In-between the storms, wind and rain we are getting the occasional 'spring' like day with the 25th particularly pleasant as Lapwings launched into full display and there was a trickle of Skylarks south over the Observatory. Black-headed Gulls have also increased in number, 26 being logged on 24th, the first adult Lesser-black backed Gull was at Kirbest on 25th while both juvenile Glaucous Gulls were seen again on 24th, with the 'south' individual on 25th. A few weeks ago we suspected there to be a second Greenland White-fronted Goose present when a juvenile with a more advanced white 'blaze' was seen regularly near Holland House. At the time we put this down to development of the original bird, but that individual was seen again at Greenwall (minus the white blaze) on 24th, with bird 2 near Holland again on 25th. The 7 Barnacle Geese remain, as does the Woodpigeon, the Grey Plover and 70 Snow Buntings were at the south end on 25th. A Peregrine, 2 Merlin's plus at least 2 Hen Harriers performed frequent fly-bys, including a rather un-streaked looking, bright orange below juvenile male we've been trying to (unsuccessfully) photograph for some weeks now....
The most productive day was the 18th, when there were further signs of spring. An influx of Thrushes to Holland gardens saw a total of 92 Fieldfares, 80 Redwings, 30 Blackbirds and 3 Song Thrushes recorded and better still were 2 Siskins at Greenwall-only the 2nd February and 3rd winter record for the isle. A Lesser-blacked backed Gull was off Hooking the same day while the 2 Glaucous Gulls were seen from time to time with both birds noted on 20th. Otherwise it's been more of the same with the Green-winged Teal still at Gretchen (19th and 20th), the Tundra Bean Goose by the school (18th), the Greenland White-fronted Goose near the airfield (18th and 22nd) with 2 Pink-footed Geese and the 7 Barnacle Geese also still present. A few Black-headed Gulls are now being seen daily (5 on 20th), the Grey Plover and 1 of the Woodpigeons remain along with a Chaffinch, 30 Twite and 42 Snow Buntings (all 22nd).
Nothing major to report from a glorious 14th (Valentines Day and all that!) while a seriously windy 15th saw only the second Iceland Gull of the year, a 3rd winter sheltering at Bewan Loch with the 2 Glaucous Gulls also still present. The wind however had changed to a south-easterly direction for the first time in a while and with heavy rain overnight, the trusted combination of nice day (14th) to get things moving, followed by south east wind and rain (15th) delivered a few unexpected early migrants to the island on the 16th. Unless you spend the winter in the Northern Isles there was nothing too exciting but the first Jack Snipe of the year, 2 Woodpigeons, a new Chaffinch, at least 2 new Song Thrushes, perhaps half a dozen new male Blackbirds and a 100 strong flock of Redwings (40) and Fieldfares (60) make for a reasonable days birding in mid-February. Twite numbers are also on the increase and the trapping of birds has revealed some turnover and the presence of returning individuals from past winters. The 2 single Tundra Bean Geese remain at Westness and Hooking respectively, as does the Green-winged Teal and the adult male Hen Harrier has also performed a couple of flypasts of the obs.
A little bit of change the last few days with some spring like weather even encouraging a few birds to sing or display. Skylarks were heard in song on a glorious 11th and a couple were noted passing out to sea south-east on 13th so the signs that winter may be giving way are certainly there. There was also much excitement early on 12th when a Woodpigeon was seen outside the observatory and this was followed the next day by our second Brambling of the winter at Bridesness. The same 2 Glaucous Gulls continue to roam around the island while the drake Green-winged Teal remains and was even seen displaying among a group of half a dozen drake Teal on 11th!! Shelduck have built up to 6 and an influx of Waders to the wet fields at the south end of the island included 8 Knot, 68 Dunlin and 59 Ringed Plover with the Grey Plover also in attendance. Meanwhile, 43 Fieldfares and 20 Redwings were counted on 12th and 24 Twite included a dozen caught and ringed in the newest Heligoland trap.
And a shocking photo through a dirty window of the Woodpigeon-but it was quite exciting!!
Very little change so far this month, in what has been a fairly uneventful birding year...so far! Up to 2 juvenile Glaucous Gulls continue to roam around, both being seen on 10th on which date presumably the same Greenland White-fronted Goose was relocated near the Surgery. The Grey Plover was still with the Golden Plover flocks, but now at the south end it was joined by the first 2 Knot of the year on 8th-9th. The Wigeon x American Wigeon hybrid was again at Bridesness on 9th along with a couple of Shelducks while a count of 18 Goldeneyes together off Bewan on 10th was the highest for a number of years. At least 4 different Hen Harriers have been recorded but with no more than 2 on any given day and 44 Snow Buntings were logged on 10th.
