Category Archives: 24) Buntings

The Shetland Little Buntings

Celebration of the Bird that topped and tailed

Finally got my photos off the camera. Just celebrating. It’s the Little Bunting you see. So I am having a short reminisce on how the Little Bunting really has topped and tailed my Shetland experience. The beginning and the end and in-bewteen too! You’ll see what I mean. I’ll explain this rusty faced guy further down.

Little Bunting 2 (1 of 1)

First Group. First Find

The first group I guided in a storming week on Shetland in autumn 2010. Guess the first good ‘find’. Yep of course, not one but two Little Buntings dropped out of the sky at Valie, Norwick on Unst. These two got the adrenaline pumping from the off. You can read about the full amazing week HERE. It’s worth a read- still grips me! TWO! Syke’s Warbler and Lancy find topped the billing. I quite liked picking out the Black Duck hybrid in flight. but I am a bit of a nutter!

rustic bunting one lk (1 of 1)

Robbie Brookes photoed one of the two. I have pics of both but need to dig them out.

These bad boys spiced up the week:

rustic bunting one lkmm (1 of 1)

Lancy by Mike Penno!

rustic bunting one lkmm m (1 of 1)

Sykes’s Warbler – one of two

rustic bunting one lkmm mmm (1 of 1)

Black Duck- almost

Screen Shot 2015-11-14 at 05.54.36

find on the last day or so


Spring Time Singer

Spring time guiding produced this one. Delighted as it was a new world bird for some of our group. And they loved it! Much rarer than in the autumn, this fella took to singing at Skaw on Unst. Rather stunning scenery as it fed in the stream that ran into the sea.
Little Bunting Skaw one

Little Bunting Skaw 3

A cheeky Rustic Bunting

OK not a little. But it was find up the Feal Burn at Houbie. While leading on the best island ever. Fetlar. Photo by Andy Cook. A great friend whenever we visit. And of course Rustic Bunting really is a proper rarity 🙂


 rustic bunting one kj (1 of 1)

Rustic Bunting on Fetlar by Andy Cook-  a favourite island and top find spot for our groups. This one gave us a little runaround before we finally nailed the ID of a flying ‘ticking’ Bunting.

Brown Shrike friend

This one set us up to see the Brown Shrike – good ol’ Jim Nicholson got a great photosof the Brown Shrike. I got a rubbish one of the nearby Little Bunting.




Tame Autumn Beauty

This one – again at Skaw was an autumn scoop. Just the tamest bunting I think I have ever seen and great opporutnity for close up views of the nuances of plumage tones and the like. Spent a fair bit of time with this one. Beautiful.


Millfield Early Morning Joy – October 2015

This year. Wondered out the house on first proper morning of birding. And there on the road, only a few yards from the entrance to our amazing holiday house at Norwick- a Little Bunting. Never managed really close photo views but picked him or his mate up every day for the next few. And he loved the road! I say he, this was particularly richly brownish red over the head. Might not mean anything- just musing.

Little Bunting 4 (1 of 1)Little Bunting 3 (1 of 1)

Little Bunting 2 (1 of 1)Little Bunting 6 (1 of 1)

Thank you to the Little Bunting. Made Shetland extra special many times over.


Lapland Bunting origins, ageing and sexing

Greenland is a long way away

Distances birds travel sometimes just trip off the tongue. So here’s a thing:

Lapland Buntings are one of only two passerines (small birds) which I know of that routinely cross an ocean on migration. Bonkers!

Lapland Bunting 4th Sumburgh Headf (1 of 1)

It was argued for (with some opposition) a while back, that some of our Lapland Buntings were coming from Greenland and not Scandinavia. See Here and Birding World article HERE

Hans Schekkerman graciously wrote from the Netherlands a couple of weeks ago about his article from 1989 which I totally missed!

