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Hebridean Imaging

Hebridean Imaging

birds

Don’t speak too loud but i think summer might almost be here…

3rd June 2013 – Almost a summers evening! It was a pretty balmy evening and we had the most magnificent sunset – of course, i’d gone for a walk down the road and didn’t have my camera! The moth trap was on and the sun was setting, no midgies, what more could one ask for?!

Lovely sunset tonight!

Lovely sunset tonight!

4th June 2013 – Well there wasn’t too much in the moth trap overnight – Knot Grass, Glaucous Shears, Flame Carpet, Garden Carpet and Pebble Prominent plus this, our first hawk-moth of the year. The Poplar hawk-moth is probably the most common hawk-moth species in the UK and the larvae feed on poplar, aspen and sallow.

Poplar Hawk-moth

Poplar Hawk-moth

5th June 2013 – This wasn’t the technically best photo that I took today but it was the one I liked the best. A parent Oystercatcher finding grubs for it’s chick. I was able to watch them for an hour as they were on the plot I was surveying, i just sat quietly in my vehicle and they stayed there for the whole hour only about 20 feet away.

Oystercatcher feeding it's chick

Oystercatcher feeding it’s chick

The beach at Kilaulay

The beach at Kilaulay

6th June 2013 – This brown Silver-line (Petrophora chlorosata) was the only moth in the trap this morning!

Brown silver-line

Brown silver-line

7th June 2013 – My day for working in Berneray and it was the most fabulous day – sadly my picture comes nowhere near capturing how amazing it looked in real life. Only downside – I saw my first cleg of the year but thankfully it didn’t get me 🙂

Berneray

Berneray

Berneray

Berneray

8th June 2013 –  OK so I have to admit, I didn’t take this great photo. Ian was up and about really early as he went out to go and see if he could find any wader chicks to ring. What a great sight, these Redshanks standing on the fenceposts! He said that there was another one but the noisy Oystercatcher came along and took it’s place on the post

Redshanks and a single Oystercatcher

Redshanks and a single Oystercatcher

9th June 2013 – It was my day for a long walk today so Ian dropped me off in Eriskay at the ferry terminal (the wee ferry that goes to Barra). The weather was absolutely stonking, warm and sunny and the view was outstanding!

The walk went well, 10 miles although it is a bit daunting to think that when I go to do my long walk in September I will have to walk at least this every day, and probably more, every day for 5 to 6 weeks!

Fantastic Eriskay!

Fantastic Eriskay!

I was almost home when my mobile rang, i fished it out of my pocket. Sara, my daughter. I was rather worried as she never phones me on my mobile. I answered the call with some trepidation. Happily she was really excited – “mum, mum, a Hen Harrier just flew over the house!” (She lives in Shropshire, on the outskirts of Ironbridge).

Just me and the empty beach...

Just me and the empty beach…

More walking, working and birds…

27th May 2013 – Early yesterday morning, our neighbour received a phone call about a stranded Pilot Whale in Lochboisdale. The single animal, believed to be a male, had made its way into a particularly shallow loch with many channels and rocky outcrops. Apparently, it had been seen late Friday stranded on the rocks but was freed by the rising tide.

Since then we’ve been assisting with monitoring the animal and passing all relevant information to the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) in Stornoway. The BDMLR have now arrived on site and have set up their incident centre overlooking the loch with a view to guiding the whale back to the open sea. They are currently assessing the situation and calling upon as much local knowledge of the area as is possible as the shallow water and complex channel network means that the RIBs that are normally deployed in such circumstances cannot be used. A shallow draught or inflatable boat is their priority.

It is hoped that a rescue attempt can be made as quickly as possible to take advantage of the high tides, but it may be as late as Wednesday. I really don’t know whether the outcome will be good or bad…

Pilot Whale

Pilot Whale

28th May 2013 – A calm, balmy evening. The good news of the day is that the Pilot Whale was ushered gently out of the estuary on the high tide early this morning and was last seen swimming out to the open sea!

Evening light

Evening light

29th May 2013 – Lots of Dunlin around again today, mostly resting with their heads tucked under their wings but a few were feeding. They must still be heading north and the flock of a couple of hundred or so birds also included many Ringed Plovers and a few Sanderling. Added Gadwall to the patch list in the evening.

Dunlin

Dunlin

30th May 2013 – Worked in North Uist all day today, a lovely sunny day with a gentle breeze. As i was driving back from the machair I could see the mist forming over the estuary, it looked quite ethereal and wasn’t quite sure I would be able to capture how lovely it really looked…

Mist on the estuary

Mist on the estuary

31st May 2013 – Just can’t resist photographing the Lapwings on the machair, this one had a couple of chicks in tow but the only decent chick photo I got was one standing by a large sheep turd 🙂 I just love the colours on the adult birds.

Lapwing

Lapwing

At the end of May my patch list stands at 103 species, i don’t think that’s bad at all for an area of just 3km square!

1st June 2013 – Yeuk, gruesome alert!! Good job this isn’t smellyvision, the pong coming off this poor dead creature was pretty rank – I could still smell it for at least an hour afterwards! It’s washed up on Howmore beach, and is about 9 feet long. I’m not sure how long it’s been there, since earlier in the week i think and by the state of decay it was dead for a wee while before that.

It’s a Risso’s Dolphin and we were asked to remove a section of skin/blubber and also a couple of teeth. From this the scientists hope to be able to tell how the dolphin died and how old it was.

Dead Risso's :-(

Dead Risso’s 🙁

2nd June 2013 – The Machair Way. A ten mile walk was on the cards today, further training for my long walk later in the year. I decided on an early start and Ian dropped me off at the Polachar Inn, South Uist at 5.40am. I walked north until I reached home, fabulous scenery and I didn’t see a soul! No blisters this week so that was a relief!

