Archive for October 2012

27th October – Kingston Maurwood College, Dorchester.   Leave a comment

Kingston Maurwood College

On the 27th to celebrate 25 years since the formation of the independent Dorset Bird Club (DBC), chairman Neil Gartshore arranged a conference with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) at Kingston Maurwood College near Dorchester. I have been involved with the DBC since its inception, writing articles for the newsletter, sub-editing the Bird Report and organising indoor meetings. For three years between 2003 and 2006 I served as chairman. These days I have a lesser role but as a result of this conference I have volunteered to be the BTO representative for Dorset, coordinating the scientific surveys of Dorset birds.

Birders gathered at Kingston Maurwood in a room (decked out at a tent) for the joint Dorset Bird Club / BTO conference.

leuan Evans from the BTO talked about the exciting new developments in tracking migrants using geolocators and satellite tags.

The morning session comprised of four talks, leuan Evans of the BTO brought us up to date in the findings of geolocator and satellite tagging of European – Africa migrants. Studies on Nightingales, Swifts, Cuckoos and Lesser Black-backed Gulls have thrown new light on these species and in some cases have highlighted causes for recent declines.

After a talk on a new software system for recording all forms of wildlife in Dorset, Neil Gartshore gave an account of the recent Dorset Bird Club trip to the Tarifa area of Spain and Andy Daw, vice-principle of the college, talked about conservation efforts and ringing within the college grounds.

During our lunch break we had time to wander around Kingston Maurwood’s gardens

Margaret, who once ran a gardening business, loved the formal gardens …….

… however she doesn’t like pampas grass, which she admits is one of her pet hates.

Although it was a beautiful day but the wind was bitterly cold and we were glad of this ornate shelter.

Time to return to the house again for the afternoon session.

During the afternoon session Steve Davis talked on the devastating fire on Upton Heath in June 2011 and the subsequent recovery, Simon Breeze gave an account on the new initiative for the conservation of farmland birds at Durlston and Paul Morton spoke passionately about his love of Poole Harbour and how, working with Mark Constantine, he is setting up a website about Poole Harbour birds, placing a web camera on Brownsea lagoon with a feed to the website and arranging boat trips for schoolchildren to show them the wildlife of the Harbour. Both of the last two species are ringers with Stour Ringing Group and I am glad we have such enthusiastic young people in our group who are helping to advance birding and bird conservation in Dorset.


The final talk was given by Stephen Moss, formerly of the BBC Natural History Unit. He was responsible for producing the ‘Birding with Bill Oddie’ series and he showed a series of clips from the series (which uniquely was able to convey the excitement and unpredictability of birding to an non-birding audience).

So concluded a great day, a chance to speak to many other Dorset birders, hear some great talks and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. As far as I was concerned the only drawback was the date, organising a birding conference at the end of October, when vagrant species are most likely to be found, to my mind is a folly, but perhaps the college offered no other option. Unlike the rest of the week, no accessible major rarities were found so nobody had to leave the conference part way through!

Stephen Moss gives a talk entitled ‘Behind the scenes at the BBC Natural History Unit’

Posted October 29, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Monday 29th October – Swanage stop press   Leave a comment

I don’t like uploading posts out of sequence as I haven’t completed my account of the weekend yet, but a report of a European Bee-eater at Swanage at dusk yesterday sent me hurrying down there for dawn. Vagrant Bee-eaters have a habit of roosting somewhere then moving on within an hour of first light but I was there far too early at 0615 and stood around in the rain for an hour before it was light enough to see. Steve Smith first picked it up over the trees at the Downs car park but it then disappeared, only to be seen again at 0800 over the nearby houses.

This is only the fourth time I have seen Bee-eaters in the UK, a juvenile on Scilly on 12/10 and 15/10/85, a flock of six adults at Durlston on 31/5/97 and today.

A dull and wet morning at Swanage. The Bee-eater first appeared over the trees in the foreground but spent most of its time over the houses left of centre just beyond the park.

