Friday 29 October 2021

Back around Shoreham and a surprise Long-tailed Skua (23-29 October)

Friday 29 October. With heavy rain and strong SW winds forecast seawatching seemed the best option. After dropping Megan off at the Shoreham Charity Shop where she was volunteering Cookie and I went to Widewater where I seawatched from 09:30-11:00. Much to my delight and surprise at 09:45 a juvenile Long-tailed Skua flew east erratically, not too far out enabling it pale head and lower breast/belly to be seen as well as structural features. My first locally and only second in Sussex. I also saw 2 Red-breasted Mergansers, 3 Kittiwakes, 3 unidentified auks, 6 Fulmars and 70 Gannets flying west. A brief stop at the Adur produced very few gulls and nothing else of note before another heavy shower sent us hurrying back to the car.

Thursday 28 October. I wandered around Mill Hill for 3 hours from 07:00, being joined by Megan and Cookie for the last half. Migrants were almost non-existent with a Blackcap heard and parties of Meadow Pipits north totalling 20. Also seen were single Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Kestrel, Jay and Skylark.

Wednesday 27 October. Megan and I took Cookie to Pulborough Brooks RSPB where we walked around the interesting Fungi Trail. Most were instantly forgettable although a few stuck in our minds. We also encountered two mixed flocks which, together, included a Coal, at least 22 Blue, 14 Great and 11 Long-tailed Tits, a Chiffchaff, 3 Goldcrests, 2 Nuthatches and a Treecreeper. A Sparrowhawk flew our our road when we were walking out to the car and presumably the same several hours later a street away while walking Cookie around the block.

Bloody Britlegill at Pulborough
Yellow Staghorn at Pulborough

Tuesday 26 October. Returning to the Adur with Cookie we covered the area between the Railway Bridge and Cuckoos Corner. Disappointingly there were many fewer gulls but we did see a Ringed Plover, 40 Great Black-backed Gulls, 3 Grey Herons and near Cuckoos Corner a pair of Stonechats. A Sparrowhawk flew over our allotment in the afternoon.

Great Black-backed Gull J30CC on the Adur
it was ringed as chick at Kjorten, Mandal, Vest-Agder, Norway on 26 June 2021

Monday 25 OctoberMegan and I took Cookie to the Adur where we walked a circuit around the Old Toll and Norfolk Bridges. There were a lot of gulls on the exposed sandbanks although nothing stood out amongst them, a Herring with a North Thames colour-ring couldn't be read as I'd not taken a telescope. Curlew, Great Spotted Woodpecker (heard), 5 Skylarks, a Rock Pipit and 6 Linnets were our most notable sightings.

Sunday 24 OctoberMegan and I took Cookie to Cissbury where we saw a Buzzard, 5 Jays, 2 Ring Ouzels (in flight), Stonechat, 2 Meadow Pipits and 15 Greenfinches.

Saturday 23 October. Megan and I took Cookie to Mill Hill where we saw a Buzzard and a Long-tailed Tit. We didn't arrive very early but nevertheless it seemed very quiet.

Thursday 21 October 2021

UNST, part 3 of 3 (16-21 October)

This is the third and final blog covering a very enjoyable autumn visit birding with Dave Cooper on Unst. Like the previous one this is dominated by redpolls.

Saturday 16 October. After a rough night the wind dropped and we had the mildest day for a while. We joined Ray O’Reilly on Lamba Ness for an hour seawatch from 08:00 seeing 2 Red-breasted Mergansers, a Black Guillemot, 2 distant Little Auks, 2 ‘Blue’ birds amongst a northerly passage of about 5000 Fulmars and 2 Sooty Shearwaters. We left Ray and went on to Skaw where an Icelandic Redwing was the only bird of note. Eleven Long-tailed Duck were on the sea off Norwick Beach while at Valyie were a Chiffchaff, 2 Blackcaps, 10 Bramblings and a very confiding Northwestern Redpoll. In Norwick one of the Hornemann’s Arctic Redpolls was feeding with 2 Northwestern Redpolls which, when they flew off, were joined by 3 other redpolls and all promptly disappeared towards Dave’s house. We followed but couldn’t locate them and returned to Millfield for an early lunch stop. Returning to Norwick both Hornemann’s Arctic Redpolls were with 5 Northwestern Redpolls by the road although the latter were much showier. We then tried NorthDale (Siberian Chiffchaff, Icelandic Redwing), the Shore Station (male Long-tailed Duck, Red-throated Diver), Burrafirth (Jack Snipe, 4 Twite) and sites around Haroldswick (several Shetland Wrens).

