Tuesday, 27 October 2009

I think it may have been said before, but...


A phone call from Steve Lister this morning had me heading to Rutland Water (in my much improved car which no longer goes ‘clunge’ just before coming to a standstill, ‘rerrp, rerrp, rerrp’ when pulling away or ‘tikka-tikka-tikka-tikka-tikka’ when going round corners – thanks to Rob’s dad’s garage! *) hoping to see the county’s third ever Shore Lark. However, just like the previous two, this one had only shown itself to the finder before promptly buggering off. We searched all the shoreline around Whitwell where he’d seen it, and both sides of the Hambleton Peninsula before reluctantly accepting that it must have flown straight through.

Now, whilst obviously offering sincere congratulations to Steve on an excellent find, I do think this is just a little unfair after he gripped us all off with the Little Bittern the other week. Especially as I rang him about that and didn’t have to time to get there myself before it got dark! In fact I think I should be allowed to add one to my county list as well, as I would have seen the Little Bittern had it been identified as such when I first heard about it.

* – for anyone interested in the technical details, the clunge-ing, rerrp rerrp-ing and tikka-tikka-ing were apparently due to a broken tooth on the ABS reluctor ring on the front offside CV joint. I just nodded and tried to look like I knew what he was talking about.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Don't you just love the tabloids

Thanks to Matthew Berriman for alerting me to this gem:


'Cretin' is too kind a word for the journalist who wrote this and the picture editor who came up with that photo...

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Christmas is coming...

...and I’m skint. Plus I need a new scope as my old one is terminally broken. So I make no apologies for advertising my professional services here, in particular my pet portraits, which make an ideal Christmas gift, as they say:

Prices start at a very reasonable £95 (unframed, including p&p) for an 8 x 8 inch head and shoulders portrait, but you can have any size you like (within reason – a 100 foot square picture would take me several years and cost you £144,000 at the same rate per square inch as an 8 x 8 inch one!).

Please see the pet portraits section of my website if you’re interested – www.ajm-wildlife-art.co.uk/pet_portraits.htm but bear in mind you’ll need to order as soon as possible for delivery in time for Christmas.

And if you haven’t got pets I also have lots of bird pictures for sale, including the cover painting and line drawings from the recently published Birds of Leicestershire and Rutland. Again, please see my website for details.

That’s it – thank you for your time. Normal service will be resumed shortly...

Tuesday, 20 October 2009


"St Mary's: Black Redstart - one of the paradoxus morph at Old Town today."

What in the name of fuck is the 'paradoxus morph' of Black Redstart? A red one with a black tail? Or is it more likely yet another 'trying too hard to turn a common bird into something interesting because we've run out of things to tick/write ID articles about in Birding World' type of thing?

Just stop it please - I'm too old to learn anything new. I don't want to know about Daurian this and Caspian that and weird new made-up 'morphs' of birds. And I don't like the ducks being at the beginning either. Everyone knows divers come first, then grebes. Ducks are somewhere in the middle of the non-passerines, just before the raptors and just after the herons.

And talking of herons (I knew there was some point to this rambling nonsense), there was a rare heron in Leicestershire yesterday, and it wasn't there today. Arse. I think I'd better go to bed now.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

You couldn't make it up

I was told this Scilly story today by Andy Brett. I can't remember which island he said it was on, but I think it was St Agnes.

There was a crowd of about 50 or 60 people (I won't dignify them by calling them birders or even birdwatchers) watching a bird which none of them could identify. On asking a few people what was going on, Andy was told that some of them thought it was an Arctic Warbler, some thought it was a Bobolink and some thought it was a Philadelphia Vireo! Remember, all these opinions referred to the same bird. Apart from those who were there or who have already heard the story, I bet no-one can guess what the bird actually was.

I will reveal all in a day or two...

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Last day

With low cloud and drizzle shrouding Sumburgh yesterday we thought we weren’t going to get off for much of the day, but fortunately the fog lifted for long enough to get our plane in (taking off in fog is a lot easier than landing). Several incoming flights weren’t so lucky, and throughout the day we heard planes going over without landing.

