Latest News

20th July 2024

Black throated Diver

Black throated Diver 20/7

Breeding Whimbrel at Vatshoull

Manchester Treble Bar moth at Skaw 19/7

Magpie Moth in our garden 207

I have not updated this site for a while as I was away from home for a couple of weeks in the second half of June. A Honey Buzzard was at Skaw in that time on 24/6 and a calling Quail in a field next to the Brough playpark 26/6, the former being an island first since the early nineties. In better news a RSPB Whimbrel census found 34 pairs on the island, a slight increase in numbers. A Black throated Diver was found in the usual spot just offshore below the trap area at Skaw. A few long range and shite photos were taken today to avoid having to concoct a description.

12th June 2024

Colour ringed Whimbrel

A colour ringed Whimbrel was at the roadside to the west of Grunitaing today with a yellow plastic leg ring with the letters H62 and a metal ring on the right leg and a green plastic one on the left. I later found out it had been trapped at Llansantffraid in Mid-Wales on 23rd of April 2022. It is always interesting to learn the stop off points for our summer breeders.

5th June 2024

Singing Icterine Warbler

Female Bluethroat at Isbister 24/5

May has seen the biggest fall of Red backed Shrikes on Shetland for many years (if not ever) with over 100 birds recorded some days between Fair Isle and Unst! Icterine Warblers have also had a good spring but it has taken me until today to finally get a decent photo with this singing individual in the Skaw plantation. Since the start of June winds have swung away from the East and few migrants are now present. 

16th May 2024

Red Backed Shrikes

Two male Red backed Shrikes were seen today, the bird above in the Skaw plantation with another one at Vevoe. Two Sand Martins were at the Sandwick loch also. Brian found an elusive female Subalpine Warbler in his Marrister garden yesterday which evaded the net as well as the camera. It is still there today but is unlikely to be seen well enough for a specific ID.

14th May 2024

Wood Sandpiper

Although Wood Sandpipers pass through Shetland each year in small numbers it is not seen in Whalsay very often so this individual on small pools near the West loch of Skaw was well received.

13th May 2024

Bee-eater and Bluethroat

Bluethroat at Skaw

Young Blackbird at Symbister

Around midday on 12/5 I was driving South past Tripwell when an unfamiliar bird lifted from in front of one of the houses and landed on a fence - sky blue belly, yellow throat. black bandit mask, slim decurved black bill, red crown and multicoloured back!  A European Bee-eater. I reached for the camera, looked up and it was gone and was never refound. A real pity not to get a photo of such a bonnie and rare bird (4th island record). Brian found bird of the day at Skaw today with a first summer male Bluethroat in the trap yard. It did the decent thing and boosted Brians ringing total for the year. A Cuckoo in the Skaw plantation was the only other notable sighting for the day.

10th May 2024

First island Coot in fourteen years!

Brian found our first island Coot on Sandwick loch since one on Vatshoull loch on 17/1/10!  A male Hen Harrier swept North past our garden and into the mist later in the afternoon.

4th - 6th May 2024

Elusive rarity avoids the camera

Wood warbler at Symbister 4/5.

On the evening of 4th 0f May I was taking a look in Cath Simpsons garden at Symbister and was quite pleased to have found a Wood Warbler having missed one Brian found at Brough a few hours earlier. As I approached the bottom of the garden "something brown" lobbed over the wall. I peered over and could see it sat on a bottom branch and noted a long cocked tail. It then shot off and disappeared ( a recurring theme for the next three days!). I suspected a Nightingale sp but darkness fell without another sighting. To cut a long story short it took till 6/5 to positively ID as a Thrush Nightingale, our first island record since May 2017 though there was no chance of getting a photo. Other semi scarcities in the last few days were Sedge Warbler at the Burns 4/5 and a Grasshopper Warbler caught in the Skaw trap 5/5.

1st May 2024

Waxwings in the garden

Three unseasonal Waxwings visited our garden today at Hamister. They were really tame and stayed around till Brian came from Skaw and we all got photos off our balcony. There has been a few common migrants around since our return in mid April. A Jackdaw on a Hamister rig has probably been the scarcest visitor in a local context and it is quite a few years since I saw one on here last.

20th March 2024

Great Shearwater west of Ireland

Just back from a five week fishing trip west of Ireland. Only a single Great shearwater this year on 20th March.

8th March 2024

European White-fronted Goose

A European White-fronted Goose was with the Greylag flock at the Burns today adding one last year tick to my list before we head to sea tomorrow morning for a month plus. Brian had a Stonechat pair at Skaw which might or might not be the same two as 4/3. Mistle Thrushes were at Skibberhoull (2) and Newpark with the Magpie also still at Skibberhoull.

4th March 2024


Common Scoters off Vatshoull

Stonechat is a bird I quite often miss for the year, turning up in mid March to early April when I am away. With this seasons Blue Whiting fishing set to start from 9/3 it was nice to have a pair of birds on the fences around Skaw plantation around midday today. Another hit and miss bird is Common Scoter and Brian found three females off Vatshoull 1/3. Luckily I was on hand to go straight away as they were only presentfor an hour or two.

