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Hebridean Imaging

Hebridean Imaging


Spuggy RAS Review for 2012

As a new year begins, it is a time to correlate the past year’s data from our Retrapping of Adults for Survival (RAS) project and to summarise the results. Since the project began in November 2010, a total of 445 House Sparrows have been colour-ringed within our study area here in Askernish, South Uist.  213 birds were ringed in 2012, of which 183 were juveniles and a total of 5995 field observations  were recorded.

When the RAS season ended, we had managed to amass a total of 3783 field observations taken during the 5 month period, April  to August. Breaking this data down to its simplest form, this years flock consisted of 57 adults who have remained within the study area, an increase of 3 on last year. They were joined by an additional 19 adults, the vast majority of these being caught during bad weather in a period when they were probably feeding chicks in the nest. These birds could therefore be having to venture a little further afield from nearby areas, attracted here by the food we provide. This is borne out by the fact that these birds are very rarely, if ever, seen again.

As for juveniles, the number of individuals caught and colour-ringed increased from 81 last year to 183 this. This is in part explained by some additional effort by us, but mainly due to an exceptional breeding season, with many pairs double brooding.

Numbers peaked in July when a total of 160 individuals were recorded here in Askernish. This fell away sharply in August, probably due to dispersal and also the presence of one, sometimes two Sparrowhawks in the immediate area. The majority of the juveniles have now dispersed and most will find pastures new.

September and October is a time when we experience an influx of new birds into our study area as juveniles from elsewhere disperse and integrate with local populations. It is also the time when we hope to hear about sightings of our birds from elsewhere. Sightings away from our study area during 2012 far exceeded those of the previous year and involved some 29 birds.

As can be seen from the map, they were reported from 7 locations, ranging from Balranald in the north to South Glendale in the south. With so many birds being seen in the latter location, how long will it be before one is reported from Barra or beyond?

View House Sparrow Sightings 2012 in a larger map

There were 3 sightings on North Uist, these being at Balranald (47 km), Clachan na Luib (41 km) and Bay Head (43 km) and involved a single bird at each location. The ring numbers of the birds seen at Balranald and Clachan na Luib could not be read so we cannot identify the individuals. A37 seen at Bay Head is a long staying bird originally seen in June 2011, and is now considered to be resident in that area. All three sightings involve a distance travelled of over 40 km, which, for a House Sparrow is considered to be a long distance movement.

There were reports of sightings from 4 locations on South Uist, of which 3 involved more than one bird.  A single bird, C20 was seen in Daliburgh (3 km) on 11th November, only to be joined by another 3 (C80, F83, G04) late in December.  4 birds (B43, C48, C58, C74) were all reported from Carnan  (24 Km) on various dates in October, two of which (B43 & C74) have remained. B43 is of interest as it is the only adult bird (second year bird – ringed as a juvenile in 2011) that has been recorded as changing locations, although it’s whereabouts in between leaving Askernish in July 2011 and arriving in Carnan remains a mystery. The single bird F70 was seen in North Smerclete (11 km) on 10th December.

For whatever reason, South Glendale (11 km) would appear to hold a special attraction for the House Sparrows of Askernish with 22 individuals being reported throughout the year. B25 and B37 arrived in 2011, both being juveniles from that year. B37 was not seen after February 2012 but B25 remains there to this date. As for the other 20 birds, 19 were this year’s juveniles, all arriving during October apart from one which was first seen in November. G05 which was ringed in November in adult plumage is presumed to be a first year bird due to its change of locations. Of all the birds seen at South Glendale, apart from B25, only 2 other birds remained until the end of the year.

Of the birds sighted in South Glendale, 3 were of special interest as they were seen in multiple locations.  C20 was seen in South Glendale on 11-12th October and then in Daliburgh on 11th November. C48 and C58 were seen in both South Glendale and Carnan and initially assumed to have travelled together, where in fact they travelled in opposite directions. C48 was first seen in Carnan on 15th October and arrived in Glendale on 26th, while C58 was in Glendale on 7-8th October and arrived in Carnan 12th. The only other bird known to have commuted between two sites was a first year bird that went between Askernish and South Glendale in 2011, and therefore these additional sightings may well be an indication of the random nature of post juvenile dispersal.

2012 has been a good year for our House Sparrows and our project, which we hope will continue into 2013. Once again, I appeal to anyone who sees one of our colour ringed birds to report the sighting by emailing us at These birds are sporting colour rings that are white with black lettering which consist of A00-99, B00-99, C00-99, F00-99 and G00-99. I would hope one would eventually turn up in your garden.

Once again, our thanks go to Bill for the time and effort he expends helping us with this project. His records are always concise and accurate and the project would be all the poorer without him. I also thank all those who took the time and trouble to report their sightings to us. I can assure you that it is very much appreciated.

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

May 2012 – Uist ringing totals

Lapwing chicks were the most frequently ringed bird during May with 115 new pulli ringed!

We only had one control this month, a Greenfinch TR02363 which was a second year female with a brood patch. We know that it was originally ringed by Terry, the other ringer here in Uist. We also know, after chatting with Terry that a couple of days after we had controlled this Greenfinch it was further north in South Uist, at Terry’s house where it had been killed by a Sparrowhawk!

New Retraps TOTAL
Oystercatcher 6 6
Ringed Plover 3 3
Lapwing 115 14 129
Redshank 2 2
Collared Dove 8 8
Meadow Pipit 9 9
Robin 5 5
Wheatear 1 1
Blackbird 6 5 11
Song Thrush 1 2 3
Blackcap 1 1
Chiffchaff 2 2
Willow Warbler 5 1 6
Spotted Flycatcher 1 1
Starling 14 8 22
House Sparrow* 27 598 625
Chaffinch 1 1
Greenfinch 9 31 40
Siskin 1 1
Lesser Redpoll 3 3
Reed Bunting 1 1
Grand Total: 221 659 880
Total Species: 21 7 21

* Once again the incredible number of House sparrow retraps are re-sightings of our colour-ringed birds. Thanks as always go to our neighbour Bill who keeps a daily note of all our colour-ringed sparrows seen in his garden.

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