Tuesday, 10 January 2017

New Year

Before the New Year I went for a swim that I didn't intend or want... note to self the burn at Aikerness silts up so it might be a tad deeper than you expect.  I was giving elder daughter a piggyback across the burn at the time... who goes to the beach in Chelsea boots? I ask you... No witnesses and no pictures fortunately. The walk was cut very short and we both retreated to the car damp and shivery. (However, camera and phones survived so a tad wet and cold was the only damage.)

The weather was not great over the first few days of the New Year, and more windy weather is expected overnight and for the next couple of days, gusting 70mph is no fun with car and house doors.

Not that many photos I thought but I've managed to find a few, dull light is not great for wildlife photography, of the following I've pushed the iso and shutter speed to the limits to get anything approaching sharp and worthwhile, most ended up in the bin.

So there are no more pictures of the Lesser Scaup although I did manage to relocate it, and before anyone else as well, so there might be some additional Patchwork Challenge points, maybe... I did finally catch up with the Crane, thanks to PH for that one, miles away across the fields but nice enough.

The highlight has really been the WW gulls. All last year I hunted for Iceland Gull on the home patch, not even a likely suspect. Doing my good turn and taking Ellen to the ponies one morning and two gulls flew over the garden as we headed down to the gate, bit of a panic to grab the bins and avoid falling out of the car to get a view at a weird angle but a nice 2cy, a big one too. Then this last Sunday I had a quick stroll around Palace, mmm those gulls look rather white... a walker on the beach flushed them (PM that was you and your bag of egg cases, you missed a bit of a treat I'd have shown you if you continued up the beach) and I had a bit of a panic making sure I saw them all, five Glaucous - ad, 4cy, 3cy, 3cy, 2cy I reckoned - and the Ice was 4cy I think (I may yet change my mind about that one,need to check the references, think that's right enough).

 Bit distant here but the Ice is tucked behind the Herring Gull, then Glaucous 2cy, next one is a 4cy maybe, the one at the back in the middle is a 3cy I reckon.

 GB-bG 2cy, Glaucous 2cy, 3cy and 4cy, then adult GB-bG, the adult Glaucous is off to the right I seem to have missed photographing that.

Not the best picture of the Ice, 4cy I would reckon

Added to this bonanza was a sneeky Dunnock (very uncommon at Palace) that retreated under a car before I could get a photo, and this rather nice Stonechat.

Six Meadow Pipits and a Skylark were not so usual at this time of year. More expected (and photographed at Northside a few days earlier a Rockit).

Rock Pipit

Here are some more pictures from Northside in the first few days of the year.

Fulmar (about this time someone was seeing a Black-browed Albatross over on the East Mainland at Rerwick, I would rather like it to pay Northside a visit, please - ideally when I'm there...)

Here are some pictures from the home patch too, some of these are quite heavily processed in the software, adding a bit of drama.... (also known as cheating).

 I can't quite make up my mind if I prefer this image in colour or b&w, sometimes colour is best when there isn't much of it.

Rain showers passing

Lots of duck on Loch of Bosquoy and The Shunan, including a very nice Goosander but try as I might I couldn't find a Green-winged Teal.

Teal, Bosquoy


Monday, 26 December 2016

Babs and Conor

St Michael's Kirk pre Babs

It's hard to capture these storms in any kind of meaningful way through images, and anyway, everyone is so used to quite spectacular images on the BBC News that risking life and limb to get a half good picture is really a bit of a waste of time, so the ones below were largely taken from the safety of the car. On Christmas Eve I went out at midday to fetch the turkey, it had lived on a local farm, and I popped down to Marwick and The Links afterwards.

Marwick looked spectacular from the top of the hill, watching a car come up from the car park it appeared that at any moment it would disappear under a wave several houses high, however, going down the road to look closer and the sea just didn't have the impact (luckily).

This Eider was not enjoying Babs much

I did take a few pictures though...