“Hi Martin,
This mail was triggered by the Lapland Bunting note on your latest blog post. I hadn’t seen the earlier posts nor your Birding World paper. Attached find a paper I wrote in the Dutch journal Limosa on Lapland Buntings trapped at the ringing station where I was (and to a lesser extent still am) involved. I argued that in autumn both Greenlandic and Scandinavian birds occur in The Netherlands, with Greenland birds predominating in the smaller numbers occurring early in the autumn. At least in males, wing lengths decrease over time (fig 5) and early-autumn wings were closer to published wing lengths from Greenland than from Scandinavia. There are English captions and a summary, and besides Dutch is easy..
Following this paper we started to measure bill lengths of our trapped buntings (as these seem to differ even more between the subspecies than wings), but unfortunately numbers trapped dropped considerably around that same time, and I have never come round to analyse whether the smallish sample produced anything interesting..
Best whishes, Hans”

Thanks Hans. Read his paper:

Schekkerman 1989 Limosa – Biometrie en herkomst van IJsgorzen in Nederland


First winter male at Sumburgh, Shetland

I have learnt some bits. Not surprising, but still. On Shetland recently, a little highlight especially for my companion Yoav Perlman, were close views of this Lapland Bunting. Featured briefly here.

So what can we see to try to see of it’s a male or female and how old it is:

Lapland Bunting 3a (1 of 1)

A fairly bright bird with some nice reddish/ chestnut bits. Check out that nape… It also has a fairly obvious blackish ‘bib’ of spots (not streaks) just emerging on the breast. These are what I have looked for as having a greater bias towards males plumage than females. By comparison some birds – presumed to be females – have very grey streaked napes and streaked grey breast (not black spots). It is argued that adult females can have male-like features, so it’s not always straightforward. Here’s a lovely pic showcasing what could be a 1cy female recently at Bempton RSPB by Tony Dixon. See HERE

So using to the ‘ringer’s Bible,’ Svensson. The Sumburgh bird shows:

  • The bill base on this bird is brown (1cy) not yellow (adult)
  • The tail feathers look slightly pointed and frayed to me (1cy) and not broader + rounded (adult)
  • The crown feathers have quite extensive black fringe – better for male than female.


Lapland Bunting 4th Sumburgh Headf (1 of 1)

Lapland Bunting 5a (1 of 1) Lapland Bunting 6a (1 of 1)

Above: The tail feathers reach a gentle pointed tip and that right one is frayed 🙂

Lapland Bunting 8a (1 of 1)

Above: Good view of the crown reveals a lot of black fringing to the central crown feathers. Svensson indicated this is better for male than female.

So I do think the Sumburgh bird is a 1cy (first winter) male. The chestnut nape and black spotty breast stand-up 🙂

Lapland Bunting a 4th Sumburgh Head (1 of 1)


Yellowhammer with Pine Bunting bits

in the garden, but just passing through…

Martin Garner

Out at end of Flamborough head, light spring passage includes Chaffinches, Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer in small numbers at the moments.

Yellowhammer PB5 (1 of 1)

Martin Garner

I have had a little passion for Yellowhammers for quite a while. Looked at lots. Know the drill. Males with rufous in roughly the moustache/malar region are very common. Nowt out of the ordinary. However last Friday a male appeared in the garden with a rufous band under the throat. Now that grabbed my attention. I have personally never seen that pattern on a male Yellowhammer. Indeed I knew it was interesting. Why? Probably indicates some level of Pine Bunting ‘influence’. Check out a picture of a male Pine Bunting. The two places you expect chestnut to show on yellow Yellowhammer with Pine Bunt bits? The chestnut on the throat, a and chestnut around eye.

This bird had both. So I grabbed  a couple of  distant shots. Took me another couple of hours of effort over next 2 days to get better pics. And the bird appears to have moved on.

think I’m making it up 😉 ?

BWP text

“Birds with chestnut spotted or full malar stripe occur frequently in various populations, without clear trend; birds with patches of rufous elsewhere on head, throat or upper chest occur mainly in East European Russia and Asia, probably due to introgression of characters of Pine Bunting E. leucocephalus.”

Anyone can add to the picture, we are keen to learn. It may be vestigial characters on this individual (I can find photos of odd trapped Yellowhammer with rufous around the eye in W Europe by scrolling t’internet) or may be evidence of recent (several generations?) introgression- thus this individual is already ‘from the east’. Both scenarios or entirely possible.

Yellowhammer PB3 (1 of 1) Yellowhammer PB2 (1 of 1) Yelllowhammer 4 (1 of 1) Yellowhammer PB10 (1 of 1) Yellowhammer PB9 (1 of 1) Yellowhammer PB11 (1 of 1)


Lancashire December 2003

Meanwhile I think this is also one with more rufous, photographed by Chris Batty at Bradshaw Lane Head, Pilling Moss, Lancashire on 30th December 2003. We featured it HERE

yellowhammer30122003b yellowhammer30122003c


and this one with even more rufous (see how the pattern increases) from Calle

Sweden February 2015

“Hi Martin!

Saw your picture of the possible hybrid bunting on Twitter! I photographed a bunting earlier this winter (February 8th) in my garden in Sweden that I consider to be a Yellowhammer X Pine Bunting. Here are some pictures of it!

Best wishes,

Calle Ljungberg”

Calle hybrid Yammer pine bunt (1 of 1) Calle hybrid Yammer pine bunt 7 (1 of 1) Calle hybrid Yammer pine bunt 8 (1 of 1) Calle hybrid Yammer pine bunt 9 (1 of 1)

Calle hybird 14 (1 of 1)

March and April and good bunting migration/ movements months. I’ll keep looking.


Thanks to Frédéric Jiguet check out this bird written up in Dutch Birding:

Jiguet F 2003, Dutch Birding 25-5, 323-326. Hybrid Yellowhammer x Pine Bunting in central France in May-June 2002.

“Hi Martin,
Attached are the three photos of the male, presumed hybrid, that I caught at a breeding site in western France. Caught and ringed 27 May 2002, recaptured on site 24 June 2002.
This male had a very pale yellow head with dark bold blackish stripes (being the most Pine-trends), but deeper yellow on face, a very large rufous band on the breast (Pine-pointing too), pale lower flanks and vent.

The possibility of an hybrid Cirl x Yellow was considered but rapidly excluded.



fred y1 (1 of 1)

pho2fred y3 (1 of 1)


and a normal male in the garden yesterday in low evening sun

male yammmer 2 (1 of 1)


The Arctic comes to my Garden

Snow Bunting and Little Auk

A Thursday evening (23rd Oct.) walk out with Ebony, our collie cross bought me lovely views of these two birds. I wasn’t expecting to see much and came back a very happy chappy. It got me reflecting on my love of the arctic. I can’t go there all the time so sometimes the bird from there come to me. I know- not quite in my garden- but close enough.

Snow Bunting

This is an  individual of the nominate form nivalis quickly recognized by the obvious paler greyish mantle area contrasting with darker browner scapulars. Appears to be a first winter male. We get two taxa each winter in Britain. The nominate form as here is considered to be the less common of the two according to information from ringing and birds assigned to subspecies in the hand. They could come from Scandinavia, Svalbard or Greenland.

Then there is the darker taxon insulae from Iceland. Identifying Snow Bunting to their correct age, sex and race can be both challenging and rewarding. Behind each birds lies a fascinating narrative from a species that can survive and thrive in one of the harshest environments on the planet. Taxonomy of Snow Buntings and MacKay’s Bunting of Beringia is a fascinating subject with the Siberian vlasowae of disputed range and validity. I don’t really mind. Birds with that Siberian characters look amazing whatever! I did an old post HERE and there is a paper HERE  (though he used the darkest possible Snow Buntings  specimens to make his point.) Hmm..

For ageing and sexing on this one amount of white in wing, pattern of underwings, white in primary coverts, shape and pattern of tail feathers.


Snow Bunting 6 25 Oct 14 1 Snow Bunting 7 25 Oct 14 1 Snow Bunting 1 25 Oct 14 1 Snow Bunting 4 25 Oct 14 1 Snow Bunting 5 25 Oct 14 1


Siberian Snow Buntings

And I hope one day in Britain to find one that looks like this. The Siberian form vlasowae.

