Thursday, October 21, 2021

πŸ“– Peterhead & Rattray 🌦 6C ~ Wind ↘ NW@22mph 21/10/21

Thursday, October 21st 🌦 6C ~ With the strong northwesterly winds and high tides over the next 36 hours, I headed over to Peterhead for a Seawatch and then on to Rattray where I'd hoped for some spectacular seas and I wasn't disappointed with either.

Eiders coping with a strong headwind

Peterhead produced of note two Sooty Shearwaters and a single Pomarine Skua but the highlight was my first Little Auks for Scotland, with a group of five of these tiny bullets shooting past in the strong wind. Just about the size of a Starling there fast whirring wingbeats as they pass low over the sea is fascinating to watch, although you don't tend to see them for very long! I was also surprised to see a Puffin today bouncing around on the waves, although I've been told this is not unusual at this time of year.

Rattray Head lighthouse was built in 1895 and engineered by David Alan Stevenson.

Rattray was as I'd expected, although I've never seen the tide this close in before. Roaring seas and very high tide line with lots of Shags, Gulls and Cormorants battling the elements. While at the shoreline two Drake Long-tailed Duck and several small flocks of Wigeon, Teal, Goldeneye and Eider Ducks flew north.

Black Redstart around the parking area.

Back at the parking area a good scout around the old hotel grounds, along with the house, now looking unoccupied and a little derelict. Here there was sheltering Redwings and Blackbirds, plus Linnet and a single Brambling

Black Redstart

However, it wasn't until I returned to the car that I connected with a Black Redstart that had been reported here the day before.

More Images of the Day...

Group of Shags

Common Gull heading into the strong breeze

A Wren in the old hotel grounds

A Pied Wagtail shelters in the dunes

BUBO Listing
NEW Scottish Life-List Since Relocating Permanently to Aberdeenshire in October 2020

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

πŸ“– A Year Already! πŸ‚

Since arriving back from a fantastic trip to the Shetland Isles Dazza and I have celebrated our first full year of living in Scotland. It's been an amazing period and from a nature perspective a huge learning curve. I've definitely been surprised by the absence of many species I was so used to seeing regularly while living in Warwickshire. Once surrounded by nesting Reed Warblers around our boat moorings I'm more likely to encounter a Blyth's Reed Warbler than a Eurasian one up here in the Northeast, a Nuthatch sighting in Aberdeenshire would be priceless. This also applies to the absence of many Odonata and Butterflies, many of which do not venture this far north.

The Cairngorms

However, a balance has to be drawn and living just a 30-minute drive from the coast or a 40-minute drive west into the Cairngorms National Park, with little traffic and beautiful scenery on route is a dream scenario. Plus, I've encountered many new species over the year too such as the Scotch Argus butterfly and the Golden-ringed Dragonfly both of which I come across regularly in the summer months.

The dramatic Aberdeenshire coastline

So to the present and my birding days over the past week have been spent walking the Ythan Estuary, Including Forvie NNR, grabbing a Scottish first and hedge bashing around the shoreline of Girdleness headland. 

27 Barnacle Geese on the Ythan  ~ Don't count them, there not all in this image!

The Pink-footed Geese are back from Iceland in huge numbers now and each morning, and even through the night, their high pitched calls can be heard. Look up at daybreak and the sky is awash as they search for the best feeding grounds. Along with the 'Pinkies' we also have Barnacle Geese on the move. These are likely to be the Svalbard population from the Norwegian archipelago that winter on the Solway Firth along the border between England and Scotland heading back. During my visit to the Ythan on the 15th, I watched as 27 birds dropped in to perhaps rest up after their journey across the sea.

Red Admiral ~ Taking advantage of the warm unseasonal weather 16C

On the same day, I managed a good autumn count of Red Admiral butterflies with five in total. 

Red-throated Diver ~ near the Ythan Mouth.

The 17th was a dreich day but the rain subsided in the early afternoon and so with Dazza away for the weekend I enjoyed a solitary walk along the Ythan Estuary. It's always a treat to see the Grey Seal haul out and the many Eiders that reside here. I dipped on a morning report of Slavonian Grebe but I had a lucrative afternoon with Arctic Terns, Great Skua, my first Long-tailed Duck of the autumn and a close-ish encounter with a Red-throated Diver, actually the first I've seen here in off the sea. 

