Category Archives: 04) Seabirds

Shetland Spring Birding Part 2

1/2 hour of Migrant Madness 

It was on Unst where the most favoured memory (amoung many) of the week’s holiday with Shetland Nature happened. So let’s fast forward:

Marsh Warbler at Skaw May 2013 RBMarsh Warbler at Skaw, Unst (Robbie Brookes). Part of a half hours of scarce/ rare migrant fun. below right- one of the 2 female Red-backed Shrikes that shared the same patch.

Team effort is a key element for Shetland Nature holidays, both in the group and working with Shetland residents. Tuesday afternoon, Unst resident Robbie Brookes contacted us to say he’d seen and acrocephalus Warbler at Skaw that looked interesting. Worth a check, red backed Shrike female skawwe arrived at Skaw to banks of mist rolling in on NE breeze. Woah, special conditions. We soon located a Garden Warbler, a Spotted Flycatcher and another bird ‘flew’ in’ to join them but remained obscured. With a little effort we were soon having great views of a spring Marsh Warbler and discussing the finer ID points. Up in the background popped  a female Red-backed Shrike. Fantastic! 2 minutes later another Red-backed Shrike, both on view at the same time. Hold on. Fog, nor’ east winds Now we’re cookin’. In the next half hour we found 6 Spotted Flycatchers and a Lesser Whitehroat. Then the icing on the cake: 2 of our guest returning from the beach said a couple of bird had been flitting about on the stream. Quick stroll down and BOOM! a Little Bunting; regular in autumn but very rare in spring. What a stunning bird and a life tick for most of the group.

Little Bunting Skaw 5

Little Bunting Skaw one

Little Bunting, Skaw, May 2013. This was like a little wee jewel feeding along the stream at Skaw. Having already seen Marsh Warbler, 2 Red-backed Shrikes and bunch of other migrants the previous half hour, this rare spring bunting (c 11 spring records ever in Shetland), brought adrenaline to a peak

Spotted Flycatcher  May 13Spotted Flycatcher- c 6 at Skaw in little rush of migrants

Garden Warbler Skaw unst May 13Garden Warbler, in same patch of Spearmint as the Marsh Warbler

Sanderling  May 13Sanderling- beautiful in fresh plumage and bound for the high arctic; one of the background birds on the beach at Skaw, Unst

Dunlin GutcherDunlin, on seaweed strewn beaches around Unst and Yell. Dunlin gave lovely breeding displays with wing-lifting and trilling calls. Both the Shetland breeding schinzii subspecies and more northerly bound ‘alpina’ were seen, the latter often with the Sanderling. This presumed shinzii was unusual in having such obviously white tips to the scapulars…

Against this peak birding moment in Unst we savoured the majestic Hermaness with oodles of  Bonxies, singing and displaying Dunlin and Golden Plover, another majestic  seabird cliff, stunning spring Snow Buntings on Hermaness and Lamba Ness, Arctic Skuas and Arctic Terns.

Here some off the Unst ‘regulars’ –  seen on most days:

Snow Bunting Sumburgh May 2013

Twite male Sumburgh June 13

Whimbrel Unst June 13

Snipe unst June 13

Arctic Skua Unst may 2013

and the Bonxie (Great Skua) show on Hermaness couldn’t fail to impress, beginning with superb views of Golden Plover:

Golden Plover Hermaness June 2013

Bonxie 2 Hermaness June 13

Bonxie 4 Hermaness June 13

Bonxie 5 Hermaness June 13

Bonxie 6 Hermaness June 13Tim Appleton get close and personal…

Bonxie Hermaness June 13

Bonxie7 Hermaness June 13

John and Bonxie hermaness


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.

Red-billed Tropicbird and August Pelagic

Lanzarote, late August.


The pioneering pelagics will be continuing off Lanzarote. Some old posts here  and here . I’ll be joining the guys Dani and Juan for a ‘Birding Frontiers’ special 2 day gig over 27th-28th of August. There are a few spare places.

Dani writes: “For the first time the plan is to take  2 sailing boats out to the Banco. and we will be staying overnight! That will be very exciting, as we will be able to chum in the late evening and early morning in the best areas, when there’s much more bird activity. I am really excited with it! We could probably give a couple of short lectures with photos, etc…the day before, and maybe some birding in the island the day after.”

For now I’m wowed by Juan’s photos of Red-billed Tropicbird around the harbour from which we sail… Guess I am hoping they are ‘gettable’ in August.







All photos above by Juan Sagardia, Lanzarote, May 2013

Dani López-Velasco – Top Team Moments 2012


“Choosing my best bird of 2012 is somewhat difficult, as I´ve been quite lucky this year in terms of seeing both high-quality species and good self-founds. If I had to choose one, I think the bird that I felt most excited with was the superb adult Philippine Eagle I saw with Jose Luis in Kitangland (Mindano, Philippines) in March. However, as he already choose it (no doubt why!), I will go for another one. I´ve been very focused on my self-found Spanish rarities list over the last few years, and this year I was lucky finding a Radde´s Warbler at my local patch, the first ever non-ringed in Spain, and also calling out the Swinhoe´s Storm-petrel on the Lanzarote Pelagic, but, nonetheless, my best bird will be one seen in Japan. Plenty of good ones to choose from, such as mind-blowing Steller´s Sea-Eagles, Blakiston´s Fish-Owls, Scaly-sided Mergansers or Siberian White Crane, although my top number one will be a seabird, mainly due to my long-lasting passion and interest for them… It will be the highly endangered, once thought to be extinct, Short-tailed Albatross (Phoebastria albatrus). The second rarest albatross in the world, and a very difficult one to see, as access to the breeding islands is highly restricted. The  ferry from Tokyo to Hachijojima island gives you decent chances of seeing it, although  it´s by no means guaranteed, and during my trip there in February, with gale-force winds and 6 metre waves, I was lucky seeing 3 of these stunning albatrosses flying past the ship.”

