Monthly Archives: June 2013

Shetland Spring Birding Part 1

May 2013 with Shetland Nature

Orca Sumburgh

“Quick – grab your bags” was how the spring 2013 holiday began. No time for gentle introductions- a pod of Killer Whales was circling Sumburgh Head. Once disbelief had been quelled all up for the dash  to try to see them! With some help from friends we got everyone up just in time. Pumped up with adrenaline all guests were happy to press on for a couple Icterine RRof hours before dinner. We left the Orca pod to try to see a beautiful female Red-necked Phalarope at nearby Spiggie with a bathing ‘club’ of about 40 Great Skuas (Bonxies) as a backcloth. While watching the phalarope some of the group turned around only to find an Icterine Warbler on the fence-line; the first record of the spring on the mainland. Superb! We were already finding our own good birds. The 1st summer Ring-billed Gull was still present on Loch of Hillwell plus a host of fresh water birds and a Glaucous Gull. It’s fair to say the first couple of hours of this holiday had more than met expectations!

Here’s the holiday with Shetland Nature that I’m talking about

The next morning heralded our next ‘find’. A quick scan around Sumburgh farm revealed not one but 2 Red-backed Shrikes; a male recently present plus a new female with striking rich brown plumage. While watching the shrikes we also picked up Iceland Gull, Long-tailed Duck, Black Guillemot and Great Northern Diver.

red backed Shrike female Sumburgh Hotel May 13

This female Red-backed Shrike was new and a ‘find’ for us. Intriguingly it looked all brown above (no grey hindneck more typical of female) and at distance the dark patch through eye looked blackish. It made a good attempt at pretending to be a Brown Shrike from long range.

Gary bell Sumburgh birdThis adult male Red-backed Shrike gave lovely views at Sumburgh from the hotel garden (photo Gary Bell)

GN Divers Lerwick May 13

2 Great Northern Divers in Shetland sunshine.Great views obtained in several places with birds in different plumages. These 2 were from on the Noss trip out of Lerwick harbour (below).

Lerwick harbour was our mid-morning destination. A  migrant male Pied Flycatcher in gardens en route was eclipsed by a Canada Goose at Clickimin Loch, Lerwick. While the same size as 2 accompanying Canada’s, its darker, browner plumage with no white neck collar indicated its identity as likely a Todd’s Canada Goose– another ‘find’ and  a vagrant bird form North America (and a first for Shetland). Somewhat distracted we just made the pier in time for the spectacular boat trip out to the seabird colony at Noss.


Glaucous Gull (3cy?) from the boat in Lerwick harbour. But just as we were rushing for this boat we picked out this dark Canada Goose at Clickimin Loch. The dark breast and dark nape reaching right up to the black neck sock are very unusual to see (I have never seen one) in British ‘canadensis’. They are typical  features of vagrant Canada Geese though. this birds’ size and plumage suggesting ‘interior’ or Todd’s Canada Goose (or its variants). Also a couple of the scapulars are just like juvenile feathers. Although need to explore further this suggest the bird may be a 2nd calendar year.

Another Glaucous Gull in the harbour plus summer plumaged Red-throated and Great Northern Divers bejewelled our journey. Once there, the seabird cliffs provide a breath-taking spectacle yielding the kind of point blank views not usually possible with Gannets, Puffins, Razorbills and Guillemots plus lunch stealing Bonxies alongside the boat. Afternoon was spent taking spectacular scenery of east side of the South Ness including the tombolo at St Ninian’s Isle. We also found (another!) male Red-backed Shrike at Spiggie.

gannet 4 nossGannets on Noss

2013-06-30_132610Gannets and hand fed Bonxies from the boat

Gannets 6

Gannet fight noss

These 2 Gannets locked in quite a scary looking dual

Bonxie Noss May 13Bonxies came around the boat at pint blank range and Arctic Terns as always looked stunning


Jonathan who runs the ‘Seabirds and Seals’ Tours to Noss also took us into a cave for some underwater camera work. A fascinating look at the underwater world

arctci tern 1

Black Guillemot Lerwick May 13

Black Guillemots met us at each end of the journey

A rest around teatime prepared us for the late night outing to the magic of the Island of Mousa and the Storm Petrels. Famously described as the ‘sound of a fairy being sick’, the enchanting song of the petrels in the majestic and mysterious ancient broch created an unforgettable memory.

