Wednesday, 7 October 2015

6th October

In strong easterlies and what seemed like relentless driving rain the best description for today was 'character building'. It was tough going out there (for birds as well as birders) and by the afternoon most had retreated to the sanctuary of the Obs - frustrating as there were clearly a lot of birds on the island. The Northern Harrier remained the main attraction and other non-passerines included 9 Grey Herons, 41 Barnacle Geese, 13 Pink-footed Geese, a Hen Harrier, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, 2 Grey Plovers, 3 Jack Snipes, 3 Woodcocks, 3 Woodpigeons and a Short-eared Owl. The smaller passerines were trickier, and those we managed to identify (there were a lot we didn't through rain soaked bins) were a Grey Wagtail, 11 Robins, a Dunnock, Redstart, Whinchat, 4 Ring Ouzels, 57 Blackbirds, 3 Fieldfares, 94 Song Thrushes, 297 Redwings, 6 Blackcaps, 8 Yellow-browed Warblers, 2 Chiffchaffs, 46 Goldcrests, 2 Chaffinch, 8 Bramblings, a Northern Bullfinch (first since 2013), 3 Lapland Buntings and 643 Snow Buntings.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

5th October

Another hard day in the field for the team, but this time for all the right reasons as the south-east wind blew strong and brought plenty of birds to the isle. A Little Bunting on the rocks at Trinly in the morning was the highlight with this (or perhaps a second individual) not too far away at Upper Linnay late afternoon. Other highlights included the male Northern Harrier still, 2 Barred Warblers (Senness and Holland), another wave of 17 Yellow-browed Warblers and an obliging Long-eared Owl at the Lighthouse. There was the first significant arrival of Redwings with birds around the observatory and already leaving to the south from dawn with  392 counted, although other thrush totals were still relatively low coming to 4 Fieldfares, 2 Ring Ouzels and 11 Song Thrushes. Other birds grounded by the conditions included 2 Short-eared Owls, 5 Woodpigeons, 93 Skylarks (some of which headed out south with the Redwings), a Tree Pipit, 3 Grey Wagtails, 2 Robins, a Redstart, 42 Wheatears, a handful of other warblers including a Siberian Chiffchaff in Kirbest ditch, 20 Goldcrests, a Pied Flycatcher, Goldfinch, 8 Lapland Buntings and 605 Snow Buntings. Another wildfowl record was broken with the 375 Barnacle Geese recorded passing south in 6 flocks, just bettering the previous high. There were also another 12 Whooper Swans, just 23 Pink-0footed Geese today and 2 juvenile Hen Harriers included one which headed out south to sea from the Obs in the evening. A pretty exciting day, and if we can see through the rain - tomorrow could be even better...

Little Bunting (photo Espen Quinto-Ashman) 
Barnacle Geese (photo Mark Warren)

Sunday, 4 October 2015

4th October

Nicer weather but quieter on the bird front. The male Northern Harrier performed much better today being seen a number of times while new in were 2 Hen Harriers (adult male and juvenile). There was also a marked increase in Wheatears to 59 (after just 18 yesterday) and Rock Pipits to 27. A Barred Warbler was near Scottigar and 2 Yellow-browed Warblers in Holland gardens were the best passerines with 2 Goldcrests, 2 Siskins, 3 Goldfinch, 3 Lapland Buntings and at least 500 Snow Buntings also seen. Another 363 Pink-footed Geese passed over while on calmer seas 21 Red-throated Divers and 3 Great Northern Divers were counted plus a minimum of 19 Harbour Porpoise plus and a few unidentified Cetaceans.
Northern Harrier (photo George Gay)

Barred Warbler (photo Mark Warren)
Storm Petrel - juvenile found at the Pier and later released back to the sea (photo George Gay)

