Blog 2008-11

Latest weather

BUBO Listing

Nature Blogs

UK & Eire Natural History Bloggers


It's easy to subscribe to email updates, just enter your email address below and then whenever my blog is updated you'll receive an email. Rest assured that it's just as easy to unsubscribe if you get fed up with my ramblings!

Recent Comments

Hebridean Imaging

Hebridean Imaging


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   And here is a write up about the challenge on the Bird Guides website:

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

New Year, New Bird List

Hi all and here’s wishing you all the very best for 2013

Up before daybreak and headed off to see what we could see around South Uist. The weather wasn’t up to much! Murky and drizzly :-/

Our plan was to start the new year off with three or four days solid birding, and although our aim wasn’t really to clock up a vast number of species we did keep count and found ourselves at the end of the first day with 62 species on the 2013 year list! Yay! A great start 🙂

Highlights of the first day were:-

  • Glaucous Gull at Ardvule
  • Long-tailed Tit and a Woodcock at North Locheynort
  • Brambling at Howmore
  • Waxwing at Grogarry
  • 3 Greenland White-fronts on the range
  • 3 Scaup at Loch Bee

The next day, the 2nd January, we had another really enjoyable day out again – sadly no sign of the Green-winged Teal at Baleshare in the mist and gloom.

Conditions were a little more challenging with mist and drizzle affecting visibility for almost all the day. Today’s tally was 52 spp, 7 of which were new for the year – now making a total for 2013 of 69 spp.

Highlights, second day, were:-

  • Glaucous Gull at Baleshare
  • A single Gannet seen doing a flypast at Stinky Bay
  • 2 Fieldfare at Baleshare

Isn’t it funny here how you always see someone you know when you are out and about – we picked up a rather bedraggled Stu who was birding his local patch on foot in Benbecula and gave him a lift back home and then spent some time enjoying a very welcome cuppa with him.

Day 3 (3rd January) began in North Uist and we ended the day with 55 species in total, we added 7 species to our year list which now stands at 76.

Highlights of the third day were:-

  • Goosander, 1 male and 2 females at Loch nan Geireann
  • A single Black-throated Diver on the sea loch at Locheport
  • 1 Razorbill seen from the ferry terminal in Berneray
  • 8 Slavonian Grebes seen from the Berneray causeway
  • Great views of White-tailed Eagle from the quayside in Lochmaddy

Our search will continue tomorrow for some of the species now missing from our 2013 list: Snow Bunting, Corn Bunting and Moorhen to name but a few…

A couple of photos taken through the gloom:-

Slavonian Grebe


Our fourth and final full day and we started with a Winter Thrush Survey in North Uist – and not a single thrush or starling seen! Great views of Golden Eagle though 🙂

We clocked 50 species for the day including the Moorhen that had eluded us for the last few days 🙂  We added another 3 species to our year list and our total for 2013 now stands at 79

Highlights of the day were:-

A flock of 23 Corn Buntings and a colour-ringed Corn Bunting in another group of four.

Corn Bunting

I know that you can probably see them every time you are out here at this time of the year but there were 4 stunning Long-tail Ducks at Stinky Bay, right in close to the shore, just beautiful, i never get sick of seeing them!

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. 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…


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…




Moths, Birds, Itchy Feet and a FitBit

Although the weather has been very dry these last few months and we’ve had the odd day over 20’C the conditions haven’t been really ideal for moths with the northerly wind, clear skies and coolish temperatures. However, some of the nights have been pretty good with our biggest catch of the year so far on the 25th July – an amazing 580 moths of 40 species in just one trap (our Robinson 125W MV).

Our best moth night so far this year

The haul included such goodies as Archer’s Dart, Howarth’s Minor, Oblique Carpet, Pretty Pinion, Lime-speck Pug and Yellow Shell which were all new for the year. There were an incredible 193 True Lover’s Knot and 98 Dark Arches.

Bordered Grey

Scotch Annulet – the bugger flew off before i could get a decent shot – i think it’s new for our 10km square

Archer’s Dart – nice moth!

Ingrailed Clay

Purple Clay


The ringing has been pretty decent with plenty of Meadow Pipits on the move, the vast majority of which were juvenile birds. We’ve also been lucky enough to catch and ring 16 new Swallows and a Sand Martin (keep wanting to call them Bank Swallows which is what they’re known as in Canada/North America).

