Sunday, 14 April 2013

vis mig flurry

It has been quiet of late with just the terns obviously flying north. Today was better with a kestrel, 2 turtle doves, 2 collared doves, a very nice garden warbler and a pipit sp. I think it is probably a very worn and abraded (from the desert sand) tree pipit? The pink bill looks right and the hind claw is relatively short but in truth I struggled to ID this one. I often struggle to ID birds on a ship- the habitat gives no clues!

I have been at sea for sixty days and am due off in 2 or 3 days time- can't wait for a cold beer and the chance to get back to the British isles for some quality spring birding!

16.04 update- thanks to Kriss Webb (Scilly spider), and Paul Stancliffe (BTO migration blog) for IDing the pipit as a Tawny

garden warbler

Tawny pipit

turtle dove

collared dove


Tuesday, 9 April 2013

a lesson learned

Having made a big sweeping statement on a recent post as to how the cory's tend to avoid close passes with my vessel, the inevitable happened today with several birds coming in to 50 metres or so- the first of several occasions during the day when mother nature put me firmly back in my place!
arctic skua
I had a great day today and recorded 11 species of seabird- Cory's shearwater, gannet, LBB gull, YL gull, arctic skua, great skua, common tern, sandwich tern, black tern, sabine's gull, kittiwake. There are now thousands of sandwich terns in the survey area and I presume many of these are now resident as opposed to passage birds. They are particularly impressive in the late afternoon when they gather in large flocks to feed on the shoals of sardines. This provides ample ambush opportunities for the growing number of arctic skuas too. The black terns were definitely passage birds and the first I have seen moving north this 'spring'.
Having spent several hours on the seabird melee I was just thinking that I don't see many seabirds in this part of the ocean that really challenge my IDing abilities anymore, unless they are very distant (or juvenile gulls!). I was continuing to self-assess and starting to feel quite good about myself when a small grey-white-black seabird went fast across the bow and sheared hard and fast down wind- mother natures slap back number 2! I could not decide if it was a probable phalarope or maybe a white-faced stormy!
Having consoled myself that not being able to ID one seabird was not too bad, a few minutes later I got my come-uppance again when I noticed a tern that was obviously bigger and heavier than a sandwich flying purposefully north. Having got on it with the trusted opticrons it showed a massive orange-red bill but flying away I couldn't get anything else on it in the late afternoon light so had to leave that one un ID'd too- slap back No. 3! I think I may have missed an opportunity to ID a lifer in the shape of my first ever Royal tern?- or was it a wayward caspian? With the current weather systems I would not like to guesse! Anyway, serves me right for getting cocky and forgetting that after 40 years of birding I still learn something new every time I look at our feathered friends!
common tern

arctic skua
cory's shearwater
sandwich tern

Sunday, 7 April 2013

super sabs.

3 days of awful weather including 6-7 metre swell and a nasty Beaufort force 7/8 has made conditions onboard pretty difficult for all concerned. Although I do not suffer from sea sickness I do get tired from the constant vessel motion- especially as it has been so rough that there has been a danger of being thrown out of my bunk on occasion! Anyway, a brilliant bonus of the NW gale was the arrival of a flock of 7 Sabine's gulls- a great surprise and a species I was not expecting this far south and east. The birds looked really comfortable in the high winds and seas- they are so obviously an oceanic species when viewed under such conditions. As can be seen below I really struggled to take photos. in the bright sunshine, 28 knot winds and from the heavily rolling vessel. I'm not too bothered though, as it was such a treat to see these delightful gulls. All tiredness was forgotten for the few minutes that they spent around the ship. 

with sandwich tern

Thursday, 4 April 2013

cory's move north

It has been very quiet over the last week or so, with persistent NW airflow halting any anticipated vis. mig. The exception to this being an increase in sandwich terns, with the largest daily count of 80+ birds flying into the wind. A couple of distant flocks of duck sp. have also been observed flying north. Yesterday the wind finally changed direction and has been blowing consistently from the SW. This seemed to spur the cory's shearwaters into action. Yesterday I recorded 40+ birds throughout the day and this afternoon I counted 94 birds past the ship in 3 hours- all moving purposefully north. I never tire of watching these splendid ocean wanderers. This species never seems as comfortable as great shearwaters when it comes to flying past the ships that I am on, and they rarely approach closer than 150 metres or so. This makes them quite challenging to photograph but I'm fairly happy with some of the snaps I took today. Hopefully more goodies will follow!