Saturday, 30 September 2017

Unst 2017: Days 6-7

The last two days have been complete contrasts. Yesterday (29th) was wet and wild, with strong south-easterlies and rain making birding extremely difficult - and it probably making staying alive extremely difficult for those migrants which had made it across the North Sea. We had morning and afternoon visits to Valyie, where a few migrants were doing their best to find some shelter, including a Dunnock, 2 Redstarts, 4 Redwing, 2 Song Thrush, 1 YBW, 1 Brambling, 2 Chiffchaff, 1 Willow Warbler, 3 Blackcaps, 1 Goldcrest, 1 Tree Pipit, and 1 Mealy Redpoll

Its never good when waterfalls are flowing upwards...
A very bedraggled Redstart by the road to Skaw
Paul looking at a Little Bunting

After a long (2 hour!) lunch break back at Scraefield to dry out, we checked Skaw, where we had 1 Robin, 2 Song Thrush, 2 Reed Warblers, 1 Blackcap, 1 Chiffchaff, 2 Wheatears and a new Little Bunting (or maybe the bird from the cliffs 2 days ago?). A thrash up the burn at Burrafirth produced single Reed Warbler and Reed Bunting, and 2 Swallows. And that was it for the day.

Another bedraggled bird - a Reed Warbler

Today (30th), and the wind had dropped right off, the sky had cleared and the sun came out. Lovely! We began early at Valyie, seeing 1 Little Bunting, 2 Blackcaps, 6 Robins, 1 Tree Pipit, 2 Goldcrests, 2+ Redstarts, 1 Lesser Whitethroat, 2 Mealy Redpoll, 6+ Song Thrush, 2 YBW, 2 Willow Warbler, 3+ Chiffchaff, 1 Reed Warbler, 1 Swallow and 1 Merlin. It was looking promising, and good to see that everything hadn't departed overnight once conditions calmed. But we couldn't find anything particularly notable...

Little Bunting
A nice frosty Mealy Redpoll
Tree Pipit
Reed Warbler

Heading to Skaw, we decided to check the north cliffs. It was shaping up as a good day for Redstarts (with another 3) and Song Thrushes (another c.10), and we also saw out first Fieldfare of the trip, plus 2 Wheatears, 2-3 Chiffchaffs, 3 Robins and one each of Snow Bunting, Lapland Bunting, Siskin, Willow Warbler, Grey Wagtail and Common Sand, plus a heard only Tree Pipit (hopefully not an OBP!). 

Returning to the croft, there were evidently new birds in, with 5 Blackcaps and at least 5 Chiffchaffs, the latter all feeding in the grass around the sheep pens, plus 2 Siskin and single Lesser Whitethroat, Redstart, Whinchat, Reed Warbler, Garden Warbler, Song Thrush and House Martin, with 2 Peregrines off towards Saxa Vord. Oh, and a Red-throated Pipit

Hoping our luck would continue, we worked the cliffs on the north side of Lamba Ness, adding 2 more Redstarts, c.7 Song Thrushes, 1 Wheatear, 3 Robins, and another FieldfareOn to Burrafirth, there was just 1 Chiffchaff in the burn, and another Chiff at the shore station. We finished off at Houlland, which we haven't done for two days, seeing a Sedge Warbler in the burn, along with single YBW, Blackcap, Chiff, Redstart (number 9 of the day), Redwing and Song Thush  (number c.25 of the day). 

Scoring at Skaw!

More of today (and yesterday's) birding in another post, but the finding of a Red-throated Pipit late this morning merits its own post! Having done the cliffs north of Skaw we were kicking around the croft when Paul came on the radio to say that he'd had a bunting drop into the front, where he was having a coffee (and didn't even have his bins on!). Mindful that Dave Cooper and his dad had seen a Reed Bunting here earlier, I assumed that this was what it was going to be, so continued working round in Paul's direction. Paul then came on the radio again to say that the bird was in fact a pipit...

Approaching the bird from different directions, we had views of it on the ground, but I was none the wiser as it was obscured in the grass and against the light. But then it called... I was straight on the radio - "It just gave a pseee call", knowing full well what that suggested, and Paul knew too - "that would make it a Red-throat!". It then flicked up and flew down onto the beach, calling again. We both hurdled the wire fence between us and it, and binned it. I think I almost shouted "Its got pale braces!", and Paul shouted something similar... it then flew a short distance again onto the opposite side of the stream, where the light was a bit better.