Bee-eaters are reasonably regular vagrants to the UK, mainly in late spring, but there habit of moving on quickly makes them difficult to twitch successfully.

Not the best of photos, but then the bird was quite distant and the light conditions were dreadful.

Posted October 29, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

22nd – 26th October – Durlston and Portland   1 comment

This week has proven to be a remarkable week for Dorset birding, although I wasn’t at the heart of the action most of the time.

On the 22nd I had a medical appointment early on. Shaun and Mick were ringing at Durlston and I intended to join them later. Shaun texted to say that although they caught a few thrushes at dawn it had soon gone dead and not to bother, so I contented myself with a short local walk and updating this blog with the news from Scilly. Little did I know of the drama that was unfolding at Portland, but more of that later.

On the 23rd Mick and I arrived at Durlston in the dark, with the intention of getting the nets up pre-dawn in the hope of getting some thrushes. We were enveloped in murk, a low cloud / fog but no wind. We could hear masses of Redwing and Song Thrushes moving just above us and at dawn we trapped four of the former and six of the latter. As it got light they continued to move in their hundreds, if not thousands, but much higher up. We were sufficiently busy with the birds we had trapped to stop and count them. it was immediately apparent that there had been a huge arrival of Blackbirds, perhaps over 500 flew through the garden that morning, I cannot even guess how many were seen over the whole park. Unlike the Redwings/ Song Thrushes, the Blackbirds were flying at ten – twenty feet, ie just missing the nets, however we ringed 20 and would have caught many more had many not ‘bounced’. There was also a large arrival of Robins and we trapped a further 19 of them.

Redwing. British wintering and migrant Redwings arrive from both Scandinavia / Russia and Iceland.

The distinctive underwing that gives the Redwing its name.

In contrast the Song Thrush has an orange underwing, these differences are often obvious in flight.

The ‘official’ way to age a Redwing is on the shape and extent of white tips to the tertials but I was struck by the buffy cast to the supercillium of this first year bird ….

… compared to the pure white supercillium of this adult. we were surprised by just how many adult thrushes we trapped, much more than the 1:10 or lower ratio that we see for most autumn passerines.

As I left I heard I heard that a ‘Daurian’ Shrike had been seen at Portland. I immediately headed there and saw the bird from the roadside on arrival. As I had been ringing I didn’t have my SLR camera (or even my scope) with me but Brrett Spencer has kindly allowed to me using a photo posted on his blog.

Adult male ‘Daurian’ Shrike. Photo by Brett Spencer. A link to his blog is provided below.

The nomenclature, both scientific and vernacular of the Isabelline Shrike complex is complex. I described the bird I saw on Shetland as Isabelline Shrike, as, being a first year, the rarer form phoenicuroides or Turkestan Shrike, could not be excluded. However as a nice adult male, the Portland bird was clearly the eastern nominate form, Daurian Shrike. Many treat the two as separate species, but the BOU still treat them as one and a whole range of vernacular names are used for the two forms (individually or combined). I was asked by so many birders at the twitch to explain the current situation that I prepared the following for the local e-mail group.