There’s material for another book there…


above- male Siberian Snow Bunting- ssp vlasowae, Vardo, Varanger, March 2012.

Little Auk

Then directly below the cliff top on which the Snow Bunting was feeding, on a becalmed sea, sat this little chap. All the way from the High Arctic.

A very pleasant encounter indeed 🙂

little auk 3 little auk 4



Thank YOU!

Martin Garner

Just to say a huge thank you for all the personal well wishes  and very encouraging messages following this post. I have failed abysmally to respond to all of them, but I have been repeatedly moved by so much kindness.

So a little news. About four days ago I pushed my walking distance (only few hundred metres) and found I could do more than I thought. The next day, 25th March I tried a walk around Millennium Wood, Flamborough not sure how far I would get. Soon located the Northern Treecreeper ssp familiaris and even showed a visiting couple of birders who hadn’t seen it before. That kind of stuff spurs you on.  Andy Hood followed our visit and got some lovely photos:

 Northern Treecreeper





Northern Treecreeper ssp familiaris, Millennium Wood, Flamborough, 25th March 2014, all photos by Andy Hood

Lapland Bunting

2 days ago on 26th March, early news from dear friend and RSPB warden Keith Clarkson had seen a male Lapland Bunting on the reserve (and possibly heard a Shore Lark). Spurred on to attempt more, Sharon and I headed off early. Staple Newk is a fair walk and the wind was blowing a hooley! Nevertheless we made it. Not especially optimistic we were stunned to find 3 Lapland Buntings including one of the males  ‘singing its head off’. Well I fair hopped skipped and jumped my way back to the reserve centre!

So THANK YOU- for spurring on encouragements and messages and we (Sharon and I )  have taking them to heart and working on them 🙂

PS all photos below by me- wobbling about like a weeble while Sharon holds on to me- quite a comic sight.

Lapland Bun bt Bempton 26.3.14


Lapland Bunt d Bempton 26.3.14

Male Lapland Bunting in full song at Bempton RSPB, Flamborough

Lapland Bunt f  Bempton 26.3.14


Lapland Buntg Bempton 26.3.14


Silver Blacky… still

silver blacky

silver blacky.jpg2

Silver Blacky- probably a colour aberration know as ‘BROWN’. Still an on/off visitor to our garden.

Female Pine Bunting: Time to Look!

Martin Garner

Finding a female Pine Bunting in November 2003 at Flamborough Head let to the discovery that for every male Pine Bunting trapped on the near continent, 2 FEMALE Pine Buntings were trapped.  Female Pine Buntings seem to be overlooked in Britain (1 female to every 5 males in Britain).

Brydon Thomason and Mike Pennington found a female Pine Bunting on Unst, Shetland in November 2011. Here are Brydon’s photos in a reblogged post as we are ‘in’ the right time of year…

female Pine Bunting, Clibberswick, Unst, Shetland, November 2011. © Brydon Thomason

Follow-up notes on the 2003 Flamborough bird:

What intrigued me was that the bird did not make me immediately think ‘Pine Bunting’ (* see full account at end), given the field conditions and my limited experience, and I wondered again the likelihood of female Pine Buntings simply being overlooked in this country as they are so much less striking than males. Pine Buntings are likely to be buried away in Yellowhammer flocks under conditions whereby the flocks are often not easy to scrutinise. The following statistics might enable us to be better informed and more inspired in looking for Pine Buntings in Britain:

According to Occhiato (2003) the situation with wintering birds in Italy can be summarised as follows:

They arrive from second half of October, but chiefly in first half of November. Maximum numbers occur mid-December to mid-February. The last birds leave the wintering grounds during first week of March.

70% of 110 birds were first-winters.

Ratio of one male to every two females!

Of 12 trapped birds in December 1995, six were male, six were female and nine of the 12 were first-winters.

