23rd October. Eastern Gem

I hardly slept last night, stomach churning, panic and on top of this Beth's cough kept us all awake. Browsing the Internet at silly o clock did nothing for my insomnia and the photos of the Eastern Crowned served only as a laxative (I kid you not). By 4am I had hatched my plan. I would get up at 6am and wish Beth a happy birthday, give her the presents and leave around 7. This was met with some objections from Jo, but I assured her that I would return for 2pm to collect Beth from her lovely mother. Everything went to plan I even managed to throw myself around on the Wii Dance Mat for a couple of minutes, just to show willing. With this I was on my way north. An hour into my journey and with positive news of the warbler I pushed on and arrived at South Shields by 9:30. After around ten nervous minutes I picked it up and got excellent scope views of this subtle eastern gem, further excellent views and I was happy with my lot and left returning home at 1pm with no damage done.

Quite a modest crowd for a first for Britain

National Pie Day

Today is National Pie Day. With this in mind I called at Morrisons and bought a steak and ale pie, which I ate whilst having a walk round Orgreave. Rather unfittingly this was not a good pie, it was full of gristle and the mixture was far too sloppy causing it to fall apart. A rather disappointing pie scoring just 5 points, though this was the only blip of an otherwise perfect day.

22nd October. A Sign

Back to the usual rubbish after a few bird filled weeks. In what appeared to be something of an exchange of pie porn between myself and Rob I received a shot of this monster nestling in the chiller of the Toab shop. At £6.49 it had to be something special, though sadly Rob declined to purchase it. Given that we recently proved the link between rare pies and birds this specimen could mean only one thing - something monster rare was about to be found............

The rest of the day was rather uneventful that is until I went to bed! At around 10:45 I was woken by the mobile making all sorts of strange noises - it was my old twitching pal Roy who had kindly phoned to tell me the news of an Eastern Crowned Warbler at South Shields. I woke up suddenly, like you do when you receive disturbing news of that calibre and mustered the logistics. Work wasn't a problem I was already off, no the problem was it was Bethany's birthday the following day and there would be presents to give and fatherly duties to carry out. Rob always used to joke that having a child in October was a bad move and that one day it would come back to bite me and that day was now here................

18th October.Spurnuda Triangle

Whilst still having that bird finding bug in me I decided yesterday that a trip to the east coast was in order, but where? With a Radde's and a Blue-tail at Spurn it was a bit of a no brainer. We arrived at Sammy's Point just after 8:30 and worked the horse fields for an hour or so. Plenty of thrushes and four Bramblings over were all it had to offer. With the Blue-tail being reported at the point e decided to get it over with. Arriving at the point I noticed a crowd of birders and immediately filled with a sense of dread. Fortunately the Blue-tail stupidly got itself stuck in the Heligoland Trap for all to see albeit impersonating a caged behind the wire mesh. Having seen it well enough we left for the less populated parts of the peninsular. At Beacon Pools I picked up four Bearded Tits as they dropped into the reeds buy saw little else throughout the day. Despite the crowds it was an enjoyable day.

On the way home I sneaked back onto my old patch, RVCP and picked up the Slavonian Grebe among the Coots on the Main Lake.

Rarity Stats

During a period of boredom I began to think what the distribution of 'rare' might look like this month. This was inspired by the lack of BB rarities on Scilly, which is apparently nothing to do with the lack of birds but more to do with the place being over run by pensioners new to birding and loved up middle aged couples. Trawling through RBA's superb website I managed to come up with the following graph though a pie chart would have been more appropriate. This shows new rares during the first 16 days of October and no hangers on from September. It's fairly straightforward, indeed it was created by a ten year old and failure to understand has nothing to do with me it's just that you're probably thick. I might update it at the end of the month, I might not!

Click on it if you're blind

17th October. Back to the patch

Rob was right in predicting that within a week or so I would be back writing about birding on slag heaps and eating supermarket pies. The latter came sooner than I had expected when Jo presented me with a Morrisons pie as she collected Andy and I from the airport. Amazingly I declined it!

