06 November 2015

St Agnes 26th September - 17th October

Our annual trip to St Agnes started a bit early this year and in some ways a bit late. We were there before almost all the usual crew but after some really good birds. A Blackpoll Warbler and Grey-cheeked Thrush had been and gone, both, at one time, in the same bush in Santa Warna's Cove (the same spot as the Reed Warbler in the photo here). The Red-eyed Vireo that appeared at the same time was still around and showing well from time to time over the next few days - a cracking bird, one of the two highlights of our visit.

We found a Wryneck in this early period in the gorse and bracken at the south end of Gugh and then saw another found by Will Wagstaff at Kit's Hill at the north end. September is a good month for Reed Warblers and there were usually a few in the good corners.

Always a good feeling being the first people across the Gugh Bar when the tide drops. It's a dramatic place in all conditions.

Smugglers Cottage was a good centre as always and a Water Rail crossing the lawn was a nice garden tick and there was a Firecrest a bit later. This Pied Flycatcher fed in the field next door, strangely preferring the furrows to the surrounding Elms.

Yellow-browed Warblers arrived in force, then disappeared again for a while and Firecrest numbers picked up well. The first Jack Snipe appeared at the Big Pool and one or two were present daily with just the odd Common Snipe thereafter. A Jack Snipe flushed from the Little Pool drain left the following signs of its presence.

The two Pauls (Heaton and Wright) and Kathy weren't examining the prints they were checking out the ultra-rare Least Adder's-tongue Fern in flower on the edge of Wingletang.

The first Black Redstarts arrived on Periglis just as the RAF Helicopter Rescue service said its farewells to active service.

A flyover Little Bunting caused some excitement and even better when Neil turned this one up in the Island Fields at Browarth where it showed well at times.

Photo Neil Wright

There few rare birds in the middle of the holiday but there was a rare butterfly, or at least a rare form of butterfly. A mall Copper of the form 'schmitti', which caused a Butterfly twitch.

The second major highlight of the trip, found by Doug Page at Covean was this really obliging and well-watched Red-flanked Bluetail. At least well-watched when the local Robins would leave it alone.

Photo Neil Wright
This juv Red-backed Shrike was good value for all the birders, it's in the talons of this Merlin, presumably good calorific value also.

This Hen Harrier (a juv male?) spent half a day shooting around St Agnes and the Western Isles, it appeared to show a marked hooded effect in some photos and there was lots of examination of images of Northern Harrier but it remained just a Hen Harrier.

There were three Siberian Chiffchaffs present later on, one at Troytown and two at Lower Town. The latter, in particular, showed well and gave opportunities for comparing them with 'collybita' birds. As usual, they didn't call but I now subscribe to the philosophy that if it looks like a Sibe - it's a Sibe.

Photo Neil Wright
Photo Neil Wright
And then it was time to go till next year when we hope to spend a month on the Island. Can't wait!

05 November 2015

Four days in Pembrokeshire between September 21st - 25th

We had five days between returning from Fair Isle and setting off for St Agnes and we were visiting our daughter in London for one day. So just four days out on the head but quite a good time was had by all - well me. A couple of good birds made quite an exciting interlude. The first was a Barred Warbler on the 24th September, the second found and the fourth seen this autumn but a big difference when its on your own patch. It was attended by some Stonechats who didn't much like this exotic beast on their turf. They did, however, draw my attention to it and I enjoyed good views before it disappeared into the bracken and scrub at the crosstracks in Porthmelgan Valley. A Pembs tick for me and one of very few seen on the Mainland.

The second good bird was a day or two earlier - again in Porthmelgan Valley - a juvenile Pallid Harrier. The second of the autumn following the Fair Isle bird but it was a bit frustrating and I don't know I can prove it was one (as opposed to Monty's - highly unlikely given the date and the other Pallid records this autumn) but there we are, that's patch birding for you. I've copied the following two posts from the Pembs Blog for that day.

I'm sure Mike Y-P will post more later but thanks to him (via Rich on Skok!) for tipping us off about the probable pallid harrier that was seen heading towards Ramsey from St D's Head. We fanned out and after an hours searching Lisa had brief and distant views of a narrow winged ring tail harrier that showed extensive rufous / orange colouring. From what she saw she could narrow it down to Pallid / Monty's but that's all - it surely was the same bird Mike had seen but it was frustrating not to get more on it. We searched for rest of day but it was not to be seen - will have another look now as it is getting dusk

Just back from Fair Isle where I'd been watching a juv Pallid Harrier with Hen Harriers all week and what suddenly appears in Porthmelgan Valley? Yep a juv lightweight Harrier with unstreaked orange underparts and dark secondaries. I suspect it had missed prey and so was circling up from the valley floor. It was clearly slim-winged, particularly the 'hand' and there was no doubt it was either a Pallid or Monty's but the head pattern wasn't clear to see as it rose against the sky and drifted towards me, awkwardly backlit. I had found the head pattern on the Fair Isle bird could be easy or difficult to make out depending on the light etc and so it didn't mean much. I tried to concentrate on the inner primary tips and could not make out any significant dark areas, sufficient to form a 'border' but don't know how difficult this is to make out on Monty's, not having had recent experience of a juv. There didn't appear to be all-dark tips to the primaries so I think Pallid has to be favourite and a bit more time or a couple of photos would have given the evidence but I had left my camera in the car since the forecast was for heavy rain at times. The bird flew off towards Whitesands/Ramsey Sound and I was able to get a message, via Rich B, to Greg and Lisa on Ramsey. Hopefully, since it has appeared on the island, it may just hang around and get nailed.
Posted by Mike Y-P at 8:02p.m.