If we compare these figures with the vagrants occurring in Northwest Europe we find a significantly different situation. Of about 40 records in Britain up to 2003, only eight of these are listed as females, most of the rest were identified as males. Thus a rough ratio of about one female to five males. Also interesting is that of male Pine Buntings, half of the records have been recorded in mainland Britain, widely spread from Dorset, and London, through the middle of the country to the east and north east coasts. In contrast most of the female Pine Buntings  (six of the eight records) have occurred in the Northern Isles (five) and Scillies (one) where Yellowhammers are rare or scarce. The only accepted records of females on the mainland are the Big Waters bird 18th of February to 16th of March 1990 and amazingly a female found dead at a roadside in Ewhurst, Surrey on 29th January 1989.

To compliment this picture there have been 31 records of 32 individuals of Pine Bunting in the Netherlands. Of these, 24 were sexed as male and nine as female (a ratio of nearly one female to every three males) and most records concern birds trapped at ringing stations ( A. van den Berg pers comms).

It would seem to be clear that female Pine Buntings are being overlooked in mainland Britain and indeed in Western Europe. Targeting a few more winter Yellowhammer flocks would not be a bad pursuit!

Click on labelled images for larger size

female Pine Bunting, Clibberswick, Unst, Shetland, November 2011. © Brydon Thomason

Account of find and field appearance of Flamborough bird, November 2003

 * female Pine Bunting are overlooked

* could occur anywhere in inland Britain

* well worth a winter search for

 Looking for a Pine Bunting…

I am a glutton for trying to ‘target’ the finding of rare birds. Mostly it feels like chasing the wind, but once in a while the ‘genning up’ on, and making targeted attempts at, finding rarities has its payoffs. One species that has been in my sights over the last couple of years is Pine Bunting. I had been chewing on the theory that we must get more Yellowhammer/Pine Bunting hybrids/intergrades in Britain than are reported, particularly as ‘yellow hybrids’ (i.e. birds more like Yellowhammers but with some Pine Bunting characters) occur in a ratio of one hybrid to seven Yellowhammers, no further away than the Southeast Baltic and Estonia/ Latvia region (Panov 2003). I had even taken to ‘bothering’ various folk about certain ‘interesting’ Yellowhammers photographed in Britain, but no-one seemed that bothered! Undeterred, I figured I was probably not that likely to find a real Pine Bunting, but I could at least study the Yellowhammers a bit more and see if I could discern the presence of birds with hybrid characters.

With this background in mind, I decided to visit Flamborough Head on 12th November 2003, with the chief hope of seeing the Hume’s Warbler which had been present in Old Fall Plantation the previous few days. John McLoughlin had the same idea so we agreed to meet early morning at Flamborough. I was down Old Fall hedge before first light which eventually had the positive result of great looks at the Hume’s with no-one around but was also negative because the late arriving McLoughlin (new baby was the lame excuse) found two Tundra Bean Geese in the daylight which I had almost certainly walked past in the dark!

There were clearly some migrant birds following the overnight rain and a blustery southeast wind , so I decided to check  South Landing next, where I found good numbers of winter thrushes, and continental versions of Chaffinch, Robin and several pale Dunnocks. Encouraged I grabbed a bite of lunch and headed off more purposefully with Yellowhammer study in mind. Having checked out Holmes Gut, I then decide to tackle the northern section of the outer head which I knew to be one of the best areas for Yellowhammers due to a Pheasant rearing programme and the consequent abundance of seed. I came to wish that I had not then decided to call at the house of an affable Mike Pearson’s for a brief ‘hello’, as he informed me that Andrew Allport had seen a Pine Bunting the previous day near the road at the end of Old Fall hedge. As my plan had been to look through the Yellowhammers anyway, I was obviously excited at the prospect of a real Pine Bunting being around and really frustrated as any chance of a ‘self-find’ would be contaminated by prior knowledge!

I spent about an hour walking down to Flatmere, checking the feeder areas and attendant Yellowhammers, with the highlight of two day-flying Barn Owls and a redpoll over. Walking back up the hedge not far from roadside pool, there were clearly quite large numbers of birds around a Pheasant feeder, mostly Yellowhammers (about 40) with a few Reed Buntings, Linnets and Tree Sparrows. Unfortunately most of the birds were hidden, feeding in a ditch, periodically rising up through a section of hedge where they could be seen. I opted for a wait and see strategy and after about 20 minutes one bird in particular caught my attention.

