I've been championing Erith Pier for some time now as the potential spot for good looks at a juvenile Caspian Gull this summer and it was great to for the prediction to ring true this weekend. The pier is a productive site, jutting out into the Thames Estuary opposite Rainham landfill site and attracting plenty of gulls, particularly on Saturday afternoons and Sundays when the tip is closed.
I hadn't been at Erith long on the morning of Sunday 28th when I picked up an interesting bird settled on the water. While not a 'classic' the bird evidently showed several Caspian Gull features, looking large and long necked when settled on the water. A couple of slices of bread soon got the bird in the air, revealing a nice, pale underwing and, typically for a Casp, it was vocal and aggressive, giving the distinctive harsh call of the species.
While the bill (quite heavy and stubby looking) and extensively fringed pale greater coverts (and perhaps scapulars too) have attracted criticism from some quarters, I can't personally see anything other than a Caspian Gull here and, actually, when you take into account a bit of moult and wear, I think this bird will look really quite decent. While cachinnans averages a long and slimmer-looking bill than both Yellow-legged and Herring Gulls, this feature is quite variable and birds like this pop up more regularly than most would think (see this one I photographed last year in Norfolk, for example). Of course, there's no way of knowing for sure if this bird has Herring Gull genes in its ancestry, but the vast majority of features range from 'acceptable' to 'good' for a cachinnans and I don't see any reason to label it a hybrid.
Others have asked why this isn't a Yellow-legged Gull. Perhaps the first thing to look at is the head. It's small and rounded, not robust and angular like a michahellis. Facial expression is also important here: it's open-faced, lacking the 'evil' look of a Yellow-legged that is accentuated by the eye mask. I also find the white eyelids of Caspian are much more prominent (although these obviously aren't easy to see once they become white headed) and give the face a distinct look. Bill structure is also slightly different. Yellow-legged has a more angular and 'pointy' bill, often appearing quite bulbous towards the tip. The wing coverts and tertials of Yellow-legged are generally very sharply fringed with pale and uniform on the interior, with very strong notching on the inner coverts (though this can vary, with some having almost none at all). This bird's diffuse markings on the inner greaters is much more Caspian-like. Tail band varies, but less tapering towards the outer tail feathers is better suited to Caspian. Underwing is also variable, with some Yellow-legged being very pale (although this clearly favouring Caspian). Most significant, though, is the call – Caspian sounds very different to Yellow-legged. I posted a photo on Twitter of this bird perched next to a Yellow-legged Gull to illustrate what a different beast it was; you can see that here.
When it comes to juvenile gulls, I think it's best not to over-analyse whether a single feature is acceptable or not. The more and more you look at these birds, the clearer it is that individual aspects of a bird's plumage (especially) and structure are extremely variable and routinely overlap. Judging holistically, assessing behaviour, taking into account what you see and hear is so much more valuable than concluding from a single photo.
Seven years ago, Rich Bonser and I saw a yellow-ringed juvenile Yellow-legged Gull at Rainham Tip. That bird came from a rooftop colony in Frankfurt (a bit more about it here) and, until this weekend, it was the only ringed individual of the species that I've seen in Britain.
So it was interesting that seven years on, almost to the day, a ringed juvenile Yellow-legged at Erith Pier proved to be German. This time the bird was wearing a red band marked '92T' (rather than the usual yellow of German birds), signalling that it emanated from a different area to our usual flow of Caspian and Herring hybrids that we tend to see from early autumn onward.
The bird showed a few interesting features, not least the pale underwing and a harsh call, reminiscent of Caspian Gull (but probably not as harsh as that species), although otherwise looked like a Yellow-legged. Nonetheless, knowing that it was likely from south Germany, the possibility of mixed heritage always looms large and I was keen to find out more.
A bit of research and rapid responses from Martin Boschert and Kirsten Krätzel established that the bird had been ringed as a nestling on 18 May 2019 at a colony on an island in the Danube River near Straubing, Bavaria, in south-east Germany. This colony is almost exclusively Yellow-legged Gulls, although the odd pair of Caspian Gull has nested since 2016 and some single adult Caspian (and apparent hybrids) are present in the breeding seaon. However, no hybrid pair has yet been recorded at the colony, so it's fairly safe to assume that this is a pure Yellow-legged Gull.
The bird was present on both Saturday and Sunday over the weekend among good numbers of Yellow-legged Gulls – Rich and I managed at least 45 between us from the pier on Sunday.
I visited Homefield Wood and Hartslock with my mum on the morning of 27 May. There were plenty of Military Orchids flowering at the former, although they were smaller and weedier than I recall them being in the past – as with the Kent Lady Orchids, presumably a result of the dry conditions in the run up to this spring.
From past visits I always remembered a few impressive spikes of Greater Butterfly Orchid, so it was disappointing to see that one of the plants I've seen in previous years also looked quite feeble. However, close-up images of the flowers made for an interesting subject with the early-morning dew.
However, the Fly Orchids put on a fine show, with some impressively robust specimens in the meadows. Also plenty of small White Helleborines in the shaded beech woodland.
Nearby Hartslock was enjoyable. A few White Helleborines were in the wood, while the swarm of Monkey x Lady hybrids were just past their peak. A handful of Monkey Orchids were looking nice, albeit tiny when compared to their progeny.
My mum's newly reignited interest in UK orchids meant that we'd pencilled in a trip around Kent's top sites in mid-May, with several target species in mind. She got plenty of ticks during a great day on Saturday 18th, while for me it was a nice opportunity to see various species that I'd not seen for anything between three and five years.
Our first stop, early in the morning, was Marden Meadow – a new site for me. It didn't disappoint, with a spectacular showing of thousands of Green-winged Orchids, including a few paler examples among the predominately dark-purple carpet.
Having had our fill at Marden, we headed down to the south coast at Samphire Hoe. While it was getting late for Early Spider Orchids, I hoped that we might still find a few in flower – and so it proved. Although the vast majority were long dead, a few flowers remained and we found a handful still in relatively respectable condition. I've only visited this site once before, again in mid-May, so I'm yet to see the Early Spiders here in all their glory. On the bird front, a Ring Ouzel chakking from the undercliff was a slight surprise, but migrants were otherwise non-existent.
I had confidently predicted that it was "too early" for the nearby Late Spider Orchids at Folkestone to be flowering, yet we decided to call in anyway. The spot has changed since I was last there a few years back, with electric fences now erected to protect the small and sensitive colony of Late Spiders from trampling – they are, after all, situated right next to a busy footpath. It was ironic, then, that the only obvious spike was happily flowering outside the fence, perfectly positioned for photos! An unexpected bonus, especially for mum, who'd not seen the species before, and an indication that we were on to clear up on all possible targets. Also here were several small Man Orchids.
It was then on to Yockletts Bank, a pretty little reserve on the Kent Downs that supports good numbers of Lady and Fly Orchids, as well as plenty of Common Twayblade and various other species in small numbers. The Ladies duly obliged, with several large specimens on show.
But it was an unusual form that stole the show. It took some finding, but the ochroleuca Fly Orchid was stunning. As I understand it, this form is only known from a handful of sites in the country.
After a spot of lunch, we headed for two nearby sites. Unfortunately the Monkey Orchids at Park Gate Down were only just coming out (although there were many more spikes than I remember seeing on my previous visit) so didn't look particularly great, but there were some nice Early Purples on show. The Lady Orchids at Bonsai Bank weren't in particularly fantastic fettle, with the dry spring presumably to blame for the relatively small size of most of the plants. However, good numbers of Duke of Burgundy butterflies were a joy to watch, with the pugnacious males taking on anything and everything that had the audacity to wander into their territories.
In fact, if an image could sum up gung-ho toughness of the species, it's probably that below. Despite a predator attack having left him with half his wings, this feisty chap wasn't letting his disadvantage get the better of him. He had no problems flying and was even resolutely defending his territory against other wanderers ... fair play!
The past couple of days has seen a reasonable (if not spectacular) movement of Arctic Terns through the Midlands – the first decent passage of the year of the species, which is always eagerly awaited by inland patchers every late April and early May. With murky conditions dominating throughout Friday and small flocks popping up elsewhere in Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire, it felt like was very much on the cards for Baston & Langtoft Pits as the day progressed.
I had a quick check at lunch but no terns were present, so I headed on to Willow Tree Fen, the excellent LWT reserve towards Spalding. It was cold, windy and started to drizzle as I grilled the scrape there, which held nothing but the usual breeding waders, so I decided to head back home. A quick look at BLGP Wader Pit on the way back revealed the welcome sight of four Arctic Terns battling the breeze among several Common Terns – what a difference half an hour can make at peak migration season.
