Tuesday, 25 October 2011


This may come as a shock to some people, but I've finally given in and joined Facebook. It seems to be the thing to do these days. So if you know me, you may be getting/have already been sent an invitation to be my friend. This always sounds a bit pathetic and needy to me, but that's what they decided to call it, so who am I to argue. So pleeeease be my friend..... oh, go on....... I'm really not as objectionable as I seem...... I promise I won't keep ringing you up, or emailing you hundreds of amusing pictures of cats, honest......

At some stage, when I get my head round it all, I shall be creating pages on the aforementioned social networking site for my two art websites. I know most of the people who read this crap aren't likely to become customers for artwork, but the point is that friends of friends, or relatives of friends, or friends of relatives might. Sort of like viral, innit. In the modern parlance. I'm dead modern, me. I'm on Twitter as well, you know.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

More Shameless Self-promotion

As I may have mentioned a while back, I've been intending for a long time to create a separate website for my pet portraits. After a lot of messing about, it's now live, so in the interests of getting at least one in-coming link to it, here it is:

Feel free to link to it, share it, Tweet it, like it on Facebook etc.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Religious Persecution by Mustelids?

This could easily have been Photoshopped, but I swear this is a genuine screengrab from the BBC's Nature UK page (http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/uk/) today. No doubt it will have disappeared by Monday.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Shetland Days 9 - 12


Back to near gale force westerlies, accompanied by heavy showers. There are now pretty much no migrants anywhere (apart from an arrival of Redwings and Fieldfares overnight), and the only bird of note we saw all day was the Buff-bellied Pipit at Quendale.


Decided to go a bit further afield today, so we drove to Lerwick, where several Purple Sandpipers and a Long-tailed Duck were new for the holiday list, but Helendale and Seafield were devoid of migrants. Fladdabister produced the only warblers we've seen for a few days – a Garden Warbler and a Blackcap, and 1 Chiffchaff was the only migrant at Hoswick (as an aside, we've seen more Willow Warblers than Chiffchaffs here since we arrived, which is very unusual).

We were then reduced to twitching the Citrine Wagtail again, and I managed to get a photo for a change, although it was being blown about a lot in the wind. Finally, back at Pool of Virkie, a Curlew Sandpiper was new for the holiday list, and 6 juv Arctic Terns were also here.


Our last full day was mostly spent driving around South Mainland trying to think of somewhere that might be hiding a migrant, but apart from 3 Snow Buntings on the top of Mossy Hill, we largely failed to find any. Saw the American Golden Plover again at Dunrossness, and the Isabelline Shrike again at Fleck.

Mark totally gripped me off this morning with a brief Robin in Exnaboe, the only one of the trip. Apart from that though, our last couple of hours produced nothing in flat calm, sunny weather. Strange how, every time the wind's dropped below about force 7, we've been travelling and haven't been able to take full advantage of it. Our flight from Sumburgh was delayed due to a fault with the plane (we actually had to get off and board a different one after farting about on the runway for half an hour), which meant a fast walk across Glasgow Airport to catch the connecting flight, but apart from that the journey home was uneventful.

So, a bit of a mixed bag this year - saw some good birds (certainly more than in 2008, when we didn't see a single BB rarity!), but nothing really outstanding, and once again we failed to find much, despite trying hard. It would be an understatement to say that the weather wasn't in our favour though! Probably shan't be going next year, so book your flights now - it will no doubt be mega....

Shetland Day 8

Typically, the day we left Unst it was relatively calm. The wind even went easterly for most of the day, although it wasn't really coming from anywhere, and most of the remaining migrants seem to have taken the opportunity to leave.

Stopped off at a few places on the way south, the most productive of which was the excellent garden and plantation at Sandgarth, where we found a Lesser Redpoll (the rarest of the redpolls in Shetland!), 4 or 5 apparent Mealy Redpolls, a Greenfinch (also scarce here), a Lesser Whitethroat and a few Blackcaps. Kergord was absolutely dead as usual.

Sandgarth plantation

Arriving in the birder-infested south, we quickly cleaned up on all the rarities in the area: juv Citrine Wagtail and American Golden Plover at Fleck, and the Isabelline Shrike at Brake, but decided to give the Buff-bellied Pipit at Quendale a miss until the crowds had died down.

Shetland Day 7

Went back to Fetlar today to look for the American Golden Plover, Dotterel and Pec Sand Martin Garner's lot saw yesterday at Tresta (where we didn't look on Monday). Found the Golden Plover flock. Nothing else with them.

Golden Plover ignoring the weather and pretending it's still summer

Looked for the Black-headed Bunting at Belmont. No sign.

Last couple of hours of daylight at Norwick – Pied Fly and 2 Rosefinches still at Valyie, and a juv Hen Harrier by the beach, but nothing new.

Forecast still bollocks. Tomorrow we leave Unst and head for the apparently birder-saturated and almost equally birdless South Mainland. I can't wait.