Perched facing slightly away from me and a foot or so ‘into’ the hedge was a ‘Yellowhammer- type’ bird but eye-catchingly colder, paler and particularly greyer above compared with other female Yellowhammers. There was no yellow immediately visible, but this did not trouble me much as (particularly young) female Yellowhammers often give a first impression of lacking yellow in certain views. The supercilium was particularly broad and buffy-looking with no hint of yellow or olive. At this point I had no sense of adrenaline rush, having checked many ‘dull Yellowhammers’  in the past, which kept me rather cautious, so  I casually glanced down at the primary fringes which were in clear view ( as the bird was only about 30 feet away). It was immediately apparent that most of the outer edge of the outer three (ish) primaries was white; not just white, but as I focused my telescope ….gleaming white! I know in theory this meant that this bird had to be a Pine Bunting. I was still rather non-plussed about it. I had only seen male Pine Bunting, and as these are so vivid I suppose I expected a female Pine Bunting to be equally striking. For some reason (perhaps, my recollection of reading about the ‘Big Waters Pine Bunting’) I expected a bird with an obviously whitish supercilium and looking grey and white overall and perhaps obviously so around the face. The feature that most bothered me at the time was the big buffy/light brown supercilium…it wasn’t what I expected for a female Pine Bunting.

I then spent the next five minutes or so noting all that I could see of the bird. As it continued facing slightly away, part of the lower belly was obscured, so I moved around to try and get a better view. Unfortunately this created general disturbance in the bush and my interesting bird dropped down, out of sight. A further disturbance then caused most of about 30-40 birds to explode out of the hedge and fly off in different directions. As daylight was beginning to fade I headed back to the car with a mix of emotions. It definitely had white primary fringes, and was clearly colder grey brown in plumage tones with no yellow in the plumage, but it looked so ‘relatively boring’ and I had expected more obvious white to jump out at me in the face pattern. Was that big buffy supercilium okay for a Pine Bunting? Fortunately I had a copy of the Collins Bird Guide with me in the car and to my delight it appeared the features I was struggling with on this bird appeared to be normal for Pine Bunting. So all things considered it seemed to be one. Now I had another dilemma. The bird was on private land (for which I had permission to visit) and the landowner, I knew, was particularly sensitive about NOT wanting hoards of people near the Pheasant- rearing area. I made the assumption that this must be A.A.’s bird from the previous day (even though I did not know what sex his bird was) and as he had seen it near an area open to the public, there was every chance the bird could fly back here.  I rang John McLoughlin with the news, though I still wanted the opportunity to find out more about the appearance of female Pine Buntings once back at home, to remove any niggling doubts due to my lack of experience. Also as I had not seen every part of the plumage (seeing the central part of the lower belly had eluded me) I asked him to put out a cautiously worded message in the hope that the bird would revisit the public area with the roving Yellowhammers.


Chiefly like a Yellowhammer in overall plumage patterns, with the following features noted: Bill bi-coloured as Yellowhammer. Crown well streaked with evenly fine dark ‘ticked’ lines. Facial pattern overall like Yellowhammer but with strikingly broad (looked broader than most Yellowhammer) buffy or light brown-washed supercilium. Head pattern overall felt a little ‘stronger’/ more well defined  (especially dark area around ear coverts) than Yellowhammer. Paler, creamy submoustachial stripe and throat with dark ticks of streaking down from malar point. No yellow whatsoever in facial pattern, submoustachial area or throat (carefully looked) thus this area was overall lighter in tone than Yellowhammer. Underparts not fully visible, but flanks well streaked dark brownish/ to  blackish (some) on light buff -washed flanks, buff colour fading to dirty whitish/ off white towards belly and lower breast. Central belly frustratingly not visible. Undertail coverts just visible appeared buffy-white/off-white again with no yellow tones in all visible area parts of underparts, despite scrutiny. Nape greyish and paler than Yellowhammer, with whole of rest of upperparts dark streaked and with dark centres to flight feathers, but ground colour colder, paler and greyer looking than any other Yellowhammer (this is what first caught my attention in particular the greyish background colour to the mantle and  scapulars). Wing coverts tipped buffy/cream. Gleaming white fringe to most of the visible length of about three or more outer primaries (I was too busy determining in my own mind that these fringes really were white and not subtly yellow to count exactly how many feathers were involved). Rump also stood out somehow as different from Yellowhammers, with the rufous feathers looking cleaner and paler than on Yellowhammer, with clean, crisp whitish fringes. Tail feathers fringed white, again no yellow apparent. No call heard.

