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Hebridean Imaging

Hebridean Imaging

surveys

Mothing, birding, working, walking…

20th May 2013 – Very warm and mild overnight and it was very misty until about 11 am this morning. Just a half day outdoors working today and then I spent the afternoon planning a trip i’m doing later in the year – trying to work out the complexities of getting from one place to another with all the connections in-between, all at the minimum possible cost.

This lovely moth is a Pebble Prominent – Notodonta ziczac and is a common moth here at this time of year, the caterpillar feeds on sallow of which there is quite a bit here.

Pebble Prominent

Pebble Prominent

21st May 2013 – We don’t get too many Common Terns here, they are mostly Arctic with a few Little Terns. It was very lively and sadly didn’t manage to get a perfectly sharp shot.

Common Tern

Common Tern

22nd May 2013 – Another busy day out in the field. This photo is the South Ford, if you know South Uist it’s looking from Hebridean Jewellery across the sand, it is the same location that i photographed the Grey Plover the other week but today was a much better day weatherwise!

South Ford

South Ford

23rd May 2013 – Well, the only photo I took today was of the Ruff again. I had gone looking for a Little Gull that Ian had found earlier in the day – on our local patch – but by the time I got home from work at 5pm, grabbed my camera and went to look, it had gone 🙁

However, the Ruff was still hanging around on the machair and as I had my big lens I thought I would take some shots from the car. I was happy with the shots, they were much better than the ones the other day.

So, so cold today, that wind was biting if you were out in it for more than a few minutes – I heard on the radio that they had snow on the mainland in the north of Scotland – at least it wasn’t that bad here!

That stonking Ruff again

That stonking Ruff again

24th May 2013 – Working in Berneray all day today, I couldn’t resist taking some shots of this Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula as it came really close to my vehicle. It was feeding happily and found a big fat earth worm which it proceeded to eat – luckily while I was snapping away! I couldn’t resist putting the shots together.

Ringed Plover feeding

Ringed Plover feeding

26th May 2013 – You know after you’ve had a few cocktails in the company of friends you get these ideas that seem great at the time. Well when I was in Churchill last year my friends, Lizzie and Sarah and I decided that we would have a reunion after 12 months. But we would meet up somewhere else, on a different continent and not be cooped up inside. We decided that we would walk the Camino de Santiago. Hey, it’s only 500 miles. Hmm, perhaps i should get started on a bit of training…

Well, 10 miles should be a good start. Better pack a rucksack, to be “proper” training.  It weighed in at 8 pounds. Not bad for starters. I can increase that  over the next few weeks.

I walked from Askernish to Howmore, where Ian then came to pick me up. I felt fine physically apart from a small blister on the sole of my right foot 🙁

This beautiful piece of wood was my resting place on Bornish machair during the walk, however long it has been there i don’t know, it has all sorts of interesting nooks and crannies.

Interesting washed up log

Interesting washed up log

Winter birds, summer birds…

7th May 2013 – It’s been a long day, i was out at 6.45am doing a bird survey, it was very enjoyable though, there were plenty of birds out on the machair – Lapwings, Oystercatchers, Redshank and one of my most favourite Snipe.

I was finished work by early afternoon, apart from the paperwork, so once that was done I had a wee walk with Ian to the beach. He had found some interesting fungi growing out of some cow dung earlier in the day. Ian had a look through the books and posted the photos he’d taken on the local Wildlife sightings forum. Very soon the local fungi expert, Chris had replied confirming Ian’s tentative id of Snowy Inkcap (Coprinopsis nivea). Chris also told us that spring records here are uncommon.

Snowy Inkcap (Coprinopsis nivea)

Snowy Inkcap (Coprinopsis nivea)

On returning from an after-dinner walk we spotted an unseasonably late Waxwing in next-door’s tree, very unexpected! On the walk we’d added Sand Martin and Sedge Warbler to the patch list. It wasn’t the best of light but i was pleased to see it nevertheless 🙂

Waxwing

Waxwing

8th May 2013 – Another early start for bird surveys, first I had transects to walk (wish i’d worn my wellies, it was mightily boggy out on the machair today). Then later I had a series of 1 hour vantage point surveys where I sit in my vehicle and record what birds are using specific plots and how they are using it.

While doing my third vantage point of the day, I saw, out of the corner of my eye, something moving. After staring at the empty spot for 30 seconds or so the bird showed itself again briefly and I grabbed my camera. A skulky Corncrake! My first for the year. There wasn’t much cover and it had been hiding behind a rusty metal object that had been discarded.

An evening walk turned up a Corncrake calling on the patch 🙂

Skulky Corncrake

Skulky Corncrake

9th May 2013 – Heard my first Cuckoo of the year when i left home early this morning. Had a brief stop-off at Stinky Bay, Benbecula – it wasn’t particularly Stinky on this occasion though 🙂

Stinky Bay

Stinky Bay

10th May 2013 –  Moth trap out last night. Found this Puss Moth (Cerura vinula) low down on the outside of the house first thing this morning, they are fairly common here at this time of the year. This one is a male (you can tell by the feathered antennae).