Yesterday morning’s birding was restricted to kicking around south Mainland for a few hours. We didn’t see much until we got to Sumburgh Head, when the following 'incident' occurred...

At about 12:20 Rob found a thrush skulking under the rose bushes, and after some manoeuvring Mark and I managed to get onto it as well. The views were terrible – the bird was sitting hunched up with its back to the wall, under the roses, and behind some chicken wire, but from what we could see we were certain it was a 1st-winter male Black-throated Thrush. Result! And bang in the middle of my ‘window of opportunity’ theory (otherwise known as ‘WOO’) that good birds turn up at the lighthouse around midday.

But then things went very wrong. While we were trying to get better views of it, a thrush came up out of the rose bushes and flew off towards the lighthouse. Assuming that this was the bird, we ran after it, but after about 15 minutes searching in the fog all we could find was a rather drab 1st-winter Ring Ouzel! Could this have been what we’d seen? Surely not, especially as it had a completely dark bill, and Rob and I are both sure that we saw a largely yellow bill on the original bird under the roses. But doubts had set in, and we were now beginning to wonder whether we had somehow fucked up big time. Confused, we fled the scene to try and collect our thoughts, using our flight off Shetland as an excuse for not hanging around longer. After some discussion we decided that, rather than try to push such a brief sighting, we could only honestly say that we now weren’t sure about the bird. Mark and I got on our plane and left Rob alone to face any ‘music’ that might be forthcoming (‘stringing in the rain’ probably).

However, on our arrival at Edinburgh airport the story was given a further twist when Rob texted to say that Steve Minton had briefly seen a Black-throated Thrush perched on the wall by the roses after we left! This gave rise to a variation on the ‘two bird theory’: presumably we had initially seen a Black-throated Thrush, then wrongly assumed that the Ring Ouzel which flew out was the bird we’d been watching and that therefore we'd made a mistake. But in yet another twist there’s strangely no mention of it on his blog, so I’m wondering whether he now isn’t sure what he saw either. Unless it reappears somewhere, it’s probably best forgotten about really, whilst remembering in future that the bird that flies out of the bush isn’t necessarily the bird you were watching in the bush!

Anyway, thrush stringing aside, the holiday list finished on an untidy 98, two more than last year, although the quality this year was in an altogether different league. Total haul for the 12 days was 7 BB rarities of 6 species: Taiga Flycatcher, Lanceolated Warbler, Red-flanked Bluetail, Western Bonelli's Warbler, Spotted Sandpiper and 2 Arctic Redpolls. Scarce migrants consisted of: Short-toed Lark, 2 Little Buntings, 2 Bluethroats, 2 Common Rosefinches, Ring-necked Duck and about 15 Yellow-browed Warblers. Of course, the latter aren't really scarce any more, but I'm old enough to remember when they were, so they still feel like something good when you see one.

Had I been so inclined, I could have had another two ticks: Veery and Blyth's Reed Warbler, of which there were at least three twitchable individuals. And without even going to any other islands we could also have seen at least 3 Pechora Pipits, 3 Olive-backed Pipits and 3 Arctic Warblers.

In terms of numbers of good birds, this was my best Shetland trip ever, the only disappointment being that we found absolutely nothing ourselves. Although there have been over 50 BB rarities in Shetland since the beginning of October, for some strange reason hardly any were in south Mainland where we were based. And it wasn't just us – the area has been pretty well covered, but no-one else has found much either, the honourable exception being Steve Minton with the Lancy at Scatness.

I have no idea why south Mainland hasn't produced the goods this autumn – the weather has looked perfect several times, but each time there has been nothing here and rarities a-plenty further north. It just goes to show that you never can tell with rare birds. In 2007 everything was down here and there was very little further north. Maybe next time it will be the other way round again. And we’ll probably be going to central Mainland every day...

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Shock Shetland string scandal!

It is now my solemn duty to act as judge, jury and executioner in the matter of Shetland birders (both resident and visiting) v an unknown stringer.