Well the weather has definitely improved, with the wind easing proving particularly welcome and there was even a bit of sunshine on 3rd. Lingering highlights were the drake Green-winged Teal at Bridesness (5th), the juvenile Glaucous Gull around the Observatory/Nouster (1st, 3rd and 5th), 2 different Tundra Bean Geese with singles still at Westness (3rd-4th) and the School (5th) and the Greenland White-fronted Goose near Greenwall (3rd and 5th). Calm sea's on the 5th allowed a good look around the south and east coast of the island and yielded a good winter total of 17 Great Northern Divers with 2 Red-throated Divers also seen and Black Guillemots much more evident with 36 offshore. The Wigeon x American Wigeon hybrid was off Bridesness again and other wildfowl tally's from that part of the island came to 247 Wigeon, 181 Teal, 45 Mallards, 12 Shovelers and the Pochard was seen again. 3 Whooper and 4 Mute Swans remain and raptors have been well represented with up to 3 Hen Harriers (including an adult male 3rd), a male Peregrine and 2 Merlins. Passerines remain few and far between but up to 40 each of Fieldfare and Redwings, the Chaffinch, Linnet and at least 16 Snow Buntings were all seen during the period.
More wet and windy weather but it has become distinctly colder now the wind has switched to the north. The 28th was a day indoors, but familiar highlights from the rest of the period were the Green-winged Teal at Bridesness, a Tundra Bean Goose near Hooking (both 29th) and the lingering Glaucous Gull has found a dead Seal at Nouster (30th-31st) with a second juvenile at the Lighthouse (31st). A group of 4 Mute Swans on Garso Loch (31st) were new for the year while the 3 Whooper Swans, 2 Pink-footed and 7 Barnacle Geese all remain. A large flock of 115 Snow Buntings at the south end (30th) was notable, with a few others seen elsewhere, while 16 Fieldfares near Holland (30th) may have included some new birds and the Chaffinch soldiers on at the Observatory.
A bit more 'white-winger' action on 24th with 3 Glaucous Gulls (2 juveniles and a 2nd winter) at Bridesness and all were thought different to the lingering bird of last week. Also on 24th, the Green-winged Teal was on Gretchen (and again on 26th), 2 Tundra Bean Geese were at Hooking and the Grey Plover was still in fields at Viggay. A surprise highlight on 25th was a male Brambling found feeding on seed put out for Snow Buntings at the entrance of the new heligoland trap and it was quickly caught and ringed soon after. 10 minutes of birding that same afternoon saw a 3rd winter Iceland Gull and a juvenile Glaucous Gull fly south past Gretchen-the latter was considered to be the bird last seen feeding on dead things on 22nd and it along with another juvenile (the 5th individual of the period) were on Torness together on 26th. There was also a Tundra Bean Goose (at least 3 individuals are present on the island) at Westness that day while a Pochard at Bridesness on 27th was new for the year.
Little change the last few days, but perhaps some rougher weather forecast for next week will shake things up a bit. The Glaucaus Gull was still at Kirbest on 20th while an unseasonal Lesser black-backed Gull was at Bridesness on 21st. A Tundra Bean Goose near the school on 22nd may well have been last week's bird and the Green-winged Teal was noted on Gretchen Locha again on 23rd. The best of the rest were 3 Linnets with the Chaffinch at the Observatory and a Woodcock on 21st, with the 7 Barnacle Geese, 2 Pink-footed Geese and a Shelduck present throughout.
Time will tell but checks of most of the island have shown that many of the last years late highlights appeared to have moved on. Just the 1 Tundra Bean Goose has been found so far (at Lochend on 19th), with just a single Pink-footed Goose (18th-19th), the 7 Banacle Geese and the Greenland White-fronted Goose remaining. The Green-winged Teal was on Gretchen Loch again (18th) and what looks like the same Glaucous Gull was near Kirbest (19th). While numbers of wintering Redwing and Fieldfares seem to be lower than usual there are plenty more Blackbirds and Robins than in recent years. The Chaffinch was joined by a Linnet at the Observatory and there are likely 100 each of Snow Bunting and Twite spread about the Isle, but the passerine highlight by far was a presumed wintering Black Redstart at Senness (19th).