First, ignore any classification and names used prior to about 2000. I won’t go into details as it muddies the water, but for sound nomenclatural reasons the name speculigerus had to be dropped and the name isabellinus transferred from one race to another. So best to ignore the name speculigerus.
Four races are now recognised,
1) Nominate isabellinus breeds from the Mongolian Altai to N central China, winters central Africa east to India. This is the form most regularly seen as a vagrant to Europe in spite of the fact that it breeds further away than phoenicuroides (a bit of a LB vs SB Dowitcher situation here)
2&3) arenarius and tsaidamensis breed in NW and N central China and winter from Iran to NW India. These races have not been recorded in Europe. They have been proposed as a separate species, Chinese Shrike Lanius  arenarius but I don’t know of anyone who follows this proposal so I will say no more about them.
4) phoenicuroides breeds Iran, Afghanistan Kazakstan, Pakistan and extreme western China. Winters in the Middle East and east Africa and does occur as a vagrant in Europe.
Now to the vernacular (English) names.
A) Clements lump all 4 races together as Lanius isabellinus and uses the vernacular name Rufous-tailed Shrike.
B) The BOU do likewise but use the name Isabelline Shrike, .
The BOU state that currently only the race L. i. phoenicuroides  is on the British List in spite that birders seem to refer most records to L i isabellinus !
C) Birding World used to split the two forms that occur as vagrants to Europe, but as not all young birds are identifiable in the field, they have lumped them again (as if that was a relevant taxonomic criteria). They use the term Isabelline Shrike for both forms combined (senso lato) and use Daurian Shrike for isabellinus (senso stricto). They use the name Turkestan Shrike for phoenicuroides.
D) The IOC treats phoenicuroides as a separate monotypic species and uses the vernacular name Red-tailed Shrike. The other three race are combined in L isabellinus using the vernacular name of Isabelline Shrike
E) Lars Svensson in the Collins Guide also splits off phoenicuroides using the name Turkestan Shrike. Isabelline Shrike is used for isabellinus
F) The Dutch CSNA also splits off phoenicuroides using the name Red-tailed Shrike. Daurian Shrike is used for isabellinus.
So as you can see it’s quite a mess.
Turkestan Shrike and Red-tailed Shrike always refers to phoenicuroides
Daurian Shrike always refers to isabellinus (senso stricto)
Isabelline Shrike can refer to isabellinus (senso stricto) or to all races lumped (senso lato)
Rufous-tailed Shrike refers to all races when lumped
Of the previous Dorset records (according to Georges book)
10/9/59   Portland – not identified to race (possibly isabellinus)
14/10/78 Winspit –  probable adult female phoenicuroides
15/9/85   Portland – probable 1st winter isabellinus
12/10/88 Durlston – probable 1st winter isabellinus

It was clear that Portland had also had a fall of thrushes and Robins, indeed the overnight passage, lit by the lights of the moth traps was awesome. As I result I contacted Mick Cook and we agreed to ring at Durlston again on Wednesday morning. It was much windier and although we caught similar numbers of Redwing and Song Thrush to the previous day, Blackbird and Robin numbers were at about 40%.

During the evening we were just about to pick up John and Anita and join Gio, Jessica and Tim at the folk evening on Poole Quay when I received a birding bombshell. A Pale Legged / Sakhalin Leaf Warbler had been seen at Portland on Monday (22nd) and this was the first I knew about it. I spent some time on the phone to several (angry) friends before in a shell-shocked state (as much in incredulity over the record as because I hadn’t seen it) we arrived at the pub.

Further details emerged that evening, the bird was in a private garden and the locals concerned had already had grief from neighbours over a previous rare bird on their property and they had decided to only allow local/regular Portland birders in. I can fully understand why they did it (who would want several thousand birders passing through your lounge, as could occur for bird that was a first for the whole of Europe) but things would have been so much better if the news had been released on the Tuesday as soon as it was clear the bird had gone, rather than sit on it for a further day and half, whilst the rumour mill gathered momentum and all manner of conspiracy theories were being concocted. Subsequent allegations and accusations were most unpleasant and unfounded and this brought out the very worst in birding and birders.

For photos and account of the occurrence see the Portland website at and for another account and more photos see Brett Spencer’s blog at but beware, in his own inimitable style, Brett uses some strong language.

I haven’t yet explained why this record created so much fuss, it was simply the most easterly passerine vagrant to the UK yet, totally off most people’s radar. Again I prepared some notes for the local e-mail group, expressing amazement that a passerine could fly from Ussuriland/Amurland  (in the case of PLLW) or Sakhalin/northern Japan (in the case of SLW) suggested that certain rejected records should be reassessed in the light of this occurence and posted a long list of other Asian migrants that we should not automatically dismiss as escapes without another thought.

On the 25th Amber phoned to say she had missed the school bus and pleaded for a lift to Wareham. Margaret tells me I’m too soft with the girls, as I acquiesced and ran her to school. Afterwards I toyed with the idea of going to Portland again, a Long-eared Owl and Siberian Stonechat had been found but I had seen both recently so ended up spending a few hours around the nearby Swineham pits.

A further surprise occurred on the 26th. The Siberian Stonechat on Portland was now rumoured to be the far eastern race stejnegeri, which breeds a bit closer than PLLW but not by much. Apparently Asian birding experts examining the photos of the PLLW/SLW had also seen photos of this bird and had agreed on its ID. ‘Stejnegeri’s’ Stonechat is genetically (if not morphologically) very distinct and is treated as a full species by the IOC and the BOU indicate that they will split it once the affinities of another race from China is established.

For once I was at the right place at the right time. I arrived just as Martin appeared with the bird in a bag. he had been able to catch it using a spring trap. After he processed it, he showed it to those on the patio before returning it to the Culverwell area. I spent the rest of the very cold and windy afternoon getting field views of the stonechat, trying and failing to get repeat views of the Daurian Shrike and looking for a Subalpine Warbler that had been seen in Weston. Also present that day (but not seen by me) were a Barred Warbler, Long-eared and Short-eared Owls, one or two Wrynecks and single observers had fleeting glimpses of what may have been Olive-backed and Pechora Pipits, talk about a purple patch!

Siberian Stonechat possibly of the race/species ‘stejnegerii’ Photo by Brett Spencer. See above for the link to his blog.

The darker plumage, wider base to the bill, amount of white on the rump and a host of other small features point to, but to not conclusively identify this bird as Stejneger’s Stonechat, however some poo collected during processing should prove conclusive genetically.

Will field identification of vagrant stejnegeri ever be possible?

Posted October 28, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

October 15th – 20th – Isles of Scilly update 2   Leave a comment

On the 15th, I gave Bryher a miss, which was another mistake, as Richard who had never seen the species, went and saw it well. I headed across St Mary’s to Porth Hellick where after a considerable search, the juvenile American Golden Plover was seen distantly. I spent quite some time in the area but saw little else.

Porth Hellick at low tide.

News of a Hume’s Leaf Warbler at the ‘dump clump’ near Hugh Town had me scurrying back. I saw this Central Asian species in Dorset in January, but it is a really rare bird and was worth seeing again. I joined some 50 other birders there with no success, then came news of a Short-toed Lark back, at all places, at Carn Friars a few meters past Porth Hellick. I retraced my steps and arrived just in time to see the lark before it flew. As the tide had come in, the American Golden Plover was much, much closer and I managed to get some digiscoped shots.

Hanging around for the Hume’s Leaf Warbler.

By now the tide was in and the juvenile American Golden Plover was showing well.

By now the weather had turned, it was raining hard and quite windy. For the fourth time today I walked the road to Hugh Town, arriving back very tired and rather wet.

On the 16th Roger and Richard opted to go on a pelagic boat trip some eleven miles out from the islands. Fearing rough seas and expecting little, I decided to stay on St Mary’s. They did see a nice range of seabirds but nothing that was critical for my year list.

After a brief visit to the Garrison, I went to Old Town where a Red-breasted Flycatcher was on show in the churchyard, then I walked the short distance to the mosquito ridden ‘dump clump’ where I eventually saw the Hume’s Leaf Warbler. The trouble was although it definitely called like a Hume’s it looked just like a Yellow-browed Warbler! Of course there was the two-bird theory, an invisible but vocal Hume’s going around with a silent but showy Yellow-browed and there was even a three-bird theory, which is too complicated to even bother discussing.

This is what a Hume’s Leaf Warbler should look like (as in this photo from the internet) duller than a YBW, with darker bill and reduced wing bar on the median coverts …….

