Sunday 27 November 2011

Seawatching (quite well)

 Sea on Saturday at Point of Buckquoy, Birsay

The wind was up so I went for an hour's watch at Birsay on Saturday at midday, a 1cy Glaucous Gull was a fair reward. There were three Red-throated Divers west as well. Kittiwakes were moving through a bit with a trickle but I didn't see a single Fulmar.

View from the garden, yeserday p.m, calm before the hooley

It really blew last night, up to Storm Force 11 (yes the greenhouse was still there this morn).JB and I had seen the forecast so arranged to meet at Pt of Buckquoy at 8 or so. It was quite entertaining, I missed the best bird, a Pom, somehow it evaded me but 8 Blue Fulmars and 18 Red-throated Divers was a fair reward. In the first hour there were 124 Kittiwakes, nearly all adults (10 juv) and just 37 Fulmar. In the second hour there were about 50 Kittiwakes and 3000 Fulmars, all west. Also one each of GND, LtD, RbM, Wigeon, and two Common Scoter.

Back at the ranch the moving of horse poo was the task but there were also 18 Fieldfare over south, a few Redwings, 15 Blackbirds, 2 Robins, 6 Chaffinch, 2 reed Buntings, 100 Teal, a Sproghawk and a Kestrel. The Tree Sparrow is still present.

Sunday 20 November 2011

Lost keys found

Yeserday I went to Costa to try to see the putative Hume's Warbler but without much luck. However, there were a lot of Twite there, maybe 300 or so. Dick talked to me about bird crop and apple feeders, so we now have Waxwing bait hung securely out of reach of the fruit guzzling Blackbird hordes.

 Fodder Beet and Barley are the main food stuff here

 Twite, not especially enjoying the Sproghawk's attentions

 Good use for a fat ball feeder, there's now one of these in our garden, sans the Blackcap though

There was a large fall of Blackbirds yesterday with flocks in the fields, probably 35 around home and  The Shunan. Thrush numbers were buoyant today with about 300 Fieldfare and 200 redwing around The Shunan.

The worst part of today was the car key catastrophe, though. Taking the mischievous hound to Marwick Bay she decided to misbehave outrageously which required emergency lead application. Back at the car after half an hour or so, no keys. When I'd pulled the lead out of the pocket the car keys and come along too. Were they on the hound's collar? Nope! So to add to the lack of peaceful swift hunting, we were now locked out 10 miles from home, no mobile signal and anyway Louise amd Mollie were away in Kirkwall doing horsey stuff. Once we were both able to search, no other people around for the hound to molest, we scoured pathway and beach. Eventually, down near the tideline Ellen felt something strange underfoot, car keys! Phew.

We elected to have a quiet afternoon at home and as further track repairs are pressing we trudged down the hill. A close encounter with a Peregrine was rather startling. The Lapwings were up and eventually I got onto the Peregrine coming my way at head height, straight my way like a bullet..Through the bins I didn't realise just how close it got until I heard the "Whoosh!" of its wings as it pulled up and arced back south. Next up were excellent views of two Shorties which ended up having a spat. Then a Merlin went across the fields after the thrushes, no doubt why there was all this activity in the first place. It did that Merlin accelerator thing that they do when hunting, upping the pace as they close in with high power wing beats, I didn't see if it was successful but it caused considerable panic.

 Track repairers

One of the two Shorties, notice the diagnostic underwing pattern

We sat in the garden having tea at dusk watching the Rooks and a few Jackdaws heading off past our roost to other trees somewhere. They hang around the trees for much of the day but at the moment they are not roosting here.

Other birds today were a Brambling, eight or so Chaffinch and the Tree Sparrow. Ellen and I finally got around to concreting the feeder pole in place so it will no longer need various lumps of wood driven into the ground to prop it up, hopefully.

Sunday 13 November 2011

Harray and Scapa

At home this morning I nearly trod on a Woodcock that was hiding in the back bushes. There were plenty of Chaffinch, probably 12 and at least 7 Reed Buntings. A Brambling was heard to call. Fieldfares trickled SE with a 10, a 3 and a 42 and there were a fair few Redwing about, fewer Blackbirds today though. A Sparrowhawk did the drop from the sky trick, I was down the track repairing a hole or two and noticed the Starlings do their protective flock thing, above and behind them a Sparrowhawk was homing in on the trees, she got there and just folded her wings and dropped, levellling out just a foot above the ground to go for the spuggies. A male and a female Hen Harrier came through the garden and just beyond early afternoon. The Tree Sparrow is still here. On The Shunan there were Teal and Wigeon and a good few Lapwings around the periphery.

Scapa Bay from the  pier yesterday morning - the white building to the left is the Scapa distillery, origin of my favourite (but rather expensive) malt.

Scapa this afternoon was stuffed with gulls, many, many more than yesterday morning. I managed to get pretty good views of problem bird number two (the lower pix yesterday). Looks to me like a very pale 1cy Iceland Gull, quite a large one so maybe that's why the legs looked long. No sign of the other bird unfortunately.

Bonus bird was a Great-crested Grebe which I found on the edge of the gull scrum. This is quite an uncommon bird on Orkney, I think this will be just the third record this year. An Orkney tick for me.

Saturday 12 November 2011

Those gulls again, with pix

 Photos courtesy Morris Rendall
Photos courtesy Morris Rendall

This is the bird that it has been argued is a 2CY Iceland Gull. To my eye it looks more like a Glaucous except that the eye looks far too big. Any opinion would be welcomed.

Photos courtesy Gerry Cannon
 Photos courtesy Gerry Cannon
Photos courtesy Gerry Cannon

It was originally argued that this bird was not an Iceland Gull but might be a leucistic Herring Gull. General opinion now is that it is indeed an Iceland Gull but it continues to pose some interesting questions. The bill colour and dark eye would lead to the conclusion it is 1stCY but the plumage looks much more like 2nd CY. From Olsen and Larsson I found that 2CY Kumlien's can have an all dark bill. Could this bird be a 2nd CY Kumlien's, albiet a very pale one? The tibia and overall leg length looks long to my eye, is this a problem?

Here are a couple more pictures.

 Photos courtesy Morris Rendall
Photos courtesy Morris Rendall

Any opinions will be very gratefully received, some reasons for any ID would be handy, thanks.

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Gull ID - aaaagggghhhhh, help!

Strange things are happening in gull world. Back in October I was rather chuffed to find three different white-winged gulls in four days. I was happy with their ID, it was pretty much an auto-pilot job to be honest, maybe that's the trouble. I got pix of two of them and another observer saw one of them as well. But now .... I'm struggling for my sanity. Perhaps its a hang-over from all the shannanigans with the wheatear.

A careful look at my photos of the Tesco Corner Iceland of 22nd October leads me to realise I mis-aged it, bill colour is the reliable factor, so despite its whiteness it has to be a first winter.

Have a look on Orkbird at these two pix. Here's the first one - click - This one can't be as labelled can it? That's just got to be hyperboreus.

But then there's this one - click - that's not right either, is it? Legs are too long, especially the tibia, bill is too long, head and body shape is wonky. It has been suggested that this one is a leucistic Herring Gull, I'm not sure and I'd like to see it in the flesh but I'd be surprised if it is an Iceland Gull.

Please post your ideas in the comments ....

Extra - here's a bit more on the gulls, I'm changing my mind again....


I'll make comments in amongst your text about this second gull, -A-

--- In, "Martin" wrote:

> The bill shape speaks of Iceland, a bit less robust than Herring with an even
curve down to the tip. Quite unlike the sharp drop to the tip of Glaucous and
also lacking the length and parallel-sided (chisel) build of that species.

- A - I disagree with some of this analysis. There is a need to be wary because
of the angle the shot is taken at. Bill shape looks good for Glaucous to my eye,
it may fit some Iceland Gulls though. However bill length looks better for
Iceland, that could be a product of the angle though.

> Colour of the basal 2/3rds of the bill being bluey/grey is not a Glaucous
feature at any age., it would show pinky/fleshy bill tones around this age.

- A - But that colour doesn't really fit Iceland too well either. In Glaucous
the brightness of the pink fades from first year (I do agree this is a 2nd CY).
Colour could be a product of water on the bill, gunk on the bill or photographic
aberration... If its real I think its more problematic for Glaucous than Iceland
but its still problematic.

> The image where the head is concealed shows a very long forewing from bend to
tip, seems better for Iceland.

- A - I completely disagree, wing shape, both the breadth of the hand and the
arm and length look better for Glaucous but caution again... angle of shot.

> Into the realms of the subjective, the head shape and facial expression have a
slight benign quality rather than the angular shape and scowling glare of

- A - Disagree, looks like it would murder your granny - better for Glaucous.
However, for me the eye is too big in proportion to the bill and head for
Glaucous, much more like Iceland.

> So sorry again Alastair, not denying this one yet.

- A - I also don't like the body shape for Iceland, it looks too heavy and big
chested, but maybe its just had a heavy meal.

I will go down there and try and look for this bird when I can, maybe Saturday.
As I said I really don't like id just from photos because I know I'm **** at it.
I think this bird is problematic from the two pictures.

> Back in the winter of 1982-83 Orkney experienced an amazing influx of Iceland
Gulls. Both Kirkwall and Stromness harbours held double figures of birds; they
were everywhere. Eric and I spent a great many hours sifting through these,
armed only with the topical writings of the late Peter Grant, the Poyser 'Gull
Identification'. This remains a standard reference today. What became obvious
that winter was the myth that Iceland Gulls are the most effeminate looking of
large gull species was starting to unravel. We found plenty of very large
Icelands and even one corpse which had biometrics indicating either a huge
Iceland or a tiny Glaucous.

- A - I learnt a lot of my birding with Peter (Dungeness). Actually when he
wrote the book he hadn't seen that many Iceland Gulls if I remember correctly.
I've even got a picture published in the book (and its not even blurry, 1st CY
Med). But Olsen and Larsson is the business, to be somewhat disloyal, (as long
as you have the corrected reprint).