Icelandic Redwing at Skaw
Golden Plover at Skaw
Brambling at Valyie
Northwestern Redpoll at Valyie

Northwestern and Hornemann's Arctic Redpolls in Norwick

Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll in Norwick

Siberian Chiffchaff at NorthDale
Willow Warbler at NorthDale
Icelandic Redwing at NorthDale
Shetland Wren in Haroldswick

Sunday 17 October. We woke to a light east wind, scattered clouds and a distinctly fresh feel, seemingly ideal for finding migrants We walked down to Valyie seeing a Siberian Chiffchaff, 2 blythi Lesser Whitethroats, about 50 mostly Scandinavian Redwings, 2 Bramblings and 2 Mealy Redpolls. Just 6 Long-tailed Duck were off Norwick Beach. We drove to Skaw and walked around the headland to check some Geos. Two Icelandic Redwings were the only birds of note. Back in Norwick we had fleeting views of the 2 Hornemann’s Arctic Redpolls with about 4 Northwestern Redpolls and at times 8 Twite. After a quick lunch we visited the Shore Station (male Long-tailed Duck), Burrafirth (2 Twite), sites around Haroldswick (nothing of note) and NorthDale (where a Red-breasted Flycatcher ended the day on a high note).

Millfield at dawn

Long-tailed Duck at Norwick

Mealy Redpoll at Valyie

presumed Shetland Starling at Valyie
Icelandic Redwing at Valyie
Scandinavian Redwing at Valyie
both Hornemann's Arctic Redpolls in Norwick

size comparison with Northwestern Redpoll
Northwestern Redpoll in Norwick
Geo at Skaw
Fulmars at Skaw


Long-tailed Duck at Burrafirth

Monday 18 October. The promised southeast wind had arrived, but at 25mph or more was stronger than forecast and made birding difficult. We walked down to Norwick Bay seeing just 2 Long-tailed Duck off the beach and a Chiffchaff in a ditch. Walking up to Valyie it was clear there had been a big arrival of Redwings with an estimated 3500 in the area (all Redwings seen well today appeared to be Scandinavian origin). With them we saw a Ring Ouzel and at least 10 Fieldfares. About 70 Bramblings were feeding in the weedy fields but we couldn’t find anything else, with no sign of any redpolls there or in Norwick. After a refreshment break we drove to Skaw where about 1500 Redwings were in the fields with another 1000 and a Merlin along the track out to Lamba Ness. We were approaching Saxa Vord on our way to Burrafirth when an Unst Birders WhatsApp message from Robbie Brookes came through to say a pod of Orcas were in Haroldswick Bay. We immediately diverted and 5 minutes later were watching a couple of them heading north out of the far side of the rather narrow bay. They were not up for long but I saw more than a brief fin, my previous best. It seemed likely they would continue to Norwick Bay and/or Lamba Ness. Based on Dave’s experience we were most likely to get the best views from Lamba Ness, provided they didn’t pass submerged as they had the last time. We quickly drove to the end of Lamba Ness where we hedged our bets by scanning south from an old brick lookout. I picked out a distant fin three times in quick succession as they approached around Clibberswick Hill, about 1.5 miles away, but it then seemed an age before Dave saw one heading into Norwick Bay. We and four others who had joined us legged it to the cliff edge where we found some shelter from the wind and had sporadic views as they moved towards the head of the bay before turning back along the south side of Lamba Ness towards us. Never in view for long, I saw breaching twice and Dave saw and photographed spyhopping. They picked up speed as they passed below us and from then on it was hard to keep up with them as they submerged and headed out towards the Holm of Skaw. What an amazing experience and one I feared I'd missed my chance of on this visit with two half-fins momentarily off Lamba Ness one day and an ultra-brief whole fin and maybe a bit of body on another. The weather soon deteriorated and we drove around looking for thrush flocks we could view from the car. We saw 750 Redwings, 20 Blackbirds and another 80 or so Bramblings but little else. With the rain intensifying and visibility worsening we called it a day and were back home by 16:30, in time for Dave to spot a first-winter Glaucous Gull from the kitchen window as it flew around the bay. A very satisfying day despite my lowest daily species total for the visit.

argentatus Herring Gull at Norwick
Redwings over Valyie

Orcas at Haroldswick

Orca at Norwick
incredibly impressive animals

Orca off Lamba Ness (photo: Dave Cooper). I was always too slow to capture as much as this

Tuesday 19 October. We left to walk down to Valyie at 07:50, returning four hours later. While out we saw a Sanderling, a Siberian and 3 Common Chiffchaffs, 4 Blackcaps, 2 Goldcrests, 1000 Redwings, a Robin, a Redstart, 400 Bramblings, 2 Twite, single Hornemnan’s ArcticNorthwestern and juvenile Mealy Redpolls and a Yellowhammer. After some refreshment we drove to Skaw seeing 2 GoldcrestsRing Ouzel, 500+ Redwings, a Wheatear and 20 Bramblings. More RedwingsBramblings and a Reed Bunting were along the Holsen’s Road and we were shown a roosting Long-eared Owl at NorthDale. The Haroldswick Loop was quiet with 2 Long-tailed Duck and a Red-throated Diver in the bay and more Redwings and Bramblings in the fields. The weather was deteriorating and we switched to birding from the car. We decided to fit in a visit to Easter Loch in the far south of Unst, somewhere we'd not yet found a reason to visit. Here we found 36 swans, many asleep. At least 6 were Mute and 16 Whoopers. Also seen were a Pochard (Dave's first on Unst, it had been present for most of my stay), 20 Tufted Duck, a Scaup, a Black Guillemot offshore, more Redwings and 80 Bramblings. A final stop at Norwick Beach produced a Goldfinch. Dave and Brenda kept me updated with worsening weather forecasts for Thursday, my scheduled departure day, and warnings of potential disruption to the Northlink sailing. Another issue was the possibility, if winds reached the forecast force 8 or 9 that morning the inter-island ferries would not run making it impossible to get to Lerwick. Looking into various options it seemed sensible to leave Shetland a day early (my return ferry booking was easily transferable). My EasyJet flight to Gatwick wasn’t and buying a new one would cost about £100 so a night in an Aberdeen hotel for about a third of the price seemed a more sensible option. Having decided on this course of action I packed my bags and had a relatively early night.