We were both rattling shots off, and it then flew again, perching up for a few moments before dropping out of sight. A quick review of our shots allowed us to check a few key features - yellowish base to the bill; dense spotting across the breast; buffish stripes down the mantle; and no visible primary projection. We hadn't seen the rump, but had seen enough - it was definitely a Red-throated Pipit

Red-throated Pipit
Red-throated Pipit
Red-throated Pipit
Red-throated Pipit

We then decided to refind the bird, but in doing so I managed to flush it, and this time it headed several hundred metres up the valley and appeared to drop into some long grass. Rather than flushing it again, we had our lunch and wait for other people to arrive. After 20 minutes or so a tour group in two minibuses pulled up, so we headed off to look for the bird. However, we'd hardly gone 50 yards when a pipit flew up from near where we'd seen it originally, and flew towards the beach; after a quick search we located it - the Red-throat again, much to everyone's delight!

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Unst 2017: Days 3-5

Our second full day on Unst, the 26th, saw a quite start with little at Houlland (1 Chiffchaff), but a bit more around Baliasta, including a Yellow Wag over (Western judging from the call), a Brambling, and a Yellow-brow nearby at the Manse. On to Haroldswick, and as well as a mini influx of Grey Herons (7 plus 4), a single Robin was one of only a few migrants. 

Moving on to Clibberswick, we literally saw nothing, so paid a visit to Skaw, where a male Blackcap was the only migrant around the buildings. With the wind now quite strong from the south-east, we decided a good strategy might be to check the more sheltered cliffs and geos on the northern side of Lamba Ness. This can be exciting birding, and proved to be a reasonable decision, with 1 Redstart, 2 Robins, 1 Wheatear, 1 Mealy Redpoll, and 1 Song Thrush, plus 9 Dunlin and 2 Ruff, and a Whinchat back up towards the Skaw road.

Paul scanning the cliffs
Mealy Redpoll

Taking heart from these modest returns, we employed the same strategy at Skaw, which produced 1 Robin, 2 Goldcrests, 2 Song Thrush, 2 Wheatear, 1 Chiffchaff, and best a Little Bunting. A juv Glaucous Gull was with a handful of other gulls offshore, as was a small pod of Risso's Dolphins, a cetacean tick for me. We then had another look around the buildings, which still held the Blackcap, plus a Chiffchaff (with a couple of people on Twitter suggesting looked like an abietinus, which I need to learn more about, starting here...) a Lesser Whitethroat and 2 Wheatears, all new-in since the morning. 

Little Bunting
Glaucous Gull
Chiffchaff (abietinus..?)

The 27th was something of a re-run of the previous day; Houlland was checked first with Chiffchaff lingering, plus new Blackcap, Robin, Redwing and Song Thrush. Baliasta had 2 more Redwings, the burn in Burrafirth still held a Yellow-brow, and we stopped to see the Snow Bunting in the small quarry near the Quoys junction. 

Snow Bunting

Norwick (the area from Leawart to Valyie) had a few migrants present, with 2 Robins, 2 Redstarts, 2 Lesser Whitethroats, 1 Song Thrush, 2 Yellow-brows, 2 Willow Warblers, 1 Chiffchaff, 3 Goldcrests, and a roosting Long-eared Owl, plus an elusive Little Bunting which had been found the day before. Nearby, a showy Purple Sandpiper was on the beach (which we'd missed previously) and the willows at the bottom of the hill on the Skaw road had one each of Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff, and a Whinchat.