306966_530208373702229_709480754_nSuper moon and flat sea on route to magical Mousa (photo Jim Nicholson)

mousa 1


Storm Petrel by David Gifford

mousa 2Mousa Broch at almost midnight is surrounded by the bat like flight and strange calls of Storm Petrels. Easily one of the most memorable trips of the spring holiday.

Bound for Unst we began Sunday morning with a Short-toed Lark on Sumburgh Head with awesome views of Puffins nearby. Britain’s most Northerly Island was a place of exploration and discovery for the next few days.

stl-jn Jim NicholsonsShort-toed Lark was a bonus on Sumburgh head (photo Jim Nicholson) as well as spectacularly close views of Puffins, before we headed north to the last place in Britain…

Puffin sumb3

For more about Shetland Nature and various holidays, news and events go to  Shetland Nature web pages

5 Continental Black-tailed Godwits

Cley, Norfolk

Mark Golley has seen up to 5 Continental Black -tailed Godwits this last week. Wish we got some a little further north in Britain. OR- maybe we do sometimes and they aren’t being picked up? Here, Mark’s news  attached to post which is reblogged from July last year. Hope it helps others to connect with these interesting waders.

“Hi Martin

I’ve been lucky enough to find at least five “new” limosas this week at Cley (between June 23rd-27th 2013) including the bird that Jonathan photographed at Titchwell last year (WY//WB) ~ he appeared here on 26th. Presumably a male, his plumage this year is far more intense than last year, richer, deeper tones of orange and rust, with a few more summer feathers on the mantle, scapulars and one or two coverts.The barring on the underparts is also much more intense this year. He’s a fine beastie! Two superb new males last night, four on Pat’s Pool in total, with the huge second summer (3cy) faded female and a petite scruffy summer male that’s been around since Monday.
Good times!

Mark Golley”

There’s also a nice video just come out from Welney WWT on their breeding ‘limosas’ with chick footage. HERE


Now is the time and North Norfolk, one of the best places to see continental Black-tailed Godwits. Last July (2011) I had excellent tutorial seeing an unringed adult and Nene washes ringed adult, both in North Norfolk. From this summer, Jonathan Farooqi writes:

Dear Martin,
Your recent article on limosa Black-tailed Godwits came in very useful in identifying a Black-tailed Godwit I found at Titchwell on the 9th of June. The fact that it was ringed helped as well! We discovered that it was ringed as a chick on 05/05/1999 at the Nene Washes, Cambridgeshire. It returned to its natal site to nest during 2002, 2003 and 2004. It was also seen on 06/06/2010 at Titchwell. I’ve attached a photo of it that I took which you might like to see.
 Have a nice summer,
Jonathan Farooqi

adult Continental Black-tailed Godwit, Titchwell RSPB reserve, 9th June 2012, by Jonathan Farooqi

Birdfair 2013: Pushing Boundaries Tour RELOADED

Join Us at the Birdfair

by Martin Garner and Tormod Amundsen

Back in early 2013 we ran the Pushing the Boundaries Tour. We visited bird clubs all around the UK. Thanks to fab hosts who kindly gave us some very cool revues the RSPB have invited us to give the RSPB Birders Lecture at the 25th International BirdFair at Rutland Water.


Same 2 dudes speaking. Similar format and content. Some new spicy bits. 


So we invite you:

When: Friday 16th August 4:15-5:15 pm

Where: Events Marquee, Birdfair, Rutland Water

What else: Free Booklet base on talks and Followed by Free Drinks Reception (Black Grouse Cocktails)

A reminder of the tour. 

 7 minute video, all around the country and you may be able to spot some familiar faces too.


Black-throated Thrush

with Red in the Tail

photos by Harry Scott


A Black-throated Thrush was found in Hugh Addlesee’s mothers garden in Banchory, c40 miles inland, west of Aberdeen in late March 2013. Access was arranged and local birders were treated to very close views through the kitchen window. One of the features of the bird was the presence of  deep orange/rufous at the base of the outer tail feathers along the outer webs. Some even suggested (perhaps tongue -in-cheek) it could at times look like a “Black-throated Thrush from in front and a Red-throated from behind”

Of course, even though some of us were delighted to see this bird with it’s Redstart-like tail another one would be much appreciated!


Whats does this presence of rufous colour in the tail mean (more obvious from some angles than others)? This Banchory bird looks essentially a seemingly straightforward Back-throated Thrush.

