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Hebridean Imaging

Hebridean Imaging


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: 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:

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!

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…

Blackbird Recovery – Barra

We always enjoy receiving an email from the BTO with details of one of our birds that has been recovered elsewhere. We are most certainly always happy to read that the bird was captured alive and well by another ringer rather than the sad but too frequent news that it was “freshly dead” and “killed by cat“.

The latest email shows where one of the juvenile Blackbirds, ringed here in South Uist with number LC66596, had moved to. The records show that the bird was ringed by us on the 9th June 2012 at 04:50 (ah! don’t you just miss those long summer days – i’m writing this while listening to the horizontal rain lashing against the window with hardly any respite in sight for at least the next week). Sorry,  i’m getting sidetracked… The Blackbird headed south and was recovered 125 days later on the 12th October 2012 by another ringer, Mark, in Breibhig in Barra. A distance of 25km.

View Blackbird Recovery LC66596 in a larger map

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.

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

2012 Ringing Totals

Ian has worked very hard to get our year-end totals ready. All in all a very good year. The amazing number of House Sparrow resightings is mainly down to our neighbour Bill who faithfully records our colour-ringed birds every day that he is at home. Needless to say his wife is still telling him to “get a life!!” But we say “THANKS BILL!! you’re amazing!”

So here are the final totals for 2012:-

Full grown Pulli Retraps Total
Buzzard 0 1 0 1
Oystercatcher 0 40 7 47
Ringed Plover 0 4 0 4
Lapwing 0 164 22 186
Dunlin 0 2 0 2
Redshank 0 7 1 8
Common Gull 0 11 0 11
Arctic Tern 0 15 0 15
Rock Dove 0 1 0 1
Woodpigeon 1 0 0 1
Collared Dove 20 0 4 24
Sand Martin 1 0 0 1
Swallow 23 18 4 45
Meadow Pipit 280 4 4 288
Pied/White Wagtail 13 4 2 19
Wren 18 0 9 27
Dunnock 7 0 5 12
Robin 15 0 15 30
Stonechat 4 0 0 4
Wheatear 2 0 0 2
Blackbird 52 0 54 106
Song Thrush 35 0 12 47
Redwing 6 0 0 6
Sedge Warbler 9 0 0 9
Blackcap 4 0 0 4
Chiffchaff 4 0 0 4
Willow Warbler 40 0 6 46
Goldcrest 11 0 2 13
Spotted Flycatcher 1 0 0 1
Starling ^ 198 0 36 234
House Sparrow 213 0 5995 6208
Chaffinch 9 0 6 15
Brambling 2 0 0 2
Greenfinch 170 0 297 467
Goldfinch 8 0 1 9
Siskin 4 0 0 4
Linnet 1 0 0 1
Twite 3 0 0 3
Lesser Redpoll 76 0 31 107
Redpoll (Common/Lesser) 3 0 0 3
Reed Bunting 5 0 1 6
Total: 1238 271 6514 8023

^ We are still awaiting details of the Norwegian ringed Starling that was captured here during November.

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

Control and recovery details…

Well, almost as soon as i’d pressed send on the last blog update an email came through from the BTO with details of the two controls we had in April – a Goldfinch and a very well travelled Lesser Redpoll. Details also came through of one of our Greenfinches that had been controlled by another ringer on the Isle of Rum (one of the Inner Hebridean islands).

Firstly the Goldfinch Y177646 that we caught on the 26th April, a second year female, was first ringed by the Tay Ringing Group in Montrose, Angus, Scotland. 180 days and a distance (in a straight line which i’m sure the bird didn’t follow!) of 189.5 miles.

View Goldfinch control Y177646 in a larger map

Secondly, the second year male Lesser Redpoll Y623168 that we captured on the 29th April 2012, was first ringed on the 29th January 2012 way down south in West Horsley, Surrey!! 91 days and a distance of 495.8 miles NNW. Amazing!

View Lesser Redpoll control Y623168 in a larger map

The Greenfinch TS37535, a second year male, that we originally ringed on the 10th February 2012 was recaptured by a ringer at Kinloch, Isle of Rum, Inner Hebrides on the 23rd March 2012. A distance of 42 days and 44.7 miles ESE

View Greenfinch Recovery TS37535 in a larger map

End of June update

Hi there, well it’s been a very busy month and i’m away to Lewis for the weekend (helping a friend celebrate her birthday!) so i thought i’d do a quick post to summarise what’s been happening over the last couple of weeks. The weather has continued very good – dry and mild mostly, so we’ve been able to do quite a bit more chick chasing. You know you are coming to the end of “chick season” though when you spot a young Lapwing or Oystercatcher, jump out of the van to chase it and it leads you a merry dance and just as you are about to catch it, gasping for breathe, the darn thing flies off!!

The machair is starting to look amazing now and it never ceases to amaze me the sheer variety of flowers that grow there.

hebridean orchid

Orchid growing by the roadside - i can never remember the names - i think it's northern marsh orchid

As i mentioned the Lapwing chicks are getting pretty big now:-

lapwing chick

Lapwing chick

It’s quite surprising (well, to me anyway) the length of the breeding season. As some birds are almost ready for fledging – a Lapwing has an incubation time of 24-29 days then another c.33 days for the nestling to become independent (Harrison & Castell, 2002, p.140) there are still birds on nests – we recently found this Ringed Plover nest.

ringed plover nest

Ringed Plover nest

We were able to ring some Common Gull chicks, and while searching for the chicks i almost stumbled upon an Eider sitting quietly on her nest – i must have only been two feet away and she just sat and looked at me, she didn’t budge one bit, so i apologised to her and crept away.

eider nest eider down

Eider sitting quietly on her nest

A walk down to the beach on a warm sunny day was very enjoyable – we found this grasshopper – we are told that there are only two species that occur here – Green and Mottled – so i’m presuming that this is Mottled?!

mottled grasshopper

Mottled Grasshopper (?)

As usual the beach was amazingly quiet!

south uist beach

Empty beach - South Uist

We found a Rock Dove nest but didn’t ring the youngster that was in there – it looked a bit big and we didn’t want to alarm it and cause it to leave the nest prematurely.

rock dove chick

Rock Dove chick in the nest

Found this ant near the garden, i sent the picture to Rhian and she replied to say that it was the same species as the ones we’d most commonly come across, Myrmica ruginodis. Ah well, you gotta keep trying!

myrmica ruginodis south uist ant

Myrmica ruginodis

Moths have again been pretty quiet! Probably our best night coincided, happily!, with one of the National Moth Night evenings. That evening we managed 36 moths of 16 species. Still well down on our numbers this time last year 🙁


Magpie Moth

While sitting in the office last week i heard a loud noise and glanced up to see the air ambulance helicopter flying really low across the croft at the back of the house. Wow! I thought. A couple of minutes later there was even more noise at the front of the house and i looked out to see the helicopter landing in the garden opposite. I was a little stunned to start with but managed to dash out and grab a photo. The jungle drums were working overtime and before the rotors had even stopped my neighbour phoned and gave me the low-down on what was going on 🙂 Happily nothing life-threatening and the lady it had come for walked to the chopper unaided. She had had an op the week before and had developed some pain and needed to be taken back to the hospital in Stornoway – the quickest, easiest and safest way for that to happen was by helicopter. Great service!

scottish health service air ambulance helicopter

Scottish Health Service air ambulance

Once i’m back in Uist early next week i’ll update the ringing summary for June.

Harrison C. & Castell P., 2002, Collins Field guide to Birds Nests, Eggs and Nestlings.