Shetland 2017 with Craig Round

Shetland 2017 with Craig Round

“Our Shetland trip at the beginning of July got off to an amazing start, with fantastic close views of a confiding dog Otter, literally a few feet away at one of the ferry terminals as we travelled north and shortly after landing on Unst, a pair of stunning Red-necked Phalaropes on a tiny pool right by the roadside, all before we had arrived at the hotel! True Shetland magic! On Fetlar we enjoyed great views of a Red-throated Diver and male Long-tailed Duck in summer plumage at Loch of Funzie, as well as another three Red-necked Phalaropes that flew over us. Back on Unst we found yet another pair of Red-necked Phalaropes, bathing and preening on a small pool right beside the road and also enjoyed some wonderful warm and sunny weather and a seabird spectacular at the very top of Britain at Hermaness, with the sky full of wheeling bonxies and thousands of Gannets swirling around the cliffs. Our boat trip around Noss was breathtaking, with the boat dwarfed by the towering cliffs above us and the ledges thronged with thousands of seabirds. On Mousa, we watched as hundreds of Storm Petrels swirled like bats around the Iron Age Broch and saw several birds perched close on the wall of the Broch, before squeezing in to their nest sites between the stones. Throw in a paddle on Britain’s most northerly beach at Skaw; Shetland Wrens feeding a nest full of hungry chicks; a huge Grey Seal hitching a ride on the back of the boat on our way back in to Lerwick harbour; Great Skuas indulging in a...
Bean Geese – How to identify the ‘new species’ (click here for more) by Roy Atkins

Bean Geese – How to identify the ‘new species’ (click here for more) by Roy Atkins

If you read my Bird List blog in January you will know that Bean Goose is going to become two species next January. Well, that is not true actually – it is already two species and has been for thousands of years – but from January it will be on the British List as two species which is far more important!! These will be called Tundra Bean Goose and Taiga Bean Goose. I already explained why the BOU are changing the list but I thought you might like to know why these geese are considered separate species ……..(more puzzling really is why the BOU didn’t already have them on the list as two species!) If you go on a trip to Finland and Norway you are likely to see both species of Bean Goose – but in different habitats. Starting in Finland you will see Taiga Bean Goose in a habitat of boggy swamps with scattered, stunted conifers known as Taiga. Further north you will find Tundra Bean Goose in open Tundra with no trees. The important thing to realise here is – these geese stay separate. They breed in different habitats, they do not interbreed, they don’t migrate together and you rarely see mixed flocks. Given that their range overlaps so much, this lack of any hybridisation is strongly suggestive that they are separate species. They look a bit different too. Tundra Beans have a more Pink-footed Goose-like look while somehow still being obviously a Bean Goose.  They look more compact than Taiga Bean Geese with a shorter neck and the head is darker and rounder.  The bill...
Why a Waxwing? (click here for more) by Jonathan Willet

Why a Waxwing? (click here for more) by Jonathan Willet

Although the snow has been sparse, this has still been a great winter for these strikingly plumaged birds. There have been lots of sightings all over the Highlands and some pretty big flocks seen, the biggest numbering 300. The numbers have tailed off now, but still flocks of up to 20 have been still been seen. So, what is the story behind this intermittent arrival to our shores? Firstly, we should start with its name….. Waxwing, why? When the wings are closed, you can see a line of red dots that look very much like old-fashioned sealing wax. These dots are the exposed red tips of shaft of the secondary feathers. No one is quite sure what their purpose is. The birds are about the size and giss of a Starling and fly about in a similar fashion. The big difference in giss is the shorter bill giving them a blunter appearance than the Starlings. Their call is a high-pitched trilling, which is a giveaway if you don’t get a good view of them. When you do get a good look at them then you can see the crest, the peach-brown plumage, black tail with a yellow terminal band, chestnut undertail coverts and the narrow black eye mask and chin. They really are spectacularly beautiful birds. Looking at the Highland records for this year they started appearing first on the west coast in mid-October and the large numbers built up in Inverness and Speyside in November with a peak flock size of 300 in Inverness on the 19 November. The numbers have declined with smaller flocks still being seen....
Birds Beat the Blues (click here for more) by Roy Atkins

