We had a couple of weeks down on the mainland, the main reason, of course, for going was Ian’s mum’s funeral. Everything went as well as a funeral can go, it was a lovely celebration of mum-in-law’s life and there were lots of people there as could be expected really, she was such a lovely soul who never had a bad word to say about anyone.
While in close proximity to London we were able to catch up with friends. One of which, Gill suggested visiting the Ansel Adams exhibition that was showing at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. It wasn’t really Ian’s thing so i headed off on my own into London – feeling very country girl hick! Managed not to get lost.
Anyway i enjoyed the exhibition immensely and then became even more adventurous by heading off into central London to go to the National Portrait Gallery where i had pre-booked tickets to the Man Ray exhibhition. I arrived a little early – before my allotted time so sat on the wall in Trafalgar Square taking in the sights!
Once finished in Essex we headed up to Shropshire to spend some time with my own family. It was my daughter, Sara’s, birthday on the same day as mine and our day out of choice was birding Well, Sara’s first word was bird so no surprise there then. First we headed off to Venus Pool, the Shropshire Ornithological Society site outside of Shrewsbury where all the usual suspects were gathered! Nothing out of the ordinary but a pair of Bullfinch was nice – not something you see in the Hebrides very often (i last saw them in Lewis in the Northern Bullfinch invasion of Autumn 2004). We had a lovely hide picnic, spreading ourselves and our food and goodies out along the shelf
In the afternoon we headed down to Wall Farm at Kynnersley – wow, that hide hadn’t changed in years – it must have been 12 years since Sara and i had visited. The posters that we had put up in 1998 advertising the YOC were still up on the wall. Yes, good old YOC, remember them? None of that Wildlife Explorers stuff back then! We half expected to see our own ancient notes in the hide log book but that at least had been updated recently. We thought we might see some hares out across the field but no luck.
Ian hadn’t explored shropshire very much so we did a little bit of touristy stuff. Visited Ironbridge, bought pork pies from Eley’s.
Another day we went out to Church Stretton and up over the Long Mynd – couldn’t see a darn thing for the thick fog! Ah well next time. Stopped off at Wentnor (home of my ancestors) and had a look around the church there. A lovely spot.
Mum and dad’s garden had a constant stream of bird visitors and i kept a list every day i was there. Good to see was Nuthatch – too quick for me to get a photo though. Siskins and Reed Bunting were also regulars and of course all this activity attracted the attention of a Sparrowhawk which had the occasional flyby. Needless to say we had no ringing equipment with us!
An uneventful journey back north but we seemed to have got out of the south just in time – we left Shropshire on Thursday 21st March at 4am and a few hours later it started to snow, and didn’t stop for three days! At the time of writing (8th April, mum says there is still snow lying under the hedges in places).
No such trouble with the weather here in the Hebrides! We’ve had a very cold easterly wind but it’s been wall to wall sunshine for more than two weeks now and not a drop of rain.
Straight back into patchbirding as soon as we got back and a few additions have been Black-headed Gull, Sparrowhawk, Linnet, Shoveler and Goldfinch plus the Pied Wagtails have arrived We had a trip down to North Uist to have another look at the Harlequin Duck – no good shots, it remained distant all the time we were there. Nice view of a Merlin on the way back to the car though – it was carrying it’s supper of Turnstone.
The funniest thing that happened was that Ian had spent weeks being cheesed off because i saw Rock Pipit on the patch while he was away – we’d not recorded it on our patch before so he was holding out little hope of seeing one. The morning after we arrived back from England he found a dead one outside on the decking. He so wanted to tick that bird, but nope, sorry, dead don’t count!
Oh go on then, just one more black and white shot…
Migration seems to be in full swing now – there were hundreds of Golden Plover and Redwings on the machair this afternoon, they were all feeding, fuelling up no doubt for their journey north. I spent at least a couple of hours there watching this amazing sight, all to the background soundtrack of singing Skylark’s and displaying Lapwings. I love the machair!
I guess it’s the only survey where i’m really happy if i find nothing at all – the annual National Beached Bird Survey organised by the RSPB. It’s the third year running that i’ve done this survey and out of the three years have only found corpses last year. Once again i covered the Orasay to Askernish stretch and Bill next door very kindly gave me a lift to my start point at Orasay where i saw my first Goldfinches of the year – a nice little posse of 8 on the wires there. It was an absolutely stonking day for a walk along the high tide line – blue sky, sunshine and hardly a breathe of wind – Hebridean winter days don’t come much better than this!