It was however back to the slag heaps this morning with my first visit to Orgreave. The footpath at this site is now open and will no doubt encourage bastard dog walkers to get their stinking beasts as close to the water as possible. Despite this there were birds on - gulls, cormorants, Great Crested Grebe and two Goldeneye and that was just about it. Fortunately I had been watching Autumnwatch last night and was tipped off by the astute Chris Packham that there would be Redwings moving and amazingly there they were. Personally I can't wait until Springwatch when Chris will be tipping us off about Swifts coming through. Speaking of Autumnwatch I have often wondered why it is on so late, though having now watched it the answer is clear. This program is slowly degenerating into some kind of live sex show - personally I can't wait until week eight when Chris finally gets to rummage around Kate's bush whilst spying a pair of Great Tits on his fat balls.

Shetland 2009

So that's it another Shetland trip over. Before I set off I was not surprisingly pessimistic, after all Rob really had seen very few migrants let alone 'rare' so far this autumn. The weather prior and indeed during never looked promising from any direction but at least it was changeable. Eastern 'rares' did turn up even in the most unlikely winds, infact during a period of exciting looking south easterlies very little was found. surely this year will prove to be the best for species such as Pechora Pipit. There was a clear north south divide with the south suffering something of a migrant drought, despite how good pager news appeared to be it was bloody hard work with many no bird miles covered on foot. Fortunately we did find one or two birds personally I found Little Bunting, 2 Bluethroats, Rosefinch and several Yellow-broweds, though the real highlight was getting the I.D clinching shots of the Lancy.

On the whole we managed to resist the temptation to 'twitch' anyone else's birds, which with the quality on offer was difficult. Twitching on Shetland however is not the stressful affair that occurs on the UK mainland. Where else could three of you and a dog twitch a third for Britain and be the only ones there, infact the largest crowd was for the Lancy with a massive ten present!

With dates for next year provisionally booked I'm already counting down the days.

The worse pie - I daren't eat this one cold

The Yell Ferry

Team Sunnydell.

The Llama

The Bell


Twat in a hat

Fitful Head

From Sumburgh Head looking towards Scatness

14th October. Irritating Thrush

Today's forecast was for yet more wind and rain, however we awoke to very light wind and clag. Keen to get out for the final push I headed the crop field behind Sunnydell. It was obvious that an arrival of thrushes had occurred with at least sixty Redwings poking their heads through the turnips. A couple of Chiffchaffs flycatched and a couple of buntings alighted on some dead doc, one of which was a Little Bunting - surely the same bird that I thrown away earlier in the week. It stayed on the doc for several minutes until flying off over Sunnydell. Several further laps of the field proved worthwhile with Redstart, Yellow-browed and Jack Snipe.

With a six hour power cut, retreating to Sunnydell seamed futile so we decided on a final thrash around Sumburgh. The crop held the usual Bluethroat but at the head newly arrived thrushes were abounding. Walking along the roses flushed a dozen or so Redwings but I noticed Rob peering into the dark depths of the roses. Still peering he announced that he was pretty certain that he had a Black-throated Thrush! After a few seconds of panic Andy and I got a glimpse of what certainly looked like a winter male Black- throat showing an obvious gorget of throat/upper breast streaks. Sadly this was all we did see of it as a thrush came out of the back of the roses and flew straight towards the fog horn. We assumed that this was our bird and dashed off up towards the fog horn. At this point the fog closed in and with failing visibility we had lost the bird. We spent a while looking for the bire but unfortunately had to leave as both Andy and I had a plane to catch. We really hadn't seen it very well and unless somebody else manages to relocate it we will never be able to complete a frank and honest description and will have to put it to the back of our minds forever.

13h October. The Last Post

Last full day today meant we were full of good intentions about getting out early and finding us a rare. Sadly the weather had other ideas. Strong south easterly wind and heavy rain greeted us. Never the less we soldiered on as best we could. Firstly checking the crop behind Rob's house and then giving the Sumburgh area a thorough going over. All this effort, in pissing down rain, gave us the sum total of nothing of interest. Depressed and wet we returned to Sunnydell to get dry and refuel.

