Archive for October 2012

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

2nd – 3rd October – Shetland update 6 – a tale of two shrikes.   Leave a comment

The 2nd was a lovely day, sunny with a strong westerly wind but with very few migrants about. The day was taken up with searching for two species of shrike, the Isabelline Shrike which has been moving around the Toab/Virkie area for the last week and a Red-backed Shrike in the Sandwick area.

Much of the morning was spent wandering around Sandwick/Hoswick but to no avail and I had an equally unsuccessful afternoon at Toab. I returned and did a little ringing in the garden, catching a few Linnets coming to roost, including another control, ie one ringed elsewhere.


The view for Sandwick looking north.


I tried photographing this herd of Shetland ponies …..


… only to find that they wanted to follow me around everywhere.


I can’t make fun at Shetland names when Dorset has places like ‘Shitterton’ and ‘Scratchy Bottom’ !


No sign of the Isabelline at Toab but a Spotted Flycatcher showed well.

The 3rd started nice and still so I continued ringing in the garden until about 0930. Best birds caught by far were two Twite, a relative to the Redpoll and Linnet which occurs widely on the northern and western isles of the UK. The wind soon got up so I packed and headed north to Sandwick. Despite searching, along with some 10 other birders for the rest of the morning I didn’t see the Red-backed Shrike, but whilst photographing a Black Guillemot offshore I did see an Otter swimming in the surf.


The pink rump on a Twite is absent in females.


Black Guillemot or Tystie as it is called locally, in winter plumage.


Shetland has its own subspecies of Wren, larger and darker than in the rest of the UK.


Bar-tailed Godwits with a single Black-tailed Godwit at the Pool of Virkie.


In the afternoon, at long last, I caught up with the Isabelline Shrike and in spite of wet, windy conditions and poor light even got some photos. I returned to the Sandwick area in late afternoon and was rewarded with views of the Red-backed Shrike, which was on view for just a minute before flying off into the distance. Red-backed Shrike once bred widely in the UK but now is a rare visitor, however it occurs far more often the Isabelline Shrike, which breeds only in central Asia and western China.


The word ‘isabelline’ is supposed to originate when Queen Isabella vowed not to change her clothes until the Moors were ousted from Spain. It took longer than she expected and her underwear was a buffy-grey ‘isabelline’ colour by then.





Posted October 3, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

1st October – Shetland update 5   Leave a comment

At the end of September an Arctic Redpoll was found on Unst, the northernmost of the inhabited Shetland Isles. This was followed by news late on the 30th of a Pechora Pipit, a new bird for my British list, in the same area. Also a Bonapart’s Gull, a small north American gull, had been seen although the finder and the exact location couldn’t be established. Paul needed the Bonapart’s for his Shetland list so opted to take a days leave and go with me. Incidently, Bonapart’s Gull was not named in honour of Napoleon, but after his nephew.

We left pretty early and arrived about 0900 to find a crowd of 30+ birders watching the Arctic Redpoll. Apart from being a year tick, I have never this race, hornemanni anywhere in the world. The species Arctic Redpoll consists of two subspecies, exilipes which is circumpolar in the Arctic except for Greenland and Baffin Island where it is replaced by the larger hornemanni which is almost as big as a Chaffinch..

Those, who for whatever reason, choose is ignore the huge volume of evidence that all species have evolved from an earlier form, often quote the supposed lack of intermediates to support their case. They need to look no further than the redpolls to see a species group where the evolution of species is still in progress (or crossbills, large white-headed gulls, the yellow wagtail group, slaty antshrikes or Darwin’s finches for that matter) . Exilipes and hornemanni could be regarded as separate species, but the population in Iceland might be a hybrid swarm between hornemanni and the large rostrata race of Common Redpoll and exilipes might hybridise with the nominate race of Common Redpoll elsewhere. As Greenland and Baffin Island are hardly easy places to conduct long-term studies, hybridisation between exilipes and hornemanni could also occur, thus the relationships between all six races in the redpoll complex remains unresolved.

Whatever the taxonomic position of hornemanni there is no denying that this was a most beautiful individual. The five ‘northwestern’ Redpolls, i.e. probable rostrata that I had seen on my last visit had now increased to over 20 and provided a good comparison with the hornemanni.

The other good bird, Pechora Pipit, was much harder to see. A vagrant from arctic Siberia, this species is hardly ever recorded in the UK away from Shetland. Not only is it rare but it is skulking and although I eventually got half a dozen flight views (some of them quite good) I never saw it perched.

Whilst I was hanging around Northwick, Paul toured the area looking for the Bonapart’s Gull but to no avail. I joined him later in the day and was pleased to see a flock of 46 Snow Bunting on Lamba Ness.

Snow Buntings reach Shetland from both the Icelandic and Scandinavian breeding populations. Judging by the dark rumps of the birds in flight this group is from Iceland.

Part of the flock of 46 Snow Buntings.

Unlike my last visit to Unst, the day had been grey with heavy showers, however the sun breaking through the clouds at Lamba Ness produced this dramatic scene.

On our way home we stopped at Brae and had good views of the Surf Scoter that I first saw last week. It had moved away from Burra Voe and was much closer, although still too far for photos.

Male Surf Scoter. Photo from the internet.

Finally we stopped at Voe, where a Spotted Sandpiper had been seen, it was found on the banks of a stream, but Paul had an appointment at 1800 and we couldn’t linger for photographs.

The view at Voe

Spotted Sandpiper is the American equivalent of our Common Sandpiper. This bird was photographed at Lyme Regis in Dorset in January 2012.