A nice surprise in the net were two Swallows that we had ringed this year as nestlings – one nearby in Askernish and one in a nest in a barn near Hallan cemetary – always good to see them fledged and healthy. A Pied Wagtail juvvy came to vist – we’d also ringed that in a nest nearby here in Askernish.

Sand Martin


Two Starlings had managed to get themselves down a chimney in an empty house in Frobost, both were dead. The first had been ringed back in September 2010 and was an adult male then, the second bird was ringed as a juvenile female in September last year. Neither bird had been retrapped in the intervening period.

Not sure if i mentioned previously that i’ve bought a FitBit (those of you that know me well know that i can’t resist gadgets!), it’s a digital pedometer and it fixes to your bra and counts how many steps you do in a day, how active you are, that sort of thing. It has a wireless base station and whenever you are within 15 feet of the base station (which is plugged into your computer) it “syncs” and uploads your data to the FitBit website. My friend Linda in Lewis also has one and we both heard about it from my daughter Sara (another gadget girl, dunno where she gets that from!?). We started the Hebrides FitBit group: there are only the three of us as members so far but if you know anyone else it’s all just a bit of fun really 😉

FitBit - digital pedometer

FitBit – i got the girlie pink one 🙂

I decided, in a rash moment, that a 14 day step challenge would be a good thing to do. I set myself the task of doing more steps each day than i’d done the day before – sounds easy doesn’t it! Luckily the weather was good for the two weeks of the challenge and it did force me to get my butt off the chair and get out from behind the computer.

Random yellow welly found on the beach during my step challenge. My phone doesn’t take very good pics…

Well, i’ve decided to go off on my travels again. Those itchy feet, just can’t get the better of them 😉 Now, this won’t be a birding trip – i think i’ll be lucky if my list reaches 10 species! My lovely friend Heidi lives in Churchill in Manitoba, Canada – it’s located in the north of the province, on the Hudson Bay and has been saying for the last two years “come visit me!!”. Churchill is famously known as the location the polar bears gather while waiting for the sea ice to form – they spend their winter living out on the ice. I’ll be there during the height of “polar bear season” so i’m hoping to get some great views and some great photos of the bears. Not too much of a close up though, the last time i was there Gerald Azure (of mushing fame) told us “that bear doesn’t want your sandwich – YOU ARE the sandwich” 🙂

I’m also hoping that there will be some aurora as well to take some photos of, although i will be a little early for the best aurora but you never know. I’m busy stocking up on warm clothing as all i have is wussy British winter clothing which probably won’t be up to much against the arctic chill!

Here are some interesting links:-

Telegraph Article: Churchill, Canada, Polar Bear Capital

Churchill Weather (Current conditions)

I visited Churchill previously but that was during the season that could loosely be described as “summer”. Here’s the write up from my old blog:-

Plans: Fly into Winnipeg (via Toronto), stay overnight then fly Calm Air out to Churchill. I’m staying with Heidi from the 8th October until the 29th November – then i will leave on the train and travel back to Winnipeg – approximately 40 hours – this time i’ve booked a cabin for 1 – treating myself to a little comfort 😀 I’ll then have a couple of nights in Winnipeg (providing the train gets there on time!) then fly back to Heathrow via Toronto. From Heathrow i’ll get a flight to Glasgow and stay overnight. The next day i’ll get the flight from Glasgow to Benbecula. Phew!

Had a ringing session at Druidibeg – i went on my own, Ian stayed and ringed at home – there aren’t usually enough birds for the two of us at Druidibeg. It was my first time this year getting midged – no wind at all, the nets were hanging perfectly. Shame there were no birds to go in them! Had a visit from the Eriskay ponies though…

Eriskay ponies

The ponies weren’t at all bothered by me sitting on a rock just a few feet away from them.

Well, here are our ringing totals for July 2012 – a pretty good month! More than happy with the number of House Sparrows ringed for our RAS – again, as with the Meadow Pipits, the vast majority were juvenile birds.