Well i apologise in advance but i’m going to bore you with a few more sunny beach shots. Will sorry be alright? If not, tough, deal with it!
The only other person i saw on the beach was Bill who had surveyed the Frobost to Askernish section and we met up at Askernish when we’d both just finished. Happily Bill had found no dead bodies either. He was holding a small bag so i asked him if he’d found anything interesting. He said “no, just a bit of rubbish i’ve picked up from along the beach“. It made me think about a documentary i’d watched a few days previously, to cut a long story short, it was about three guys who wanted to run across the Sahara dessert. They started in Senegal, at the Atlantic and there were shots of them on the beach – they wanted to start with their feet in the Atlantic Ocean. What really made me sit up and take notice was the sheer amount of crap, debris and rubbish on the beach there, it was undescribable. It made me pretty depressed really, i suppose if i dwell on the subject, which i try not too, it just confirms the fact that as long as there are people around, the world is f.cked. I suppose there’s no point me giving up, i don’t think i could, and i’ve just got to carry on doing my own little bit, much like Bill picking up the rubbish off Askernish beach and hope for the best that it will rub off on other people…
It must be that time of year when the land users get the urge to burn off the moors. On returning from the Beached Bird Survey there was a lot of smoke appearing over the hills in the south of uist and a few days later Barra (or Mordor as we fondly call it – due to it’s very often gloomy, cloud-laden appearance) looked like it was on fire.
As far as the Patchwork Challenge goes I ended February with 62 species for the patch. Can’t complain at that. I didn’t quite see as many species during February as during January. I extracted a graph from BirdTrack
Ian arrived home on the 24th February, seemed like he’d been away for ever but at least he got to spend some time with his lovely mum during her final days.
A few foggy days followed Ian’s arrival back home but we were still able to get out birding.
A few new birds were added to the list, including Glaucous Gull – white wings have been pretty few and far between this winter so it was good to find one just down on the beach at Askernish, on patch Also on the beach was a Raven with a ring, we wondered if it was one of the one’s that Terry had ringed in the nest.
A few more scarce (for here) species turned up on the patch as well, a couple of Pink-feet in with the White-fronts, plus Scaup and Pintail on Loch Hallan.
The Pintail had turned up as a pair.
The Whooper Swan numbers are starting to build up on nearby Loch Hallan. They gather there every year and leave, to fly north, en masse. It’s fabulous to go outside at most times of the day and be able to hear their trumpety calls in the distance.
Once Ian had caught up with all his jobs around the house, including planting another 100 trees (making a total of 800 since 2010), we decided to have a trip up to North Uist to have a look at the drake Harlequin Duck that had turned up there. I’ve seen Harlequin here before, when i lived in Lewis i went to see the long staying female that had turned up there in 2004.
The drake Harlequin was fairly distant and photographing it was fun – 100 shots of the sea and 12 of the duck
We also added the Loch Sandary Pochard to our 2013 Western Isles list and my 100th species for the year was the Snow Geese that are on the fields near Loch Sandary.
Well, that’s me done with rattling on for now. We are leaving on the overnight ferry tomorrow night to head down to the mainland for Ian’s mum funeral On a brighter note we’ll be able to at least catch up with friends and my family while we’re away. It will be both mine and my daughter’s birthday on the 19th and we already have a birding trip planned for that day
Finally here is a picture from a few years ago of Ian being silly as usual – he’s dressed up in the clothes that he had given to him by his Moroccan friends – or is he the genie that just popped out of the lamp (watering can) that his mum has just rubbed…
Excellent news this week is that we’ve had the first ringing details back with information about the Norwegian Starling that Ian caught here at home while i was away in Canada last November. It was first ringed over 2 years previously, south of Oslo, on the 1st August 2010, as a hatch year male. It had travelled a distance of 1094km (680 miles) in a WSW direction and it was 846 days since it was first ringed.
View Starling control – 7534146 in a larger map
Had a good February WeBS count – i did the counts for both mine and Ian’s sites as he’s still away down on the mainland so that was Loch Bee and the South Ford. There wasn’t anything really out of the ordinary but the weather was kind and i had good views of Scaup at Loch Bee – quite often they are pretty distant.
