Sep 12, 2012

Swallow this !!

Here is a photo i am really chuffed with. This is the sort of shot i dream of getting and this is how i got it. First thing in the morning as i was putting the puppy out to do its biz when swallows took off from the gutter over head. These were the freshly fledged chicks from the brood in next doors garage. I though that was close and nice as they flittered away but then though no more about it. Later in the day i walked out of the open back door intending to be cleaning up the pups biz when i heard a noise and looked back. Two swallow fledglings were sitting there calling and as i watched the parent bird came in and fed one of the calling chicks. My vantage point was a runway between the shed and house that leads to the dogs pound. I stood quietly and another food pass took place. Exciting to watch as it was i thought PHOTO OPP!!. I quickly returned indoors through the front door to get my camera. Slipping back in to the gap between the shed and house where i was reasonably hidden and i started to try for feeding shots. I couldnt have been in a better position, 6m away resting on the sloping roof. As the parent birds returned and the chicks would start their demanding calls for food. This gave the perfect opportunity to depress the shutter button to prefocus before the main event. All i had to do was settle in and concentrate on the job in hand. Unfortunately the midges had the same sort of idea and began to feed off me at there leisure. It all gets very zen as you search for an external stillness whilst they crawl over your skin, knowing that to wave your arms or rub your face would collapse the situation with the young birds taking off. Over about 40 mins i managed to take 25 or so shots, now this is where the truth of the situation comes out for even though i had taken advantage of being in the right place at the right time this shot is realy down to lady luck. After retreating from the midge attack and processing the photos on the computer 25 shots yielded up five food passes none clear several to late or early misses and this photo i cropped out was one of the first i took. Luck really does play a part for me.......and greatfull I am for it!

Stronsay trip

Good day out on Stronsay with the RSPB local group migrant outing. Although the westerly wind flow had us looking for american arivals rather than european song birds both were a little sparce. Allan and Jerrys numbers read like this.

Waders; Greenshank (2), Black-tailed Godwit (45), Knot, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Redshank, Sanderling (72 - including a colour-ringed bird & 26), Bar-tailed Godwit (14), Snipe, Turnstone, Curlew, and Golden Plover (300+).

Wildfowl; Mute Swan (3prs with broods of 4 cygnets), Pink-footed Geese (23), Red-breasted Merganser (25), Little Grebe (1), Coot (40ish), Pintail (16), Shoveler (17), Wigeon (800+), Teal (50+), Gadwall (2), Tufted Duck (26), and the ever present Greylags... (no collars though)

Passerines; Wheatears numbered (20+), Meadow Pipits dotted around in loose flocks and a few White Wagtails with fewer Pied. Linnet & Twite probably in equal number.

Grey Heron (at least 20 seen), Sandwich Tern (15+), Arctic Skua (2), Peregrine (Ad, male chasing the Black-tailed Godwits) and a cock Hen Harrier on the way to the boat.

Aug 31, 2012

Sanderling at Skaill

There have been a lot of Sanderling aroound their usual haunts over the last couple of weeks. These birds are on the beach at Skaill. They were fairly unconcerned with my presence and moved from side to side of me on the last of the disapering sand. Last flock i saw they were in all states of moult but these are nearly all the way to their winter colours, exellent wee birds.

Aug 24, 2012

Starlings rock

I was off to the Broch of Birsay this morning but totaly messed up with the tide and couldent get on!! The trip back produced no birds that i wouldnt have expected so i was feeling a bit bummed with the thought of cutting grass all afternoon. On pulling in and letting the puppy out the air filled with birds! Over the houses were several hundred starlings all in the air engaged in fly catching, what a wonderfull sight!! This something that happens only rarely but they have been going at it for almost an hour. I supose it just gos to show you dont need to travel miles to see things some times its all on your doorstep and from the most unasuming of sources as well!!....Starlings rock!!