New Retraps
Sand Martin 1
Swallow 16 2
Meadow Pipit 61
Pied/White Wagtail 12 1
Wren 11
Robin 3 1
Stonechat 1
Wheatear 1
Blackbird 10 8
Song Thrush 11 2
Sedge Warbler 4
Willow Warbler 23 2
Starling 21
House Sparrow 94 703
Chaffinch 1 1
Greenfinch 47 50
Twite 2
Lesser Redpoll 31 11
Reed Bunting 1
Totals 351 781
Species 19 10


June 2012 ringing totals

A pretty good month, PLENTY of pullus ringed including Buzzard, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Lapwing, dunlin, Redshank, common gull, Arctic Tern, Rock Dove and Swallow. I think the wader chicks have just about come to an end now for this year – there was a few larger-looking Lapwing chicks out on the machair when we were walking but they looked liked flyers!

Good numbers of new House Sparrows ringed for our Retrapping Adults for Survival (RAS) project, mostly juvenile birds. As ever the number in the House Sparrow re-traps column is mainly observed sightings – thanks go, as always, to our neighbour Bill who records sightings of our colour-ringed birds virtually every day.

One of our colour-ringed spuggies, B25, an adult male, was seen in South Glendale, South Uist on the 7th June. This bird was first ringed by us with ring number TJ72861 on the 1st June 2011 when it was a juvenile bird. It was first spotted by John in South Glendale a few weeks later on the 26th June 2011. It was then seen regularly throughout the year until the 29th December 2011. John reports that on new years eve a flare was let off in a neighbouring garden and all the sparrows “headed for the hills”. This is the first time since then that B25 has been seen.

View House Sparrow B25 in a larger map

It’s been good to see plenty of juvenile birds around – lots of Greenfinch, quite a few song thrushes and Blackbirds with a handful of Wrens and Lesser Redpoll.

So, here are the month’s totals:-

New Retraps TOTAL
Buzzard * 1 1
Oystercatcher * 34 7 41
Ringed Plover * 1 1
Lapwing * 49 8 57
Dunlin * 2 2
Redshank * 5 1 6
Common Gull * 11 11
Arctic Tern * 15 15
Rock Dove * 1 1
Collared Dove 9 9
Swallow * 18 18
Meadow Pipit 1 1
Wren 3 4 7
Robin 2 6 8
Blackbird 8 13 21
Song Thrush 11 3 14
Sedge Warbler 2 2
Blackcap 2 2
Willow Warbler 2 2 4
Starling 25 6 31
House Sparrow 64 741 805
Greenfinch 12 50 62
Goldfinch 2 2
Siskin 3 3
Lesser Redpoll 4 7 11
Grand Total: 287 848 1135
Total Species: 25 12 25

* = all ringed as pullus

Chicks and Moths

Wow, what a busy couple of weeks! Everything seems to be happening here at an amazingly fast pace – everywhere has suddenly become very green, the trees are about as much in leaf as they are going to be and even the slopes of Ben Mhor, our highest hill, are looking green. The weather has been amazingly warm and we had 5 days in a row where the temperature was over 20’C. A bit different from last year when the highest temperature we recorded here at Askernish Weather Station was just 19.6’C and we missed that as we were out at the bird observatory in Gibraltar!

Butterwort, South Uist, Outer Hebrides

The Butterwort is out in the damp shady places.

We’ve still been having a ride along the machair every now and again and still finding Lapwing chicks, amazingly some Lapwings were even still on eggs only last week. We were very happy to find these Ringed Plover chicks, just tiny balls of fluff.

Ringed Plover

Ringed Plover chicks

We’ve been keeping our eye on a Buzzard nest, mainly from a long distance by telescope and early one morning (2nd May looking at the Nest Record Card)  Ian walked out to check it and found three eggs. Around the 18th May we though we could see small fluffy heads in the nest so on the 24th we walked over to do another check. We found two downy young, too small to ring yet. We don’t know what happened to the third egg, whether it hatched and the chick died (or was dinner for it’s siblings) we’ll probably never know.

Common Buzzard chicks

Buzzard chicks

It was an amazingly calm morning and walking back across the field towards home the sun was coming up making for a gorgeous early morning sunrise.

sunrise Askernish, Isle of South Uist

Sunrise - a rare calm day!

Later on in the day i was sitting on the bench at the front of the house enjoying a cuppa in the warm sunshine when i went to scratch my arm and felt something small and hard. Yuk! A tick. One of the hazards of living an active outdoor lifestyle i guess 🙁 I was able to remove it with a very fine pair of tweezers and put it under the microscope to make sure that i had completely removed the beastie. It was very tiny barely 1mm in length. Under the microscope it made a gruesome sight and the mouthparts were a bit like something out of a horror film – a row of double serrations. Did the makers of the film Alien get their inspiration from the insect world i wondered.

Tick, South Uist

Tick, extracted from my arm!

Tick mouthparts by Hebridean Imaging

Scary looking tick mouthparts!

25th May was forecast to be very calm so i packed up the van and headed out to the plantation at Druidibeg to put up some nets. As you can imagine, with the almost constant wind here, the opportunities to mist net are very few and far between – you have to grab every chance you get! We had previously considered joining the BTO’s Constant Effort Scheme (CES) with Druidibeg plantation as the site. However after the first season trialling CES there we felt that due to the weather there is no way we would be able to fulfil the required 12 visits between May and August.

The plantation was pretty quiet although there were quite a few Willow Warblers singing. A juvenile Robin was first out of the net followed shortly by a couple of the Willow Warblers. A nice surprise in the net a little later was a Willow Warbler with a ring on already – first of all i thought it was one of the ones from earlier in the day that had gone back in but on reading the ring number it was one of ours but not a recent bird. I took the bird back to the van and processed it and was able to look back in the book to find that we had first ringed it, at Druidibeg in June last year.

It never ceases to amaze me that such a tiny bird – it weighed in at less than 10g – has travelled all the way to Africa to overwinter then found it’s way all the way back to the same tiny plantation on the east side of Uist.

Juvenile Robin

Juvenile Robin

Willow Warbler, South Uist, Outer Hebrides

Willow Warbler. This bird was an adult when we first ringed it in June 2011. (Oops think i should've had a manicure!)

As there is never much about at Druidibeg (well, there had been a sighting of a Wryneck a couple of days previously) it’s not usually worth us both going so Ian had stayed at home. He texted to say he was catching reasonably well and had ringed both Siskin and Spotted Flycatcher.

Siskin, South Uist, Outer Hebrides


Spotted Flycatcher, South Uist, Outer Hebrides

Spotted Flycatcher

House Sparrow, South Uist, Outer Hebrides

Juvenile House Sparrow - i'm sure he's not really as sad as he looks 🙂

Colour-ringed House Sparrow, South Uist, Outer Hebrides

All the juvvy House Sparrows are coming to get their colour rings

We’ve been noticing more and more Collared Doves around with up to 11 being seen on the electric wires at the back of the house and they’ve been increasingly visiting the garden to hoover up the seed we’ve been putting out for the sparrrows and finches. It was inevitable that we would catch a few.

Collared Dove, South Uist, Outer Hebrides

Collared Dove

A few days ago I was fascinated to watch two juvenile Blackbirds in the garden. They hung around for ages, they had obviously not been out of the nest very long and were just standing around looking a bit like they didn’t really know what they were supposed to be doing. Every now and again the adult male Blackbird would come along and feed them and they eventually followed him into the field behind. I’m sure they’ll get the hang of it soon!

Blackbird, South Uist, Outer Hebrides

Juvenile Blackbird

There are so many young around at the moment! On a trip to Balivanich we had our customary stop-off at Stinky Bay and were happy to see a pair of Shelduck with their brood of 7, i don’t know what the official term is, i called them Shelducklings? I usually say “oh no don’t count them” because such is nature that every time you see them there are less and less! – Ian managed a fab photo.

Shelduck, Benbecula, Outer Hebrides

And finally the moth catching has at last been getting better. Our best catch of the season so far was on the 26th May when we had 42 moth of 21 species. Needless to say we had had the traps out in our neighbours garden – he’s been here at least 30 years and has the most enviable trees and vegetation! A small selection from our moth catch below.

Pleurota bicostella

Pleurota bicostella, a micro moth, it's long hairy palps with spikes on are very distinctive.

Fox Moth, South Uist, Outer Hebrides

Fox Moth. We've been getting a fair few of these the last couple of weeks.

Poplar Hawk-moth

Poplar Hawk-moth, always impressive to see 🙂

Elephant Hawk-moth, South Uist, Outer Hebrides

Elephant Hawk-moth - the other hawk-moth species in the trap these last couple of weeks.

White Ermine

White Ermine

Buff Ermine

Buff Ermine


Always good to find in the trap, the very beautiful Campion

Knot Grass

Knot Grass - one of the most abundant moths this last couple of weeks.