It has come to our attention that, over the last week or so, one person has been responsible for all of the following single observer records: Lanceolated Warbler, Pechora Pipit, Black-throated Thrush, Arctic Warbler, Black-bellied Dipper, Red-throated Pipit and Firecrest (which is considerably rarer than Lancy, Pechora, Arctic Warbler or Red-throated Pipit in Shetland).

Other people have looked for most of these birds, but not one has been confirmed by anyone else. Now, it's been a pretty good October in Shetland, with around 50 BB rarities so far (compared with one [Long-billed Dowitcher] in Scilly – just thought I'd throw that in), but for one person to have found all that lot would be amazing. To have claimed all that lot with a single observer rate of 100% is nothing less than utter bollocks.

Apparently when someone met this bloke and showed him an Arctic Warbler at Wester Quarff the other day he said “Oh, that's an Arctic Warbler is it? It doesn't look like the one I saw at Kergord yesterday.” No, because that was a Chiffchaff.

Verdict: guilty as charged. You are hereby sentenced to spend all of next October on Muckle Flugga with no bins or mobile phone.

Twitching in the rain

The general plan today was to see the Spotted Sandpiper and Bonelli's Warbler first thing this morning, then work our way north and try to find something. But the weather had other ideas. It was raining heavily when we woke up this morning, and it's still raining heavily now as I type this at 18:30. In between – it rained heavily. Constantly. All day. Without a break.

What we should have done was either stay in bed or start building an ark, but we foolishly thought there might be some birds around in the south (it was also south-easterly this morning), so we had a good look around Grutness and Sumburgh Farm. Whilst getting soaked we realised that yet again nothing new had arrived. After drying out and drinking tea we went back out and headed for Ellister, between Maywick and Bigton. Despite the pouring rain, the Western Bonelli's Warbler was feeding unconcerned in the sycamores and showing well. Sort of a tick for me, as the only other one I've seen (on Bryher in 1995) was only accepted as Bonelli's Warbler sp when the two species were split.

We then drove round Loch of Spiggie, adding Moorhen to the holiday list (yes!) before walking in the rain to Burn of Garth, where we easily found the Spotted Sandpiper feeding along the burn. If it had been nice weather, and if I had had my camera with me, I would have got some award-winning photos, but as it was I had to be content with just watching it.

The weather forecast for tomorrow is for more rain, plus Rob has had a letter telling him that the electricity will be off from 9 till 3 tomorrow. I don't fancy getting soaked again before packing and going home, so I shall probably stay in bed and leave the ark building to Gary.

Monday, 12 October 2009


It's become clear over the last 9 days that we can't find our own arses with both hands, let alone any rare birds, so rather than go home having not seen much we decided to twitch a few things today. First off was the Taiga Flycatcher at the splendidly named Gloup (pronounced gloop) on Yell. This was a British tick for me, so I was pleased to find that it was still there and showing well. It was 'doing a circuit' as they say, but eventually it stopped flitting about long enough to get some photos:

This is my kind of twitching - a third for Britain with just three of us watching it! A Lapland Bunting flew over calling, and there were 5 Bramblings in a nearby field, but that was about it, so we headed south, checking various gardens on Yell, which were mostly devoid of birds. At Mid Yell we stopped at the leisure centre car park, and were just about to leave when Rob spotted the Arctic Redpoll feeding in a weedy patch by the car. We leapt out again and got a few shots of it feeding with its friend the Mealy Redpoll. The size comparison was interesting, the Arctic appearing about a third bigger!

A stop at the aptly named Graven (which consisted of a graveyard and a house) produced a nice Bluethroat, a Yellow-browed Warbler and this Pied Fly:

Next on the twitching agenda was a Red-flanked Bluetail at Sandgarth, which we saw but didn't manage to photograph as it was flying around all over the place and never staying still for very long. Always a nice species to see though. Finally on the way home we caught up with an old favourite, the drake Ring-necked Duck at Loch of Tingwall.