Puss Moth

Puss Moth

11th May 2013 – Saturday but still a busy day, catching up on paperwork for my other job, but i did manage a brief trip out down to the beach, stopping off at “Pochard Point” on the way. It’s called that because last year a Pochard turned up on Loch Hallan and that is where we saw it from. Today, once again there was a Pochard! The Sanderling are starting to look very smart, almost in full summer plumage. There were at least 200 on the beach plus Dunlin and Purple Sandpipers – all heading north, on migration.

Sanderling fascinate me – they run around on the water’s edge, in and out of the water and remind me of wind up toys 🙂

Sanderling

Sanderling

12th May 2013 – No work today so you’d think i would like a rest from birds but no we headed out to do our monthly Wetland Bird Survey. We have two sites to cover, both in South Uist: Loch Bee and the South Ford.  The weather was really grim, very misty and drizzling most of the time, this afternoon it came out sunny but was still rather breezy.

There were thirty odd Grey Plover on the South Ford, no doubt on their way north to the tundra to breed. They were feeding almost continually and looked like they were finding small worms of some sort to eat.

A quick trip to the beach in the van  before going back home, added Arctic Skua to the patch list.

Grey Plover

Grey Plover

13th May 2013 –  A busy day but feet up in the evening and watched The BBC’s Hebrides: Islands on the Edge. Some stunning footage, although to my mind the script/narration leaves a bit to be desired, i think it’s a bit romanticised and notice there’s a fair bit of artistic license in there!

 

Spring, arriving slowly. A little bit of winter still around…

30th April 2013 – 300 Barnacle Geese flew north over the house early this morning, new for the 2013 patch. A day spent working out on Bornish machair doing bird surveys. Today started very calm and sunny which was lovely but it gradually got windier as the day went on. This very bold Goldfinch ( Carduelis carduelis) was in the garden this afternoon when i got home.

Goldfinch

Goldfinch

At the end of April my 2013 patch list stands at 88 species.

1st May 2013 –  :-O I’m *ot able to write much today, i spilt coffee o* my keyboard & a letter *ot work *ow 🙁 Hope it dries out by tomorrow!

This Skylark kept sitti*g o* this large pile of cow du*g but every time i poi*ted the camera at it it flew off. Patie*ce was rewarded eve*tually!

Skylark

Skylark

2nd May 2013 –  Where’s summer?! These two wet male Wheatear’s shelter from the weather, they must be thinking  what the hell have they come to the Hebrides for! It was very cold sitting in the van for hours on end doing my vantage point surveys, just 4’C and that horrible damp feeling cold. I was at Iochar today and after the first three hours I took a break and popped along to the cafe at Hebridean Jewellery and warmed up with a hot chocolate. Just the job!

Two bedraggled male Wheatears

Two bedraggled male Wheatears

3rd May 2013 – Little Tern Sterna albifrons. Happy to see these summer visitors today!

Little Tern

Little Tern

4th May 2013 – Computer keyboard is 6 keys down still. The coffee spill turned out to be fatal, awaiting delivery of new keyboard. Using iPad to write diary. Anyway, it’s been a wet and windy day yet again but at least i didn’t have to work today – much as i love my job it was nice not to have to get up at just gone 6am! I spent the day catching up on the papers and some magazines and will also get on and do some course work.

Rainy day reading matter

Rainy day reading matter

5th May 2013 – Found wandering around in the garden this morning 🙂 Common sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos). In summer it breeds here by lochs and streams. Sunday, so had a walk around the patch. Apart from the Common Sandpiper I added Brent Goose to the patch list taking me up to a nice round 90 species for the year.

Common Sandpiper

Common Sandpiper

Brent Goose, 90th species for my 2013 patch list

Brent Goose, 90th species for my 2013 patch list

Twite

Twite

6th May 2013 – Well the male Wheatear’s are looking much more cheerful now – the females have turned up! I watched a pair while I was working this morning, they were checking out suitable nesting holes.

Wheatear, female

Wheatear, female

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.

Off to work….

15th April 2013 – A hard day in the office… First day in my new job, i have a three and a half month contract doing breeding wader surveys, working for RSPB/Machair Life+ It’s not exactly an onerous task – getting paid for what i love to do anyway.

This is my mobile bird hide (Vauxhall Combo Van) and office in one of my survey locations (RSPB reserve at Balranald, North Uist). I will be here once a week. I have four other locations that I will carry out vantage point surveys from so I will visit each one once a week. I also have transect surveys to do, these need to be done either early morning or later in the evening, my plan is to do them early mornings then move on to my vantage point surveys.

Mobile office

Mobile office

16th April 2013 – Took this shot on my way home from work, it’s the main road that goes through South Uist, the A865.

It’s been raining on and off all day and pretty breezy. I was amazed at how quickly the streams and ditches had filled with water – i know we needed the rain but now it looks like it’s not going to stop! We’ve had around 10mm in the last 24 hours. I felt a bit sorry for the cyclist in the photo – not a good day to be out and about on a bike in Uist!

But even in the gloom and rain it still looks rather beautiful.