… but this is what the bird DID look like, just like this Yellow-browed Warbler I photographed on Shetland. Most observers thought the call was the critical feature but I shall follow any ensuing debate with great interest.

The 17th saw very strong winds reaching 55mph. Seawatching brought little but a single Bonxie, the Hume’s showed well and the three Ring-necked Ducks that appeared off Hugh Town showed well at Porth Hellick Pond.

Rough seas off St Mary’s

Porth Hellick with Porth Hellick Pond behind.

A first year male and 2 first year female Ring-necked Ducks. Clearly just arrived from the other side of the Atlantic – who says all Nearctic ducks are escapes.

Birders gather in the Scillonian Club every evening for the log call.

Song Thrushes have declined greatly on the UK mainland but are common and tame on Scilly.

Stick Insects have been introduced to Scilly and can be seen in sheltered locations.

Close to Veronica Loge there is a tunnel through the ancient fortifications of the Garrison ….

.., this is known as Sally Port, a once secret passage where defenders could ‘sally forth’ and harass the invaders from behind.

Porth Loo beach

Little was seen on the 18th, I thought the Blackpoll Warbler had gone and was surprised to hear that it was seen again on Bryher, but the very low tides meant that there were no boats there during the day. However I did visit on the 19th but this time it appeared to have gone. It was a beautiful day on a beautiful island and although there were few birds (a Hooded Crow was by far the best) I really enjoyed it. It was also possible to scope a group of Whooper Swans on the lake on nearby Tresco.

A male Stonechat


View over Bryher towards Tresco, St Martin’s can be seen in the distance.

The shallow channel between Bryher (L) and Tresco (R)

Southern tip of Tresco with St Mary’s to the left

On our final morning Roger, Richard and I took the boat to St Agnes. A Booted Warbler had been found and it was showing well when we arrived. This was only the fourth time I have seen this Central Asian bird in the UK. Other goodies included a Richard’s Pipit, a Pied Flycatcher, a Yellow-browed, Peregrine, Marsh Harrier and Great Northern Diver, making this final day the best birding day of the week.

St Agnes, perhaps the most beautiful of the islands.

The Western Rocks with the Bishop lighthouse in the distance. The next land to the west of here is Canada.

Pied Flycatcher

Time for a drink at the most southerly pub in the UK

…. but the pub was empty ….

… because everyone was enjoying the sun outside (Kevin, Richard and Roger) …..

… and with a view like this can you blame them.

We returned to Veronica Lodge to collect our gear and caught the Scillonian at 1630. A couple of pods of Common Dolphins, a Balearic Shearwater and an Arctic Skua showed on the way back. I drove straight back to Dorset and was home about 2300. Perhaps it wasn’t the best birding week I have spent on Scilly but the weather was good and I enjoyed socialising and catching up with some old friends.

Roger and Richard with our landlady Diane at Veronica Lodge.

Time to board the Scillonian and head for home.

Posted October 23, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

October 13th – 14th – Scilly update 1   Leave a comment

The Isles of Scilly (never the Scilly Isles), lie some 28 miles west of Lands End. They have long been known as one of the key places in the UK to see rare and unusual birds. October has proven to be the best month for vagrants from America and Siberia. In the mid 80s as many as thousand birders would be staying but these days only a quarter of that number turn up. In its hey day, five species of American passerines could be found on St Mary’s (the main island) alone, but increasing costs and fewer vagrants have made it less popular. Fewer birders clearly means less birds found, but there is the suggestion that global warming is pushing fronts further north resulting in more megas arriving in Iceland and Shetland.

Even so, a week on Scilly is still a great way to enjoy a weeks birding, with a warm climate, good company, food and drink and a ready supply of good birds what more could you want. I visited Scilly every year between 1979 and 1990 and in 93, 94, 08 and 2012. With day twitches that amounts to over 20 visits.



Porthcressa Bay with Hugh Town beyond.