Sign on a gate at Voe. Clearly THE place to be on a Saturday night.

Posted October 3, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

Shetland update 4 – a few more pictures from the last week.   2 comments

A Grey Seal, note the flat top to the head with the eyes about mid way between the nape and the snout.

A Common (or Harbour Seal) eating a flat fish. Note the dog like muzzle with the eyes closer to the snout than the nape.

A migrant flock of Pink-footed Geese probably on their way from Iceland to Lancashire.

This flock of 18 Barnacle Geese flew around Sumburgh Head …..

….. before landing on Scatness.

Barnacle Geese breed on Greenland, Svalbard and Novoya Nemla. These are probably from Svalbard on their way to the Solway Firth for the winter.

Many Barnacles seen in England are of feral origin, there was no doubt that these were truly wild.

Curlews are a common breeder and still common in the autumn right across Shetland.

A flock of Golden Plovers. Although close to the equinox the sunrise and sunset times are similar in Shetland to Dorset, the twilight this far north seems to last for ever.

Posted October 2, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

27th – 30th September – Shetland update 3   Leave a comment

First, I have edited a few more photos taken on Unst on the 27th (see previous post)

Another photo of the Blyth’s Reed Warbler. The rufous wing panel is only visible from some angles.

The cliffs at Lamba Ness

Gannets passing Lamba Ness

A migrant Goldcrest

A juvenile Bonxie feeding on roadkill ….

…. and a Hooded Crow waiting its turn.

Smoke from a distant cottage.

On the 28th the weather was mainly cloudy with heavy showers. With Isabelline Shrike and Olive-backed Pipit (or OBP as it usually known)nearby and a Siberian Stonechat just a few miles up the road I didn’t intend to travel far today.

Another view from Paul and Liz’s towards Sumburgh airport and Sumburgh Head.

There was no sign of the OBP but the shrike had been seen, albeit briefly. It was relocated in a garden in Toab deep in a sycamore bush and by the time I arrived quite a group of birders had assembled, however just as it moved into view someone stood in front of me and my views were, shall we say, less than satisfactory. It then flew off and I didn’t see it again. A search around the playground produced a nice Hawfinch and a Spotted Flycatcher but no rare pipits.

My next plan was to head to Hoswick and search for a Siberian Stonechat that had been found the previous day. After several hours of searching I drew a blank so returned to Virkie for some lunch. There was rain off and on during the afternoon, so much of the time was spent at back at Paul and Liz’s but for the latter part of the day I headed for Quendale where an adult female Common Rosefinch was on show in the quarry.

I didn’t have my SLR camera with me but was pleased by this digiscoped shot of the Rosefinch. The vast majority of autumn Common Rosefinches are first years which have an obvious wing bar, so lacking both wing bars and red colouration this presumably is an adult female, although a second calendar year male cannot be ruled out.

Paul asked me to give a talk to the Shetland Bird Club and I chose Tibet as the subject. I felt nervous giving a talk to so many illustrious birders!

As the 29th was a Saturday I could go birding with Paul again, the wind had turned westerly and it seemed like the run of Siberian vagrants was due to end, however we hoped that the odd American bird might be discovered. Returning to Toab we found the Olive-backed Pipit with ease but still failed to connect with the wide-ranging Isabelline Shrike.

The white spot (with a black mark below it) situated behind and below the whitish supercillium is diagnostic of Olive-backed Pipit.

A lengthy thrash around a number of wet meadows produced lots of Snipe and two boot fulls of water, but little else. A report of a Richard’s Pipit at Quendale drew a blank (although it was seen again in the evening) but we had another look at the Common Rosefinch, this time I had my SLR with me.

Much of Shetland birding involves finding migrants in narrow burns and wet ditches.

An old stone bridge over an overgrown ditch.

Disused and abandoned farm buildings dot the Shetland landscape.

The adult Rosefinch again sunning itself on the side of the quarry.

Finally a trip up to Tingwall gave us good views of an American Golden Plover in a flock of 80 or so European Golden Plovers.

Smaller and greyer than its European cousin, this adult American Golden Plover still showed some remnants of summer plumage.

On the 30th Paul and I headed to Hoswick, a short drive to the north where the Siberian Stonechat I had searched for a few days before had been relocated. After a short wait we had good views. There was a new influx of birders to Shetland yesterday and about 50 had gathered at Hoswick. Shetland is gaining in popularity as an autumn birding destination and many locals fear it will become as packed as Scilly used to be in its heyday. A nearby hedge held both Yellow-browed and Wood Warblers showing that almost any area of cover in Shetland can turn up good birds.

Some of the birders that gathered at Hoswick.

Siberian Stonechat has only recently been treated as a full species by the BOU and this is my first sighting since the ‘split’.

The taxonomy of Stonechats has still to be finally resolved, with races from eastern Asia, the Caspian/Caucasus and Ethiopia possibly deserving full species status.

We had arranged to meet Roger Riddington and he greeted us with the news that he had just found a Buff-bellied Pipit, the American version of our Water Pipit and Rock Pipits. It took a scramble down a cliff to get to the beach at Rerwick and the pipit performed albeit distantly. This was only the second time I have seen this species in the UK. As we left Paul informed the Shetland grapevine, whilst I contacted Birdguides. Unfortunately using their upload page, I entered Rerwick in Orkney not Rerwick in Shetland. Apologies to any Orcadian birders who may have had their hopes raised, only to be dashed minutes later.

Rerwick beach.

The distant Buff-bellied Pipit.

The local Rock Pipits were more obliging.

Posted October 1, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized