Sunday, 31 March 2019

31st March 2019 Unst SW2 Clear

A nice morning to be out birding being less windy than recent days. A walk to Valyie produced a Pink-footed Goose, a Robin, a Redwing, the Chiffchaff and my first Goldcrest of the year. There was a near summer-plumaged Great Northern Diver sat on the sea off Haroldswick. We headed to the south for a change seeing our first White Wagtail of the year and a Snow Bunting at Lund, a Dunlin accompanying a flock of 70 Ringed Plovers at Westing and 2 Snow Buntings at Uyeasound. Today was the first day this year that we've seen the odd one or two Meadow Pipits present at just about every site visited.

Goldcrest at Norwick

Chiffchaff at Norwick

Pink-footed Goose and Greylag Goose at Norwick

Male White Wagtail at Lund
The earliest I have seen in the previous two years have been 26th March and 13th April. Todays' was bearing a metal ring.

Monday, 25 March 2019

25th March 2019 Unst NW3 Occasional showers

With the wind from the northwest I seawatched from Lamba Ness for an hour but it proved quiet with just 10 Guillemots and 2 Razorbills seen among the many Fulmars and Gannets all flying north. Willie & Hazel kindly told us that there were 7 Whooper Swans present on Haroldswick pool first thing this morning and we couldn't help but wonder if they were those seen on North Ronaldsay yesterday? We then completed the monthly WeBS counts. In doing so we also saw 3 Woodpigeons, 2 Meadow Pipits, a Pied Wagtail and the Chiffchaff at Norwick and a Fieldfare at Burrafirth. With the weather improving throughout the day I decided to walk up Clibberswick late in the afternoon from where a Bonxie was seen flying high over Haroldswick heading towards Hermaness. 

Black-headed Gull at Norwick
there's some beautifully pink-suffused adults around at the moment

Bonxie over Haroldswick heading towards Hermaness
Whilst I saw one from Lamba Ness on the 8th January this year my earliest dates the last two years were the 5th April and the 10th April. It's amazing what detail digital cameras capture - even the 'landscape' image is cropped!

Norwick from Clibberswick

Sunday, 24 March 2019

24th March 2019 Unst SW6 Showers

Another day where the wind was unpleasantly strong for much of the day. A visit to Westing produced 2 Snow Buntings but far fewer Gulls today. At Dam Loch a 2w Iceland Gull was present. A walk to Valyie and back late afternoon once the wind had eased was predicatably quiet with just a Redwing and a Robin seen.

Saturday, 23 March 2019

23rd March 2019 Unst W8 Showers

With a gale raging I headed for Haroldswick but surprisingly there were fewer Gulls present than yesterday. A tip-off from Robbie than had me heading for Westing where there were plenty of Gulls feeding in the bay that was quite a spectacle.

Mother and cub Otters

Gulls at Westing

Friday, 22 March 2019

22nd March 2019 Unst S7 Showers

An early start to try and beat the worst of the weather produced just a Peregrine seen on my return from Skaw. The forecast rain and wind soon arrived but returning from the shop there was a metal-ringed fourth-winter Glaucous Gull and a juvenile and a second-winter Iceland Gulls present at Haroldswick. I made a subsequent visit joining Robbie there by when there was a juvenile Glaucous Gull present.

Fourth-winter Glaucous Gull at Haroldswick
carrying a metal ring on its right leg

Juvenile and second-winter Iceland Gulls at Haroldswick

Juvenile Iceland Gull at Haroldswick
showing some disruption to its central tail feathers confirming it as the same juvenile seen along Holsens road on the 20th March.

Second-winter Iceland Gull at Haroldswick
almost certainly the same 2w seen at Norwick beach on the 20th March

Juvenile Glaucous Gull at Haroldswick
damage to its primaries confirms it as the juvenile present at Norwick on the 20th March

hybrid Glaucous x Great Black-backed Gull perhaps?

