Saturday, August 1, 2020

Calm Sea

Hello, another week has drifted by with a mix of weather and further signs of summer merging into autumn. The undoubted highlight of the week was a trip to the cliffs behind our house. The sea was flat calm and a pod of c30-40 Atlantic white sided dolphins had been tracked along our coast, with them now distantly off Levenwick but moving South.

Arriving at the cliffs, the sizeable pod was quickly picked up, but distant (hence the photos), but it was brilliant to watch them diving out of the water and splashing through the flat calm seascape. 
Whilst waiting for the pod to come closer in, I picked up a few harbour porpoise close in, and panning to the right another fin briefly arched through my binocular view. I waited for a further few minutes until the next view, Minke! Brilliant, my first Minke, with a second in tow. Superb to be watching 3 cetacean species so close to home! 

Arriving back home, news came through they were actually entering the bay at Boddam. A quick dash into the garden, and there they were (not in the garden) dancing through the waves at the mouth to Boddam voe. Excellent. 

Flocks of wading birds continue to grow, with 42 oystercatcher, 8 golden plover, 22 turnstone and 16 whimbrel on one day in the field in front of the house. The long tailed skua continues to hang around, on some days flying around the bay viewable from the front room with Arctics.

The decent weather has allowed for some more storm petrel ring sessions, with another 2 Leach's petrel caught at Sumburgh Head, with one bearing a ring- ringed on Fair Isle on 11th July. 
A storm petrel contained a Danish ring, and a couple more were ringed somewhere in the UK, so we are waiting for details.

As summer drifts in autumn, the cliffs will start to clear soon, with puffins and other auks getting ready to head out to sea, but for now, we are still able to enjoy a superb showing from the charismatic puffins on the cliffs around here.

                                                              Arctic Skua
With monitoring now complete, it is time to compile the data from the season, and begin preparations for a busy few month's of practical management, organising grazing and planning. 

In just a few short weeks time. we will be starting to see the first real sign of passerine autumn migration, with more than a few surprises to look forward to in the month's ahead. 
We are off on a cliff top walk tomorrow. a spot of rock pooling and a bit of a walk on the beach. 

Apologies for the shortness of this blog, I am having issues with the blog, it doesn't seem to be working right, but hopefully ok for next week. 

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Otterly wonderful week

Hello. Another week has flown by, with a great selection of wildlife highlights.

With the late July period, comes the opportunity to ring storm petrels. European storm petrels have returned from their epic migration off the southern tip of Africa, and the end of July/ early August time window, offers the best opportunity to safely capture these diminutive ocean masters.

Away from the usual historic trapping sites, I opted to test the end of my road, just by the shore on the inlet diagonal from our house. With the net up at midnight, I planned for just an hour to see if any storm petrels would arrive. I was pleasantly surprised to catch 4 European storm petrels, before the real unexpected surprise, as a Leach's storm petrel went into the net too!
                                                                             European storm petrel
                                                                                   Leach's petrel
                                                                   Leach's petrel

Not a bad return for a small net in a speculative area. All safely checked and wearing their own distinct identification ring they were sent on their way into the night to flutter masterfully over the ocean. Quite an experience. The following night with the ringing group at a usual historic site, we captured 95 European storm petrels and 3 Leach's. One of the storm petrels a Norwegian ringed bird.

The working week consisted of finishing off some of the practical work from the previous week, as well as completing some of the last Red necked phalarope surveys of the year. Numbers are starting to drop, with many birds beginning to leave their breeding sites, and prepare for their migration. Soon they will be sipping cocktails on the coast of Peru (minus the cocktails I'm guessing).

A journey North again following on from surveys, I had the fortune post work to embark on an incredible overnight trip to one of our scarcely visited sites- an off-shore uninhabited island, where we were able to confirm the presence once again of occupied Leach's petrel burrows. A superb experience.
Prior to setting sail, I spent a good 30 minutes with this charismatic otter at the Yell ferry terminal in gorgeous sunshine.

Obviously you don't hear about the days of meetings, planning and reports side of my role, but I thoroughly enjoy the balance and being able to see the direct benefits of our conservation work. 
Evenings and days off, consist of day trips out to enjoy our new home. (Nearly a year now).

A truly stunning place.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Sorry for the long wait my week has been skuad.


Well a lot later than normal, but finally a bit of a summary of why it has taken so long to get round to this weeks post.

Firstly, it has been a busy working week, lots of variance and as usual plenty of memories yet again. With attention turning very much to breeding birds, it was a week of surveys and practical management to help habitats over the coming months.

Work started at Loch of Spiggie, with the removal by hand of the invasive plant "monkey flower". Although attractive in appearance this non-native species can really take a hold if not controlled, at the detriment to other important plant communities.

Spiggie has an important fen basin habitat, florally rich and diverse, with a lovely selection of orchids and a superb array of basin fen species. So work began on Setter marsh to pull by hand these flowers from the roots to prevent future spread, or the flowers going to seed.

Ten bin bags later, a slightly sore back and a feeling of relative satisfaction we were done for the day. Of course there was bird highlights too, calling quail and broods of tufted ducks adding to the scene.

Surveys this week took me north to Fetlar, for two days of surveying for red-necked phalaropes out on our managed sites. Numbers continue to impress, with plenty of male birds showing promising breeding behaviour, and a few nests found too, along with fledged juveniles and a few chicks.

A stonechat by Loch of Funzie was a nice highlight on my way to survey, whilst a fledgling cuckoo rather comically being fed by meadow pipits was a rather significant record, with not many confirmed breeding records of cuckoo for Shetland in recent years.

Back south, after a bit of an absence. the lesser grey shrike emerged again, in a similar area, so an evening visit with the family was enjoyable.
                                                                           Lesser grey shrike, Bigton
The remainder of the week and into the next was a busy week of planning and a continuation of surveys and further work on Spiggie too.

So then we arrived at today. After news yesterday of the long tailed skua (the one that had flown through my garden) was back at Dalsetter hill behind my house, I headed out this morning for another look at this absolute stunner. I had sensational views as it flew calling, and associating with Arctic skuas also present. Just when you think things can't get any better, Shetland delivers another surprise. As me and Mick were watching the exquisite skua, it became apparent that there was a second bird! This one with no tail streamers. The two chased each other around calling, putting on a display of acrobatics, before spiralling high. The Long tailed, long tailed skua (if you know what I mean) came back but the new second bird didn't.

                                                                              Both Long tailed skuas

                                                                                   Take off

                                                                    The second bird- with no tail streamers

It was great to arrive back home and still be able to watch the skua from the kitchen window!

Only on Shetland.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

All on the doorstep

With June transitioning into July, it heralded the supposed start of Summer. From a wildlife perspective, that usually signals a quiet spell for migration, briefly, before autumn migration offers signs of commencement, with returning south bound waders.

However this is Shetland, and surprises are always just around the corner. July was welcomed in with one of my best birding experiences ever. Whilst not actually birding.

I had decided to take a break from working on the laptop for a few minutes, so decided to gaze out of the bedroom/office window at the garden. A wheatear was bouncing around the pond, and Arctic terns were dancing across the fields heading inland, each one carrying a fish. Anecdotal evidence, seems to point to a decent year for seabirds, with plenty of food being photographed being brought in by multiple species.
What happened next was the real wow! from the left of the garden behind next doors trees emerged an absolutely exquisite adult long-tailed skua! It continued through the garden showing off all its glory and magnificent long tail streamers, as it bounded onwards inland. Being a birder rather than a photographer (I know you're shocked due to the quality of images) I naturally reached for my binoculars to try and track where it was heading. It continued onwards to Clumlie loch just up the road. I was left shaking my head in disbelief that I had stared into the eye of an immaculate long-tailed skua, passing through at head height in my garden!
Despite a brief search, I couldn't relocate it. But it would eventually be seen again by a couple of locals.

A productive day at work followed, before heading out in the afternoon to arrive just in time to see a Turtle dove at Paul's, before it vanished for a few hours. First of the year, and yet another migrant. A lovely record, but always one tinged with sadness and frustration. A once common migrant and indeed widespread breeder down south, they are now in heavy decline, certainly not helped by the continued hunting of this evocative species on their spring migration, through Europe.

                                                                            Turtle dove- Boddam

Some excellent trips north surveying, were very productive, with some more red-throated diver chicks seen, as well as some lovely views of territorial whimbrels.

                                                                                   Whimbrel on territory 

A couple of broods of merlin were ready for ringing too, so that was completed whilst out and about. 

News of a pod of orca, (the 27 pod), were reported to be heading our way. We could easily have waited at the living room window and added them to the window list, but opted to head to the bay, as they were coming into the bay hunting. 

We arrived to get sensational views, including a bull, surfacing a few feet away. The sound of the blowing and the sheer size was incredible. 

We were enjoying them too much to bother with photos, but did manage a few when they went more distant.

                                              Orca- 27's pod. A calf features in some.

The female red-backed shrike continues to linger at Sumburgh quarry, and a mini arrival of Two-barred crossbills has started, with 5 at Kergord. Is it the start of another excellent influx of these beautiful birds? 

Watch this space.

A week of practical management and survey work lies ahead, so lots to look forward to.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Protracted spring

Hello. There seems to be no end to this spring, with the lack in numbers of common migrants this year, being suitably replaced by the drawn out nature of the season.

Some of the weeks highlights were not entirely unexpected, with greenish warbler being found locally at Sumburgh hotel (I didn't see it though unfortunately) an almost annual migrant for June, in albeit small numbers.

On a personal note, it was great to enjoy crossbill in multiple locations throughout the week. A mass irruption of birds has been well noted along the east coast of the UK, so it was great that birds were following suit and arriving in numbers here too, with the backing of a quite pleasant at times South easterly wind.
                                                                                 Common crossbill
The protracted spring continued to throw up some surprises. A rather late wood warbler was nearby at Quendale, whilst a female red-backed shrike and black redstart occupied the quarry at Sumburgh.
A lesser grey shrike, also arrived late in the week, but news wasn't released until late in the day, and work commitments on Sunday meant I still hadn't managed to catch up with this bird, that would be a first for me in the UK. Until today!
                                                             Lesser grey shrike- near Maywick

                                                               Wood warbler- Quendale    

The week also contained an nice scattering of commoner migrants. Stepping out of the car for a morning walk at Geosetter, to be greeted by singing quail is always a good start to the day. And rather unusually for quail it actually appeared briefly too.

The working week consisted of northbound trips to Unst and Fetlar to continue with our surveying for the season. It was encouraging to witness lots of breeding activity from some of our star priority Shetland species, red-necked phalaropes and red-throated divers.
Breeding waders were widespread with lots of encouraging signs in the form of wader chicks being noted. My journey south was topped off with great views of a single Humpback whale off Sandwick.

An early start tomorrow, with Fetlar beckoning again. Hopefully more updates to bring you all soon.

Spring seems to be never-ending, with more surprises I am sure still to come!

Sunday, June 21, 2020

June surprises

The general theme of the week was mist. After a few fantastic days of glorious sunshine, the inevitable mist that follows the warm days rolled in. This sort of weather, and lack of visibility made the planned start to the red-necked phalarope monitoring, somewhat disjointed. Despite this, I did manage to finally get north to help with the start of the phalarope season.

Before the northward journey the start of the week still held some surprises, as migration continued and not just birds, with a small influx of Silver Y moths and red admiral butterflies certainly more abundant. In terms of birds, Foula seemed to be dominating the highlights with a nice scattering of scarce migrants, until Fair Isle stepped up with a green warbler!

Locally, migrant birds were still around, with a mirrored picture of the influx of marsh warblers down south, also hitting Shetland. The 17th saw a rarity arrive in Lerwick, which I didn't go up for due to the travel distance restrictions for non-essential travel. A Moltoni's warbler was found in Phil and Becca's garden, a female which thankfully called to seal identify of the normally tricky genus. An unseasonal waxwing and a small scattering of crossbills added to the mix.
A reed warbler and a couple of common redpoll were also new for the spring closer to home.

The 18th, I was finally able to head north to start red-necked phalarope monitoring, and it was great to be out in the field, with the patchy mist allowing monitoring to take place. Not only was it brilliant to record decent numbers of red-necked phalaropes, it was superb to find the first chicks of the year too. These tiny bumble bee type fluff balls, have to be one of the cutest wader chicks around. A successful day surveying 3 sites, and heading back south by mid-afternoon.

Arriving south I headed out with the family locally to Virkie, to enjoy nice views eventually of another rarity- a Paddyfield warbler found earlier in the day by Roger. It was joined in the willows by both reed and sedge warblers. With the Savi's warbler still present in Scatness, a couple of decent rarities locally. On the way home we diverted past Spiggie to check on the curlew chicks (all present and accounted for) and great to see the Whooper swans with their brood of 5 cygnets.
In the fields, flocks of gulls were worth going through, and it was relatively easy to relocate the Ring-billed gull that had been around for a while, so that was nice to catch up with.

The garden is starting to look better, with more trees planted and a lovely abundance of wild flowers adding a splash of colour to the garden.
                                                                                  Birds foot trefoil
                                                                                   Nearly midnight      
                                                                   Isabelle- on the cliffs behind the house
                                                                                 Sumburgh head

The mist is lifting and the sun is shining, so the week ahead will hopefully allow more outside monitoring. And I am sure a few more surprises too!

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Another Killer week

Hello, another week packed with a mixture of jaunts out locally pre and post work, and a welcome continuation of some fieldwork too.

On the eve of my last post (6th) my first swift of the year was gliding around the Sumburgh hotel,
with the following day seeing my second of the year from the front room window.
The rest of the day was spent enjoying family walks locally, for which we are incredibly fortunate to have many.

Monday (8th)  turned into a great day, with a fantastic start. A pod of Killer whales (orca) were heading towards the section of coast behind our house, so much like the Humpback sighting the previous week, I delayed breakfast for a trip to the cliffs.

It was fantastic to watch them slowly making their way South, where later in the day they were seen to make a kill off Sumburgh Head. The rest of the day was spent planning for work.
Mid-June heralds the start of red-necked phalarope monitoring, so lots of planning and preparations ahead of the forthcoming fieldwork. Our reserve monitoring takes place in the north, predominantly on Fetlar, so Tom our assistant warden will have the enviable role of carrying out the bulk of these surveys.

A lot of monitoring has been missed this year, due to lockdown restrictions, but now they are being slowly eased, I have been able to get out to some of our sites to pick up some wader monitoring. It is always superb to be out in the field observing breeding curlews, oystercatchers, redshanks and snipe.

Monday also saw the arrival of another new bird for my Shetland list, a Savi's Warbler arriving in a garden at Scatness. Although it wasn't the showiest of birds it did give brief views as well as intermittent bursts of its reeling song. Also in the garden keeping the Savi's company, was a blackcap and a marsh warbler.

A busy week of work followed with planning for the year ahead, and looking at what might happen if restrictions are eased further, with the potential of tourism returning late in the summer.

In between the desk based tasks, it was great to see our first butterflies in the garden with a red admiral, and a large white flitting through the garden. A hedgehog in the garden and a few frogs in our new pond, added to the diversity around. It was also great to see the range of plant life beginning to bloom, with ragged robin, birds foot trefoil and a few orchids starting to flower (not my strong point, so I'll work out what species we have in the garden).

A further splash of colour was added towards the weeks end, with a Rose-coloured starling alongside Loch of Spiggie, it always remained distant feeding in fields, but it was great to finally catch up with one this year, after their current inlux into Western Europe.

                                                             Rose-coloured starling 

This weekend, we have enjoyed some nice coastal walks as well as a trip up to Sumburgh Head to get our puffin fix too.

Just this morning while attempting to post this blog, I nipped out for a morning wander. Adding another new species to my Shetland list with a local singing Quail. Just over the bay at Boddam, right in front of Paul's house. If I strain my ears, you never know it might make it onto the garden list! 

Calm Sea

Hello, another week has drifted by with a mix of weather and further signs of summer merging into autumn. The undoubted highlight of the wee...