Got the phone call i had been waiting for late Sunday afternoon? One of the local Pelagic boats, the Charisma (made famous by Gordon Buchanan on last years Autumn Watch) was heading out to sea later that evening and i was invited. All in the hope i could catch up with Killer Whales. We set off later that night and set course for Cape Wrath on the NW tip of Scotland. A smooth and uneventful voyage to our destination, which we reached just before lunch on Monday. Along the way some seawatching (obviously) was to be had from the comfort of my cabin (more like a suite). A few Manx Shearwaters and Storm Petrels whizzed by and a Minke Whale went by the window as i was on the phone to the wife. Once in the fishing area we searched along with sister ships Antares and the Zephyr. Typically whilst we searched it was blue skies and sunshine but, just after 3pm the Charisma shot her nets for a catch and the sky was grey, typical when you want to take photographs. First up was a Minke Whale breaching on the end of the net. Then Sooty and Manx Shearwater (10+ of each), plenty of Storm Petrels but always distant, 2 Arctic Skua, a Blue Fulmar and a juv Arctic Tern. But, unfortunately no Killer Whales, although i did receive a text from John Lowrie to say they had one pass them heading south. Problem was when i looked to see where they were, they were already 5 miles south of our position!
With a decent haul we made our way back to Lerwick. Around the Fair Isle mark the nets were cast again for cleaning and repair. 1 Sooty Shearwater appeared, a dozen or so Storm Petrels and a blue Fulmar nearly escaped detection. Then we were back, a cracking experience and one i hope to do again sometime soon. hopefully with some Killer Whales?
Wednesday 29th July 2009 - Low tide 11am High tide 5.15pm
With no migrants around patch the Houb seemed like as good a place as any to check, especially as i still needed Sanderling and Knot as patch ticks. A few visits were made throughout the day, but all that was on show was plenty of Redshank, Ringed Plover, Turnstone together with 8 Whimbrel and a dozen or so Dunlin. It was on on a check of the Houb mid afternoon i found a small pale 'peep' on the far side. Decent scope views were obtained but was to far for any photographs so i walked down the track to gain better views and get some photos. I maybe watched it feeding alone for 15-20 minutes before it flew off. I checked later that afternoon but unfortunately there was no sign. There was maybe a slight doubt at the time regarding my initial identification so printed off the photo montage below and consulted Dr Marshall. With all the relevant id books in front of us we checked it against various peeps but it seemed to fit Little Stint best. I sent the record into the Nature in Shetland website where it was also recorded as Little Stint, until now.
A 'peep' that caused discussion on its identification recently was the Semi-P at Port Carlisle present from the 28th July to 5th August. Initially identified as a probable Semi-P, its identity was called into question with Little Stint being mooted but as is generally the case better photos produced a more conclusive id and Semi-P was confirmed. Fortunately it was during the investigation process for the Cumbrian bird that my 'peeps' id was called into question? Whilst searching Google for images of Little Stint, Killian Mullarney came across the photos i had taken last year and immediately questioned its identity.
My reason for contacting you is to let you know that you probably found a much rarer bird on 29th July last year than you realise! This morning, while doing a search of Little Stint images using Google, I came across a couple of nice photographs of a bird you found last July. In short, it looks like a very convincing Semipalmated Sandpiper to me.
All the best,
As you could probably guess i was slightly bemused and excited at the same time. I had missed out on a BB rare last year now Dusky Warbler is no longer considered? So was this my reward? I then received an email from Killian with some detailed explanations.
I attach a couple of your photos, with the more important ID features annonted.
The fine streaking on the underparts/flanks is something that i have never seen on Little Stint, but is characteristic of Semi-P (though not shown by all birds).
The capped appearance, without and light lateral crown stripes or pronounced dark 'ridge' in the centre, is characteristic of Semi-P. The comparatively dull upperparts and the subdued mantle stripes (even before any moult of mantle feathers has commenced) are also strong pointers to Semi-P (though contrary to what is stated in the literature, it is not unusual for Semi-P to have reasonably obvious light mantle stripes, especially in late summer when the lighter parts of these feathers have faded to white).
