Monday 26 December 2016

Babs and Conor

St Michael's Kirk pre Babs

It's hard to capture these storms in any kind of meaningful way through images, and anyway, everyone is so used to quite spectacular images on the BBC News that risking life and limb to get a half good picture is really a bit of a waste of time, so the ones below were largely taken from the safety of the car. On Christmas Eve I went out at midday to fetch the turkey, it had lived on a local farm, and I popped down to Marwick and The Links afterwards.

Marwick looked spectacular from the top of the hill, watching a car come up from the car park it appeared that at any moment it would disappear under a wave several houses high, however, going down the road to look closer and the sea just didn't have the impact (luckily).

This Eider was not enjoying Babs much

I did take a few pictures though...

More about the sky than the sea

I tried a walk at The Links, and hound and I did get down to the bottom of the track, however sheltering behind the dyke (on knees) I decided it was all too risky and headed back to the safety of the Fiesta. Mmmm, that was not so easy, clothing acted like a sail and on several occasions I very nearly ended up face planted in the mud. It was a relief to get behind the wee car and kneeling again, open the door and get dog and self inside. This was gusting 50 or so at most I would guess, it's worked itself up to more than that now.

Back at the ranch the quackers were all sheltering in a corner of The Shunan, bird feeders were taken in and food put on the floor (most of it had blown there anyway).

Christmas morning it was still, the lull before Conor, it didn't take long to get up again. 

Ravens circled in anticipation.

Through the night it blew and now it's howling. A look out of the kitchen window and the back shed (rather ancient) is rocking around somewhat alarmingly. Emergency repairs have been administered, whether that will suffice as an Adrian type stop the next couple of hours will tell...

St Michael's Kirk between Babs leaving and Conor arriving.

Since my last blog post I've spent a lot of time looking at the Lesser Scaup and going through references. An early Christmas present to myself of the new Reeber wildfowl guide has helped, what an excellent book. I had missed this book being published and had fairly recently purchased a copy of Madge second hand (£4), still a useful text. All the information and illustrations of hybrids in Reeber are very useful, highy recommended if you like your quackers.

Tuesday 6 December 2016

How weird is that?

So on Sunday back down to the very spot where I found the, now confirmed, Lesser Scaup as it was calm and there were a pile of birds showing. I have only been down to this spot a handful of times in the last couple of years although in the past it has produced Citrine Wag. Got out of the car and let the dog mooch about whilst I was counting things. After a short while the dog flushed something and I saw it get up out of the corner of my eye, got onto it properly and was a bit shocked to realise it was a small crake. It flew low over the water and seemed to drop in to the vegetation not too far away. Went through there with the dog but nothing. Waited about an hour, watching the edge by carefully wading out into the shallows  a few times but no joy. AL arrived and we thoroughly walked through the area a couple of times but without a result. Bit frustrating, as the bird looked really small and slight. I saw short bill and trailing legs, short rounded wings. Wings looked darker above than uniform somewhat paler body. Flight was level a few inches above the water, really didn't get much on this bird, but enough to be sure it was a crake and the size and slightness make me seriously think Baillon's / Little (I think Spotted and Sora are more robust things) I wouldn't entirely rule out Spotted Crake though.

Otherwise a fairly uneventful birding weekend, just adding Woodcock finally to the Old Nisthouse year list.

Some lovely sky on Sunday though.

 From the beach

From by the tearoom

Loch of Harray

Saturday 26 November 2016

(Lesser Scaup) - retitled, mmmm is it a Lesser Scaup? - Further retitled, Darn, it's a hybrid - As you were - Lesser Scaup

 Post-script. On Sunday, 4th December Morris Rendall got photos of the Lesser Scaup which showed the wing pattern which I had thought I had seen accurately the previous week. There followed a lot of discussion with a variety of folk commenting and supporting the original id as Lesser Scaup. I had just been a bit too cautious!

 Lesser Scaup upperwing (Photo Morris Rendall)

Note the white extends through the secondaries but not on to the primaries.

Lesser Scaup underwing (Photo Morris Rendall)

Note the dark bases to the primaries and secondaries creating a dark bar through the wing and the darker primaries contrasting with the white secondaries. The underwing of both Greater Scaup and Tuftie are whiter and brighter, pretty evenly pale throughout with pale bases to the flight feathers.

Many thanks to Morris for allowing me to post these excellent photos.

Well that was educative. Very different light today, bright and sunny and quite still all day. Problem number one was refinding the bird which took two attempts and a couple of hours (broken by needing take take younger daughter to work). Eventually AL relocated it, I'd actually seen it but passed over it earlier. It was much further away today but in bright sunlight. The first issue was that the mantle is dark, so dark that in the bright sunlight, from a higher vantage point the bird was tricky to detect amongst the Tufties, however, looking at photos on Birdguides that is not necessarily a problem. Next problem was the sheen on the head which was certainly dark green. Again there are birds on Birdguides with a green sheen, the bird at Linlithgow in December 2014 shows this. Neither of these things could be seen yesterday. Third problem, although I'd seen the bird in flight yesterday and had been pretty certain that the white in the wing did not extend through to the primaries, today when the bird flapped that was more doubtful, indeed AL was pretty certain that the white was much the same as on a Tuftie. I do find this feature very hard to see, but it has been the clincher in the past with female type birds on both Loch of Bosquoy and The Shunan (that they were Tufties or at best a hybrid), bright sunlight makes this feature harder to detect though. I woud like a photo of this feature and now wish I'd photographed instead of looked yesterday when the bird flew. However, it is also worth thinking about the vermiculations on the mantle, on this bird they do not extend on to the flanks and I think on a "good" LS they should. Also they were rather fine and not as coarse as shown in the books or on most birds online, although again the Linlithgow bird was similar. Today the bird looked to be the same size as the Tufties, however, yesterday's photos shows that it is probably smaller, it did tend to sit higher in the water which birds in photos online also appear to do.

So a conundrum. It may be the bird at Linlithgow was a hybrid, it looks rather big in photos to my eye. However if that one was good, maybe this one is as well. I think a photo of the open wing is pretty much essential, looks like I need a boat, or the luck of the bird being close again as on Saturday. Orkney birders reading this please go and look at the bird, your opinions will be welcomed. Today the bird was out in the middle of the loch, towards the hotel garden, in the area of the huge white plastic sack on the far bank. (Loch or Boardhouse, Birsay.)

Lesser Scaup Loch of Boardhouse

Original text -
I was so pleased to find this, off patch or not it's a cracking bird. I've been contemplating changing the patch boundaries a bit for next season as I rarely get out to the Brough of Birsay and I've long thought that the loch could do with a bit more attention. Today I stopped at the west end of the loch on my way out, this is just in the patch, and there was a nice selection of birds, so on the way home I went down to the water works as I'd seen there were good numbers of duck there from the west end.

I did add something to the patch year list today though as this was on the beach.

Grey Plover

For the second visit in a row there were really good numbers of these, about 30 or so.


Plenty of seals today as well, about 50 Harbour and 10 or so Grey with two Grey pups. Not sure which species this one was...

Tuesday 22 November 2016

The diner arrives

A phone call from home just at the moment when I could have a late lunch break:


A bit late to table if you ask me!

Sunday 20 November 2016

Coue's Arctic Redpoll

Strangely enough I'd only seen one Arctic Redpoll for sure before and that was many years ago at Redcar. The text came through after I'd helped with the ponies this morning and I managed to negotiate use of the Honda, necessary for this twitch as the bird is at Queenamidda, over the Lyde and then a long way up a quite tricky track. It was very icy here this morn and the Lyde was two tyre tracks in the snow. The track to Queenamidda was slightly intimidating, but negotiable with care (it would have been a lot more fun in the Fiesta!).

MR was there already having walked up from the bottom and BR was the perfect host, even including views of his "pet" Water Rail from the kitchen window.

Coue's Arctic Redpoll

There was another bird in the small redpoll flock that may well also be a Coue's.

Coue's or just a Mealy?

BRs pet from the kitchen window.

Also present was a very smart male Bullfinch which was softly trumpeting, no pix unfortunately as rather elusive. I think only the second or maybe third Bullfinch I've seen in the county. I missed a flock of twenty Waxwings by moments.

There was no time left to go for the Crane, which I missed for the sixth or seventh time yesterday, primarily because I've been looking in the wrong field. The wrong field did contain at least 51 (and probably a hundred or more) Reed Buntings though, and just for a moment a Chiffchaff popped out of the Oat crop which looked very like another tristis.

Back at home there were two Goldfinch, a couple of Chaffinch and unusually for me a Blackcap on the apples I'm putting out.

 Blackcap on apple

Another fan of the apples. But the intended diners have still not turned up...


Yesterday the highlight was this "beautiful" hybrid Canada Goose. A tad galling as Canada is uncommon here and would be a year tick for PWC.

Hybrid Canada/Greylag

Some evening views...

Loch of Bosquoy dusk today

Venus over Hoy

Sunday 13 November 2016

Black-throated Thrush

Thursday and a second Black-throated Thrush within striking range. I made a dash for it between work sessions, and dipped. That'll be that I thought.

Friday, and a quick look around the garden before  a later than usual start to work produced the second tristis Chiffchaff of the season as well as a standard one. No news on the thrush. Bad news was that I'd missed a small, on-patch flock of Waxwings, I'd have driven past them a time or two as well.

Saturday morning and I checked the garden, the tristis had gone. Checked for the Waxwings, no sign. Went round Palace, and for the first time for ages no additions to the patch year list.

1.00p.m. phone call from the Black-throated Thrush land owner, the bird has been present all day and would I like to come along at 2.00p.m? Yes please.

2.00p.m. and I'm being waved down to the site, it is apparently in view. Park up, down the track and... it has gone. Some long minutes are then spent in the world's smallest birding hide wrestling with scope, camera and self to get comfy when there's a call it's in the stubble field. Rapidly extricating myself from the hide and legging it back up the track I get a few distant views using the scope. RM suggests we go down through his garden and sneak up on the bird which we do and over the course of the next 40 minutes or so I get excellent views and some passable pics.

Black-throated Thrush

Many thanks to RM for the shout and for leading us a tramp around his garden so that we could see and photograph the bird.

Ah! Got to scoot the light is failing and the Crane has been relocated....

...but it had moved on again by the time I got there. Anyway can't complain, nice bit of WeBS this morning which again produced a Little Egret at Loch of Sabiston (local rarity) along with a nice selection of quackers, including a very lost looking Long-tailed Duck.

Saturday 5 November 2016

A bit blowy

Glaucous and GB-b Gulls

A sharp northerly, bit more than a breeze and a seawatch was required, both Papay and NRon have had some good birds from the sea of late.

Point of Buckquoy was no good as the car was rocking around like crazy so I tried walking out to the buildings on Northside, but the wind direction meant there was no shelter, well so as I could actually see the sea. In the end I parked by the fisherman's hut at the base of Skiba Geo. That is an odd sort of seawatch place but it worked, I had shelter and using the big scope I could see birds passing. There were a lot of birds passing, a stream of Fulmars amd a good few Gannets amongst them. A distant Sooty went by, then a close one, very nice. A Great Northern or two, then excellence, a year tick, 1cy Glaucous Gull.

A tiny thing disappeared in the waves and then a while later another. They had to be Little Auks but the view just wasn't good enough. Twenty minutes later a whirring wee thing flew through the bay giving excellent views, brilliant!

Wednesday 26 October 2016


I really don't like twitching but a Siberian Accentor 35 minutes from home was hard to resist. Monday was phone change over day, the day I dumped Vodafone after rather a lot of years and went over to GiffGaff. That all went very smoothly, keeping my number, except that I only got the text at 4.15 p.m. and not 2.30 p.m. ******!

Dippa doo, hardly surprising, it was after 5.00 p.m. when I finally got there.

So next morning, after a further coat of varnish went on the kitchen floor and the ponies and other and various critters were fed and watered I headed back to Deerness.

Tempting it is indeed to have a bit of a rant at this point over the whole business (twitching rarely seems to go well for me, although I will say that the Western Orphean experience the previous week was excellent, I was even offered a cuppa, thanks SW, and thanks MR for the crucial directions). The rudeness of one birder the previous evening had cast a bit of a cloud over the enterprise, and it is tempting to be a wee bit critical of the tactics of some participants in their attempt to see the bird. In complete contrast the finder of the bird was, as usual, so helpful, thanks again MR. 

I sat and sat by the likely spot for a good while but the site was busy, the bird was being seen right by the only access track, and then friends arrived so we went off for a wander round. Cora ate an already dead baby rabbit and tried to kill a brown rat. We got fleeting views of a Bluethroat. I photographed a Redstart that might prove interesting, I need to have a look at references. And by that time the site had quietened down. I was just on the way to sit back down again at my stakeout point when a bird flicked on to the muddy/poo patch, bingo! I ushered the remaining four participants over and we all enjoyed excellent views for a couple of minutes or so.

Siberian Accentor

Sunday 23 October 2016

Garden patrol

I have been patrolling the garden the last few days, checking the feeders and the trees every few hours, get a real feeling for birds arriving and moving through, although the movement has been less than substantial, however plenty of quality.

Chiffchaffs have been a feature with up to three at any one time, probably a fair few individuals. Yesterday one flitted across in front of me and when I relocated it it looked different. It then proceeded to pose for the camera just a few feet away.

"Siberian" Chiffchaff

When first found it didn't call, I was pretty sure I heard it call today, although it wasn't in view at the time. I was worried by the bare part colour, but I think the BB paper of 2007 has now been superseded and that the idea that the bill should be all black is incorrect. The Collins Guide (2nd ed) shows a bill with a fair bit of yellowish brown in the lower mandible. So I'm happy with this as tristis. A few have arrived in the county in the last couple of days. I'd watched two standard Chiffchaff feeding together yesterday, quite peacefully, although this species typically shows some pre-migration aggression to other birds, although usually earlier in the autumn. The tristis was very aggressive to the standard collybita though, during the scrap the collybita called but this bird did not.

Here are some pictures of the collybita, taken in different light today mind, but the much more greenish tones are very obvious. In the field the tristis looked a tad bigger, longer tailed anyway, with longer primaries I would suggest. Subtle things though, and in some lights it did "morph" and seemed less brown and white as Martin Garner reported in his paper on these.

Standard collybita

There were various other things in the garden, three Chaffinch were nice, although they quickly moved through. I was clearing out the back shed and whilst taking a last load out a familiar call was uttered a few feet away. Dumped the junk in the trailer and grabbed the bins and camera, back to the shed. Excellent views straightaway of the fourth Yellow-browed for the garden this autumn.

Yellow-browed Warbler

Interestingly it was closely associating with a Goldcrest.


For the remainder of the day I went for a tramp round Loch of Bosquoy, then Harray and back via Howaback (feeding the ponies on the way) and getting home slightly damp in the dark. Loch of Harray produced the highlights with Hen Harrier, Peregrine, Long-tailed Ducks x6, Slav Gebes x4 and a few Whooper Swans.

 Loch of Harray