The crossing on the Scillonian on the 13th was reasonably calm but very poor for seabirds, with nothing but a few Guillemots, Gannets and Kittiwakes seen. After dropping my gear off at my B&B on the Garrison, I caught the boat to the small island of Bryher where (in spite of heavy showers) I soon saw the Solitary Sandpiper that has been frequenting a farm dump for the last couple of days.


Lands End from the Scillonian


Lee Evans (LGRE): to some he is the twitchers friend, disseminating news, organising tours and publishing an alternative birder friendly list to the official BOU one. To others he is the ‘judge, jury and executioner’ of birding, policing people’s lists without their permission. I have to say I have always got on well with him.


The Scillonian docked at Hugh Town, St Mary’s.



After a day in the field the climb up the hill to our B&B, Veronica Lodge was hard work. But it was well worth staying there for the mega breakfasts!


Hugh Town as seen from Veronica Lodge.


I wasn’t the only birder who chose to take the small boat to Bryher that afternoon.


Solitary Sandpiper, the American equivalent of our Green Sandpiper but with a more attenuated rear end, longer wings, no white rump and bolder eye ring. I have seen 3 Solitary Sandpipers in the UK, all on Scilly.




Finding the other goodie on Bryher was much more problematic. An American Blackpoll Warbler has been seen over the last few days but it has always been elusive. Today it just showed briefly to four birders this morning. I did see a flock of eight Pink-footed Geese fly over, a Coal Tit (a scarce bird on Scilly, they may have arrived from European mainland or Ireland) and on the way back a Peregrine and a Spoonbill.


Waiting for the return boat.


The island of Tresco from Bryher


A juvenile Shag reminiscent of the Mediterranean race ‘desmarestii’ with two Cormorants.




During the evening, as we did every evening, Roger, Richard and I went out for a meal and a few drinks in Hugh Town.


On the 14th we went to the south side of the Garrison as a Serin had been reported. It was soon clear that this bird was just part of a westerly movement, which included about 100 Chaffinches, two Grey Wagtails and lots of Meadow Pipits. Rare Red-throated and Richard’s Pipits were seen briefly on nearby St Agnes. From a Scilly perspective the rarest bird was a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a very rare visitor to these islands.


Off birding: the Garrison archway.



St Agnes from the Garrison.


The Bishop Rock lighthouse, the most southerly building in the UK and almost the most southerly point, digiscoped from six miles away on the Garrison.



In the early afternoon we caught the boat to Bryher as the Blackpoll Warbler had been seen well about midday, but we were too late, we just had a frustrating couple of hours staring at a hedge. At least we had good views of the Spoonbill on the way back.


Nothing to do whilst the Blackpoll failed to show, so I might as well photograph some of the giant mushrooms.


A juvenile Spoonbill with Oystercatchers.






Posted October 22, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

October 12th – Seaton, Devon and the Lizard, Cornwall   Leave a comment

Rather than leave very early on the 13th to get the Scillonian I opted to drive to Penzance on the 12th and stay overnight.

On route I stopped at Seaton marshes in East Devon. This site has been recently improved with several new hides overlooking the estuary and a freshwater lagoon. Yesterday I could have seen Pectoral Sandpiper and Spotted Crake here but today both had gone. After an hour and a half I decided to cut my losses and head for Cornwall.



Seaton Marshes reserve is unusual in that a tourist tram line runs between the hide and the estuary.



I went straight to the Lizard Peninsula. My main target was the Chough, a bird that has recently recolonized this part of Cornwall. DNA studies have shown that these birds originated in Ireland, not France as was originally presumed. However I first went to Church Cove where a vagrant Paddyfield Warbler had been found. The bird showed well, if briefly. This is only the second time I have seen this species in the UK, the first being as recent as this winter.


Church Cove, the Lizard, site of the Paddyfield Warbler.