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

20th March 2019 Unst SW4 Overcast

Considering the date and combined with a strong overnight westerly wind originating from way out in the Atlantic the chance of an Iceland Gull being the first notable bird seen would have been a good guess and so it proved with a juvenile being present alongside Holsens road seen on my way to Skaw. as I arrived at Skaw I saw a grey Goose sp. in flight accompanying a couple of Greylags flying out to the Holm of Skaw and landing out of sight from the outer headland. A visit to Burrafirth added just a single Fieldfare. A walk around Norwick added a Great Northern Diver, a bleached Glaucous Gull that I only saw in flight, 2 Woodpigeons together, a male Pied Wagtail and the Chiffchaff still present. Whilst chatting to Robbie at Norwick he picked out a 2w Iceland Gull that paused all too briefly on the beach but departed before either of us could photograph it. Walking the beach in pursuit then yielded a juvenile Glaucous Gull. Having not seen an Iceland Gull since the 12th March or a Glaucous Gull since the 19th February seeing 4 white-wingers in quick succession was clear evidence of a small influx. We then headed for Westing where we saw a Purple Sandpiper and a juvenile Iceland Gull and there was a pair of Mute Swans, a single Whooper Swan and a flock of 12 Fieldfares at Uyeasound. The predicted rain then arrived and persisted until dark.

Juvenile Iceland Gull along Holsens road

Glaucous Gull at Norwick

Juvenile Glaucous Gull at Norwick

Fieldfares over Uyeasound

argentatus or Viking Gull ? at Haroldswick

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

19th March 2019 Unst SW4 Overcast

With warmer temperatures forecast combined with a southwesterly wind my hopes were raised but the forecast was for the weather to deteriorate at lunchtime so I was out early seeing an adult Moorhen at Braeview and 2 Rooks at Skaw - neither being species that I was expecting or indeed particularly hoping to see! A pair of Red-throated Divers sat just offshore were continuously wailing being the first I've heard doing so this year. As I arrived at Haroldswick at c.8.30am it was already raining that combined with the strengthening wind made birding difficult so it was no real surprise that I failed to see anything. I returned home and the rain persisted for an hour so it was beginning to look like rain  would stop play for the rest of the day. However, it then brightened so I took a chance and walked to Norwick where my reward came in the form of a Chiffchaff - my earliest the last two years have been on the 28th and 31st March respectively. There was also another pair of wailing Red-throated Divers, a Woodpigeon at Valyie that was presumably the same individual I subsequently saw at Kirkaton and Millfield. The weather did then well and truly deteriorate but being stuck indoors I did see the wintering Water Rail visit our garden.

Rooks at Skaw
They arrived from the northeast(!) but presumably from no further than the outer headland as it would seem likely it is the same pair that we saw opposite the Final Checkout on the 8th March. Whilst c.200 pairs of Rook breeds on mainland Shetland, mainly in the Kergord area, those seen here on Unst are assumed to wander from there. Coincidentally I saw a pair at Skaw on the 19th April 2018.

Red-throated Diver at Skaw
Whilst wonderfully sublime in appearance they can make for noisy neighbours! Their local name Rain Geese is due to them being prone to call before the onset of wet weather... and sure enough...

Curlews and Lesser Black-backed Gull at Norwick
Newly arrived for the Summer or taking a break before continuing elsewhere?

Chiffchaff at Norwick

Monday, 18 March 2019

18th March 2019 Unst N1 Clear

A beautiful sunny calm day and it was good to see Graham and Mary Bundy out birding the north end of the island but the best that our combined efforts could produce was a few displaying Curlew, an increase in numbers of Oystercatchers present with a couple of flocks numbering 20 birds, 2 adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls, a Scandinavian Rock Pipit at Norwick, several flocks of Skylarks and a flock of 6 Snow Buntings that were seen flying north over Skaw early in the morning.

Ross's Gull near Cambridge Bay, Canada (Graham Bundy)
I was counting on Graham finding one closer to home today...

Sunday, 17 March 2019

17th March 2019 Unst NE6 Wintry showers

A blasting northeasterly gale persisted for much of the day which when combined with hail made for unpleasant conditions! An hour seawatching from Lamba Ness produced a steady stream of Gannets and Fulmars the latter including a blue Fulmar, 2 Kittiwakes, 2 Common Guillemots, a Razorbill and a Curlew all flying north. A Merlin zipped along the seafront at Haroldswick.

Curlew flying north past Lamba Ness

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

13th March 2019 Unst N2 Showers

Another day where the weather proved much nicer than forecast. A look at Skaw produced a Merlin, a Woodcock and an overflying Snow Bunting that was flying high and north all to the backdrop of singing Skylarks properly finding their voice for the first time this year. A walk to Valyie and back added a Song Thrush, a Redwing, the wintering Dunnock, 3 Robins and a Chaffinch. Burrafirth proved quiet but there was an Icelandic Redwing at Stove and a Great Northern Diver, a Lesser Black-backed Gull, a Merlin, 20 Skylarks, the Scandinavian Rock Pipit, a male Pied Wagtail and a Fieldfare were seen at Haroldswick.

Icelandic Redwing at Stove

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

12th March 2019 Unst SW6 Showers

Although it was uncomfortably windy at least it was dry first thing so I walked to Valyie and back seeing a juvenile Iceland Gull at Norwick, 10 Skylarks, a Song Thrush and 2 Redwings. Heavy showers then persisted until mid-afternoon when it brightened so we visited North Dale where we saw just a single Redwing, Haroldswick where the Scandinavian Rock Pipit was still on the beach and Buness where a single Tundra Bean Goose was still present with the Greylags.

Juvenile Iceland Gull at Norwick

Scandinavian Rock Pipit at Haroldswick

Monday, 11 March 2019

11th March 2019 Unst WSW3 Showers

It was generally another nice day to be out birding albeit there were a few showers worth avoiding! Being colder it felt rather unlikely that any new migrants would arrive and so it proved albeit a group of 4 Razorbills in Burrafirth were the first we've seen this year. A late afternoon visit to Haroldswick beach revealed the continued presence of the Scandinavian Rock Pipit.

Scandinavian Rock Pipit at Haroldswick
whilst its plumage characters including its well-marked supercilium, greyish tones to its head and pinkish suffusion to its throat would appear compelling for littoralis, the rather obvious moult contrast in its greater coverts courtesy of its visibly longer and fresher renewed inner greater covert's might lend support too... as Alstrom & Mild (2003) states the pre-breeding moult for littoralis on the Swedish west coast occasionally includes renewing a few inner greater coverts...

Sunday, 10 March 2019

10th March 2019 Unst SW1 Clear

A beautiful Spring day with some proper warmth in the sunshine today. Skaw proved very quiet and we fared little better whilst walking to Valyie and back with just a single Song Thrush being of note. At Haroldswick we saw another Song Thrush and on the beach we saw our first Pied Wagtail of the year that Robbie had already seen this morning. The beach also provided our first double-figure count of Rock Pipits of the year that also included our first Scandinavian Rock Pipit, or at least, the first that's acquired enough summer plumage for it to be identifiable as such. 
Song Thrush at Norwick

Male Pied Wagtail at Haroldswick

Scandinavian Rock Pipit at Haroldswick

Friday, 8 March 2019

8th March 2019 Unst N1 Clear

After an overnight dusting of snow it dawned as a bright sunny and calm morning becoming overcast by lunchtime with snow again falling for most of the afternoon. A walk to Valyie and back produced nothing more than a Water Rail, 15 Skylarks, a Robin and a Carrion Crow. As we drove south to Westing frustratingly a White-tailed Sea-Eagle must have been flying north as Robbie saw it flying high east over Ordaal. Westing was still playing host to the Pink-footed Goose and the juvenile Iceland Gull and there was also a Carrion Crow present. As we drove back north there were 2 Rooks feeding in the field opposite the Final Checkout being our first for the year and the 85th species we've seen on Unst so far this year.

Juvenile Iceland Gull at Westing

Rooks at the Final Checkout, Baltasound

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

5th March 2019 Unst NE4 Overcast

With a gathering of Gulls off Norwick I paid them a quick visit on my way to Lamba Ness seeing an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull among the feeding frenzy. An hour at Lamba Ness proved disappointingly quiet with just 3 Kittiwakes and 4 Guillemots seen moving north. I then toured a few bays but returned to Norwick being the only bay I found that was attracting Gulls where there were now 2 Lesser Black-backed Gulls present.

Lesser Black-backed Gull & Great Black-backed Gull at Norwick

First-winter Herring Gull at Norwick
Whilst March is that time of year when some first-winter Herring Gulls acquire a pale head through wear it was still good to have Josh Jones on-hand for a quick Gull masterclass in instantly eliminating any possibility of it being a Yellow-legged Gull.