Shetland Day 6

Notice how the posts get shorter as the week goes on...

More of the same – strong westerly winds and showers. Went to Norwick first thing and saw the same birds that have been there all week – 2 Rosefinches, Pied Flycatcher, Yellow-browed Warbler, Garden Warbler, Willow Warbler and several Bramblings.

South to Uyeasound, where all we could find were a Yellow-browed Warbler and a Spotted Flycatcher (valuable holiday tick). The OBP was still at Baltasound late afternoon, but again no photos worth keeping.

With the forecast is still stuck on strong westerly winds coming from nowhere, it's hard to see anything new turning up at the moment. We may be reduced to twitching Fetlar again tomorrow...

Shetland Day 5

A disappointing day, with not much seen. Started at Uyeasound, where we wasted over an hour waiting for an interesting juvenile Aythya sp to flap its wings or fly, and hopefully confirm that it was what it looked like, a Lesser Scaup. However, when the Tufted flock did eventually fly, it clearly had white extending on to the primaries. Presumably it was some sort of horrible hybrid (Lesser Scaup x Tufted?), but it did look good apart from the wing pattern. Martin Garner (who arrived just before the flock flew) agreed, which made us feel a little better about it!

After that we checked various sites around Unst, but saw very little apart from a Redstart in the burn at Burrafirth, the two Common Rosefinches at Norwick and a couple of Hen Harriers at Burrafirth and Northdale. We drove past the OBP site, but there were too many people there so we gave that a miss. Weather continues to look unpromising, with more westerlies forecast for the foreseeable future. It may be going more north-westerly by Friday, which is marginally better, but at the moment it doesn't look like we're going to get any easterlies at all.

Shetland Day 4

The continuing ‘westerly gale and showers’ theme made conditions difficult for birding, but we made the effort to get out reasonably early, and headed to Norwick once more. This time the Pied Flycatcher appeared for us in the Valyie garden, and a Yellow-browed Warbler was calling, but not a lot else. A drive down to Lamba Ness produced even less, but I did manage to get a nice photo of a female Merlin on the ground. A ringtail Hen Harrier, probably the one we saw at Norwick the other day, was battling against the wind here, and yet another shortly afterwards at Haroldswick. Having only ever seen one Hen Harrier in eight previous visits to Shetland, I've now seen probably four different birds in four days! Also at Haroldswick were a late Swallow feeding low over a field, and a juv Arctic Tern in the bay.

After drawing blanks at several sites we found ourselves at Uyeasound, where I had a somewhat overdue Shetland tick – a Richard's Pipit flying over calling. On the way back to Baltasound we had a text from Rob saying 'Rustic Bunting, OBP and Rosefinch around the school'. What?! We'd struggled to find anything all day and someone had seen all that lot in one place! On arrival at the school we discovered that there's a nice stand of conifers there, and the Olive-backed Pipit was soon found, and showed well on the sheltered side. Mark got some good photos, but I spazzed it as usual, only managing to add to my collection of 'world's worst rarity photos'. No sign of the Rustic Bunting, which would have been another Shetland tick.

My 'best' OBP shot - i.e. the only one where it's actually identifiable...

After this we looked at the Setters Hill Estate plantation and Halligarth with renewed optimism, but needless to say saw bugger all.

Shetland Day 3 - Fetlar

Despite having only been on Unst for a couple of days, we decided to go to Fetlar today to look for the Pallid Harrier and three American Golden Plovers which were near Funzie the other day. All the ferries to and from Unst are free (once you've paid your initial return fare from Yell), so it didn't cost us anything. Not having checked the ferry times before we set off, we were very lucky to arrive just as one was about to depart – a minute later and we wouldn't have got to Fetlar till the afternoon.

As we drove across the island in heavy rain I picked up a ringtail harrier, which obviously we hoped might be the Pallid, but on closer inspection it was yet another Hen. The rain continued for most of the day till about 3pm, and the south-south-west wind steadily increased from about force 5 in the morning to gale force 8 or 9 by late afternoon.

We spent most of the day trying to get good enough views of the Golden Plover flock between Funzie & Everland. This was difficult, as the flock was flighty and kept splitting up into smaller flocks. Eventually we had reasonable views of most of them, but couldn't find any Americans. A Lapland Bunting was at Loch of Funzie, and then in the afternoon the juvenile Pallid Harrier flew across the road and landed at Mires of Funzie. Got some crap flight shots of it, which at least prove that it was a Pallid:
Loch of Funzie

Poor record shots of rare bird caused partly by forgetting to turn the
image stabilizer back on, and partly by general photographic incompetence

Another stroke of luck was arriving at the only shop on the island just as it was closing (at 1pm!) – fortunately the proprieter let us in, and we were able to purchase a couple of Johnson & Wood chicken and bacon pies. Again, a minute later and we would have been left hungry till we got back to Unst!