This particular Red-throated Diver provided a photographic opportunity at Inverbervie while watching a Sabine's Gull, which unfortunately never quite came close enough for a decent photo.

Overnight on the 17th and into the morning of the 18th I recorded many Redwing on the #noc-mig (nocturnal migration recording) but also managed several counts of Blackbirds and Brambling. With such good migration, I had intended to head straight for Girdleness today but instead decided to drive the 30 miles south along the coast to Inverbervie, just about still in the Aberdeenshire council area. My intention was to pick up a Scottish tick Sabine's Gull, which after a short wait I managed decent scoped views of. Nice bird with an interesting Jizz! Flying low and slow over the water before dropping down onto the sea and up again, reminded me of an ovipositing dragonfly in slow motion.  After an hour or so of watching the bird, I finally headed off to Girdleness. 

Brambling on the coast path at Girdleness 

When I arrived at Girdleness it was what I'd been expecting, lots of Redwing and Blackbirds still moving through along with small groups of Brambling and the odd Redpoll Sp. There was plenty going on but the best while hedge bashing was at least a dozen Brambling,  Yellow-browed Warbler and Chiffchaff. The tide was in so the Rock Pipits were flitting around the shoreline and small parties of returning Purple Sandpipers were hunkered down among the rocks, plus Oystercatchers, Redshank, Ringed Plover, Curlew, lots of Shag and a single Grey Plover

More Images of my birding week...

Record shot of the Long-tailed Duck on the Ythan.

Sanderling ~ Ythan Estuary

Grey Plover ~ Girdleness

One of four Arctic Tern at the Ythan Mouth

A Kittiwake passes through.

One of the few Purple Sandpipers actually awake!

Red-throated Diver among the Eider Duck

BUBO Listing
NEW Scottish Life-List Since Relocating Permanently to Aberdeenshire in October 2020

Thursday, October 14, 2021

πŸ“– Shetland Trip Report πŸ‚ ~ 10/10 ~ 12/10/21 Part 4 Final

Sunday, October 10th 🌦 13C ~ Over the last few days rare bird sightings have slowed to a trickle and so for the most part Dazza and I enjoyed a leisurely day walking and exploring.

One of nine Ringed Plovers along Spiggie Beach.

During one walk in particular along Spiggie Beach (Shetland has some amazing beaches) we spent a short time photographing a small group of
Ringed Plover, which appeared to have little issue with us standing so close by.

Great Northern Diver in off the sea

The Loch of Spiggie is the largest eutrophic loch in Shetland and is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Protection Area (SPA) for wildlife conservation. While walking back from the beach for a look over the loch a Great Northern Diver heading in off the sea flew almost directly overhead, offering some excellent views in the bright sunshine.

Whooper Swans at Spiggie

We actually managed a good few 'Shetland Ticks' while parked at Scousburgh Sands, which is one of the few places you can park to view the loch and these included Goldeneye, Pochard, Whooper Swan, Scaup and Slavonian Grebe. Our only 'twitch' today was late in the afternoon at Gulberwick for what was reported initially as a 1st-winter Eastern Yellow Wagtail. However, at the time of writing this has now been identified as a Yellow Wagtail through sonography analysis. While here a Barred Warbler, although very flighty did show briefly before it flew across the road directly over our heads.

View across Lerwick old town from Port Charlotte

Our last full day on Shetland was spent around Lerwick, the most northerly town in Britain. A fascinating place containing many 17th century buildings, including Port Charlotte, first built by Oliver Cromwell and later burned and restored by George III, whose queen it was named after. 

A distant Fair Isle viewed from Ness of Burgi

We've thoroughly enjoyed our time on Shetland and actually clocked up nearly 900 miles. For non 'twitcher's we certainly surprised ourselves at just how many we actually did attend, but quite honestly it's hard not to get caught up in the frenzy and I personally would be happy to do it again. Most sightings are a reasonably short distance from each other and in some beautiful surroundings. Another bonus is that you can drive around Shetland with impunity and when you reach a specific sighting there are plenty of eyes and ears to help look, we rarely spent more than a half-hour before seeing the bird. 