More about the sky than the sea

I tried a walk at The Links, and hound and I did get down to the bottom of the track, however sheltering behind the dyke (on knees) I decided it was all too risky and headed back to the safety of the Fiesta. Mmmm, that was not so easy, clothing acted like a sail and on several occasions I very nearly ended up face planted in the mud. It was a relief to get behind the wee car and kneeling again, open the door and get dog and self inside. This was gusting 50 or so at most I would guess, it's worked itself up to more than that now.

Back at the ranch the quackers were all sheltering in a corner of The Shunan, bird feeders were taken in and food put on the floor (most of it had blown there anyway).

Christmas morning it was still, the lull before Conor, it didn't take long to get up again. 

Ravens circled in anticipation.

Through the night it blew and now it's howling. A look out of the kitchen window and the back shed (rather ancient) is rocking around somewhat alarmingly. Emergency repairs have been administered, whether that will suffice as an Adrian type stop the next couple of hours will tell...

St Michael's Kirk between Babs leaving and Conor arriving.

Since my last blog post I've spent a lot of time looking at the Lesser Scaup and going through references. An early Christmas present to myself of the new Reeber wildfowl guide has helped, what an excellent book. I had missed this book being published and had fairly recently purchased a copy of Madge second hand (£4), still a useful text. All the information and illustrations of hybrids in Reeber are very useful, highy recommended if you like your quackers.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

How weird is that?

So on Sunday back down to the very spot where I found the, now confirmed, Lesser Scaup as it was calm and there were a pile of birds showing. I have only been down to this spot a handful of times in the last couple of years although in the past it has produced Citrine Wag. Got out of the car and let the dog mooch about whilst I was counting things. After a short while the dog flushed something and I saw it get up out of the corner of my eye, got onto it properly and was a bit shocked to realise it was a small crake. It flew low over the water and seemed to drop in to the vegetation not too far away. Went through there with the dog but nothing. Waited about an hour, watching the edge by carefully wading out into the shallows  a few times but no joy. AL arrived and we thoroughly walked through the area a couple of times but without a result. Bit frustrating, as the bird looked really small and slight. I saw short bill and trailing legs, short rounded wings. Wings looked darker above than uniform somewhat paler body. Flight was level a few inches above the water, really didn't get much on this bird, but enough to be sure it was a crake and the size and slightness make me seriously think Baillon's / Little (I think Spotted and Sora are more robust things) I wouldn't entirely rule out Spotted Crake though.

Otherwise a fairly uneventful birding weekend, just adding Woodcock finally to the Old Nisthouse year list.

Some lovely sky on Sunday though.

 From the beach

From by the tearoom

Loch of Harray

Saturday, 26 November 2016

(Lesser Scaup) - retitled, mmmm is it a Lesser Scaup? - Further retitled, Darn, it's a hybrid - As you were - Lesser Scaup

 Post-script. On Sunday, 4th December Morris Rendall got photos of the Lesser Scaup which showed the wing pattern which I had thought I had seen accurately the previous week. There followed a lot of discussion with a variety of folk commenting and supporting the original id as Lesser Scaup. I had just been a bit too cautious!

 Lesser Scaup upperwing (Photo Morris Rendall)

Note the white extends through the secondaries but not on to the primaries.

Lesser Scaup underwing (Photo Morris Rendall)

Note the dark bases to the primaries and secondaries creating a dark bar through the wing and the darker primaries contrasting with the white secondaries. The underwing of both Greater Scaup and Tuftie are whiter and brighter, pretty evenly pale throughout with pale bases to the flight feathers.

Many thanks to Morris for allowing me to post these excellent photos.

