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Hebridean Imaging

Hebridean Imaging

nesting

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

Siskin

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

Campion

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!

 

 

 

 

 

Snow and Corncrakes

Wild and windy last weekend which at last produced some skua passage – Arctic, Great, Long-tailed and Pomarine were seen from Ardvule.

A very busy week with a pretty diverse range of activities – chick chasing and nest recording, breeding bird survey, birding and late in the week joining in with a seaweed hunt.

Common Sandpiper, Loch Druidibeg, South Uist

Ian was let loose with the camera and got this lovely shot of a Common Sandpiper.

I woke early on the 16th to turn off the moth trap – it was 4.30am and just starting to get light, the Blackbird was already on the lawn looking for worms. It felt very chill outside (especially as I was in me pyjamas!) and there was a dusting of snow on Ben Mhor, the overnight temperature had dropped to just 2.7’C and there were only two moths in the trap. So, a mixture of winter and summer as I could also hear a Corncrake crexing away not far in the distance. A single Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica) in the trap 🙁

Corncrake - South Uist

Corncrake

In just two days “chick chasing” produced 25 birds – all Lapwings.

Lapwing chick, hiding

Lapwing chick trying to hide from us - they are amazingly well camouflaged!

Lapwing chick - freshly ringed

Newly ringed Lapwing chick

The Oystercatchers are still sitting tight this week – surely they will hatch soon?

Oystercatcher nest

Oystercatcher nest

Lapwing nest

Lapwing nest

Friday 18th seemed like a good day to go and do the first visit on my Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) square – I can’t keep putting it off, the weather isn’t going to warm up! The 1km square is NF7841 and is fairly near to Loch Bee. A long fence line seemed like a good marker to follow over the boggy terrain – it was very soggy in places and I was really glad I had worn me wellies. Managed to see 25 species which quite surprised me.

moors near Loch Bee South Uist

A bit wet out there - glad i had my wellies on!

moorland

A great view of the hills from out there - and silence apart from the birds

Loch Bee

This was just past the end of my BBS square - good job really because i wouldn't have been able to get across anyway 🙂

Looking the opposite way towards the hills

At one point I was just about to climb a barbed wire fence when I spotted this spider on the wire. Now, I’m not much of a spider fan but our next door neighbour is, and even to my arachnophobe mind it did look quite interesting so I stopped and took a few photos. I believe it to be a Furrow Spider (Larinioides cornutus) which is an orb-weaver spider and looking at the NBN Gateway map has been recorded here in South Uist previously. They usually live near water and spend the day time in the “nest” that it makes.

Furrow Spider (Larinioides cornutus)

I believe this to be Furrow Spider (Larinioides cornutus)

Furrow Spider - Larinioides cornutus

Heading back into it's wee nest - i disturbed it as i was just about to get over the fence here!

I think I overdressed for doing the survey – I had a long-sleeved t-shirt, two fleeces and a waterproof coat on, trousers, waterproof leggings, thick socks and wellies – oh and my daft hat. I arrived back at the van absolutely sweltering! Maybe I’m just unfit?!

After the survey we headed off up to Berneray. We trawled across the machair to see if there were any chicks to ring, we only found 3 Lapwing chicks.  There were quite a lot of waders on the machair – Sanderling (seemed weird to see Sanderling on a ploughed area!), a handful of Black-tailed Godwits, Then we headed up to one of our favourite spots right up in the north of Berneray where you can sit on the top of the dunes and look out across the Sound of Harris – on a nice day we sit out on the picnic chairs – today wasn’t one of those days! Great view though and there was still snow on the Harris hills 🙂

Berneray, Outer Hebrides

Berneray - not a bad spot for a picnic!

The first juvenile House sparrows were seen in the garden on the 19th May

We always like to learn about something new so when Curracag (the local Natural History Society) advertised an event to be run during Scottish Biodiversity Week we thought we would go along. It was called The Big Seaweed Hunt and took place at Carinish, North Uist.

Even for someone who is supposed to be grown up there’s nothing quite like splashing around in the rock pools in your wellies is there!? The event was well attended and there were a good range of ages – right from toddlers to oldies – well Ian does have his bus pass now 😉

The Great Seaweed Hunt - Uist

Tracey, Peter and Ian looking at their seaweed finds

All this fun had a serious side to it – we learned that seaweeds are “simple plant-like organisms called algae” and that many animals rely on them for food and shelter. We also learned that, rather worryingly, and in common with many other plants and animals, seaweeds are responding to climate change and rising sea levels. There is an invasive species called Wireweed – it was first recorded in 1973 in the Isle of wight and has been gradually spreading north.

Before going along to this event I knew absolutely nothing about seaweed and didn’t realise the diversity that you could find in just one very small inlet. We found at least 6 different species plus a few more unidentified species which Tracey (who led the meeting) took home to identify. The 3 most common seaweeds there were Egg Wrack, Bladder Wrack and Channelled Wrack.

Bladder Wrack - Fucus vesiculosus

Bladder Wrack - Fucus vesiculosus

Egg Wrack - Ascophyllum nodosum

Egg Wrack - Ascophyllum nodosum

unidentified seaweed

Not sure of this one - still trying to find an identification...

Seaweed - Ulva species

One of the green seaweeds, Ulva species i think

unidentified seaweed

Found in a rock pool, I haven't identified this one yet

Channelled Wrack - Pelvetia canaliculata

Channelled Wrack - Pelvetia canaliculata

We left the meeting fairly well enabled to be able to survey our own chosen patch of beach so that we can now take part in our own Big Seaweed Search – the results of which we will be able to enter on their website at: www.nhm.ac.uk/seaweeds  Take a look at the web site it has loads of information both about the survey and seaweeds in general. I also found quite a handy (if a little technical) key in the Field Guide to British Seaweeds found on The National Marine Biological Analytical Quality Control Scheme website.

Moth trapping has still been very dire – the cold northerly wind continues and the only night it turned south-easterly we caught just 2 moths – a single Red Chestnut and a lovely Pebble Prominent (almost four weeks earlier than our first one last year).

Pebble Prominent - Notodonta ziczac

Pebble Prominent - Notodonta ziczac

On the 20th we caught and ringed our first Oystercatcher chicks of the year – I tell you what, for something so small they can’t half run fast!

Oystercatcher chicks

First 2 Oystercatcher chicks of 2012

And we have now ringed 100 Lapwing chicks this year – this morning (20th May) we found two broods of four, including these that were still in the nest, they looked like they had not long hatched (you can just about make out the egg tooth on one of the chicks bills)

Lapwing chicks still in nest

Four tiny Lapwing chicks, still in the nest - an unusual find!

 

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!