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Hebridean Imaging

Hebridean Imaging

Patchwork Challenge

May, spring is finally arriving!

14th May 2013 – I always find there is something really fascinating about watching a field being ploughed, the way the plough cuts through the earth and turns it over. The daisies below hadn’t quite been turned in.

You can see from the picture how sandy the soil on the machair is here. One of the reasons that there is always such an amazing variety of wildflowers on both the cropped and the fallow plots is because the ploughing is only shallow here, meaning that the wildflower seed doesn’t get buried, giving it chance to germinate. If you haven’t seen the machair in full bloom in July you haven’t lived, really, it’s amazing!

Ploughed machair

Ploughed machair

15th May 2013 – There were hundreds and hundreds of Dunlin around on the range today, one of my very favourite waders. In amongst the Dunlin there were also small numbers of Turnstone and Ringed Plover. No doubt they are all on their way north, further north than here, to breed.

A very mixed day weatherwise – a bit of everything i think – sunshine, strong winds, heavy showers, the odd rainbow. Lovely sunset tonight.

Dunlin

Dunlin

16th May 2013 – Working at Berneray all day today. This is a really crud photograph but i spotted these tiny Lapwing chicks and they were pretty far away, right on the limit of getting any sort of photograph really. Hope they survive, the weather has been very cold and wet and then there is the constant threat from the gulls and skuas that patrol the area. Nature is harsh.

Stonechat new for the patch today.

Lapwing chicks

Lapwing chicks

17th May 2013 – I’ve been meaning to stop for ages and re-photograph this old, derelict blackhouse. I originally photographed it eight years ago and wanted to compare the photographs to see how much it had deteriorated during that time. To my surprise and given the harsh conditions here it hadn’t got much worse, apart from the last section of roof caving in.

Much to my amusement there is a Starling on the left hand chimney and in the eight year old version there is also a Starling – i guess they are nesting down the chimney. I also noticed that the old belfast sink is still outside on both photographs.

When i got home i found a very excited Ian who was saying “you have to have a look at the photo i took!” He’d got a stonking shot of an otter running across the beach in front of him!

2013

17th May 2013

13th May 2005

13th May 2005

Otter!

Otter!

18th May 2013 – I must say I was very disinclined to even set foot outside of the house today, the cold northerly wind was gusting up to 41mph, although it has been bright and sunny so not all bad. After a week of early mornings I allowed myself the luxury of a lie in – even though I did wake up before 7am!

The photo today shows the view from the front window across the loch, looking towards the cemetery. I was quite impressed with how the waves on the loch were breaking over the edges of the far bank – nigh on impossible to capture and convey the strength of the wind in a photograph.

Breezy day on the loch

Breezy day on the loch

19th May 2013 –  We had a whole day birding our patch today, leaving the house, on foot at 5.40am. The weather started out pretty cold and windy but by mid morning it was a balmy 16’C

We were amazed to find this male Ruff (Philomachus pugnax), almost in full summer plumage. There are very few spring records for Ruff here in the Outer Hebrides, they are mostly seen in the autumn when they are migrating back south. The only other place i’ve seen Ruff looking as magnificent as this is Sweden where i saw them on their breeding grounds.

Our total number of species for the day was 67 – not too bad for a 3 square kilometer patch 🙂

Stonking Ruff!

Stonking Ruff!

Winter birds, summer birds…

7th May 2013 – It’s been a long day, i was out at 6.45am doing a bird survey, it was very enjoyable though, there were plenty of birds out on the machair – Lapwings, Oystercatchers, Redshank and one of my most favourite Snipe.

I was finished work by early afternoon, apart from the paperwork, so once that was done I had a wee walk with Ian to the beach. He had found some interesting fungi growing out of some cow dung earlier in the day. Ian had a look through the books and posted the photos he’d taken on the local Wildlife sightings forum. Very soon the local fungi expert, Chris had replied confirming Ian’s tentative id of Snowy Inkcap (Coprinopsis nivea). Chris also told us that spring records here are uncommon.