While we were consuming said pies, we received a text from Rob about a 'probable Black-eared Wheatear' reported on Unst, which we didn't really want to hear, as we couldn't get back till about 17:15 or so. Fortunately it was re-identified, as Rob correctly predicted, as a wet Northern Wheatear.

Very rough crossing back across Bluemull Sound. Forecast for more of the same tomorrow.

Shetland Day 2

Another warm, sunny and flat calm day here. Up and out by 07:45; as we were putting stuff in the car I picked up a ringtail harrier flying over the field in the front of the chalet. Momentary panic, followed by frustration as it turned and flew off across the sound and disappeared over the hill. Clearly a Hen Harrier on jizz, but one of those 'interesting' dark above/orange below individuals. Others who have seen it over the last couple of weeks think it's a variant Hen rather than a 'Northern Harrier/Marsh Hawk' or whatever you want to call the American race.

The plan for today was to start at Skaw and then work our way south – just one Garden Warbler at Skaw, so on to Norwick, where I had a long overdue and tarty self-found tick: 2 Common Rosefinches with sparrows in a field of oats. There were two here a while ago, but since they haven't been reported for 8 days it's going on my found list. Oh yes. Also around Norwick were 2 Barred Warblers and 2 Yellow-broweds.

Garden Warbler - typical fence-perching Shetland migrant

Rosefinch and House Sparrow friend
Two views of the brilliant Valyie garden at Norwick

Encouraged by this, we then walked around Baltasound for a couple of hours, but saw very little apart from Unst resident Mike Pennington, who greeted us with the words 'get off my island'. One Willow Warbler in Halligarth plantation was the only thing I wrote in my notebook.

Halligarth, Baltasound (can't quite make out the Willow Warbler on this shot)

After a quick cup of tea back at the chalet we headed south to Belmont to try and get better views/photos of the Black-headed Bunting. After a bit of searching it appeared, and I managed to get some semi-decent shots of it.

Another look at Norwick late afternoon produced nothing new apart from another (different) ringtail Hen Harrier, and finally we had good views of an Otter just offshore at Haroldswick.


I've decided that, having made the effort to write something each day we were in Shetland, I might as well upload them. Mainly because I can't be arsed to write a summary now, so it's either this or nothing. Bear in mind though that these were written at the time, so references to the birding looking 'promising' at the start of the holiday may sound like wildly optimistic wishful thinking with the benefit of two weeks' hindsight...

Day 1 (Saturday 1st October)

It was all going so smoothly until we got to the chalet. We arrived at a surprisingly calm and mild Sumburgh on schedule at 10:45, picked up the hire car, quick cup of tea and chat at Rob's, during which Dave found Rob's third garden Yellow-browed Warbler (I found the first two), drove across Mainland, Barred Warbler flew in front of the car at Voe (landed in a rose bush just for confirmation), saw the Black-headed Bunting at Belmont and then.... couldn't get into the chalet. The door was supposed to be open, and the key inside, but no, the door was locked and the key nowhere to be seen. Bollocks.

Fortunately the people in the chalet next door knew where a key might be found, and eventually we got in. Apparently the owner thought we were arriving next week. Good job he hadn't double booked it!!

Next, and more annoying problem – no phone reception either in the chalet or anywhere nearby. Arse. But there are a few places both north and south of here where the phone works, so we should be able to get news out reasonably quickly if necessary.

So, no blog posts until we get to Rob's next Saturday It's also very odd not being able to take the Blackberry out every five minutes to check emails. How quickly we come to regard technology as a basic human right....

Anyway, apart from seeing the Black-headed Bunting near the ferry terminal at Belmont we didn't do a great deal of birding apart from a couple of hours this afternoon at Norwick, where there were at least 6 Yellow-browed Warblers and not a lot else. But with a Siberian Blue Robin (unfortunately killed by a cat) on Foula today, and various other new bits and pieces, it's looking promising. In the absence of any internet access we've had to resort to watching television, writing our blog posts ready for uploading in a week's time, and working our way through a 'catering' sized bottle of Tesco own brand whisky (“A versatile drink which brings enjoyment to every occasion” according to the blurb on the label).

Finally some good news. Mark has brought two compact cameras for some reason, so I have a 'non bird photos' camera for the week.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Back to (semi) civilisation

It's unlikely I know, but just in case anyone has been wondering where the daily updates from Unst were, here is the answer. I had hoped that we would get a phone signal at the chalet, and that I could therefore tether the phone to the laptop and get onto the Internet that way. But no, neither Vodafone nor O2 work anywhere around Baltasound, except for a very occasional weak signal, good enough to deliver a text or an email, but not to send anything. Apparently Orange does work there, but almost nowhere else in Shetland!

Mark has done a couple of blog updates on his phone when we were elsewhere on Unst, but I couldn't be bothered with that. Having now arrived at Rob's house for the next four days, I will either upload the crap I've been writing each night or, more likely, some sort of round-up of the week on Unst.

Or I could just sum it up in one word: windy.