25th February 2024

Mute Swans

Merlin at Skaw

February has been typically quiet with few migrants found. Brian turned up a pair of Mistle Thrushes near the Sandwick loch 12/2 with another at Skibberhoull 14/2. I tend to be away when these turn up and was the first I have seen since 2018! They were typically unapproachable though and no photos were taken. Our first two Skylarks were at Challister also on 12/2 with the first heard singing on 26/2. A Peregrine was terrorising the waders at the houb 20/2 but again bombed off North without getting its photo taken. Three Mute Swans flew onto the North loch of Skaw today for a brief visit. Despite this species breeding on mainland Shetland it is still really scarce on Whalsay occurring less than once every two years.

31st January 2024

Black throated Diver

Song Thrush at Symbister

Magpie at Saltness 19/1

One of two Blue Tits at Symbister 23/1

January 2024 has been a month of constant gales with a week long bout of snow in the middle. Overwintering birds have been the Magpie still touring around the South of the island, likewise the Blue Tit pair, single Dunnocks at Marrister, Hamister and Symbister and a single Knot at the houb. Brian had a drake Goosander on Sandwick loch 6/1 though I was away and missed that one. Other semi notables - Glaucous Gulls at the houb 14/1 (1w) and at Sandwick loch 22/1 (adult), Jack Snipe 16/1, Pink footed Goose at Brough and Woodcock at Skaw 22/1 and a Sparrowhawk at Gardentown 26/1. Today kept up the blustery theme with constant force 9 winds from the SW with horizontal rain! Although Black throated Diver appears to be more common these days its always a pleasing find. One was fairly close inshore below the trap area at Skaw today so I forced myself to plod down to the shore for a few record shots in the hellish conditions.

28th December 2023

Winter storms

Glaucous Gull

Glaucous Gull

Iceland Gull

Purple Sandpiper

Magpie on the window list! Visiting next door's garden 3/12.

With winter well and truly here there has been little news for a while. A Little Auk was off the kirk beach at Brough 30/11 with three more off Skaw 3/12. A European White-fronted Goose was at the North loch of Skaw 14/12 and single Water Rails were at Whitefield and Marrister on 18/12 and 22/12 though I missed both and seem destined to miss this species in 2023. After yesterdays 80 knot winds me and Angela had a stroll around Skaw Taing today. A good flock of gulls were off Wester Nettlar beach and included single Glaucous and Iceland Gulls.

21st November 2023

Magpie - A slightly less exciting Whalsay first!

Magpie at Whitefield 17/11

One of two Blue Tits at Sodom 18/11

One of four Woodcocks at Skaw 20/11

Siberian Chiffchaff at Skaw 21/11

Came home on 16/11 after a few weeks at the mackerel fishing with good numbers of Orcas off the East side of Shetland and a few Sooty Shearwaters as well. With the ongoing Easterly weather I missed a few interesting birds but after the excitement at Skibberhoull I dont really care! A Little Auk was off Skaw 23/10, A male Bullfinch, 3 Goldfinches and a flock of 20 Waxwings were seen 24/10, Potentially very interesting was the Swift sp. which bombed North through Skaw 26/10 with a Pallid Swift in Lerwick the previous week and other individuals seen in other parts of the UK around the same time. A Lapland Bunting was also found 26/10. A Yellowhammer was at Skaw on 6/11 but was eclipsed by our first ever island record of Magpie the same day around the primary school, found by non birdwatchers. Luckily this bird has stayed around though is very mobile and unpredictable, ranging around the South of the island. I was lucky enough to see it straight away but am still waiting for a decent photo!

20th - 21st October 2023

Western Olivaceous Warbler - A first for Britain on Whalsay!

Little Bunting at Sandwick

If you were to ask any of us morons that chase around trying to find rare migrant birds what their ambition would be I would think a fair percentage would answer "to find a National first"! I never expected this to happen to me but you just never know living in a great migrant trap like Shetland. The morning of the 20th was fairly uneventful with lesser numbers of common stuff to the North of the island. A jaunt to the deep South in the afternoon yielded a Little Bunting on a small tattie rig at Sandwick which I assumed would likely be bird of the day. WRONG. On exiting Frankies plantation at Skibberhoull I spotted a milky tea coloured Warbler with a real javelin for a bill! I fired off a few photos as is was strangely showy and was approaching me rather that vice versa. A whatapp message was sent to our local bird group requesting help and attaching a "back of the camera" snap with the words "Eastern Olivaceous Warbler?" Comments were supportive of this so I put it out nationally with the same pic attached. Jon Dunn and Steve Jones quickly arrived on site and the bird was watched till the light started to go around 5pm. We briefly discussed the possibility of Western Olivaceous but never seriously entertained this as it would be a UK first and "it was never going to be that". In the evening I was messaged by two prominent birdwatchers wondering if the bird had been seen to dip its tail (a classic trait of EOW), I had to admit I had not witnessed this. Apparently there was a bit of online discussion favouring the bird as the rarer Western due to the very uniform nature of the wings and one or two other minor differences. Luckily is was still on site on the morning of the 21st and mist netted, ringed and released quickly by licensed ringers Paul Harvey, Roger Riddington and Phil Harris. It went back to its same circuit remaining really active and confiding to allcomers. Measurements helped reidentify the bird as Britain's first Western Olivaceous Warbler making the day of all present, which by that stage included my wife and daughter. Could it ever get better than this. Well yes actually! Brian Marshall is "south" at the moment visiting relatives and has missed out and I am truly gutted for him. In other news - this is my 280th species for Whalsay so my goal of 300 in my lifetime seems a real possability assuming I am lucky enough to live into old age! If I can average one new bird per year from now on I will hit 300 when I am 78.