All the best



Shetland – days 7 & 8

The is the half-time tea interval during Martin’s two-week trip to Shetland, so he is back staying with us for a couple of nights before setting off with Shetland Nature group no. 2 first thing tomorrow, Sunday. The first week went well, the group saw a truckload of birds and I guess you can expect updates and photos from himself at some point. Lerwick hospital is reporting no emergency admissions with eardrum damage so I am guessing that the first batch of clients either had good earplugs or were deaf. Martin was surprisingly subdued on Friday, when we had a day birding some of the northern bits of Shetland, so maybe he had tired himself out with all that bouncing around. The birding was pretty subdued as well, highlights of a full day out being a couple of Yellow-broweds, a few Northwestern Redpolls and a BOOMpieper (Tree Pipit) at Kergord – sadly not a Siberian Boompieper (thanks to Mark W for reminding us of the Dutch names). See, the streets of Shetland aren’t always paved with rares.

Today, Martin was back on full volume, it was as if he has a ‘loud’ button that had been knocked off accidentally. The birds were better too. An initially elusive Red-backed Shrike at Grutness was an instructive bird as we riffled through the features confirming that it wasn’t a Brown or a phenicuroides Isabelline…

The long-staying and confiding 1WM Siberian Stonechat at Hoswick…

And, bird of the moment, Northwestern Redpoll, this one on the drive at our house…

And finally, the answer to the mystery wings quiz set last week is… A first-year Common Guillemot. The mottley underwings rule out Razorbill, which is also ruled out by the pale shafts to the outer primaries. What’s more – and this is the neat bit – those pale outer primary shafts on the upperwing also rule out Brunnich’s, which has dark shafts like a Razorbill! Here’s one I found earlier…

The clear white tips to the grey underwing greater coverts are what marks it as one of this year’s birds. So, next time you find a pair of auk wings on a beach in northern Britain, remember to have a proper look. Booomm!

On the beaches

Here’s another quick post from Shetland, in response to Martin getting excited about redpolls. I am bereft of redpolls to blog about, so here’s a couple of birds from yesterday’s beached bird survey – carried out monthly, year-round, in Shetland by a network of (mostly) keen volunteers.

In 15 years of helping out, my highlights so far have both been dead ones – a Brunnich’s and a Great Shear – but I have long hoped to find a decent live bird while trogging round my three Shetland beaches. Yesterday morning it all came good when this little beauty materialised at the east end of Rerwick beach:

I was made up with this, all the more so after last October, when after taking Martin out birding he had the temerity to sneak off and find a Buff-bellied Pipit on the opposite site of the field from the rest of us! So that was good – and yes, in the seclusion of Rerwick beach, with only my wife looking on, I did one or two Martin Garner impressions and even said the ‘B’ word (loudly, as you do).

No prizes for identifying the pipit of course, but here’s a quick picture spin quiz to follow up on the last Frontiers one. Hardened BBS regulars would get this quickly but for the rest of you, what species is this, what age it is and why?



Interesting Wilson’s Petrel

With white belly feathering

One of the more curious birds seen out of a very nice selection over 2 days of full on pelagic birding at the Banco de la Concepción, N.of Lanzarote, on 15-16th Sept. 2012. It made me wonder about the Fuegian Petrel – the chilensis form of Wilson’s Petrel. However the white patterning is somewhat random and chilensis normally has obvious white tips to underwing coverts and is smaller with more fluttery flight (Alvaro Jaramillo pers coms). It seems more likely to be a’sport’ and Martin Gray ‘tweeted’ to say he had seen several such Wilson’s in Antarctica. Nevertheless it is seemingly the first example mimicking the white belly feathering of the pacific breeding taxa such as chilensis,  gracilis and the recently discovered pincoyae, reported in the North Atlantic.

Still much to learn about these birds (as with so many!). Thanks to Alvaro Jaramillo, Ash Fisher, Bob Flood and Dani López-Velasco for comments

What else did we see on the Sept 2012 Lanzarote pelagic? Here’s a rough list, thank to James Lees and when have time- more to blog about:

Here are the totals from the Lanzarote Pelagic I was on last week. SWINHOE’S PETREL, White-faced Petrel, 5 European Storm Petrels, 10 Wilson’s Storm Petrels, 200 Band-rumped Petrels, 80 Bulwer’s Petrels, 3 Scopoli’s Shearwaters, 2 Sooty Shearwaters, 1000 Cory’s Shearwaters, 30 Manx Shearwaters, 10 Long-tailed Skua’s, 2 Arctic Skua’s. 7 Pomarine Skua’s, Great Skua, 2 Black Terns, 2 Arctic Terns, 30 Common Terns, Hammerhead Shark, 50 Sea Turtles, 30 Spotted Dolphins, 200 Bottlenose Dolphins and 12 Bryde’s Whales!

I pinched Eric Didner’s photo of Facebook. Here’s the guys we were with:

Suggestion of what to do if you have just seen a Swinhoe’s Petrel in the Western Palearctic: