Saturday, 17 February 2018

16th - 17th February

A lovely couple of days with much lighter winds and plenty of bright sunshine and with the sheep round-up now complete there was more time to get out into the field; the two days were pretty similar with the wintering highlights present throughout which included the juvenile Kumlien’s Gull floating between the Obs and Brides, the drake Smew on Bewan and the drake Green-winged Teal on Gretchen while a little influx of 3 Glaucous Gulls on the 16th comprised an adult past The Lurn and two juveniles at the north end.

                Some good wildfowl and wader counts over the two days included a single Whooper Swan, 170 Wigeon, 165 Teal, 10 Pintail, 13 Shoveler, 22 Tufted Duck, 8 Goldeneye, 23 Long-tailed Ducks, 94 Oystercatchers, 54 Ringed Plover, 365 Golden Plover, 3 Knot, 94 Dunlin and 35 Bar-tailed Godwits while the ringtail Hen Harrier and young male Peregrine still cruised around.

                Wintering Passerines were also largely static with the Black Redstart and c100 Snow Buntings still around the south of the island, 9 Meadow Pipits, 8 Twite, 35+ Redwings and a Song Thrush but a Linnet which came in off the sea from the south and an increase to 24 Skylarks hinted at some early passage in the fine weather.

Kumlien's Gull

Bar-tailed Godwits

Thursday, 15 February 2018

12th - 15th February

A quiet few days with little change in the islands birdlife but we were hampered by some blazing strong, gale force winds and driving rain while sheep punding and fixing Heligoland traps took up plenty of time as well.   A feeding flock of 350+ Kittiwakes and 120 Auks (mainly Razorbills feeding off the north end on the 12th was noteworthy while hundreds of storm driven Gulls on the east coast on the 14th included 400+ Common Gulls, 130 Herring Gulls, 70 Great Black-backed Gulls and a single Black-headed Gull.

                A flock of 10 Twite at Neven were surprisingly the first of the year on the 12th (unusually no Twite wintered on the island this year) and a 2nd winter Glaucous Gull flew south past Trinley on the 15th.   Wintering Passerines remained constant throughout this period with the Black Redstart still, 50+ Fieldfares scattered across the island, 22 Skylarks and 80+ Snow Buntings seen daily while the ringtail Hen Harrier, Peregrine and Merlin popped up sporadically.

Reed Bunting

Sunday, 11 February 2018

10th - 11th February

A bit of a switch in observers on the 10th with George Gay off to do some fire training for two weeks and the extremely rocking and rolling boat bringing Simon Davies back for the season; limited coverage in the afternoon produced the regular drake Green-winged Teal on Gretchen and counts of 283 Golden Plover and 32 Dunlin in Loch Park.

                A pretty nice day on the 11th with some sunshine and a moderate (but increasing) westerly wind had us out in the field for some good coverage and a good selection of birds; highlights included the juvenile Kumlien’s Gull which reappeared in Nouster, a juvenile Glaucous Gull at the north end, the drake Smew still at Bewan and a Black-throated Diver in Nouster with 7 Great-northern and 2 Red-throated Divers.

                Some good counts of waders and wildfowl comprised 176 Wigeon, 86 Teal, 5 Pintail, 15 Long-tailed Ducks, 10 Goldeneye, 13 Red-breasted Mergansers, 205 Lapwing, 2 Knot (the first of the year), 166 Sanderling, 264 Purple Sandpiper, 111 Dunlin and 16 Bar-tailed Godwits while a ringtail Hen Harrier and a young male Peregrine floated around.

                Wintering Passerines were more obvious in the sunny conditions with the Black Redstart still at Howar, 8 Skylarks, 11 Meadow Pipits, 15 Rock Pipits, 2 Robins, 44 Fieldfare, 34 Redwings, a Song Thrush (surprisingly, also the first of the year), 7 Reed Buntings and an excellent flock of 103 Snow Buntings around Nouster.