We decided that the only way to rescue the day was to try and clear up on the remaining south Mainland 'rares' namely Western Bonelli's and the Spotted Sandpiper at Quendale. Fortunately the former showed immediately saving us from a soaking, however the latter required the use of legs so it was inevitable we were going to get soaked again. The Spotted Sand' had returned to it's favourite spot after, apparently being flushed several times yesterday and at first seemed to be particularly wary though it eventually settled down in front of us. The following 'image' was taken with my 'prosumer' SLR hand held at 1600 ISO which is why it is shit!

12th October. The Holy Grail

It has become somewhat of a tradition (well for the last two years) that we venture further north in the hope of something different. This was actually a thinly veiled disguise to do a spot of filthy twitching. Having resisted the urge to go for the Taiga Fly' when it was on Fetlar the chance to see it nearer on Yell couldn't be ignored. Things went to plan i.e. Andy managed to get us all up at 07:30 in time for us to get breakfast and make the 09:40 ferry. More importantly hot pies were available at Mainlands (a good omen). Arriving at Gloup around 10:30 we immediately located the bird around the farm where it performed very well.

Having 'murdered' the flycatcher we then tried some of the suitable looking gardens on Yell. Unfortunately there had been something of a clear out and even finding a Goldcrest in them proved difficult. A Sheep at Cullivoe needed our assistance as it had got it's head stuck in the wire - lucky for the sheep that we came along and that no Welsh birders were in the vicinity There had been an Arctic Redpoll at Yell Leisure Centre so with the absence of anything else we went there. A walk around the small planted area revealed just a few Bramblings but whilst we were sat in the car waiting for Rob to finish off yet another phone call he banged on the window pointing out the Redpoll just a few metres away. We duly 'slaughtered' it and it's little cousin the accompanying Mealy Redpoll.

After getting the 2pm ferry we decided on checking a few plantations on our way south. First stop was a new to me site at Graven with a small attractive looking graveyard. The field at the end of the graveyard held a good flock of Redwings, single Pied Fly' and a Bluethroat which unlike the previous two showed very well. Whilst I'massacred' it news of a Blue-tail at Sandgarth came through. Not wanting to be rude we thought it only polite to pay it a visit.

Sandgarth s an excellent spot and has turned up some top draw rarities in the past including on this day in 2003 the second Taiga Flycatcher (pointless fact lifted from RBA). Mark Chapman (not the one that killed that Beatle) was watching the Blue-tail as we arrived, but it was a further twenty minutes before we caught a brief glimpse followed by several more brief views. With the light dimming we tried to salvage something for the found list at Catfirth. Again another empty plantation so we headed to the shop where.................

We found these........

Following Rob's review of the Macaroni Pie a couple of years ago I made it my quest to sample this holiest of pies. Sadly last year none were located. However today was the day and I reached into the fridge at Catfirth stores and pulled out what can only be described as the premier of all pies. It's not much to look at, just macaroni topped with cheese, but hidden inside are beans, not magic beans or jumping beans but baked beans. Cheese, Macaroni, Baked Beans all enclosed in a pie - genius. But how would it hold up cold. Bloody marvellous that's how. The combination of working class ingredients pulled together to make this one truly upper class pie and a ten point rating would do it no justice. My quest is over, never will I eat a superior pie. Amen.

We called in at Tingwall on the way home and picked up the Ring-necked Duck, it wasn't very happy at being picked up so we put it back down and left.

11th October. Deflating.

Pulling back the curtains and seeing a small party of Redwing had to be a good omen . A quick breakfast and Andy and I were out. A couple of Robins in the garden and more Redwings, Andy headed off towards Toab and I in the direction of the crop behind Sunnydell. The wind had started to shift from southerly to easterly and the sun was coming out to entice all those hungry passerines. Within twenty minutes I had bagged a new in Bluethroat, a male that perched up briefly on the neeps. At least two Willow Warblers were flycatching and a bunting halfway down the spuds and into the sun cried out Little but it vanished and the subsequent two Reed Bunt's did nothing for my confidence. Three further laps of this large crop revealed nothing in fact I had no further sign of the Bluethroat or the Willow Warblers.

