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Hebridean Imaging

Hebridean Imaging

patch

May, spring is finally arriving!

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

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

Ploughed machair

Ploughed machair

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

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

Dunlin

Dunlin

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

Stonechat new for the patch today.

Lapwing chicks

Lapwing chicks

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

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

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

2013

17th May 2013

13th May 2005

13th May 2005

Otter!

Otter!

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

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

Breezy day on the loch

Breezy day on the loch

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

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

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

Stonking Ruff!

Stonking Ruff!

Work continues, as does the wind…

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

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

Whimbrel, Bornish

Whimbrel, Bornish

Dunes at Bornish

Dunes at Bornish

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

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

Patch walk...

Patch walk…

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

Eider

Eider

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

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

Brown House Moth

Brown House Moth

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

Ringed Plover

Ringed Plover

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

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

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

Sand Martin

Sand Martin

Arctic Tern added to the 2013 patch list.

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”

Stormy week!

Had a very stormy start to the week with high winds Monday and Tuesday. Monday was particularly abysmal with winds gusting to 60-odd miles an hour and horizontal snow.

This is what the swell chart looked like for Monday – you can’t fail to be impressed with this eh?!

Swell chart for Monday 4th Feb 2013

Swell chart for Monday 4th Feb 2013

Some video of the massive waves “up the Butt” from the Eoropie Tearoom Facebook page.

Shetland and Orkney have also been suffering, take a look at this footage of the lighthouse on Fair Isle from this blog post: http://fair-isle.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/lighthouse-walls-fall-to-biggest-waves.html

And a blog post from Fair Isle from the day after, with lots of pictures: http://fair-isle.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/damage-done-south-lighthouse-fair-isle.html

Since Wednesday it’s just been grey and drizzly but at least i’ve been able to get out every day for a walk around the patch. I was hoping something had been blown in but it was pretty quiet all along the beach.

I was very happy to add a couple more species to my 2013 patch list: a Moorhen was heard calling from the reeds by Loch Hallan and then two days later one was on the loch at the front of the house. Friday i added the 60th species – Dunlin when three were on the beach with the other waders (Barwits, Oycs, Sanderling, Ringed Plover, Turnstones). Nice flock of 24 Long-tailed Duck not far offshore.

Met RSPB Stuart on my walk back across the machair and had a chat with him, hoped he might be able to point me in the direction of some on-patch Corn Buntings no luck but we had a nice chat in the pouring rain, swapping tales of what we hadn’t seen, bemoaning the lack of Glaucs and Iceland Gulls here this winter.

Ian is still away down in Essex and getting ever more twitchy to get back to the island. I sent him a phone photo from the beach – it was completely empty, not a person in sight in any direction, no sounds apart from the birds and the sea. He sent a very grumpy text back saying he was in Ikea surrounded by hundreds of other shoppers. Shame 😉

It’s been nice for the last few weeks, my friend Jane has been visiting here from Lewis and we’ve had plenty of time for long chats and girly nights with lots of glasses of wine. 🙂 Jane’s been working down here but in her spare time has been sketching and painting. Up in Lewis she runs the Blue Pig studio in Carloway. You can click on the two following photos to visit Jane’s facebook page.

One of Jane's Uist sketches

One of Jane’s Uist sketches

Jane's favourite birds are waders

Jane’s favourite birds are waders

Is spring on it’s way? There were quite a few Redwings around on Friday, are they beginning to make a move back north?

Well Saturday dispelled that Spring theory as i went to do the monthly Winter Thrushes Survey and didn’t find a single Redwing or Fieldfare! A smattering of Blackbirds and Song Thrushes only. Mind you as i walked through the woods at North Locheynort it was noticeably noisier – plenty of Robins and Wrens singing.

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

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

Saturday afternoon had a phone call which said “would you like a Heron?” Well, yes, why not? My friend Louise turned up with a Grey Heron that she’d found dead in her garden after the storm the other day. Poor thing. I’m always up for a learning experience though and i haven’t handled any fully grown herons so i had a good look at it, got Baker* out to see about the ageing. I came to the conclusion that it was a bird hatched last year: grey crown with just a little dark streaking. Short dark grey ornamental feathers. The bird had died in pretty poor condition, there was virtually no muscle on the breast.

Grey Heron

Grey Heron

Grey Heron, wing

Grey Heron, wing

Sunday’s weather was pretty poor (pouring rain and breezy) and i didn’t venture out but still managed to have a quick scan around the patch using the ‘scope out of the front window – the best sight was an otter running from Loch Hallan, across the golf course and machair and into the dunes.

*Identification Guide to European Non-Passerines (BTO Guide 24), Kevin Baker, 1993

January 2013

Bird of the month has to be the Gyr Falcon that turned up on the 10th January, and it hung around long enough to give us great views and take photos.

It’s been a funny old month weatherwise.  A few fab calm, sunny days where we’ve been able to get the mist nets out – a rarity in the summer let alone the middle of winter! Then some days of seemingly endless gales. I had five days in Lewis over last weekend and only got back to Uist by the skin of my teeth – it was a pretty rocky ferry ride and there were then no ferries for the two days afterwards. Ian had to go away to the mainland mid-month and was pretty miffed when i was able to add Woodpigeon, Jackdaw and Rook to my Western Isles list for 2013. Sadly the weather conditions were too grim to have a walk around Stornoway Woods to get Blue and Coal Tit on my list as well. Next time. Whoever thought i’d see the day when i’m driving for 2.5 hours and having a 1 hour ferry journey to get Blue Tit on my year list. Crazy!

The ringing during Janaury has been pretty so so, nothing spectacular. Some of the Greenfinches and Starlings that we’ve retrapped were first ringed in 2010. Here is the list for the month – the table hasn’t got the House Sparrow sightings on yet, i’ll add them once they’ve all finished being entered into IPMR.

Western Isles Ringing – January 2013
  New Retraps
Wren 2
Dunnock 1 1
Blackbird 1 1
Starling 19 7
Chaffinch 1
Greenfinch 2 32
Grand Total: 23 42
No. of species: 4 6

The moth trap hasn’t been out at all this month. Ian did find this caterpillar while he was doing some jobs around the garden:-

Large Yellow Underwing larva

Large Yellow Underwing caterpillar

The Patch Birding has been fun, with Ian being off-island i’ve finished the month just ahead of him but i’m sure he’ll catch up later in the year when i’m working full time and won’t have so much chance for prolonged birding. Mind you, over the course of 3 to 4 months i will be working one full day a week on the patch, if i can’t add some species to my list then it’ll be a pretty poor thing!

This last week of January has been pretty rough, on the 29th we recorded a gust of 73mph and a steady 49mph broke our record for 10 minute average wind speed. At the height of the gale i could hear the heavy wooden bench at the front of the house “walking” around the decking which was a bit alarming! The power was off for an extended period both overnight and during the day, had to dig out the old camping stove for cooking and making cups of coffee. Spent the day doing work that didn’t need the computer or mobile phone. The mobile network was down each time the power went off, i’m not really sure why that was.

Today, the 31st January the weather had settled a little, the wind had dropped and was only gusting to just under 40mph, the birds seemed to have returned and i had a wander around the patch to see if the wind had blown anything in. No new birds. Plenty of Barwit and Sanderling on the beach. 23 Greenland White-fronts and a couple of hundred Golden Plover on one of the fields just down the road. There are mountains of kelp washed up on the beach and i found this bone. I’m not sure if it’s a whale bone or a dolphin bone…

Whale or dolphin bone south uist

Whale or Dolphin??

So i’m ending the month with 92 species on my Western Isles year list and 57 of those seen on the patch. Be interesting to see what February brings…

Gyrfalcon on the patch!