Bramblings at Valyie

some were feeding on the beach
Redstart in Norwick
Mealy Redpoll in Norwick, most likely a local youngster
the Mealy and a Hornemann's in Norwick
Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll in Norwick

the ultimate snowball

Shetland Sheep
Long-eared Owl at NorthDale

Whooper Swans at Easter Loch

Goldfinch at Norwick, Dave's first for two years

Wednesday 20 October. After a disturbed night I woke in the dark with wind and rain outside vindicating my decision to leave early. After an emotional farewell to Brenda, who had looked after me so very well, Dave took me to the Saxa Vord bus stop for the 07:45 ‘overlander’. It had been really brilliant staying with Dave and Brenda, they were so welcoming it felt like being with close family. With driving rain making seeing anything out of the bus windows virtually impossible it was a fairly tedious journey south. Jimmy’s bus to Belmont and across on the ferry to Gutcher where I transferred into the Mainland bus. We crossed Yell (lacking Unst’s varied scenery from what I could see in the rain), stayed in the bus on the Ulsta-Toft ferry and was dropped at the Northlink terminal at 10:20. There was no issue with bringing my reservation forward and I booked a hotel in Aberdeen for the following evening. Leaving my bag I walked around Lerwick visiting Clickmin, Ness of Sound and the harbour front seeing 32 Oystercatchers, 22 Ringed Plover, 11 Curlew, a Black Guillemot, 6 Hooded Crows, 12 Blackbirds, 3 Redwings and a Song Thrush. I was on the ferry at 15:30 and we departed at 16:30 instead of the more usual 17:30 to keep ahead of the worst of the storm. I stayed on deck seeing 34 Eider, 8 Long-tailed Duck, 6 Red-breasted Mergansers and 6 Black Guillemots in the sound. We past Sumburgh at 17:30 and I went in soon after.

leaving Lerwick
Bressay and Noss
goodbye Shetland

Thursday 21 October. The MV Hrossey docked in Aberdeen at 07:00 after a fairly reasonable crossing. The wind was quite strong in Aberdeen with scattered showers. My hotel’s check-in time was not until 14:00, and it a little out of my way to see if I could leave a bag there so I walked to Girdle Ness and left it hidden under a discarded road sign by the allotments. I saw 21 Eider, 2 Black Guillemots, 4 Red-throated Divers and 6 Common Dolphins on the sea and spent an enjoyable hour as the tide came in trying to count Purple Sandpipers (ending up on 23). Walking back there were 2 Goosanders on the River Dee upstream of the Victoria Bridge. My hotel, the OYO Flagship Brentwood was perfectly acceptable with friendly staff and I spent the afternoon walking around Aberdeen. Fortunately, for me, I hadn’t missed much on Shetland by leaving a day early, a Hawfinch probably being Dave’s best.

Purple Sandpipers at Girdle Ness

Turnstone at Girdle Ness

Red-throated Diver off Girdle Ness
Shags at Girdle Ness, one with an unreadable colour-ring
with Eider

Friday 22 October. After a decent night’s sleep I caught the bus to Aberdeen Airport where I had a stressful time at security losing my phone. Ringing it went straight to voicemail and going back through security failed to locate it. As a last resort when I was once again airside one of the security ladies kindly put my bags back through to X-Ray (for the third time) and spotted what looked like a phone right at the bottom of my shoulder bag - somewhere I’d looked twice but obviously not very well!! Quite a relief but at the departure gate I realized I’d left my jacket in one of the trays the second time I went through security, too preoccupied with my ‘lost’ phone to notice at the time. Going back would have probably led to my missing the flight so I felt it best to write it off. Shame as it was a nice jacket but better than a lost phone. 

It had been a great trip and many thanks to Dave Cooper and Brenda Kay for looking after me so well. The birds might have been a shade disappointing but with very little easterly wind that was not too surprising. We (Dave more than I) found Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll, White-billed Diver and Olive-backed Pipit. Non-avian highlights were unreal views of an Otter, a successful chase after Orcas and a rather unimpressive Northern Lights display that I completely failed to photograph.