Andy was busy working the Toab gardens and had good numbers of migrants including a Redstart though by the time he had left most of the migrants had moved on. By 11:00hrs South Mainland was eerily quite and frustratingly areas north were turning up the goods with new Pechora and Blyth's Reed Warbler. With this in mind we moved slightly further north to Levenwick. Totals here were slightly better with 3 Yellow-browed Warblers, 2 Ring Ouzel and several Chiff's, Goldcrest and Robin. Hoswick next where the Blyth's Reed failed to show with just another Yellow-browed as poor consolation. A report of a Spotted Sand' at Quendale was annoying as we had planned to go there first but figured the 'nice guys' would already be covering it. Deflated we headed back south and spent the remaining good light around Sumburgh Farm where we managed to see someone else's Little Bunting and find nothing of note for ourselves.

The lesson learnt today is that not only can't we find our own birds we can't find anyone else's either.

10TH October. It begins

Having arranged to pick Rob et al up from the Sumburgh Hotel at midnight today was never going to be an early start. However heavy rain and a strengthening southeaster as I left for the pub hinted that the morning might bring change.

Leaving the house around nine it was obvious there had been an arrival of thrushes, indeed the Llama had noted calling Redwings during his morning ablutions.

Further evidence of movement was evident in Toab with a couple of Goldcrests opposite the post office and further Redwings. I also had brief views of yesterdays Grasshopper Warbler behind the post office. With continuing fall like conditions we headed towards Sumburgh Head.

Rob and Andy covered the Grutness crop first whilst I headed for the first quarry. More migrants in the quarry with at least 6 Goldcrests, 2 Robins and a Ring Ouzel. Birding conditions by now were getting poorer as the wind increased. Lots more Goldcrests and Redwings were evident at the head and it was clear that birds were still arriving. A Western Bonelli's Warbler at Bigton was tempting but not tempting enough, though further evidence of 'new' birds.

Following a much needed cuppa, food and a chair breaking incident we headed back out around Toab. Unfortunately it was now raining heavily and after spending a frustrating hour at Scatness unsuccessfully looking for another unidentified Locustella, scoring a consolation Long-eared Owl, we retreated to Sunnydell wet and tired.

Tomorrow really does look promising - watch this space.

9th October. Manyana

Well the wind did its bit, we did ours but the birds just didn't want to play. It was clear within an hour of first light that nothing was happening, south east winds in October surely we weren't trying hard enough. Several laps of several crop fields, Sumburgh Head twice, Scatness to Voe beach, Toab twice, Sumburgh Farm and Grutness all to no avail. There were a few new birds but where were the thrushes and the goldcrests? They certainly weren't here.

Our spies in Toab informed us of a gathering of tour birders behind the Post Office, we were walking that way so had a quick look. From a distance they were clearly on to something, as they were all gazing into the grass at their feet, perhaps one of them had dropped their bus pass or a Murray Mint or something so we left them to it. However thirty minutes later an RBA message informed us of a Lanceolated Warbler at Toab - goodness me what a jolly good find they had had. Surely this would be the Scatness bird relocating - sadly not as that was a Lanceolated Warbler and this was a Gropper. Never mind the finders would have learned a valuable lesson and most of the tour would have gained a lifer anyway - so all was not lost.

Disheartened we retired early -maybe tomorrow.

A few of these to cheer us up

8th October. Not much to say

Not a lot happening today. Strong, cold northerley wind for most of the day meant not a lot of birds. Despite working the Grutness crop field three times all we managed was a Yellow-browed, Bluethroat and a probable Reed Bunting.
Art or just a pile of shit

At risk of jynxing things the wind is set to go east for at least the next 24 hours - who knows it might be great, it may be shit.

For anyone who doesn't know the area this is the view from Rob's window. Note the tags showing well known sites as featured on RBA etc.

Whilst we sit here feeling smug at the quality rares we musn't forget our friends in the south west. The exclusive shot below shows this evenings log call in the Scillonian Club.

"Rosefinch one Porthloo"

7th October. Going Loco

The day dawned as most days do at dawn. We had a mission to complete which involved in flushing everything and anything out of the Virkie Willows. The reason behind this was that Rob had tantalising views of a skulking passerine as he made his way through the willows the previous evening. Despite trying several times th only things we disturbed were a Blackbird and a Phylosc warbler, that later turned out to be a Yellow-browed.
I returned for some breakfast then set about doing two laps of the crop field in the pooring rain. With just a Chaffinch to show for my troubles I decided that there wee no rares to be found, at least in the field and that it would be a good idea to catch up with some of the long staying rares. As Gary as heading to Lerwick I decided to hitch a lift.

First stop was Helendale where a least two Yellow-browed Wobblers were present. Seafield next produced the first Fieldfare of the trip and Ruff.
After getting supplies at Tesco we headed to Wester Quarf for the Arctic Warbler, which disappointingly showed in the tops of the trees making photography difficult. The Arctic Redpoll however showed extremely well.

Pagers not being much use on Shetland the local birders operate their own grapevine. Whilst at the Redpoll Rob received an interesting text from Steve M of an unidentified Locustella, possibly Lanceolated, in the Scatness area. During my five October visits here there have been claims of unidentified Locustellas every year so I wasn't getting my hopes up, however being the ever helpful bunch that we are we headed south.

Steve was already in the field when we arrived and pointed out the large area of nettle and dock that he had twice flushed the bird from. After around ten minutes of wandering we flushed the bird up off the ground. This was to continue for at least an hour where we continued to get inconclusive views. I did however, by chance, manage to get some shots of it as it landed briefly on one of the walls. By now we were all pretty convinced that we had a Lancy and checking images via Google whilst in the field strengthened our case. With this we decided to leave the bird to settle and returned to Sunnydell to peruse the photos. One hundred percent happy the news was released. Typically on returning the bird began to show off even posing on the walls for photographs - though I'd left the camera in the car.

You don't get crowds like this on the Scillies

6th October. Don't read this there's nothing exciting among it!

Waking up to rain and strong westerlies this morning I was beginning to wish that I'd hit the bottle last night and not gone to bed at 10pm.  Impatiently waiting for the wind to ease I began to realise that it wasn't and got comfy infront of the laptop. Fortunately I was forced out of the house by a powercut coupled with no phone reception. A walk round Toab produced nothing and again no pies were available in the Toab shop.

After a spot of lunch and a trawl of bird things on the net I forced myself and Andy into the Sumburgh area.  There were birders in the Grutness crop field so we avoided that and made for the farm. New birds in were a Reed Bunting, Garden Warbler and a notable arrival of Redwings. After a couple of hours we'd had enough and summoned Rob to collect us.

Gary had intended to go into Lerwick for provisions but had got side tracked by a Bunting (probably little) at Channerwick that he'd seen badly for a few seconds.  Andy and I cadged a lift with him and returned to Channerwick. Almost as soon as we'd left the car the Little Bunting popped up and showed itself well for a minute or so. Other birds here were two Blackcaps and several Redwings.
Tomorrow the wind might drop and we might find something, though I suspect more rubbish on these pages is more likely - goodnight.

5th October. Fieldwork = Hardwork

Another knackering day for few rewards.  It didn't help that I started out later than I had promised myself following an evening with a bottle of Jura. I bright sunny morning with a southeasterly waft greeted me and despite the thumping head and general lethargy I finally got out at just after 9am. Andy picked up another Yellow-browed in the willows and last nights Rosefinch. The former later moved to the garden with a Willow Warbler and the Rosefinch back into the crop field. A Tree Pipit heard calling by Andy landed in front of me and did reveal itself to be just that rather than the hoped for Olive-backed.  Still feeling unwell I headed for the Toab shop in search of pies.  A bland looking minced meat pie was on offer so I made my excuses and left with just a can of Dandelion and Burdock and some Paracetamols.

Andy has a theory that midday is the time to get up to Sumburgh Head and greet the incoming migrants (he does have a valid point here as in the past birds such as Pallas's have arrived around this time). Today the theory failed with just a handful of Snow Buntings there.

The walk down towards Grutness rewarded us with nothing - not a single migrant but the news of an Eye-browed Thrush on North Ron spurred our enthusiasm a bit!

The Force Is Strong 

The first half of the afternoon was to be spent around Levenwick but not before calling at Mainlands to check on the shelves.  A quick scan of the fridge area revealed more minced meat pies and nothing else, however skulking in deep cover was a flock of mixed pies containing three Lasagne Pies and the less than annual Sausage, Bean and Mash Pie. After some over zealous photography and the rustling of paper bags the pies left leaving just a solitary Lasagne Pie behind which was still showing well when we departed.  

Levenwick is one of my favourite areas of south mainland and the gardens always look promising.  Not much to show for our efforts but the first Garden Warbler and Brambling of the trip.After a couple of hours in the area we headed back to finish the day at Sumburgh. The crop field at Grutness was productive in that we had Rosefinch, Bluethroat and a Short-toed Lark just beyond in the grassy field, but these were all other peoples birds from earlier in the week and that just won't do.  Another Yellow-browed Warbler was in the Sumburgh Hotel garden along with a Willow Warbler and a single Redwing. 

There appears to no other visiting birders currently covering South Mainland and with most of the residents at work it's hard work but the wind has increased, is eastish and there's a bit of rain so fingers crossed.

4th October. Eastern Promise

The sound of rain beating on the window at first light made it all the more easy to stay in bed this morning, however after an hour or so the rain had stopped and the wind dropped.  After dicking around with clothing, webcams and boots the Llama and I decided to do the adjacent area. Almost immediately Andy picked up a Yellow-browed which I got on straight away despite poncing around with my wellies. It promptly dissapeared never to be seen again. As I set out along the shore of the POV Rob rang to say he'd just had a Bluethroat in the garden which had presumably come out of a hole in the ground as we'd already checked it four times. This also  vanished forever.  The rest of the day was spent checking crop fields, ditches and Iris beds to no avail though it was noted that more migrants were in e.g Lesser Whitethroat, 3 Chiffchaffs, several Chaffinch and 4 Snow Buntings not much but apparently a big improvement.  The day finished nicely when I found a Common Rosefinch in the crop within brick chucking distance of Rob's house - perhaps we would have been more succesful sitting on the bench outside?

It's not all bad though, there's some serious rares on here at the moment and a look at RBA will show you that all the good stuff is on Shetland. Unfortunately it's mostly up north, though with the threat of some easterlies during the next week our time will come - hopefully.
Fitfull Head (west side)

With the shops shut a tasty substitute for pies was found!

3rd October. Shetland 2009 Day 1.

Myself and the Llama arrived at Birmingham Airport in good time only to be  robbed by those bastards Flybe for a total of £48 for being just 4kg over weight my bag that is). Plotting my revenge we headed north. The flight to Sumburgh was full of twitchy types heading for the Whalsay Veery and the Tiaga Fly'. Smug in the knowledge that I needed neither (even my mum's seen Veery) I couldn't help feeling superior knowing what pain they were going through.

Arrived at a surprisingly calm and mild Sumburgh at 12:10 - headed to Rob's and drank tea. Spent the rest of the day loosely checking old familiar sites in South Mainland, where by late afternoon it had begun to rain heavily turning to heavy drizzle with a brief northeasterly draught.

Bird Highlights - none

Pies - Ham and Egg Slice at Mainlands a mediocre offering earning only 5 points.

2nd September. North bound.

Deciding to call in at Orgreave, on my final day before Shetland, paid off in the form of a Fem/juv Scaup among the Tufties. The first decent bird in too long.

The lure of Shetland is strong and the urge to get up to my nuts in those ditches is filling me with enthusiasm.  The weather charts are being ignored and with the current conditions depositing Veerys all over the shop optimismn is set at high and the rareometer (whatever happened to that) jammed on monster. The excitement is so high I can barely type.

Edit.  Pechora Pipit in Rob's garden and one on Whalsay. You might as well screw those weather maps up and use them as shit paper!!!

More tomorrow (if I actually get there).............................................