Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Incursion into Lincolnshire! 17.5.2011.

For some time I've been meaning to arrange a trip to Frampton Marsh RSPB Reserve on the western side of The Wash. What a superb site! Essentially it's a wetland site behind a saltmarsh area with accompanying grassland areas and a variety of hedge lines and more composite areas of scrub cover. All the usual facilities are available at the Centre, together with several hides, making up for a site that it's very easy to spend a whole day at. I did , and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

For me the highlights were species like Corn Bunting, Tree Sparrow and Yellowhammer, which are absent or in low numbers on Islay. Added to this were three Temminck's Stints , Wood Sandpiper, Ruff, Little Ringed Plover, a flock of Black=tailed Godwits, Avocet, numbers of Ringed Plover and Redshank, Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Snipe and several Dunlin. Duck included Mallard, Gadwall, Shelduck, Tufted Duck, Shoveler, Wigeon, plus Grey lag, Canada and dark bellied brent Geese, little and Great crested Grebe, Coot, Moorhen and Mute Swan. Complementing these were Sedge and Reed warblers and several Whitethroat plus Little Egret. A fascinating, artificial "wall" for breeding Sand Martins was something to admire as well as the dyke system which allows management of the various wetland.

A day well spent!

Monday, May 23, 2011

North Norfolk introduction! 16.5.2011.

The north Norfolk coast has such a plethora of good sites on offer it's always difficult to decide where to go each day! After an al fresco breakfast on the edge of a saltmarsh with accompanying yelping Redshank, overflying Avocets, some absolutely stunning summer plumage Grey Plover, displaying Shelduck, nearby feeding dark-bellied Brent Geese that have not yet undertaken their return journey to their distant breeding grounds in Russia, the time was ripe to visit one of the real hotspots of the area, Titchwell.

The RSPB reserve produced some fine birds: Red-crested Pochard, Marsh Harrier, warblers aplenty ( Reed, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Sedge, Whitethroat } and a good variety of waders ( Lapwing, Turnstone, Common Sandpiper, Sanderling, Dunlin, Black and Bar=tailed Godwits, Ringed Plover and a Whimbrel} and a similar array of waterbird species, Gadwall, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Shoveler, Canada Goose, Grey lag Goose, Brent Goose, Great crested Grebe and Little Grebe.

Later a trip to Cley Reserve produced a Lesser Yellowlegs, a couple of Wood Sandpiper, Greenshank and the first Little Egret of the trip. Not a bad day!

Southward ho! 15.5.2011.

Previous to an early start, and in the quiet hours of a Sunday morning, it was interesting to see a Lesser Black=backed Gull collecting nesting material from an area of derelict land within the built-up outskirts of Glasgow, a rather apt reminder that, if allowed to do so, birds will live in routine harmony with ourselves.

Journeying southwards on our busy motorway network usually holds little of interest, and today was no exception, although commoner species like Woodpigeon and various corvids occurred throughout. Stopping off in Sheffield provided the first Swifts and a welcome break to sort out various arrangements re cars, Matthew meeting up with me in Norfolk and an opportunity to catch up on the latest bird news, of which there was a tantalising excess of news!

Late afternoon saw my departure on the final leg of my journey into north Norfolk and an increasing number of species being picked up from roadside locations, ranging from Blackcap and Reed Warbler to Kestrel, Stock Dove and Red -legged Partridge. A not altogether disappointing start!!

The adventure starts! 14.5.2011.

A busy day getting everything ready before being away, ostensibly to get some work completed on the car, see family, shop (!) and, of course ,carry out some intensive birding. Whilst Islay is a wonderful place in some respects, its location means that many of the migrants that regularly occur on the east coast of Britain only reach Islay very occasionally, and the celebrated "falls" of Continental migrants are not really experienced at all. So the main objective of the next couple of weeks is to try and connect with a few of these migrants, as well as visiting a number of celebrated birding spots to pick up on a whole variety of species with a more southern distribution. I suspect this is when the action starts on Islay!!!

The late ferry and subsequent journey through to Glasgow provided very little of interest but the time was invaluable as far as "planning and plotting" ahead was concerned. More encouraging was news of a whole variety of good birds in different parts of the country which served to whet my appetite!! Ever onward!!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Somewhat sour skua watch.

Sour, well wouldn't you be? Out at just after 0500 hours, after plans to be on Jura had necessarily to be altered, with the intention of gaining some respite by completing a seawatch and, hopefully , connecting with some of the various skua species that have been passing the Outer Hebrides or even turning up in the Solway. All the usual "culprits" were in evidence.... Manx Shearwaters , Fulmars, Gannets , Kittiwakes, Shags, Arctic Terns, passing Whimbrel, passing Red-throated Diver, Auks galore but of skuas, not a smell, hint, raised expectation or even a mis-identification!!