Aug 20, 2012

Out west

Out for a quick spin this afternoon first off to the Shunan where a couple of Bartailed godwits stalked about the muddy edges of the island. The whole shore line was fringed with cast feathers that looks like snow in the distance. A Greenshank flew up and over towards Finstown calling. It took a swing to the right and came down about hands with the burn at Bosquoy. The last bird I see as I an about to pull away are three waders, they dive down to the loch but turn and carry on. By now there are four, following with the bins I see they are Dunlin and hear there high piched calls as they to head to Bosquoy. I now head over to Bosquoy my self, thats left on the road and first right. The first thing I see turning in off the main road is a dead bird, A look and I see it is a short eared owl, this is yet another road casualty. They may be here in good numbers this year but the other side of the coin has been some severe attrition on the roads.

Bosquoy its self held nothing unusual, the big greeb flock was there and good flocks of Curlew and Lapwing came in whilst I scoped about. Moving on from there I hit the Loch of banks hide I hadn’t been here for ages and there was a certain air of dereliction starting to settle about the place, There was bugger all to see either as the meadowsweet had grown so much you cant see any water. A spin on from there saw me looking over the loons from the view point, this to was to prove fruitless with no birds at all on any of the muddy pools and the loch side to lost in the haze and glare of the sun. With little to be gained from waiting about I head down the west coast to enjoy the ride to Skaill. Stopping at the north end of the bay the tide is just high enough to stop dog walkers from approaching the last third of the bay. This portion of the shore is absolutely teeming with birds it seems every where you look there are more. The waters edge is dominated by Dunlin ,Sanderling and Ringed plover rushing back and forth, the rocky shore has Turnstones in all states of moult, Redshanks well close in interspersed with Knot. The Knot range from red to grey. Along with hundreds of starlings on the strand line are several family’s of pied wags and a few Wheatears, one a strikingly even colour of brown. Amongst a group of gulls and Oystercatchers a rather striking Blacktailed godwit is probing away. Seeing this it leads me to see another and another till there are ten in all, They are an exellent sight in their breeding plumage. Carefully looking through every thing I dont see anything out of the usual not that you can take such a massive gathering as usual tho. I was counting Sanderling and got in to nearly a hundred before a couple of Bonxies put the whole beach in to the air. When I lost count I was less than half way through!! All in all it made for an entertaining hours watching and a nice relaxed ride home!


The last few days have seen a continental wind-flow bringing good falls of migrating birds to the east side. I haven’t really been out on the hunt but I did manage a couple of lifers with a Wood warbler in full and glorious colour on saturday and a redbacked shrike on sunday.Fairly chuffed i was!!

Aug 3, 2012

Common Crane

A good day today as I have just ticked Common crane. This bird was posted on the Orkney bird group on facebook last night . At the time it was just for an ID as the bird was on a farm and far from the road and turning there is an issue. This morning it was visible from the road at the North west end of Swanny loch tho. We located it by the booming calls coming through the mist and managed to get some distant views. I do wonder if this was or should I say is the Tufta bird of a couple of weeks ago. Looking back the cranes that were about Stromness a while ago seemed to stay about for ages, cropping up over and over in different places. Could be this is the same sort of loitering. Im just glad to have had a chance to have one in the scope whilst it did its stuff for an hour on and off…..A very nice big bird!!

Jul 30, 2012

Jul 27, 2012

Roller shots

Get kitted up, bins, scope, handbags.....

Jul 26, 2012


Theres a Roller up the Heddle Rd Finstown right now, Heres hoping its there the morn.

Jun 5, 2012

Time for transit

Its finaly time for the Transit of Venus. Whats visable of it will be happening as the sun rises the morn. Fingers crossed for a clear sky!!

May 23, 2012

Morris’s Dotterels

Just been to see Morris’s Dotterels in a rolled field just beyond the east mainland kirk, that’s beyond Graemshall on the St Andrews road. Flighty with a long view I was glad of the scope!! Three were in sight but moved about within the adjoining field as well. They were there yesterday so they might remain for a day or so with a bit of luck.

May 17, 2012

Oooo err

I am about to be in so much shit!! We are about to go shopping , the cubbords are bare and the last two weeks housekeeping have all been spent on petrol and mars bars while i have twiching and searching the county. Money well spent i think!!

Little Egret

There is a nice Little Egret feeding behind Banks cottage at the Loch of Banks right now!! It is giving nice views from the road!

