Fàilte gu Alba!

...that's Gaelic for welcome to Scotland, by the way.  In my last blog, I finished with a photo of the offered bounty of Rowan berries hanging off the trees...well, invaders from the north have arrived.  Mistle Thrush numbers soon became bolstered with Redwings and then Fieldfares in our local fields, whilst elsewhere small groups of Waxwings have turned up...all arriving from Scandinavia.

"Welcome to Scotland!" a local Chaffinch welcomes a Fieldfare

Other bird species have also arrived from the east, helped by some keen easterly winds in the last couple of weeks.  Species both mundane and exotic have appeared, and not just in our part of Scotland.  For example, yours truly has found a Yellow-browed Warbler and a Great Grey Shrike - neither are especially rare in the scheme of things, and very much expected on passage at this time of year.  In both cases, a wee bit of knowledge helped...important when finding any bird not pointed out to you by someone already watching it.  I'll explain, to hopefully try and impart a good, basic principle of birdwatching...knowing what to listen and watch for, and where.

In the case of the Yellow-browed Warbler, a fall of these birds occurs around October as some vagrants leave what is probably their Siberian breeding grounds and head some 2,000 miles our way and beyond; apparently this is 1,500 miles or so shorter than where most of the species over winter in Southeast Asia!  Anyway, knowing they come each year just a quick refresh of what look like (they're more than just a warbler with a yellow brow) as well as a revision of their call, which I can best describe akin to a warbler's version of "Oi! Oi!", not that I'm trying to place such a fine wee bird in the same category as a chauvinistic Cockney builder trying to attract a passing lady in the 1970s.  

So, armed with the knowledge refreshed, it was then a case of 'be aware' and this paid off one lunchtime whilst walking the dogs - amidst a pine plantation, where just a few stumpy deciduous trees grow and it was one of these from which that strong "Oi! Oi!" emanated.  Straight away I knew what it was (Pallas' Leaf Warbler has a higher pitch...I digress), so I just need to see the bird to confirm it wasn't a Chiffchaff playing the call on an iPhone app.  Movement was soon spotted near the top of the tree, and soon moved towards me to reveal the the bright wing bar, the forward 'smudged' wing bar and of course the strong, bright supercilium - the actual 'yellow brow'.

Great Grey Shrike - great bird

As for the Great Grey Shrike, I was lucky that no revision was necessary.  In a previous life, I monitored an area of the New Forest in Hampshire that - apart from containing a Hen Harrier winter roost (the prime reason for my surveying) - had an annual over-wintering Great Grey Shrike.  The striking colours of grey, white and black work quite well for the species with the bird I used to see regularly favouring tall silver birches from which to hunt small birds and insects - perfect camouflage, especially in sunlight.  So, confident with having the 'GGS eye', it was just a case of finding one.  I'd recently checked areas of clear fell, the silvery, weathered remains of once proud pine forests being good camo for the birds as they made their way south from Scandinavia southwards.  No joy was had, but whilst on heathland (itself very similar to my old New Forest survey patch) the other day it all had that feeling of being GGS territory.  A quick scan of trees and power wires passing through the area (the first GGS I ever saw was sat on telephone wires - perfectly natural!) yielded nothing, so we walked on another half mile or so and scanned again - lo and behold, one bright blob (stark against the backdrop of distant woodland) atop a tree about 100 metres away, and one Great Grey Shrike soon in the binoculars.

So, in both cases, finding 'my' own birds was very satisfying considering that all of us tend to see rarities and unusual birds only after others have picked them up, whether that be seconds, minutes, hours or days afterwards.  The key thing for anyone reading this (and I do appreciate you doing so) is that it's important to get out and look for birds in areas that are under-birded, as you just never know what you can find...and of course you can only dream what's been missed!  That's particularly important in our part of Scotland, indeed all of the Highlands, where you can just look at a spot on a map and say "I'm going there today."  It's one of the joys of birding - so go do it.

Happy birding


A9Birds is a birdwatching and wildlife photography company based in Moray, covering the local area including Strathspey, the Moray Firth and Inverness-shire.  Please see our website for details of what we can offer you, including fine canvas prints of some of our images which make ideal gifts.  Also, why not keep up to date with our sightings and photos on our Facebook page.  All photos on this page are copyright Mike Crutch/A9Birds.


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