On the local wildlife forum (Curracag Wildlife News) one of the members, Tristan, from Stornoway, mentioned that he was taking part in the Patchwork Challenge – the idea is that you define an area 3 sq km – your local patch, and keep a record of what you see there throughout the year. There is a scoring system, the scores depend on the status of the bird (common, local, scarce, rare, mega) and sounds quite complex at first but isn’t really. Essentially your score is calculated as a percentage of the average of your previous years scores. so, in my case for 2012 i recorded 103 species on the local patch, this would have scored 135 points. This year so far i have recorded 30 species, scoring 37 points. To calculate current score, 37 divided by 135 = 0.27407 then 0.27407 x 100 = 27.41%. MrT’s figures were 108 species for 2012 which would have scored 140 points. So far this year he has seen 31 species scoring 46 points, 32.86% of his last years score. This makes it a wee bit fairer – as the Patchwork Challenge organisers say “how can you compare Manchester to Minsmere?

Hmmm, it sounded like it could be a bit of fun and we always record what we find on our local patch anyway… Our current local patch is bigger than the 3 sq km so we played about with the mapping tool until we had an area of exactly 3 sq km. The area includes our house and garden, most of the township we live in, the golf course and machair and the dunes, shore and a little offshore. A fair range of habitats 🙂

Thinking about some of the birds that have turned up here previously it could potentially be pretty good. In the past we’ve had Black Redstart, Corncrake and Jack Snipe all in the garden, we caught and ringed Golden Oriole in our neighbours garden. Golden and White-tailed Eagle’s do a pretty regular fly-over. Ian has had Buff-breasted Sandpiper on the machair in the autumn. And let’s face it, you really just never know what might turn up here. The most unlikely birds to turn up will be Blue or Great Tits!

Full details of the challenge can be found at http://patchworkchallenge.blogspot.co.uk   And here is a write up about the challenge on the Bird Guides website: http://www.birdguides.com/webzine/article.asp?a=3558

Scoring spreadsheets were downloaded, one for each of us and we added the few species to it that we’ve seen on the patch so far this year. Ian was already a couple of species ahead of me as i’d been Sunday to Tuesday in Barra so i was keen to catch up. Not that we’re particularly competitive. Like hell!

Today started off pretty well, the forecast was not too much wind (i.e. it would be less than 20mph) so we headed off down the road to a neighbour’s house – it’s a holiday home and isn’t let out over the winter, it has a nice, sheltered walled garden and the owners are happy for us to ring there when there are no punters in. It was a pretty chilly morning and you know how it is, or maybe you don’t, maybe it’s my age, but i had to head back off home to answer a call of nature. Sitting on the loo and my phone rings. It’s Ian. He says there’s a Gyrfalcon sitting on Huw’s roof. I yell WTF! and leap up and run out to the shed to grab a bike.

Apparantly Ian was having a walk around in-between net rounds and saw a huge cloud of Rock Dove’s heading his way with a large, light-coloured bird in hot pursuit. The group had a bit of a chase around the garden and the Gyr narrowly missed a couple of the nets (bummer! but that would have brought the whole new problem of whose turn is it for a ringing tick). The Gyr then gave up and went and sat on the apex of the house next door which is where it was when i arrived back. Great views and it sat there for a while. Ian had also phoned Bill our next door neighbour and with him being an artist his first thought was to make some sketches of the bird so he arrived with his scope and sketch pad. After a while of watching i decided to head back home for my own camera but when i got back the bird had gone 🙁 Still, Ian got some half reasonable photos:-

Gyrfalcon, South Uist, Outer Hebrides

Wow! What a fab bird!

Gyrfalcon, South Uist, Outer Hebrides

Gyrfalcon, nice!

Gyrfalcon, South Uist, Outer Hebrides

Look at those feet!

Gyrfalcon, South Uist, Outer Hebrides

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

So, we both get 4 points on our Patchwork Challenge for seeing the Gyrfalcon – the most annoying thing is that Ian gets the 8 point bonus for finding it, giving him 12 points total for one bird 🙁

As it stands at the end of today Ian has 31 species and 46 points and i have 30 species and 37 points – a whole 9 points behind!! Perhaps when i wander off down to the shore tomorrow (without Ian!) i will be lucky enough to find a rather lost looking Killdeer…

Oh, and the ringing? 15 retrap Greenfinches (3 of which were from 2010 and only seem to return during the winter), 2 retrap Wrens. New birds were 1 Greenfinch, 1 Dunnock, 1 Blackbird.

My Western Isles 2013 list now stands at 81