Orkney Islands with stops in Lothian and Northumberland 2-6 December 2019

Annual leave at the tail end of the year and a clear week with no commitments paved the way to hook up with Jubs in Kinross, we had hastily put together a plan to head up to the Orkney Islands to have a look about and have a go at seeing the first winter male Steller’s Eider that had been around for a month or so.

Up and about for 4am and on the road by 5am made sure I reached the Northumberland coast for my first birding stop at Cheswick Sands. I wanted to have a look for the Black Scoter that had returned to this area. The first birds after leaving the car were two Snow Buntings that flew about over the dunes.

A good vantage point from the dunes allowed me to scan the numerous birds on the sea, it was pretty rough out there but scopework revealed many Red-throated Divers, a couple of Great Northern Diver, a Long-tailed Duck, Eiders, 700+ Common and 7 Velvet Scoter plus Slavonian Grebes, Razorbills, Guillemots, Shags and a Great Crested Grebe. What appeared to be a scallop dredging boat came into the bay and drove the scoter flocks away so I didn’t have a chance to find the Black Scoter. I had a really good couple hours at this site, scanning a winter sea was exactly why I wanted to be here.

My next stop was at Fisherrow, near Edinburgh but it was getting dark as I arrived, Velvet Scoters, Eiders and a high tide wader roost were the highlights. An unwelome traffic obstructed drive across to the Forth bridge and then on to Milnathort where I met up with Jubs. We had a brew, a meal and decided to book a hostel room in Inverness to break up the journey. We set off so that we would arrive late evening allowing us to rest up from midnight and get going again at 0500am.

Our ferry was booked for 0845am, we arrived in Thurso with time to get some early morning bakes and tea from a supermarket before boarding the ferry in the car. With a daylight we stayed out on deck to scan the sea. Black Guillemots, Gannets and numerous Fulmars were logged as well as the Old Many of Hoy (sandstone rock stack). Conditions were not too good, very overcast and raining but we did appreciate the sunrise this far North.

Soon after docking we set off to explore Mainland Orkney with numerous stops on the East side of Scapa Flow especially scanning from the Churchill Barriers. It was great to see so many Red and Great Northern Divers, Razorbill and Guillemots, Black Guillemots, Slavonian Grebes, Eiders, Shags, Red-breasted Mergansers and especially the magnificent Long-tailed Ducks. One freshwater pool held a 1w male Greater Scaup along with Tufted Ducks and dabblers. A few Stonechats were also seen. Small flocks of Greylag Geese were regularly encountered.

We finished up at Scapa Pier prior to a short internal flight to Papa Westray (Papay) which turned out to be a rather scenic sunset flight. On arrival we were surprised to be met by one of the residents who ran the hostel, she kindly picked up our bags to drop off at the hostel and drove us the short distance to St Boniface Kirk where we had 30 minutes until darkness to have a stab at seeing the Steller’s.

We couldn’t locate it as the sun set but had good views of Glaucous and Iceland Gulls plus a few Eiders before giving up until the next day. A walk back to the hostel followed, our bags were waiting for us in the room and we had the whole hostel to ourselves. A couple of the islanders we re-stocking the adjacent community shop but they were expecting us and had already kindly arranged to open it so we could purchase provisions.

We settled in to watch a film, cook a meal and relax with a couple of beers. A comfortable night in the excellent hostel and next morning a good breakfast set us up for a full day on the island, we set off up the coast stopping at the the antiquities along the way. We turned up plenty of birds including Glaucous Gull, numerous Great Northern Divers and Purple Sandpipers. The Steller’s Eider gave itself up at around 2pm as it fed in the surf but took flight and flew close in past my sheltered vantage point. We followed it on a hunch thinking it must have joined the Wigeon flock on the sea. We relocated it settled on a small loch in the company of Tufted Ducks, we had good views of this rare Arctic visitor and whilst we were watching it a Hen Harrier dropped in to roost.

The school bus arrived to drop some kids off on the far side of the loch and this spooked the wildfowl, the ducks flew off onto the sea and we couldn’t relocate the little Eider, the conditions were pretty horrendous, strong winds and lashing hail and rain set in so we gave up, walking back in the dark torrential rain then set in. For the second time on this day an islander stopped to offer us lift back to the hostel despite us being dripping wet. Lovely people.

Another relaxing night at the hostel with a few beers and a bottle of prosecco to celebrate a good day out and up early the next day to pack up and catch our flight back to Mainland Orkney. We then had most of the day to continue birding with much of it spent looking for the local Orcas and visit the Ring of Brodgar and Stenness, a decent tea room for a shot of coffee and then a short drive to overlook a beach at high tide where we scanned the gull flocks finding a 1st winter Icleand and a good 1st winter Kumlien’s Gull candidate. With the light failing we headed off to catch the slightly delayed ferry back to the mainland.

A night drive back to Kinross where I stayed over at Jubs’s place then up and out early to Musselburgh the next morning to scan from the coast paths gave brilliant views of Velvet Scoters and many other sea duck species including a rather distant drake Surf Scoter. A drive further south back to Northumberland for another stop at Cheswick Sands resulted in more sea-duck, divers, auks and grebes including the Black Scoter but this was also distant. At 2pm I decided to wrap it up and set off for the long drive home.