Wild Weekend: Shetland Spring Extra

More and More

by Martin G.

a Greenish Warbler Quendale May 2013This Greenish Warbler was a bit of a highlight find over a Shetland Nature ‘Wild Weekend’.

Following on from the Shetland Spring Birding holiday, I lead a shorter ‘Wild Weekend’. A new group with similar itinerary. We saw many of the expected highlights and specialties and adding some new rare bird finds. Feedback is always appreciated 🙂

“Hi everyone at Shetland Nature,
 I finally have time to write to you to thank you for the fantastic holiday I have just spent with you.  I was on the Wild Weekend trip from 31 May to 4 June. I just wanted to pass on my appreciation to you all for the well planned, compact and thorough itinerary on this holiday.
 I especially wish to send my thanks to our tour leader, Martin Garner, who made this a very special trip for me. Martins knowledge, enthusiasm, patience and caring nature was fantastic. He managed a group with differing abilities with great skill and humour.
 Many thanks to you all again, and I hope to have another holiday with you soon (Autumn Birding? Martin trying to persuade me!!)
Kind regards, Jonathan Russ”

Jonathan did very well too, as we always hope for guests, finding some of his own ‘good birds’ including his male Red-backed Shrike:

Red backed Shrike spiggiedrake Red-backed Shrike at west side of Loch Spiggie. We found 2 males in the space of 10 minutes around Spiggie. What a treat! This was a ‘from the van’ find.

Bonxie b Spiggie June 13

Bonxie Spiggie June 13Near the shrike this Great Skua flew up from a bathing club on Loch Spiggie. This one has ‘extra white’ in both wings.

wild weekend group june 13

Our wild weekend group with stunning backdrop of South Mainland, Shetland on day two. the group had juts been watching Snow Buntings on Compass head. Little did we know what lay ahead…

We left Compass and in my mind I thought we could head to Quendale Mill. Lovely tea shop, local history and maybe chance of the odd migrant bird. Main aim was a cup of tea! The migrant quality was slightly higher than expected. Arriving at Quendale I took the group  into the shop. Having ordered drinks I though I’d have a quick look in the garden. A quick ‘spish’ and up popped and striking looking acrocephalus Warbler- quick check of features. Superb! A Marsh Warbler. I ran back to the shop and called the group out:

Marsh Warbler d Quendale spring 2013

Marsh Warbler Quendale spring 2013

Marsh Warbler a Quendale spring 2013

Marsh Warbler in the garden at Quendale Mill. A slightly odd bird, with, like the Great Skua above, extra white in the plumage, most obviously with an all white central tail feather.

The Marsh Warbler then flew out towards the embankment by the mill. As not everyone had seen it well we headed over to view the bank.  a few minutes later and the above mentioned Jonathan, said- “is this it”. I looked up to see not an ‘acro’ but a phylloscopus flitting against the light. “No”, I said “it’s a phyllosc”… hold on, did I just glimpse a wing bar, suddenly a full view- YES! it’s  a Greenish Warbler!
Greenish Warbler  3 Quendale May 2013

Greenish Warbler  4 Quendale May 2013

Greenish Warbler  2Quendale May 2013

a Greenish Warbler Quendale May 2013

Greenish Warbler at Quendale Mill. A grand few moments of bird finding. I quickly rang Roger Riddington to put the news out on the Shetland grapevine- I knew Paul Harvey was keenly pursuing a record year list for Shetland. 


The next morning we headed north to Unst.