Fulmar sweeping round the sheep dyke

Long-tailed Duck

Thursday, 8 February 2018

29th January- 8th February

The last few days of January weren’t much to shout about in terms of new birds, a second Iceland Gull of the year was found on the 29th at West Beach and another bird initially thought to be another Iceland Gull was found flying round the pier on the 31st the bird wasn’t checked thoroughly as we needed to collect food from the plane, so it went down as an Iceland Gull and it subsequently disappeared despite raising some initial questions. 
It wasn’t until nearly week later (4th Feb), when it was finally re-located that it was re-identified as a 1st winter Kumlien’s Gull, good things come to those who wait I guess!
The same brutish 1st winter Glaucous Gull was also seen on the 31st at Bewan along with our first Shelduck of 2018! Other final January highlights included the lone Pink-footed Goose and a pair of Great Northern Divers.
February kicked off with a horrendous windy day on the 1st but despite the bad weather there were plenty of Gulls about, 161 Great Black-backs were supported by 97 Herring Gulls and 194 Common Gulls all sheltering or feeding in various spots, the Larus highlight reel wasn’t complete without a cast of white-wingers, three Iceland Gulls of varying ages, 1st winter, 2nd winter and an adult were all feeding on the sea-weed at Quoybanks, while an adult and a 1st winter Glaucous Gull were making the most of the wind around the lighthouse. Snow Bunting numbers were also high totalling 111.
The 2nd saw the same pair of Glaucous Gulls joined by a further 1st winter bird and one the Iceland Gulls from the previous day was also present, the biggest shock of the year, more shocking than the Cranes, was the brief re-appearance of the Northern Harrier, the bird didn't stay long and was seen heading South towards Sanday.
The 2nd also bought about the arrival of our third returning staff member in the form of Lewis Hooper back for a full season of birding, ringing and various amounts mischief.
The 3rd was a stark contrast to the months opening day weather wise and a calm descended over the island, with barely any wind it allowed for good sea conditions and better numbers of Divers were seen offshore 9 Great Northerns and 4 Red-throats made for more healthy reading! As did a lone Puffin seen chugging its way along the Firth between here and Sanday.
The long staying Smew made and overdue re-appearance on the 4th along with the initial re-finding Kumlien’s Gull, it wouldn’t be identified fully for another couple of days due to poor views, but it had certainly put tails up!
Most of our efforts the next day went into re-finding the gull, but this proved a fruitless endeavour! It wasn’t until the 6th when the bird was seen in the morning that we had a clear of what is was going to be, it then pulled another disappearing act on us!
It wasn’t until later that day and we were tending to a sheep break in below the obs that the bird flushed off some sea-weed and went onto the sea. This time we were ready for it and managed to get a few pictures and furiously took field notes while sending photo’s to various sources, although we had a pretty good idea it was a Kumlien’s we wanted to be 100% sure! The other highlight for the day was a 1st winter Black-throated Diver drifting past the sea-watch hide with a pair of Red-throated Divers.
The 7th bought an excursion to Eday for the long (not so) staying Snowy Owl. It wasn’t there. The less said about that the better!
The 8th proved far better, after a pretty rank start to the day weather wise things brightened up. The early bad weather didn’t stop us getting an early Greenfinch on the board, always a good year bird as they’re not exactly common on the island. It wasn’t the only morning offering either, a pair of Black-throated Divers were seen off the North end and a ringtail Hen Harrier and male Merlin were also at Trebb. There was also a good chorus of Skylarks making their presence known giving the feeling that Spring isn’t a million miles away, even if it does keep snowing!
The now showy Kumlien's Gull

Kumlien's again...

Very showy indeed!

A bit more straightforward than above!
The theme is...Gulls with white wings, here's the 1st and 2nd winter Iceland Gulls

Terrified Purple Sandpipers running away from other Purple Sandpipers

Sunday, 28 January 2018

18th-28th January

After a fantastic start to the year things have slowed down a little towards the latter parts of the month.
The highlights have been spaced out over the last ten or so days, the 18th didn’t produce much in the way of birds, the 19th although still quiet, produced 2 Glaucous Gulls at Bewan and on the Links, 3 Snow Buntings at Bridesness and although not massively exciting a 3rd Little Grebe joined the pair on the loch at Brides.
A spell of poor weather didn’t allow for much birding and nothing of note was really seen until the 22nd the drake Smew was back on Bewan and was seen consecutively for the next three days andwas joined by 3 Red-breasted Mergansers on the 22nd, a pair of Robins and 21 Snow Buntings were also present on the same date.
The Green-winged Teal was seen again on the 25th and has been seen every day since.
The 27th and 28th got a little more interesting, one of the three ever present Glaucous Gulls was joined on the grass outside the sea-watch hide by an odd-looking Herring-type Gull that Simon photographed back in December, it perhaps needs further scrutiny and that means re-finding it! I've not included any pictures as Simon's from December are far better!

