It has been a while since my last blog post. But slowly we Faroese people are waking up after winter hibernation. Or so it feels.
The winter has been cold – in fact the coldest for at least 27 years with snow an ice covering the entire country for weeks and weeks. Most lakes froze over and the scenery was just stunning. As winter days are no longer than five hours from sunrise to sunset the snow brightens up the days significantly and January was easier on people than normal due to the snow and calm weather.
The harsh winter provided some good winter birds. Flocks of Snow Buntings came down from the mountains to forage in the villages. They are fairly common here, but tend to stay at high altitudes except when snow forces them down.
The winter has also been good for birds like Common and Jack Snipe and Water Rail, but surprisingly no Woodcocks were recorded though most of western Europe saw quite an influx of the species.
On Sandoy I found a likely hybrid Ring-necked x Tufted Duck in January.
At the same location Russian White-fronted Goose was also present with some 250 Greylags.
Two Taiga Bean Geese have been present all winter at Viðareiði and they are still around.
When it comes to white gulls (Iceland and Glaucous Gull) the winter has been just about average. With my experience from working on trawlers at sea I am convinced that the white gulls have quite a pelagic life style in winter – and they do need some stormy weather to be forced into the harbors.
Early winter saw quite an influx with an estimated 1000 Iceland Gulls present around the country. But as frost and clear skies became dominant most birds disappeared. Now we’re back to normal with rain and wind – and numbers of Iceland and Glaucous Gulls have again increased with a few ssp. kumlieni among them.
On the 18th of February the first Lesser Black-backed Gulls turned up as I found three birds around the islands. It is an early arrival date for the species, but I guess strong south-easterlies combined with a freezing Europe made them come early.
Oystercatchers have also arrived early and five Lapwings arrived at Viðareiði in mid February. So it starts to feel like spring.
The winter highlight is of course the first national record of Pied-billed Grebe. It was present at Eiði until the 29th of January, when the lake froze over. Only small hole remained in the ice on the 3rd of February, and there I found a nice female Ring-necked Duck along with a few Tufted Ducks, Common Goldeneye and Whooper Swans. A single Song Thrush was also present at Eiði.
The year of our Lord 2020 has finally passed. A year with corona, restrictions and loads of birds. I spent the first half of the year in Mongolia – primarily in Khovd in the west but also visited Ulaanbataar and the southwestern corner of Bulgan.
Mongolia is an awesome place for birding with a great opportunity to familiarize yourself with many of the eastern migrants, that just might turn up in autumn in Europe. I am not going to mention all the great birds that I saw during the first seven months of the year in Mongolia, but just some highlights.
During the winter I encountered the rare Kobdo Pheasant endemic to western Mongolia (along the Khovd river) – see image above.
In late May I found the first documented record of Long-tailed Shrike for Mongolia.
In June I found the third Ashy Minivet for Mongolia in Bulgan, SW Mongolia. This might be the westernmost record of the species ever.
A February holiday in Thailand provided me with a few hundred lifers including Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Normann’s Greenshank and Blue Pitta.
On the 11th of August we arrived on the Faroes on vacation. But 2020 had already produced some really good birds already. A Tufted Puffin was sadly shot during legal alcid hunting in January in Vestmannasund, a male Collared Flycatcher was seen in a garden in Porkeri on the 25th of April and on the 27th May Jón Aldará found the first Broad-billed Sandpiper for the Faroes.
The autumn proved very good on the Faroes. We had plenty of easterly winds and overall there were migrants to be found the mid August and pretty much throughout the year.
On August 22nd a Hoopoe was found in Miðvágur. I relocated it the following day. It proved to be one of two or more likely three Hoopoes seen during the autumn.
Rarities like Citrine Wagtail, Pectoral Sandpiper and Arctic Warbler were seen during September. The month was full of birds but lacked megas.
But as October arrived so did the rarities. Paddyfield Warbler on the 2nd, three Ring-necked Ducks on the 6th, and an amazing double of two firsts for the Faroes within 20 minutes and only 100 meters apart were an Isabelline Shrike and a Little Ringed Plover.
October also offered an additional Arctic Warbler, Surf Scoter and Steller´s Eider.
As the days got darker in November I found a likely Eastern Yellow Wagtail in Sumba. If accepted it will the first record for the Faroes, but we are waiting for samples to be tested for DNA.