February 2020 News

Thank you for checking back with Anser Birding.

Residential trips

With regret, I haven’t any residential trips planned at present, sorry.

Contact via email- EMAIL IS DOWN!

Apologies if you have sent an email an had no reply, it appears this issue has been ongoing for some time.

Please note that a reply to email or text may not be until the evening or following day or so. I am in full time employment for WWT so will endeavour to reply to  you after getting home. May I  politely remind you that during my working hours at WWT  I’m obliged to keep the two roles professionally separate as I’m very busy at Slimbridge, it won’t be possible to discuss Anser related matters. I do hope you understand as I wouldn’t wish to offend anyone while I’m rushing about. In anticipation, I thank you for your consideration and look forward to hearing from you after the ‘working day’ or weekends (Friday/Saturday for me). Whilst on the trips I can of course give you my full attention, help to spot plenty of birds and plan bird filled daily itineraries.

Martin

Next day/half day trip date

No trips planned for the forthcoming week, sorry.

Typical Birding day/half days include some of the following Gloucestershire birding venues

These meetings usually fall on Fridays or Saturdays. Price guide and a selection of destinations follow

Forest of Dean-A variety of birds occur with Great spotted and Green Woodpeckers, Lesser Spotted (extremely elusive), Crossbill, Hawfinch (can be shy), Goshawk, Mandarin, Willow Tit (scarce), Marsh Tit, Coal Tit, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Redpoll, Siskin, Jay, Goosander and Dipper are all possible. In summer Nightjar and Woodcock can be seen and heard on nocturnal forays in good weather.

WWT Slimbridge where I work has plenty of events on offer year round. I usually cover the Sunday events. See website for latest sightings here http://www.wwt.org.uk/wetland-centres/slimbridge/wildlife/latest-sightings/

Upper Severn Estuary Includes migration of waders, wildfowl and passerines. Habitat, seasonal wetlands, intertidal estuary and freshwater pools and lakes.

Sharpness A good spot for ‘seawatching’ should we have gales or for watching visible migration. Black Redstarts (in winter), Peregrine and often Common Sandpiper or commoner waders.

Cotswolds Downland birds- Buzzard, Red Kite, Stonechat, Meadow Pipit, Grey Partridge (scarce) and Red legged Partridge (most, if not all are released birds) Corn Bunting, Yellowhammer, Marsh Tit, Linnet, Golden Plover (in winter), Lapwing and more. Habitat-upland hills, heath and some areas farmed with wildlife in mind.

Rarity reaction
If anything special arrives nearby (or futher afield) a half or full day of quality birding can be built around the target bird or birds. This type of trip can be organised at late notice with a very early start. If this is of interest then keep a close eye on what birds are around, twitter feed and here on the news page.

Pricing and how to book a place

Prices based on a minimum of four participants- £20-25.00  for a half day (5 hours) and £40-50.00 for a full day (10 hours).

It is best to text or call 07733 363 905 to confirm a place or if you have any queries, alternatively send an email to Martin@anserbirding.com . See below (near bottom of page) for the typical meeting point details if not meeting at the destination.

Do you use Twitter?
Anser Birding events are on
 @AnserNews

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General news

Watching Waterbirds with Kate Humble and me

The book I had been working on with Kate Humble, Think Publishing and A and C Black (now Bloomsbury) over the last couple of years is available in WWT shops, online, Amazon and all good book stores. It is intended as a bridge guide to introduce common wetland birds to those new to the hobby and also features the Great Waterbird Challenge for you to try out.

If you have bought it already, thank you very much, we do hope you enjoy using it. Link to bookshop.

https://www.wwt.org.uk/shop/shop/books/natural-history-books/watching-waterbirds-with-kate-humble-and-martin-mcgill/

Martin J McGill

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Whitminster Meeting Point

Directions for events if you meet at Whitminster…. leave Junction 13 of M5 and head to A38 Roundabout. On the A38 take exit for GLOUCESTER, WHITMINSTER heading North. Second exit if coming from A38 South or 3rd exit from A419. Head up the hill and take first left (after the Garden Centre) turning left at the village hall  (opposite is the Old Forge Pub which is on the east side of the A38, School Lane is on the West side).

There is a layby (4+ cars) just past Whitminster School on the right. To reach here continue down school lane and straight over the mini roundabout, the layby is immediately after the school where the village ends. Alternative parking can be found nearby, we can direct you.

Link to map to search for Holbury Crescent http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?hl=en&tab=wl

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BBC Tide Timetable for the West (note you can search anywhere in Britain from this link)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/weather/coast/tides/west.shtml

Shetland 1-10th October 2019

I was fortunate enough to get some time off from work during the peak migration season and was looking forward to another visit to Shetland with friends to ‘bird’ all day, every day. Paul M kindly picked us up (Nige W, Rich H and myself) and then drove every mile to Aberdeen, a stay near to the airport gave us time for a beer and burger before bed and we flew to Sumburgh the next day. We departed and arrived with no bother, it was a tad chillier than we were used to so far this autumn. We headed to Grutness beach to have a look at the confiding Semi-palmated Sandpiper and other waders, Jeremy S who was already on Shetland arrived by bus and joined us for the trip.

