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Hebridean Imaging

Hebridean Imaging

birding

Bonaparte’s Gull

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.

Bheinn Mor south Uist

Beinn Mhor topped by cloud

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 😀

Bonaparte's Gull, South Uist

Bonaparte’s Gull. Bit of a crap picture…

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.

Seals, Outer Hebrides

Seals sitting out on the rocks, South Locheynort

Seals, Outer Hebrides

Love the expression on their faces 🙂

Looking across the sea loch to Beinn Mor

Looking across the sea loch to Beinn Mor

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.

Whooper Swan, South Uist, Outer Hebrides

Whooper Swan family

Two of the four Little Grebe's around this morning

Two of the four Little Grebe’s around this morning

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.

Loch Bornish, South Uist

Loch Bornish

spotted near Rubha Ardvule - a Starling with a ring! One of ours?? Who knows?

Spotted near Rubha Ardvule – a Starling with a ring! One of ours?? Who knows?

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!

 

Saved from winter camping

I had this idea to head off to Barra, on foot, with my tent and equipment to carry out Winter Thrush Surveys on two of the BTO’s randomly allocated squares over there. I had this image in my head of cold, crisp but sunny weather and lying snug in my sleeping bag. It’s so expensive to take the car over from Uist to Barra that i couldn’t even contemplate that.

After mentioning my intentions to a friend she said that she was doing some locum work over there in early January (she’s a GP) and said that i would be more than welcome to stay with her for a couple of nights in the 2-bedroomed apartment that she was renting for her stay. Not being that much of a masochist “oh, OK, thanks!” was my reply. So i had a couple of nights comfy, warm accommodation and a couple of evenings in the pub. Although there was some sense of having wimped out, this turned out to be a good move as the weather was bloody awful! Wet and pretty breezy for the whole two days!

Great view from the accommodation in Castlebay

The first thrush square was just north of Barra’s main town, Castlebay, which entailed walking out into a wet, soggy valley.  Not a single thrush to be found!

A walk up the soggy valley hunting for thrushes…

The next day i ventured up to the north-west of Barra, just west of Northbay, luckily this 1 km square had a road, the A888, running straight through the middle of it so although it was wet the going was easy and straightforward. Again, not a single thrush, although i find it very hard to believe that the few vegetated gardens i passed didn’t even hold a Blackbird. Obviously the Blackbird’s have more sense than me and had found a dry place to shelter.

Barra, still beautiful even in the mist and rain 🙂

I skulked around Castlebay for a little while on my return to town and was rewarded with the sight of a Sparrowhawk – species number 80 on the 2013 list 🙂

Ah well, it was a good trip, a nice couple of days blethering with Louise and getting half licked to death by her dog (a nutty black lab called Maowi).

For more details about participating in the BTO’s Winter Thrushes Survey please see: http://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/winter-thrushes

Heading North, very north!

After a looong couple of days travelling i finally arrived in Churchill, greeted at the airport by Heidi, it was so good to see her again – unbelievably it’s been three years since i last visited Canada! Headed into town and dumped my bags at heidi’s then we headed to Gypsys for food. Yum!

Flying in to Churchill on the Calm Air flight. Couldn’t get over how remarkably like the Uists it looks from the air! (Meaning so much water and very soggy and boggy looking).

Waking up in Churchill – we have snow!

Heidi had to go off to work but had very kindly lent me her car so i headed off on what was to become my routine for the first 10 days of my trip – birding! I was under strict instructions not to leave the car and wander off. There are polar bears in the area and they will eat you! My daily route took me up to the granary building by the port then along to Cape Merry and back along the coast road as far as the airport then off down Goose Creek Road to the weir. The weather was cold but hovering aound 2’C it was not uncomfortably so.

Snow Bunting, Churchill, Manitoba

Still plenty of Snow Buntings around – the grain train was swarming with them 🙂

I met this guy, a Silver Fox along the road to Cape Merry

Silver Fox, Churchill, Manitoba

So close i didn’t even need the telephoto lens!

I really didn’t expect to see Beluga Whales, they are usually gone well before October, but here they were, still in the Churchill river.

Beluga Whales, Churchill River

Beluga Whales

Lots of geese around still, here are a mixture of Snow Geese and Canada Geese sitting around on the frozen ponds.