A dull and rainy day in South Uist

A dull and rainy day in South Uist

A walk around the patch, Manx shearwater, Great Skua and Fulmar added.

17th April 2013 –  Still very wet and pretty breezy today. Work entailed spending some time at the RSPB reserve at Balranald, conditions were just too horrible to be able to get any bird photographs. Had to get filmed for the BBC Scotland programme Landward. God, I hope they don’t show my bit, how embarrasing will that be. I really can’t stand doing things like this. I can blether away happily to anyone but as soon as you point a camera at me my brain seizes up and I become a mumbling idiot. The team were great and very professional. I felt sorry for the cameraman who was outside filming the presenter, Dougie, and I who were inside the van. He said that his camera had already stopped working a few times earlier in the day when he was filming the ploughing. Perhaps i’ll get lucky and it’ll be no good for showing on the telly…

There were a few Corn Buntings and a flock of around 30 Twite active near the visitor centre and not much else about. Amazingly the Skylarks were singing despite the wind and rain. A male Shoveler was on a flooded area of field near the centre too.

Took this shot of a rather choppy Loch Bee, South Uist on my way back home – a brief sunny interval and break in the clouds.

Made a solemn vow never to do television stuff ever again even if i am begged or offered a million quid. I’m just not cut out for it. Too much of an introvert.

Loch Bee

Loch Bee

18th April 2013 –  Another day of squally showers. I worked in Berneray today, a wee island to the north of North Uist. Until 1999 Berneray was separated from Uist and the only way to get there was by boat. A causeway was built and opened in 1999.

Today’s photo is a boat I pass every time I go to Berneray, i’m unsure whether it’s even sea-worthy any more as it’s always hauled out. In nice weather I often see a man sitting drinking coffee on deck. I would like to stop and chat with him sometime, ask him the story of the boat. In the far distance, on the horizon, you can see Harris.

Berneray Boat

Berneray Boat

19th April 2013 – Stinky goodness! My job today took me to the machair at Iochar. As soon as I saw this rusting tractor, which had been hard at work spreading rotting seaweed onto some of the plots that I was surveying, I knew I would have to photograph it. The seaweed is collected in the winter and left to rot in piles and is then used by crofters as a natural fertiliser on the machair.

I will definitely be making a print of this one for my dad – he’s a tractor fanatic and has a lovingly restored Ferguson T20 – the first tractor he used as a young man in the late 1940s

Stinky goodness!

Stinky goodness!

21st April 2013 – I spent the morning working – not my everyday job but my self-employed stuff that I had to catch up with this weekend. This included a job I was dreading – a client’s web site which had been in situ since 2006, updated in 2010, now needs it’s SQL database relocating – the hosting company are doing away with the current version so everything had to be migrated to a new database. I was expecting problems. Amazingly enough everything went smoothly!

For my photography course homework photo I chose to use a metal sculpture which is located outside the nearby Kildonan Museum. The sculpture is by Malcolm Robertson and was commissioned to celebrate the re-opening of the museum in 1998. The sculpture is cut from sheet metal and embedded in a base of locally quarried stone. The words are from a Gaelic emigrant song.

Kildonan sculpture

Kildonan sculpture

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!

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

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!

 

Saved from winter camping

I had this idea to head off to Barra, on foot, with my tent and equipment to carry out Winter Thrush Surveys on two of the BTO’s randomly allocated squares over there. I had this image in my head of cold, crisp but sunny weather and lying snug in my sleeping bag. It’s so expensive to take the car over from Uist to Barra that i couldn’t even contemplate that.

After mentioning my intentions to a friend she said that she was doing some locum work over there in early January (she’s a GP) and said that i would be more than welcome to stay with her for a couple of nights in the 2-bedroomed apartment that she was renting for her stay. Not being that much of a masochist “oh, OK, thanks!” was my reply. So i had a couple of nights comfy, warm accommodation and a couple of evenings in the pub. Although there was some sense of having wimped out, this turned out to be a good move as the weather was bloody awful! Wet and pretty breezy for the whole two days!

Great view from the accommodation in Castlebay

The first thrush square was just north of Barra’s main town, Castlebay, which entailed walking out into a wet, soggy valley.  Not a single thrush to be found!

A walk up the soggy valley hunting for thrushes…

The next day i ventured up to the north-west of Barra, just west of Northbay, luckily this 1 km square had a road, the A888, running straight through the middle of it so although it was wet the going was easy and straightforward. Again, not a single thrush, although i find it very hard to believe that the few vegetated gardens i passed didn’t even hold a Blackbird. Obviously the Blackbird’s have more sense than me and had found a dry place to shelter.

Barra, still beautiful even in the mist and rain 🙂

I skulked around Castlebay for a little while on my return to town and was rewarded with the sight of a Sparrowhawk – species number 80 on the 2013 list 🙂

Ah well, it was a good trip, a nice couple of days blethering with Louise and getting half licked to death by her dog (a nutty black lab called Maowi).

For more details about participating in the BTO’s Winter Thrushes Survey please see: http://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/winter-thrushes