At the car park at Kynance Cove, as well as stunning scenery, I found two Choughs, although they both flew before I could even get my camera out of the bag. The other good bird that had recently been in the area was an Ortolan Bunting in a stubble field near Lizard Point. I found that there had been no sign of the bird today, so I carried on to the Point, the most southerly point on the British mainland. Here I had another five Choughs in flight but the weather was turning wet so I headed for the café. Unlike the earlier showers this time the rain looked set in, so I had no option but to walk the mile or so back to the car, getting soaked in the progress.

Kynance Cove.



Lizard Point. At 49 55 N it is the most southerly point of the British mainland and is on the same latitude as Newfoundland, northern Mongolia or Sakhalin Island in Siberia.

Choughs have long been part of Cornish folk law and appears on pub signs and the county Coat of Arms. The spirit of King Arthur was said to have been transformed into a Chough.The last breeding in Cornwall was in 1947 but in 2001 birds from the Irish population returned to breed and have continued to do to this day.


The Red-billed Choughs at the Lizard, (to give them their proper name) has become quite a tourist attraction and is of great cultural significance to Cornish people. Photo from the Internet.



The heavy downpour was over when I reached Penzance.


Penzance harbour





Posted October 22, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

October 10th – wagtails at Lytchett Bay   Leave a comment

On the 10th of October, Shaun, Kevin and I opted to try and ring Pied Wagtails at Lytchett Bay. Every autumn flocks of this species roost in the reeds and experience has shown that they are easy to trap using a recording. As the birds are trapped at dusk, they are ringed in Shaun’s garage (which is adjacent to the bay), roosted in boxes overnight and released at dawn.

Of course we like to trap as many birds as practical, the more we ring, the higher the chance of recoveries, but the bird’s welfare must come first. It was clear there were far more wagtails coming to roost then we usually see. From our vantage point on the edge of the reeds we could see that we had trapped a lot of birds, so at least 20 minutes earlier than usual we turned off the tape and started extracting. We had caught a total of 125 birds and processing them took us until about 2130.

The black back, white face, very black flight feathers and lack of contrast in the greater coverts show that this is an adult male Pied Wagtail.

This bird showed very black flight feathers and no contrast in the coverts, so together with the grey back we identified it as an adult female.

Adult female Pied Wags can be very similar to some 1st year males. This bird has grey feathers on the mantle but the outer two greater coverts are unmoulted and the flight feathers show a brownish sheen, so was identified as a 1st year male.

Pied Wagtails show a lot of variation in plumage, but I don’t ever recall seeing a bird with such a strong moustachial stripe.



Posted October 22, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

October 8th – 11th   Leave a comment

I flew back to from Shetland to Southampton on Monday and arrived home mid afternoon. Since then I have been busy catching up on paperwork, planning future trips etc.

The only things of note have been an enjoyable evening out with birding friends on Tuesday, a very busy wagtail ringing session on Wednesday and a visit to John and Anita’s new flat tonight to mark John’s birthday. I haven’t had time to edit and upload any photos. Amber has just returned from a four-day sailing course organised by the school and I haven’t even seen Kara as she is at Taekwondo most nights.

Tomorrow I am off to Penzance and on Saturday I go over to the Isles of Scilly for a week. If I can get wi-fi I will update my blog from there.


Posted October 11, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Shetland final update – 6th – 7th October and the bird of the trip.   Leave a comment

THe 6th was cold, windy and wet. During the morning I visited Grutness where I had distant views of a Red-backed Shrike, Pool of Virkie where a Long-tailed Duck showed well, Scatness, which held four Whooper Swans but little else and Channelwick where I also saw very little.

Paul and Liz have spent the last few days in Aberdeen on business and returned this afternoon, so I spent much of the rest of the day with them.


Immature Long-tailed Duck.

Bar-tailed Godwits

The island of Mousa is an RSPB reserve. Photographed from Channelwick in better conditions early in the week.



