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

Saturday 22 October 2016

Palace patch, on a role

I didn't expect too much after last weekend but birding is full of surprises. I'd confirmed Collared Dove on Wednesday, a bird I'd seen from the car a few weeks ago when I may have been a few metres outside the patch boundary, patch tick. What other #patchgold could be waiting?

The tide was rising and a small wader with a slightly odd call scooted by, proved to be just a small, short billed Dunlin on follow up.

Standard Dunlin

All fairly uneventful until I got to the gardens. A Song Thrush, and something else dived into a garden. Eventually it showed but partly obscured by a leaf, it really did look like a Dunnock (more #patchgold). It flew, and into the next garden which is tricky to watch (house gets in the way). As I was getting an angle on the Sycamores a Phyllosc flicked in the Rosa rugosa nearby, ah! Yellow-browed, nice. A very flightly YbW, whizzed about between the gardens and at one point flew off inland before turning round and coming back. I couldn't locate the Dunnock, darn!

Checked the other gardens for not much and then got back to the car, mmm, a gang of small waders up the end of the beach, maybe that small wader was not just a Dunlin and I'd been muddled. I drove up and looked from the cliff. A Jack Snipe wandered into the scope view, well that was a surprise!

Jack Snipe

Don't think I've ever seen one so well.

Then a stop at Barony Mill to look for more passerines, what's that? A Dunnock. That will do very nicely.

No photos of the Dunnock but a smart Starling and a subtle hybrid crow...


Quite a subtle hybrid but black centres to those edge mantle feathers and some dark body feathers part hidden by the wings.

Grey Heron - four on the shore

Friday 21 October 2016


A very nice morning at Howaback and finally got Mealy Redpoll on the year list, fortunately these were nice easy ones, big, and pale, pale rumps and wing bars, no photos as they (two) were hyper active. Also in the willows and I'd pretty much given up on this for the year was a Willow Warbler, ultra late, but other folk have been recording them in the county in the last few days. I really wish I'd got some pictures as this was quite an interesting looking bird, maybe one of the northern / eastern races 

 Plenty of these about still, Meadow Pipit

Later on i was back down there again, this time by bike giving the hound a run around. Something pale flicked a bit distantly in the pony field and I was quickly on it, (Expletives!!!) Pied Fly #patchgold. It flicked off into a willow in the Howaback garden, no problem I thought... and never saw it again.

During the day I was watching Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and plenty of thrushes in the garden, very nice.

Thursday 20 October 2016

WEBS catchup

I was a bit behind with my WEBS counts so a trip to Loch of Sabiston was required. I've always fancied this site for an egret so this was very welcome,shame it wasn't on the home patch though...

Little Egret

I did call PH to check on the id criteria for Snowy, well, you never know! It flew off very soon after I found it and once I'd counted from the Greeny end  (stuffed with birds, as well as the egret there was a Pintail, plenty of Whoopers (29), 11 Shoveler and stacks of other ducks) I drove via Loch of Banks to the Birsay hall which is just in the Palace patch, no joy there though. However, I did manage to add a long distance Long-tailed Duck to the patch year list and there were 7 Slav Grebes and 8 more Whoopers.

I then went to count Sabiston from the Harray end but several phone calls to deal with, picking up younger daughter from ponies and visiting Louise with a broken Honda (magically mended itself) delayed my return to the loch. The light was plenty better from the east end, the large flock of 35 or so crows, including several hybrids was distracting but a happy hour was spent looking through the many duck.

During the taxi duties I managed to rescue this Orkney Vole from the stable's kitten.

By the time I got back to the stables later the wee ****** had caught another one. (Julian Branscombe is speaking on these at the next Field Club meeting, St Magnus Centre, 7.30 p.m. Friday, 28th October - following his article in British Wildlife.)

A very nice thing at the Greeny end of Sabiston was this Eristalis tenax, not a very common thing here, indeed this is the first I've recorded this year.

Eristalis tenax

Check out the broad, black face line, the curved hind tibia, dark front tarsi, the bands of hairs on the eyes and (not illustrated) the blunt ended abdomen. Here's pertinax on the same plant, at the same time for comparison.

Eristalis pertinax

Tuesday 18 October 2016

Western Orphean Warbler

So I had a meeting in Kirkwall. Getting ready to leave a few jumbled texts came through, reception is hopeless at work and I've increasingly had issues with Voda getting them to me a day or so late. It seemed as if there might be an Orphean Warbler in Finstown (just on the way to the meeting). Clearly it was time for lunch!

I scooted off pronto and thanks to some help from MR directing me to the appropriate spot I was soon watching a Western Orphean Warbler, a species I'd never expected to see in the UK. As I recall I think I've only seen one in Spain.

 Look at the bill on that!

Western Orphean Warbler

I went back after the meeting and got some more views too. It dwarfed a Blackcap when it was beside one. The second photo shows the undertail, note the uniform pinky buff plumage which splits it from Eastern, nice.

Sunday 16 October 2016

That was a good day!

After the slight disappointment of yesterday's elusive Phyllosc (bright coloured thing I glimpsed) today certainly made up for it. Mostly the same stuff at home to start with as yesterday (Brambling, 5; Redwing, quite a lot; Blackbirds, 15+ etc) coming through, excluding the Phyllosc but including a brief view of a Woodcock.

The rest of the birding world is pretty excited about a relative of this...

Off to Birsay where there were plenty of birds coming in, loads of Redwings, quite a few Fiedfare and a scattering of Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Meadow Pipits and Brambling. A Brambling was on the road in front of me so I went photograph it, not being a common bird at Palace, with it was a Meadow Pipit and then another I presumed, until I looked at it with the bins, ah, I know that head pattern! The Olive-backed Pipit hopped up on to the fence wire and I blasted away with the camera.

Wonderful Brambling pic


The bird then flew off some way to some houses. It was very hard to see there but I got a few views. I was waiting to see if anyone would respond to the texts. Just after Alan arrived the bird was flushed by a car going up the driveway. It then led us a merry dance with not very good views before reappearing back in the original spot and showing off well.

Driving home up the track to the house a bird flew across the front of the car amongst a flurry of Redwing. Various words were said before I stopped and got on to the bird in flight, whoa Mistle Thrush! It landed and a scan with the scope found there were two. First record for me in the county, nice.

 Not a Mistle Thrush - the left behind juv Whooper otherwise known as Ellen's goose.

Saturday 8 October 2016

A garden full of Redwing

The Redwings and Blackbirds arrived in force today to set about our Swedish Whitebeam.

There were at least 7 and maybe as many as 15 Brambling as well.

A new (presumably) Yellow-browed Warbler called from next door but I couldn't see it, a Goldcrest, at least two and probably four Fieldfare and at least 20 but most likely 40 or so Blackbirds made up the supporting cast.

At Palace all I could find were five or so Goldcrest but I would bet that there is something else there, I'll have another look tomorrow.

First thing I'd needed to be a taxi so had headed on from Stromness to get a few things in Kirkwall. While I was there I went to have a look at the American Wigeon reported in the week. I've subsequently found the excellent photos on line and it seems ok from them I think, it bothered me somewhat at the time. The photos show dark grey centres to the coverts of the axillaries, I can't find out if that is ok or not. The background colour to the face was quite gingery from the photos online. Light was awful but this isn't too bad.

Interestingly the drake was consorting with a rather grey headed duck. I probably ought to go back and have another look at that.

Not much at Palace, just a few Goldcrest and a Stonechat, I would guess that there is something else lurikng there somewhere.

Still a few hovers about, Eristalis pertinax, two in the garden and two Melanostoma scalare, a male and a female. A single unidentified Heliophillus. A single Painted Lady today.

Monday 3 October 2016


Saturday was unexpectedly lovely, no birds mind but a lovely day. Here's a very autumn thing, spiders migrating by silk and landing in their thousands or millions, or perhaps these are about to set off.

Loch of Bosquoy, silk

There are still hoverflies in the garden, various Eristalis, mostly pertinax, a few Helophilus pendulus and a few Melanostoma scalare.

Eristalis arbustorum, original image enlarged shows hairs off the arista

I wonder if this is Eristalis nemorum? Can't see the wing stigmata unfortunately, perhaps hidden against the body and it's hard to gauge the thickness of the hind metatarsus.

Not a hoverfly, and rather a beast, pretty horrible when they get in the house Cynomya mortuorum.

Sunday was a beautiful day again, eating breakfast, lunch and tea in the garden (it was dark by supper time).

Broad beans and peas finished and out, broccoli in. The gale the other day ripped the broad beans to pieces but everything else survived, there are still courgettes coming along. Tomatoes nearly done.

I got back from Loch of Bosquoy around midday and before beginning the gardening had a mooch around the back garden trees. I check the trees several times a day in the autumn and spring. Warbler species seen so far on the home patch this year just one, Sedge Warbler, a common breeder. (No Willow Warbler or Chiffchaff.)  A flicker in the rowan, Goldcrest? No, a very nice Yellow-browed Warbler, but what was that next to it? Lesser Whitethroat. Birding is just weird sometimes.

Lesser Whitethroat

A little later there was a Redwing feeding in the whitebeam, and early evening 11 came in to roost and another two flew over.