Rock Arch ~ Dore Holm Shetlands most famous rock arch. 

For the most part, the people of the Shetland Islands are extremely patient and friendly, with few trees on the Islands most sightings are near or within residential gardens, which usually have a good selection of shrubs and trees. The birders we've met have been very helpful and we've made a few birding friends and Twitter buddies over the 10 days. Unfortunately, we only managed a few sightings of Dolphins and never got a chance to see Orca, maybe next time but Dazza was happy with the several Otters we spotted during our stay. The weather was typical Island fare with some days of cloud, heavy rain and wind but we did enjoy a few days of beautiful autumnal weather even reaching the giddy heights of 16C!

Wheatear at Ness of Burgi ~ One of many during our stay.

Our final morning before our flight home Tuesday afternoon was spent in the sunshine walking the Ness of Burgi, one of our favourite spots and actually the mainland's most southerly point. It's also just a 5-minute drive to the airport. Here our final 'tick' of the visit was a Jack Snipe and I'll finish with a few other unpublished images and bird species count.

Red-breasted Merganser

Twite at Ness of Burgi

Shorelark ~ Another Scottish tick

Wheatear ~ Another of the many seen around the Islands

Self-found ~ Little Bunting at Gutcher 

Rock Pipit ~ Common around the shoreline.

Shetland Trip Species Count...

Mute Swan, Whooper Swan, Pink-footed Goose, Greylag Goose, Brent Goose, Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Garganey, Pochard, Scaup, Ring-necked Duck, Eider, King Eider, Velvet Scoter, Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Scoter, Red-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver, Slavonian Grebe, Fulmar, Gannet, Cormorant, Shag, Grey Heron, Water Rail (h), Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Sanderling, Turnstone, Dunlin, Little Stint, Redshank, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Snipe, Jack Snipe*, Semipalmated Sandpiper*, Ruff, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Common Tern, Arctic Tern, Black Guillemot, Guillemot, Rock Dove, Collared Dove, Skylark, Shore Lark*, Barn Swallow, Rock Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail*, Bluethroat*, Wheatear, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Redwing, Barred Warbler*, Blackcap, Western Bonelli's Warbler*, Chiffchaff, Yellow-browed Warbler*, Red-breasted Flycatcher*, Goldcrest, Wren, Woodchat Shrike*, Rook, Hooded Crow, Carrion Crow (1), Raven, Starling, House Sparrow, Brambling, Linnet, Twite*, Lesser Redpoll, Siskin, Common Rosefinch*, Little Bunting*, Rustic Bunting*, Red Eyed Vireo*

*Depicts new for Scotland

BUBO Listing
NEW Scottish Life-List Since Relocating Permanently to Aberdeenshire in October 2020

Saturday, October 09, 2021

πŸ“– Shetland Trip Report πŸ‚ ~ 07/10 ~ 09/10/21 Part 3

Thursday, October 7th  πŸŒ§ 10C ~ Today was a complete washout weatherwise with very little on the birding front. But it's not all about the birds for Dazza and me and so rather than stay indoors playing games we decided to head north to the top of Shetland Mainland. The land north of Mavis Grind has been described as “the largest, wildest and most beautiful parish in Shetland”. The area, known as Northmavine, is both “wild and glorious” and has some of the best scenery in Shetland. The unfortunate thing was that we couldn't see most of it due to low clouds and at times torrential rain. Still, Dazza was a happy bunny with a couple of Otter sightings while we investigated the many bays and inlets. Another interesting sighting was what seemed to be a Ferret/Polecat cross, which shot under a cattle gird as we were driving along.

Friday, October 8th  πŸŒ€ 16C ~ After Tuesdays somewhat short visit to Unst we decided on a second try today and set off to catch the 08:45 ferry over to Yell. A quick stop for a second look at the Ring-necked Duck at Sand Water, Yell, then onward to Gutcher for the 10:05 ferry to Unst. After yesterday's rain and cloud, It was a beautiful start to the day with almost clear blue skies and despite increased clouds later we managed a rain-free day. A couple of Otters and Dolphin sightings during the crossings and after arriving on Unst we headed off to Halligarth where an Olive-backed Pipit had been reported.