We also had a half hearted go at the Catfirth plantations, but it was getting dark by then, and the most important thing was to get to the shop before it closed. There we found a splendid selection of pies, including the 'Holy Grail' – the fabled macaroni pie (see Mark's blog for a full write up with photos). I had a very nice cheese, bean and tattie pie, which rounded off the day nicely.

Tomorrow is our last full day; we intend to continue with the twitching, the targets being the Quendale Spotted Sandpiper and the Bigton Western Bonelli's Warbler if they're still there.

Sunday, 11 October 2009


I took the first train to Toabsville this morning, and witnessed an interesting phenomenon. Well I thought it was interesting anyway. As I walked up the road through the village, the gardens were (relatively) leaping with birds – a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers, a Redstart and several Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps, Robins, Goldcrests etc. But they were all moving steadily north, feeding in a garden for a few minutes and then flitting on to the next one. And when I walked back down the road an hour or so later, they had all gone, apart from one Yellow-browed which has been in the same garden for several days.

I presume these were birds which arrived in the strong SSE wind and heavy rain yesterday and overnight, trying to find shelter and/or suitable habitat in which to feed.

After this promising start, as usual we looked in various places, and as usual we saw pretty much bugger all. Highlights were a couple of Ring Ouzels at Levenwick and this obliging Little Bunting at Sumburgh Farm:

Rare birds were once again appearing in front of other people, and around mid afternoon we attempted to twitch the Blyth's Reed Warbler at Hoswick, just so we could say we'd seen something, but there was no sign of it.

Tomorrow is the 'Glorious 12th' and once again we shall be having our 'change of scenery' day. Last year this involved seeing fuck-all at Eshaness; this year's itinerary is as yet undecided, but will probably involve seeing fuck-all in central and north Mainland. Or we might just decide to stop being whingeing martyrs and twitch all the rarities that are around.

Oh yes, I nearly forgot to have a rant about this piece of utter idiocy seen on one of the news services today: why the fuck is a pair of Cape Shelducks in Herefordshire of any interest whatsoever to anyone? They even included directions on where to park, for fuck's sake. What kind of fucking imbecile thinks that's worth reporting to the news services, and more to the point what kind of arse-witted twat is going to twitch them?! Answers on a postcard please. Unless you're the person who reported them, in which case don't bother.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Last Train to Toabsville

Take the last train to Toabsville,
And I'll meet you in the crop field.
'Cause we've seen a skulking warbler
With some contrast in the tertials.
Don't be slow, oh, no, no, no!
Oh, no, no, no!

'Cause we've only had some flight views
And I must see it again.
It's looking like a Lancy,
But it could be just a Wren.
Well I don't know, oh, no, no, no!
Oh, no, no, no!
And I don't know if I'm ever coming home.

Take the last train to Toabsville,
I'll be waiting in the crop field.
And I'll blast it with my i-pod
Till I get some clinching photos.
Oh... Oh, no, no, no!
Oh, no, no, no!

Take the last train to Toabsville,
It's just popped up on the wall.
And it's got no sign of breast streaks –
It's a Gropper after all.
I'm feelin' low. Oh, no, no, no!
Oh, no, no, no!
And I don't know if I'm ever coming home.

Take the last train to Toabsville,
Take the last train to Toabsville,
[repeat and fade]


I could probably sum up today in one word: wet, but as this isn't Twitter I suppose I ought to pad it out a bit.

Taking my regular morning walk around Toabsville it was obvious that birds had arrived overnight, with Redwings everywhere and a few Goldcrests. This seemed a good sign, so we went 'down south' to do the Grutness/Sumburgh area. There were even more Redwings and Goldcrests here, most of the latter searching for food on the cliffs, but not much else. Robin was new for the holiday list, and the old faithful Bluethroat was still in exactly the same spot in the Grutness crop.

After that... um... I can't remember what we did after that – went back to the house and drank tea probably. Yes, that was it, and then round Toab again. While we were in Toab Rob had a call from Steve Minton who had seen another 'interesting' warbler just behind the beach at Scord. I had to change my trousers at this point, not because of the excitement, but because I hadn't put my waterproofs on before going out.

