Tuesday, 30 March 2010

"We come from the land of the ice and snow"

It felt decidedly 'Baltic' today, with a good breeze from the North East...Rather fitting that the Snow Buntings had decided to hang about, and they showed a bit better thanks to a dry stone wall I could hide behind to take pics. After a bit of a DIY 'disaster' involving copper water pipes and screws!!! A trip to Mid Yell for a replacement pipe was in order. It only seemed right that I look in on my old friend the Bearded Seal, and right enough, there he was in the water. He seemed to be feeding in the mouth of a very small burn (repeatedly diving in the shallow water), and after about 10 minutes, he hauled out and sunbathed. What a performer eh! This animal seems genuinely inquisitive if it's in the water, and approached me to within 8 feet or so, from quite a distance! Other than that, the only migrants worth noting today were the 2 Male Chaffinch and a Robin all in my garden.

Blog post title mercilessly pinched from the great Led Zeppelin. To hear the song in it's full glory, please click on the link...turn the sound right up... sit back... enjoy...

'petrosus'...or is it?

Finally managed to get a decent shot of the 'petrosus' Rock Pipits. These wee buggers are so busy chasing each other, and doing song flights etc, that they were nigh on imposable to capture in a pic. This bird landed right next to me while I was trying to photograph the more flighty bird in the below pics....

This bird had just a hint of 'littoralis' about it! An obvious 'super' (behind the eye only), with a touch of grey colour on the mantle/nape/crown, and a feint pinkish touch to the throat (all more obvious in the field than in these pics) ...The colours of the above bird have not been 'touched-up'!
Any thoughts on the above would be most welcome! (feel free to email me if you prefer)

Monday, 29 March 2010

'Snaa Ful'

Not the migrants I was expecting this morning! but these wee beauties will always brighten up the dog walk... We did wake up to a fresh covering of snow this morning, so finding 2 Snow Buntings seemed rather appropriate!

(Doing his best Arctic Redpoll impression!)

At midday, another wander produced this beautiful Black Redstart. So looks like we have migrants still arriving, even with cold Northerly winds and snow! This bird was very good at hide and seek, and refused to pose for the camera.

Do you think it's spotted me yet?

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Knot a good day!

I know...I know, the headlines are getting worse, but my brain is still frozen and damp from my walk around 'patch'.

The high winds and driving rain/hail were always going to make today a challenge at best. After being trapped at work for the last 5 days, and finding two migrant Wood Pigeons at dusk while waiting for the ferry home last night, meant I just had to get out today regardless... I had been hearing what the other birders up here had been finding during the last few days, so I was determined to find out what I'd been missing in Burravoe. As it turns out, not a lot!

Despite the atrocious conditions, I still managed 4 Knot feeding in a field with the local Turnstones, 2 poss 3 Male Chaffinches (inc 1 in my back garden) and a Redwing. Not earth shattering, but a good indication that at last birds were trickling through Yell as well. the conditions in the next few days are meant to improve (poss more snow as well! Oh joy!) so hopes are high in Burravoe for more 'hot migrant' action. Fingers crossed...

(Genuine Rock Dove too....., none of the feral crap here!)

Friday, 26 March 2010

Close up and personal

I find Ravens to be one of the harder birds to photograph, as they are normally very wary, and take flight at the least disturbance! and if I photograph them in flight, I end up with just a bird that looks like a silhouette! So I was particularly glad to find a pair that not only weren't wary, but really couldn't give a toss that I was only 15 feet away (in a car)... The sun was out, so even I couldn't fail to get some decent results as they hunted Rabbits!

Monday, 22 March 2010

The 'Catch'

A trip to Lerwick wouldn't be complete without a visit to the 'Catch'. Shetland Catch has to be one of the best sites in Britain for White-winged Gulls in Winter, with numbers quite often in double figures! especially at this time of year. This year they seem to have found somewhere better to hang out, with hardly any being seen, It's the same story over the whole of Shetland. So it was no surprise that I found none today also... Lots of 'argentatus' Herring Gulls though, with even a fair amount of displaying. This pair were particularly aggressive, with lots of calling and even chasing off any others that got too close. At least they provided some entertainment, while I waited in vain for something better!

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Only an excuse!

