Lesser ‘Legs

Perpetual motion, poor light, and often feeding right up against the anti-predator fencing at the back of Crossens Inner. Yadda yadda yadda.

The gangly-legged Lesser Yellowlegs was still a quality bird as it stalked about the shallow pool like a Wood Sandpiper on stilts.

It has been a few years since I’ve seen one at Marshside, so an hour with the current Yankee was time well-spent this afternoon, and it appeared to be a fairly fearless bird.

A good bird on a ridiculously mild October Sunday.

Goldcrests and Grey Wags along the bank, Lesser Yellowlegs video clip on YouTube here.

Snooty Fox

All the Peregrine needed was a mound of earth a few centimetres high so it could perch up and survey the stubble, while getting in touch with its inner Snooty Fox.

Raptors often do this on the mosses of course, but this Peregrine was just a few metres from the New Causeway behind Formby this afternoon and stayed put as I slowed to a stop and watched it for five minutes or so.

A superb bird, I don’t often get this close to ’em, widespread as they are…

Snatched a few head-bobbling frames for YouTube here.

Once the falcon had established the stubble was empty of prey, in that area anyway, it powered off towards Lunt.

Plex was relatively quiet, although clouds of Woodpigeons were scouring the fields for seeds and good numbers of Skylarks were in the air.

A few Redwings and a single Fieldfare were in Haskayne Cutting alongside Tree Sparrow, Chiffchaff and a Goldcrest.

Once the sun came out it was mild enough to get down on a sheltered bank above the stubble and enjoy about 150 chirrupping Skylarks, while Buzzards aimlessly circled by and a Marsh Harrier cut south.

In a world where poop piles oxter-deep in the blink of an eye, sometimes a field full of Skylarks and a light passage of raptors is all the therapy you need.

Thrush-nami.

The first groups of Redwings were evident on call pre-dawn during this morning’s survey north of Fairways at Southport, but the scale of the thrush invasion only became obvious after the sun came up.

Thousands of them were moving south east over Sefton and Lancs in waves of mixed flocks – mainly Redwings, with a few Fieldfares, although numbers of the latter increased during the morning.

By the time I got to the office at Ainsdale at 0820, the sky was full of ’em, flocks powering through, dragging along a handful of Brambling, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits.

What a spectacle!

A Merlin slipstreamed the thrushes after an easy meal, but it was hard to gauge how many went over during the morning while I was at work/in meetings – loose flocks of up to 100 birds, sometimes more, were nearly always evident whenever I stuck my nose out of the ADC.

From dawn to 10am I believe upwards of 3,000 birds were going through over dunes per hour, zooming down the coast, fresh from Scandinavia on the edge of the easterly wind.

Spurn and Flamboro’ must have been snowed under.

Intrigued, I managed to get onto a high dune for 45 minutes at lunchtime and was able to “clicker count” what went past me.

The flow of birds had eased since early doors, but it was still impressive, and in a wide band, with large flocks visible going straight east over the distant Green Beach and the eastern end of Birkdale LNR while the coastal traffic over my head and streaming south east just kept on coming.

1215-1300: Redwing 1,856; Fieldfare 131; Brambling 2; Marsh Harrier 1, Skylark 5, Goldfinch 21, Sparrowhawk 1.

Vis mig is always exciting.

*A brief detour to Marshside proper after the dawn survey this morning revealed eight splendid Whooper Swans on the water off Sandgrounders, calling away as the first sun hit them while the Scaup was still in the channel off the hide.

Peat-stained Whooper shenanigans on a YouTube video clip here.

Flyby Great White Egret and at least two Marsh Harriers too.

Exceptional Shetland

Raging hooleys blasting in from the west, slamming the fury of the North Atlantic into the islands; gales roaring up from the south and south east; pummelling rain of startling intensity and occasionally laser bright sun.

Repeat, repeat, repeat.

There’s nowhere like Shetland really, the way it alters the moment you look at it, the way the weather is impatient to change on a minute by minute basis, turning electric blue voes black and green slopes brown and back again in the blink of an eye.

Once a tourist, always a tourist…

This year’s visit with Neill Hunt from September 30th to October 9th was a classic – magnificent birding in a magnificent landscape that started a day earlier than planned when we got the boat up from Aberdeen to Lerwick 24 hours early to avoid the first of a few breath-taking storms.

The logic was sound – the North Link journey north through the night on September 29th, fuelled by Orkney Gold and dreams of finding rares, was like crossing a millpond.

The downside meant that the hooley was just kicking in when we landed at Lerwick on 30.9.22, picked up the wheels from Bolts and sped north as the winds gusting past 70mph raked the Sound of Yell and fierce squalls strafed the water.