The 28th was bright and sunny, stark contrast to night of blasting westerlies that preceded it, 74 Snow Buntings feeding around the cattle feeder in East Loch Park, one of the wintering Hen Harriers was hunting out over the loch at Brides and finally a long-awaited Iceland Gull was found motoring up the tide line behind Trolla.    
The ever shy drake Smew

Glaucous Gull having a paddle

The long awaited Iceland Gull

...and again! 

I know it's a cliche, but here's a flurry of Snow Buntings

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

11th-17th January

The last week has had the full spectrum of weather with wind, rain, sun, sleet, hail and snow!
It’s also provided some fairly good birds, the 11th was very quiet and the only real noteworthy birds were the first Skylark of 2018 flushed from the ploughed field South of the camping field and a Merlin that cruised into the bay a Westness.
A bird I thought we weren’t going to get on the year finally made appearance, the drake Smew that had graced the island in the final days of 2017 was seen briefly on Bewan and hasn’t been since!
Other birds of interest for the 12th a Hen Harrier at Sandar and a lone Pink-footed Goose.
The 13th and 14th were quiet also. The 1st Winter Glaucous Gull was still on the Links, a good count of 18 Goldeneye were spread out between Bewan, the Links and Brides. An early Mistle Thrush was feeding at the bottom of the fields near the shooting gallery on the 14th, the final bird of the day was a very smart drake Pochard on Bewan.
A pair of Glaucous Gulls were present on the 15th in near un-birdable winds, Black-headed Gull added itself to the year list and the Pochard remained on Bewan.  
The 16th was much calmer but a hell of a lot colder! A Woodcock in off the sea at Westness was another addition to the year list closely followed by a Red-throated Diver and 2 Great Northern Divers off the Links.

Snow on the 17th gave the island an even colder feel! Appropriately a large flock of 58 Snow Buntings were feeding round the cattle feeders in East Loch Park. The Hen Harrier was still present around the Westness area and the Pochard was still present on Bewan, finally an impressive 32 Fieldfares were dotted around the island. 
A Common Gull Mosh Pit in the Snow

"Whatever this white stuff is, I don't like it" - Hooded Crow Jan '18


The ever camera shy drake Smew

Whooper Swan in heavy snow, probably wishing it wasn't 

Thursday, 11 January 2018

8th-10th January

With winter ticking along nicely and birds slowly adding themselves to the year list it’s been a topsy-turvy few days in content and weather wise.
The 8th was much the same as the previous two days, a second Glaucous Gull of the year, this time a 1st Winter or 2nd Calendar Year (whichever you prefer) was loafing around Bewan with other Gulls.
A flock of Snow Buntings were seen feeding in the fields that surround South Ness and a short sea-watch provided the first Great Northern Diver of 2018 and a probable White-billed Diver that showed all the characteristics of White-billed but in fading light it cannot be a certainty.
Poor weather on the 9th and having a few jobs to do lead to very little in the way of birding being done. The highlight being a large count of Great Black-backed Gull and Herring Gulls posting totals of 188 and 112 respectively, the biggest surprise was a lack of white-wingers.
Weather improved considerably on the 10th, a pair of Pink-footed Geese kicked things off, one in East Loch Park and one behind the Kirbest Myre. Gull numbers were still high following rough weather and Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls were joined on the Links by yet another Glaucous Gull.
A clear increase in Redwing numbers was evident, numbers rising to an impressive 41 and Fieldfares seemed to stay steady at around 13 birds. Another Great Northern Diver was joined by 17 Long-tailed Ducks off the Links, 3 Robins were dotted around the island and the Chaffinch that has spent the winter around the obs croft was lingering at T4.

The biggest surprise of the year (all 10 days of it) was the appearance of 7 Common Cranes at Nether Linnay! They’re not a usual visitor to the island and caused a small-scale twitch! The birds were eventually flushed by curious cattle and flew South towards Sanday. Not a bad start to 2018!