Arctic Tern is a species that I never used to see at BLGP anywhere near as regularly as I probably should have when I watched the site regularly in my teens, given that they must pass through each year. Sure, I used to get the odd one or two, but it was rare for them to linger, and it's testament to the open expanse of Wader Pit and the feeding opportunities that it provides that they now seem to be more of a fixture here, along with Little Gulls, Black Terns and other aerial feeders.
I sat by the edge of the pit and enjoyed brilliant views of the Arctics as they fed along the pit margins, alongside large numbers of hirundines (mainly Sand Martins and Swallows) and several Common Terns. Apparently another five or six Arctics dropped in after I left mid-afternoon, but quickly departed north again. And, on returning after work in the evening, I was treated to two further Arctic Terns dropping in and circling Wader Pit for a couple of minutes before continuing off to the north.
Watching the Arctics feeding alongside the local Common Terns was a great way to reacquaint myself with the subtle differences between the two taxa. Common Tern is an elegant bird, but Arctic Terns somehow manage to make them look mildly cumbersome. Arctics are so buoyant and delicate, with the longer tail streamers exacerbating their gracefulness. Then there are plumage and other structural differences, including the shorter neck, shorter, deeper red bill (with either no or minimal black dip), darker, more uniform grey below, shorter legs and translucent underwing extending to the outer primaries. A couple of comparisons below.
It's fascinating to let your mind wander and think about where these birds, arguably the greatest travellers of all living creatures, have come from, and indeed where they might be going. Their annual movements are nothing short of epic (see here) and it's remarkable to think these terns may still have hundreds, if not thousands, of kilometres left to complete before they reach their breeding grounds. Just imagine what they will have witnessed on their travels across the world's oceans! Superlatives are often banded about too freely in life, birding included, but Arctic Terns are worthy of all the praise they get – and plenty more besides.
It's taken me an embarrassingly long time to get this sorted and added to the Photography section of my website, but a photo album for my India trip in January of this year is now online. To view, click here or alternatively on the Indian Courser below ...
I spent a relaxing Easter weekend back in Lincolnshire, where the glorious weather meant it was very much a period to be outdoors. After a procession of chilly north-easterlies for much of the first half of the month, the weekend felt positively sweltering and much more like June than mid-April.
Despite the wall-to-wall sunshine the birding transpired to be excellent, with migration hotting up on both the passerine and non-passerine front. An indicator of how things were to be came instantly on arrival back at Baston & Langtoft Pits mid-afternoon on Good Friday, where Will Bowell had seven immaculate Little Gulls waiting for me on the Wader Pit as I set up my 'scope. It's been another great April for the species, thanks largely to the prevailing winds, and they are never to be sniffed at.
The following morning I was out early for the first of two sessions at BLGP. While nothing exceptional was recorded, I was pleased with a total of 80 species (eBird list here). A group of five Northern Wheatears in excellent habitat that I'd never previously seen the species in was the highlight. In fact, I ended up spending well over an hour crawling around trying to photograph them, getting soaked by the morning dew in the process. Otherwise, it was just nice to see and hear common summer migrants; a male Peregrine and a female Goldeneye were probably the other stand-out birds.
Mid-morning produced a message from Vin Fleming about a male Whinchat on Thurlby Fen, so I headed round there and quickly found the bird favouring a sparse hedgerow north of the small reserve. It was a bit nervous, as they often are, but eventually I managed to sneak within range by crawling about 15 metres along the edge of a ditch. What a bird.
I spent the afternoon checking various pasture fields, paddocks and meadows for Ring Ouzels, but alas couldn't find any. However, the Cattle Egret was noted at Deeping Lakes and, later on, a Tree Pipit heard several times and seen in flight at Bainton Gravel Pits was a really nice Peterborough record (I think only the second I've ever had locally). A surprise to say the least. Also in this wider area was an even more uplifting sign: two singing Turtle Doves, the first I've seen for a few years now. I decided to sit and watch them, purring away to each other, with a pang of sadness thinking about how much commoner these were even in the early 2000s, when I got keen on birding. I used to have double figures singing at BLGP but they've all gone from there now; the last failed to return in the early 2010s.
On Sunday morning I hit BLGP again and it was immediately apparent how warbler numbers had increased overnight. Among these I was thrilled to come across a reeling Grasshopper Warbler, which I think is my first at the site since about 2004/5. It was sitting out in full view at first, but as soon as I got out the car and crossed the road it clocked me and became much more elusive (though continued to sing). Again, another species I don't see enough of these days living in London and it was great to spend half an hour appreciating it.