3rd October

Most of the days action revolved around the sea-watch hide where a lengthy session in the morning yielded plenty of passing sea-birds on the seaward side meanwhile the days highlight were lurking just behind it on the inland side! These were 2 Buff-breasted Sandpipers which showed well from mid-morning and presumably was the individual from a few days ago having been joined by another. Totals from 3.5 hours from the hide in calm conditions from first light produced 158 Sooty Shearwaters (with another 15 from casual observations), 2 Manx Shearwaters, 1829 Fulmars (including 4 blue phase), 3295 Gannets, 3 adult Pomarine Skuas, an Arctic Skua, 12 Great Skuas, 315 Kittiwakes, a 'Commic' Tern, 4 Puffins and 1393 Auk sp. The male Northern Harrier was seen early morning but not subsequently while 6 Yellow-browed Warblers included several newcomers. Another Pomarine Skua was seen off the south end of the island, 18 Whooper Swans and 473 Pink-footed Geese moved through south while 11 Pintails and 3 Jack Snipe were on the island while new passerines were a Robin, 2 Grey Wagtails, a Song Thrush, 19 Redwings, Garden Warbler and a Brambling.

 Buff-breasted Sandpipers (both photos George Gay)
Pink-footed Goose (photo Mark Warren)

2nd October

A challenging day in the field with a blustery westerly wind and frequent showers making it difficult to find new birds. It came as something of a surprise when Pink-footed Geese began to struggle south over the island again with 912 doing so in total. Other new birds were at a premium with just a Goldfinch at Nether Linnay and 2 Bramblings standing out but the Northern Harrier continued to entertain as it toured the island. Many of the recent scarcities had either moved on or were keeping a low-profile in the wind with just 4 Whooper Swans, 2 Jack Snipe, 5 Black-headed Gulls, the Collared Dove and House Martin, 2 Redwings, 2 Lapland Buntings and 397 Snow Buntings of note.

Lapland Bunting (photo George Gay) 
Goldfinch (photo Mark Warren)

1st October

After struggling to find many new species for the year during September, there were two 'year ticks' today despite the strong, cool westerly wind. A Buff-breasted Sandpiper (first since 2012) feeding with other waders on the Links golf course attracted an admiring crowd while a Slavonian Grebe close offshore of Stennabrek, while also appreciated was very much overdue after none in spring. The male Northern Harrier was seen at numerous locations during the day, the Richard's Pipit briefly at Sandar in the morning only and 2 Yellow-browed Warblers lingered. Wildfowl on the move included 28 Whooper Swans and 320 Pink-footed Geese south and after yesterdays near miss, the Tufted Duck day-record was broken with 69 birds present on Bridesness Loch along with the 4 Pochards. Also seen were 2 Barnacle Geese, a Jack Snipe, a late juvenile Lesser black-backed Gull, the Collared Dove and House Martin, 2 Song Thrushes, a Pied Flycatcher, 9 Lapland Buntings and 430 Snow Buntings.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper (middle, photo George Gay) 
 Slavonian Grebe (photo George Gay)
Lesser black-backed Gull (photo Mark Warren)

Thursday, 1 October 2015

30th September

A bright and sunny day with a moderate southerly wind was clearly perfect  conditions to prompt a significant Goose movement over the island (so they hadn't all passed just yet). Skein after skein of Pink-footed Geese could noisily be heard overhead, mainly during a 4 hour period (10.30-14.30) with a total of 2248 recorded of which 2230 went out south. A couple of flocks of Whooper Swans also passed through totalling 29 birds (with the long-staying single still at Bridesness) and the first 2 Barnacle Geese tagged onto the Pinkies. The male Northern Harrier continued to show well, mainly in the south-east and at one point it was seen tussling with a Short-eared Owl while 3 Kestrels, 2 Merlins and 2 Peregrines were also noted. Increased wildfowl and wader figures resulted in a record equalling flock of 57 Tufted Ducks at Bridesness where there were also 4 Pochards, 281 Wigeon mainly occupied the coast, 321 Lapwing, 246 Snipe, a Jack Snipe, 7 Black-tailed Godwits and a late Common Sandpiper was at the Pier. The Richard's Pipit was re-found at Sandar and there was also a Tree Pipit, Whinchat, Barred Warbler (Holland), 9 Yellow-browed Warblers, a Spotted Flycatcher, 7 Lapland Buntings and 725 Snow Buntings seen.