19th October 2023

Coal Tit influx

A good period of SE winds began yesterday and the island is now heaving with Goldcrests. A Northern Treecreeper in the Skaw plantation in the morning added a bit of quality though it disappeared almost immediately without a photograph. I was back on site in the afternoon hoping to refind it when a "different" call had me looking up into a spruce tree to the sight of three Coal Tits! There are only two previous island records of two at Gardentown on 29th September 1965 when I was four months old and a single also at Gardentown on 12th April 2020 identified from a non birdwatchers photo so this was kind of a big deal. Little did we know this was to be the start of an influx of the species into Shetland with pretty much everywhere getting one or a few small parties.

12th October 2023


Cattle Egret at Sumburgh a Shetland tick!

A couple of Waxwings were in the Isbister plantation today and were my first seen on the isle since 2019! Steve Jones also had a flythrough Brent Goose at Skaw today which would have been a year tick.

3rd - 4th October 2023

Large Pipit fiasco. Richard's or Blyth's?

At about 4pm on 3/10 I flushed a large Pipit from the roadside at Challister. As luck would have it my window was down allowing me to hear a fairly high pitched "Sweeoo" call reminding me of a "Flava Wagtail" as it shot off. I have seen somewhere in the regions of six to eight Richard's Pipits previously though probably not in the last ten years and (strangely for a supposedly vocal species) had never heard one to call! Like everyone I was aware of the Shreep call and also that there were other variants. My first port of call was to check Richard's call on youtube on my phone. The first video sounded pretty close and as I had thought the tail quite long I just needed a view on the deck. It proved difficult to approach but long range observations seemed to show a large and long legged bird so happy enough with this I put it out as a Richard's. It continued to give me the run around but was quite vocal continuing with the single "sweeoo" call whenever taking to the wing though studying the bird on the ground wasn't happening. At 8am on 4/10 I refound it in the same field and not wanting to flush it before Brian could get up to see it, took a few photos at long range (80m?). I quickly phoned Brian, looked up and the bird had disappeared and was never seen again. In the afternoon I uploaded the seven photos taken and was disappointed that they were even worse than I had feared, the two above being the best of a sorry bunch. Only when I put them on the Whalsay whatsapp group did Peter Stronach question how small the bill looked and that the tail really didn't look overly long at all. Bollocks! I went back and listened to Blyth's Pipit calls (something I should have done immediately!) and it sounded even better than Richard's. Having to admit I had made a total balls of it I sent the photos to Paul Harvey and Roger Riddington. Both replied that they thought the bird was "not safely identifiable" due to the blurredness of the photos.

Pauls take on the pics:

  • Pro Blyth's features
    • Bill length (although see plate on page 132 of svennson and shirihai showing a shorter billed Richards).
    • Mantle - pretty neat and contrasty.
    • Wingbars - due to how striking they are.
    • The description of call.
  • Pro Richard's features
    • Crown - which doesnt look evenly streaked, rather it appears to show eyebrows.
    • Jizz - to me it looks leggy and upright.

The problem is there is just too little detail to be seen on my blurred photos and so little point in submitting as anything other than Richard's/Blyth's. Anyone out there with an opinion!

30th September 2023

The American Golden Plover relocates to the Houb

The adult American Golden Plover was at the Houb today with over 170 European Goldies continuing its long stay on the island. Not a great deal to report in the last few days though a skulking Red breasted Flycatcher was in the Isbister plantation and 250+ Barnacle Geese flew over in three flocks on 28/9.

26th September 2023

Blackburnian Warbler at the South mainland, 2nd Shetland record

An incredibly rare Blackburnian Warbler was found in the Geosetter burn at the South mainland today so Brian, Angela and myself decided to twitch it. It did not disappoint posing down to about fifteen feet! This is a second Shetland record after one on Fair Isle in 1988 and a fifth for the UK.