We arrived at Scord and proceeded to walk the area of marram grass where Steve had seen the bird. The first thing we flushed was a Long-eared Owl which jumped out of the marram and flew off across the bay towards Toab. What happened next is slightly embarassing – seven of us, including two ex Fair Isle wardens, flushed something that none of us could put a name to. Our excuse is that is was absolutely pissing with rain, combined with a strong south-south-east wind, and it was only visible for a second or two in the thistles before disappearing, never to be seen again. It looked like a dark Phyllosc, and was most likely either a Radde's or Dusky Warbler. Or it could just have been a wet Chiffchaff.

Back to the house to change clothes for the second time (my 'waterproof' trousers aren't) and put coats in the tumble dryer, after which I really couldn't be arsed to go out again. The weather of the last two days must have brought something in (White's Thrush on Fair Isle today); it's just a matter of finding it if and when the wind drops and it stops fucking raining.

Highlight of the day: stew and dumplings for tea. It's still raining, by the way.

Friday, 9 October 2009

It's only a theory

Halfwit 'creationists' are fond of dismissing Darwin's theory of evolution with the phrase 'it's only a theory', as if that were good enough justification for taking everything in the Bible at face value. Well maybe they're right and it's actually God who makes rare birds turn up in Shetland, as the 'theory' that south-easterly winds = good birds has been proved to be false (or at least an over-simplification) today.

It was south-easterly when we got up this morning, and it's still south-easterly now, but despite thrashing the Toab/Scatness/Sumburgh area to within an inch of its life all day, absolutely fuck-nothing new has been unearthed. There was a brief scare with a report of a Lancy in Toab early afternoon, but that turned out to be someone jumping the gun as it was later re-identified as a Gropper. It was nothing to do with us, by the way!

Perhaps some rain will help, in which case tomorrow could be the day, as it's forecast to be strong south-easterly and wet overnight and for most of tomorrow.

Never mind – here's a nice photo of a Snow Bunting at Sumburgh Head:

And we're having a consolation Chinese takeaway tonight – one of the restaurants in Lerwick is doing a 'Chinese night' at Boddam village hall, so we've put our order in.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Maybe not

I suppose after yesterday's excitement it was too much to expect anything else today. The only thing that turned today was the wind, which went northerly. Consequently it was fucking freezing with wintry showers. It seemed like good weather for finding an Arctic Redpoll, but the most interesting things I saw today were a Dunnock and a Peregrine at Sumburgh (both valuable holiday ticks), the regular Grutness Bluethroat and a Yellow-browed Warbler which wouldn't sit still long enough to photograph in the Grutness garden.

In between these megas we sat in the house drinking tea, making inroads into the 'Virkie bread mountain' (the result of a serious shopping duplication incident... peanut butter was also involved) and cleaning up cat sick.

An early night seems like a good idea as the weather looks truly 'monster' for the next two days. If we can't find something in that we should all have our bins confiscated.

I need to come up with some sort of gimmick to get my Fatbirder counter up – Mark is miles ahead of me now with his crop cam and Lancy shots/links on Surfbirds, Fuckbook etc. A free slice of bread with every page view perhaps? Or maybe I should just try and make this crap more interesting.

Just be thankful I'm not offering some free cat sick with every page view...

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Is this the turning point?

Last night's westerly gale gradually subsided over the course of the day, encouraging us out into the field. As usual we didn't see a great deal – just a Yellow-browed Warbler in the willows, and a Jack Snipe in the ditch by Rob's house (not the Ditch of Despair, the one right next to the garden). A flock of 33 Bramblings in Toab was nice, and 2 Snow Buntings were at Sumburgh Head. By early afternoon though we were bored, so we decided to twitch the Arctic Redpoll at Aith. This was quite tame, and even I managed to get some reasonable shots for a change:

Around 14:25 Rob had a phone call from Steve Minton to say he'd flushed what he thought was a Lanceolated Warbler twice from thistles at Scatness. We went straight there, and after about an hour of brief flight views we finally saw it well enough to satisfy ourselves that it was indeed a Lancy. Mark got a couple of good record shots, but I didn't even try, preferring just to see it well rather than end up with a load of blurred crap and not having seen it properly.