The first day back in the field of 2015 was a blustery affair, with a strong southerly wind making for difficult birding (but we're used to that!). Leftovers from last year included the drake Green-winged Teal in flooded fields near Gretchen and the juvenile Greenland White-fronted Goose still near the school. Considering the conditions there were relatively few Gulls than expected but a 1st winter Glaucous Gull was in fields at Hooking and a storm driven Little Gull fed in the swell off Bridesness. There were also 2 Black-tailed Godwits at the latter site, registering the species third consecutive year wintering on the island while a Grey Plover in fields with a flock of Golden Plovers was odd. At least 2 Hen Harriers were seen while passerines were limited to the occasional Thrush, 40 Twite, 54 Snow Buntings and a lingering Chaffinch.
Apologies for the lack of updates, island internet has been down since the 2nd week of December and has only recently been restored. Staff have also been away over the festive period but regular sightings updates will resume from the 15th January (although a Little Auk flew past the Observatory window this afternoon and a Glaucous Gull was at the north end yesterday).
There's been a definite 'chill' in the air as a strong north-westerly wind and frequent hail or sleet showers can make for unpleasant conditions. A couple of late Chiffchaffs on 5th included a ringed 'tristis' type at Brigg and there was an equally late (or perhaps even wintering) Black Redstart at Hooking on 6th. A check of the waders on the links the same day saw 45 Ringed Plovers and 76 Dunlin counted and 25 Shovelers were on the loch at Hooking. The drake Green-winged Teal has been present throughout and the hybrid American x Eurasian Wigeon reappeared on the latter two dates. Some other good counts of ducks were made on the 7th amounting to 407 Wigeons, 10 Gadwalls, 177 Teal, 20 Pintails, 33 Tufted Ducks, 20 Long-tailed Ducks, 8 Goldeneyes and 338 Eiders. There were still 12 Tundra Bean Geese (including the juvenile which hadn't been seen since 30th Nov) plus the Greenland White-fronted Goose, 59 Pink-footed Geese, 7 Barnacle Geese and the Pale-bellied Brent Goose. Other odds and sods of note included 9 Red-throated Divers on the sea, 148 Purple Sandpipers and 14 Snow Buntings.
Paperwork, maintenance and all those jobs we ignored in the autumn tend to take priority at this time of the year but we do always try and get some fresh air each day-even if its just a walk with the dogs. Decent weather during the period has allowed most sections of the island to be visited at least once and its the current influx of Tundra Bean Geese which have been the most noteworthy. Between 7 and 10 have been seen daily, but we know there are at least 15 actually present while the juvenile Greenland White-fronted Goose remains, as does the Pale-bellied Brent Goose, 7 Barnacle Geese but some new Pink-footed Geese have arrived as their number reached 62 on 4th. Other wildfowl include 4 Whooper Swans, a Shelduck (3rd-4th) and peak counts of 215 Wigeon, 15 Pintails, 25 Tufted Ducks, 184 Eiders (all 3rd), 22 Shovelers (2nd), 163 Teal and 86 Mallard (4th) and the drake Green-winged Teal has been present throughout. The Grey Plover is still here, a late Short-eared Owl was at Ancum (2nd) and there have been up to 3 Hen Harriers, 2 Merlins and a Pergrine present. Passerine numbers are thinning rapidly but the Dunnock, Blackcap and at least 3 Chiffchaffs remain and peak Thrush counts came to 62 Blackbirds, 23 Fieldfares, 67 Redwings and 8 Song Thrushes. Perhaps as many as 40 Robins are lingering on the isle but the highest daily count has been 17 on 2nd and Twite and Snow Bunting numbers both peaked at 48 on the 3rd.
There was nothing significant to report from a wet 28th and other than a Jack Snipe and Chiffchaff the 29th was a quiet day too. A mild and calm 30th drew most attention but a chance to work through the Geese revealed little change with the juvenile Greenland White-fronted Goose still present as were 9 Tundra Bean Geese (including the unassigned juvenile from 27th which we now believe to be of this race), 48 Pink-footed Geese and the 7 Barnacle Geese still. The drake Green-winged Teal remains on Gretchen, but 6 Woodcocks included a few new birds and the 20th individual of 2014 was caught and ringed with a new Water Rail also caught somehow in the falling apart Heligoland 1! The calm conditions also allowed the nets at Holland to be opened and with nearly 40 birds processed (29 new) it was a surprisingly productive session. Thrushes made up the majority of the days passerine total with 72 Blackbirds (23 new birds trapped/ringed), 39 Fieldfares, 28 Redwings and 4 Song Thrushes logged. A new Dunnock and Blackcap were also ringed, with a second of the latter at the Post office with 9 Robins, 14 Rock Pipits, 13 Twite and 35 Snow Buntings also recorded-not a bad day considering its December tomorrow..