19th September 2023

Little Bunting and American Golden Plover

Home again after two and a half weeks at the herring fishing east of Orkney. This went pretty well and plenty of Sooty Shearwaters were seen though the hoped for Great or even Cory`s never materialised. Our homecoming has coincided with a bout of SE winds which cant be bad with a decent scatter of migrants found. A second adult American Golden Plover for the year was found on the edge of the Skaw airstrip by Steve Jones on 16/9 mirroring the spring bird though it has taken me until today to finally see it! A Little Bunting was around the wall outside the Skaw plantation yesterday feeding alongside a Common Rosefinch though it flew off after a few minutes and before I could get within range for a clear photo.

26th August 2023

Arctic Warbler

Icterine warbler at Skaw 25/8.

It has been a reasonable spell lately with a good scatter of mostly common migrants. A bit of quality was added with Wrynecks at Isbister and Symbister 20/8 and 25/8, several Icterine Warblers including at least three on 20/8, at least three Great spotted Woodpeckers have been seen since 20/8 and unusually large numbers of Common Swifts passed through with twenty seven birds recorded on both 22/8 and 23/8. Bird of the period so far was found in the bushes near the roadside at Myrtle Cottage, Brough today with a fairly skulking Arctic Warbler present. A few very uncomfortable hours were put in with swarms of midges to get a few photos but it was well worth the pain!

18th August 2023

East winds bring in migrants at last

Wood Warbler at Grunitaing

Red Grouse near Vevoe, one of a family party of eleven birds with another ten nearby!

After a birdless first half to the month a SE breeze has brought in a decent scatter of migrants today. Wood Warblers at Grunitaing and Skaw, Barred Warbler at Skaw, Icterine Warbler at Grunitaing, two Greenshanks over Hamister with another at Isbister loch and five Ruff at Skaw plus a few commoner species. Hopefully a good autumnstarts here!

9th August 2023

Breeding Whooper Swans

Ringed Merlin with a Meadow Pipit for breakfast at Grunitaing 4/8/23.

This is the third year that a pair of Whooper Swans have attempted to breed on Vatshoull loch and without wishing to jinx anything, it is looking promising with three large young from four hatched still present. One chick survived from a brood of five in 2021 but was driven off by the adults when they hatched their brood in 2022, it panicked and hit overhead wires and was killed. All of the 2022 birds were predated, at least one taken by a Great black backed Gull. The sheep and horses around the loch get a hard time with the male swan seen duffing up a small flock of ewes with their lambs today possibly not endearing themselves to local crofters.

31st July 2023

Hudsonian Godwit at Grutness a first for Shetland

A Hudsonian Godwit was found at Grutness, South mainland on 30/7 somewhat upstaging our Melodious Warbler found the same day! A new bird for Shetland, 3rd for Scotland and 5th for the Uk so when it was still present the following day I took a run down with Brian and got great views on its favoured small pool near the roadside. Two lifers in two days in July cant be bad.

30th July 2023

Melodious Warbler

Steve Jones found a Melodious Warbler in his garden at Skaw today and is only the second island record after one my grandfather found at Hamister on 28thMay 1976! A Whalsay tick for me and Brian too.

16th July 2023

Juvenile Cuckoo

Red Grouse chick at the roadside.

Young Guillemot at the houb

Whimbrel on territory.

After missing a Cuckoo earlier in the spring I managed to catch up with a juvenile at Midfield today. Not much else to be seen at the moment though the Whooper Swans have bred again so we can only hope for abetter outcome this year!

12th June 2023

Red backed Shrike

Brian found a female Red backed Shrike this morning on the roadside fences between Vatshoull and Vevoe. Although I missed it by about thirty seconds it reappeared halfway down the Vevoe road in the afternoon.

10th June 2023

Marsh Warbler

An "acro" type warbler was silently skulking in the Skaw plantation today so Brian came and got the net up. Just for once we managed to trap in on our first attempt!. Wing measurements pointed towards Blyths Reed but it proved to be a Marsh Warbler albeit with wing length shorter than given inthe ringers manual.

30th May 2023

American Golden Plover

Long eared Owl at Symbister since 24/5 photographed 28/5.

May 2023 has been another disaster bird wise. Constant Northerlies being replaced with Westerlies and with no sign of any Easterly winds for the foreseeable future so it has been beyond quiet throughout. Finding a yank on Whalsay doesnt happen often so when Brian phoned about our islands third American Golden Plover in the field on the South side of the North loch of Skaw I was out the door at high speed. A beauty of a summer plumaged adult as well, - a fine birthday surprise formyself!

7th May 2023

Blue-headed Wagtail

Ringed Reed Warbler at Sandwick 7/5

Whinchat at Grunitaing 5/5.

Brian found a smart Blue-headed Wagtail in the Symbister meadow today so I went and got a few long range photos. A ringed Reed Warbler was in the ditch above Sandwick beach in the afternoon and attempted pics only yielded the letters "15" which isn't of much use though Brian reckoned the ring looked foreign! A decent scatter of common migrants has been seen in the last days or two with a Grasshopper Warbler in the Skaw plantation 5/5 plus Brians Cuckoo and Linnet bothin the Lubba area 6/5 which I missed.

4th May 2023

Sandwich Tern

A Sandwich Tern was fishing below the trap area at Skaw this afternoon before a short stop at the houb in the early evening. This is our first island record for five years!

21st April 2023


Trying to hide among some seaweed!

Its been a year or two since my last island Moorhen so it was good to see one along the shore at the houb today. I went over for a few photos when it tried to bury itself among some seaweed and hide behind a wall. A Sparrpowhawk shot through at the same time.

20th April 2023


Brian trapped a Hawfinch in his garden at Marrister today so I went along for a photo or two. The Tree Sparrow is still visiting our feeders occasionally and could be seen to be ringed though the above photo isnt up to much!. Possibly N2 something?

18th April 2023

A light scatter of migrants

Kinda blurred Tree Sparrow taken out our bedroom window today.

Greenfinch at Isbister 17/4.

Black Redstart at Grunitaing 16/4.

Bathing Goldcrest at Skaw 16/4

Came home to a light scatter of common migrants on 16/4 with bird of the day being a Black Redstart at Grunitaing. A Greenfinch in the Isbister plantation 17/4 was a good Whalsay bird as its a number of years since my last one on here. Today saw a garden first with a single Tree Sparrow at our feeders at Hamister and a Sparrowhawk seen later at Skaw.

24th March, 2nd April and 10th April 2023

Great Shearwaters West of Outer Hebrides

Home again after just over a month at the Blue Whiting fishing which went well. The last three "trips" were taken West of the Outer Hebrides with a few Great Shearwaters seen on each occasion. Two on 24/3 - 56 17`N 9 55`W, 4+ on 2/4 - 57 09`N 9 20`W and at least one 10/4 (with an adult Pomarine Skua) - 9 38`N 9 38`W. There were probably a few more but it is difficult to estimate numbers with the birds constantly circling around.

11th March 2023

Deep snow

Red Grouse near the Vevoe junction

Jack Snipe at Symbister

It has been many years since we had deep snow for a whole week but thats whats going on here at present. The first three days we couldnt get the car out but the road has now been ploughed so you can get around the island with care. A few birds are more obvious in these conditions - the Red Grouse on the hills stick out against the white hillside and Common Snipe are everywhere trying to find any marshy areas not under a blanket of snow! A good few Jack Snipe have been reported around Shetland in the last few days with a single outside our house at Hamister yesterday and the poser (above) in the meadow at Symbister today. In other news the two Long eared Owls at Skibberhoull first seen 15/2 have now become three since 6/3 with Steve Jones finding another Goldfinch at Skaw on the same date.

21st February 2023

Black throated Diver

Maalie photobombing the Black throated Diver (left) and a Great Northern Diver.

Two Pink footed Geese ( center bird and one with its head down) with Greylags.

Pintail also among the Greylags at the Burns today.

A Black throated Diver turned up fairly close inshore below the trap area at Skaw around midday today. Typically it started diving and moving much further out once I went down to the shore for photos but you can still see what it is from the poor long range pics above. A pair of Pink footed Geese were among the Greylags and five Euro White fronts at the burns as well today. We just need one of the Tundra Beans lingering in Shetland to turn up on the island now!

15th February 2023

Long eared Owls

Two of four European White fronted Geese at the burns

Iceland Gull at Symbister

After a quite good month for migrants in January things have quietened down and the first half of February has been typically quiet. The Grey Plover has been seen at the houb a couple of times (6/2, 12/2) with the drake Pintail at the burns (14/2), an Iceland Gull was around Symbister 11/2 with a single Snow Bunting at Skaw the same day and the four Euro White fronted Geese are still among the Greylags at the burns today. I got a message from Gordon Irvine this morning to say a couple of Owls were in the trees at Frankies and sure enough two Long eared Owls were present and even posed briefly for the camera!

21st January 2023

Rough - legged Buzzard

Grim record shots!

Grey Plover at the Houb 19/1

I am now back in the game with the arrival of a new Canon 90D though the idiots guide supplied doesn't tell me much so I have a bit to learn before I can hope to get decent photos. The year has started well with a few island scarcities - 3 Scaup on Sandwick loch from 4/1, a drake Pintail among the Greylags at the burns 5/1, up to 5 European White fronted Geese at the burns from 8/1, a Goldfinch in Skaw plantation 14/1, Grey Plover at Skaw Taing 17/1 with possibly the same bird at the houb 19/1, a briefly seen Great spotted Woodpecker at Symbister 18/1 was presumably the ringed female seen in the same area in late December, a couple of Glaucous Gulls and Iceland Gulls were also seen. Angela and myself were out for a drive in the car this afternoon when I clocked a large-ish bird of prey flying south towards us at the burns. It swept past at medium range showing a pale head, black underwing carpal patches, a black belly and white uppertail with broad black bar at the tip - a juvenile Rough Legged Buzzard! only my 2nd individual on the island and new for the "self found" list. I phoned BM and we attempted to follow it but lost sight down at the houb. Hopefully it reappears for him in the coming days as I am going away on 23rd. I will at some point do a review of 2022 which will basically be a massive rant of a terrible year missing out on two island firsts and a new all time low year total.

22nd November 2022

Still alive

Barnacle Geese at Isbister Photo by Angela Irvine

Its been a very long time since I posted anything on here as I seem to have spent a good portion of the autumn off the island. I was home for a week or so from 19/10 and the unfortunate highlight was getting water in my camera on a very dreich day. I have humped around a camera daily for thirteen years so birding without one seems a bit weird. At least the lens seems intact so santa has been informed that another Canon is required! There has been a decent spell of SE winds lately, a late Yellow browed Warbler in Skaw plantation 14 - 16/11 might have had the decency to have been a Hume`s by now and there has also been a good scatter of Woodcocks seen. Brian found a couple of Tundra Bean Geese at the burns 16/11 and these were soon joined by a drake Gadwall, five European white fronted geese and an Iceland Gull. The Gadwall is strangely rare on Whalsay with only a couple of known records - My grandfather Johnnie Simpson had a small flock of six many moons ago and Brian had a single on the pool at Vaivoe maybe ten years ago so this added another bird to my Whalsay list. Long eared Owls at Skibberhoull 19/11 and Brough 20/11 was new for the year as was todays Barnacle Goose pair at Isbister.

24th September 2022

Yellow browed Warblers and a brief early autumn rarity

Still hopeless conditions for migrants with very little on the island. You can always rely on the odd Yellow browed Warbler getting through whatever the weather with the above bird at Skaw and another in the Sodom plantation today. The best bird seen lately by some distance was the winter plumaged White billed Diver not all that far offshore below the heligoland trap area at Skaw yesterday 23/9. Brian got up to Skaw quickly which was lucky as it completely vanished ten minutes later without getting its photo taken! September records are rare and this may be the earliest autumn record for Shetland though I am not certain of this. Although this species is fairly regular around the Shetland coast in winter it remains a very rare bird on Whalsay, the last record being one moving between Symbister and Suther Ness 11-29/3 2007! This bird unfortunately had a damaged bill and was picked up dead on the last date turning up one day after I went to sea and dying the day before I got home again making yesterdays bird my first individual in about forty years! A juvenile male Blackcap trapped 21/9 had been rung in Prague which is a decent record. Further details to follow.

13th September2022

Late Cuckoo

The winds have now swung North so the fun is probably over (pretty much before it began for me!). A late Cuckoo was around Toft, Isbister today and is likely the same bird from Skaw 11/9. My first Barred Warbler of the year was at Hamister and 20-30 Siskins flew past the same area. A juvenile Common Crossbill was in the Skaw plantation briefly 11/9 and was a year tick for myself.

10th September 2022

Woodpecker influx

Redstart at Skaw

Got home late on 9/9 and with the whole family away today was always going to be a big days birdwatching. On opening the curtains in the morning the first two birds seen were a Yellow browed Warbler followed by a Reed Warbler in next doors garden! and on going outside a Great spotted Woodpecker was drilling holes in the side of our house, things were looking good!. Perhaps the rest of the day didnt live up to expectations rarity wise but a good selection of common migrants were seen with a few scarcities thrown in - 3 Great spotted Woodpeckers, 3 Reed Warblers, Red backed Shrike, 2 Rosefinches, 2 Wood Warblers and a Common Sandpiper. Brian trapped a Blyth's Reed Warbler at Skaw 8/9 but unfortunately it appears to have gone.

7th September 2022

Herring fishing

Great Shearwater off Orkney

Sooty Shearwater


The Symbister Spotted Crake Photo by Brian Marshall.

We are on our last herring trip of the season today in an area about six miles east from Start Point Orkney. At least three Great Shearwaters have been in attendance with loads of Sooty Shearwaters and a Sparrowhawk also lurking around. The last few days has seen SE winds at home with a good selection of scarce and common migrants being found. Brian found the best bird so far or he would have done had it still been alive! A very recently deceased Spotted Crake was picked up off the pavement outside the lower shop at Symbister today and would have been an island tick for all. Second place would have to go to the very much alive Arctic Warbler Jon Dunn flushed from the thistles behind his house 6/9 though this bird vanished thereafter. Hopefully there will be a few things left when I get home in a few days.

17th August 2022

Better photos of the Wood Warbler

The Wood Warbler is still present in the Skaw plantation and gave better views for the camera today. Another bird is in Jon Dunns garden along the road since 16/8 and we managed to view both birds this afternoon at the same time confirming that it isnt one bird moving between sites.

14th August 2022

Wood Warbler

Summer 2022 will go down as the worst ever with winds almost always over 20 knots, regular gales and zero percent sunshine. Only in the last couple of days have the winds fallen light and for the first time ventured to the SE though the sun is still playing hard to get! A Wood Warbler and Willow Warbler were in the Skaw plantation this afternoon hopefully kicking off a few migrants but with the forecast already predicting Northerlies for the next few days I doubt there will be a lot seen.

5th August 2022

Twitching the Unst Harlequin

I very rarely chase after other peoples birds unless they are on Whalsay but when Dave Cooper found a drake Harlequin Duck off Norwick beach on Unst and Angela said she fancied a run up there it was too tempting to resist! We got up just after 2 pm and were treated to great views of a very approachable bird even if the weather was crap as per usual. A bird I have always wanted to see and hopefully will find at home one day. No bird news at all in the last month though a Woodpigeon egg below the trees in the Skaw plantation confirms a first island breeding attempt with another presumed family party of five at Sodom also highly suspicious.

5th July 2022

New island breeding species and some suicidal Crossbills

Heron at Vatshoull

A Tufted Duck with six young appeared on Vatshoull loch today, a first breeding record for Whalsay so hopefully some of them will survive! It is a year or two since we had Common Crossbill on Whalsay so when a nice red male was photographed at Skaw on 2/7 by Sue Fermor we were pissed off to miss it. Two more have turned up since then and both hit windows and died, a first summer at Saltness 3/7 and a juvenile today at Symbister. We await a living one any day soon. A Red breasted Merganser with five or six chicks was in the North Voe 26/6 and is our first island breeding record for a number of years. Other migrant news consisted of a calling Quail at Hamister, four Siskins at Symbister and a Hummingbird Hawk-moth at Saeter 2/7 and a late/early Spotted Flycatcher at Skaw 3-4/7 at Skaw and a Magpie Moth at Sandwick 3/7.

25th June 2022

Twitching a rarity and catching up with Quail at last.

Wren on Sumburgh Head

When news broke on the 19th of a Pacific Swift at Sumburgh I couldnt get away and could only hope that this very rare first for Shetland would hang on for a second day. News and photos of the bird zipping around peoples heads was frustrating but me and Angela booked the 7am ferry for the next day and hoped for the best. The morning of the 20th was fresh and SW so we spent a couple of hours looking at Puffins and photographing a family of Wrens, not really what we had hoped for. All was not lost however with its reappearance at the Noup of the Noss on 21st! Me, Angela and Brian had a run across on Phil Harris boat and saw it although it was a long way up and I really shoudnt be ticking anything on views like that (I did of course!).

Quail has for years been my bogey bird on Whalsay, a couple of dead birds picked up in the Hamister valley being the sum total. I was having a look at Skibberhoull on the afternoon of 24/6 and was greeted to the sound of one calling loudly out of a field of long grass below Frankies. Brian came for a look or should I say a listen as we never managed to actually see the bird. I was left with the decision as to whether you can tick something you have never actually seen! This problem resolved itself the very next day when me and the bairns were out for a walk along the shore north of Nisthouse and flushed another individual. It flew low past me giving a decent view before landing in a field of long grass and disappearing. Now I need Marsh Harrier to follow suit and that will be good. I will surely see one eventually without having to twitch one on mainland.

17th June 2022


A Nightjar flushed out of Skaw plantation 15/6, a dark looking bird in flight lacking the white tail corners and white spots towards the wing tips making it a female. Brian came up for a look and we had one more flight view before we lost it. I have always wanted a photo of one of these birds but assumed I had missed my chance again. There was no sign yesterday but it flushed again this morning and sat up on a fence post for about a minute being harassed by one of the local Meadow Pipits. Unfortunately I only got photos from long range which was never going to be great and it flew back into the plantation when I tried to close the distance. It may hang on for another go and I will surely get my, point blank "asleep on a wall" shots some day! This is my fifth island record the first being one on a fence post at Vatshoull on 3rd August 1979. It was seen as a fourteen year old and not by any of the adults so was never submitted to the Shetland rarities committee though there is no doubt about the record.

12th June 2022


Red backed Shrike at Skaw 11/6.

Whimbrel on territory at Skaw - late May.

Brian found a nice drake Scaup on the pool at Symbister this morning and I managed to track it down to the Sandwick loch in the afternoon. This species remains a very scarce visitor to Whalsay with the last record being a female on Isbister loch in late April 2018. There has been little news since my last post as things stayed annoyingly birdless throughout. An Icterine Warbler in the Skaw plantation was only seen for a few seconds but not photographed 31/5 though it performed better than the singing Marsh Warbler in the same location 6/6 which was never seen at all! A female Red backed Shrike was at Roadside Skaw last night and I managed a long range record shot before it disappeared, unseen by anyone else - grim.

