2020 review

Kobdo Pheasant in Bayan-Olgii

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.

Long-tailed Shrike

In June I found the third Ashy Minivet for Mongolia in Bulgan, SW Mongolia. This might be the westernmost record of the species ever.

Ashy Minivet

A February holiday in Thailand provided me with a few hundred lifers including Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Normann’s Greenshank and Blue Pitta.

Spoon-billed Sandpiper

It would lead to far to mention all the cool species from Mongolian and Thailand, but you can scroll though my birdingmongolia blog here: https://birdingmongolia.wordpress.com/

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.

Hoopoe

Rarities like Citrine Wagtail, Pectoral Sandpiper and Arctic Warbler were seen during September. The month was full of birds but lacked megas.

Arctic Warbler

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.

Isabelline Shrike

Little Ringed Plover

October also offered an additional Arctic Warbler, Surf Scoter and Steller´s Eider.

Surf Scoter

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.

Eastern Yellow Wagtail

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!

Five Ring-necked Ducks

On December 6th Turið Vestergaard photogeaphed a Black Brant at Trongisvágur. It is the first record of this subspecies on the Faroes.

Black Brant

During December six Taiga Bean Geese were also seen.

Taiga Bean Geese

On December 16th I found the first Pied-billed Grebe for the Faroes at Eiði and it is still present today.

Pied-billed Grebe

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.

Velvet Scoter

Kumlien´s Gull

Silas

Christmas came early

Pintail

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.

Iceland Gulls

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.

Common Eider ssp. borealis

Early December highlights included two Common Coots were present at Toftavatn, a Pintail at Tórshavn and four Taiga Bean Geese at Eiði.

Taiga Bean Geese

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.

Black Brant

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.

Black Brant

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.

Pied-billed Grebe

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.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

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!

Silas

Winter mode

Pale Kumlien´s Gull at Suðuroy in November

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…

White mountain tops

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.

White-wingers in Klaksvík

Nice dark Kumlien´s Gull in Vestmanna

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.

Goldfinch

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.

Five Ring-necked Ducks

Ring-necked Ducks

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.

Taiga Bean Goose

Taiga Bean Geese

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…

Silas

Eastern Yellow Wagtail

Waves in Sumba

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.

Kumlien´s Gull

White-sided Dolphin?

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.

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull

In Famjin we found a Song Thrush and a male Common Merganser along with Siberian Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps.

Siberian Chiffchaff

Common Merganser

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.

Goldfinch

It was rather windy and observing the waves was stunning. Grey Seals seemed to enjoy the waves and several animals were seen well.

Storm

Grey Seal

Grey Seal

Storm

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.

Eastern Yellow Wagtail

Eastern Yellow Wagtail

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.

Eastern Yellow Wagtail sonogram –
First two are Eastern Yellow Wagtails. Then ssp Beema and the fourth being the Sumba bird

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.

Eastern Yellow Wagtail

Eastern Yellow Wagtail

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.

Steller´s Eider

Silas

Autumn ends

Greenland Greater White-fronted Goose

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.

Common Whitethroat

On the 22nd a Common Coot was present at Toftavatn and the three Ring-necked Ducks were still at Eiði.

Common Coot

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.

Bullfinch

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.

Lesser Black-Backed Gull

Steller`s Eider

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.

Surf Scoter

A Little Egret was present in Tórshavn in late October and I connected with the bird on the 1st November.

Little Egret

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.

American Black Duck Hybrid

American Black Duck Hybrid

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.

Silas

Winter is coming

Sheep and snow in the mountains at Viðareiði

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.

Carina watching a Ring-necked Duck

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.

Ring-necked Duck

Ring-necked Duck

After returning to our cottage I went for a short walk only to find an Arctic Warbler 2 minutes walk from the cottage.

Arctic Warbler

Arctic Warbler

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.

Lesser Whitethroat

Back home in Hvannasund I found a Hawfinch close to home joined by a few Blackcaps, Wood Pigeon, Fieldfares and Yellow-browed Warblers.

Hawfinch

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.

Three Siberian Chiffchaffs

A skulky Dunnock eventually showed itself and close by a presumed rostrata or northwestern Redpoll offered great views.

Northwestern Redpoll

In the ditches close by I flushed a Jack snipe, which is my first this year. Also a nice bird to observe.

Jack Snipe

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.

Yellow Wagtail

Yellow Wagtail

Yellow Wagtail

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.

Western Subalpine Warbler

Western Subalpine Warbler

Western Subalpine Warbler

Silas

They are here!

Dunnock

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.

William, me, Sjúrður, Jón and Svein Ole… Jórun is missing…

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…

Akraberg – the lighthouse and the houses of the workers

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.

Kumlien´s Gull

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.

Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gull

In Hvalba a Whinchat was present in the village, but that pretty much made up the day.

Whinchat

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.

Little Ringed Plover

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.

Little Ringed Plover

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.

Isabelline Shrike

Isabelline Shrike

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…

Isabelline Shrike

Isabelline Shrike

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.

Great Northern Diver

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…

Where are they?

Goldcrests have arrived in numbers

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.

Reed Bunting

Common Redstart

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.

Ring-necked Ducks

Ring-necked Duck

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.

Siberian Chiffchaff

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.

Bullfinch

Bullfinch

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.

Red-backed Shrike

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.

Whinchat

Lesser Whitethroat

Reed Warbler

Now we wait for the true megas. Where are they?

Silas

Paddyfield Warbler

Yellow-browed Warbler

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.

Paddyfield Warbler

Paddyfield Warbler

Paddyfield Warbler

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.

Tree Sparrow

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.

Western cliffs on Svinoy

Silas

Lots of birds

Yellow-browed Warbler

While Iceland and Shetland have feasted on mega rarities the Faroe Islands have been rather quiet. Or maybe quiet isn’t the word as there are plenty of birds around.

On Thursday I checked the island of Vagar, which is the second westernmost island of the Faroes. The results were Yellow-browed, Garden, Barred and Willow Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat and Chiffchaffs.

Chiffchaff

Lesser Whitethroat

Garden Warbler

On Saturday I checked Suðuroy along with Jórun Pólsdóttir. Birding was great with 16 Yellow-browed Warblers scattered around the islands.

Jórun birding

At Trongisvágur at Common Rosefinch and a Common Crossbill showed briefly.

Common Rosefinch and YBW

In Hvalba a Common Redstart showed well and constitutes the first record of the year for the Faroes.

Common Redstart

From the ferry we observed a pod of Risso´s Dolphins. Some even breached the surface, which was cool to observe.

Risso´s Dolphin

On Saturday a Snowy Owl was photographed in the mountains above Oyri. Today I hiked some 12 kilometers to look for it without success. Afterwards I checked the plantation in Hvalvík. Pied Flycatcher and 5 Yellow-browed Warblers were nice.

Yellow-browed Warbler

Yellow-browed Warbler

A likely Blyth´s Reed Warbler was also present, but in spite of using 1½ hour in the plantation I never got good photos and thus I left… after all I was sure it wasn´t a mega…

At Eiði I found another 12 Yellow-browed, Garden, Barred and Willow Warbler, but nothing rarer.

Yellow-browed Warbler

Then I checked Rituvík and Æðuvík only to find two more Yellow-browed.

And old Faroese Slupp – Jóhanna

Merlin

I really miss to have more birders here. Currently I am the only one actively looking for migrants around the islands. Would be great to have a few more people at work now. The rarities are here… but we do lack man-power. After brexit we could join the UK… Then some people might turn up… Or Iceland… or Denmark…

Silas