Back for breakfast at 0800 hours and then a further three hours. Nothing!! I am convinced skuas, other than the odd bird, pass to the west of Ireland and cut across to the Outer Hebrides, unless they decide to cut across the bottom of Ireland , enter the Solway and take the overland route. However, in times past , colleague and friend, one Andy Schofield used to have skuas passing east along the southern shores of Islay. Whether these then went up through the Sound of Jura and gained height to pass NE above the Great Glen is a matter for conjecture. Certainly something similar happens in autumn with birds passing Chanonry Point, Inverness and continuing WSW into the Great Glen area, although we never appear to receive the benefit of "descending" birds along our north coast so they possibly continue west at height along the north coast of Ireland. Fascinating stuff!

as far as today goes, yours well and truly skewered!!

Waders to the fore! 11/5/2011.

A bit of a mixed day weatherwise but generally acceptable!!

A couple of small parties of "Greenland" Wheatears near home, all females as far as I could establish, showed migration still to be in full swing. Suddenly too, Swallows appear to be in increased numbers and generally distributed. On Loch Indaal a flock of around 80 Bar-tailed Godwits , all still in winter plumage, were avidly feeding prior to continuing on migration and a party of Whimbrel in nearby fields showed their passage still to be continuing and vocal Arctic Terns moved mechanically to and fro along the shore.

At the RSPB Reserve at Gruinart the Wood Sandpiper was still present along with a number of resplendent male Shoveler, several Wigeon , both males and females, and at least three male Gadwall. Several adult Grey Heron hunted over the pools and periodically departed back to their nest areas. Throughout a Corncrake called incessantly as if spurred on by the occasional rain showers.

As I returned home two Cuckoo erupted from the garden followed, soon after,, by the wonderful bubbling call of the female bird. Later news that at least four Corncrake ae now in the general vicinity of the village which suggests birds have arrived in the last few days.

May I take this opportunity to make mention of the American Birding Association. At the beginning of the year I renewed a previous membership which, for whatever reason, went astray. On querying what happened I received a personal E-mail from the new President, Jeff Gordon, putting things right and passing on good wishes. May I simply say that it's a great organization and if you're interested in American birds then join! Regular magazines , occasional conventions, a regular Newsletter and an infrastructure that is geared to support birders and with a good web site. Follow it through!!

May I also draw your attention to a critique ( bit of a rant I suppose ) that I've put on one of my other Blogs ( Conservation Concerns.....see the link opposite or ) that deals with Scottish sporting estates and raptor persecution, as dealt with in a recent BBC TV documentary. Blood boiling stuff!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

10 th May,2011. Divers save the day!

The strong winds of late finally appear to have settled down somewhat having provided another period of easterlies and south easterlies in spring, a sure fire invitation for us to receive a period of westerlies!!

The day provided an opportunity to be on Jura , although the outcome was a little quiet in many respects. Best of the bunch were two Greta Northern Divers during the day, one in full breeding dress and the other not quite there and looking a little scruffy. Two or three Red-throated Divers were around, including one that flew past very close at eye level calling and then completed a U-turn and disappeared back up the Sound.

A lot of birds are now on breeding territories with Common Sandpiper in good numbers along both shores. At the beginning of the day the fresh southerly wind encouraged both Buzzard and Sparrowhawk into display over the Islay coast. Of interest was a small movement of Swallows south down the Sound, almost as if they had overshot on their first attempt at returning to their breeding grounds and were readjusting. By contrast a pair of Canada Geese had no doubts about their conviction towards their final location as they flew north along the Jura coast all the way up the Sound and beyond. An examination of records on Islay over, say, the last five years would show a small, but well defined migration or temporary presence of birds developing in spring. Last summer also showed breeding birds and an itinerant party of non-breeding birds on Jura suggesting a gradual extension from the mainland.

As the afternoon closed so did the weather, with a heavy downpour and more cloud in evidence. It's to be hoped that, even with the recent cold winds , the bright and dry weather of late is not the only prolonged interval we receive! Certainly as I listened for Corncrake from home around 2215 hours the calling of a lone Cuckkoo inserted some optimism towards this still being summer!!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

3 rd May,2011. More routine day.

Spent day locally or seeking out breeding evidence for a couple of species for the BTO Atlas survey. I still harbour thoughts of Long-eared Owl being present on Islay given there is a small population on Colonsay!