03 November 2015

Fair Isle September 5th-19th

Kathy and I made the epic trip via smaller and smaller prop planes from Birmingham to Fair Isle, stopping overnight in Lerwick, luckily as it turned out since fog grounded all flights to Fair Isle that day. The next morning we waited with Eric and Ann Millls from Nova Scotia and a couple of locals for the wind to drop sufficiently to allow take-off. It was ok at first but the drop down to the cliff level landing strip on Fair Isle was a nightmare, we were blown all over the place; even the pilot looked a bit shaken.

 The photo of our transport below was taken later in the week in very calm conditions.

The best bird already on the Island was this superb male Hawfinch which was very approachable, quite a show-off in fact at Barkland and Chalet. Though, as it turned out, the Citrine Wagtail which everyone thought had gone, was to turn up again on subsequent days but remained pretty flighty and impossible to photograph.

Bonxies were pretty much everywhere, maybe three hundred still present on the Island,a bit like Sparrows really. Quite threatening Sparrows though.

As high pressure took over the amazing scenery came into its own, lovely views of the huge and impressive cliff landscsapes.

The first real new rarity was an Arctic Warbler found bouncing about in the heather, it had been a long time since I'd seen one - I think the last was on Blakeney Point about 30 years ago. I think this may have been my bird-of-the-trip, just edging the Pallid Harrier.

We went back to get a second look at the Arctic Warbler when a text came through that there was a Corncrake down south at Schoolton. We had gone about 10 metres when a second text pinged to say a pod of Killer Whales was off North Light. We had to make a choice - actually it was no choice at all and we raced north for the Orcas. They'd moved off a bit but they were still close enough for good views - magic! Our second experience was of a smaller group, further out from Buness one morning not such great views but we could see the blows they were making which we didn't expect, another pre-breakfast treat. We saw Risso's well a couple of times too during the trip.

This Pectoral Sandpiper hung around for a couple of days down at the South Light, giving some nice opportunities to get used to the call.

This adult Slavonian Grebe, moulting into winter plumage took up residence in North Haven, for almost the rest of our two week stay. Nice to see every morning before breakfast.

A second Citrine Wagtail turned up in a remote area of the north and the first Jack Snipes started to appear along with the first big arrival (10) of Yellow-browed Warblers. Also the first Barred Warbler of our trip (we saw three eventually) turned up on the wire rock covering behind North Haven and the Good Shepherd Noost. A day or two later the only, rather flighty, Red-brested Flycatcher of the trip also spent the day in this area.

The presence daily of Yellow-browed Warblers, sometimes in good numbers, was one of the highlights of the trip and we just missed a record 53 in-a-day when we left. Brilliant little birds, impossible to get fed up of them. They loved the umbellifers, as did Willow Warblers.

Nice to see what appear to be pure-blood Rock Doves all over the Island.

It's also impossible to get fed up of Whinchats and up to a dozen were present daily through our visit.

Assistant Warden Lee Gregory saw what was probably a Pallid Harrier. Luckily it gave views, at times, through the day (and for another ten days as it happens). Amazingly good fun and excellent to become familiar with a showy juvenile. The underwing pattern can be clearly seen here.

High pressure brought relatively placid weather and a chance to get some views of the Island landscape. The engine below is from a second world war Heinkel which crashed on the Island during the war.

This Red-backed Shrike was the first of two which were seen around the Auld Haa over the time we were there.

Trapping at the Observatory gave a chance to see some birds in the hand, like this Merlin, the Common Rosefinch was at Barkland, the first of two seen during the trip.

Sparrowhawk numbers suddenly increased and there were a record number recorded, an (under?) estimate of 10 birds. We saw a male and female together in-the-hand at one point. The female weighed about 230gms, the male 130gms - what a size difference, quite remarkable to see side-by-side.

 Seals were everywhere at times, curious and really quite tame.

Willow Warblers were present daily, up to a dozen or so, no big numbers - and the same with Blackcaps from the second half, when the first Robins arrived.

This Fair Isle Wren was in the Good Shepherd Noost, a typically dark bird and very different to our 'regular' Wrens.

And then it was time to go, unfortunately. It was an amazing trip which just seems better in memory as the Autumn passes. An amazing place to visit, Kathy's first trip, my second but the first for thirty years. I don't imagine it'll be so long before we go back!

One of the numerous Fish Farms we passed as we arrived back on Shetland mainland before flying to Aberdeen and then Birmingham.