Snowy Inkcap (Coprinopsis nivea)

Snowy Inkcap (Coprinopsis nivea)

On returning from an after-dinner walk we spotted an unseasonably late Waxwing in next-door’s tree, very unexpected! On the walk we’d added Sand Martin and Sedge Warbler to the patch list. It wasn’t the best of light but i was pleased to see it nevertheless 🙂

Waxwing

Waxwing

8th May 2013 – Another early start for bird surveys, first I had transects to walk (wish i’d worn my wellies, it was mightily boggy out on the machair today). Then later I had a series of 1 hour vantage point surveys where I sit in my vehicle and record what birds are using specific plots and how they are using it.

While doing my third vantage point of the day, I saw, out of the corner of my eye, something moving. After staring at the empty spot for 30 seconds or so the bird showed itself again briefly and I grabbed my camera. A skulky Corncrake! My first for the year. There wasn’t much cover and it had been hiding behind a rusty metal object that had been discarded.

An evening walk turned up a Corncrake calling on the patch 🙂

Skulky Corncrake

Skulky Corncrake

9th May 2013 – Heard my first Cuckoo of the year when i left home early this morning. Had a brief stop-off at Stinky Bay, Benbecula – it wasn’t particularly Stinky on this occasion though 🙂

Stinky Bay

Stinky Bay

10th May 2013 –  Moth trap out last night. Found this Puss Moth (Cerura vinula) low down on the outside of the house first thing this morning, they are fairly common here at this time of the year. This one is a male (you can tell by the feathered antennae).

Puss Moth

Puss Moth

11th May 2013 – Saturday but still a busy day, catching up on paperwork for my other job, but i did manage a brief trip out down to the beach, stopping off at “Pochard Point” on the way. It’s called that because last year a Pochard turned up on Loch Hallan and that is where we saw it from. Today, once again there was a Pochard! The Sanderling are starting to look very smart, almost in full summer plumage. There were at least 200 on the beach plus Dunlin and Purple Sandpipers – all heading north, on migration.

Sanderling fascinate me – they run around on the water’s edge, in and out of the water and remind me of wind up toys 🙂

Sanderling

Sanderling

12th May 2013 – No work today so you’d think i would like a rest from birds but no we headed out to do our monthly Wetland Bird Survey. We have two sites to cover, both in South Uist: Loch Bee and the South Ford.  The weather was really grim, very misty and drizzling most of the time, this afternoon it came out sunny but was still rather breezy.

There were thirty odd Grey Plover on the South Ford, no doubt on their way north to the tundra to breed. They were feeding almost continually and looked like they were finding small worms of some sort to eat.

A quick trip to the beach in the van  before going back home, added Arctic Skua to the patch list.

Grey Plover

Grey Plover

13th May 2013 –  A busy day but feet up in the evening and watched The BBC’s Hebrides: Islands on the Edge. Some stunning footage, although to my mind the script/narration leaves a bit to be desired, i think it’s a bit romanticised and notice there’s a fair bit of artistic license in there!

 

Spring, arriving slowly. A little bit of winter still around…

30th April 2013 – 300 Barnacle Geese flew north over the house early this morning, new for the 2013 patch. A day spent working out on Bornish machair doing bird surveys. Today started very calm and sunny which was lovely but it gradually got windier as the day went on. This very bold Goldfinch ( Carduelis carduelis) was in the garden this afternoon when i got home.

Goldfinch

Goldfinch

At the end of April my 2013 patch list stands at 88 species.

1st May 2013 –  :-O I’m *ot able to write much today, i spilt coffee o* my keyboard & a letter *ot work *ow 🙁 Hope it dries out by tomorrow!

This Skylark kept sitti*g o* this large pile of cow du*g but every time i poi*ted the camera at it it flew off. Patie*ce was rewarded eve*tually!

Skylark

Skylark

2nd May 2013 –  Where’s summer?! These two wet male Wheatear’s shelter from the weather, they must be thinking  what the hell have they come to the Hebrides for! It was very cold sitting in the van for hours on end doing my vantage point surveys, just 4’C and that horrible damp feeling cold. I was at Iochar today and after the first three hours I took a break and popped along to the cafe at Hebridean Jewellery and warmed up with a hot chocolate. Just the job!