21st May 2022

Golden Oriole influx

Golden Oriole at Tripwell 19/5/22

Pied Flycatcher at Skaw 11/5/22

Spotted Flycatcher at Skaw 17/5/22

Sedge Warbler 19/5

When Steve Jones found a male Golden Oriole at Skaw on 17/5 and it disappeared before I got there I was getting really fed up with my lot for this year having pretty much missed every decent bird on the island. There is usually a number of years between sightings so the chances of seeing another really wasn't great. On the evening of 19/5 I was out washing the car when I got sent a "whats that bird" phone photo from Tripwell - it was a point blank pic of a female Golden Oriole sat on a window ledge! Me and Brian caught up with it at the North end of the Tripwell council estate and got a few mid range photos from a small garden before it vanished. Two birds were seen the following day (20th) with females at Skaw and Hamister and another female today (21st) videod in a garden at Gardentown. As this species is highly mobile it is hard to be sure how many individuals are involved, the Tripwell, Hamister and Gardentown sightings could all be one bird? So at least three and possibly as many as five have been seen in the last five days which is likely as many as we have had in the last twenty years! Apart from these birds Whalsay has, as usual, been lagging behind the rest of Shetland for decent migrants - single male Linnets at Marrister 16/5 and Vatshoull 21/5, Common Sandpiper at Skaw 17/5, two Mute Swans on Sandwick loch and a Cuckoo at Skaw 18/5 and a Sedge Warbler trapped at Skaw 19/5 was about it.

15th May 2022

Colour ringed Knot

A small flock of nine Knot were at the Houb today with a colour ringed bird in their midst. I managed a few reasonable photos and later found out that it had been rung as a first winter on 22nd January 2022 by Highland ringing group at Ardersier near Inverness. Thanks to Peter Stronach and Bob Swann for the quick response. A few common migrants have started trickling through with a Grey Wagtail 14/5 at Skaw as interesting as it has got so far.

28th April 2022

Short Eared Owl

A couple of grainy images of a Short eared Owl Brian found at the roadside just south of the Vevoe junction today. At least it waited tillI got up to see it!

24th April 2022

Glossy Ibis - A second new bird missed in three weeks!

At 12:45 today I was getting sunday lunch ready when I received a text, Steve Jones had found a pair of Glossy Ibis in the sheep field on the south side of the golf clubhouse at Skaw. The same pair had been on Fair Isle and then Hillswick in previous days, and as a new bird for the Whalsay list it was one I really wanted to see. Angela took over the dinner, I did a "wallace and gromit" into my boots and shot out the door. My attempts to get to Skaw were hampered by a safe driver who, needless to say went the whole way to Skaw at 30mph and in the only safe place to overtake I was foiled by oncoming traffic. I missed the birds by minutes, a car had flushed them to the east and walks from Isbister to the Skaw Taing and beyond were a waste of time. Our last island first was the Great Reed Warbler in May 2019 so to miss two new birds in three weeks is a real sickener.

3rd - 11th April 2022

Snow Geese - an Island first missed.

All photos by Angela Irvine

On the 4th of April Angela had a phonecall from Carleen Hughson - three white geese with black wing-tips had flown from Creadyknowe North towards Myrtle Cottage/Challister and after consulting her field guide wondered if they might be Snow Geese! As I was west of Ireland in a boat I texted Brian to check it out though she had already phoned him and he was on it. Sure enough she was quite right, an island first. Angela took on the role of local Papparazzi, catching up with them in the parks on the north side of Myrtle Cottage and got a few pretty good photos with her small camera on full zoom at quite long range. Norman Poleson came out for a look and said they had been there since the previous day (3rd). As you can see on Angelas photos above, the birds had an orange wash to their faces making it likely to be the same three that had spent a few months (January till 31/3) at Slimbridge Gloucestershire. As there are feral populations of Snow geese in Germany and Holland it is possibly unlikely that these birds will be accepted as wild, apparently an effort was going to be made to get a few feathers for DNA analysis to try to work out which bit of the world they came from but I am unsure what came of this (and as I never saw them couldnt really give a -). As I was due home around 20/4 it was always going to be a long shot that they would hang on that long and sure enough they departed on the 11th.

There has been little seen since my last post in late January- I also managed to miss a Black throated Diver Brian found offshore below Marrister 16/2. Likewise the Stonechats at Skaw in March on 11th and 14th and a Jackdaw at Vatshoull 12th. Things can only better as the song says!

30th January 2022

Glaucous Gull

Great Northern Diver off Symbister.

It is surprising, given the amount of gales this month has produced that there hasnt been more white winged gulls on the island. It has been a rare calm day today so a walk around Skaw Taing produced our first Glaucous Gull of the year. A single grainy image was captured as it flew south past me. Not much to report since the last post - a Water Rail ran across the road at the Burns 4/1, 3 Knot have been at the houb for most of the month and probably best was the 2 Little Auks which lifted and flew South from the harbour enterance at Symbister 12/1.

3rd January 2022

Jack Snipe

2022 has begun pretty quietly for birds, a few common thrushes and very little else so far. Both the best two birds were seen out the window of our house at Hamister! - a Pink footed Goose was among the Greylag flock on new years day and a Jack Snipe was in a ditch today so I took a few mid range photos off the balcony.