Machair Way

Machair Way

Mothing, birding, working, walking…

20th May 2013 – Very warm and mild overnight and it was very misty until about 11 am this morning. Just a half day outdoors working today and then I spent the afternoon planning a trip i’m doing later in the year – trying to work out the complexities of getting from one place to another with all the connections in-between, all at the minimum possible cost.

This lovely moth is a Pebble Prominent – Notodonta ziczac and is a common moth here at this time of year, the caterpillar feeds on sallow of which there is quite a bit here.

Pebble Prominent

Pebble Prominent

21st May 2013 – We don’t get too many Common Terns here, they are mostly Arctic with a few Little Terns. It was very lively and sadly didn’t manage to get a perfectly sharp shot.

Common Tern

Common Tern

22nd May 2013 – Another busy day out in the field. This photo is the South Ford, if you know South Uist it’s looking from Hebridean Jewellery across the sand, it is the same location that i photographed the Grey Plover the other week but today was a much better day weatherwise!

South Ford

South Ford

23rd May 2013 – Well, the only photo I took today was of the Ruff again. I had gone looking for a Little Gull that Ian had found earlier in the day – on our local patch – but by the time I got home from work at 5pm, grabbed my camera and went to look, it had gone 🙁

However, the Ruff was still hanging around on the machair and as I had my big lens I thought I would take some shots from the car. I was happy with the shots, they were much better than the ones the other day.

So, so cold today, that wind was biting if you were out in it for more than a few minutes – I heard on the radio that they had snow on the mainland in the north of Scotland – at least it wasn’t that bad here!

That stonking Ruff again

That stonking Ruff again

24th May 2013 – Working in Berneray all day today, I couldn’t resist taking some shots of this Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula as it came really close to my vehicle. It was feeding happily and found a big fat earth worm which it proceeded to eat – luckily while I was snapping away! I couldn’t resist putting the shots together.

Ringed Plover feeding

Ringed Plover feeding

26th May 2013 – You know after you’ve had a few cocktails in the company of friends you get these ideas that seem great at the time. Well when I was in Churchill last year my friends, Lizzie and Sarah and I decided that we would have a reunion after 12 months. But we would meet up somewhere else, on a different continent and not be cooped up inside. We decided that we would walk the Camino de Santiago. Hey, it’s only 500 miles. Hmm, perhaps i should get started on a bit of training…

Well, 10 miles should be a good start. Better pack a rucksack, to be “proper” training.  It weighed in at 8 pounds. Not bad for starters. I can increase that  over the next few weeks.

I walked from Askernish to Howmore, where Ian then came to pick me up. I felt fine physically apart from a small blister on the sole of my right foot 🙁

This beautiful piece of wood was my resting place on Bornish machair during the walk, however long it has been there i don’t know, it has all sorts of interesting nooks and crannies.

Interesting washed up log

Interesting washed up log

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

 

 

Harlequin etc…

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!

Orasay, South Uist

Orasay, my starting point

South Uist

How tropical does this look! But no, it really is South Uist…

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!

Bird tracks - not sure what species though - any suggestions welcome :-)

Bird tracks – not sure what species though – any suggestions welcome 🙂

Turnstones

The Turnstones were being very confiding, i took this with my wee compact camera from about 8 feet away.

I had to take this one, it shows the beginning of Our Patch, the mast at Hallan is just off the right hand side of the picture.

I had to take this one, it shows the beginning of Our Patch, the mast at Hallan is just off the right hand side of the picture.

Just me on the beach :-)

Just me on the beach 🙂

Found a few random yellow objects along the way but no dead birds fortunately

Found a few random yellow objects along the way but no dead birds fortunately

Another random yellow object... I was tempted to bring this home but there are only so many colourful floats you can use as a decorative feature at the front of your house and Ian thinks i have too many already. Dunno why but i have this weird kind of compulsion to collect them...

Another random yellow object… I was tempted to bring this home but there are only so many colourful floats you can use as a decorative feature at the front of your house and Ian thinks i have too many already. Dunno why but i have this weird kind of compulsion to collect them…

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.

Mordor, sorry Barra, in the distance, looking like it's on fire

Mordor, sorry Barra, in the distance, looking like it’s 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

My species per month on the patch, from BirdTrack

My species per month on the patch, 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.

Geese in the mist

Geese in the mist

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.

Glaucous Gull, Askernish beach.

Glaucous Gull, Askernish beach.

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.

Two Pink-feet in amongst the White-fronts

Two Pink-feet in amongst the White-fronts

The Pintail had turned up as a pair.

Lovely male Pintail at Loch Hallan.

Lovely male Pintail at Loch Hallan.

Spot the Scaup in amongst the Tufties...

Spot the Scaup in amongst the Tufties…

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.

Whooper Swans gathering up on Loch Hallan.

Whooper Swans gathering up on Loch Hallan.

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 😉

Harlequin Duck, North Uist, Outer Hebrides photo by Yvonne Benting, Hebridean Imaging

Drake Harlequin at Traigh an Iar, North Uist

Harlequin Duck, North Uist, Outer Hebrides, photo by Yvonne Benting, Hebridean Imaging

In flight shot of the Harlequin 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.

Snow Geese. Yes, i put them on my list, well it is MY list so :-p

Snow Geese. Yes, i put them on my list, well it is MY list so :-p

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…

"Your wish is my command"

“Your wish is my command”

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

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!

 

Blackbird Recovery – Barra

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

Spuggy RAS Review for 2012

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  askernish.sparrows@gmail.com. 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.