Two bedraggled male Wheatears

Two bedraggled male Wheatears

3rd May 2013 – Little Tern Sterna albifrons. Happy to see these summer visitors today!

Little Tern

Little Tern

4th May 2013 – Computer keyboard is 6 keys down still. The coffee spill turned out to be fatal, awaiting delivery of new keyboard. Using iPad to write diary. Anyway, it’s been a wet and windy day yet again but at least i didn’t have to work today – much as i love my job it was nice not to have to get up at just gone 6am! I spent the day catching up on the papers and some magazines and will also get on and do some course work.

Rainy day reading matter

Rainy day reading matter

5th May 2013 – Found wandering around in the garden this morning 🙂 Common sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos). In summer it breeds here by lochs and streams. Sunday, so had a walk around the patch. Apart from the Common Sandpiper I added Brent Goose to the patch list taking me up to a nice round 90 species for the year.

Common Sandpiper

Common Sandpiper

Brent Goose, 90th species for my 2013 patch list

Brent Goose, 90th species for my 2013 patch list

Twite

Twite

6th May 2013 – Well the male Wheatear’s are looking much more cheerful now – the females have turned up! I watched a pair while I was working this morning, they were checking out suitable nesting holes.

Wheatear, female

Wheatear, female

Work continues, as does the wind…

22nd April 2013 – Black-tailed Godwit added to the patch list. And the first Willow Warbler heard on the patch this year 🙂

23rd April 2013 – Wind blown. Another breezy day here today. I spent the day on the machair at Bornish, South Uist. Things were pretty quiet there birdwise although I did take some photos of some Whimbrel – they are passing through on migration at the moment. For my blip today I decided on this photo of the dunes – the sand is constantly blowing over from the beach and is gradually burying the fence line. I thought that in black and white the sand looks almost like a wave of water washing in.

Whimbrel, Bornish

Whimbrel, Bornish

Dunes at Bornish

Dunes at Bornish

Wheatear and Lesser Black-backed Gull added to the patch list.

24th April 2013 – A catching up on paperwork day. Lovely and sunny outside though and kept getting tempted out with the camera. Ian headed off for a walk this afternoon but I declined the invitation to join him. After an hour or so I got restless indoors and headed down to the beach to find him on his way home. After all the winds we’ve had there is so much seaweed on the beach, mountains of it when the tide is out. Added Razorbill and Whimbrel to the 2013 patch list.

Patch walk...

Patch walk…

25th April 2013 – Spent the day in North Uist working in and around the RSPB reserve at Balranald. A day of very mixed weather, started off with hail and 2.5’C and ended up with 9’C and sunshine! Eider are one of my favourite ducks, that green on the male’s head always seems such an unreal colour to me 🙂

Eider

Eider

26th April 2013 – Birds are my prime passion in life but are closely followed by an avid interest in moths. Knowing this our neighbour popped around earlier with this guy to be identified.

It’s a Brown House Moth – Hofmannophila pseudospretella a very common moth in the UK which apparently is an Asian species introduced into Europe in the 1840s. The wonderful habits of the larvae (caterpillar) include feeding on all the detritus that accumulates indoors behind skirting boards and other hidden places around the home.

Brown House Moth

Brown House Moth

27th April 2013 – Berneray all day today. Quite a few Ringed Plover around on the freshly ploughed machair. I haven’t found any nesting yet but i don’t suppose it will be long…

Ringed Plover

Ringed Plover

28th April 2013 – The following shot could have been great but sadly it’s not sharp enough! There were lots of Sand Martins (Riparia riparia – and know as Bank Swallow in North America) whizzing around the loch at the back of the C0-op this morning. The conditions were pretty horrible, strong winds (gusting to 47mph) but these amazing birds were still managing to find food – picking insects off the surface of the water.

I didn’t have my tripod with me and struggled with the mega beast (my 600mm lens) balanced on a fence post trying to take bird in flight photos. It was certainly a learning experience:-

* Take tripod
* Use a faster shutter speed! (This was taken at 1/640 sec but not quite fast enough)
* Practice should make perfect
* Feel grateful that i don’t have to struggle to survive by finding flies to eat in strong, cold winds

Sand Martin

Sand Martin

Arctic Tern added to the 2013 patch list.

