Oct 072019

During the 21st – 28th September 2019 I made my annual birding trip north to the Shetland Isles, staying on the remote island of Unst. Our party of three had a reasonable week searching for migrants and hoping for the odd rarity to turn up.

We managed to see a total of 86 species on Unst which included highlights of 13 Barnacle Geese; 6 Whooper Swan; 1 Grey Plover; 1 American Golden Plover; 1 2ndw Iceland Gull; 1 Short-toed Lark; 9 Yellow-browed Warbler; 1 Blyth’s Reed Warbler; 6 Siberian Lesser Whitethroat; 2 Red-breasted Flycatcher; 7 Lapland Bunting; 2 Snow Bunting; 1 Little Bunting.

We found a Rush Veneer (a migrant moth from southern Europe) at Skaw and had several Red Admiral butterflies were on the wing.

On our way back to the ferry terminal at Lerwick on 28th September, we stopped off at Levenwick on mainland to see an Isabelline Shrike which looked good for the sub-species Turkestan Shrike, showing all the features that are described in numerous publications, including Birding Frontiers – Challenge Series – Autumn and The Helm Guide to Bird Identification. 

Currently this bird has been muted to be a Daurian Shrike based on a few  features shown in photographs. The two species can be notoriously difficult to identify as there seems to be lots of overlaps in their identification features. If I had to stick my neck out, I would go for Turkestan Shrike as it shows far more features than Daurian, according to what I have read so far.

It will be interesting to see what happens with this bird when submitted to the British Birds Rarities Committee.

As I left Lerwick on the ferry in the early evening of 28th I managed to see a small pod of 4 Orca, my first British Orca and a most fitting and exciting way to end the trip.

American Golden Plover – Uyeasound, Unst
American Golden Plover – Uyeasound, Unst
Little Bunting – Baltasound, Unst
Little Bunting – Baltasoiund, Unst
Red-breasted Flycatcher – Doctors Garden, Baltasound, Unst
Red-breasted Flycatcher – Doctors Garden, Baltasound, Unst
Short-toed Lark – Lamba Ness, Unst
Yellow-browed Warbler – Northdale, Unst
Yellow-browed Warbler – Northdale, Unst
Snow Bunting – Lamba Ness, Unst
Snow Bunting – Lamba Ness, Unst
Snow Bunting – Lamba Ness, Unst
Lapland Bunting – Lamba Ness, Unst
Turnstone – Norwick, Unst
Skylark – Lamba Ness, Unst
Sanderling – Skaw, Unst
Sanderling – Skaw, Unst
Sanderling – Skaw, Unst
Redstart – Valyie, Unst
Pied Flycatcher – Clingera, Unst
Baltasound, Unst
Skaw, Unst
Muness, Unst
Gannets in the Storm – Skaw, Unst
Gannet – Lamba Ness, Unst
Common Seal – Haroldswick, Unst
 Posted by at 10:21 am
Sep 142019

Eastern Black-eared and Pied Wheatear identification is notoriously difficult, even more so when a female type arrives in early September. About the right time for Black-eared Wheatear but a little out of season for Pied. The majority of Pied Wheatears seem to be found in late autumn (Oct-Nov).

A female, reported as an Eastern Black-eared Wheatear, was discovered at Fluke Hall, near Pilling in Lancashire on 1st September. It was favouring the sea defence boulders along side a public footpath and showing well.

As there have been fewer records accepted of Eastern Black-eared Wheatear, this female bird was rather special and would undoubtedly attract a lot of attention and an ID challenge.

It didn’t take long before the rumours of it being a Pied Wheatear crept out onto the networks and grapevines. The bird showed grey plumage tones and pale fringes to the mantle feathers, features supposedly unique to Pied Wheatear. However it did show a solid black loral line from the eye to the bill and also a slight hint of dark ear coverts, both features of Eastern Black-eared Wheatear.

I went to see the wheatear on the 8th September and managed to take some decent images of the bird. By this time the bird was continually being reported on networks and social media as a female Eastern Black-eared or Pied Wheatear. There was a great deal of doubt and even some of the birds poo had been collected and sent away for DNA analysisI showed my images to several experienced European birders who commented on the fact that the plumage colour and the obvious pale fringes on the mantle were all good features of Pied Wheatear, however the length of the primaries appeared short and they should be longer in Pied.  

The bird also shows an obvious pale throat, plain grey nape and very buff/orange colouration to the underparts, especially the breast. Along with darker brownish/orange at the edges near the wings. All these features are typical of Eastern Black-eared Wheatear and either very rare or even stated as “never” for Pied.

Then on the 11th September, some photos were posted onto the various social medias and birding networks and a sharp eyed individual noticed one or two of the mantle feathers showed white spotting and feather shaft streaking as the bird was preening. Not noticeable in the field. This is apparently a conclusive ID feature of Eastern Black-eared Wheatear. 

