Sunday, 28 August 2011

'Fall' time?

 I believe that in the States, 'The Fall' is the autumn when the trees loose their leaves, well for me here on Unst where large trees are non existent, 'The Fall' could or should be when the autumn migration starts. From now on at this time of year, almost all birders up here on Shetland are watching the weather forecasts with a hope that the winds will be in the south east quarter to blow migrants heading south down through Scandinavia (and further east) across to the islands. The forecast for part of the week was just that and coupled with a forecast of rain, gave hope for a 'fall' of migrants - when more than the usual numbers appear. After a couple of days of fine weather early on in the week, Wednesday night provided the rain and so for Thursday it looked promising. Late on the Wednesday evening I got a call from Brydon to say he'd had a brief view of 'something different' at Skaw, a warbler of some kind but he wasn't sure what as he couldn't pin it down in the fading light.

  Thursday morning was fine and bright, the rain had passed through, so after the school run I took a look up north to Skaw hopeful that there maybe a few migrants in. There were certainly migrants around - mainly Willow Warblers and Wheatears - but also Garden Warbler,  Reed Warbler, Whinchat, 11 Sanderlings, Common Sandpiper and a Cuckoo; but no 'unusual' warbler................



  Leaving Skaw, I had a quick look in at Valyie down in Norwick. The garden and surrounding vegatation there is a real magnet for migrants. Its' on a south east facing, hill side gully which is sheltered from most cold northerlies, hence the abundance of shrubs and small trees - planted by generations of crofters living there. The wind had dropped off considerably so now there was the midge menace to contend with. So on getting sprayed up with 'skin so soft' (best midge repellent as far as I'm concerned) I headed off up the hill. Up in Valyie I had Spot Fly', Garden Warbler, a brief view of a Barred Warbler and a stunning close up of a Wryneck as it fed 15ft from me on a fence post. 

  Returning to the car, I then heard the unmistakable sound of crows mobbing something. Looking across Norwick Meadows (roughly south), I saw 3 Hoodies mobbing a harrier and they were heading straight for me. Fortunately, they came right over my head which gave cracking views and also enabled me to fire off a load of pictures. It was no 'ordinary' harrier however as the underside of the body was very orange in colour and un-streaked. The only harrier recently recorded on N in S was a juv' Pallid down on Noss a few days ago, maybe. just maybe this was the bird? Unfortunately, as I was in the Audi, I didn't have a guide book with me so I phoned Brydon for his opinion, he agreed - as I'd hoped - that it sounded like the Pallid. The only other harrier it could be due to the colouring was a juv' Montague's which however, is subtlety different. Montague's Harrier is even rarer on Shetland than Pallid despite there only having been around 27 or 28 sightings of Pallid in the UK. On getting home later, I checked the books and was convinced it was a Pallid but was even happier when it was confirmed by Mike and Brydon later. It's without doubt, that without me having a digital camera with me at the time, the bird would have been recorded as a 'possible' record.

   Digital photography has revolutionized bird recording enabling quicker and more detailed identification of the trickier species. I have since learned that two of the key ID features of juv' Pallid Harriers are the pale neck collar and just behind it the dark neck 'boa', so without a picture I'd certainly not have picked up on them. But then that also comes down to experience with a species or groups of species. Someone I know who is the editor of a bird journal, said a while ago that with the arrival of digital SLRs, peoples ability to write a good description of a sighting is being lost. All I can say is thank goodness for digital as I wasn't very good at doing that in the first place !

   Back at home, I was just as delighted to get two more garden 'ticks', namely a Pied Flycatcher and a Wryneck...........


  The nice weather was not going to last however as there was heavy rain and very strong northerly winds forecast for Friday night and Saturday; time to get the grass strimmed and mowed. The afternoon was spent (school run aside) at home mowing and waiting for the boiler man to come as we have problem with the boiler. Thankfully, despite opinions from local folk that he wouldn't show (he has a reputation for being VERY difficult to get hold of) he did arrive and is hopefully coming back on Monday to repair it. At least it started playing up now rather than in the middle of winter. I had discovered from the previous owner that it hadn't been serviced in years, a case of 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' ? There is a regulation for gas boilers that (if the house is rented out) they should be serviced every year, maybe it should be the same for oil ones to ?


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