Common Cranes 

Common Cranes shortly after being investigated by the Cows

1w Glaucous Gull at Bewan

Sunday, 7 January 2018

6th-7th January

The 6th saw the return of two obs staff members and an increase in coverage of the island.
Fieldfare numbers remained high with 15 birds in various locations, the bulk of them being in the fields the surround South Ness. Numbers of Redwings also stayed very similar as they were prior to the new year.
Wildfowl numbers have been fairly typical for this time of year, the pair of Mute Swans have been joined by up to 3 Whooper Swans.
Unsurprisingly wintering Greylag numbers are well into the hundreds, the 6th saw 421 counted and the 7th saw 367 dotted around in small flocks.
The Duck side of things proved to be slightly more exciting, 15 Pintail, 11 Tufted Ducks, 31 Mallard, 132 Wigeon, 7 Goldeneye, 71 Teal and 6 Gadwall were joined by the overwintering Green-winged Teal that is still spending its time on Gretchen.
Wader numbers have been low, 27 Bar-tailed Godwits being the highlight, Purple Sandpipers posted a respectful 198, the bulk of which have been feeding on washed up piles of tangles at Westness.
A few wintering Robins have set up around the island, 3 of which are around Holland House.
It seems as though the large numbers of Snow Buntings have all but moved on with only one bird being seen over the two-day period.
The ringtail Hen Harrier is still terrorising the islands ducks and waders as it cruises around.
Finally, Gull numbers have been unexpectedly low all barring Common Gulls, with numbers over 100 on both dates, but low numbers of large Gulls have meant there have been very little in the way of white-wingers to sift through, just a lone adult Glaucous Gull at Bewan on the 6th.
With windier conditions on the way we’re hoping for a few more year ticks!

A Fieldfare being unusually obliging

Adult Glaucous Gull with other Gulls

      Ringtail Hen Harrier at sunrise 

All photos George Gay  

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

18th December - 2nd January

Among the usual wintering species, highlights in the last couple of weeks have been a single Whooper Swan on 18th Decemeber, a females Sparrowhawk on 20th, a lone Pink-footed Goose on 22nd and a pair of Mute Swans from the 22nd onwards. The wintering Black Redstart has been seen regularly near the pier and a male Chaffinch has been around the croft. With reasonable weather on Xmas day, there was a Merlin, Hen Harrier and peak of 112 Snow Buntings. A drake Smew was seen on Bewan Loch on the 27th and 28th; a Peregrine at Bridesness on 29th was seen taking a Snipe, with a Hen Harrier also hunting there at the same time. There were 17 Long-tailed Ducks off the pier on 30th.
Some New Year's day birding failed to turn up the either the Smew or the Black Redstart, but the Mute Swans remained ever present and some thrush numbers included 10 Redwing and 6 Fieldfare.
All that's left to say is, we hope you a have a very good 2018 and we're looking forward to seeing you soon!
                  A muddy Whooper Swan enjoying island life!                         

One of seven Snow Buntings at Brides

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

12th December

A glorious day with hardly a breath of wind and plenty of sunshine; most of the birds of note were Passerines which popped out in the calm weather around B and E and included 6 Robins, 34 Redwings, 10 Skylarks, 2 Reed Buntings, 9 Meadow Pipits, 16 Rock Pipits and 4 Snow Buntings.   Other birds of note comprised 6 Great-northern Divers and 16 Long-tailed Ducks off Stennabreck, 2 Whooper Swans and 2 Pintail on Ancum and 4 Herons.

Reed Bunting

Rock Pipit


Monday, 11 December 2017

10th and 11th December

The wind mercifully died down from mid-morning on the 10th becoming very pleasant in the afternoon; birds round the coast from Gretchen to The Links included 10 Great-northern Divers, 6 Red-throated Divers, 3 Herons, an adult Whooper Swan by Brides, 35 Long-tailed Ducks, a female Common Scoter which flew past Nouster, 5 Red-breasted Mergansers, the wintering Grey Plover, 65 Ringed Plovers, 64 Sanderling, 84 Dunlin, 255 Purple Sandpipers and a Black-headed Gull.   Passerines which came out of the woodwork in the calm weather included 69 Snow Buntings, single Song Thrush and Fieldfare, 11 Redwings, 3 Skylarks, 6 Robins, 4 Meadow Pipits, 12 Rock Pipits and the Chaffinch still around Nouster.

                A lovely day on the 11th with light northerly winds and plenty of sunshine (still cold though!); a productive two hour seawatch first thing comprised a Black-throated Diver with 9 Great-northern Divers and 3 Red-throated Divers, 922 Fulmars (with 11 Blue ones including a very dark, almost black looking individual!), 45 Kittiwakes, 6 Puffins, a single Little Auk and 3,431 Auk sp.   Other birds in the north included 14 Snow Buntings, 4 Goldeneye and 5 Pintail.

                The Common Redpoll reappeared at The Lurn (presumably it will try and overwinter now) along with 4 more Snow Buntings, 2 Great-northern Divers and 8 Tysties.