A Blue-winged Teal was photographed in Tórshavn on the 14th, but not seen since, but on the 19th I found a flock of five Ring-necked Ducks on Toftavatn. Quite an arrival of yanks!
On December 6th Turið Vestergaard photogeaphed a Black Brant at Trongisvágur. It is the first record of this subspecies on the Faroes.
During December six Taiga Bean Geese were also seen.
On December 16th I found the first Pied-billed Grebe for the Faroes at Eiði and it is still present today.
In late December two Velvet Scoters were present in Haraldsund and plenty of Iceland Gulls are around the islands. Among them there are several nice, dark Kumlien´s Gulls. Numbers are not exceptional like earlier in autumn, but there seems to be quite some movement as new birds seem to arrive as soon as we get some northerlies. Maybe the next months will be really good for white-wingers.
It is almost Christmas. Days are awfully short. On a bright day you might have three hours of birding although the length of the day is a bit more than five hours from sunrise to sunset.
In spite of the short days there are still birds around. November saw a great arrival of Iceland Gulls numbering probably more than a thousand birds around the country with more than 100 birds present in the harbor of Fuglafjørður.
But southerly winds and temperatures up to 8 C have meant that numbers have again decreased somewhat. But it will be interesting to see if the next storm from northern directions will mean another influx. In Fuglafjørður a ssp. borealis Common Eider was also present.
Early December highlights included two Common Coots were present at Toftavatn, a Pintail at Tórshavn and four Taiga Bean Geese at Eiði.
On the 6th December Turið Vestergaard photographed a Brant in Trongisvágur, which was easily identified as the first Black Brant for the Faroes, maybe of the Grey-bellied Brant-variation.
I took the ferry to Suðuroy and managed to relocate the bird of the 8th. This is the first record of Black Brant for the Faroes.
Today I went birding with Jórun Pòlsdóttir. We are working on a new field guide to the birds of the Faroes including a complete list of all records of rare birds on the Faroes, nice pictures, identification clues and much more. Writing this book is actually my primary work currently. But after hours of writing I do like to get out around noon for a little birding. Today we drove to Eiði, some 20 minutes drive from were we work.
Soon I noticed a Little Grebe-type thing in the distance. Jórun got on to the bird right away. As we walked closer she asked how I could be sure it was a Little Grebe from such a distance only using bins. I replied that it was either that or the very rare Pied-billed Grebe, but that would be highly unlikely.
As we got closer I got better views. And that bill did look heavy. My heart started pumping as the jizz also seemed to resemble Pied-billed Grebe. I took some hand-held iso 2000, 1/160S with my 1200mm eqvivalent lens and was able to study the bird in detail. I sent some back-of-camera-shots to Rasmus Strack and Yann Kolbeinsson, who both confirmed the id as a Pied-billed Grebe.
I was just stunned. Yesterday we secured a good amount of support for our Faroese field-guide, today we found a national first… what a couple of days. Christmas surely came early this year!
Late November means winter mode. On bright days there are about four hours of decent light to do with from 10:00 til 14:00 and on dark cloudy days there is almost non. But hey, in less than a month days will become longer…
We have had the first snow of season, but currently only the mountain tops are dressed in white. But there are still birds around.
Already in October Iceland Gulls and Glaucous Gulls arrived in numbers. Normally the numbers of Iceland Gulls peak in February, but this autumn and winter has produced several hundred individuals already. So there might be a winter of gulling ahead of us. Among the nominate Iceland Gulls a few Kumlien´s Gulls have also showed up. It would be nice to get a new invasion of these wonderful gulls this winter.
But there are also other birds around. On the 15th I found a Goldfinch at Tórshavn. A nice and bright indivudial that gave good views.
On the 19th I found a flock of five Ring-necked Ducks at Toftavatn. This is the second time that suck a large flock has been spotted on the Faroes. Luckily I managed to get the all in one frame.
On the 24th I went birding with Janus Hansen, his wife Agnes and Jórun at Viðareiði. There we found two Taiga Bean Geese. It is the 5th record of Taiga Bean Geese, which are much rarer than the Tundra Bean Geese, which are almost annual visitors now.