A good few Redwing around the woodland at Halligarth House.

We spent a good hour searching the walled woodland at Halligarth House, which in itself is an interesting place. Established in 1832 by Dr Laurence Edmonson, a local medical practitioner and renowned naturalist who first catalogued much of Shetlands birdlife.  

Snipe ~ The only species we managed at Halligarth.

No sign of the Pipit, which was actually re-identified as a Tree Pipit later in the day and no sign either of reported Yellow-browed Warbler or Pied Flycatcher, so not the best start! We did have a stroll around the boggy fields and kicked out a few Snipe that ended up on the nearby pool but that was about it.

Ravens are a pretty regular sighting around Shetland

One noticeable thing about the Shetland Isles since we arrived is the absence of Raptors, we've not seen one single species! For example, Common Buzzards and Kestrels are only rare passage migrants and the only species you are likely to see overhead are the Hooded Crows and Shetlands many Ravens. There was actually a Honey Buzzard sighting whilst we were on the Island but the bird apparently continued moving south.

Chiffchaff ~ Any small warbler sighting in Shetland sets the pulse going!

I would say it was a particularly slow day birding for us but a few notable sightings included a Carrion Crow, pretty rare up here (3) Wheatear a single Swallow ↓south, Golden Plover (flock of 27), Chiffchaff and Blackcap

Bluethroat at Quoys

The best of the day was a Bluethroat at Quoys quarry but frustratingly we spent a lot of time at the wrong place, as did several other birders! The bird wasn't at the large quarry at Quoys as you'd have expected from the sighting report but at a small ditch, hardly a quarry a half-mile away! Our thanks to two local birders who pointed us in the right direction.

Golden Plover 

Saturday, October 9th  πŸŒ§ 13C
~ Another rainy day and a change of accommodation for us moving from our cottage in Tresta down to Lerwick, staying at the Fort Charlotte self-catering apartments for our final three days. A quick check of the grounds at the cottage before heading off produced a flock of eighteen Golden Plover, two Blackcap, Goldcrest and a Yellow-browed Warbler, likely the same bird I photographed on Wednesday.

Our first stop of the day was at Loch of Benston where a possible Baikal Teal had been reported. It actually turned out to be the earlier reported Garganey, but not that common in Shetland I'm told so a nice record anyway. While here Dazza and I bumped into a few old faces from Warwickshire who come to Shetland every year and it was good of them to put us onto the Garganey, which wasn't easy to find at distance.

Black Guillemot ~ Plenty around the harbours this one now fading to its white winter plumage.

After the Garganey we had a drive around the inlets looking mainly for Otters, picking up a dog Otter midstream at one location but couldn't relocate him once he'd reached the bank, much to Dazza's annoyance. Lunch in Lerwick overlooking the harbour and watching the Black Guillemots before we headed off to search for a Common Rosefinch at West Burra.

A soggy looking Common Rosefinch at West Burra

By the time we reached West Burra, it was raining pretty heavily but thankfully we could park strategically on the roadside overlooking the area in which the bird had been reported. With Dazza happy to watch from the car I did eventually brave the deluge and while walking back to the car a bird landed on the telephone wires directly opposite, the Common Rosefinch! With Dazza bone dry and me drenched I did eventually get good views as the bird dropped onto the fencing below our parking and to my surprise, I even managed a few images. With the rain still falling we decided on calling it a day but not before a stop at Tronda for scoped views of an eclipse drake King Eider, which was practically in the centre of a large group of Common Eider.  

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

πŸ“– Shetland Trip Report πŸ‚ ~ 05/10 ~ 06/10/21 Part 2

Tuesday, October 5th  🌦 13C ~ Today the weather was much improved with light winds and prolonged sunny periods. Just right for our pre-booked trip across to Yell (20-minutes) and then on to Unst (10-minutes). Well, I say pre-booked but we did, unfortunately, screw up! We'd booked our passage across from the mainland at Toft over to Ulsta on Yell but didn't realise that the small ferry from Gutcher to Belmont on Unst also required a booking. Long story short the only ferry that was available was the 2pm crossing and 4pm return so we sadly only managed two hours on Unst before returning. If the weather is good, we'll try again on Friday. 