Birds Beat the Blues (click here for more) by Roy Atkins

It seems that just seeing more birds in your day to day life makes you less anxious, depressed and stressed. Yes, birds make you happy!!! Several newspapers reported today on the findings of a study made my Exeter University and the University of Queensland that has concluded that seeing birds is good for mental well being.  Well I would agree with that – but then I would being a very keen birdwatcher it kind of goes with the territory!  But apparently, it is true for people who are not even interested in birds and have no idea whether it is a Robin or a duck – people just feel better if they see more birds around. I am slightly puzzled that between the two universities they could only muster 274 people in this study, which in my book is not a massive number for a proper scientific study, but apparently they did make an effort to rule out any effects of neighbourhood deprivation, household income, age and a wide range of other socio-demographic factors. The results are certainly interesting. It seems that just seeing birds makes you less likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and stress and feel generally happier and “the more birds the better,”  according to Dr Cox of Exeter University who says it is the number of birds not the species that seems to be important. In the study, common types of birds including Blackbirds, Robins, Blue Tits and crows were seen. But the study did not find a relationship between the species of birds and mental health, but rather the number of birds they could see...
NEW – Cairngorms National Park Wildlife Identification

NEW – Cairngorms National Park Wildlife Identification

A new course, delivered by Speyside Wildlife is starting in March 2017, funded by Cairngorms LEADER. If you’ve always wanted to know what the bird calls are that you hear whilst walking through the Caledonian Pine Forest, or to feel confident that you can tell the difference between a buzzard and an eagle as you scan the hills, then this is the course for you. It can lead to a fulfilling career sharing this knowledge with others, either as a wildlife tour guide, a ranger, or simply as an accommodation provider who would like to add value to your guests’ experiences whilst they are staying with you. Over the 12-month course participants will be required to attend five study weekends and a final exam in April 2018. In addition, in their own time, they will progress and practice their skills learnt, producing their own Field Notebook for assessment. By the end of the course, the participants should be able to correctly identify the major birds and mammals seen and heard in the Cairngorms National Park; know what species are likely to occur in which habitats and at what time of year. They will also have a basic appreciation of what wildlife guiding entails. What will I learn? How to identify the main wildlife found in the Cairngorms National Park by both sight and sound and have the confidence to show people these iconic species. You will get to know the best places to find different things, what to look for and will be able to identify what you see. In particular: be able to ID the main species of...
Ice Bound with Darren Rees part 2 (click here for more…..)

Ice Bound with Darren Rees part 2 (click here for more…..)

“During my residency, my time at the British Antarctic Survey base at Rothera was my most productive. The Royal Navy was tasked with pumping fuel for the forthcoming winter and to assist with survey work for improvements to the harbour area. This warranted an extended stay for HMS Protector and crew and I spent three full days on land at Rothera making the most of the landscape and its wild residents. In particular I enjoyed very close proximity to Antarctic Fur Seals, Antarctic (Blue-eyed) Shags, Adelie Penguins and especially the charismatic Southern Elephant Seals that were loafing around the buildings. These made great models as they were used to people walking around and were keen to exploit the relative shelter afforded by the buildings. Studying Elephant Seals close up might not be to everyone’s liking as the experience was a full-on sensory overload. Breaking wind, belching and roaring, they sounded like orcs having an altercation at a steam engine rally. The aromas were rich and pungent and luckily I didn’t paint with scratch-n-sniff materials. The landscape was equally as breath-taking and was irresistible to an artist with paint. After several days on the move aboard Protector, this was the first time I could sit and paint giant icebergs directly with no fear of the perspective or background moving.” This year Darren will be guiding our Speyside Wildlife guests overseas to Yellowstone, South Africa, Nova Scotia and New Mexico, as well as touring the Scottish North Coast 500 route. Award-winning artist and Speyside Wildlife guide Darren Rees received the coveted ‘Artist in Residency’ honour from the Friends of The Scott...
The New British List – does it affect you?! with Roy Atkins (click here for more…..)

The New British List – does it affect you?! with Roy Atkins (click here for more…..)

The British Ornithologists’ Union (BOU) have just announced that from January 2018 they are going to adopt the International Ornithological Congress (IOC) List as the basis for the bird species on the British List! “Oh, my goodness!!”  I hear you shout, “that is astonishing!” ……Or maybe just… “they’re doing what?” Let me explain… The ‘British List’ is kept by the BOU and they decide what species have been recorded in Britain and therefore what is on the official list. BUT – as you may be aware – there is enormous debate about whether some birds are species or sub-species. For example – is there just one very variable species of crossbill in Britain, or are there three? How many species of chiffchaff have occurred in Britain? (at present, it is two.) Up until now, the BOU listened to scientists who put forward papers suggesting their reasoning for why they feel there are three species of crossbill, or several species of gull that all look just like Herring Gull, but each country made its own decisions. Often the Dutch would announce that they are splitting some species or another and we in the UK would say, “Hmmmm, we should give this a few years’ consideration and debate,” before we too would follow suit several years later.   Well, all that changes from January 2018! Now the BOU is going to follow the IOC. They have a world list of species and the BOU is to use that list from now on. Does this sound boring? Surely not! – this affects your British List! If you keep a British List – what do you base...
Ice Bound with Darren Rees (click here for more…..)

Ice Bound with Darren Rees (click here for more…..)

Award-winning artist and Speyside Wildlife guide Darren Rees received the coveted ‘Artist in Residency’ honour from the Friends of The Scott Polar Research Institute in 2015, so he travelled with the Royal Navy on HMS Protector from the Falkland Islands to the Antarctic Peninsula. His new book Ice Bound documents his journey with a collection of sketches, watercolours and acrylic paintings executed in situ. Darren’s new exhibition is at the Polar Museum, Cambridge from 18 January to 25 February 2017. Over seventy of the original artworks and small sketchbooks from Ice Bound, showing more of his methods, encounters and experiences in the far south are on show. (All artworks are for sale.) “As a bird nut, it goes without saying that I’ve always wanted to witness the large penguin colonies of the far south. With my role as a Speyside Wildlife guide, I’ve been lucky enough to see penguins in the wild in the Galapagos and South Africa – wonderful occasions for sure, but these have been small groups of a dozen or so birds. My time as artist in residence started in the Falkland Islands, where there are spectacular numbers of penguins and I had opportunities to visit three colonies. The first was close to Port Stanley, at Gypsy Cove, where there were hundreds of Magellanic Penguins hunkered amongst the grass tussocks on the low cliff slopes. Hundreds more were strewn across the perfect white sand beach below, so there was no shortage of interesting models as I sketched and painted. It was also my first full day in the field – I had arrived the day before...
As Fit as a Bird! With Roy Atkins (click to read more…..)

As Fit as a Bird! With Roy Atkins (click to read more…..)

Well it is the New Year and many people will have started with a New Year’s Resolution.  For many this may be to lose weight or exercise more.  Here’s a rather crazy and fun idea that might just inspire you …. get ‘Fit as a Bird’!! (Disclaimer: We confirm that none of the below ridiculous exercises have been clinically proven to help with fitness or weight loss, but will hopefully cause some hilarity!) Flap your arms as if you are trying to take off. Do this vigorously for ten seconds then have a rest for ten then do it again – repeat several times until your arms feel like they might drop off or you succeed and actually take off!  I reckon this will be good for all your arm muscles and your chest muscles too – birds have huge chest muscles attached to a large plate-like sternum so it must be good! Pretend you are a Sanderling – go down to the beach and follow the waves in and out. You have to keep from getting your feet wet by dashing back and forth up and down the beach – or use your imagination and do it in the living room if you feel shy Get flexible by pretending to be a heron looking for fish – lots of high steps and careful balancing, then lean right down and study the water (or carpet) carefully stretching those tendons at the back of the legs and stretching the back. You could even pretend to be a Reddish Egret and dash about while flapping out one arm then the other...
New Year Birding  by Roy Atkins (click to read more…)

New Year Birding by Roy Atkins (click to read more…)

Do you keep a year list?  I keep one most years and its great fun, making me go out birding when perhaps I might not have done otherwise – which is surely a good thing.  It makes me search out birds I have seen before but might not otherwise go to look for and makes the New Year particularly exciting – everything is new for the list!! There is always that buzz of excitement on New Year’s Day wondering what the first bird of the year will be.  I love it when I hear a Tawny Owl after midnight so my first bird of the year is something more exciting than a Wood Pigeon or House Sparrow. Rules are simple – any bird you see, or hear goes on the list as long as you are 100% certain of its identity and it is not in a cage or a wildlfowl collection.  It starts on January 1 and finishes on December 31 – and that’s about it! I add a little fun by setting myself the target of 200 species.  I remember reading about ‘year listing’ in a magazine which suggested a 250 target!  The author said 250 was easy – really!  I don’t think so, unless you want to end up twitching rarities all autumn, 200 is challenge enough making a plausible target for which you still have to make an effort.  You might need a trip to Scotland, a trip to Norfolk or Fair Isle to get there but that is the point, isn’t it – getting you out birding. There is a bit of planning to...