Belted Beauty, South Uist, Outer Hebrides

A bit of a surprise in the trap was this male Belted Beauty, i've only seen them out on the machair before.

Well, that’s it for now. June looks like it is also going to be very busy and i think it might be easier to update the blog more frequently rather than one long once or twice weekly tome!






Mid May and the North wind continues!

Another busy week of early mornings spent nest finding and chick chasing. The weather is still a little chill – over 40 consecutive days with North in the wind!

Plenty of Lapwing chicks around this week but the Oystercatchers still seem to be sitting tight.

There have been plenty of Meadow Pipits along the machair – hundreds in fact! The ones we’ve caught and ringed have had a good amount of fat so we are presuming that they are passing through. On the Curracag Forum (Curracag is the Outer Hebrides Natural History Society) there was a report from one of the other ringers here in the Outer Hebrides, Chris who lives in Lewis, who has trapped and ringed 98 Meadow Pipits to date this year – many of which, he commented, were very fat.

Ever since i was a child i’ve always thought that one of the best sounds of spring is the Skylark, there are plenty of them all along the machair this week too.

Skylark - Hebridean Imaging bird and wildlife photography

Skylark out on the machair

There are reasonable numbers of Whimbrel this week, they are also passing through on their way to their breeding grounds in Iceland.

Whimbrel - Hebridean Imaging bird and wildlife photography


It’s been too windy for mist netting this week. Most days we’ve been to North Locheynort, it’s a great place for a walk around and especially in the wooded area where it is nice and sheltered. We were very happy to see a male Pied Flycatcher there on the 9th May and on the 11th we found 3 male Blackcaps on our early morning walk.

On the 10th May the normally mundane weekly shopping trip to the Co-op at Daliburgh was brightened up by the sight of a smart male Pied Flycatcher in Askernish and then Sand Martin was added to the year list with the sight of 7 flying low over Loch nan Clacha-mora (otherwise known as the loch behind the Co-op!).

Ian and Bill next door have been re-living their childhood days – they wandered off down the road on a sunny afternoon complete with jars and fishing net – after furtling around in the nearby stream they were very happy to have found 3-spined Stickleback (new for this 10km square!) and what i’m reliably informed is a Horny Orb Mussel – these mussels are apparantly very biosensitive and only thrive in nice clean water. They had already been recorded as appearing in this 10km square – it seems that Ian and Bill aren’t the only ones who like a bit of afternoon fishing 🙂

3-spined Stickleback

3-spined Stickleback

Horny Orb Mussel

Horny Orb Mussel

Rest assured all critters were returned unharmed to the stream after having had their mugshots taken 🙂

There are still a few Pale-bellied Brent’s around on the machair:-

Pale-bellied Brent Goose - Hebridean Imaging bird and wildlife photography

Pale-bellied Brents on the machair at Bornish

The wind direction looks like it should be changing so we are hoping that we may be able to get some skua passage.

Moths this week? – Sadly it’s been too cold and windy to put the trap out – surely things can only get better??

We’ve just finished inputting the House Sparrow sightings for April 2012 so here are the details of our ringing during April.

New Retraps TOTAL
Woodpigeon 1 1
Collared Dove 1 1
Meadow Pipit 16 1 17
Pied/White Wagtail 1 1 2
Wren 2 2 4
Blackbird 8 11 19
Song Thrush 4 1 5
Redwing 3 3
Chiffchaff 2 2
Willow Warbler 1 1 2
Starling 5 2 7
House Sparrow 4 249 253
Greenfinch 11 43 54
Goldfinch* 1 1
Twite 1 1
Lesser Redpoll* 5 5 10
Grand Total: 65 317 382
Total Species: 15 11 16

Interesting birds were Goldfinch and Lesser Redpoll controls which were captured on the 26th and 29th of the month respectively. Once we hear back from the BTO i will post the details of where they had come from. Also of interest during April were a Pied Wagtail which we had originally ringed on the 23rd September 2010 and a Willow Warbler which we first ringed on the 5th June 2011 – it never ceases to amaze me that birds turn up again in the exact same place! As usual the high number of House Sparrow retraps were sightings of our colour-ringed birds – including the one that has moved to Bayhead on North Uist.

Pied Wagtail first ringed by us in September 2010, recaptured April 2012



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!