The ‘Thrushes Book’  would point to this bird being an ‘intermediate’ or hybrid. The colour plate 40 on Dark-throated Thrushes (Red and Black) illustrates an atrogularis (Black-throated) tail pattern and states “all dark and show no orange or red”. Furthermore the text on page 379 reads: “Intermediates or hybrids usually resemble ‘Black-throated Thrush’… both sexes have some rust-brown or reddish in the tail (usually on the inner webs) but this can vary in extent from very little (and possibly not visible in the field) in the outer feathers to as much as nominate ruficollis.”

However  on the Banchory bird there is no purple-black or admixed reddish feathering in the breast usually associated with more obvious intermediates.

What does it all mean? 🙂 



The Fuzzy Zone

For me it’s the fuzzy zone. It may be that it’s actually normal for some core range Black-throated to have a bit of red in the tail. Or maybe they never do as the ‘Thrushes book’ seems to indicate? I don’t know.

The same kind of questions can be attributed to the Margate Dusky Thrush. For me it too just about falls into the (uncomfortable) fuzzy zone (at the moment – hoping to explore this subject little more and open to change my mind). I think and have been reassured that some 2cy female Dusky Thrushes can come close to this in appearance, but I think some of its apparent plumage characters still place it in the fuzzy zone. And that’s how it is with some closely related taxa that hybridise/ interbreed regularly. Isn’t it? Not always simple or straightforward, frustrating and sometimes fuzzy.

And with lots to learn.

Nils covers the fuzzy zone here: “Some ind show (sometimes very slight) mixed features of either Black-throated or Red-throated, or features of Dusky Thrush/ Naumann’s Thrush. these ind are ether ‘infected’ by genes of another taxon or show normal variation within a single taxon.”

Thanks and big nods  in prep of this post to: Richard ‘what does it all mean’ Schofield, Hugh Addlesee, Paul Baxter and of course Harry Scott for use of these stunning photos.

Seabird Watching Resources

Getting ready for the season

July’s around the corner. The month is synonymous with the traditional start of our seawatching season. Mega migrants and occasional vagrants will draw me out on Flamborugh head. Locally, Spurn is also now recognised as a top seawatching spot. Elsewhere there are lots of favoured spots, as well as the glories off pelagics (e.g. Lanzarote specials coming up in late August and September).

A few very helpful resources:

from Bob Flood and Ashley Fisher:

Pterodroma Petrels multimedia ID Guide



………………………………….Lots more info on the Scilly Pelagics website

Southport Pelagics report, Australia

from Paul Walbridge in Australia:

“Here is the Annual Report for Southport for 2012, our third such production and hopefully getting better with each year. It’s free to anyone who wants to read it and feel free to pass on to anyone you think would be interested. Cheers – Paul.”
Download this report jam-packed with superb photos including several iconic species full of and detailed info. Not detracting from this superb report, but for curiosity/learning, one of the birds may be mislabeled/ mis-identified. Can you spot it?

 The Petrel 2012


Desertas Petrel movements

and…Michael Hoit kindly drew attention this paper which covers winter movements, winter range and habitat preferences of the Desertas Petrel. Click on:

Access codes are required for the full article, however the distribution data and maps can be seen without access codes HERE. Interesting how far north (approaching Iceland) and how relatively close to the west coast of Ireland several birds are in the months of October and November.

Blyth’s Reed Warbler

in Spring!

by Andy Cook,

photos and comment by Martin G and Brydon T.

“I had just completed the last field on a voluntary RSPB wader survey on my neighbour’s croft…

Blyth's Reed Warbler b Fetlar May 2013Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Everland, Fetlar, 29th May 2013, by Martin Garner

Having just walked up a sheltered burn to the gate at the top as it passes a dry stone dyke I immediately saw an unstreaked Acro (Acrocephalus warbler) jumping off the Dyke and onto a fence line which runs parallel, about 15 feet away.
Reed Warbler sprung to mind, but it didn’t look right so I gave it a grilling with my bins.
My first thoughts were how greyish brown the upper parts were contrasting with particularly  pale looking the underparts, especially the rear flanks and under tail coverts.


The jizz of the bird looked too clean for Reed Warbler. The primary projection seemed very short and stubby , legs pale pinkish and it kept adopting the ‘banana pose’ by keeping it’s tail up while actively feeding between the fence and the dyke.

Blyth's Reed Warbler Fetlar May 2013Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Everland, Fetlar, 29th May 2013, by Martin Garner

I had previous experience of Blyth’s Reed once before in Norfolk about 3 -4 years ago, and I was extracting these above features from my mind as I was watching the bird at close range. Everything seemed to fit, and I was happy I had enough apart from a photo.
As I was surveying, I didn’t carry any camera gear around with me, It was a 20 min return trip to my house to pick it up but I felt I needed proof to convince myself 100%.
I rushed home, grabbed my camera, mobile, field guide and phone directory !

As I left the house I flicked to the page of unstreaked warblers. The pale strong super in front of the eye was a feature I forgot about but was one I noticed on my bird, thus giving it a full suite of characters. I rang Malcie Smith, the RSPB warden on the island who was also just completing survey work, and told him to get over to Everland ASAP!

As a long shot, I also phoned Brydon Thomason of Shetland Nature to see if he was on the island. Luckily he was, and better still, about 10 mins away at Funzie. He was co-leading a tour with Martin Garner.

Blyth's Reed Warbler g Fetlar May 2013Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Everland, Fetlar, 29th May 2013, by Martin Garner
I gave them directions where the bird was when I left it and I was ahead of them trying to relocate the bird when I saw them pull up. Nothing was seen for what seemed ages, but then I took sight of my bird about 100 yds further on along the stone dyke. I was watching it through bins as Martin was the first to approach.


My heart sank as it was feeding without it’s tail cocked unlike before, but I was so relieved that Martin got it in scope and confirmed 100 % Blyth’s Reed by shouting to the rest of the group who were making their way across to the dyke.

It was in the bag, not my rarest find, but probably the trickiest id. to call in the field with only my memory to rely on.
The bird continued to feed and was posing happily for the assembled snappers, and my thanks go to Brydon for obtaining some superb images of the bird. My photo’s would have passed as a record for the submission, but under the circumstances, my hands were now starting to shake !
At no point did the bird call, but whilst watching it, I did hear a sound coming from Martin sounding not unlike a bittern…”

BLths Reed bOOMAndy Cook (3rd from right) and our Shetland Nature group in highly appropriate celebration mode! The bird was left feeding along a dry stone wall (which is just about visible in the distant back ground). Everland, Fetlar

BT DSC_3365_Blyths reed_spring (2) BTBlyth’s Reed Warbler, Everland, Fetlar, 29th May 2013, by Brydon Thomason

With nearly 140 records in Britain, it’s still a challenging ‘birders bird’ when it comes to identification. An annual autumn flurry of birds is expected however in spring it is a whole lot rarer. This bird is around about the 7th/8th record ever for May in Britain. I (MG) was fortunate to see the first multi-observered Blyth’s Reed n Britain via hitchhiking (don’t do that nowadays!) from the West Midlands to Spurn Point on 28th May 1984! 

That bird appeared in this British Birds Mystery Photo

Blyth’s Reed Warbler is a species that keeps on being the cause of celebration. One of the first finds on our first Shetland Nature autumn birding holiday was:


a Blyth’s Reed Warbler on (drum roll)… Fetlar! Written up here.


Blyth's Reed Warbler h Fetlar May 2013.Blyth's Reed Warbler i Fetlar May 2013Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Everland, Fetlar, 29th May 2013, by Martin Garner

Besides the overall impression of a long looking acro with greyish wash to upperparts (Eastern Olivaceous might spring to mind), a head pattern rather particular to Blyth’s Reed (hope you can see it), the eye has to fall to the end point of the wing. On this bird it was helpfully a rather short primary projection with a whole 3 emarginated outer primaires (can be 2 on Blyth’s Reed, normally only 1 emargination on Marsh and Reed). It’s not that difficult even if you don’t read each feather to see how the multiple emarginations which are also longer create an obviouly different looking ‘squeezed’ wingtip when compared with the Marsh Warbler below:

Marsh and Reed Warblers


Marsh Warbler b Quendale spring 2013

Marsh Warbler c Quendale spring 2013Marsh Warbler (above 2) , Quendale, 29th May 2013, by Martin Garner. This was one we found at Quendale on 3rd June. Indeed it was a fab spring for experiencing and sharpening acrocephalus ID skills. Ironically, the rarest of the 3 was this bird below at Skaw, Unst.

Reed Warbler b Skaw, Unst May 2013

Reed Warbler c Skaw, Unst May 2013Eurasian Reed Warbler, Skaw Unst. In company with a Marsh Warbler it was originally identified as that species. The plumage tones, subdued face pattern and slightly shorter primary projection, however point the way. It did burst into a wee bit of song as I watched it too (which does help!)