Quite surprisingly, the quintet of Northern Wheatears was again present and it seemed rude not to point the camera at them for at least a bit of time in the morning sun.
After a fairly relaxed day I headed out looking for ouzels again late afternoon. I decided to go and check some paddocks on Woodcroft Road, north of Marholm, which I'd always thought looked good for ouzels, redstarts and other migrants. The first had about 20 Fieldfares and a single Redwing in, the second nothing and the third looked bare too ... until a harsh chak chak resonated from the horse chestnut to my right and a male Ring Ouzel flew across the gateway in front of me. It was the most pumped I'd felt about finding anything for quite a while, even if 'just' an ouzel, but it was a satisfying result given the effort put in over the previous couple of days – and because it was a spot I've always felt should produce the species, even if it never had done previously.
As it transpired there were two male ouzels together in the paddocks there and, to put the icing on the cake, both went on to perform very well indeed over the next hour – in fact giving me my best ever views (and photos) of the species in Britain. A highlight of the spring, for sure.
After a couple of early starts I had planned to have a lie in on Easter Monday, but I awoke shortly after 06:00 to see a message from Hugh Wright about a breeding-plumaged Red-necked Grebe at Deeping Lakes. It was a bird too good to miss out on, so I went down to join Mike and Will and enjoyed nice (if distant) views of the pristine grebe in beautiful light as the sun came up. A bonus came around 07:00, when a Spotted Redshank did a couple of laps of East Pit, dropped down for 10 seconds and then flew off west again.
After breakfast with my mother, I popped down to BLGP for the last time before heading back to London. I could see a few energetic-looking terns over Wader Pit with my naked eye and a look through the bins confirmed my suspicions that they were Black Terns. In total six were present and, as I watched them hawking over the water, Little Gulls suddenly began to appear around them. Numbers of the latter continued to build to 21 by the time I left, easily the highest number I've seen here. Watching two of my favourite species hawking in the warm April sunshine was the perfect way to round off a terrific Easter weekend.
Ask any inland patch birder what their favourite month is and the majority will say April. Growing up watching gravel pits in south Lincolnshire, I always felt that the period from 25 March through to around 15 May was most productive, with the best weeks undeniably coming in the latter half of April and the first days of May.
Thus the arrival of April (and my acquisition of a new bike) was bound to stir my birding juices and finally, on Sunday, I visited Walthamstow Wetlands for the first time, despite having lived within a couple of miles of the site for the best part of a year. While there wasn't exactly much happening, aside the drake Greater Scaup performing well on No.4 Res, I was impressed by the site, both for its size and diversity of habitats. And actually, it wasn't that busy away from the central path, which is most used by the general public (although no doubt the dreary conditions had an impact on that). I was sold, and vowed to return the following morning.
Unfortunately the weather was awful when I woke on Monday; in fact, the heavy rain showers persisted until 10:00, when it eventually brightened enough to sneak out. I can bike to the wetlands in around 10 minutes and arrived on the east bank at Lockwood Reservoir a short while before 10:30. I quite like the vantage point you have from the east side of Lockwood; plus it's the biggest expanse of water at the Wetlands and thus must look the most attractive to any overflying migrants.
It 'felt' like a good day to be out. Low cloud, occasional rumbles of thunder, odd outbreaks of rain and a mugginess to the air. The first indications of passage came at 10:35, when nine Common Terns spent 10 minutes restlessly pacing up and down the reservoir before continuing off to the north. Not long after this, seven Yellow Wagtails moved through (the first of four groups totalling 15 birds) and the first Meadow Pipits also went overhead. I'm not sure if it's normal here in murky conditions, but the birds seemed to be following the east side of Lockwood northwards and thus my position on the bank actually proved quite a decent 'vis-migging' spot. Hirundines moved through in small groups past me and the biggest flock of Meadow Pipits overhead was 24.
The sight of David Bradshaw making his way towards me was seemingly the catalyst for a memorable few hours of birding. Not long after he'd joined me, he got a call to say that at least a couple of Little Gulls had arrived on West Warwick, so he decided to head down there to see them. A couple of minutes after he left me, I noticed four waders flying north up Lockwood: two each of Dunlin and Ringed Plover. Unfortunately they didn't stick, but while we tried to relocate them at the north end, I looked back south to see that two Little Gulls had dropped in – an adult and a second-summer. Very smart, and exactly the result I been hoping for on such a day.