Give me an excuse to escape from more DIY! Any excuse!..... and I'll take it.... So back out with the dog today.

Good movement of Twite and Skylark today, with birds both singing and passing by over head. I also seen my first Meadow Pipit displaying (Yippee..). This might seem 'pants' to you?, but to me this is a good sign, as they completely vacate Burravoe in the Winter, as opposed to small numbers of Twite and Skylark still turning up now and again during the last few months. Looking at Birdguides and seeing things start to arrive down South, I just wish they would get a bloody move on, as it's been a long Winter up here, and I'm sure we could all do with an Alpine Swift, or even another Black Kite would do!

The light was very strong, and trying to get any decent pics was not easy (maybe if I knew about photography, that might have helped!) but it was just nice just being out in the sun...Oh, and I also heard my first flyover Red-throated Divers of the year too!

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Out for a duck.

A good two and a half hour dog walk this morning, along the coastline of Burravoe, produced an unexpected Wigeon, and that was about it! I stumbled across this bird as I rounded a rocky point, and the bird clocked me instantly. It was then a case of seeing who was quickest off the mark. Me with the camera, or the bird into flight. (I won...I think?)

I was looking for an opportunity to photograph Otters, and it wasn't till I was almost home again that I found a pair fishing about 100yds from my back door (typical eh!) They were always distant though, and not great light, but at least I finally got a photo. (must do better than this though!)

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Fancy a .....

Sorry about the title, but I couldn't resist (Yes I know, I'm a very shallow person...and I'm going straight to hell etc...).

I managed the above shot while actually "Birding Burravoe", a concept which has been quite alien to me recently, due to holidays and work etc. It was good to get out on patch, and find that I'd not been missing anything much. The only difference is the birds seem to be gearing up for the breeding season at last, with lots of display and singing. Twite have been noticeable for the first time in a few months, and with Snipe 'drumming' and Ringed Plovers displaying, it actually felt like Spring! The only birds of note being 7 Bar-tailed Godwits at Loch of Littlester. These birds are pretty scarce in Shetland, but Burravoe is one of the few places where they Winter, although they do range quite widely, so finding them can be a bit of a challenge.

The last few days has seen a remarkable showing of mammals up here as well, with 4 Polecats, 2 Otters and a White Mountain Hare. Although I must add that these weren't on Yell, as I think the Polecat and the Hare would be 'firsts' for the island! (at least I've never seen either on here) Though I do want to know why I always see these things when I'm;

a. Not Looking for them!

b. don't have a camera with me!

Surely I'm not alone in this achievement? Could this be a subject for the 'Myth Busters'?http://dsc.discovery.com/fansites/mythbusters/about/about.html

Friday, 12 March 2010

And now for the 'science' bit

Well maybe the word 'science' is a bit strong?

Put together a complete technophobe and a complicated subject such as Crossbill vocalisations, and it's a miracle that I got any recordings at all, but get recordings I did, and a few of them were good enough to id too...

Crossbills were only looked for in native Scots Pine forests, due to the fact that the cones should still be closed at this time of year, and only the larger billed birds (Parrot & Scottish) should be able to access the seeds. This fact seems to have escaped the attention of the birds themselves, as I recorded 'Common' Crossbills in all the woods checked!

The first sonogram shows what is commonly known as a Fc4 (or 4E's depending on the classification you follow). These birds were quite scarce in Britain until last Summer, when there was a large scale invasion. These vocal types were the most abundant birds I recorded in Shetland last year, and thus before then would have been a good find, but now they seem to be everywhere.

Also got a bit of a dodgy sonogram of what looks like an Fc1 (1A) If you squint carefully you can just about to see it...I recorded only two of these in the 2009 Shetland invasion! (Sorry about the poor quality)

But...These ones are slightly more interesting (to me at least!), They were described to me by Magnus Robb (of 'Sound Approach' fame) as a probable variant of the above Fc4. Typical eh. Just when you think you are getting a handle on things, someone shows you that you really don't know what the hell your talking about.

Well, just looks like I'm going to have go back to Speyside to try getting more recordings...Oh dam! (If I have too).