Pink-footed Geese (photo Mark Warren)
Whooper Swans (photo Mark Warren)
Yellow-browed Warbler (Photo Mark Warren)

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

29th September

The stunning moon and clear skies overnight resulted in the seemingly inevitable 'clear out' this morning. That said, we did still manage to unearth 11 Yellow-browed Warblers,  so goodness knows how many were present yesterday evening. Most other birds were non-movers with the Northern Harrier present all day, a Barred Warbler at the Observatory but there were now 4 Lapland Buntings while Snow Buntings are creeping ever closer to a record count with 762 on the isle. A good flock of 50 Tufted Ducks was on Bridesness Loch, 37 Pink-footed Geese passed over, 6 Ruff were still with us while a House Martin and Tree Pipit were the best of the rest.

 Lapland Bunting (photo Espen Quinto-Ashman)
Tufted Ducks (photo George Gay)

28th September

A still and largely quiet morning with a developing southerly breeze brought a sudden flurry of birds late on - we can't help but feel we missed a trick today! The handsome male Northern Harrier continues to delight while the new birds resulted in 30 Redwings, 3 Tree Pipits, 13 Rock Pipits, a Whinchat, 3 Barred Warblers (Ides Taing, School, Obs), 6 Yellow browed Warblers, 2 Pied Flycatchers, 2 Lapland Buntings and 719 Snow Buntings being counted. An arrival of Wildfowl also saw counts of 237 Wigeon, 183 Teal, 3 Gadwall, 13 Shoveler and 9 Red-breasted Mergansers but we're starting to think Pink-footed Goose passage has been and gone overnight with just 5 seen today. A 2 hour sea-watch yielded totals of 24 Sooty Shearwaters, 272 Fulmars (including to 'blue' phase), 41 Kittiwakes, 3 Puffins and 407 Auk sp and the best of the waders were 13 Black-tailed Godwits and a Jack Snipe.

 Barred Warbler (photo George Gay)
 Yellow-browed Warblers (both photos Espen Quinto Ashman)

Sunday, 27 September 2015

27th September

A light southerly wind and sunshine for most of the day didn't really seem likely to produce many new arrivals but nonetheless, a good day's birding was still had by all. The male Northern Harrier performed well all day (including a flypast of the Obs during breakfast!) and in the afternoon it was joined by 2 other Hen Harriers - first a juvenile which was seemingly escorted into leaving the island to the south and then by an adult male which offered great comparison. An adult Pomarine Skua past Bridesness was the first of the autumn, with a juvenile Arctic Skua also in Nouster Bay and 7 Great Skuas seen. Newcomers on the land were limited to a Collared Dove, 3 Whinchats with 2 Yellow-browed Warblers (Holland and Senness) and 501 Snow Buntings also around. Both Meadow and Rock Pipit numbers increased as more birds passed through with 301 and 14 respectively and also up were Bar-tailed Godwits to 63 birds.
 Northern Harrier (right) and juvenile Hen Harrier (photo George Gay)
 Snipe (photo Jonathan Scragg)
Twite (photo Jonathan Scragg)

26th September

Heavy rain in the morning cleared to a generally grey day but some good birds made up for the dreary conditions. Absent during the first half, there was much relief for newly arrived birders when the male Northern Harrier reappeared and showed well in the afternoon. An elusive Richard's Pipit in the Breck/Sandar area was the best new arrival while also of note were another 201 Pink-footed Geese south, 3 Yellow-browed Warblers and a Lapland Bunting at Nether Linnay. On calmer seas 12 Red-throated Divers, 6 Great Northern Divers and 2 Sooty Shearwaters were recorded and increasing numbers of wildfowl returned figures of 173 Wigeons, 43 Tufted Ducks, a Pintail and 5 Red-breasted Mergansers. Similarly, waders on the up included 231 Snipe, 2 Jack Snipe and 25 Black-tailed Godwits while 2 Sparrowhawks, 3 Kestrels and 2 Merlins were the other raptors seen. A group of 8 Ravens south was the second flock of the week, a Robin was new but a Whitethroat, 2 Lesser Whitethroats and many of the 413 Snow Buntings were likely lingering birds.

