Monday, 21 October 2013

Siberian stunners!

I readily admit to being spoilt with the quality of some of my migrant visitors over the last few days! At sunrise a few days ago I noticed a small bird foraging in a 'dunnock' type manner on the main deck. With the rapidly improving light I got my bins. on it and knew it was something quite special! I grabbed a couple of shots and then realised I was looking at a Black-throated accentor! It foraged for a short time then flew over the side of the ship and was gone! A short time later a gorgeous bluethroat landed on a packing crate, flicked its' wings and tail, then dropped over the side and was on it's way south- no photograph that time.
black-throated accentor
black-throated accentor
Yesterday I had a couple of yellow-browed warblers that were particularly showy and seemed to enjoy posing for the camera- if only it was this easy on my local patch! Interestingly one of these birds had a fairly noticeable median crown stripe- just shows that they all need careful checking- especially in strong sunlight and way up in a canopy!
yellow-browed warbler
yellow-browed warbler
There has been a good supporting cast of goldcrests too, with two birds providing some drama yesterday. During a sparrowhawk sortie the two birds panicked and flew into the wheelhouse- the officer on watch called me to assist. I managed to trap them individually in corners and gently took them back down to the deck to be released. I continued with my watch and 30 minutes later the two goldcrests flew towards me. One landed on my arm and the other on my coat pocket- amazingly they looked at me for 5 seconds or so, as if they were saying 'thanks'- they then flew off and continued feeding amongst the packing crates. They remained very approachable for the rest of the day and I could hear their contact calls for a number of hours as I walked the decks. 

goldcrest- showing off!
Later a real stunner showed up and again flew into the sanctuary of the bridge- a Pallas's warbler! I have seen a few of these on vessel's during autumnal migrations including a bird off Norway about 5 years ago. Until a couple of weeks ago I had not seen one in Britain, but did get a fleeting glimpse of a self-found bird at St. Abbs during my recent twitch there. Anyway, this bird was very flighty and impossible to catch, so to avoid stressing it out I left it in peace. 30 minutes later it was near exhausted and slowly overheating on a window ledge. It too was then gently taken to the aft deck to join the goldcrests.  Funnily enough after a brief period of recuperation in a shaded spot it flew to a blue tarpaulin and just seemed to glare at me as I took it's portrait! Such a lovely species and definitely one of my all time favourite birds! Just wish I could find them on a 'local patch' 

Pallas's warbler- simply gorgeous!
pallas's warbler- apparently not too impressed with my rescue attempt!

Friday, 18 October 2013

Little and large

More raptor action today with falcons from both ends of the size spectrum turning up. This delightful merlin put in an appearance midday and spent a few hours dashing around the ship's superstructure before eventually roosting on the foremast. At least one unwary redstart was caught during this tiny falcon's rounds.
merlin with redstart
Later in the fading light a real thumper came down from the north and briefly landed. I had a good long look at this bird- initially I thought it was a Saker, then I thought it was a lanner. From a plumage perspective it seemed to share characteristics of both species. In the end I relied on the structure of the bird to cinch (I think) the ID as a saker- the tail was very long and extended way beyond the tips of the primaries. I'll be delighted if someone can assist with the ID though.

saker (probably)
Also added yellowhammer, twite, stonechat and goldcrest to the ever-lengthening migrant species list for the trip.
A migratory, roosting bat species was also a bonus find- desperately trying to shelter from the wind and rain in a coil of line.
bat sp.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Raptor rumble

With good numbers of tired, mal-nourished and dehydrated, slow-moving passerines all over the decks it rarely takes long for the passage raptors to notice this floating slow-food takeaway! Over the last few days I have observed 3 kestrels, 4 red-footed falcons and a single sparrowhawk cause mayhem through the ranks of chaffinches, pied wagtails, redstarts and red-breasted flycatchers. Unfortunately the RBF's seem to be the preferred prey item of the sparrowhawk that has been resident for 5 days and undertakes at least 3 or 4 successful hunting sorties every day! 
red-footed falcon (juvenile/1st winter)
Contrary to the ample food supply available, the sparrowhawk and one of the kestrels decided to have an aerial altercation concerning the ownership of one of the menu items- in this case I was not sure of the ID but it was certainly an LBJ to go!
kestrel (upper) and sparrowhawk
sparrowhawk on top!
red-footed falcon (juv/1st winter)
red-footed falcon (juv/1st winter)
red-footed falcon- at speed!  (juv/1st winter)
red-footed falcon

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Black sea- vis. mig. portraits

Wow!- busy, busy!, with lots of migrants on the move over the last few days and with the following species recorded on the deck (not in any particular order) :- pied wagtail(12+), black redstart (1), blackcap (1), redstart (20+), willow warbler (20+), chiffchaff (30+), red-breasted flycatcher (10+), spotted flycatcher (3), robin (8+), wren (1), blackbird (2), song thrush (6), chaffinch (12+), meadow pipit (1), lesser whitethroat (2), red-backed shrike (1) and flying past- lots more of the same and scores of swallows and a dozen or so skylarks! Also had visits from sparrow hawk and two red-footed falcons.

Here's a selection of some portrait shots:-
red-breasted flycatcher
red-breasted flycatcher
black redstart
lesser whitethroat
redstart (male)
red-backed shrike
spotted flycatcher

Friday, 11 October 2013

Black sea port of Varna

Arrived on the ship Tuesday and waiting for the fuel barge to arrive meant a six hour wait in port- a chance to have a brief look about. Not many birds evident- a couple of dozen black headed and yellow-legged gulls and a few pied wagtails on the wharf. Interestingly a good raft of wintering coot in the harbour- probably in excess of 400 birds- the biggest gathering of this species I have ever seen. A fly-by kingfisher was a bonus bird.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Autumnal gems

Back off to sea in a few days so just enough time to undertake a final twitch and intense birding session  before bag packing and airport mayhem. First stop was the Frankfield loch in Stepps, Glasgow. I arrived at 08:40ish and having eventually found somewhere to park I walked the short distance to the loch and started working through the ducks. Some 10 minutes later I was on the drake blue-winged teal- a smashing duck looking much nicer than I had expected after its 'eclipse' phase. The white crescent was particularly neat and striking and the bird was feeding within a nice flock of teal and a few shoveler which provided good comparisons. A group of 12 snipe sat out in the open were also worthy of scoping as they jostled for a position on a length of semi-submerged planking.

Next stop, St. Abbs in the borders- I really wanted to see a potential lifer in the shape of the Sardinian warbler that had been frequenting the scrub at the north end of the Mire loch. I was not disappointed- after 2.5 hours of carefully watching the scrub, the bird eventually popped out allowing good views for 30 seconds or so- much to the obvious relief of the 20 or so birders that had been waiting - for the most part, very patiently. Of course as is the usual theme at any twitch these days some birders exhibited very little field craft sense- talking loudly, clattering tripods, walking in front of the gathered crowd etc. Probably best not to dwell on the bad manners of a few for too long! On the upside I met some really nice, pleasant birders at the site, who readily swapped info. and added to the overall enjoyment of the occasion.

Having enjoyed the incredibly handsome sard. I spent the rest of the time birding the area- a really nice site to look for migrants and I enjoyed a couple of yellow-browed warblers, a spotted flycatcher, two redstarts and a number of willow warblers and chiffchaffs. I saw a ybw fly briefly between the tops of the trees and in the strong sunlight I thought I had a glimpse of a yellow rump- I immediately thought of  Pallas's warbler but I wasn't sure and could not relocate the bird so kept quiet about that-damn! I need a Pallas's too!

Following a night in b n b I headed off for the 300 mile drive back to Ullapool- a long drive but worth every mile. Time to pack my seabag..........

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Brown shrike surprise!

Since my return from offshore Ireland I seem to have done an awful lot of local patch birding with very little reward. A merlin and a white-tailed eagle being the only birds of note. No migrants other than mipits, pied wags. a few dunlin and sanderling and the occasional wheatear. On the plus side I have put together 20+ BTO bird track 'complete lists' and also submitted a fair few 'casual records' so it does not feel that my time in the field has been completely wasted. My much anticipated 'west coast' pelagic was a big disappointment with a real shortage of birds and aside from a dozen or so storm petrels, a single sooty shearwater and a single arctic skua were the only birds of note. Eventually my frustration level peaked and I had to twitch a bird! 

First off was a 150 mile drive down to Arisaig to try and catch up with the American golden plover that had been found a few days before my visit. Arriving on site, I was a little surprised to find that there were no other birders present and more worryingly there was no golden plover flock in the field next to Traigh golf course. After 15 minutes or so, I heard a single golden plover calling as it flew in to the field- a little bit of encouragement at least! Two hours later, after working the whole area, I was just getting ready to admit another dip when I noticed a dark bird quite far away from the road and rather far up the incline- this was the AGP feeding in the grass with another golden plover, half a dozen greylags and a few wood pigeons. I got the scope on the bird and enjoyed it for sometime before dashing off to get the ferry over to the Isle of Skye- the previous day a number of Sabine's gulls had been seen in Broadford bay and this was another species I really wanted to see. Unfortunately I did not connect with any but did get good views of a very confiding knot.

American golden plover
American G.P. with European cousin
knot- Broadford bay, Isle of Skye
Having studied the weather forecasts intently over the last week or so I decided to have a weekends birding in Aberdeenshire with fellow birder Marcus (ebirder) Conway. Everything looked pretty good  for finding our own 'sibes'. We left Inverness at 05:30 and headed over to the Forvie NNR/Collieston area- a favourite birding area of ours. I picked up a couple of tawny owls en-route- sat on fence posts at the road side and with increasing daylight a few buzzards, pheasants and wood pigeons provided some entertainment during the drive. Arriving onsite we heard but could not see a barred warbler in deep cover- encouraging though! We also watched a chiffchaff briefly and felt confident as a few migrants were obviously about. 10 minutes later Marcus was quickly onto a yellow-browed warbler in the tall conifer next to the church. Shortly afterwards we had good views of a lesser whitethroat- another tidy bird. We met a couple of 'local birders' and after a brief chat about what was about we went our separate  ways -we headed for the coastal bushes via Forvie and they headed off to work the 'gulley'. Forvie was dead but we had bonus birds of pom. and arctic skua and sandwich tern from the headland. Back in Collieston we saw another yellow-browed warbler in the willows by the old hotel then heard a 3rd calling from a thick hedge. Shortly afterwards we met the 'locals' again as they were 'looking' for a Brown shrike that they had found earlier in the 'gulley'. The bird was apparently very skulky and flighty and was proving very difficult to get onto. We joined forces and after another 90 minutes or so during which time we had brief flight views, the bird was eventually pinned down to a hedge at the back of some cottages. We had good views through the scope and also on Marcus's 'live view' camera. We watched this newly arrived mega catching insects and even disgorge a pellet. By now the news was out and frantic birders were turning up to twitch the bird. The whole scene quickly started to feel a tad  manic and as we had had good views of the now 'very elusive' shrike we headed off in search of some more of our 'own birds'. We didn't find anything to match the mega but the following day we found another couple of yellow-browed warblers- at Cruden bay and Whinneyfold gulley. A brambling was a nice bonus bird. All in all we had a great weekends birding looking for migrants and ending up with a bonus mega as well!