A fun crossing beckoned.

What could possibly go wrong…?

It was worth it for glimpses of a Swainson’s Thrush, which showed intermittently in the gusty, wet conditions in a classic Shetland garden.

I enjoyed brief views of the Yankee as it flicked up onto a drystone wall then plunging back into cover – a small grey brown thrush, with pale undercrackers and a buffy throat that flicked its tail before flitting out across the fields to circle, dropping down and then pitching back into the cover of the garden.

Marvellous – nothing like starting a trip with a tick, even if it meant we were stranded on Yell until conditions eased and the ferry was happy to sail again.

As the rain got heavier I got reasonable flyby views of the thrush as it darted across the wind flattened garden and into cover again.

It took longer than we anticipated to get off Yell because of the storm, with the result that we didn’t get back up to the top of Mainland until the last of the light to have a gander at the Great Grey Shrike at Hillswick, which many believe to be a Homeyer’s.

My pictures in the failing light will add nothing to the debate, even allowing for gratuitous rabbitry, but huge white wing panels and a striking white tail with very little central black feathering were eye catching…

Arriving a day early meant we were without digs, a problem solved by the wonderful hospitality of Dawn and Mick down at Levenwick who put us up for a fine night and we were motoring off to Toab the next morning before the local Otters had wiped the sleep from their eyes.

A cracking Hornemann’s Arctic Redpoll, big and frosty was the business at Toab, lurking about old trailers and outbuildings when it wasn’t fraternising with the local House Sparrow population.

Suitably impressed we headed up to the wild west, where we stayed for the rest of our trip in a cabin on the shore of Lera Voe, a few miles west of Walls, that allowed us to check a local patch of shelter belts, plantations and gardens.

First bird we came across was a splendid Yellow Browed Warbler, that hung around the whole time we stayed, Redwings and a pack of four Bramblings.

Common Seals were a constant presence on the doorstep, with the lads loafing around, fishing and generally living the good life.

Wood Warbler (with an oddly deformed bill), Goldcrests and swirls of Golden Plover quickened the pulse as we checked local sites with potential, but we struck Shetland gold connecting with the long-staying Magpie at Sandness (too rare up here for words).

With our daily Brambling and Yellow Browed Warbler under the belt by 8am on Oct 2nd we tazzed up to Sandness (Great Northern Divers, Magpie, more Yellow Browed action) before swinging over to the Michaelswood Aith Community Woodland for a typically secretive Olive Backed Pipit that occasionally popped into view when not hiding in a belt of Rosa rugosa and pines.

The Northern Lights put on a bit of show above the cabin that night – I sought advice from Andy Bunting about KP values, while Neill got his exposure sorted…

They were on show the next night too, but not as bright.

A trip down to Sumburgh, Grutness and Quendale on 3.10.22 gave us Velvet Scoter, Long Tailed Duck, divers and a cold grey Chiffy at Grutness that refused to call, but looked cold and grey enough for Siberian.

The resident Twite didn’t look so convinced.

Down at Quendale a Sibe Stonechat gave us the run around up and down the valley, and never really let us get that close, while an Eastern Yellow Wagtail at Gott was happy to dance about in a back garden off Greenwell.

The discovery of a Pechora Pipit in the iris beds late afternoon saw us racing back up to Hillswick, where I got flight views of this uber-bird, as it bounced about in the grey skies above me, calling occasionally with a soft, understated “dzip” and looking decidedly tubbier than Mipits in the air next to it.

A black and white mantle, wingbars, black staring eye and malar stripe were visible above me as I ogled my second tick of the trip, and even perched up on a rock on the other side of the iris bed in the failing light.

Neill even managed a flight shot of sorts, while I just gawped at the Pechora.

Jack Snipe in the iris bed too.

We headed back to Lerwick for the second winter Glaucous Gull being appropriately brutish at the fish dock on 4.10.22.

That all went by the by when a locustella found at West Quarff inevitably turned into a Lanceolated Warbler – bagging Pechora and Lancy less than 24 hours apart was quite an experience, and although my pictures are not great, they illustrate how this tiny short-tailed “mouse bird” preferred to move about under the grass rather than above it.

I did enjoy a few point blank views at my feet before Mr Streaky shuffled back into its world of rushes, iris and sedge.

Amazing.

Ending the day with the stirring spectacle of 45-50 Snow Bunting flickering across the jaw-dropping landscape at Eshaness (a lighthouse tick for me, reminding me of how much I enjoyed Donald S. Murray’s remarkable “For The Safety Of All”, a book no home should be without) made perfect sense.

What a day!