After rushing back to the house to look at the photos on the computer and check that it really was a Lancy we went back to Scatness and had further excellent close views of it as it perched on walls and crept around in the grass. I left my camera in the car this time, as it was raining, but I doubt I'd have got much anyway as it was getting distinctly dusky by now.

A splendid British tick, not only for me but also for Rob and Gary, and something I always hoped I'd see in Shetland one day. Thanks Steve!

Remember those two words at the beginning of this post – westerly gale... and the next day a Lanceolated Warbler turns up. So birds are arriving even in apparently 'adverse' conditions and given that the weather for the next few days looks more easterly, this probably is the turning point.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Day of partial rest

Strong westerly wind and heavy showers this morning. Walked up to the Toab shop to get milk so I could have some tea and porridge. After breakfast walked round Toab and saw nothing. Spent the rest of the morning sitting on the sofa with a farting cat, drinking tea, eating fried eggs and messing about on the laptop while listening to John Shuttleworth on BBC7.

Bird news: The Wryneck and Meadow Pipit that were in Rob's freezer last year are still present, and have been joined by this Crossbill (gratuitous knob gag coming up) – a nice red cock:

This afternoon Mark and I got Rob to drop us off at Grutness, and we had a kick around there for a couple of hours but saw nothing of any note. Arriving back at the house, Gary told us he had had a Little Bunting at Channerwick so we went there and saw it almost as soon as we got out of the car. Mark & Gary got some good photos of it, but I completely fucked it up as my camera was still set to +2 exposure compensation after photographing some Greylags flying over earlier. By the time I'd sorted the camera settings out the bunting had flown off.

I then went round the back of where it had come down, only to fall over a fence and land on my arse. Just as I finally made it to where Mark was now getting more photos it flew off high down the valley and we didn't see it again. The old cliche that owning a camera doesn't make you a photographer certainly applies to me. In my case owning a camera usually turns me into a fumbling incompetent fuckwit whenever there's something worth photographing right in front of me.

Monday, 5 October 2009

I'm too old for this

Went to bed at the ridiculous time of 02:45 this morning, woke up still pissed at about 8 o'clock, had a shower to wake me up a bit, staggered outside, saw another Yellow-browed Warbler (3 out of 3 now) and ate some porridge. What I should have done then was go back to bed. But the weather looked promising (warm, sunny and flat calm first thing, becoming light south-easterly and cloudier later) so we gave it about 78.5% and saw a few bits and pieces around south Mainland.

An annoying moment occurred early on as I was walking up the road towards Toab. Mark rang to say that the Rosefinch was in the big crop field; as I was on the phone to him a pipit flew over calling. Now, in early October, in Shetland with a south-easterly wind it really should have been an Olive-backed. But no – it landed right in front of Mark, who gave me the bad news that it was just a fucking Tree Pipit. Arse.

Then up to Sumburgh Head for the lunchtime 'window of opportunity' when birds seem to arrive. Today nothing at all arrived, although there were 6 Snow Buntings, and I even managed to get a half decent shot of one:

Levenwick is very underwatched and always looks good so we spent a couple of hours checking the various gardens there. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it was crap.

Back down south late afternoon we relocated a few scarce migrants that had been seen earlier at Grutness: a nice but unapproachable Bluethroat, another Rosefinch and a Short-toed Lark flying around with Skylarks. The Twite in the Grutness garden are often very approachable, and with lovely afternoon light I got a few photos including this one which I was particularly pleased with:

Dinner was again provided by Mark, a nice chicken stew with dumplings. The cats were very interested in the preparation of this. No idea why – I didn't even know cats liked leeks.

Shut up or you'll be going in the stew

No alcohol tonight, and hopefully an early night if I can get up off the sofa.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Doctor, I have this feeling I'm being watched

Not much to report in the way of birds today – there were 'rares' all over the place, but not in south Mainland. Possibly something to do with the fact that the wind was mainly northerly, or more likely the fact that we spend too much time drinking tea and pissing about with webcams etc.

