Wednesday, September 29, 2010

in defence of shetland

A certain on-off-on blogger from Seaton in Devon has recently produced an in-depth analysis of whether Shetland or Scillies is the best option for a birder looking to brighten up his/her autumn - see here. And seeing as how I'm just back from 4 bird-filled days on Shetland, I thought I'd put the case for the northern option.

To summarise (if not plagiarise), Haig (2010) concluded the following:

Shetland pros

  • Gets lots of rare birds, heaps of scarce birds, more than its fair share of megas  - I could add that it seems to get hardly any common migs these days! Blackcap was our commonest mig, with c.15 seen, with only single lesser whitethroat, whitethroat, pied flycatcher and spotted flycatcher seen - compare this to 9 yellow browed warblers and 7 barred warblers - madness! But good fun too!

  • No vegetation taller than 6 inches - not quite true, sadly, but certainly a lot less than Scillies or Galley, come to that.

Job done, it seems. Stacks of cracking birds, and nowhere for them to hide. But...
Shetland cons

  • Birds can only find Shetland when assisted by easterly winds - easterlies certainly help but birds can (and do) turn up in any winds

  • Every single birder on Shetland is red-hot and keen as mustard - they will see everything before you do - the good thing is, not even the Shetland lads can be out every day, so there's still possibilities to get in amongst it when they're not looking!

  • If the wind turns to NW and is accompanied by rain, suicide will seem an attractive option - I asked my mate if he'd ever not seen anything on a trip to Shetland, and he said the worst time was 5 days of north-westerlies - tough going but he still ticked white's thrush

  • There are only so many Common Rosefinches a person can take - Its been 11 years since I last saw a rosefinch, and I saw 3 rosefinches in 4 days

  • If you muck something up, the best birders in Britain will be on hand to witness your ineptitude, and blog about it witheringly that same evening - there's always a chance. but luckily Brydon was very good about the sedge warbler!

  • Do you really want to follow in the exact same sheep-like footsteps as every other thinking birder in the land? N0! Which is why I'd go to Shetland every time!

  • Shetland doesn't do proper scones, and if you did find some clotted cream you certainly wouldn't be able to trust it - forget scones and twitch pies! The Voe Bakery does some fantastic ones - macaroni & bean pie, tattie & bean pie plus I'm told the sweet chili chicken pie is great! Hard to find at times though, and you do have to be pretty ruthless getting into the various shops and checking out both the hot counter & fridge sections before the rest of your carload beat you to it! I'm sure there'll be lots of hot pie action from the Isles here very soon!

Aren't rosefinches brilliant?

Although we dipped the white's thrush (we were on Unst, it was 1 mile from our gaff),  the last 2 hours were among the most exciting times I've had birding - after stumbling over, and then losing what was almost certainly last weeks river warbler of punkbirder fame (we had a large dark locustella with well-marked under tail coverts at the same site), a pale, sandy warbler then gave us the run-around for ages. Twice we had it seemingly pinned in a small stand of nettles, and both times it vanished! Cobbling together a composite description, it had to be a paddyfield warbler, confirmed beyond doubt once 2 of us had departed for a well-earned pint and the plane home, when it began to settle down a bit. It was joined by a blyth's reed warbler out of nowhere later that evening - madness! Can't wait till next autumn to go back!

 The only scottish tick of the trip - melodious warbler  - belter!

Monday, September 20, 2010

south east again!

Full of hope this morning, but 1 and a half hours later it was beginning to fade. Nothing much doing despite a good south-easterly all night. Two whinchats in the weedy fields at Shite Lane were nice, but I suspect they were probably still lingering from the 17th.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

how far would you go?

for one of these?

According to today's Irish Examiner, "busloads of british bird-watchers" are coming over to see the house crow in Cobh. This is a bit inaccurate, as twitchers rarely travel by bus (although I did get the overnight bus from Aberdeen to London for the golden-winged warbler at New Hythe many moons ago - successfully too). There were a reasonable number of UK twitchers in Cobh this morning though, which makes me wonder why they're here.

Firstly, I must state up front that I do keep a UK & Ireland list. But only because I birded over there for approx 12 years, and now I'm birding over here, so I don't really get UK ticks very often these days (the Heathrow brown shrike was my last - just happened to be in the area). It is a bit pathetic though, cos my UK list is still sub 400, while my irish list is 300 plus (but only just!). Combined, my UK/Ire list would be just about passable, if I just declared it as UK, or really really good, if I just declared it as Irish, but its not (and I don't!). Must point out here that the Galley patch list beats all, in order of importance!

If I still lived in the UK, I wouldn't keep a UK/Ire list, despite having seeing some great birds over here before I emigrated. I don't really see the point, as they are two different countries. I'm pretty sure Irish birders wouldn't dream of keeping such a list, although a few ship-assisted twitchers did jump on the Dublin - Holyhead ferry for the Anglesey black lark. This was only because it was a Western Pal tick or research purposes or something tho.  

Such ramblings don't even scratch the surface of whether this particular bird is tickable though! There's been quite a lot of debate on the IBN on such matters, with the best pro statement seeming to imply that house crows actually choose to travel on ships in order to reach new habitats in which to breed. All a bit "Battlestar Galactica" type of idea, but with a smaller cast, and fewer special effects. A point in defence of ticking it (from the same source) was that plenty of birders (including me) ticked the tailless white-crowned sparrow in Dursey Sound, so if that was ok as a very likely ship-assist, then why not this?