The 7th was windy too, but much drier. I visited the Pool of Virkie where I saw a few waders and two Long-tailed Ducks. A  scan across the bay towards Garthness revealed big numbers of Fulmars and Kittiwakes on the move. I picked up an all dark shearwater with them, the only realistic candidate would be a Sooty Shearwater, another year tick.

Hoping it would hang around, I drove right round the bay, past Quendale to Garthness, but an hours seawatch produced nothing but Fulmars and two Bonxies with a Merlin on the way back.

In the afternoon a trip around Scatness gave me my final chance to see a goodie on Shetland but produced little but a couple of Whoopers and a few common ducks and waders.

I have kept photos of my favourite bird until the end. On the 25th I had poor views of a Lanceolated Warbler on Whalsay. A day or two later Paul and I visited Sandness in the far west of Shetland mainland, where another Lancie had been seen. Originally our views were brief as it scuttled around in a mass of weeds, but then it flew to the nearby farmhouse lawn and from there to a drainage ditch, where it fed unconcerned by our presence. Lanceolated Warblers are closely related to Grasshopper Warbler and have been spreading westwards across Siberia in recent years and now breed as close as eastern Finland. Even so, they remain very rare in the UK and are hardly ever seen away from Shetland. This was one of my most desired birds of the trip and definitely gets the accolade of ‘bird of the trip’.

The Lanceolated Warbler played hide and seek in the weeds before flying across the road to the farmhouses lawn ……

… from there it flew to a nearby drainage ditch where it grovelled around in full view.

Lancies can be such hard birds to see that we felt really privileged to get such a prolonged and close views.

Well that’s it for Shetland, 16 days on these magic islands, 18 year ticks and two additions to my British list (Pechora and Lancie) plus some valuable ringing experience. Although much quieter during the second week than the first, it was all enjoyable.

Many thanks to Paul and Liz for their company and putting me up and particularly for Paul for the help with the birding.

Garthness as seen from Scatness. This was my sixth visit to Shetland and it won’t be my last!

Posted October 7, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

4th – 5th October – Shetland Update 7   Leave a comment

The 4th was cool, with a very strong westerly wind and regular short but heavy showers. With lots of work to catch up with, I stayed inside in the morning, but ventured out in the afternoon to try some seawatching which was followed by a visit to Loch of Hillswell, Quendale, Loch Spiggie and the Scousburgh beach which was where the Buff-bellied Pipit that I saw on the 30th was last seen.

Both seawatching and rare pipiting were unsuccessful, but I did get great views of a Merlin, a Peregrine, two pairs of Whooper Swans, a few Twite and a Scaup with some Goldeneye.

A Merlin at Quendale.

Ravens are common all over Shetland.

Starlings and Sparrows are also abundant across Shetland.

Shetland has an endemic subspecies of Starling ‘zetlandicus’ which is slightly larger and has a much darker juvenile plumage.

Two Whooper Swans on Loch Spiggie

Black shower clouds were propelled across the sky on the strong winds.

No pot of birding gold today I’m afraid.

As conditions were surprisingly still on the 5th I opted to do some ringing in Paul’s garden. It was quiet at first but about lunchtime I suddenly started catching loads of sparrows, in the end I ringed about 40. Some might think there is little point in ringing large numbers of a common and sedentary species like House Sparrow. I disagree, House sparrows have undergone a dramatic decline over much of Britain. By ringing the species in areas where they are still common, like Shetland, comparisons of population dynamics with areas that are badly affected can be made and hopefully causes of decline identified.

By mid afternoon the sparrow rush dried up so I furled and headed for the Rerwick reed bed where a Great Reed Warbler had been found that morning, eventually I got flight views; not very satisfactory but at least I saw one well at Radipole this May.

The Rerwick reedbed, the only reedbed on Shetland. Note the birders to the left waiting for the Great Reed Warbler to show. Rerwick beach where I saw the Buff-bellied Pipit is just beyond the reedbed, on the other side of the bay is Scousburgh beach where I went yesterday and in the distance Loch Spiggie can be seen.

Posted October 5, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized