Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Birding downs and ups

Last Saturday I travelled east to the Moray firth in an attempt to find a barred warbler that had been located the day before at Chanonry point.  After an hour of searching the scrub and marram grass behind the lighthouse I just had that feeling that it was not going to be- and sure enough it wasn't. A very tame female bullfinch hopped out of the gorse and started feeding almost under my feet- she appeared to be a very tired migrant 'just in' and a sparrow hawk and kestrel were also distractions, but I still had that 'dipped out' taste in my mouth. A couple of gannets, guillemots and red-throated divers completed the tally for the couple of hours spent at the point. 
An hour later I enjoyed good numbers of wigeon, teal, curlew and knot from the new hide at Udale bay on the Black isle. A little grebe and a few bar-tailed godwits were welcome additions to the day list but the best birds were a flock of c180 scaup out in the bay to the NE of Jemimaville.

Monday and I was back on the road heading to Brora. A local birder had made an excellent find the previous afternoon in the form of a white-rumped sandpiper. I spent nearly 4 hours scouring the coast enjoying great views of sanderling, purple sandpipers, redshank, and red-throated divers and distant views of a number of long-tailed duck, common scoter and a slavonian grebe were also welcome. Having checked all the shoreline and with the 'dipped out' taste starting to return, I went to check one last bay, one last time. I arrived on a small elevated section of dunes just in time to see a mixed flock of redshank and oystercatchers take flight. Through my bins I noticed a single small wader flying with the flock and although it was in silhouette I felt my pulse race! The birds re-settled on a stretch of rocky shoreline and I couldn't see the small wader although I knew it was there. I quickly got my scope onto the general area and was suddenly thrilled to see a very small bird walking away from me and felt sure I had glimpsed a white rump between the loosely folded wings before it was hidden from view. I needed better views to be sure though, and was rather horrified when the mixed flock flew a few hundred metres offshore and settled briefly on some rocks before returning back to the shoreline. I finally got onto the bird properly and enjoyed nice, albeit distant views of another lifer!  

Monday, 22 October 2012

Mega twitch

From a birding perspective I have been increasingly restless since my return from the Isle of Lewis. Birding locally has been very quiet with absolutely nothing of note. I drove over to the Black isle a few days ago for a 'mini-twitch' as a rather unseasonal dotterel had been found amongst a flock of several hundred golden plover. The bird was rather distant although through the scope it looked very neat. This was followed by a run up the coast to Tarbet ness in the hope of finding an 'eastern' migrant. The weather was fine and although no major find was on the cards we got onto a number of birds including a couple of blackcaps, a couple of chiffchaffs, two goldcrests and a whitethroat- not too bad considering the date and latitude! Other interesting birds on account of the fact that they are never encountered in the west, included a tree sparrow, three magpies and a number of yellowhammers

Tarbet Ness lighthouse
Anyway, still feeling rather unfulfilled, I planned my first major twitch since April (when I went for the Blagdon squacco heron). I left Ullapool at 0400 on Sunday morning with fellow birder Richard Rafe, in the hope of connecting with the Olivaceous warbler at Kilminning castle in Fife. We could not have asked for a better day to go- despite an hour of occasional fog banks near Pitlochry and Dundee the journey was as good as they get. The sunrise was gorgeous and we arrived on site at approx. 08:20. Half a dozen birders were onsite working through various trees and scrubby areas but having parked the car we were almost immediately on the Eastern olivaceous warbler- pure luck as I glanced towards the bushes where the sun was shining! The bird was fairly active and showed well although it proved difficult for me to capture with my camera. Mind you I was not so brazen as some folk and kept a reasonable distance from the bird so as not to risk flushing it! 

Word quickly spread and numbers of birders built slowly. As there was no word of the Radde's warbler we decided to look for it and unbelievably located this bird only an hour after getting on the mega! It was a wonderfully marked individual and a lovely bird in its' own right. Speaking to other birders we learnt that the red-breasted flycatcher was also seen that morning so we headed off from the throng to try and locate it. After initially heading over the road to the wrong site we then headed back to the correct area and Richard quickly got onto the bird. It flitted through the sycamores in typical fly-catcher fashion but gave good views. Unbelievably I got three UK life list ticks in 3 hours! Sweet birding indeed and a truly memorable morning when everything just fell in to place! Happy days indeed!

eastern olivaceous warbler

Thursday, 11 October 2012

The Butt- revisited

manx shearwater
Just enjoyed a few days birding back at the Butt of Lewis with fellow Ullapool birder Richard Rafe in the hope of turning up some migrant species. The ferry voyage over the Minch was quiet with just a few great skuas and a couple of manx shearwaters of note. The Machair at Eoropie held up to 700 golden plover during our 4 day stay, with mixed flocks of lapwings, interspersed with starlings and twite. Birding was rather hard work with cold blustery conditions and a scarcity of birds on the ground, although Port Nis resident birder Tony Marr put us onto a very nice 1st winter red-backed shrike on our first morning so things started well! A number of common redpoll were also good to see.

red-backed shrike
red-backed shrike
Eoropie beach looking North (ish)
The next few days we scoured the area around the Butt of Lewis, Eoropie, Loch Stiapabhat and Port of Ness. Highlight birds included snow bunting, gadwall, whooper swan, lesser whitethroat and hen harrier. On our final day a turtle dove in Port of Nis was a good find. An hour later, on our arrival in Stornoway ferry terminal, Tony rang me to say that he had just seen a barred warbler- one of the target birds of my trip as I have never seen that species in the UK- nothing like dipping out to remind me of the joys of birding! ;)

golden plover flock
golden plover over the machair
who needs house sparrows when you have twite on the roof!
harbour porpoise in the Minch
great black-backed gull- Annat bay, near Ullapool

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

My Bucket list bird!!!!!

1971 was the year when at the grand old age of eleven I became a compulsive birder. Over the previous year or so I had quickly outgrown my 'observers series' bird book and would longingly troll the shelves of any decent bookshop looking at more serious volumes. (I obviously developed my nerdy bookworm tendencies about that time!). Christmas 1971 was pretty awesome, as my parents bought me my most longed-for book, a brand new copy of P.A.D. Hollums' 'The popular handbook of British birds'- the volume still sits on my 'bird book' shelf to this day. The book was a revelation and I spent every spare moment of indoor time studying the birds and learning as much as I could. For some inexplicable reason I was always drawn to plate 32 and repeatedly looked at the gyr falcon- in particular the white morph Greenlandic birds. I wanted to see one of those more than any other bird on the planet and the fascination with white-morph gyrs has continued to this day. I saw my first white- morph bird in a zoo some years later and although the bird was totally awesome, I felt a profound sadness that such a splendid individual was caged and just sat hunched on a fake tree branch. Anyway, 3 days ago I took a tourist boat out of Ilulissat, Disko bay, Greenland. We spent almost 3 hours amongst the ice flows and bergs watching countless iceland and glaucous gulls flying amongst amazing scenery. Whilst casually scanning the ice I noticed the head of a bird which I immediately knew was really, really, special. It flew up briefly and I saw it was a magnificent gyr falcon- a white morph!! - that  had been feeding on an immature glaucous gull. The bird showed really well for about 5 minutes, flying around the boat and landing on several ice flows and small bergy bits. Everyone onboard was very excited, including three of Demarks top birders! I was so excited I took plenty of rubbish snaps- shaking the camera, impatiently focusing and generally flapping- but I didn't stop smiling throughout the encounter and did manage a couple of shots to remind me of a truly beautiful bird- and one quest I can now remove from my bucket list too! Now I just need to find one to add to my UK life-list!

the WOW factor!