I'm sure both debates will rumble on, but for me, I was pleasantly surprised by the house crow - it was a cool bird! And who knows, I might even tick it yet!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

off-patch pec

Not a lot doing at Galley today although 3 tufted ducks on the lake yesterday and 1 coot there today show there's still a bit of movement going on. News of a pectoral sandpiper at White's Marsh dragged me over there for great views, (and a bad photo). Good to see another one, its been a while!

Another record shot!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

no frigatebirds

Gave Galley a lash this evening for an hour or so, as the wind fairly got up from the south-west. It was all a bit of a waste of time unfortunately, with only one arctic skua and 1 storm petrel in amongst the manxies. I was quite glad when it started to get dark!

Monday, September 6, 2010

sneaky greenish

A mid-morning sojourn today, but there seemed to have been a bit of a clear-out overnight. Only had 1 spotted flycatcher and 1 sedge warbler around Marsh Lane, although wheatears were definately new in, with c. 20 knocking around in small flocks of 4 or 5 birds - quite unusual for Galley, which never seems to get a lot of ears. The melodious warbler was seen again today around Shite Lane, but I didn't see the ortolan today, nor the 2 whinchats or any reed warblers.

Aborted an afternoon attempt for the greenish warbler at Strawtown, but tried again sans kids this evening and was rewarded by good but brief views as it flitted through a willow - good to see one again. Having seen 2 close to the patch in the last few years, I'd say the Shite Lane sycamores are definately due one of these!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

ortolan again

I was out at first light this morning but only had an hour or so to get in amongst it. Whinchat numbers had doubled to two, and there was a new male blackcap in the sycamores at Shite Lane, plus a new sedge warbler down Marsh Lane, with 2 reed warblers and a spotted flycatcher still around. The egyptian goose was still trying to get accepted into the mallard flock too, flying around over Long Strand - fully winged and unringed, as the birdlines would put it, oh and wary as, baz!

Had brief and still distant views of the ortolan bunting again, on wires halfway down Marsh Lane, before it headed off to a big stubble field again - no time to chase it today, sadly, but maybe tomorrow, if the rain clears. Wonder what else is going to be out there? 

Saturday, September 4, 2010

pushing it

Out again this morning, and at first there didn't seem to be much new about. The whinchat, whitethroat and a spotted flycatcher were still knocking about, but Dirk was still quiet (still far too much cover in there to be sure though!), and the top fields held nothing new. At least 3 reed warblers were in the reeds in Marsh Lane, but things didn't really heat up till I noticed a pale bird sitting on a distant hedge. I really couldn't get very much on it with just bins, but thought it could be an ortolan bunting. I rattled off a couple of super-zoomed (and super-bad) record shots, and headed back down Marsh Lane to get a better look. Arriving at the crop, I was walking up the side of the dike, when the bird booted out, flying up and around, calling a soft "pit, pit" all the time. As it started to descend over the other side of the valley, I pleaded "don't drop into the enormous kale field", whereupon it dropped into the enormous kale field - bollocks!

I hoofed up there (took a while), having alerted PC, but by the time I got up there, he'd seen it flying around back over Marsh Lane, apparently landing in a different stubble field. No further sign, but having checked the camera, I'm happy it was an ortolan (129) - see below:

It was very distant! Hopefully it'll get pinned down somewhere over the next couple of days - fingers crossed!

 The day's excitement was far from over though - news of an possible ruddy shelduck at Kilkeran Lake was nearly enough to make me drop all ortolan efforts, but better than that (as I've already had 1 on-patch), it turned out to be an egyptian goose - gen bird, obviously! Finally, I was sitting at the table, trying to catch up on updating corkbirdnews when I saw a bird on the telegraph wire at the bottom of the garden. I so nearly didn't check it, but something made me pick up the bins and lordy, another wryneck! Luckily the scope was already up (for the goose!) so gave it a good grilling before it flew off - house tick!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Galley comes good

Didn't get out till mid-morning today, but bumped into the whinchat again in the weedy field and also picked up last night's pied flycatcher at Shite Lane - handy for the year. Didn't have anything else on the rest of the circuit, and having met MOS we were pretty convinced that nothing much new was around. We decided to give the whinchat another bash, as MOS hadn't seen it, and I was very surprised to see a wryneck sitting on top of some brambles, whilst I was having a scan around. It flew over the dyke into a grassy field and we got great views (and some not so great photos) of it over the next few minutes - result!

 I headed off then, but news in the afternoon that MOS had seen a hippo very briefly dragged me back out to Shite Lane again. As I was trying to stalk a couple of spotted flycatchers for more camera practice (boy, do I need it!), the hippo flew out of a garden and landed on the same fenceline as the wryneck had been on only a couple of hours earlier - melodious warbler! (apologies for pushing the definition of record shots to a whole new low!) It seemed to be hanging about with a mixed flock of chats and a whitethroat. A pretty amayzing day for Galley, especially as all the birds were within 500 m of each other - wonder what we'll get tomorrow? (128).

Unfortunately in the pic on the left, the bird is flapping about, otherwise it would have been a perfect record shot, whilst in the second shot, it is cunningly hiding its primary tips behind the bramble branch - they were short though, honest!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

whinchat magic!

A few migs around this morning, although it was hard work digging them out! A couple of willow warblers, spotted flycatcher and cracking views of a grasshopper warbler was my own personal haul, but managed to successfully twitch a whinchat at Shite Lane crossroads (my first on-patch since 22 Oct 2006 - they've been hen's teeth lately!) and 2 reed warblers down Marsh Lane (125). 


A low point this morning was flushing and losing a probable garden warbler above Dirk - tried again for it later but no luck - a patch tick slips through me fingers! Best go have another look...