Great Black-backed Gull


Saturday, 9 December 2017

7th - 9th December

An incredible few days as Storm Caroline wreaked her foamy vengeance upon the island with storm force winds battering the Northern Isles; not much birding was done on the 7th as the winds reached their peak but some hardcore dazzling produced some good results after dark with a good selection of Gulls and waders caught.   We ventured out briefly on the 8th into the still gale force winds and wintery squalls with 2 Glaucous Gulls (an adult and a juvenile) off Brides in amongst good numbers of other Gulls, Ducks and Waders feeding along the marginally sheltered side of the island.

                Still extremely windy on the 9th with huge waves and long, heavy snow and hail showers; a few hours spent at the top end produced the highlights of 3 Glaucous Gulls (two juveniles and a different adult) and a juvenile Iceland Gull (which may have had some kumlieni in there somewhere).   Other birds included 32 Snow Buntings, an increased 7 Goldeneye, 10 Pintail, 22 Bar-tailed Godwits and 21 Curlew.

Glaucous Gulls,   Simon Davies

Iceland Gull,   Simon Davies

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

4th - 6th December

Still hard going out in the field with the strong W/NW winds bringing long periods of heavy, driving rain; a Sooty Shearwater passed the hide on the 4th during an hours seawatch along with 2 Great-northern Divers, 341 Fulmars, 38 Kittiwakes and 317 Auk sp. while 10 Gadwall, 7 Pintail and 2 Goldeneye were on Bewan.   There was pretty much nothing to mention on the 5th although the shrinking moon and increasing wind and rain produced a productive nights dazzling as the spoils included a Water Rail in Loch Park and the first Teal to be ringed this year at Bewan along with some Turnstone, Ringed Plover and Snipe.

                More effort was put in on the 6th despite the pouring rain, as birds around the coast between the pier and Bridesness included a Great-northern Diver, 2 Herons, 145 Wigeon, 195 Teal, 12 Shoveler, 7 Long-tailed Ducks, 122 Lapwing, 80 Sanderling, 165 Purple Sandpipers, 80 Snipe, 81 Redshank, 95 Turnstone, 3 Black-headed Gulls (the first ones for several weeks!), 180 Common Gulls, 12 Rock Pipits and 9 Snow Buntings.   Elsewhere there were 3 Robins, 22 Redwings (a bit of an increase) and a Chaffinch, seemingly settling in for the winter around the Obs.


Water Rail

Sunday, 3 December 2017

2nd and 3rd December

Brisk westerly winds through the 2nd with the expected wintery showers whipping through didn’t encourage much time out in the field but totals round the north end of the island included 4 Red-throated Divers, 6 Great-northern Divers, 13 Gadwall and 13 Pintail.   Still a strong W/NW wind sweeping across the island on the 3rd but it generally remained drier and brighter so more time was spent out and about; the potential highlight was a large Gull which flew through Nouster which showed many characteristics of a second winter American Herring Gull – we’ll have to see how far that gets in the system as I’m not sure it has the full suite of features to prove it either way…

                Other totals around the Obs and Bridesness census areas of the island included a Pink-footed Goose, 12 Shoveler, 14 Long-tailed Ducks, the same adult female Hen Harrier, 371 Golden Plover, 215 Purple Sandpipers, 209 Common Gulls, 6 Meadow Pipits, 8 Rock Pipits, 2 Robins, 8 Redwings, the one lingering Common Redpoll still along the coast at The Lurn, 49 Snow Buntings and a Reed Bunting.

Herring Gul Sp.   Simon Davies

Common Redpoll,   Simon Davies

Friday, 1 December 2017

30th November and 1st December

Still very cold, strong northerlies on the 30th with a Little Auk off Brides the only bird really worth mentioning.   A big change in the weather on the 1st with the winds swinging back into the west and dying down to almost nothing for a while but the change brought waves of mist, murk and drizzle which drifted in and out through the day; a seawatch first thing before the weather closed in produced a Sooty Shearwater (it’s amazing how late in the year they still pass the island!), 526 Fulmars (with one Blue one), 6 Great-northern Divers, 65 Gannets, 18 Kittiwakes and single Little Auk and Puffin with 674 Auk sp.   There were then 13 Pintail, 17 Gadwall and a Merlin around Bewan.

                Other birds included a Water Rail around the Obs, still one Common Redpoll on the coast at The Lurn and 2 Pink-footed Geese by Holland before a look round Southness / Brides produced a Fieldfare, 7 Redwings, 4 Meadow Pipits, 2 Skylarks and 2 more Pintail while offshore there were 6 Red-breasted Mergansers and 9 Long-tailed Ducks.

Raven showing off

Snow Bunting,   Simon Davies