At around 13:00 the gulls went off high to the north, so I decided to cycle down to the south section of the reserve. The male Northern Wheatear was still present at the north end of East Warwick Reservoir and three Yellow Wagtails flew overhead as David and I convened with Eugene Dillon-Hooper. All three dropped onto the reservoir bank and so we set about enjoying them (all those I'd seen earlier were fly-bys). Much to my surprise, one of them transpired to be a pristine male Blue-headed Wagtail. The day was getting better!
The slow meander towards West Warwick recommenced, but David and I only managed about 50 metres when the local gulls went berserk. A quick glance upwards produced the almost predictable – though nonetheless hugely welcome and satisfying – shape of an Osprey hurriedly tracking north-west at remarkably low altitude, being battered by the LBBGs and HGs. We picked it up late but I managed to rummage for my camera and fire off a few shots which, on subsequent viewing, revealed the bird to be ringed ('PW' on the right leg)! Presumably a Scottish bird, but awaiting details.
The excitement continued when we eventually reached West Warwick, where we were expecting a handful of Little Gulls at best after reports that many had circled up high and departed – but in fact there were no fewer than 25! It was great to sit on the bank and watch them avidly feeding, sitting on the water and even calling to each other – not a sound you hear in Britain often. Hirundines were present in good numbers and a Little Ringed Plover flew over, concluding a truly fine day.
I've been told that it's all downhill from here. Well, it'll probably be a while before it's this good again, but as long as the conditions are decent, you're always in the game.
I had a bit of a shock on Saturday afternoon when a female Bufflehead flew through my scope as I scanned the wader pit at my old patch of Baston & Langtoft Pits. It was a surprise, of that there is no doubt – but the excitement never really built, primarily because it took all of about three seconds to remember the long-staying and wide-ranging escaped female that has toured sites between West Yorkshire and Somerset since it first appeared in summer 2017.
At first the bird was preening its left side and repeatedly holding its (unringed) left leg out the water ... but a text from Northants birding guru Mike Alibone confirmed that I should be paying attention to the other side, as the recent escapee that he'd seen in Northants back in 2017 bore a metal ring on its right leg (more here). The bird started to feed and, on the first dive with the right leg facing in my direction, I was sure I noticed something pale and ring-like – disappointing, but hardly surprising. However, it proved difficult to see subsequently and, on reviewing images of the bird in flight later that afternoon, I couldn't see an obvious ring ... suddenly there appeared to be a glimmer of hope that somehow, just somehow, this was all a massive coincidence and the Baston bird might be wild after all.
One thing not in its favour were the white upperwing coverts, which identified it as an adult female. Had it been a second-calendar-year, I might well have been able to start believing that my luck was in. On returning to the pits with Will Bowell that evening, we managed to see the bird well in flight and several photos clearly depict the metal ring on the hanging right leg as the bird took off from the water. Balls.
So, there you have it. A wary Bufflehead, for a single afternoon, at a seemingly perfect time of year for a vagrant (lots of wildfowl on the move at the moment) ... but wearing a ring, which confirmed it as a bird present in the Midlands for the best part of two years. Oh well.
Other, 'real' birds over the weekend were in relatively short supply, although an adult Mediterranean Gull, a brief Black-tailed Godwit on Sunday afternoon, my first Sand Martins, Swallows and Little Ringed Plovers plus the resident pair of Ravens were all pleasant enough. A few northbound parties of Whooper Swans were also seen, including a group of 15 over my mum's house shortly after sunrise on Monday morning, which was a garden tick.
Lee Fuller and I had been talking daily about a potential twitch ever since the Tengmalm's Owl first turned up on Shetland. With the bird having relocated to Tresta and now showing daily, we headed up with Lee's dad Mick and Ian Wells on Thursday, taking the evening ferry sailing from Aberdeen.
It didn't take too long for Lee and myself to relocate the owl roosting in an evergreen bush on the opposite side of the garden to where it had been favouring in the previous days, largely thanks to the panicked calls of the Blackbirds and Chaffinches that had discovered it, which allowed us to identify the right bush. Initial views were rather obscured, but we were just pleased to have seen it and could now take solace in the fact that we knew where it was for the hoped-for evening showing.
We took a trip around various sites in South Mainland, seeing various bits and pieces including the resident Pied-billed Grebe at Loch of Spiggie, several Long-tailed Ducks at Grutness and two Tundra Bean Geese at Leebitten. This was my first Shetland visit outside of the migration season and it felt a bit strange to be driving past garden after garden with complete disregard! However, the weather was just about as nice as I ever remember enjoying on the isles – conditions were bright and still, complete with the occasional burst of early-spring sunshine, making it a very pleasant day indeed.
