Sunday 30 October 2011

Desert Wheatear again

I went back and had another look at the bird this afternoon. There are now many more photographs available to view as well (on Orkbird).

Here's an update on my thinking re this bird.

Age: pale edges to the primary and greater coverts, to the 2aries and pale tips to the primaries lead me to a bird in its first calendar year.

Sex: this afternoon I noted a brownish tinge to the ear coverts, in all three species that would make it a female.

I made comments about the bird’s structure yesterday which I won’t repeat but they point to Desert Wheatear. Additionally, I noted today the constant tail wagging which is a feature of Desert Wheatear but I don’t know if the other two species do this to the same degree (Northern Wheatear for example does not). The bird often has a rather supine as opposed to upright posture.

The tail pattern seems to be the feature that is causing most confusion and leading to identifications other than Desert Wheatear. However, my view would be that Lee is entirely correct because:
The extent of black on the tail from the tip up towards the base is consistent with Desert Wheatear and not consistent with Red-tailed which, according to the photos I’ve looked at does not have black extending so far up the tail as the bird we have, it would be about 50% less for that species from photos. Red-rumped Wheatear would not be eliminated on this feature however (but it is eliminated on a host of other plumage features, e.g. rufous brown crown) (Mullarney et al)
Red-tailed Wheatear should have a Northern Wheatear like T of black in the tail but our bird does not have that feature. I think that T should be formed by black extending further up the two central tail feathers, 6 and 7 (I’m numbering from left to right) (Svensson). Our bird appears to have some additional black extending up the edges of tail feathers 5 and 8 in particular. Our bird also appears to have dark centres to two of the central upper tail coverts. I believe these features are combining to give an impression of a T which does not actually exist.

I do agree that this bird is unlike typical Desert Wheatears, it is rather drab and grey and is not so contrasting in its plumage but to my eye I can’t see any reason for it to be anything else. I would reiterate that I am no expert and I’m making these judgements on available reliable references and a fairly brief review of easily available photographs as well as the few hours I’ve spent in the field examining the beast.

I’ll be very happy to be proven incorrect but none of the reasons put forward to this point have convinced me to change my opinion. Convince away….

And on to other things...
Thanks to the heads up from AL I headed to Langskaill later this afternoon. First bird I saw was a Yellow- browed but that was not the quarry. The give away call could be heard softly. A Chiffchaff showed and showed, then a Goldcrest. Eventually after 15 minutes of perseverence, joy, Long-tailed Tit!

Then a nip to Scapa and two Little Auks in the fading light; lots of gulls there as well.

Back at the ranch today there were still many Blackbirds, 30 or so; at least two Robins, five Reed Buntings and a few Brambling and Chaffinch.

Desert Wheatear

There has been some debate about this bird. I've had a look at the photos of Red-tailed/Persian and Red-rumped on BirdGuides and pictures of Desert on the same website. I only have field experience of
Desert previously.

When I arrived (late as I'd been out of range looking at pipits at Palace) I was told the bird was most likely not Desert and might well be Red-tailed, this was all rather exciting but when I finally settled down to look at the bird carefully and photograph it I got some excellent views and some fair pix (surprise surprise).

Jonsonn's Birds of Europe and the Collins Guide appear to disagree about the tail pattern of Red-tailed / Persian ( xanthoprymna). Photographs support the tail pattern illustrated in the Collins Guide, which would rule this species out. Anyway it has a heavy bill and looks big headed and short-tailed, different proportions to our bird.

Red-rumped Wheatear (moesta) has a similar tail pattern to Desert. However, this species also has a heavy bill. I can't find any pix of juvs but it would seem that the species has a grey back, an extensive pale throat and a rich brown crown.

Our bird has a weak bill. It also has a small head and a proportionally longtail. The legs are also thin in proportion to the body. There are photographs on Birdguides of a Desert Wheatear in Lincs in Nov 2008 that are very similar to our bird, especially when photographed in poor light. The rump shows a very similar colour to our bird when viewed from behind.

I'm surprised at this conclusion as the bird looked so different from the Desert Wheatears I've seen in the past and the illustrations in the field guides, I would always have expected a pale bird with contrast between the body and the wings however Jonsson mentions race atrogularis as being darker on the body. Everything else seems to fit, if there is an extension of the black into the centre of the upper tail I couldn't see that in the field and would a small extension be significant in any case?

I haven't had time to look at BWP or search BBi but I can't see any reason to doubt this bird is anything other than Desert, I'll be happy to be persuaded though...

Sunday 23 October 2011



Now that was a surprise. Birding around the garden this morning, a nice male Blackcap was almost the first bird I saw. The next bird was a real surprise, a Treeper. This is a species that occurs just about once a year on Orkney so one in the garden is a bit of a triumph. Also present today was a Chiffy, several Chaffinch and Brambling, several Reed Buntings, Redwings and about 20 Blackbirds, several of which were again seen to leave high to the south.

