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Hebridean Imaging

Hebridean Imaging

rarity

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!

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!