We were to be based on the most Northerly island of Unst for seven days, our intention was to have at least a day on Fetlar but otherwise not leave Unst until we returned to mainland Shetland for the last two nights. Despite various scarce birds being present on mainland Shetland we stuck to this plan. Notes and images follow.

M.J.McGill

Brambling, female, Tresta, Fetlar MJMcGill
Yellow-browed Warbler, Tresta, Fetlar MJMcGill
Short-toed Lark, Tresta, Fetlar
Looking through a metal seven bar gate!
Dusky Warbler, Haroldswick, Unst
Twite, Norwick, Unst, Shetland MJMcGill
Goldcrest, Sumburgh Quarry.
We watched this bedraggled migrant desperately looking for food after crossing the sea, it managed to find a harvestman type spider which was a little too big for it to handle, after sorting the legs out it swallowed it whole and settled down to preen seemingly oblivious to our presence.
Juvenile Waxwing, Camb, Yell
We searched for this bird and was struggling to find it when JS spotted at the base of a bonfire pile, it was feeding on the dried berries of a cut Rowan.
Red-breasted Flycatcher, Mainland Shetland
Our second of the week.

Highlights of this trip were as follows..

Flocks of Pink-footed Geese as we headed into Cumbria and as we travelled through Scotland to Aberdeen. On Shetland our highlights were…

1 October

Semi-palmated Sandpiper at Grutness, Mainland, Red-breasted Flycatcher at West Yell, Yell Whinchat, 2 Brambling and Mealy Redpoll at Norwick, Unst.

2 October

Wheatear, Redwing, Merlin and Willow Warbler at Haroldswick.
2 Lesser Whitethroat, Fieldfare, 3 Brambling, 2 Tree Sparrow, 3 Mealy Redpoll, Red-flanked Bluetail, Siskin, 5 Redwing, Redstart and Blackcap at Norwick.
12 Redwing, Lesser Whitethroat, 3 Swallow, Pied Flycatcher, Yellow-browed Warbler, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest and Merlin at Baltasound.

3 October

Wheatear, Whinchat and Merlin. Lapland Bunting, 4 Snow Bunting and Purple Sandpiper at Lamba Ness.
Dusky Warbler and Song Thrush at Haroldswick.
Willow Warbler, Whinchat and Swallow at Westing.
Scaup, 2 Goldeneye, Blackcap and Tree Pipit at Uyeasound.
Song Thrush, Slavonian Grebe and Knot at Baltasound.
2 Song Thrush and 2 Fieldfare at Burrafirth. 13 Mealy Redpoll at Norwick.

4 October

Glaucous Gull and 2 Fieldfare at Burrafirth.
Jack Snipe, 3 Mealy Redpoll, 2 Fieldfare and Redwing at Northdale.
3 Redwing, Yellow-browed Warbler and 10+ Mealy Redpoll at Baliasta.
4 Blackcap, 4 Yellow-browed Warbler, 4 Robin, 6 Goldcrest, 15 Brambling, 2 Chiffchaff, Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Lesser Whitethroat, Garden Warbler, 2 Pied Flycatcher, Whinchat and Redstart at Baltasound.

5 October

Otter at Baltasound. 25+ Long-tailed Duck, 5 Black Guillemot, and 3 Otter at Belmont.
Fetlar- 7 Whooper Swan, Brambling, 2 Yellow-browed Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, 15 Redwing, 2 Fieldfare, Short-toed Lark.
Lamba Ness, Unst- Barred Warbler and 6 Snow Bunting.

6 October

Wheatear, 4 Mealy Redpoll, c20 Redwing at Burrafirth.
2 Lapland Bunting, 10 Snow Bunting and 12 Mealy Redpoll at Lamba Ness.
2 Wheatear, 2 Mealy Redpoll, Blackcap, Redstart and Whinchat at Norwick.
Wheatear, Tree Pipit, Brambling, Chiffchaff and Blackcap at Sandwick.

Spotted Flycatcher, Lesser Whitethroat and Merlin at Muness.
2 Yellow-browed Warbler, Merlin, Siberian Chiffchaff, Brambling and 10 Redwing at Baltasound.

8 October

3 Snow Bunting, 20 Mealy Redpoll, Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Yellow-browed Warbler, Siskin, Robin, c20 Redwing at Burrafirth.
Ring Ouzel and Stejneger’s Stonechat at Westing.

Willow Warbler and Lesser Whitethroat at Uyeasound.
Waxwing and Linnet at Camb, Yell.
Yellow-browed Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher and Blackcap at Burn of Valayre, Brae.
Waxwing at Ollaberry.

9 October

Reed Bunting at Brake.
Siberian Chiffchaff, 2 Mealy Redpoll, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Grey Wagtail at Quendale.
Lapland Bunting at Sumburgh.
Siberian Chiffchaff, Jack Snipe and Yellow-browed Warbler at Swinster Burn, Hoswick.
Siskin at Sandwick.

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