Friday, 28 April 2017

28th April 2017 Unst NE1 Clear

Mark Chapman has seen several White-billed Divers and some very impressive Spring movements of Skuas from the west coast of Shetland at Esha Ness over the years. A downside of living on Unst is the difficulty in accessing the west coast of the island, but after much encouragement from Mark, with today's switch to anticyclonic conditions I felt a few Arctic Skuas might be on the move especially having seen 2 dark-morphs together on Yell yesterday so it seemed a good day for a recce. Looking at the map, Flubergerdie seemed to offer the shortest walk to the optimal Birling / Bridges of Ross height of cliff albeit the walk across boggy and hilly terrain still took 75 minutes. Bonxies, Guillemots, Razorbills and Puffins were all seen milling around but a couple of flocks of Kittiwakes did give the impression that they were on the move. Attempting to dry my wet socks and boots on a sunny rock was resulting in cold bare feet and I was regretting not taking a flask and something to eat. Without any Arctic Skuas it was beginning to look like 'pain for no gain' when at 7.55am a stunning summer-plumaged adult White-billed Diver came into view, high in the sky, approaching from the south at medium range. Having read of how their bills can all too easily 'disappear' against both sky and sea, with perfect lighting and viewing conditions looking due west, this one's bill stood out like a beacon! I rattled off a few record shots before continuing to watch it through the scope fly north. Brilliant. After returning home, and in need of a rest, a comfortably-seated seawatch from Lamba Ness seemed the ideal solution with plenty of northbound flocks of Auks to keep the interest. The wind veered east and in Spring-like weather there were more Wheatears in evidence, Skaw produced a Redwing, a Chiffchaff and 2 Brambling, Norwick a Sparrowhawk and a Chiffchaff, Burrafirth a bleached immature Iceland Gull on the beach only seen at range and another Chiffhcaff, and with Haroldswick producing the first Swallow of the year this evening.

Adult summer-plumaged White-billed Diver passing Flubergerdie

Puffins off Flubergerdie
these two were frequently gliding on raised wings presumably being part of their display

Presumably the same individual that we saw last Summer again sat among Fulmars

Brambling at Skaw

Sparrowhawk and Hooded Crow at Norwick

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

26th April 2017 Yell & Unst W2 Overcast

An ordinary start to the day seeing my first Carrion Crow of the year as I drove south through Haroldswick where there were also the first pair of Gadwall for the year sat in the bay and a flock of 27 Pinkfeet in nearby fields. The ferry trip to Yell took a detour to take a closer look at a superb pod of 14 Killer Whales heading west past Gutcher that we then followed to Cullivoe where the drake Scaup was still present. With the mid-afternoon onset of persistent rain I called it a day at work and took the 3pm sailing to Fetlar that then crosses to Unst. A few Great Northern Divers were seen on the way to Fetlar but then between Sound Gruney and Heogland on Unst I picked out a transitional-plumaged White-billed Diver. A flock of 18 Pinkfeet were seen at Buness House. Commuting to/fro work doesn't get much better than that!

Killer Whales off Yell

Transitional-plumaged adult White-billed Diver in Bluemull Sound

Monday, 24 April 2017

24th April 2017 Yell & Unst W4

A snowy start to the day that soon brightened into quite a sunny afternoon. Yell produced a drake Scaup at Cullivoe and I finally obtained closer views of the Iceland Gull at Mid Yell. Back on Unst a Dunlin at Uyeasound was only the second encounter with the species this year and there was a Pink-footed Goose present with a flock of 20 then seen at Buness House. On the approach to Millfield there were 20 Redwings in a roadside field.

Drake Scaup at Cullivoe

Juvenile Iceland Gull at Mid Yell
A very bleached individual only seen at distance on previous encounters but with a dark iris and pure white unmarked primaries it appears to be a juvenile.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

22nd April 2017 Unst NW4

The 3 Brambling in our garden remain and were joined by a Chiffchaff today probably feeling out of place in the cold wind and frequent snow showers. A female-type Merlin zipped across the road near Baltasound and whilst driving near Buness House we chanced upon the first small flock of Eider we've seen off Baltasound this year. Whilst I am aware that the subspecies formerly known as 'Northern' Eider is now considered invalid by the BOU I've been looking for any individuals showing formerly published characters since I moved up here a year ago and today's small flock included a fine drake.

Drake Common Eider at Baltasound

Drake 'Northern' Eider at Baltasound
Showing the combination of hooked white scapular sails and both orangey-coloured frontal lobes and bill-base has previously been considered typical of S.m. borealis (e.g. see BW23 No.2 and here) albeit the recent rearrangement of  recognised North Atlantic forms is detailed here. The 2014 Dutch Birding identification paper places much emphasis on differences of nostril position.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

20th April 2017 Unst W4 Overcast

A really quiet day when 3 Brambling in our garden easily proved the highlight. Otherwise 14 Pinkfeet were at the Heritage Centre and just a few lingering Redwing seen.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

19th April 2017 Unst W2

Skaw produced my first Whimbrel of the year, a pair of Pied Wagtails, a few lingering Redwings and a couple of Chiffchaffs in one of the geos. A look out to sea from Lamba Ness produced my first 3 Arctic Skuas of the year that eventually virtually overflew me calling. Norwick was quiet with just a Goldcrest and a Brambling. On hearing of the Hermit Thrush on Noss I headed out to check some trees. No Catharus but an intriguing Gull in a field next to the Setters Hill pines, that I assumed was a hybrid Herring x Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Whimbrel at Skaw

Arctic Skuas at Lamba Ness

Presumed Herring x Lesser Black-backed Gull hybrid at Baltasound
Click on some of the above images to enlarge. For images of a similar presumed hybrid see here. Some of the darker-mantled hybrids are apparently indistinguishable from Heuglin's Gulls. It appears to be a 4CY individual and published characters for Heuglin's including often showing just a single white mirror to p10, the black on the outer three primaries reaching the primary coverts, black subterminal band to the bill, some blackish tail markings, some outer secondaries showing limited dark centres, some vermiculations to the lower tertials and insipid leg colour could all equally apply to today's individual. There are images of an April 4CY Heuglin's Gull here.