Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Birds and Football supporters

  What on earth have they got in common I hear you ask ? Directly not a lot, indirectly they do have something in common. Like football, birding (or birdwatching) has thousands of followers who go about their 'passion' without causing any problems to others and you never hear anything about them. Then occasionally there is trouble at a 'match' and the whole 'game' gets tarnished with the same brush so to speak. This is also true with birding. There are thousands of amateur birders who go out recording birds, their movements, breeding etc whose data has been invaluable in widening our knowledge of the bird world. Then, there are the fanatical twitchers. I am not going to knock 'twitching', each to their own and I certainly do go and look at rarities here in the North Isles; however, like football there are a few that spoil it for the majority. I don't know how many people saw the BBC4 program the other week on twitching, but personally I think that program will do a lot of harm to birders in general as anyone who has an interest in birds will be classed as a manic twitcher ('we' already are by a lot of folk !) During the last 6 weeks, there have been a lot of visiting birders up here as September and early October is the prime time for migrants passing through Shetland (if the wind has been right). Even though we've only been here for three autumns, this year seemed busier than the last two and many folk said it was one of the busiest times for many years. The general prediction is that Shetland is going to become the 'new Scillies' ie more and more folk will come here looking for rarities than go to the Scilly Isles which has been the norm' for many, many years.

  I was up in the north of the island in early October with a friend when a car pulled up. Three guys got out, they then walked straight  through the gate in to the croft - and the crofter was at home ! I suggested that it maybe wasn't such a good idea and thankfully they agreed and said they hadn't 'thought about it'. On another occasion a friend of mine was returning home in the south of Unst one afternoon, on going around to the back door of her house, she discovered several guys with binoculars and scopes standing in her garden. The guys were very embarrassed and apologetic and while she didn't mind birders looking in her garden, she'd prefer to be asked first. She also pointed out that while she didn't mind, there are a number of folk that wouldn't have been happy about it. Generally, most folk are happy with the birders that come up as it brings a much needed source of extra income and in fact at one location, there is a sign up, pointing folk up to a good birding place by their house. The opposite has happened at another place where a crofter has said he is going to stop 'twitchers' going on the land around his croft (that would be difficult under the Scottish access laws anyway). As the numbers of visiting birders increase, I think there is going to be much more 'friction' before things get better. What's the answer ?, I'm not sure. There is already a 'Code of Conduct' at the Nature in Shetland website, but how many people would bother read this before arriving here is anyones guess - but they should.

  Another story I heard recently, was regarding a bird photographer who was photographing a rare shrike. The story I heard was that shrike had a 'food larder' (I think the prey was a Blackcap) and had placed it in the middle of a bush. So I'm told, the photographer then moved the prey to the outside of the bush and then pruned off distracting branches from around it. It's not something I'd be happy about doing, maybe it's the 'done thing' nowadays ?

 Things have been quiet here the last few days (apart from the weather a couple of nights ago). I went out on Sunday and saw 3 Slavonian Grebes in Balta Sound (this is now 4) and also a Great Northern Diver. I went out again yesterday (9th Nov) and took a walk around the head at Lamba Ness and found a 'blue phase' Fulmar soaring around on the updrafts at the cliff edge. I believe this race is much more common as you move north and it was one of the birds on my 'hit list' when I first came here. For me they are a sort of 'mythical' bird and although it's my second one here (I had one in the same place last December - maybe it's the same one?) it was a real treat to see. It didn't stay around for long however, but I did manage to fire off a few shots in less than favourable light.

'Blue' Fulmar

  Also here was the Glaucous Gull that had been around for a week or so, but it took off with a large flock of other gulls and then landed again half a mile away.

Wednesday 10th Nov

  After dropping the girls at school, I had a quick look at Westing (ten minute drive) there were only a few seals bobbing around and a flock of Starlings and two Hoodies feeding on the beach. Heading back along the road, an LBJ caught my eye as I passed a fence post close by the road. Pulling up quickly, I saw the bird briefly and identified it as a female 'start' - but which one, either a Redstart or a Black Redstart ? - the latter is more likely for this time of year. Unfortunately, as I got out of the car, the bird took off and flew across a field and out of sight - another one that got away ! Back up in the north of the island, I saw the Shore Lark which has been around Haroldswick for a couple of weeks at least. The light was pretty flat but I did get a few shots (largish crop)

Shore Lark

  Heading over to Lamba Ness, I drove down the road slowly checking the fields as I went. I hesitated where the road passes between two walls (no gate) and there siting on the wall less than 30ft away was a cracking 'brown' Merlin (either an immature or female bird). I managed to get the passenger window down but, as usual, I couldn't get the angle and after around 30 seconds the bird flew off to a distant fence post. At the end of the road, I saw 9 feeding Snow Buntings and also a solitary Mealy Redpoll. Later in the afternoon as I was heading home, I saw the flash of a white rump on the roadside not far from the house, it was a Wheatear. It must be one of the last ones for the year up here, I saw one last week in Haroldswick - possibly the same bird ?

Looking south over Norwick Meadows


Dougie Preston said...

Thats a stunning shot of the lark mate! As for the 'invading' hoards, I suppose we should just be glad it's only for a few weeks a year...

MarkW said...

I imagine you are far enough away from the mainland of GB to escape the worst of twitchers behaviour, although it only take one to frighten a breeding bird off it's nest, or scare a bird away & ruin things for others.
I wonder if a twitcher gets enjoyment when watching a robin in the garden?
As to your photos I would add that the blue fulmar is magical; what a superb colour!

robbieb said...

Cheers Dougie and Mark.

Mark, it's obviously not as bad as being down south but like I said it has and probably will cause problems for a few years before things settle down. I'm not against twitching, just the behaviour of a few.

I love the 'blue' fulmar, at this time of year its one of the reasons I go over to Lamba Ness, just to look for one. Cheers

Jason said...

As usual Rob top pics. There will always be a minority of south birders coming up not really understanding how it works, maybe they should use the same ethics that apply down south. As for the behaviour of a certain photographer, i am saying nothing. See you hopefully in the spring.


robbieb said...

Cheers Jason, just hope it doesn't spoil it for Shetland birders though. As for the photographer, maybe the less publicity the better ;)