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Scotland

Cape May Warbler, Cuba

Cape May Warbler, Cuba

This year I have chosen one highlight from spring, one from summer, and one from autumn.

The Cape May Warbler in Cuba at Easter was one of several colourful wood warblers which we saw. It epitomises how birds and other wildlife regulate their lives independently of the political and other ‘boundaries’ created by Homo sapiens.

The Purple Emperor in Rutland in July was one of the discoveries I made during fieldwork for the Rutland Butterfly Atlas. Although this species receives more than its fair share of attention, it is undeniably exciting to discover at new sites.

The Lanceolated Warbler on Fair Isle in September was an example of the quintessential autumn rarities which draw visitors to Shetland, and performed admirably for all present. It was a new bird for several experienced birders.

What will 2017 bring?

Purple Emperor, Rutland

Purple Emperor, Rutland

Lanceolated Warbler, Fair Isle

Lanceolated Warbler, Fair Isle

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Common Seal, Shetland

Common Seal, Shetland

Our first visit at this season was rewarded with views of a ‘trumpeting’ Northern Bullfinch at Kergord on 20 November, Water Rails in unusual places, two Glaucous Gulls in south mainland, the Killdeer at Sandwick on two out of four visits, good views of Porpoise in Quendale bay, Pintail x Mallard hybrid at Scatness (a rare hybrid in my experience), and another dead Polecat-ferret at Sumburgh.

For our growing Shetland garden list, see https://birdingontheedge.wordpress.com/garden-list/

Pintail x Mallard (right) with Mallard and Whooper Swan, Shetland

Pintail x Mallard (right) with Mallard and Whooper Swan, Shetland

 

Meadow Pipit, Fair Isle - how often have you seen the pale yellow outer axillaries?

Meadow Pipit, Fair Isle – how often have you seen the pale yellow outer axillaries?

During my stay on Fair Isle this autumn I was fortunate to see no fewer than seven species of pipit. The most numerous, and perhaps for that reason the least appreciated by some birders, was Meadow Pipit.

Meadow Pipits are quite variable, to the extent that there were misidentifications as both Red-throated and Pechora by visitors on Fair Isle. Although the 8th edition of the British List recognised whistleri, its validity (in common with that of some other currently recognised endemic British taxa) should be re-assessed. There may well be a good case for treating Meadow Pipit as a variable monotypic species.

Migrant Meadow Pipits include birds from Iceland and Scandinavia, and many British breeders migrate to the Bay of Biscay and Iberian Peninsula. In L&R, three-figure counts in autumn are not unusual and 1,125 flew south over Deans Lane on 21 September 2003.

Time spent watching Meadow Pipits is time spent well.

Meadow Pipit, Fair Isle

Meadow Pipit, Fair Isle

 

Prunella montanella, one (Lee Gregory)

Prunella montanella, one (Lee Gregory)

We nearly didn’t see this bird. Four of us had arranged to leave Fair Isle on the the first flight on Monday. When we got to the airstrip there was no plane, no ground staff. We were told to wait 30 minutes. Then we were told that there would not be any flights that day or the next. Later, we were told that there might be a flight late afternoon. Tension mounted. Grown men began to exhibit non-adult behaviour. Waiting meant that we could not wander far: I managed to see a Mealy Redpoll over the airstrip and Jack Snipe beside a Snipe from the observatory.

Finally a plane did arrive, and delivered us to Tingwall at 17.45. My wife drove us swiftly south. We arrived at the quarries: no birders. We looked. After what seemed an age this little gem appeared and we watched it at close range for a good ten minutes or so. The rays of the setting sun illuminated St Ninian’s Isle and distant Foula behind us. Truly, the moment could not have been better. How Lee managed to get these photos I will never know. The next morning it had gone.

The rest of the week has been spent visiting family, with occasional excursions. On the afternoon of 13 October we visited Bressay. As we drove towards Gunnista we saw a possible exilipes Arctic Redpoll by the road: it had a strikingly clean-looking white rump, but the views were too brief to check all the critical features and my single image isn’t quite sharp enough. The Black-faced Bunting gave reasonably good views on the fence by its favoured turnip field. On 15 October we spent some time around Burra (where we saw six Lapland Buntings) and Scalloway where we bumped into two Waxwings before enjoying close views of the juvenile Rose-coloured Starling (which began to sing at one point!).

What an autumn this is becoming!

Black-faced Bunting, Bressay

Black-faced Bunting, Bressay

One for the road: Pechora Pipit

One for the road: Pechora Pipit

My last few days on Fair Isle were less eventful than those of the previous week. The Pechora Pipit remained, and I saw a second Red-flanked Bluetail. Scarce migrants included more Little Buntings, Marsh Harrier and Bluethroat.

Migrant butterflies were represented by Red Admiral and Painted Lady.

By some measures the rarest bird of them all was Fair Isle Wren. We were tempted away by the Siberian Accentor on nearby south mainland, which we arrived just in time to see, but that is another story.

Thanks go to all the observatory staff, especially warden David Parnaby and assistants Lee Gregory and Ciaran Hatsell, who put in countless hours recording the birds of this wonderful place.

Fair Isle Wren

Fair Isle Wren

Mystery photo - can you identify this bird?

Mystery photo – can you identify this bird?

In many ways this has been the most interesting week of my stay. The month began quietly, with just a new Little Bunting. October 2nd, however, was exceptional. The second wave of Yellow-browed Warblers (72, most of which had departed by the following day) was accompanied by a variety of other migrants including rarities. In the order in which I saw them: Rosefinch (3), Red-breasted Flycatcher, Radde’s Warbler, Siberian Chiffchaff (several), Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Red-flanked Bluetail, Pechora Pipit and Lanceolated Warbler (the third of my stay).

The second ‘event’ of the week was the arrival of Barnacle Geese (1,000+) on 4th October. Other notable birds during this period have included Richard’s Pipit, Great Grey Shrike, and increasing numbers of late-autumn migrants such as Woodcock and Short-eared Owl. As I write, the wind is still in the east…

The bird in the mystery photo is of course a Reed Warbler (trapped on 3rd October).

Barnacle Geese, Fair Isle

Barnacle Geese, Fair Isle

Short-toed Lark, Fair Isle

Short-toed Lark, Fair Isle

The weather during my second week on Fair Isle has been more mixed, and in general there have been fewer migrants. Some notable birds have remained throughout (Short-toed Lark, Bluethroat), there have been some new arrivals, and the transition from mid to late autumn has begun. Numbers of Pink-feet and Greylags have increased, and the first Whooper Swans were recorded on 28 September.

In more or less chronological order, the highlights have included: another Lanceolated Warbler (trapped), another Little Bunting, Barred Warbler, and Paddyfield Warbler.

The only butterfly I have seen during this period was a single Painted Lady.

Barred Warbler, Fair Isle

Barred Warbler, Fair Isle