Common Crane b unst May June 2013Unst was most enjoyable as ever and the 1st summer Common Crane out on wee show for us every day.

Here was one of the reports we put in to the Nature in Shetland Website:

“UnstCommon Crane at Haroldswick. Red-backed Shrike, 8 Tree Sparrows and Brambling at Norwick”

Doesn’t so that amazing but the Brambling was smart male and 11 Tree Sparrows ( I thought it was 11 and not 8- must look it up) in Shetland was easily the most I’ve ever seen.

Otter Unst June 13

A post dinner walk along the south shore at Baltasound. I am more novice at Otter tracking but we scored very nicely. This fella spent about 25 minutes diving into the water, catching some seafood special and climbing back out on the same rock to munch its way through dinner. Fantastic, and prolonged views for all the group.



Red-throated Diver, Fetlar,  photo: Brydon Thomason. These give lovely views on Loch of Funzie, but the Red-necked Phalaropes, late arriving and sparse in  number didn’t show for us.

We also DIDN’T see the next very interesting bird, but I suspect we could have done and just overlooked it. We arrived back at the ferry terminal to see Richard Ashbee. We got chatting and he asked me to check photos of a Marsh Harrier he had seen (good bird on Fetlar) and some Snow Buntings. The Snow Bunting pics were immediately a bit of a shocker:

fetlar snow buntSnow Bunting showing characters of Siberian Snow Bunting ssp. vlasowae, apparently a 2cy (1st summer male) on Fetlar, early June 2013 photo by R. Ashbee website. Richard photographed this bird in the field north of Loch Funzie. We were there, just never  looked in that direction. Compare the upperparts with (below) this male Snow Bunting at Compass head which is a male has all white rump which means it is of the nominate form ‘nivalis‘. Male Icelandic Snow Buntings (ssp. insulae) have a dark centre to the rump.

Age? Certainly these 2 Snow Buntings are males. They look like they might be the same age. The bird below at Compass has dark tipped primary coverts but some white at the base of the primaires. The bird above  (vlasowae candidate) has dark tipped primary coverts and no white at base of primaries. Adult males often have all white primary coverts and some white at base of primaries. I think that means the vlasowae candidate is 2cy (1st summer) male. That means it will get even whiter (and an even better candidate)! Just wish I had seen it. 🙁

Snow Bunting Sumburgh May 2013Male Snow Bunting at Compass head which is a male of the nominate form ‘nivalis‘, possibly a first summer (2cy) male.

Red Backed Shrike kobylini like North Dale b Unst May 2013

male Red-backed Shrike showing more extensive grey and reduced brown above and paler tertial fringes of kobylini, the eastern form. Will do more on this bird and ones like it very soon. This one was with ‘normal’ male at Northdale on Unst in week one. In total I think we found at least 10 different Red-backed Shrikes. Nae bad!

carbo cormorant and shags Lerwick may 13


Cormorants compared in Shetland. Top photo: 2cy  Atlantic Cormorant (‘carbo’) with similar aged Shags (Martin Garner). Bottom photo 2cy Continental Cormorant (‘sinensis’) at Hillwell Loch (Roger Riddington). We saw the ‘sinensis‘ on the first week.


Lots more seen in jam-packed long weekend. We finished with lunch sitting in beautiful surroundings ending our trip list with a bit of quality: This  drake Ring necked Duck (photo by Larry Dalziel) at Asta Loch.

wild weekend guys

Some of our guests enjoying Sumburgh Head and the very close Puffins

female Eider Sumburgh may 13

Eiders were encountered in lots of places, including occasionally almost tripping over a female in long grass…

and next spring 2014?

Female Woodchat Skrike near the famous bus shelter, Baltasound, Unst (photo by Unst’s man and the bird’s finder: Mike Pennington who runs the Nature in Shetland site). This bird only stayed for one day and was the one rarity we came close to seeing, but didn’t. Shame it’s feeding zone was just along from the Baltasound Hotel where we stayed. We arrived one day too late. There’s always next SPRING.

Now we are planning for May/ June 2014. Details coming soon!