A stroll around Palace found a Goldfinch and a rather odd Willow Warbler with very bright orange/yellow legs and feet.

Saturday 22 October 2011

White-winged Gulls

Wednesday morning's seawatch was a bit of a disappointment all the same there were a few skuas and a good passage of Kittiwakes, 150 in 90 minutes, A mystery bird gave brief views, scary but I must have mis-seen the features, surely.

Returning to Birsay in the afternoon with the family to look at the waves a first winter Iceland Gull appeared over our heads, nice one.

The next day I went down to Waulkmill Bay late in the afternoon with dog, offspring and relative, onto the beach and reprise (of a kind) a first winter Glaucous Gull circled our heads as we stepped onto the beach.

Today on the way back from the airport we stopped off at the PDC to show our guests some close views of Long-tailed Ducks and in amongst the twenty or so gulls on Tesco Corner was a second winter Iceland Gull. (Ooops, now on examination age is reviewed, the bill colour would make this a first winter, plumage is not totally reliable for aeging I have learnt.)

Ivory Gull tomorrow?...

In and around the garden of late: Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Goldcrest, Redwing, Fieldfare, Robin, (piles of Blackbirds moving through), Chaffinch, Brambling and several Reed Buntings.

Twite have been evident on the track and over the house of late.

Tuesday 18 October 2011


The west-nor'west wind doth blow so a seawatching I shall go.

Not perfect conditions and I couldn't manage this morn due to the need to aid with wrestling the new boiler into position. However, come lunch time, and having dropped oldest offspring off at her mate's house, it was to the Point of Buckquoy (otherwise known as the Borugh of Birsay car park). Fortunately at this time of year there was no need to jockey for position as for most of the four and a half hours mine was the only car getting battered by the wind, rain, hail, seaspray and other assorted elements.

Now why is it with seawatching that all too often two interesting birds show at once? So in four and a half hours there were four notable birds really. First off after an hour or so a very acceptable juvenile Pom went by close enough to show off all its best features, including the signature underwing. However, not far off two and a half hours, and along came the star of the show, Leach's Petrel making strong headway into the wind and also showing off very nicely. I track back and am immediately I'm onto another juvenile skua but this is no Pom and it doesn't look like an Arctic either, unfortunately it was just a bit of a way out and I was struggling to get the best of views when it was past the car wing mirror and out of view. Even a quick bit of reversing and manouvering couldn't get me back onto it. Trouble was I hadn't tracked back very far from the petrel and it was just too brief a view, but I was pretty sure, but not quite sure enough, that it was a juvenile Long-tail; so it goes.

Half an hour later a blue Fulmar went by close in.

The accompanying cast included an adult, pale phase Arctic Skua, eleven Bonxies, about 150 Kittiwakes including about 30% juveniles, 270 Gannets and unusually for the time of year 290 or so Fulmar. There was a trickle of Guillemots west and a few Razorbills and some Eider as well.

Back home the Yellow-browed had called in the morning, after having a close shave with a Sparrowhawk. A Kestrel was present. Yesterday's two Brambling fed under the feeders as did two Chaffinch. There was a tantalising glimpse of what was probably a male Blackcap, which would be a tetrad and a garden tick.

So all in all a pretty good october day.

Monday 17 October 2011

Yellow-browed Warbler

Nice! Nice, nice! Oh I do so love Yellow-browed Warblers especially when I'm hearing and then watching one from our garden. Scrutiny of the sycamores has paid off this autumn and the Yellow-browed Warbler is just such a good garden bird.

Where's the Yellow-browed Warbler?

Also in the garden this afternoon were 19 Blackbirds, 3 Chaffinches, a Redwing or two. This morning there had been three Brambling under the feeders and the Tree Sparrow was still present.

Spent much of the rest of the day on South Ronaldsay and East Mainland looking at waders and gulls for not much reward it has to be said; so it goes.

Whooper Swans, four of seven at Liddel

Lapwing and Golden Plover on the Helston Road

Introducing my new series (and see top of this post): Where's ...


Sunday 16 October 2011

American Wigeon

Thanks to AL for the prompt text, ten minutes later I was watching a nice drake American Wigeon on Loch of Harray. It was at a bit of range but interestingly straight-necked and floating higher in the water. I'll have another look tomorrow to see if I can pick it out again with a bit more time to look.

A family trip to South Ronaldsay produced a Swallow, a juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull and really good numbers of Eider and Gannets. The Gannets must have got into a shoal of fish as there were near enough 1400 in the flock, about five miles off I reckonned.