Snow Geese and Canada Geese

On the frozen ponds at the granary

I love Snow Geese!

Snow Geese, Hudson Bay in the background

You never quite know what you might find, i’d had a tantalising pico-second glimpse the day before of a large falco, heading away from me at a rate of knots, just a silhouette in the poor light. I had been hoping for Gyr Falcon but didn’t want to call it. Anyway, the next day on my “rounds” i found this sitting on a pile of old railway sleepers and guess it must have been what i’d seen.

Peregrine

Peregrine. Nice!

Same pile of sleepers, a different day. A cross fox this time, no, not angry, a cross between a Red Fox and a Silver Fox.

Cross Fox

Cape Merry – how Hebridean does this look?!

Overlooking the Hudson Bay

Cape Merry always fascinates me

You don’t get this sign in the Hebrides though. And people still ignore it!

A thaw and the temperature went up to around 4’C making the morning very misty and murky but i was happy to find this Bald Eagle sitting on a rock in the pond on the outskirts of town.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Greater Yellow Legs

Greater Yellow Legs

Found this Rough-legged Buzzard on my way out of town.

Rough-legged Buzzard (Rough-legged Hawk)

Goose Creek Road is always interesting to have a slow ride down, i got Redpoll down here and a probable Snipe, Gray Jay was a regular.

Goose Creek Road

Scaup down by the weir, Greater unless you can tell me any different…

Scaup

Returning from one of my rides out the weather had turned pretty nasty – great huge snowflakes so i was heading back home. I thought i would take the “scenic route” so turned off to take the track that follows the coast and takes you near to Miss Piggy, the wrecked aircraft. Something white in the bushes caught my attention and yes! My very first polar bear! It was pretty big but was thankfully looking very sleepy. Managed some rather ethereal looking shots through the snow.

My first polar bear sighting 🙂

Looking rather sleepy…

Towards the end of the week we had an invite to a BBQ, it was held out at Camp Nanuk – a beautiful place out in the middle of nowhere. Bit of a magnet for polar bears – the clue is in the name (nanuk = polar bear in the language of the Inuit people). So we spent a great evening, -4’C burning sausages on sticks over a fire. As soon as it got dark we could see the northern lights which were truly amazing and i didn’t have my camera! Aaarrgghh!! Never mind when we got back to town later on we called back to Heidi’s and i picked up my camera and tripod and was able to get some great shots.

The frozen lakeside setting for our BBQ at Camp Nanuk

Mmmm, toast those sausages…

And just incase a polar bear decided to join us – 4 cracker shots and 2 live shots

The aurora? Well, i’m sorry but words fail me really, i just can’t begin to describe the amazing spectacle that we had that night, easily the best northern lights i’ve ever seen.

Aurora behind the Inukshuk at Churchill beach

The granary on the horizon and the whole sky lit up with flowing, pulsating aurora curtains.

So, the end of a first 10 days, having a fab time so far. Next i’m off to the Churchill Northern Studies Centre to do a stint of volunteer work. I don’t quite know how i’ll get on – i’ve never done any sort of  volunteer work that hasn’t been bird-related before. I’ve been told “be prepared to get dishpan hands“. Ooo er!? Ian is always very fond of telling the story that when he first met my mum she told him “I hope you don’t think you’ve got yourself a domestic goddess!” I think, though perhaps i’m wrong here, that he thought no, but she can waffle on endlessly about moult and plumage. Doesn’t help much in the kitchen when faced with the washing up from 85 people though…

 

 

 

Machair waders

A busy week – the nights are definitely getting shorter! The weather has been excellent, very little wind early in the day, a little cold though with temperatures down to just -0.2’C. Our routine for the last week has been to get up at around 5am to turn off the moth trap, have a quick bite of breakfast then head out to the machair to nest find and to see if we can find any chicks to ring.

We’ve had more success with the chick chasing than this time last year – the weather was so awful last May very very wet – then it rained every single day apart from the first three. We made a conscious descision then not to chase any chicks in those conditions, the poor things were having a hard enough time as it was.

Amongst the very few moths in the trap we were happy to find our first Puss Moth of the year.