May 14, 2012

May 11, 2012

Red Grouse

I met the Shetland wildlife group on a cold and desolate Hillside Rd out west late this afternoon. There was nothing to see apart from some distant gulls and dark showers on the horizon. Five seconds after they departed this Red Grouse popped up close by and started calling. Taking the piss isn’t it !!

May 9, 2012

A stunning day of migrants!!

Stunning day of migrants!!

We have had a stunning day and I haven’t traveled any further than half a mile about the sooth parish!! I had planned to get out early this morning and head towards the south end then work my way back. Delayed by showers but enthused by Barrie Hammils finds across Burray first thing this morning off I set! It was just past nine when I pulled in at Burwick and Swallows were in and out of the buildings whilst others were sitting about on fences and wires. I took a look about the back there but didn’t see anything then moved on to the rugosa bushes at the end of the Kirk yard. These soon showed a pair of chiffchaff and other movement within.. Further along and looking around the back a sedgie shoots out and over the road to starts singing on landing, Under the bushes and out a bit a single female blackcap becomes a pair of females and off on the grass two brambling are going back and forth to the bushes, in between all these arrivals the local linnets scurry about with beaks full of dry grass to build their nests.
Thinking this was something best shared I shot off up the road to Stan and Margaret’s house, They had been enjoying a fall that started at dusk last night with the arrival of a garden full of blackbirds followed by brambling and chiffchaffs. Some were still there and whilst Stan dragged himself from his office we managed chiffchaff a pair of redstart, robin, goldfinch and saw a breeding pair of Widgeon. So once ready to get going we decide to wander a bit and see what’s about after all we are right down at the south end and you couldn’t ask for better place for migrants dropping in. At the end of the road is a deserted house with an over grown garden.. It proves to be a disappointment full of starlings and sparrows and a fleeting glance of a small grey thing! Never mind onwards. Beyond this and over a couple of fields there is a promising stand of willow and scrub so we head there to give it ago. The threatening and rainy skies of earlier have broken up and the north wind has dropped to produce a bright spring day, even with the north wind its lovely to be out! Approaching down a track we crisscross a bit along a very rankly grown quarried bank and reach the trees end on looking down the length of them which is about eighty yards. Straight away its clear there is quite a bit of activity with birds at the far end actively fly catching from the fence and bushes!! Yefuckin ha !!!this is what we have come to see. The three of us move up the field of rank grass and settle down about twenty yards up where we gain a nice view along the trees and fence line. Settling in to the deep grassy tussocks activity is almost uninterrupted. Before us every thing sits in the lea of the wind its still and awash with warm sunshine, in front of the trees the ground is wet with marsh marigolds flowering and it is alive with flies and insects. This is an all you can eat bonanza and the hungry migrants were taking full advantage. Scanning along the fence with bins had four redstarts and three spot flys all diving in and out back to their perches. I have only ever had glimpses of redstarts and here they were en mass, superb!! There were plenty of other common migrants about with lesser white throats having a bit of a sing as we arrived. There were a good few of these about and they popped up over and over for the three hours we sat there. Three at the same time was the best count with them. The bottom end of the trees has a stand of fir and the chiffchaff seemed to be loving this, although it was far away you could see them constantly moving about flicking their tails and wings. I was going to return to the house for the scope but Margaret insisted on doing it, the girls a star as she returned with sarnies and kitkats.!!! It was a return not a moment to soon as well because a Pied flycatcher had started to hunt from a perch thirty yards away. This was a male, striking in its black and white plumage. At times it and the redstarts would be passing a few feet over our heads as they circled round to return to a perch. It was breath taking stuff.
All of this activity can help but produce some interest from hungry raptors and sure enough we had a sparrow hawk come tearing in at ground level and disappeared in to the trees. She soon popped back out and circled a couple of times before disappearing to the north. A little while later the birds scattered to cover again, this time a buzzard and a peregrine had a big falling out about two hundred feet above us. Both of them lost any chance of any thing and separated moving away. The redstarts almost immediately repapered . The males were calling quite a bit with a single repeated call that sounded like a male chaffinch or greenfinch. A reed bunting showed for a while and the calls of a pair of terns had us spinning round to see the first arctic terns any of us had seen this year pass over head, A robin appeared as well!, It seem you cant go anywhere for the last few weeks with out finding a robin !! You would think I couldn’t get better but it kept creeping up the scale. At one point we realised that there were two male pied flys in sight at the same time and I got a pic with pied and spotted and a chiffchaff all in the same frame. Photography was to prove challenging for me tho (I don’t know about Stans yet) the warmth produced a mad heat haze and the sunlight made exposures on the white feathers a nightmare but I digiscoped away like a mad thing getting a succession of soft images. Even this failed to dampen my spirits, I was in seventh heaven, hid was bliss.!! Im sitting here typing with one side of my face burnt red and I have a matching nose and I couldn’t care less!!!
I have never seen a fall of migrants so concentrated like this. It was the sort of thing you dream of on those cold winters night in front of the fire.
I really have no idea how many birds were in the trees but it was hooching!! This a list of the most seen at one time. 2 pied fly, 5 spot fly, 3 blackcap 3 lesser whitethroat, 1 reedbunting , 2 willow warbler, 4 chiffchaff , and best of all 7 redstart 5male ,2 female.

That was one of my best birding sessions….ever!!! it just went on and on and on!!!! The south parrish rocks!!!

May 6, 2012

Huge wimbrel fall in Stenness

I have just been out to see the Whimbrel flock that Erik Meek reported on orkbird.. They are in a field near Millquoy, Stenness. This is just up the back road to Stenness going from the mill of Ireland off the Orphir road The birds are in the fields to the right on the brow of the hill. There have been fifty or more and I counted twentyeight. Not only are they rare, unusual and fantastic sight but they also sound amazing as they are calling back and forth…don’t miss out as they will be gone all to soon.

May 2, 2012

Golden plover

We are getting passing migrants and from tine to time you can see visable migration but its been quite quiet on the rarity sightings. There has been a marked passage of Sea eagles over the last few days with birds heading in both directions a couple of times!!

Apr 23, 2012

A good day today, it started out with a game of spot the grouse

Apr 22, 2012

Bright and quiet day

I had a bit of a sparse day looking for migrants, Deerness produced a couple of Wheatear, Grindigar had a couple of obliging chiffchaffs that fed in view all the time I was there. A couple of Goldcrests also provided great entertainment coming over to the willows beside the seat to feed. Of course the camera wouldn’t focus on the goldies within the willow and I ended with a poor sort of record shot. My first swallow of the season shot over and there was stunning action from a sparrowhawk that made an attack through the branches of one of the largest trees.
From there I had a quick run to Graemshall to have a shot at the Garganey but no luck, I did have a gab with Keith Hague tho so it wasn’t a total washout! Ariving home after that the Orkney bird group on facebook had a report of a sea eagle over the harray hills an hour before so it was a rapid coffee then back up and out, not that it did me any good as it was nowhere to be found. I tracked down the hills through Evie and crossed back on the Hillside road and ended up at Durkdale. Here I went up to the scrub at the steadings. Willow warblers were in good voice but little else was to be seen or heard. Walking away after giving it up a repeated triple call of a single note brought my purposeful stride to a dead stop. The note had sounded like a black bird and I though could this be the ringed ouzels that I had spent a couple of hours looking for the other day. Virtually bounding over the electric fence then using the derelict buildings for cover I cautiously looked out for the source of the singing. In the darkness on the lower bough of a large bush a dark bird was singing these notes over and over. Binoculars on it and I can see a large very dark head with a bright white stripe above the eye, What the hell is that? The days main moment of excitement is soon deflated with the scope for as the bird leaps out it is obvious that it is a Redwing, still it is looking radiant in its fresh summer plumage but hardly the migrant I was hoping for. A good view later I headed over to the loons hide for a look before home, here three noisy Little grebe scooted about, a pair of Shoveler were in front of the hide and a couple pair of Widgeon pairing up was about all there was to be seen. All in all a very quiet day but never mind Its Rousay the morn, I have never been there and cant wait!!

Mystery moment

Chiffchaff at Grindigar

Apr 20, 2012

The brig at Lyra burn

Out and about on Hoy

Hoy today turned out to be a shorter visit than planed due to the boat being booked up on the late sailing, never mind we did have a few hours to mooch about. The plan was to go to the pine plantation on the Rackwick road and work our way back from there. The cruise up to the Rackwick road was a little rain spotted but fine enough and nice as it was to be back on Hoy I was about to get a nasty shock. The mature pine trees and most of the others that had once stood at the road side had been totally clear felled and new plantings put in. Im sure there will be a plenty of good reasons for this to have been done but to my eyes this is nothing but sheer vandalism. Tall mature pine trees are rare enough habitat across the Hoy heather and with a good mix of healthy trees intermixed with lots of dead wood to promote habitat for insects. I don’t have any problem with new plantings, the more the better but FFS why slaughter the trees!! (answers on the back of a twenty pound note and post them in to me c/o Bank of Scotland) Any way rants aside there was a fair bit of singing going on and we had a look for forty mins or so till the rain pushed us back in the disco. Willow warblers were well represented with at least seven singing at once. Robins were also well represented with one pair on a nest. I spied one returning with food in its beak and another time one made a food pass to another near the nest. There were three more about tho and these were singing and scrapping with each other. A single Redstart appeared on to of some brush and moved off as I tried to close the distance on it. As soon as it landed a car put it up again and that was the last it was seen! Male Hen harrier, Bonxie and Ravens all moved about the valley. Rain moved us to the burn below the where we had a very welcome coffee whilst the rain rattled of the car!! We had a mippet, Stans first Wheatear of the season, another Robin and more Willow warblers singing in the bushes as a pleasant accompaniment to our piece! Next stop was Lyra burn where we had a wee break from the rain. Mippits were rushing about, five willow warblers sang at once also four Wrens. The surprising thing was the total of eight robins that were moving about in a noisy fashion here as well. There has obviously been a fall of Willow warblers and Robins across the island.. Margaret and I clambered down the steep sides of the burn to get a few photos of the brig with the burn in spate before the returning rain moved us on to the Pegwell burn. Here with a cursory look about the only common migrants to be found were five willow warbler singing around us and three to five more vocal Robins! There were four wrens singing about us as well. Today I have seen and heard more Wrens than I have in the last two years!! Last stop before the boat was the Lyness plantation. The trees have taken a proper hammering over winter and have had cye in them as well so it was pretty boggy for wandering around., The trees were teeming with birds tho and we paddled about underneath them following flitting movements and song. Chaffinch abounded and their song makes an interesting comparison the Willow warblers we had been hearing. These aside we also found plenty of Gold crests a few more Willow warblers, Wrens, at least one coal tit. All to soon we had to drag our self’s out and head back for the boat. All in all we saw lots of Robins and Willow warblers but few other migrants but there were gull colony’s, bonxies on territory and plenty of the other usual suspects despite the off and on rain…..all good fun!

Apr 13, 2012

Bonxies are back

Heres a shot of Bonxies on there nesting grounds, newly arrived for the season.

Aurora right now!

Mar 14, 2012


Finaly back on line and below the house spread across the Harray fields there are 500+ pinkfooted geese. This is by far the bigest number since autum and just shows how the spring is coming on!!