Spring finally on the way!

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.

Ansel Adams - always loved his amazing landscape photography

Ansel Adams – always loved his amazing landscape photography

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!

Trafalgar Square - snapped with my mobile!

Trafalgar Square – snapped with my mobile! I was having a black and white moment after the Ansel Adams exhibition 😉

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 😉

Mallard, bird photography by Hebridean Imaging

Common but rather lovely. Mallard at Venus Pool

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.

Robin, bird photography by Hebridean Imaging

Robin in mum and dad’s garden

Ian hadn’t explored shropshire very much so we did a little bit of touristy stuff. Visited Ironbridge, bought pork pies from Eley’s.

The Ironbridge, Shropshire

The famous Ironbridge across the River Severn.

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.

Wentnor

Wentnor church, Shropshire

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).

Plenty of snow down south!

Plenty of snow down south!

The icicle off the back of the shed...

Dad with the icicle off the back of the shed…

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.

Meanwhile, here in the Hebrides... Fab day for a walk on the beach!

Meanwhile, here in the Hebrides… Fab day for a walk on the beach!

 

Snow, what snow? None here!

Snow, what snow? None here!

Cold, frosty mornings but cloudless sunny days.

Cold, frosty mornings but cloudless sunny days.

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.

Merlin, bird photography by Hebridean Imaging

Merlin with prey item (Turnstone), RSPB Balranald

Bar-tailed Godwits

Bar-tailed Godwits

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!

Had some great sunsets over the last couple of weeks too.

Had some great sunsets over the last couple of weeks too.

Oh go on then, just one more black and white shot…

The three hills of South Uist, taken from Stilligarry. From left to right: Hecla, Ben Corrodale and ben Mhor

The three hills of South Uist, taken from Stilligarry. From left to right: Hecla, Ben Corrodale and ben Mhor

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!

Golden Plover, bird photography by Hebridean Imaging

Golden Plover

 

 

Norwegian Starling

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

Norwegian Starling, ring number 7534146

Norwegian Starling, ring number 7534146

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.

Mute Swans and Scaup

Mute Swans and Scaup

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.

Traffic jam, West Gerinish

Traffic jam, West Gerinish

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:-

2013 Species accumulation for the patch

2013 Species accumulation for the patch

2013 Species per month for the patch

2013 Species per month 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!

Screenshot of the iPhone/iPad BirdTrack app showing the local hotspots that birds have been reported from.

Screenshot of the iPhone/iPad BirdTrack app showing the local hotspots that birds have been reported from.

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”

Plenty of Starlings around

Plenty of Starlings around

Invasion of the "Black Plague"

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!

Hooded Crow

Hooded Crow

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:-

Beautiful Hebridean sunset

Beautiful Hebridean sunset

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!

Stormy week!

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?!

Swell chart for Monday 4th Feb 2013

Swell chart for Monday 4th Feb 2013

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.

One of Jane's Uist sketches

One of Jane’s Uist sketches

Jane's favourite birds are waders

Jane’s favourite birds are waders

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.

Winter Thrushes Survey, Locheynort. Beinn Mhor had it's head in the mist.

Winter Thrushes Survey, Locheynort. Beinn Mhor had it’s head in the mist.

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.

Grey Heron

Grey Heron

Grey Heron, wing

Grey Heron, wing

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

January 2013

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
  New Retraps
Wren 2
Dunnock 1 1
Blackbird 1 1
Starling 19 7
Chaffinch 1
Greenfinch 2 32
Grand Total: 23 42
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:-

Large Yellow Underwing larva

Large Yellow Underwing caterpillar

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…

Whale or dolphin bone south uist

Whale or Dolphin??

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…

Gyrfalcon on the patch!

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:-

Gyrfalcon, South Uist, Outer Hebrides

Wow! What a fab bird!

Gyrfalcon, South Uist, Outer Hebrides

Gyrfalcon, nice!

Gyrfalcon, South Uist, Outer Hebrides

Look at those feet!

Gyrfalcon, South Uist, Outer Hebrides

By this point my !!!!!! button is worn out from overuse 🙂

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