Well that was educative. Very different light today, bright and sunny and quite still all day. Problem number one was refinding the bird which took two attempts and a couple of hours (broken by needing take take younger daughter to work). Eventually AL relocated it, I'd actually seen it but passed over it earlier. It was much further away today but in bright sunlight. The first issue was that the mantle is dark, so dark that in the bright sunlight, from a higher vantage point the bird was tricky to detect amongst the Tufties, however, looking at photos on Birdguides that is not necessarily a problem. Next problem was the sheen on the head which was certainly dark green. Again there are birds on Birdguides with a green sheen, the bird at Linlithgow in December 2014 shows this. Neither of these things could be seen yesterday. Third problem, although I'd seen the bird in flight yesterday and had been pretty certain that the white in the wing did not extend through to the primaries, today when the bird flapped that was more doubtful, indeed AL was pretty certain that the white was much the same as on a Tuftie. I do find this feature very hard to see, but it has been the clincher in the past with female type birds on both Loch of Bosquoy and The Shunan (that they were Tufties or at best a hybrid), bright sunlight makes this feature harder to detect though. I woud like a photo of this feature and now wish I'd photographed instead of looked yesterday when the bird flew. However, it is also worth thinking about the vermiculations on the mantle, on this bird they do not extend on to the flanks and I think on a "good" LS they should. Also they were rather fine and not as coarse as shown in the books or on most birds online, although again the Linlithgow bird was similar. Today the bird looked to be the same size as the Tufties, however, yesterday's photos shows that it is probably smaller, it did tend to sit higher in the water which birds in photos online also appear to do.

So a conundrum. It may be the bird at Linlithgow was a hybrid, it looks rather big in photos to my eye. However if that one was good, maybe this one is as well. I think a photo of the open wing is pretty much essential, looks like I need a boat, or the luck of the bird being close again as on Saturday. Orkney birders reading this please go and look at the bird, your opinions will be welcomed. Today the bird was out in the middle of the loch, towards the hotel garden, in the area of the huge white plastic sack on the far bank. (Loch or Boardhouse, Birsay.)

Lesser Scaup Loch of Boardhouse

Original text -
I was so pleased to find this, off patch or not it's a cracking bird. I've been contemplating changing the patch boundaries a bit for next season as I rarely get out to the Brough of Birsay and I've long thought that the loch could do with a bit more attention. Today I stopped at the west end of the loch on my way out, this is just in the patch, and there was a nice selection of birds, so on the way home I went down to the water works as I'd seen there were good numbers of duck there from the west end.

I did add something to the patch year list today though as this was on the beach.

Grey Plover

For the second visit in a row there were really good numbers of these, about 30 or so.


Plenty of seals today as well, about 50 Harbour and 10 or so Grey with two Grey pups. Not sure which species this one was...

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

The diner arrives

A phone call from home just at the moment when I could have a late lunch break:


A bit late to table if you ask me!

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Coue's Arctic Redpoll

Strangely enough I'd only seen one Arctic Redpoll for sure before and that was many years ago at Redcar. The text came through after I'd helped with the ponies this morning and I managed to negotiate use of the Honda, necessary for this twitch as the bird is at Queenamidda, over the Lyde and then a long way up a quite tricky track. It was very icy here this morn and the Lyde was two tyre tracks in the snow. The track to Queenamidda was slightly intimidating, but negotiable with care (it would have been a lot more fun in the Fiesta!).

MR was there already having walked up from the bottom and BR was the perfect host, even including views of his "pet" Water Rail from the kitchen window.

Coue's Arctic Redpoll

There was another bird in the small redpoll flock that may well also be a Coue's.

Coue's or just a Mealy?

BRs pet from the kitchen window.

Also present was a very smart male Bullfinch which was softly trumpeting, no pix unfortunately as rather elusive. I think only the second or maybe third Bullfinch I've seen in the county. I missed a flock of twenty Waxwings by moments.

There was no time left to go for the Crane, which I missed for the sixth or seventh time yesterday, primarily because I've been looking in the wrong field. The wrong field did contain at least 51 (and probably a hundred or more) Reed Buntings though, and just for a moment a Chiffchaff popped out of the Oat crop which looked very like another tristis.

Back at home there were two Goldfinch, a couple of Chaffinch and unusually for me a Blackcap on the apples I'm putting out.

 Blackcap on apple

Another fan of the apples. But the intended diners have still not turned up...


Yesterday the highlight was this "beautiful" hybrid Canada Goose. A tad galling as Canada is uncommon here and would be a year tick for PWC.

Hybrid Canada/Greylag

Some evening views...

Loch of Bosquoy dusk today

Venus over Hoy