Jack Snipe (photo George Gay)

25th September

Wow! Wow! Wow! Today we were treated to something really special, of real quality which was wholly unexpected. There was much sprinting about over tussock fields followed by some 'wacky racers' like speeding around the island in Landrovers from mid-morning after a totally stunning, adult or sub-adult male NORTHERN HARRIER flew past Mark at Lairds Park mid-morning. This, about the tenth British record of the North American form of our Hen Harrier went on to perform spectacularly as it toured the island for the rest of the day. It subsequently transpired this was the 'Hen Harrier' seen yesterday and though currently not recognised as a full species by the UK committee's, this position seems likely to change in the near future - either way it is one fantastic looking raptor! There were some other new birds seen today with the first 3 Lapland Buntings of the autumn in fields at Greenwall, 5 Yellow-browed Warblers spread about the island and another high count of 441 Snow Buntings. There was the first significant movement of Pink-footed Geese with 418 heading south while 41 Tufted Ducks at Bridesness was also a good count. Other odds and ends included 8 Grey Herons, a female Sparrowhawk, Jack Snipe and 12 Black-tailed Godwits.

 Northern Harrier (All 3 photos by George Gay)

Friday, 25 September 2015

24th September

A bright and sunny morning transformed later in the afternoon with some horrible, heavy showers in a light westerly wind. Our second Common Buzzard of the year, over the north of the isle was a surprise arrival and along a similar theme a Hen Harrier was also new. Another 70 Pink-footed Geese passed south in 3 flocks hinting at things to come while 10 Red-throated Divers were seen off the coasts, 2 Sooty Shearwaters on a brief sea-watch and there were 2 Little Stints at Bridesness Loch. An obliging Red-breasted Flycatcher at Howar was the pick of the passerines and also of note were 3 Redwings, 17 Yellow-browed Warblers, a handful of other warblers which included yesterdays Barred Warbler and a Whitethroat, 5 Goldcrests, 2 Siskins, a male Crossbill and an impressive 499 Snow Buntings.

 Goldcrest and Snow Bunting (photos George Gay)

23rd September

Once again there was a small number of newcomers to encourage current visitors and staff alike to continue with their quest for that elusive rarity! Most of the movement was early on with some visible passage which included a flock of 13 Ravens (north), 57 Skylarks (of which 33 went south), 431 Meadow Pipits and at least 260 Snow Buntings - likely many more. Counts of grounded passerines came to 3 Whinchats, a smart Redstart, 2 Fieldfares, 3 Song Thrushes, 10 Redwings, a Barred Warbler trapped and ringed at Holland gardens, 3 Lesser Whitethroat - including an interesting individual with biometrics and characteristics of the Siberian form 'blythi', 15 Yellow-browed Warblers, 9 Goldcrests and a Tree Sparrow. The first 5 Pink-footed Geese of the autumn moved south in the afternoon and there were also still at least 2 Little Stints at the north end, the Wood Sandpiper and 2 Jack Snipe were flushed.

 Pink-footed Goose (photo George Gay)
Tree Sparrow (photo George Gay)

 'Potentially interesting' Lesser Whitethroat (photos Samuel Perfect)

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

22nd September

A light north-easterly wind did the trick, bringing a long overdue rarity (although recently downgraded in status by several influxes) in the form of a Blyth's Reed Warbler in the weedy fields at Senness. This the thirteenth island record and first since 2013 remained elusive so was trapped and ringed to confirm identification beyond any doubt. At least 13 Yellow-browed Warblers were present and some of these were likely to be new individuals following yesterdays major arrival. A Rosefinch at Breck was probably the bird seen at the weekend and the Red-breasted Flycatcher remained in Holland gardens. Also seen on the passerine front were 3 Whinchats, 51 Wheatears, 2 Fieldfares, 6 Song Thrushes, the first Redwing of the autumn, a Lesser Whitethroat, 2 Garden Warblers, 9 Blackcaps, 3 Goldcrests and 164 Snow Buntings. A mobile Wood Sandpiper was probably new, at least 4 (possibly 8) Little Stints remained at the north end, a Jack Snipe was at Ancum Willows and Black tailed Godwits and Ruffs increased to 29 and 11 respectively.

Blyth's Reed Warbler (photo Espen Quinto-Ashman) 
Yellow-browed Warbler (photo Stephen Rutt)
Blackcap (photo George Gay)