At home the Tree Sparrow was on the feeders and a couple of Reed Buntings dropped in briefly but I had little time to look.

Blackbird stuff

Interesting things Blackbirds. At the moment there are a lot of those matt black ones around with dull black bills. I presume these are Scandinavian jobs but I really ought to look at references and check that supposition. Anyway this afternoon 16 of them went through the neighbouring trees, some pausing on the powerlines first, before heading off across the cut barley field south. A few minutes later another five appeared on the fringes but either stayed put or went into the nearest field to feed.

Thursday evening, Loch of Harray

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Bobolink - missing...

The temperature has dropped recently, good job the heating engineer is here putting in the new system, we've not had a working boiler for months but its getting a bit uncomfortable now.

The girls and Louise had more Whooper Swans this morning as they walked down for the school transport, two tacked on to the back of 13 Mutes. My cycle to work was not enlivened by Swallows for the first time since they arrived in the spring, indeed it was rather birdless.

News of a Scarlet Grosbeak on Eday raised the pulse but it hasn't been seen today, there's no chance of me getting out there until Saturday, doubtless by then a waste of time. However, it does give hope for the search. Where's my Bobolink?

Saturday 8 October 2011

Napolean Bonaparte

I'd not been able to go for the Boney on Thursday but a clear diary on Friday afternoon meant I could leave shortly after four. Arriving at the barriers shortly before five I searched the Graemeshall shores and the Barley field to no avail. The gull roost off Holm looked interesting though so I persevered with that and bingo! Nice adult Boney, the lack of black on the underwing is a real giveaway in flight.

The flushing assistant

Today I had a long tramp with my flushing assistant in the morning which found me nice numbers of  Pochard and Curlew, the Golden Plover flock and five Scaup. But failed to find the hoped for Jack Snipe.

Wildfowl on Bosquoy

Back at the ranch a Mealy Redpoll fed briefly on docks before disappearing. There was an early afternoon trickle of Swallows east and Chaffinch, Redwing, Robin all showed. Late afternoon there was a Wheatear on the track.

 Loch of Bosquoy

 The rookery trees

Squall passing

Monday 3 October 2011

West Mainland again

I was a bit puffed out to be honest and keen to improve the garden list I spent a lot of time mooching around the Sycamores and the willows around the back. The family gripped me off. Mollie first, scoring Short-eared Owl early on which performed beautifully for her  whilst she let the hound out first thing. Flying around her head and almost into the garge before perching on the roof of the byre. Then Louise had the Barred Warbler again under the feeders, she gave a good enough description.

I tramped round and around the garden, a small unidentified warbler first thing. Four Brambling and a few Redwings. Probably saw the Barred Warbler chasing a Chaffinch into the tops of the Sycamores in the afternoon.

Down at Birsay the hound and I watched waders for an hour or so, including quite a puzzling large Dunlin with a pinkish/brown neck. Had me going for a bit but a Dunlin it was. Careful examination of Rock Pipits has now got me to be entirely clear about Buff-bellied Pipit ID, there's still time for another of those, a self-find would be very neat.

The moth trap has proved rather disappointing, just one Rosy Rustic last night; three Large Yellow Underwings, a Rosy Rustic and an Angle Shades the night before (with a maybe interesting micro).

A bit of looking through the "from the garden" list for the year uncovered some omissions so with the Barred, Goldcrest and Reed Bunting of the weekend the list stands at 96 beating last year by two already. 

Its blowing a hooley tonight, fingers crossed the greenhouse will be ok.

Saturday 1 October 2011

West Mainland day

 Some of yesterday's Pinkies (71 in two flocks)

The day was spent between home and Birsay. A day that was supposed to have rain all day was still and overcast with almost no rain. Time at the beginning and the end of the day was spent patrolling the Sycamores and other vegetation around the house which produced Redwings again, after the 19 or so yesterday and Goldcrest was added to the "in the garden" list securely with good views eventually, there may well be as many as five present. Bramblings showed up at the end of the day, like the Chaffinches they had little interest in the feeding station and spent their short time with us feeding on aphids in the Sycamores. Also at the end of the day two unidentified warblers, one of which may have been a Garden Warbler and the other might have been Thursday's (or another) Barred Warbler but both birds were uncooperative.

The lunchtime beach at The Links held plenty of waders, I'll be going back tomorrow to count them properly but 70 or so Ringed Plovers, 10 Dunlin, 3 Barwits plus Turnstones, Redshanks and Curlews. The main point of interest at The Links though were the thrips on the beach, see pix below.


 The black line in front of the girls is all thrips, and it's deep, half a finger tip to the joint

These are on a pool turning it black

 The 20p coin gives a sense of scale here.

There must have been billions of thrips on the beach.