> That was a long while ago but I carried those memories with me during 15
summers working in the high Arctic and especially when in Greenland. I visited
the east coast more often and here found rather few mostly our slightly built
familiar winter visitors which I called the 'Jessies'. I had to wait until the
summer of 2006 to get into West Greenland and here they were, lots of them, the
'Bruisers'. One of the highlights of my life was sitting in my boat just off
Iqqaluit, West Greenland, throwing fish to a flock of 300 Icelands, great muckle
brutes all. This anecdote suggests to me that the Jessies and the Bruisers come
from different shores of Greenland. My own homespun guess is that the British
Isles is within the routine wintering range of Jessies but not Bruisers. They
only reach us after severe weather (as in 82-83) and as part of a noticeable
influx. Now, of course I know this is back-of-a-fag-packet research but it seems
to work most of the time.

-A- Never been there and never seen any Icelands that look like that. I have
looked at a lot of pix though. Also if Western Greenland Icelands are bigger why
aren't kumlieni bigger?

Anyway, maybe I was hasty, but to suggest this 2nd bird is "undeniably Iceland"
is a touch forward in my view. It could be Glaucous, and brief discussions I've
had with others suggest that there is a body of opinion that thinks that may
well be the case. I like some of your argument, my opinion (for what its worth)
is currently "possibly Iceland". Other opinion, with reasoning, would be very

As for the first bird I think there are still issues and I need to see it, the
tibia was well long for Iceland. It's very pale to have a black bill. There is a
suggestion that it is more likely a pale kumlieni and I'm still not 100% on it
being a 1st CY, some 2nd CY kumlieni apparently have black bills, I'm not really
happy to identify this bird until I've seen it. I would value other opinions.

I do find all this stuff fascinating and educative, thanks to both Morris and
Gerry for getting the pix and to Martin for stirring it up.


Sunday 6 November 2011

Goose count day

That's a lot of geese. In the end I counted 5,825 Greylags and about 80 Pink-feet. Loch of Tankerness was a bit of a challenge though.

During the day I came across a very nice drake Surf Scoter with 23 Velvets and 9 Commons; 37 Great Northerns, 7 Red-throated Divers, 10 Slavonian Grebes, a duck Goosander and a Snow Bunting or two. I heard a Coal Tit and maybe heard a Blue Tit too but they proved elusive in the conifers.

There were a few hundred Fieldfare around but the bright clear weather has encouraged many to push off south

Saturday 5 November 2011

Snow Buntings

I wandered out fairly early on a beautiful still, sunny day. A male Merlin was terrorising The Shunan amd environs. I elected not to go OBP hunting near the airport as it was clear last night.... Probably the reason that despite the initial warmth the moth trap was devoid of moths, although a Small Tortoiseshell was on the wing around midday. Walking back up from searching through the 250 odd Teal for a more interesting duck two Snow Buntings flew over heading south, a new species for the tetrad for me and only 100m short of being a garden tick.

Plenty of thrushes around today with Fieldfare and Redwing around home and Fieldfare being especially evident on Hillside Rd when we drove over to Evie mid afternoon. At Evie there were two Great Northern Divers and a Velvet Scoter. Plenty of gulls but I couldn't weedle an interesting one out of the roost. Waders included three Purps and a single Sanderling.

Other species in and around the garden today were Brambling, probably 8 or so round and about, Reed Bunting, perhaps 6, Robin, 4, Chaffinch, 4, Blackbird perhaps 20. Most frustrating was the brief view of a chat which paused in full view against the light momentarily, it may have been Black Red or even something much more exciting but unfortunately it didn't show again.

Tomorrow is goose count day so I'm off to the East Mainland, it will be a whole day job.

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Even more Desert Wheatear stuff

Folk were obviously far too polite. Nobody mentioned I was so, so wrong about ageing the bird....
Birds like this are very educative, I now know about wheatear moult. The following is my latest Orkbird post. Posts on here on previous days were also just cut and paste jobs. I did miss out a bit of a disagreement - but it added nothing to the argument.

According to Lewington / Alstrom Desert Wheatear cannot be reliably aged in the field except in early juvenile plumage. So is there any reason (e.g. moult) why our bird couldn't be an adult female? Probably from the pix it may be possible to see..."primaries more worn"; not especially helpful, I thought they looked quite fresh with those neat tips but other opinion would be handy (that would make it an adult)..."a moult contrast can often be seen among the greater coverts" Anyone note anything there? My edition of Svensson doesn't help.

What about the race of our bird? Jonsson mentions three races of which atrogularis of Central Asia is the darkest. Few Scottish records have been assigned to subspecies although Forrester and Andrews suggest that an Eastern origin is most likely for our autumn birds. When I finally signed up to Bird Forum to read the discussion there yesterday there was a suggestion that the rump colour, and therefore maybe the overall colouration, might be caused by reasons other than race, it might be erythritic.