Puss Moth Hebridean Imaging Photography Outer Hebrides Western Isles

Puss Moth

The first few days of the week we were  also checking in at Rubha Ardvule to see if we could relocate the King Eider – no luck! Sadly it looks as though this will be a species that Ian has on his Western Isles list that I don’t. Never mind, I’m still a good bit ahead of him and I don’t think he’s likely to catch up unless (a) another Purple Martin turns up and (b) he actually gets to see it! 😀

Nowt but ordinary Eiders at Ardvule

Eider Hebridean Imaging Photography Outer Hebrides Western Isles

Common Eider at Rubha Ardvule, South Uist

After finishing on the machair we have been calling in to North Locheynort – a small wooded oasis on the east side of South Uist.

The smaller birds there are also busy nesting – this Robin must have young, we saw it carrying food.

Robin Hebridean Imaging Photography Outer Hebrides Western Isles

Robin carrying food

Once back at home, time for a quick cuppa then if it’s not too windy get the nets open and the ground traps out – if the wind has increased too much we just run the ground traps.

“Our” Lesser Redpoll has been a frequent visitor – we first ringed him (with ring number V548458) in August 2010 and he returned in Spring 2011, staying for a few months and seen then in the company of a Common Redpoll – we were unable to confirm breeding. We are very very happy to see V548458 back this spring – within a few hours he was in the trap and we were able to positively confirm his identity.

Lesser Redpoll Hebridean Imaging Photography Outer Hebrides Western Isles

Lesser Redpoll

A trip south down the machair on Sunday 6th May took us past Loch Hallan which we scanned for birds – we found a single male Pochard – an Outer Hebrides tick for me. I know they are pretty infrequent here, the county recorder, Brian says “Pochard a really good bird here now – in the three years 2008-2010 I think there was only a single record (a female on Loch Skealtar). The theory that the small Icelandic population pass through Scotland after the breeding season seems to have been confirmed by the sighting of eight flying south with Pink-feet over Barra in October 2006. Perhaps the bird today was returning to Iceland.

Hebridean Imaging Photography Outer Hebrides Western Isles

Pochard at Loch Hallan

Between Askernish and Kilpheder we counted 40+ Whimbrel, 13 Black-tailed Godwits, 60+ Golden Plover and 2 Whooper Swans were in the fields. There must have been at least a couple of hundred Meadow Pipits around – and judging by the ones we’ve been catching which have lots of fat, I would say that they are migrating through. Lots more Wheatears around now – the odd one of which I could almost string as a Greenland Wheatear 😉

Monday 7th May, we continued the early morning start – it was cold – having dropped below zero overnight – the car was well frozen! When we went to get the moth trap in there was a Large Red Damselfly on the wall nearby – perhaps it had been attracted by the warmth of the bulb! There were no moths in the trap.

Hebridean Imaging Photography Outer Hebrides Western Isles

Large Red Damselfly

We had a leisurely breakfast as we didn’t want to be disturbing the birds too much on such a cold morning. At the beach at Kilpheder there were quite good numbers of waders, including 4 Knot which were beginning to come into summer plumage. There was also a single Grey Plover and 26 Bar-tailed Godwits plus many Dunlin and Sanderling.

Knot Hebridean Imaging Photography Outer Hebrides Western Isles

Knot on the beach, amongst the Turnstones and Dunlin

A little further along the machair we were pleased to hear a couple of singing male Corn Buntings – i never seem to be able to get photos of these guys sitting on something more photogenic than barbed wire!

Corn Bunting Hebridean Imaging Photography Outer Hebrides Western Isles

Corn Bunting

A minute or two later another first of the year – a calling Corncrake! They’re skulky little devils at the best of times but around now when the ground vegetation is still really sparse is about the best time to see them. Managed to get a photo anyway – it’s a bit fuzzy as it is heavily cropped, the bird was quite far away even for the 400mm lens.

Corncrake Hebridean Imaging Photography Outer Hebrides Western Isles

Corncrake, skulking about in the sparse vegetation

Corncrake Hebridean Imaging Photography Outer Hebrides Western Isles

You can almost see right down his throat - there was another male calling fairly nearby so he was really giving it his best 🙂

Much of the same planned for the coming week – chick chasing and nest monitoring and hopefully the weather will begin to warm up so that we can catch some moths at last!