I hope this just goes to show all those people who have either Scottish or Parrot on there lists, based purely on habitat or time of year they seen the birds. May well be wrong! Without recordings, In my opinion, only large billed Parrots and small billed Commons can be confidently identified in the field. As the overlap in bill size between large Common and small Scottish, and large Scottish and small Parrot make sure things ain't all that easy! I'm surprised there ain't more people out there with recorders...

Any comments on the above sonograms are most welcome.

Aviemore March 2010

The holiday started well with fine weather and an overnight stay in Sumburgh hotel, before an early morning flight to Inverness. So far, so well.

We were met by an old friend (Andy Carroll) and the Speyside birding began in earnest with a quick walk through Abernethy forest to try and catch up with as many Crossbills as possible for sound recording purposes (for any anoraks out there, there will be more later...You have been warned!) There were many more Crossbill recording walks, with varying success almost every day.

Much snow cover made sneaking up on wildlife almost impossible, as the crunching noise under foot was deafening, but we still managed to see a nice assortment of goodies.

The real excitement for me started on the 10th when Andy drove me on a 440 mile round trip, to give me a 'chance' of adding Goshawk to my life list! After a start at 0430hrs, we arrived on site to find a beautiful sunny day and -1 degrees. We didn't have to wait long though, as the first showed up after only 5 minutes. This one was a very large female but unfortunately it was only a fly past...

The next up was a Male, which thankfully flew into the trees and perched up for about 3 minutes! Through the scope, we could get fantastic views but I never brought along my digiscoping kit, so no gripping pics (typical eh!) We thought this was perfect weather and time of year for a display, but in the next two and a half hours no other Goshawks showed, oh well, you can't have it all. The drive up the road also produced Red Kite on the A9, so all in all, a Good day was had by all. (and massive thanks to AC)

A few birds we don't get very often in Yell also posed for me.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Good to be home...

Well it's been an exhausting few days, but with good company, good weather and good birds I'm a happy man! The fact that I also got a long awaited 'tick' just added to the excitement. I'll let you in on what my 'tart's tick' was soon..........(I bet you can't wait eh!)

Speyside has always been special to me, and now I have a good friend living there, looks like I have no excuse not to visit more often. As if you ever needed an excuse to go birding in Speyside!

A few photos from the trip are below, and I'll write a trip report as soon as the caffeine induced haze has cleared.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010


The dictionary definition of fieldcraft is; fieldcraft n. Making military or scientific observations in the field, especially while remaining undetected.

Alternative definition; fieldcraft n. Making yourself look more of a total tool than you already do (or is it just me?), while dressed up in camouflage gear and sporting optics....(it is just me, isn't it!) and letting your neighbours have a good laugh at the plonker that moved in next door!

Very few birders ever seem to practise this 'black art' and I can see why. Not only does it make us look very silly to 'normal' people, but the associated problems of cold, damp, mud, and damage to optics is all very real, as I've been finding out recently...
Don't believe for one second that the birds don't know your there either, as this very grumpy looking Turnstone is obviously looking at me and wondering why this ejit is lying on the beach in sub-zero temperatures.

And as for the Ringed Plover, I caught this photo just as he was about to fall over laughing...

Don't worry though, as I reckon all this 'fieldcraft' is just a fad, and it'll never catch on. After all, how many times have you seen birders using it?

For me though, it's back to work for a few days, then I'm on a special birding quest! with minimal fieldcraft required (thank god!), but it does involve a fair bit of technology (oh crap!), so I'm sure a complete technophobe like me is certain to balls it up! I'll post the results on my return...

Anyway, for those out there who were wondering about the word 'ejit' please see here; http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=ejit

Monday, 1 March 2010


Collected a couple of birding friends off the ferry at Ulsta this morning for a twitch on the long staying Beardie. Weather looked OK, but unfortunately the mammal decided it had better things to do elsewhere. This prompted us to ponder the question of; What does a seal do for excitement? (can there be anything more exciting than lying on a patch of mud?...for a seal anyway) There didn't even seem to be any Grey or Common Seals to 'chill' with! Answers on a postcard please... bet it turns up again though!

So with nothing else to keep me off my DIY duties, it was back to Burravoe. Oh yes, and I took a couple of Greylag pics on my dog walk this afternoon. Not too bad either, as they are normally way too flighty for photos. For those interested, the flight shot was taken first, as the bird came into land (honest!!!)