Northern Wheatear pairs now seem to have reached usual numbers locally, but Meadow Pipit numbers and Stonechat have taken a tumble! Feedback suggests that this species has not fared too well in other parts of the country either. A Cuckoo called throughout the day, presumably not yet having attracted a mate. I was intrigued by the behaviour of a lamb when confronted by two feeding Chough that had swooped down and commenced to probe the thin soil between an outcrop of rocks it was lying near. Clearly it had not been in the close proximity of such "large" birds before and its behaviour suggested it was utterly bewildered. It stood up, it laid down, it backed off, all the while watching the birds intently. When finally they flew it ran back to its mother! It does actually make you wonder what goes through the minds of animals as they serenely, at least usually, survey the landscape around them. A bit like me after my dinner I suspect!!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Migration in full swing? 2nd May,2011.

Another glorious day with the wind easing slightly, although surface conditions out on Outer Loch Indaal still not calm enough to get a good survey completed, particularly combined with the sun dappling effects on the surface!

A male Whinchat near home and a pair later near Coull were the first I'd seen this year. A couple of groups of "Greenland" Wheatears at the tip of the Rinns suggested passage and more Whitethroat and Sedge Warbler appear to be present. A Golden Plover flew north near Portnahaven, as did a Ringed Plover, and 3 Sandwich Tern and 5 Arctic Tern were present within Loch Indaal. A single male Garganey at the RSPB Loch Gruinart Reserve was also new.

Whimbrel were much in evidence with passage near Portnahaven and birds at several points around Loch Indaal and near Ballinaby. Of 45 that were resting at the head of Loch Indaal , 40 suddenly rose and made their way north east, climbing at a very steep angle. In early May, 2008 (see archives), I made various comments about Whimbrel spring passage and their intended breeding areas. Of the birds passing north up the west coast of Islay I think we can be sure their eventual breeding area is in Iceland. Birds that are heading north east are possibly part of the Shetland or Scandinavian breeding population, in this case their intended flight line having been affected by the seriously strong and persistent easterly winds we are experiencing. That these birds use the Great Glen as a "lead line" is of alternative interest given the obvious benefit taken from this "short cut" by skuas and terns in some autumns as observed at Chanonry Point near Inverness. I have observed this choice of NE direction before by Whimbrel,therefore, birds passing up the west coast of Britain, and using Islay as a staging post, may then opt for the two route choices more commonly than we think!

A seawatch produced nothing of particular interest with all species seemingly involved in feeding movements. A couple of groups of Dunlin ( 19 and 10 ) were resting up around Loch Indaal, a sure sign they were on the move, and a single Greenshank near Bridgend, but generally wader numbers were low. The low tide conditions and bright sunlight prevented any useful examination of the wide expanse of sand and mud at the head of the loch.
A group of 23 Red-breasted Merganser enthusiastically fed on a near surface food source accompanied by 3 Arctic Terns simultaneously exploiting the prey! Two Barnacle Geese on the open sands near Bridgend were clearly injured, but may yet survive the summer as has been seen to happen previously. Numbers of Shelduck (110 ) and Oystercatcher (140 ) were of note, although more of the latter could have fed way "offshore".
At Gruinart resplendent Pintail, Shoveler, Teal, Wigeon, a Red-breasted Merganser and a Tufted Duck were all on show together with the handsome male Garganey. Sadly breeding wader numbers seem to be reduced this spring, but time will tell, certainly some replenishing rain would not go amiss!
At Ballinaby the Curlew Sandpiper present yesterday was still around together with some striking "Northern" Golden Plover, a few Dunlin and a group of Whimbrel.

So, all in all, not a bad day!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Glorious 1st May, 2011!

What a tremendous day, although spoilt slightly by the persistent easterly wind , which was quite strong at times. Variety of things covered locally without unearthing anything special. The early evening then saw me meeting up with the Army Orn.Soc., a party from which had been camping out on Jura for the last couple of days assisting with BTO Atlas work. Well done to Roger Dickey and the team whose efforts have now seen some of the less easily accessed areas of Jura adequately covered.

We all met up and went to RSPB Gruinart in the hope of picking up one of the early arriving Corncrakes, but to no avail. It was good to see a variety of summer migrants, a lingering Whooper Swan and a magnificent overflying male Hen Harrier, but of Crex crex there was no sign! So, in the face of disappointment, we retired to the pub and had a pleasant couple of hours with some traditional Islay culture thrown in too!

Again, many thanks indeed lads. Much appreciated.