Long-eared Owl
Purple Sandpiper

It was then back to the cliffs. Lamba Ness held 2 Redstarts, 1 Pied Flycatcher, 2 Robins, 3 Song Thrushes, 1 Mealy Redpoll, 2 Wheatears and 3+ Blackbirds, with the same wader selection as yesterday plus a Common Sandpiper. The Skaw cliffs held a Spotted Flycatcher, 2 Wheatears, 2 Song Thrushes, 1 Goldcrest, 1 Willow Warbler, 1 Lesser Whitethroat, 1 Robin and 1 Snow Bunting, with the juv Glauc and Risso's Dolphins still offshore, and 1 plus 5 Grey Herons. So no biggie - in fact, I would have settled for an RB Fly... The buildings at Skaw still held a Lesser Whitethroat, plus a fresh looking Reed Warbler

The cliffs at Lamba Ness
Pied Fly
Spotted Fly
Risso's Dolphins
Lesser Whitethroat

Finally, a check of the quarry at Hagdale failed to produce the Bluethroat which Paul French's Shetland Nature group had found earlier - all we could manage was a Grey Wag

And so today (28th)... the wind was howling from the south-east, and we had some rain from 11, making conditions very difficult for birding (and for birds). In fact, we gave up by about 1, after 5 hours of battling. We gave Houlland a miss as we knew it would be completely blown-out, and headed to Lund. Any hopes this might be a bit more sheltered, being on the western side of the island, were quickly dashed, and a slog through the thistles produced little more than a Blackcap, a Whinchat, a Song Thrush and 3 Redwing

The thistles at Lund

Nearby at Westing, the docks along the beach held a Yellow-brow, a Willow Warbler and a Lesser Whitethroat, and the willows held a Redstart, whilst a flock of c.200 Golden Plover did not hold a Yank. A flying visit to Uyeasound allowed us to pad our trip list with a few new species of wildfowl, including single Pintail and Gadwall, but the American Wigeon found earlier in the week was still gone. At Burrafirth the Yellow-brow had gone, replaced by a Reed Warbler; our third of the trip, and contrasting with last year where we had just one, but 4 Blyth's Reeds. A single Redwing was also present, whilst the Shore Station was pretty uninspiring, as it mainly seems to be. 

We then got wind of an RB Fly at Skaw. Despite ourselves, we decided to go and twitch it. However, even though Dave Cooper and his dad had seen it just a few minutes before we arrived. we couldn't find hide nor hair of it, despite multiple sweeps. It's never good when you can't find a bird you know is present... what else are you missing?!  2 Blackcap, 2 Robin, the Reed Warbler, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Wheatear, and a Siskin could, however, be found. 


So, with howling south-easterlies set to continue tomorrow (Friday), plus rain, it's likely to be another slow day...

Monday, 25 September 2017

Unst 2017: Days 0-2

It can't quite believe its a year since I was last on Unst... time does indeed fly. However, I'm not complaining, as it's great to be back up here again, thrashing up burns and through iris beds. This year there are just the two of us, me and Paul Eele, staying in a cosy little two bedroom cottage in Baliasta, called Scraefield.

We left Newark promptly at 7am on Saturday morning (23rd), Paul having come across from Norfolk the previous evening. After an uneventful drive up, we arrived in Aberdeen in plenty of time for the ferry. For the first hour or so out of port we did some seawatching from deck, with 4 Arctic Skuas being the highlight, along with a couple of Harbour Porpoises. Retiring inside, we settled down in the bar, noting that there seemed to be only a handful of other birders on the boat, which was a bit surprising. We flaked out about 9.30 for a slightly unsettled sleep in the sleeping pods, not helped by some quite lumpy seas between Orkney and Shetland!

Leaving Aberdeen

Having arrived on Sunday (24th) and picked up some bits in the Lerwick Tesco we headed north up Mainland, stopping for a couple of hours at Sandgarth, in Voe. This is a cracking looking site, although possibly with too much cover... We bagged our first Yellow-brows of the trip here, with three in evidence. A party of Redpolls gave us the runaround but eventually showed well enough to see they included at least two Mealies. 1 or 2 Goldcrests were the only other migrants here.


Paul bagging a YBW

Two ferries later, we arrived on Unst, and were out in the field by 2.30. Around our cottage in Baliasta we had a nice male Brambling, and single Garden Warbler and Blackcap. We failed to see anything at all at Houlland, in increasingly blowy conditions, so went round to Skaw, which was a bit more sheltered and where another Garden Warbler was accompanied by two Blackcaps. We rounded things off with our fourth YBW of the day in the burn at Burrafirth.

Scraefield. Bijou.