Back in the dim and distant past i remember sitting on the M25 for 4 hours in a traffic jam, i really, really don’t miss those days! Road congestion has a whole different meaning here in the islands.
This year, encouraged by the Patchwork Challenge guys, i’ve been entering my daily sightings into BirdTrack, i was happy to discover this week that there is an app available for the iPhone. Not that i have an iPhone but i do have an iPad and the BirdTrack app is compatible with that. Hmm, i can already hear my kids muttering “mum’s still a geeky saddo…” Having an endless fascination with data and spreadsheets (i’m a ringer, we have these weird brains) i’ve found that you can do various things with your BirdTrack entries (you have to do this by logging in to the BTO website). Here is a link to the data that i downloaded, in Excel format – it’s my January Patch list: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/pub?key=0AtRDd-6QA_V8dEdvU2owSUYwTDdtRUtXVTFIRnR6YlE&single=true&gid=0&output=html You can also create rather cool graphs, both are for the patch:-
One of the things i really like about the BirdTrack app is that you can view what other users at sites within a 50 mile radius have entered into BirdTrack over the last 3, 7 and 14 days by looking at the “Hotspots” page. This 50 mile radius seems to cover all of the southern isles (Berneray, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist, Eriskay and Barra) plus Rhum, Coll and Tiree, Skye and at least part of Mull and the mainland. Apologies for the fuzzy phone pic my camera battery died at the crucial moment!
You can select each red pin and it will tell you the grid reference and what has been seen there. I like it
I’ve been hanging round the house quite a lot this week, it’s that time of year when i need to get busy, making up all my cards for the Uist Craft Producers shop at Kildonan which will no doubt be opening up at Easter. I’ve also been amusing myself by doing a 5 week Astrobiology course run by Edinburgh University via the Coursera website, i’ve found it fascinating. I’ve also signed up (just for fun you understand) for the Statistics: Making Sense of Data course which will start on the 1st April and is presented by the University of Toronto.
Every now and again i have to take a break from making cards and wander off to see what birds are around. I keep the scope set up in the lounge, it looks out on the loch at the front and over towards Loch Hallan and the machair and dunes and i have a periodic scan across.
The garden feeders have been pretty busy and i’ve had the odd invasion of the “black plague”
A couple more patch ticks came my way. The first was a Hooded Crow – pretty scarce here in Askernish, the local gamekeeper is pretty thorough at clearing them out!
The second patch tick for this week was a Short-eared Owl. On an evening trip up to Balivanich and back my neighbour and i saw 4 – the first ones for this year, happily the last one was just about inside the patch when we turned into the road down into Askernish.
We’ve had some stunning sunsets this week, this one was taken looking out of the front garden:-
News has arrived of a drake Harlequin Duck that has appeared in North Uist, for details and the write-up by Brian see the local natural history society (Curracag) website’s sightings page: http://www.curracag-wildlifenews.org.uk/viewtopic.php?f=15&t=605
Hope it hangs around until Ian gets back, he doesn’t have Harlequin Duck on his Western Isles list. I saw the one that was in Lewis in 2004
The weather next week looks pretty promising so I’m hoping to get the moth trap out then – there were a few around in the car headlights last night. Spring is definitely coming!
Had a very stormy start to the week with high winds Monday and Tuesday. Monday was particularly abysmal with winds gusting to 60-odd miles an hour and horizontal snow.
This is what the swell chart looked like for Monday – you can’t fail to be impressed with this eh?!
Some video of the massive waves “up the Butt” from the Eoropie Tearoom Facebook page.
Shetland and Orkney have also been suffering, take a look at this footage of the lighthouse on Fair Isle from this blog post: http://fair-isle.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/lighthouse-walls-fall-to-biggest-waves.html
And a blog post from Fair Isle from the day after, with lots of pictures: http://fair-isle.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/damage-done-south-lighthouse-fair-isle.html
Since Wednesday it’s just been grey and drizzly but at least i’ve been able to get out every day for a walk around the patch. I was hoping something had been blown in but it was pretty quiet all along the beach.
I was very happy to add a couple more species to my 2013 patch list: a Moorhen was heard calling from the reeds by Loch Hallan and then two days later one was on the loch at the front of the house. Friday i added the 60th species – Dunlin when three were on the beach with the other waders (Barwits, Oycs, Sanderling, Ringed Plover, Turnstones). Nice flock of 24 Long-tailed Duck not far offshore.