Toft ferry to Ulsta on Yell

Our timing could actually have been perfect at one stage during the day as purely by coincidence a Lanceolated Warbler ( a lifer for us) had been reported early morning on Unst. However, with the Unst ferry now completely booked up at this stage many would have been unable to get across. At least we would have had a couple of hours to locate the bird. However, news came through later in the day that the bird had been re-identified as a Grasshopper Warbler, so panic over! 

Little Bunting in the garden of a cottage at Guther

Despite our screw up, we had an enjoyable day with a few notable sightings. Good scoped views of a Ring-necked Duck on Sand Water, Yell and a self-found Little Bunting while waiting for the ferry a Gutcher, good things do show up in peoples gardens in Shetland. Also of note Yellow-browed Warbler, which I was actually searching for when the bunting appeared. 

Wednesday, October 6th 🌦14C ~ Just 4 miles from our accommodation is Kergord, which according to the SOC App 'Where to Watch Birds in Scotland' is Shetlands most extensive area of woodland. A Radde's Warbler had been found on Tuesday while we were away Island hopping and so I decided on an early start in search, giving Dazza the opportunity for a well-earned lay-in. I arrived at twilight but was hampered by drizzle and low clouds to begin. The one thing that was apparent though was that there had been a large fall of Redwing overnight, they were literally everywhere. After a few hours, I gave up and headed back for breakfast although I was certain I'd heard the bird call at least once, that was until another birder appeared from the opposite side of the copse I was watching, a recording or the bird? Who knows!

Yellow-browed Warbler through the window

While having breakfast back at the cottage Dazza spotted something flitting around on the ground just outside the kitchen window which turned out to be a Yellow-browed Warbler, along with a Blackcap both of which I managed to photograph through the glass. 

Rustic Bunting ~ Close encounter of the blurred kind!

Just as we finished breakfast a Rustic Bunting came up on birdguides and would you believe it, it was back at Kergord! So Dazza and I made it our first stop. According to the report, the bird was in a field opposite Kergord house hallway along a burn but when we arrived it had flown to the top end, we just headed for the crowd. After around 15-minutes the bird flew up from a ditch onto some fence wires and perched up beautifully. It was at this point that we saw why a minority can spoil it for the majority when several of the group just rushed forward to the fence, the bird was gone. I did try for the money shot but my camera simply failed to focus in the short period I had and I ended up with a close encounter of the blurred kind. 

Monarch Butterfly (UK first for us) at the 'sunken garden' Sumburgh Hotel

Now the wind had abated, in fact, it was turning out to be a gorgeous day weatherwise we headed back down to the southernmost part of the mainland for another walk. Well, five Shore Larks reported at Scatness could have been another reason but that must have been physiological! Then just as we were parking a Monarch butterfly was reported at the Sumburgh Hotel, literally minutes away and simply too good to miss, so off we went. 

One of five Shore Larks at Scatness.

Still elated to have seen the Monarch and catching up with the Shore Larks we spent the rest of our afternoon at Scatness walking this stunningly beautiful area. As you head towards the headland, the peninsula narrows and the ground becomes uneven and rocky. From here, there are excellent views on either side of Fitful Head and Sumburgh Head. 

One of five Twite along the shoreline this one sporting a ring which unfortunately is unreadable.

We took a leisurely walk back to the car along the craggy shoreline stopping on many occasions for Dazza to enjoy one of her favourite pastimes, rock pooling and for me to photograph a half dozen Northern Wheater and a group of five Twite. What an amazing place this is!!

A Few More Images of the Day...

Blackcap from the kitchen window

Bar-tailed Godwit at Vikrie
Grey Plover fly-by

Northern Wheatear Scatness

Inbound ATR from Aberdeen

Saab 340B on finals to Sumburgh from Aberdeen over Sumburgh Hotel