With Glossy Ibis in Shetland, Dark-eyed Junco and two Ivory Gulls in Iceland it does look like the winter might have more to offer… If only the days were longer and brighter…
From the 11th to the 13th November I visted Suðuroy along with Jórun Pólsdóttir. Our goal was to continue writing a field guide to the birds of the Faroes and also do some birding.
As we took the ferry from Tórshavn to Suðuroy we saw both an adult Kumlien’s Gull and a pod of dolphins.
Birding on Suðuroy was nice as there are still good numbers of birds around. This is probably due to the exceptionally warm temperatures lately.
In Hvalba we found a late Lesser Black-backed Gull, which showed nicely.
In Famjin we found a Song Thrush and a male Common Merganser along with Siberian Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps.
Sumba stole the headlines as so many times before. The southernmost village of the Faroes is just awesome when it comes to birding. Common Crossbill, four Siberian Chiffchaffs, two Blackcaps and a Goldfinch were all nice.
It was rather windy and observing the waves was stunning. Grey Seals seemed to enjoy the waves and several animals were seen well.
As I walked along the shore I flushed a wagtail, which landed about 50 meters away. It looked like a juvenile Yellow Wagtail. Soon I got better views and was able to observe a long hind-claw, lack of any yellow color and a short, sharp metallic call. It surely had an eastern feel to it.
In the brisk winds it was hard to get any good recordings, but I managed to get some flight calls recorded. Henrik Bohmer was able to make a sonogram. It spite of the bad quality of the recording it seems to fit Eastern Yellow Wagtail quite nicely.
I sent some pictures to Yann Kolbeinsson in Iceland, who encouraged me to collect droppings. So rather than getting good pictures I observed the bird from the distance until it eventually littered. I collected the droppings and Rasmus Strack from Denmark is currently helping me sorting out how to get the sample safely analyzed.
If accepted as an Eastern Yellow Wagtail it will be the first record for the Faroes. And it will be my fifth self-found wagtail species of the autumn as I’ve already found Yellow, White, Grey and Citrine Wagtail this autumn. Hopefully Forest Wagtail will be next.
The Steller’s Eider was also still present in Sumba.
Late October saw some really nasty weather here on the Faroes and many days were just no suited for birding. But on the good days birding was nice. On the 21th there were both a Greenland Greater White-fronted Goose and the first Greater Whitethroat of the autumn at Svínoy.
On the 22nd a Common Coot was present at Toftavatn and the three Ring-necked Ducks were still at Eiði.
On the 25th the fifth Bullfinch of the autumn was at Kunoy followed by one at Syðrugøta. So a small invasion of this colorful species this autumn. It is far from annual on the Faroes.
On the 26th a late Lesser Black-backed Gull was at Hvalba and on the same day I found a female Steller´s Eider at Sumba. Likely a returning bird for its fifth year though it was last seen in spring of 2019.
On the 28th Svein Ole found a juvenile Surf Scoter and it was also present on the 29th, were I got some photos of the bird. It is the 11th national record.
A Little Egret was present in Tórshavn in late October and I connected with the bird on the 1st November.
On the 2nd November I found a male hybrid American Black Duck x Mallard at Norðskála. A quite fine and interesting individual carrying a of American Black Duck features.
With a Hermit Thrush in Iceland and a Snowy Owl reported from the mountain tops at Eysturoy November might still have good birds to offer.
Autumn is slowly turning into winter on the Faroe Islands. The mountain tops are covered in snow and temperatures are down to just above freezing during the night. After mid October this normally means a clear-out of migrants, but due to rain and wind pretty much every evening good numbers of birds are still present on the islands.
Last weekend we went on a family trip to Sandoy to visit some good friends. I took the two youngest kids out sightseeing on Wednesday while our oldest had an online test. As we drove past Gróshúsvatn I checked the lake briefly from the car and found a Ring-necked Duck on the lake. It is the 17th record for the Faroes and my 5th individual this autumn.
After returning to our cottage I went for a short walk only to find an Arctic Warbler 2 minutes walk from the cottage.
The Arctic Warbler was joined by a Yellow-browed Warbler and a rather dark Lesser Whitethroat. Quite a good result when not really birding intensively. One can only guess what else is out there.
Back home in Hvannasund I found a Hawfinch close to home joined by a few Blackcaps, Wood Pigeon, Fieldfares and Yellow-browed Warblers.