Met RSPB Stuart on my walk back across the machair and had a chat with him, hoped he might be able to point me in the direction of some on-patch Corn Buntings no luck but we had a nice chat in the pouring rain, swapping tales of what we hadn’t seen, bemoaning the lack of Glaucs and Iceland Gulls here this winter.
Ian is still away down in Essex and getting ever more twitchy to get back to the island. I sent him a phone photo from the beach – it was completely empty, not a person in sight in any direction, no sounds apart from the birds and the sea. He sent a very grumpy text back saying he was in Ikea surrounded by hundreds of other shoppers. Shame
It’s been nice for the last few weeks, my friend Jane has been visiting here from Lewis and we’ve had plenty of time for long chats and girly nights with lots of glasses of wine. Jane’s been working down here but in her spare time has been sketching and painting. Up in Lewis she runs the Blue Pig studio in Carloway. You can click on the two following photos to visit Jane’s facebook page.
Is spring on it’s way? There were quite a few Redwings around on Friday, are they beginning to make a move back north?
Well Saturday dispelled that Spring theory as i went to do the monthly Winter Thrushes Survey and didn’t find a single Redwing or Fieldfare! A smattering of Blackbirds and Song Thrushes only. Mind you as i walked through the woods at North Locheynort it was noticeably noisier – plenty of Robins and Wrens singing.
Saturday afternoon had a phone call which said “would you like a Heron?” Well, yes, why not? My friend Louise turned up with a Grey Heron that she’d found dead in her garden after the storm the other day. Poor thing. I’m always up for a learning experience though and i haven’t handled any fully grown herons so i had a good look at it, got Baker* out to see about the ageing. I came to the conclusion that it was a bird hatched last year: grey crown with just a little dark streaking. Short dark grey ornamental feathers. The bird had died in pretty poor condition, there was virtually no muscle on the breast.
Sunday’s weather was pretty poor (pouring rain and breezy) and i didn’t venture out but still managed to have a quick scan around the patch using the ‘scope out of the front window – the best sight was an otter running from Loch Hallan, across the golf course and machair and into the dunes.
*Identification Guide to European Non-Passerines (BTO Guide 24), Kevin Baker, 1993
Well i did declare that my new year’s resolution this year was to “bird longer, bird harder” so when i went off on Saturday to help out with the twice a year goose count for the Machair Life+ project i had my eyes peeled for everything not just geese.
It was an amazingly beautiful morning, particularly after all the gales we’d been having. Calm and sunny. A perfect Hebridean winters day.
I had to cover all the roads and side roads for my section of the goose count – my section being Howbeg in the north down to Bornish and Rubha Ardvule in the south (not including the point at Ardvule). I dropped in at the small bay just before the cemetary at Ard Michael as there are usually a few birds there. I scanned the beach and the sea and spotted a lone gull swimming about near the edge, picking up titbits from the surface of the water. I automatically thought Black-headed Gull but then thought “no hang on a minute, there haven’t been too many BH Gulls around during the winter” and also Ian keeps drumming it into me that if you see something on it’s own, check it out! I took a better look and noticed the bill was black and that the unmoulted wing feathers looked dark. 1st winter Bonaparte’s? I’d seen plenty in Canada but wasn’t really expecting to see one here, although anythings possible and i knew that Bonaparte’s have turned up in the past. I waited a wee while to see if it would leave the water so that i could get a look at the leg colour or if it would fly. No luck. So i fired off a couple of photos and thought i would have a look at them later on as i’d better get on with counting geese. Later in the evening i’d sent the photo to our friend James asking him if i was being a numpty stringer but his reply was “No numptiness involved this time Yvonne – this is a mo-foing Bonaparte’s!! Well done! It’s hard to tell size but it really does look a step down from BHG and the short, thin black bill, the black on the remiges and the ear spot all say Bonaparte’s“. Erm, thanks James Cool! Ian’s still on the mainland and is going to be soooo pissed off
So, on with the goose count… Locheynort was looking particularly good, the sea loch like a mirror and there were lots of seals out on the rocks.
Always nice to see Whooper Swans, especially with family. And there were 4 Little Grebes on the tidal area by the bridge on the way down to North Locheynort.
At Bornish machair there were hundreds of birds, mainly Golden Plover, Lapwings and also a flock of around 200 Twite. Wondered if there were any Lap Bunts so scanned carefully around but no luck – they’ve been in a bit short supply this autumn and winter.