With these features pointed out i set about some investigations of my own. Searched plenty of images and came across this bird present last August in Northumberland, this was probably the closest i got to an identical match but couldn't find any Little Stint images that came close to my bird. I have had plenty of feedback regarding this bird it all seems to point towards Semi-P with further pro Semi-P features being noted and explained. I have had no previous experience with Semi-P so my knowledge was limited to nil before this came to light. Massive thanks and a free pints go to Killian Mullarney, without his sharp eye and vast experience this bird could have lived out its days on here as just another Little Stint. Unfortunately there is a down side to this also? Semi-P was a first for Whalsay and for no reason that i can explain i didn't contact Dr Marshall, John Lowrie or Jon Dunn? Sorry.
After nearly 3 weeks away i finally made it home last night, thankfully (note to employers, don't employ people in precarious relationships?) A hectic work load south meant no birding, but a visit to the Birdfair on Saturday was a worthy day out. I was joined by Tom McKinney (cheers for the entrée libre) for a day of hedonistic birding guff! Met up with Brydon on site who was successfully marketing Shetland Nature to the masses. Managed to meet some rather nice folk along the way also? Martin Garner of Frontiers in Birding fame was sporting a rather snazzy Shetland Nature t-shirt as was Phil on the Rebecca Nason stand and a debt of gratitude was paid to Killian Mullarney, more about that later. Anyway no sooner am i back i am out on patch, hoping to play catch up on the past few weeks. That didn't quite happen though, a Willow Warbler and 5 Bar-tailed Godwits was about as good as it got.
Currently I am south (again), but will fully update this account when I return. It relates to a Little Stint I had briefly on patch late July 2009. Blog post Little Surprise. With massive thanks to Killian Mullarney my Little Stint has been upgraded to a Semipalmated Sandpiper. Not only is it a lifer, but my 2nd self found patch BB lifer in 2 years. The pressure is well and truely on for Autumn 2010, fingers crossed.
Unfortunately the planned for Storm Petrel ringing session last night had to be cancelled, due to wind direction and strength. But a good night was had with Dougie and his better half nevertheless. An early dart for the duo this morning to partake in some kite surfing! But, if they would have hung around they may have caught up with the Basking Shark that was just offshore early this afternoon. Better in the flesh than in photos is an understatement, their size is breathtaking. It moved through heading north but obviously found the area to its liking as it was still present further offshore at 4.15. On the bird front waders still rule the day with a Common Sandpiper in with the pigs. Yesterday 5 Knot on the Houb were the highlight.
PM update: The Basking shark is still offshore last seen at 9.15 and has made a good addition to the house list. An Otter down on the kirk whilst scanning earlier was a nice distraction.
After my feeble singular Storm Petrel earlier in the week, last night presented its self as good conditions for another attempt. Fortunately Dr Marshall was also of the same thinking and decided to erect his 'stormie' net at the shore just down from the house. Started the iPod just after 11pm and it was only 10 minutes later that we had our first bird. We then set about catching 1 bird every 15 minutes, with the exception of 4 in the net all at once. We packed away at 1am with a grand total of 10 Storm Petrel processed, which i thought was OK. Hopefully if the conditions are favourable over the weekend we may give it another shot up at Skaw, fingers crossed.
Still no birds to talk of, well not for me anyhow. A good check around the isle failed to produce a single migrant, but the day was saved courtesy of a pod of dolphins moving north off Isbister. I am not up to speed on my dolphin id but i think they were Risso's Dolphins with some others mixed in, maybe Common Dolphin? Hopefully someone with better knowledge than myself will be able to positively id them from the photos.
With still nothing happening during the day i turned my attentions to some evening birds? Storm Petrels to be exact. Tried this in 2008 with good results, in a 2 hour session had at least 6 birds over/around the garden. So at 11pm last night i set up the iPod and a lamp in the garden and waited. Blasting out the eerie sounds these little birds make, hoping for a reaction. Fortunately it did get a reaction and at 00.40 this morning a Storm Petrel appeared, it gave 3 sallies over the garden before disappearing from where it came. I gave it till 1am then packed up and went to bed, bearing the scars this morning of last nights midge feast. 1 more for the year list and a good one too as it puts me on 99.