Feb 22, 2012


Today it’s a wet old day outside with the clouds not only touching the ground but rolling across my garden! The relentless nature of it is in contrast with yesterday where we were just hit by the occasional prolonged shower as they rolled across us. The clarity of light was fantastic and it was this that drew me out yesterday. I was almost scuppered with a shower as I was leaving but it soon passed. I went to the Stenness kirk to look across the south end of Harray loch. A quiet approach revealed the water to be fairly teeming with birds. From the car park you have nice cover from the wall you get a nice view and some where to rest your elbows. Every where there were widgeon and tufted ducks geese pairs of goldeneye, along the shores were mallard and teal and a surprising amount of Gadwall. A pair of flocks of oystercatcher fed in the fields along with geese and starlings. As so often seems to happen I had just got thwe scope set up and was having a look through when rain started to rattle of my head and back. A look over the shoulder did not bode well with big dark wet stuff coming at me from the direction of the hills of Hoy. Caps on and of as quick as I can go I shoot up the road to the barnhouse hide. This is a couple of hundred yards up the loch side form where I have been watching but half a mile of road and a walk across the standing stones of Steness to reach the hide. The last bit to the hide is a board walk and my clump clump stealthy approach startles a brown pointy bird from under the wooden path and it runs quickly through the gap in the fence and disappears. It looked to me for all the world to be a water rail and excitedly I stood there thinking was that or wasn’t it was that or wasn’t it for a moment before getting inside the hide. Now this hide has a view over a wide loch and often has a lot of action on the far banks in the fields, this is a place for binoculars as a minimum but you really need a scope. Looking out in front there are only a few tufted, goldeneye and about fifteen mute swans close in. Looking across the loch and its another story. Through the scope a long length of bank some of it with a lagoon behind it fall into view. Tracking down it from the farthest point towards Lochside we have a large gull roost with a couple of cormorants on the rocky shore further we can see widgeon 300 strong grazing the field edge, a party of five hoodie crows and then a flock of Oystercatcher, these number just under 300 as well. All along the waters edge are Widgeon interspersed with Mallard, Teal, Curlew in small groups dot the waters edge. It is a matter of moving the scope and the next flock falls into view. Below a cattle trough a flock of Widgeon are preening away above them in the field are Oystercatchers with Golden plover mixed in and feeding , around the edges of all these a flock of Fieldfares pick away. Three different geese flocks are feeding in view and one of these near Masehow is joined by a couple of hundred more. There nosy approach gives great opportunities for long long tracking shots with the scope. Its very absorbing watching birds in flight like this. I was to get another shot at it momentarily as I picked up a Male henharrier crossing the loch. He stayed in view for a big long pan looking resplendent in the light and filled the eye piece!! Barnhouse was fairly doing its stuff today , there are times when it might produce a couple of dark specs in the distance and be a cold wind swept hole but not today!! Today there must be 2000 birds out there and the whole spectacle is hugely diverse and absorbing to view. A quick twich is a bit of fun but I do like to chill out and sink into it for a couple of hours, saying this you would think it couldn’t get much better but fate was to take a hand. A Short eared owl was hunting along the shore line and approaching the hide, I sat frozen as it passed only feet away. As soon as it passed out of my eyesight I squeaked my lips to make the sound of a mouse in distress getting eaten. This is a trick that can draw cattys towards you in the field if your lucky!!. Anyway the owl circled again To look for the source of the noise from the right hand side. I squeaked once again as it passed and to my delight it reappeared again from the other side and looked right in the windows from only a few feet away!!. With this tho it moved away along the shore and I went back to gazing into the distance. Within fifteen minutes it reappeared coming over the top of the hide screeching and turns quickly to flap and hover right above the shore line, as it does this another screech comes from above the hide and a second bird joins the first and they spin about over the loch interacting closely and nosily together. Love is obviously in the air and the pair reaper minutes later circling the hide several times. On one of these passes one of the owls changes from the screeching cries to hooting! I didn’t know they did this at all, I had never heard it before but it was hooting away like a good un!!. This is as close as I have been to Short ears as they begin to pair up. It is unbelievably exciting!!. Of course I manage to get the camera out and surreptitiously shoot some photos but the ones that did catch an owl look very distant and disappointing. At one stage one of them flew to the lochs far bank and then headed back straight to the hide and I had stunning eye to eye contact as it headed directly in to the scope on its approach! A third circle of the hide and the pair were gone, things soon quietened down again. It was now the back of four and I decided to get a move on. Heading towards the end of the board walk I was to get one last treat as a pouncing owl dropped out the sky on to prey in the barnhouse neolitic village. It lifted off holding a small rodent and was joined by its partner and the pair headed off towards Stenness…a perfect end to an afternoon’s damp bird watching!!

Feb 19, 2012

Last nights aurora

Here are some shots of last nights aurora. It was first called by Shetland wildlife on facebook and in no time at all (at about midnight) the sky was beginning to lighten down here as well. The display was a flat glow for a long time. This glow would change to an arc across the north east from time to time. Snowy squalls obscured the display but it doggedly remained shining. As it approached 3am It began to gain some movement and pillars of light began to shine upwards and down from the arc to make a more dynamic display. With this tho the snow returned once more and completely blacked out the view to the north and that was enough for me, chilled I decided to give it up for the night !!....roll on the next display!!