Monday, 25 February 2019

SHETLAND: Mainland 23 February - TENGMALM'S OWL

Saturday 23 February. I was on deck as it was getting light and saw a male Long-tailed Duck, 20 Eider and two Black Guillemots between Bressay and Lerwick. Garry had booked a car which had been left in the car park and half an hour later we were at Bixter, Phil Heath having taken the spare place in our hire car. There had been no sign of the bird since Thursday despite some birders searching the area for most of the night. The householders at Tumblin did not want birders around house or in the garden until 09:00 when Phil Harris had permission to search the plantation tree by tree, something which had been done several times the previous day with no success. It was not looking hopeful and Phil went in and started moving into the plantation on his back checking the trees. Literally three minutes later he came out and announced the bird was there but from below one could only see its belly. He then went back to the house to report this and obtain permission to see if it was visible from the drive. It was but very obscured and only from one position. The only option was to set up a scope and let each of the 50-60 birders present look through it one at a time. Very stressful especially as I was about number 40 in the queue and the first few went through at about one every three  minutes as it took a while to realise where the bird was. Fortunately it soon sped up with everyone being told what to look for and the queueing system worked well and was orderly. After about half an hour my turn came. Brilliant to have finally seen a Tengmalm's Owl. Even if a lot of it was obscured one gained a good impression of the bird. Like most I joined the back of the queue for seconds. Garry drove into Lerwick to sort of some paperwork for the car and didn't return for three hours although we were happy continually queueing. My only disappointment being that my scope was in the car and towards the end there would have been space to set it up and I could have tried digiscoping. By this time there were only a handful left, including recently arrived Steve Smith, and queueing rarely took more than a few minutes for longer views. I saw the bird at least ten times, most adding a bit more to my image of it - left side, eye open a bit, right side eye fully open, eyes closed shut, preening, back of head etc. By the time Garry returned it had moved a few inches making it more obscured and after a final view we returned to Lerwick. We saw an adult Iceland Gull, a pair of Long-tailed Ducks, 15 Eider, a Black Guillemot and a Raven at Lerwick Catch then obtained our boarding passes for the evening ferry. We'd not done so earlier in case we wanted to stay a second day. We drove south seeing in quick succession the wintering Scarlet Rosefinch in a garden in Claphoull, eight Whooper Swans and the Pied-billed Grebe on Loch Spiggie and two Tundra Bean Geese and what was probably a Pink-foot at Sandwick. We returned to Bixter at about 16:20 and joined 40 others on the drive at Tumblin. It was drizzling heavily but the Tengmalm's Owl was still just about visible in the same place in the plantation although looking into the rain with awful light. We were waiting against the clock as although the ferry left at 19:00 the gangway was closed at 18:30, it was a 30 minute drive to the terminal and we needed to fill up with petrol. We had a cut off at 17:50 which seemed fine at 17:00 with the light starting to go but the owl didn't start moving until after 17:25 and didn't move far. At 17:35 it moved a foot or so and then at 17:40 flew a couple of feet to perch in full view on the edge of a tree. By now most observers had moved to the side of the house giving me the chance to move to a good position on the drive and although it was almost dark it was nice to see the bird in full view in my scope. Even nicer when someone briefly shone a torch on it two or three times which didn't appear to bother the bird at all. It was now just after 17:50 and we reluctantly left. We were on the ferry with under five minutes to spare. It had been a brilliant visit, shockingly my first since April 1992. Something I would definitely have to improve upon.

Many thanks to Garry for arranging the trip and doing the driving (I was back home soon after 18:00 on 24th) , all transport cost me less than £100, a bargain if ever there was one.

just under £40 for the over 60s, so there is some benefit for being old
very obscured Tengmalm's Owl at Tumblin, the sun reflecting off the top of its rounded head is visible towards the top of the image, a few white spots lower down
this shows the limitations of a bridge camera, or its operator, in not focusing on the bird deep in cover
Tengmalm's Owl at Tumblin 19 February 2019 (Dave Cooper) - the image that got me wishing ...
Eider off Lerwick Catch
great to see this wonderful duck so well, putting most South Coast sightings to shame

Long-tailed Ducks off Shetland Catch
another brilliant duck when seen well

adult Iceland Gull at Shetland Catch
with two Fulmars, my first adult since 1992
Friday 22 February. Garry drove John Lees, Hugh and me to Aberdeen with a couple of stops. We saw about 500 geese (Barnacles?) in three skeins flying over the M6/M74 at Gretna, a Red Kite south of Perth and four Goosanders on the River Dee in Aberdeen. The owl had not been seen all day despite very intensive searching and much to our dismay did not appear at dusk. Hugh bailed out but Garry, John and I boarded at 18:30 joining Dave Holman, Phil Heath and Lee Evans, amongst others (most of who I didn't know but knew the names of) were on the boat. I had a decent nights sleep.

Thursday 21 February.Peregrine on Southwick Power Station on my way to work where news the Tengmalm's Owl was back was not entirely a surprise. Thankfully Garry Bagnall was offering lifts on twitter and I quickly contacted him. He'd been as far as Preston on Tuesday night but turned around when it wasn't seen. We would leave his place at 23:00 and this time we would go over whatever. 5000 Starlings murmurating by the Palace Pier on my way home. I was at Garry's just before 11pm, having driven past a couple of times before realising where it was.

Wednesday 20 February.  Shoreham Fort, Widewater and Brooklands produced little, the highlights being a Polish colour-ringed Black-headed Gull on the beach at Shoreham Sailing Club and two Sanderling on the beach opposite Brooklands. No sign of the Tengmalm's Owl on Shetland.
Polish Black-headed Gull, ringed at Koronowo, Kujawsko-Pomorskie, Poland on 21/05/17 and seen at nearby Shoreham Fort on 23/12/18
Tuesday 19 February. A Peregrine on Southwick Power Station on my way to work where news of a roosting Tengmalm's Owl on Mainland Shetland was rather distracting. Thankfully Dave Cooper made it from Unst. 2000 Starlings murmurating by the Palace Pier on my way home.

Monday 18 February. 6000 Starlings murmurating by the Palace Pier on my way home.

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