Today (25th), we were up and out in reasonable time, and straight to Houlland, where there some birds unlike yesterday - one apiece of Reed Warbler, YBW, Chiff and Song Thrush. Back to Scraefield, and a Blackcap was knocking around but not much else. Next stop was Baltasound, where there were 2 YBW, 2 Blackcaps and a Chiff in the area around the post office. On to Halligarth, and after a chat with Brydon T we worked the site. Best here was a Common Rosefinch which popped out in front of me and sat up in a small sycamore for a couple of moments before vanishing - perhaps the bird seen in Baltasound most recently as Thursday? Single YBW, 2 Chiffs and 2 Blackcaps completed proceedings here.


A wander at Norwick was pretty quite, with single YBW and Song Thrush at Valyie, a flight-only Lesser Whitethroat and 8 Swallows south. There were a few waders on the beach, with around 20 Turnstone, a Sanderling, a few Ringos, and a Little Stint that dropped in for a moment before haring off south, calling. The small clump of trees in the valley at Northdale held a Barred Warbler, present for several days now, and another very skulking and flighty Lesser Whitethroat, with a Chiff and a YBW in the Rosa by the cottages. At Burrafirth, the YBW was still in the burn, and we kicked up a Jack Snipe. By now the weather was pretty grim, so we decided to have one last stop before calling it a day - Setters Hill Estate. This produced our eighth YBW of the day, along with 2 Chiffs and our first Robin.

YBW in typical habitat, on an Armco barrier.

With winds still set firm from the south-east, its all to play for over the next couple of days!

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Hard work in Lincs

The 16th was a productive day on the patch, with first two Ravens circling over the south, and then a young Red-crested Pochard on Ferry Lane Lake- bit new for the year. Other things included 3 Curlew, 6 Dunlin, 1 Oystercatcher, 14 Pochard, 40 Wigeon, 32 Teal, 9 Shoveler and 2 Pintail. A few days later, the number of Pintail has increased to three, whilst the only waders were two each of Dunlin, Green Sand and Snipe. 

In between, I had a visit to the Lincs coast with a few other guys. We began at Gibraltar Point, which was slow. We failed to find any Yellow-brows (although two were seen at Aylmer Avenue), and had to make do with a handful of 'common' migrants. Best perhaps were 2 Spoonbills which flew inland, and a couple of Arctic Skuas offshore, plus my first Pinks of the autumn. Similarly, a walk at Chapel Six Marshes and then along Wolla Bank to Anderby Creek again failed to produce much, but it was good to reccy another bit of the Lincs coast that I've not birded before. 

Thursday, 14 September 2017

No waders, and no seabirds

Over the last week or so I've been checking Mons Pool in the hope of a decent wader - a Pec would've been nice! Or even a just a Ruff... However, Hagg Lane Flash has evidently been intercepting all of them, and I had to make do with up to 2 juv islandica Black-wits, and up to 4 Dunlin... and that's been about it. Aside from waders, a juv or female Garganey was on Wharf Pit on the 10th with the Teal, and there has been a distinctly autumnal feel, with the first Meadow Pipits of the season, a small arrival of Wigeon (ok, just 6, but its a start), some big groups of House Martins - and still the odd Swift

Yesterday I checked Kilvington Lakes on the way home from work, in the vain hope of a windblown seabird. The best I could managed, however, were 6 Ringed Plover, 2 Greenshank, 2 Swifts and at least 3 YLGs. There was also what looked like an adult Caspian Gull amongst the LBBGs, but it was on the far side of the lake and into the sun. 

Monday, 4 September 2017

Catching up

Spotted Flycatcher is not a guaranteed species each year on the patch, although thus far during the PWC era I have managed to see one (or sometimes more) annually. I was beginning to worry this year, and to look enviously at nearby patches in Lincs which have recorded them recently. 

I'd been checking the usual spots at Collingham, especially the big ashes along Northcroft Lane, without luck. However, on Sunday I met John Ellis at the new hide on the north side of Mons Pool, and having had a good chat, was just about to leave when I noted something flick up onto the fence by the hide on the opposite side of the reserve - bingo, a Spotted Fly. I wandered round to get a photo just in time, as two horse riders came past, the bird flew, and I couldn't relocate it.

Spotted Flycatcher

One day I'll upgrade to a patch Pied Fly.