I have also checked the northernmost village on the Faroes called Viðareiði. It is an awesome place for birding, but the area is quite vast. Siberian Chiffchaffs are now the most common warblers around with about 10 present in the village.
A skulky Dunnock eventually showed itself and close by a presumed rostrata or northwestern Redpoll offered great views.
In the ditches close by I flushed a Jack snipe, which is my first this year. Also a nice bird to observe.
In the fields Eysturi á Heiðum I found a Yellow Wagtail. First it was very flighty, but eventually I obtained good views. I also recorded the call and consensus is that it is a western Yellow Wagtail. But still quite a good bird for the Faroes – especially this late.
With upcoming easterly winds this autumn still might have something to offer.
On another note a Subalpine Warbler, that I found on the 3rd of July 2011 in my hometown of Hvannasund has been accepted as the first Western Subalpine Warbler for the Faroes. As this has been split from Eastern Subalpine Warbler it becomes the 21th national first that I have found.
During the weekend the Faroese Ornithological Society arranged a weekend trip to Suðuroy – the southernmost island of the Faroes. It is probably the best single island for birds as it receives birds from both east and west and is the most isolated island in the archipelago.
Before departure a couple of us checked Nólsoy for a few hours. The famous Heligoland trap on the islands is closed down as there is no-one to continue the trapping, which has been going on for decades. This has obviously meant that numbers of birds reported from the island have fallen greatly.
The birding was rather challenging due to rain and cold wind, but a Dunnock, a handful of Yellow-browed and Willow Warblers, Lesser Whitethroats and Chiffchaffs were nice. Then we left the island.
We took the ferry to Suðuroy in the evening and reached our house at the lighthouse on the southern tip of the island in the evening. The place is just awesome. Back in the early 1980’ies there were plans of making this into a birding station with a good garden for ringing birds. The plan never materialized, but just imagine a small plantation or garden with regular ringing and census throughout the island. Now that would be something…
In the morning we headed out birding. At the lighthouse we had quite a few Redwings and a Tree Pipit, but soon we headed to the village of Sumba to look for migrants. On Akraberg there are no trees or scrubs what so ever, so birds tend to move to the gardens in the village rather quickly.
The village was rather quiet with a few Willow Warblers, Yellow-browed Warblers, Lesser Whitethroats, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs. And that was pretty much the pattern through the day. Fair numbers of birds, but no rarities.
At Trongisvágur we found the biggest surprise of the day as a juvenile Kumlien´s Gull was roosting with a single nominate glaucoides. It is quite early for a Kumlien´s Gull on the Faroes. Hopefully the winter will bring us many such.
In Nes we found a late Lesser Black-backed Gull moulting into winter plumage. It´s been a few weeks since the last Lesser Black-backed Gulls were seen here.
In Hvalba a Whinchat was present in the village, but that pretty much made up the day.
In the evening we enjoyed a good meal and then snacks in the cosy settings in the old Lighthouse-keepers house on Akraberg.
A new day dawned. It was sunny and not that windy. But with northerly winds I didn´t expect much change. But especially Jórun had high expectations. At Akraberg we didn’t see anything so we headed to Sumba and right away new birds proved to be around. Two Chaffinches and several Yellow-browed Warblers were nice. I decided to walk on the concrete wall along the shore. William was following a bit further on. Suddenly a bird flew along the shore and William shouted when it was right above out heads. It landed in a nearby mud field. It was a small plover. I noticed the fairly obvious eye-ring right away and knew that it was a good one. I called the other guys to come to the field where the bird was foraging. Soon all were watching it and I approached to get some better views and images. And surely it was the first Lesser Ringed Plover for the Faroes. I sent a back-of-camera shot to Yann Kolbeinsson and Yoav Pearlman, who confirmed the identification. Stunning bird in deed. I did recall a bird at Unst in Shetland a few years back (found by Mike Pennington as I recall) and Yann told me that there is only one Icelandic record. So a true rarity out in the north Atlantic. And not among the top ten most anticipated new additions to the Faroese list.
The bird stayed put on the muddy field used my domestic geese for the following hour allowing great photo opportunities although the geese were a bit annoyed. The owner of the geese is actually one of the founders of the birding society, so he was happy to allow us to stay around.
Eventually we continued to check the gardens. Jórun had seen a bird, which was not a Yellow-browed Warbler. But the garden was empty and we continued. Then in the densest garden in all of Sumba I noticed a bird out in the open. A pale shrike with a red tail. Holy cow… an Isabelline Shrike type bird was sitting in front of me. I got a few shots before a dog in the garden started barking and the bird disappeared. I was almost in chock. Two national firsts in just 20 minutes. That has probably never happened before.
I eventually relocated the Isabelline Shrike and everybody enjoyed good views of the bird. It was thoroughly documented and from comments by Yosef Kiat it was nailed as an adult female Isabelline Shrike ssp. isabellinus based on moult. What a day…
New birds kept arriving in Sumba, but we headed north to check more of the island with a smile on our faces. A Wood Warbler, Great Northern Diver and Hawfinch were great to see, but nothing compared to the duo in Sumba.
As a headline on my previous blog post I asked: “Where are they”. Finally I can change the headline to “they are here”. Now the question is what will be next…
It’s been almost a week since my last post. Shetland, Orkney and Scotland have been flooded with migrants – especially thrushes like White’s, Siberian and Eye-browed. The Faroes have also been flooded with migrants – some days with 50 or more warblers on a single island. And that is a lot up here. Blackcaps and Yellow-browed have been the most common, but Lesser Whitethroats, Barred, Willow and Garden Warblers along with good numbers of Chiffchaffs including quite a few Siberian have been around the islands. But well, we will never beat Shetland except for a few days a year when it comes to rarities. The birds just need to be push that further off to reach us, so light winds don’t really do the trick. Strong easterlies are the key – and of course even more so for Iceland.
With so many good birds in Scotland it has been kind of frustrating. Especially since good birds have been around. Most undetected and a few just proving too hard to nail. A Red-throated Pipit was seen briefly at Viðareiði, but after two flushes it flew off. So no photos and the voice recording died in the brisk winds. But a Reed Bunting and a Common Redstart showed quite well.
Last Sunday our oldest got confirmed. While taking some photos at Grøv Plantation I flushed a bunting with a reddish rump and with a teck-call. But no time to look for more than a few minutes, so a probable Rustic Bunting got away.
On the 6th I checked Eiði. Three Ring-necked Ducks were a great find. It is the 16th record and only the third time that more than one bird have been seen. In 2017 5 birds were seen together at Sørvágsvatn.
The day also provided Pied Flycatcher and Hawficnh, but no rarities.
On Svínoy yesterday birding was great. 50 or so Goldcrests, 20 Blackcaps, Siberian Chiffchaffs, 7 Yellow-browed were all nice.
A male Bullfinch was more than nice. It is surprisingly rare here, so a great bird to encounter. Especially when it poses in front of the camera.
Today I checked the main islands. Birding was great with many common migrants. At Leirvík I found a Red-backed Shrike, which is quite rare.
But I wanted to check the western island of Vágar. Again birding was great. 19 Yellow-browed Warblers were nice to find. A single Common Reed Warbler and a Whinchat and a few Barred Warblers were also good birds, but no megas.
Today I checked Svínoy along with Jórun Pólsdóttir. Strong easerlies have brought in many birds during the last few days, so hopes were high of a good day of birding.
Right upon reaching the village we found a small, wet warbler, which was mostly hiding in a dens bush. It came out for a few seconds and the pale, sandy look, tiny size and strong eyebrow made it either a good acro or a small iduna. At one point it came out into the open, but only for a few seconds, where I managed a few pictures. Then it disappeared.
Due to the very short sightings I didn´t really get a good impression of the bird, but long bill and short primary projection made me hope for a Sykes´s Warbler, which would be a lifer for me. For the next seven hours the bird didn´t show as rain was pouring down and wind was nasty.
A check around the village revealed 5 Yellow-browed Warblers, Lesser Whitethroat and seven Tree Sparrows – the lingering breeding pair and its offspring.
I posted some Back-of-camera photos of the bird and consensus was, that it was a Paddyfield Warbler. This is the 4th national record and the second I´ve found myself.
As I was walking to the ferry I flushed the Paddyfield Warbler from the road side, but didn´t manage any photos as it flew into a dense garden. But after all I did get good enough pictures to clinch the id.
Due to the wind the ferry was coming to the southern bay rather than the north giving us an amazing trip around the island. Truly stunning scenery concluded a great, but cold and wet day of birding.