Any sense of a hangover was dispelled in the gloom of 5.10.22 with an eclipse drake King Eider at Scalloway harbour and sleepy, preening Turtle Dove at Gott.

Our time with the Turtle Dove was cut indecently short when Graham Etherington found a Myrtle Warbler down at Ellister.

We got there quickly, but a large crowd was already forming and although I got reasonable views in the strong wind as the Yankee flitted about the shrivelled Sycamore leaves, we didn’t hang around too long – we could always have another go at the Butterbutt on a quieter day…

With fierce conditions, a roaring westerly and driving squalls on 6.10.22, some members of the expedition resorted to embracing cabin fever, channelling the “Dingly Dangly Scarecrow”, and locking onto reruns of “Celebrity Seaweed Embroidery” on daytime ShetTV Gold, while I went seawatching at Melby.

I’d hoped the stormy weather would funnel birds through the sound between Melby and Papa Stour.

I’m not sure who was crazier, but in two hours between 1015 and 1215 in a force 7-8 westerly, spray and rain I did manage:

Gannet 500+; Fulmar 8; Red Throated Diver 4; Great Northern Diver 3; Black Guillemot 23; Arctic Tern 7; Bonxie 1; Barnacle Goose 51; Pink Feet 2; Kittiwake 700+; Razorbill 23; Red Breasted Merganser 9; Shag 32; Cormorant 5.

Okay, it ain’t the Bridges of Ross, but it was certainly exciting as I huddled behind a drystone wall above the waves.

With SIBC forecasting moderate winds and occasional showers on 7.10.22, and resolving to shake off any remains of cabin fever (although what a chap gets up to in the privacy of his own planticrub is his own personal affair), we returned to Ellister.

The wind was still a mad beast that clearly hadn’t listened to SIBC that morning, pushing the car all over the road, and rain bounced off the tarmac like belligerent ball bearings, but the Myrtle Warbler (Yellow Rumped Warbler if you must) was still there and we had it to ourselves for most of the morning, getting prolonged views as it moved through the rattling branches and fed onto the deck.

All was well until Graham Etherington pulled up to check if we were still on the bird as he had just found another one about half a mile away!

Brighter than the first bird (bad comparison pics below), the new Myrtle showed very well in a pine belt in marshy fields closer to Bigton.

Myrtle gallery of both murky blurs here:

What are the odds? Two remarkable Yankee finds by the same expert observer, at sites within view of each other – the pine belt is in the foreground in the pic below, with Ellister visible on the hillside in the background…

Days can’t get much more remarkable, except they can on Shetland, when later in the day Paul Baker’s wife found a Least Bittern in the car park at Scousburgh Sands.

Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines.

We made it with 40 minutes to spare to get views of the tiny, exhausted heron as it contemplated the finite nature of mortality under the cover of a swathe of Marram.

It was inevitable that shortly afterwards the decision was made to take the bird into care and it was gently collected and taken off to the vets.

Sadly the mini-bittern didn’t survive the night – a bodyweight of just 50g was reported when it should have been 86g.

No surprise given the muscle-shredding, energy burning effort Britain’s first Least Bittern must have made to get across the Atlantic.

Remarkable. Again.

A superb climax to another brilliant trip to Shetland.

Thanks to Neill for keeping us out of the isolation sickness ward at Lerwick General and for the patch birding motivation, and of course thanks to all the wonderful folk, birders and residents (often both) who made the visit so enjoyable.

I like it fine…. so far

Out in the back of beyond with Neill Hunt in the Wild West of Shetland.

Wi-Fi where we are is far rarer than a Pechora or Lancy.

Fortunately we have seen both in the last 24 hours so the internet connection or lack of it is not an issue!!! Only on Shetland.

Neill’s carefully prepped list of highlights since last Friday below (selfie shot at Eshaness is his too).

Great fun, stunning birding and THREE British ticks for me so far!

Full blog shenanigans and pix to follow in a few days….

Over to Neill: “Brick and me…Shetland so far……

Swainsons Thrush, Magpie, Hornemann’s Arctic Redpoll, Olive-backed Pipit, Yellow Browed Warbler, Eastern Yellow Wag, Wood Warbler, Velvet Scoter, Siberian Stonechat, Pechora Pipit, Twite, Great Grey Shrike (Homeyers), Sibe Chiffy, Slavonian Grebe, Glaucous Gull, GNDiver, Lanceolated Warbler, LTDuck, Jack Snipe, 50 Snow Buntings, Goosander. Northern Lights and three Otters too.

Nearly half way through our trip….still a few bits and bobs to mop up and maybe a few birds to be found. All in all a great trip so far, 3 ticks for El Bricko”.