So there it is, an amazing ID process and a thorough learning curve. It does make me wonder though how on earth this bird would have been identified without modern day DSLR cameras and other high-tech imaging equipment. The modern day bird identification processes have certainly moved on. The following are a selection of images I took of this delightful bird.

Eastern Black-eared Wheatear – female – Fluke Hall, Pilling, Lancs
Eastern Black-eared Wheatear – female – Fluke Hall, Pilling, Lancs
Eastern Black-eared Wheatear – female – Fluke Hall, Pilling, Lancs
Eastern Black-eared Wheatear – female – Fluke Hall, Pilling, Lancs
Eastern Black-eared Wheatear – female – Fluke Hall, Pilling, Lancs
Eastern Black-eared Wheatear – female – Fluke Hall, Pilling, Lancs
Eastern Black-eared Wheatear – female – Fluke Hall, Pilling, Lancs
Eastern Black-eared Wheatear – female – Fluke Hall, Pilling, Lancs
 Posted by at 3:27 pm
Sep 032019

An unprecedented event took place in Cornwall during the past week. A Brown Booby was discovered, a new bird to Britain, and spent several days in the Carbis Bay, St.Ives area. It proved elusive and was difficult to connect with. It wasn’t seen on Friday 30th August and so was presumed to have gone by the majority of the birding fraternity.

That all changed on Saturday 31st August, when it was relocated in the picturesque St.Ives Harbour area and to a select few, it pitched up on rocks in full view, allowing for some stunning photographs to be taken.

I decided I would go on Sunday 1st September and was fortunate enough to be offered a lift. We arrived at Gwithian Towans near the Hayle, which is opposite St.Ives and offers wide ranging views of the huge bay, in the early hours of Sunday morning and by dawn, along with 250 other birders, we spent the morning searching the bay for the bird with no luck. It had been seen the previous afternoon, flying past Pendeen Watch, and so was presumed to have departed. I arrived back home on Sunday late afternoon some what disappointed.

Then Monday 2nd September a different bird was discovered in Kynance Cove on the Lizard, Cornwall. In the first instance it was presumed to be the St.Ives bird but photographs proved otherwise. This bird was a first summer and in wing moult. The bird roosted and so gave an opportunity for another twitch and we departed 10pm on Monday evening arriving at Kynance at 0400hrs Tuesday morning. After a few hours wait, the Brown Booby appeared and began flying around the bay and settling on one of the huge rocks offshore, much to the delight of the assembled 300 or so birders. Phew, what a relief and a stressful few days, travelling some 1300 miles in total. Well worth it though. 

The following images are not the best and not what I was hoping for, but are a memory of a fantastic bird to see in Britain.



Kynance Cove, the Lizard. Early dawn 3rd September 2019

The little pyramidal rock on the extreme left side was the Brown Booby’s favourite roosting cliff.

Brown Booby – 1st summer – on the cliff – taken with my mobile phone
Brown Booby – 1st summer
Brown Booby – 1st summer
Brown Booby – 1st summer – Kynance Cove, The Lizard, Cornwall
Brown Booby – 1st Summer – Kynance Cove, The Lizard, Cornwall
Kynance Cover, The Lizard, Cornwall – taken around 10am
 Posted by at 8:59 pm
Aug 242019

We spent a few days away on the Island of Mull from 17th to 22nd August. The weather was a mixed bag of rain, wind and some sunshine. Fortunately the weather didn’t disrupt our trip to Iona and the boat trip for White-tailed Eagle that I had pre-booked before we left. This was the highlight of our trip without doubt, so a big thank you to Martin Kievers of Mull Charters.

Half a dozen Golden Eagle, several Otter, small numbers of Common Seal, a single Manx Shearwater, Black Guillemot and 7 White-tailed Eagle were the main highlights. The heavy rain certainly hampered our search for the islands wildlife.

Here are a few photos of our memorable trip to Mull.


Tobermory – Our apartment was located in the bright red house
Old boats at Salen Bay, Salen
Old boats at Salen Bay, Salen
The beautiful island of Iona
A view from Iona looking back to Mull
The Red Boat, Iona
The Post Office, Iona
Ben More from Ulva Ferry
Golden Eagle – one of 6 individuals we saw during our trip
Golden Rod – Tobermory
Eorsa, Loch na Keal from Ulva Ferry
Loch na Keal – Mull’s fisherman have a hard life
Common Seal – Lock Tuath
Common Seal – Loch Tuath
Common Buzzard
Immature Shag and Cormorant – Salen Bay, Salen
White-tailed Eagle – I spent a stunning morning with these beauties
White-tailed Eagle
White-tailed Eagle – one of 3 females we saw during our mornings trip
One of my favourite images of the trip
My favourite image of the trip
 Posted by at 8:37 pm
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