So, i ended the day with 230 geese counted. A fab morning out in perfect weather although i do have the feeling that it’s the calm before the storm!
Bird of the month has to be the Gyr Falcon that turned up on the 10th January, and it hung around long enough to give us great views and take photos.
It’s been a funny old month weatherwise. A few fab calm, sunny days where we’ve been able to get the mist nets out – a rarity in the summer let alone the middle of winter! Then some days of seemingly endless gales. I had five days in Lewis over last weekend and only got back to Uist by the skin of my teeth – it was a pretty rocky ferry ride and there were then no ferries for the two days afterwards. Ian had to go away to the mainland mid-month and was pretty miffed when i was able to add Woodpigeon, Jackdaw and Rook to my Western Isles list for 2013. Sadly the weather conditions were too grim to have a walk around Stornoway Woods to get Blue and Coal Tit on my list as well. Next time. Whoever thought i’d see the day when i’m driving for 2.5 hours and having a 1 hour ferry journey to get Blue Tit on my year list. Crazy!
The ringing during Janaury has been pretty so so, nothing spectacular. Some of the Greenfinches and Starlings that we’ve retrapped were first ringed in 2010. Here is the list for the month – the table hasn’t got the House Sparrow sightings on yet, i’ll add them once they’ve all finished being entered into IPMR.
|Western Isles Ringing – January 2013|
|No. of species:||4||6|
The moth trap hasn’t been out at all this month. Ian did find this caterpillar while he was doing some jobs around the garden:-
The Patch Birding has been fun, with Ian being off-island i’ve finished the month just ahead of him but i’m sure he’ll catch up later in the year when i’m working full time and won’t have so much chance for prolonged birding. Mind you, over the course of 3 to 4 months i will be working one full day a week on the patch, if i can’t add some species to my list then it’ll be a pretty poor thing!
This last week of January has been pretty rough, on the 29th we recorded a gust of 73mph and a steady 49mph broke our record for 10 minute average wind speed. At the height of the gale i could hear the heavy wooden bench at the front of the house “walking” around the decking which was a bit alarming! The power was off for an extended period both overnight and during the day, had to dig out the old camping stove for cooking and making cups of coffee. Spent the day doing work that didn’t need the computer or mobile phone. The mobile network was down each time the power went off, i’m not really sure why that was.
Today, the 31st January the weather had settled a little, the wind had dropped and was only gusting to just under 40mph, the birds seemed to have returned and i had a wander around the patch to see if the wind had blown anything in. No new birds. Plenty of Barwit and Sanderling on the beach. 23 Greenland White-fronts and a couple of hundred Golden Plover on one of the fields just down the road. There are mountains of kelp washed up on the beach and i found this bone. I’m not sure if it’s a whale bone or a dolphin bone…
So i’m ending the month with 92 species on my Western Isles year list and 57 of those seen on the patch. Be interesting to see what February brings…
We always enjoy receiving an email from the BTO with details of one of our birds that has been recovered elsewhere. We are most certainly always happy to read that the bird was captured alive and well by another ringer rather than the sad but too frequent news that it was “freshly dead” and “killed by cat“.
The latest email shows where one of the juvenile Blackbirds, ringed here in South Uist with number LC66596, had moved to. The records show that the bird was ringed by us on the 9th June 2012 at 04:50 (ah! don’t you just miss those long summer days – i’m writing this while listening to the horizontal rain lashing against the window with hardly any respite in sight for at least the next week). Sorry, i’m getting sidetracked… The Blackbird headed south and was recovered 125 days later on the 12th October 2012 by another ringer, Mark, in Breibhig in Barra. A distance of 25km.
View Blackbird Recovery LC66596 in a larger map
As a new year begins, it is a time to correlate the past year’s data from our Retrapping of Adults for Survival (RAS) project and to summarise the results. Since the project began in November 2010, a total of 445 House Sparrows have been colour-ringed within our study area here in Askernish, South Uist. 213 birds were ringed in 2012, of which 183 were juveniles and a total of 5995 field observations were recorded.
When the RAS season ended, we had managed to amass a total of 3783 field observations taken during the 5 month period, April to August. Breaking this data down to its simplest form, this years flock consisted of 57 adults who have remained within the study area, an increase of 3 on last year. They were joined by an additional 19 adults, the vast majority of these being caught during bad weather in a period when they were probably feeding chicks in the nest. These birds could therefore be having to venture a little further afield from nearby areas, attracted here by the food we provide. This is borne out by the fact that these birds are very rarely, if ever, seen again.
As for juveniles, the number of individuals caught and colour-ringed increased from 81 last year to 183 this. This is in part explained by some additional effort by us, but mainly due to an exceptional breeding season, with many pairs double brooding.
Numbers peaked in July when a total of 160 individuals were recorded here in Askernish. This fell away sharply in August, probably due to dispersal and also the presence of one, sometimes two Sparrowhawks in the immediate area. The majority of the juveniles have now dispersed and most will find pastures new.
September and October is a time when we experience an influx of new birds into our study area as juveniles from elsewhere disperse and integrate with local populations. It is also the time when we hope to hear about sightings of our birds from elsewhere. Sightings away from our study area during 2012 far exceeded those of the previous year and involved some 29 birds.
As can be seen from the map, they were reported from 7 locations, ranging from Balranald in the north to South Glendale in the south. With so many birds being seen in the latter location, how long will it be before one is reported from Barra or beyond?
View House Sparrow Sightings 2012 in a larger map
There were 3 sightings on North Uist, these being at Balranald (47 km), Clachan na Luib (41 km) and Bay Head (43 km) and involved a single bird at each location. The ring numbers of the birds seen at Balranald and Clachan na Luib could not be read so we cannot identify the individuals. A37 seen at Bay Head is a long staying bird originally seen in June 2011, and is now considered to be resident in that area. All three sightings involve a distance travelled of over 40 km, which, for a House Sparrow is considered to be a long distance movement.
There were reports of sightings from 4 locations on South Uist, of which 3 involved more than one bird. A single bird, C20 was seen in Daliburgh (3 km) on 11th November, only to be joined by another 3 (C80, F83, G04) late in December. 4 birds (B43, C48, C58, C74) were all reported from Carnan (24 Km) on various dates in October, two of which (B43 & C74) have remained. B43 is of interest as it is the only adult bird (second year bird – ringed as a juvenile in 2011) that has been recorded as changing locations, although it’s whereabouts in between leaving Askernish in July 2011 and arriving in Carnan remains a mystery. The single bird F70 was seen in North Smerclete (11 km) on 10th December.
For whatever reason, South Glendale (11 km) would appear to hold a special attraction for the House Sparrows of Askernish with 22 individuals being reported throughout the year. B25 and B37 arrived in 2011, both being juveniles from that year. B37 was not seen after February 2012 but B25 remains there to this date. As for the other 20 birds, 19 were this year’s juveniles, all arriving during October apart from one which was first seen in November. G05 which was ringed in November in adult plumage is presumed to be a first year bird due to its change of locations. Of all the birds seen at South Glendale, apart from B25, only 2 other birds remained until the end of the year.
Of the birds sighted in South Glendale, 3 were of special interest as they were seen in multiple locations. C20 was seen in South Glendale on 11-12th October and then in Daliburgh on 11th November. C48 and C58 were seen in both South Glendale and Carnan and initially assumed to have travelled together, where in fact they travelled in opposite directions. C48 was first seen in Carnan on 15th October and arrived in Glendale on 26th, while C58 was in Glendale on 7-8th October and arrived in Carnan 12th. The only other bird known to have commuted between two sites was a first year bird that went between Askernish and South Glendale in 2011, and therefore these additional sightings may well be an indication of the random nature of post juvenile dispersal.
2012 has been a good year for our House Sparrows and our project, which we hope will continue into 2013. Once again, I appeal to anyone who sees one of our colour ringed birds to report the sighting by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. These birds are sporting colour rings that are white with black lettering which consist of A00-99, B00-99, C00-99, F00-99 and G00-99. I would hope one would eventually turn up in your garden.
Once again, our thanks go to Bill for the time and effort he expends helping us with this project. His records are always concise and accurate and the project would be all the poorer without him. I also thank all those who took the time and trouble to report their sightings to us. I can assure you that it is very much appreciated.
On the local wildlife forum (Curracag Wildlife News) one of the members, Tristan, from Stornoway, mentioned that he was taking part in the Patchwork Challenge – the idea is that you define an area 3 sq km – your local patch, and keep a record of what you see there throughout the year. There is a scoring system, the scores depend on the status of the bird (common, local, scarce, rare, mega) and sounds quite complex at first but isn’t really. Essentially your score is calculated as a percentage of the average of your previous years scores. so, in my case for 2012 i recorded 103 species on the local patch, this would have scored 135 points. This year so far i have recorded 30 species, scoring 37 points. To calculate current score, 37 divided by 135 = 0.27407 then 0.27407 x 100 = 27.41%. MrT’s figures were 108 species for 2012 which would have scored 140 points. So far this year he has seen 31 species scoring 46 points, 32.86% of his last years score. This makes it a wee bit fairer – as the Patchwork Challenge organisers say “how can you compare Manchester to Minsmere?”
Hmmm, it sounded like it could be a bit of fun and we always record what we find on our local patch anyway… Our current local patch is bigger than the 3 sq km so we played about with the mapping tool until we had an area of exactly 3 sq km. The area includes our house and garden, most of the township we live in, the golf course and machair and the dunes, shore and a little offshore. A fair range of habitats
Thinking about some of the birds that have turned up here previously it could potentially be pretty good. In the past we’ve had Black Redstart, Corncrake and Jack Snipe all in the garden, we caught and ringed Golden Oriole in our neighbours garden. Golden and White-tailed Eagle’s do a pretty regular fly-over. Ian has had Buff-breasted Sandpiper on the machair in the autumn. And let’s face it, you really just never know what might turn up here. The most unlikely birds to turn up will be Blue or Great Tits!
Full details of the challenge can be found at http://patchworkchallenge.blogspot.co.uk And here is a write up about the challenge on the Bird Guides website: http://www.birdguides.com/webzine/article.asp?a=3558
Scoring spreadsheets were downloaded, one for each of us and we added the few species to it that we’ve seen on the patch so far this year. Ian was already a couple of species ahead of me as i’d been Sunday to Tuesday in Barra so i was keen to catch up. Not that we’re particularly competitive. Like hell!
Today started off pretty well, the forecast was not too much wind (i.e. it would be less than 20mph) so we headed off down the road to a neighbour’s house – it’s a holiday home and isn’t let out over the winter, it has a nice, sheltered walled garden and the owners are happy for us to ring there when there are no punters in. It was a pretty chilly morning and you know how it is, or maybe you don’t, maybe it’s my age, but i had to head back off home to answer a call of nature. Sitting on the loo and my phone rings. It’s Ian. He says there’s a Gyrfalcon sitting on Huw’s roof. I yell WTF! and leap up and run out to the shed to grab a bike.
Apparantly Ian was having a walk around in-between net rounds and saw a huge cloud of Rock Dove’s heading his way with a large, light-coloured bird in hot pursuit. The group had a bit of a chase around the garden and the Gyr narrowly missed a couple of the nets (bummer! but that would have brought the whole new problem of whose turn is it for a ringing tick). The Gyr then gave up and went and sat on the apex of the house next door which is where it was when i arrived back. Great views and it sat there for a while. Ian had also phoned Bill our next door neighbour and with him being an artist his first thought was to make some sketches of the bird so he arrived with his scope and sketch pad. After a while of watching i decided to head back home for my own camera but when i got back the bird had gone Still, Ian got some half reasonable photos:-
So, we both get 4 points on our Patchwork Challenge for seeing the Gyrfalcon – the most annoying thing is that Ian gets the 8 point bonus for finding it, giving him 12 points total for one bird
As it stands at the end of today Ian has 31 species and 46 points and i have 30 species and 37 points – a whole 9 points behind!! Perhaps when i wander off down to the shore tomorrow (without Ian!) i will be lucky enough to find a rather lost looking Killdeer…
Oh, and the ringing? 15 retrap Greenfinches (3 of which were from 2010 and only seem to return during the winter), 2 retrap Wrens. New birds were 1 Greenfinch, 1 Dunnock, 1 Blackbird.
My Western Isles 2013 list now stands at 81
Ian has worked very hard to get our year-end totals ready. All in all a very good year. The amazing number of House Sparrow resightings is mainly down to our neighbour Bill who faithfully records our colour-ringed birds every day that he is at home. Needless to say his wife is still telling him to “get a life!!” But we say “THANKS BILL!! you’re amazing!”
So here are the final totals for 2012:-
^ We are still awaiting details of the Norwegian ringed Starling that was captured here during November.