With reports of multiple white-winged gulls at the Shetland Catch fish factory in Gremista over the previous weekend, we were keen to give the site a go. Unfortunately, despite offloading six loaves into the waters at the pier there, just two juvenile Iceland Gulls made appearances and neither seemed particularly interested in the wholemeal offerings. It was in fact the Kittiwakes that provided the best larid entertainment. At least the local Black Guillemots were very confiding, albeit not particularly great for photos in the flat light.
Back at the owl and, completely unsurprisingly, we found it sat in the exact same spot. It wasn't until around 17:30 that it became more active, looking around in alert fashion, preening, stretching, and eventually hopping out onto a more exposed perch, where it sat for a few minutes before flying off past us and into the main garden. Cue much celebration among the 30 or so gathered birders, before the crowd began to thin out. As it turned out, most birders walked right past it sat just above head height in a sycamore, right by the access track. I took a couple of record shots, but it just would not look our way, meaning my best Tengmalm's photos showed the back of the bird's head. Excellent.
After a celebratory curry in Lerwick and a welcome night in a bed, we returned to Lea Gardens on the Sunday morning, where a dozen birders were already looking for the owl. It quickly became apparent that a mass frog orgy had broken out across the gardens, with hundreds of vocal adults all over the lawns and flowerbeds, and huge piles of spawn being laid in the pond. Unfortunately there were a few under-foot casualties and the owners' dogs also took to mercilessly removing the heads of some of the hapless amphibians ...
Some time passed before the sound of an alarm-calling Blackbird saw us hone in on a bush, where we figured the owl must be. A few minutes of careful scanning and Lee once again picked it up, extremely obscured, in the middle of the bush. Cue the typical rush from birders yet to connect, excitedly lapping up just about anything they could decipher from amid the foliage. With the bird seemingly very much buried in the bush and fast asleep, we decided to leave the newly arrived birders to it and head off for pastures new.
We headed up to South Nesting Bay, where the White-billed Diver was eventually picked up at extreme distance (its bill was barely visible on a grey day). With the views leaving much to be desired, we headed back south to Lerwick harbour, although the primary excitement there proved to be a very confident Grey Seal that spent time playing 'fetch' with the slices of bread I was throwing out for the gulls. A third-winter Iceland Gull did make a brief appearance.
We made another trip south for the wintering Common Rosefinch at Cunningsburgh, but managed to dip it again (though I can't say I was particularly gutted about this), before returning to Lea Gardens for the fourth and final time. It was a pleasure to talk with owners Rosa and James, who clearly take great pride in their work here and have done a wonderful job in developing the gardens into what they are today. You have to wonder how many rares have been missed in here over the years – the habitat is fantastic. Anyway, back to the owl, and it was a pleasant surprise to find that it had shuffled out into the open and was showing very well indeed, as close as four metres away (if you were in the right position along the path).
By chance, one of the owners' dogs came over to the owl's favoured spot and started rooting around in the flowerbeds below it, generating quite a reaction from the bird. Although completely unphased by humans, this bird takes dogs to be a more serious threat ...
Although the bird wasn't particularly happy about the dog's presence, it's fair to say that the crowd was. The pooch's comings and goings ensured that the owl would regularly stir from its slumber and look down towards the crowd peering back up at it, its look varying from mildly irritated to completely and utterly seething.
Finally, after an entertaining half-hour spell, the dog retreated back to the house and the owl went back to sleep. It remained dozing until around 17:15, when it suddenly woke up and became more active, preening and looking around. A few minutes later it flew out of its roost and, astonishingly, landed on a branch no more than two metres away from the closest birders. It looked around, slightly bleary eyed, before hopping up to another branch and proceeding to preen and stretch more intensively while also keeping an eye on the terrified Blackbirds, which were alarm calling in the vicinity. Here it remained until it got too dark to see.
The above photo is barely cropped and was taken at 135 mm focal length, just to illustrate how close this bird was to the assembled 15 or so birders. An amazingly intimate experience and one that will live long in the memory – and yes, I have to admit that, in contrast to a recent tweet of mine, the owl is most definitely as good as a Caspian Gull. Needless to say it was a high-spirited ferry journey back to Aberdeen that night.
Many thanks to Lee for driving to and from Aberdeen and Ian for organising the logistics on Shetland. Everything went very smoothly and was in good company.
The musings of a wildlife enthusiast, usually armed with his camera.