Actually we did try fairly hard today, but for very little reward. The day got off to a promising start, with a brief Yellow-browed Warbler in Rob's garden. Only the second Sunnydell garden record and I've found both of them. And both times Rob hasn't been here! Encouraged by this and news of good birds elsewhere I went off to tramp through the Ditch of Delights or whatever it's called (the one where Marcus found the Paddyfield and Thrush Nightingale last year), only for Rob to see an even briefer Bluethroat in the same place the warbler had disappeared into. Needless to say there weren't any birds in the ditch. In fact I've yet to see a bird of any species in that fucking ditch. Ditch of Bollocks would be a better name.

After this we covered the Virkie/Exnaboe/Toab area thoroughly, but saw very little. After getting some essential supplies at the shop, Rob had the 'leftfield' idea of driving up to the top of Fitful Head. You're not really supposed to go up there, but we did, past the 'no unauthorised vehicles' sign and up an incredibly steep slope to the top. The view from here is amazing, but there was very little in the way of birds apart from 4 Snow Buntings which flatly refused to be photographed. I did, however, have a moth tick on Fitful Head – a Haworth's Minor, which was nice.

An unusual view – looking down on Sumburgh Head

Looking north from Fitful Head

And that was about it, apart from the strange experience of being watched eating my tea (a very nice chicken biryani cooked by Mark) on Mark's 'crop cam' (see yesterday's post) which had inadvertently been left on, and was broadcasting a reflection in the window of Rob's living room! When we found out this was happening, we briefly considered turning the camera round to face the room in a sort of 'Birders Big Brother'. However, we quickly decided that this would be immensely tedious for everyone, watching three blokes sitting around drinking whisky and typing on laptops. And there's no sound on the webcam. In fact it would be worse if there was sound, as it would probably lead to a lot of libel actions.

Weather forecast for tomorrow is monster again, but this time the winds are from the south-east, so something might actually make landfall here rather than further north.

02:20 update: another moth tick - 2 Brindled Ochres in Rob's moth trap. Yes, I'm still up, and the bottle of Jura is empty.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Welcome to sunny Shetland

Having only had about three hours sleep last night, I'm not actually sure what I did today, but I seem to be sitting on Rob's sofa typing this, so I assume I travelled to Shetland via Mark's car, a couple of planes and Rob's borrowed white van. Or I could be dreaming of course. No I'm definitely not dreaming – I can smell the cat piss. Actually that doesn't help, as one of our cats kindly pissed on my suitcase before I left, so I could still be at home.

Let's assume for the sake of sanity that I'm not dreaming. The passengers on the Edinburgh – Sumburgh flight seemed to be mostly twitchers heading for the Whalsay Veery/Fetlar Taiga Flycatcher, and the weather when we arrived was surprisingly nice and sunny, with just a light north-westerly breeze, although this later deteriorated into 'heavy clag' – a descriptive Northern term for drizzle. My notebook tells me that we saw a couple of Wheatears in the Toab fields and a Snow Bunting at Sumburgh Head. We thought we might have heard the Pechora Pipit over Toab, but were more likely hallucinating from lack of sleep.

Highlight of the day was watching Mark set up his much anticipated 'crop cam' in Rob's garden. Yes, there really are crops (of a sort) in Rob's garden, planted with the sole intention of attracting birds, since Rob famously shuns vegetables and usually lives on fried egg sandwiches. The camera initially gave crippling views of a drake American Wigeon skulking among the onions (anyone who knows Rob's garden will understand), but these were later replaced by crippling views of the inside of a plastic jug keeping the rain off the camera.

Aha – I can prove I'm not dreaming – here are some photos of a lovely Shetland Starling (juvenile/1st-winter female), and the Island of Fair (adult male – no I don't know what I'm talking about either), showing well this afternoon from Toab:

The weather forecast is promising, veering monster, and there are rare birds all over the place apart from in south Mainland (very mobile Pechora Pipit somewhere, probably). A bottle of Jura has been purchased for consumption later, assuming I can stay awake long enough to open it.