put up on nest box as long as its high enough not to interfere with his flail when he's hedge cutting. It's probably to late this year but I'll get one made and installed ready for next year.

9 Feb 2019

Caribbean Cruise

To celebrate my early retirement from full time employment we booked a Caribbean cruise in late Jnauary  and early February. Although not a birding holiday I did go armed with a guide book, binoculars and the camera - unfortunately I had no room for a big lens and had to make do with the 50-125 mm zoom. We visited a number of islands including Barbados, Antigua, Bequai, British Virgin Islands (Spanish Town and Road Town), Gauadeloupe, St Barths, Grenada, St Kitts, St maarten& St Lucia.

I was amazed by the lack of seabirds in this part of the world and we only had a few Brown Boobies and a solitary Red-footed Booby keeping us company on a few days. We saw very few gulls or terns and most of those were in ports - Royal Tern and Caspian Tern being the commonest.

Magnificent Frigatebirds were seen most days we docked but were usually distant but on one occasion a pair came close to the ship enabling me to get a few photos - females have the white heads and chest.

Star bird of the trip for me was Red-billed Tropic birds. As we went on a kayaking trip to Greater Bird Island (Antigua)  I didn't take the camera!  It was amazing birds flying over our heads.

Bananaquits were everywhere and probably the commonest bird we saw.

A couple of trips further inland to forested areas produced birds such as Lesser Antillean Bullfinch and Pearly-eyed Thrasher.

Humming birds were fairly common and we saw two species - Antillean Crested (top photo below) and Green-throated Carib. Both were extremely difficult to photograph with such a small lens!

On one of the trips into rain forest habitat we picked up a Bridled Quail Dove which I understand is pretty scarce and hard to see.

Other common birds seen were Carib Grackle, Common Ground Dove, Zenaida Dove, Scaly-naped Pigeon, Gray Kingbird, Shiny Cowbird and Black-faced Grassquit.

 Common Ground Dove
 Gray Kingbird
Zenaida Dove.

Wading birds were scarce with the moat regularly encountered being the ubiquitous Cattle Egret.We did see the occasional Snowy Egret (mainly in the mangroves) and a couple of Little Blue Herons including a showy bird fishing on the beach on Bequia (St Vincent & the Grenadines).

The only waders seen were a few Turnstone on Barbados whilst raptors were extremely scarce with only a single Osprey and Red-tailed Hawk being seen.

A great trip and a few birds added to my World list!