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!!

Feb 16, 2012

Ross's goose?

This is the Ross’s goose that’s hanging out with greylags in an area around the decca station Dounby. At the moment there has been no positive id on the bird. It maybe that its an escape from a collection or garden, after all a great many decide the grass looks greener on the free side of the fence. Lecuistic birds and domestics make up much of the white geese we see in wintering flocks, then to confuse things more there are the Snow geese. There are a few escapees dotted about geese flocks all over the UK and trying to split them up into proper wild birds and plastics is often the cause of contention. Over on Copinsay there is at least one snow goose that’s wintered there for a couple of years. If its migrated the summer grounds of those greylags then I personally would have to vote them as wild birds. Back to the Ross’s though. This is a goose that is similar to Snow geese and mixes freely with them, they are also almost identical which didn’t bode well for ID. Once we eventually located the bird (parking besides Morris a good location tip) The bird fell in to view. It was petite compared to the lags it was with. The smallish head and short neck were obvious as it moved about feeding and stretching. The black primary’s were folded well back but obvious when the wings were stretched. The black turned to grey as the colour moved back along the wings and not only the primary dark but the secondary’s as well. This is something the doesn’t sit well for an ID but may well be the last stages of the bird moulting into its adult plumage. The bill was short with no sign of the Snow gooses grin patch. Both legs were clear of rings and as the birds all went up the small size of the Ross,s was obvious to see amongst the greylags. I don’t ken what the pros will make of it but I can see no reason that this isnt an arctic bird that should have headed south of its range to winter in southern California or Mexico but has ended up here on the wrong side of the atlantic. After all if Purple sandpipers and Wheatears can do it I cant see why this bird didn’t follow the same route as well….tick I reckon!!.....Well a couple of hours later and i have been looking at Morris's pics on orkbird and am a lot less sure of my stance now. The bill looks a bit off compered to the photos of the five that have been seen in the UK over the last twelve days....standing back and holding my breath now...lol

Feb 3, 2012

Out east today

We had a particularly fine afternoon birding in bright and still weather. A blast out east to see the local celeb birds seemed in order. First off Alfie and I had a peep in and managed to see the Long eared owls. They were fairly flighty so we shot off quick and left them to it. A quick pear across the neepy field nearby produced a mixed finch flock with Twite and a few Linnet along with a mass of Pigeons. A run down to the beach then and we immediately lighted on Morris’s grey plover hanging out at the end of the sands. This was accompanied by a few Turnstones and Ringed plover on the sand and a few Purple sandpipers on the rocky point. The bay held small numbers of Long tailed duck and mergansers but little else. Retracing our steps a bit we backtracked to the slip at Newark bay in the hope of finding the Grey phalarope that was there a couple of days ago. This wasn’t to be tho and my second dip on a grey phal in a week rolled over me…mmmm…The whole shore here was in the last stage of the falling tide and was devoid of birds. Below us as we looked from the car park Turnstones and Purple sands picked away feeding. Nice but not enough to keep us fixated and the decision to jump in the car and head for St Peters pool parking spot had scopes quickly down and heaved in the boot with a flurry. It might be bright but it was decidedly chilly on the newly shorn lugs !! Its only a short haul to the pool and as we come down the hill where it is visible before us its obvious there is a lot of activity across the exposed sands. The parking is at the far side and has the advantage of having the sun kind of behind us for the view. Although the sun has begun its slow climb in the sky its still pretty mean here after midday and a cap with a peak is a major bonus in the afternoons. Parking up we jump out quick, ultimate driving machine they may be but you cant see worth a fuck through BMW windscreens with bins!! Before us to the left on the waters edge a flock of thirty Dunlin were scratching about accompanied by a couple of Oyster catchers. Little more was in front of us tho and the main flocks are way beyond the groins. They scope out well and there is a huge amount of life across there all be it a long way away!! Its not a hard decision next and we pick our way down the slippery rubble and on to the sandy shore and walk in on the birds. On a big open beach if you approach steadily and don’t faff about you can walk down on the feeding birds without spooking them and get in to close enough proximity to enjoy superb views. We reach the line of concrete blocks left over from the war (I think) beyond this a flock of Oystercatcher raise up there heads and become aware of us as we stop for the first time and stand up tripods. They are backed by a flock of Ringed plover and with them and beyond are Dunlin. In a slow perceptible wave they seem to lift up and swing enmass to land a hundred yards further down the beach. As it slowly settles we move forwards again, beneath our feet the grey sands are littered with shells of all sizes but mainly cockles. Here and there are tracks where cockles have moved over the surface and every where bird tracks! Another hundred yards and we are right on top of feeding Ringed plover with the main body of the flocks getting closer and closer. In the distance flocks are rising and falling back to the ground with a long flock not moving or preening looking well settled. A good view of these soon proves them to be a flock of Knot. The Plover and Dunlin take to the air swing and settle before all coming up once again to disappear behind us some where. The last move forwards takes us another couple of hundred yards and now we have an outstanding view of the lot, its even begun to surround and envelop us. This is what it is all about!! We are static, no immediate threat and largely ignored, spot on. In view 60 Widgeon, 20 odd Dunter, 30 Curlew 3 Hoodies, 125 Bar tailed godwit 1 Blacktailed godwit, 150 Knot, 3-500 Dunlin, 150 Ringed plover, 130 Oystercatchers. There was more than this spread about but it was fast counting to get an idea of what was about across the shore. In the cold bright clear light the views through the scopes were stunning taking you right in to the heart of the action. All of this consumed an hour and enjoyable as it was we withdrew and moved slowly out retracing out steps along the waters edge. The return was a bit in to the sun with the car looking like it was miles away but we were back soon enough. Next stop was Burray, here we headed for the back of the Sands. Some where in here was our last east side celebrity of the day. Pulling up at the small slip the first bird we see is the wintering Whimbrel we have come to look for. This bird is quite famous in birding circles here and has wintered for a few years at least along this small piece of shore. This tho is the first time I have seen it although I might have during the bird race last year, cant mind. If all birds were as easy to find as this today it would be a cushy life !! There’s still a little light left yet so we shoot over to the forth barrier beach for a look and at the far end of the beach there is a small flock of waders. Moving to the other end we have the sun behind us and fantastic views of a flock of thirty or more Sanderling skittering about the edge of the wee breaking waves. I love these birds with there vibrant white and black bar and there never ending energetic search for food. All to soon tho dog walkers bear down and they are gone, moving to and fro even landing right by us before disappearing far down the rocky shore. Its enough for us tho The sun is low and the temperature seems to be dropping fast. Time to wend wur way back to town well replete after our wee birding feast!!…The last birds of the day would have to be the roost of Curlew along the Holm village shore there must have been hundreds between the Commodore and the pier in the gathering gloom…lovely jublly