Friday, 29 November 2013

American Robin- South Uist

I have had a good spell of time in the field over the past couple of weeks. As per usual my local patches have produced nothing outrageous, but I have had some fun putting together a number of BTO bird track lists. Great northern divers, woodcock and a merlin have been the nicest birds locally. Slightly further afield I went on a mini twitch to Findhorn in order to see little egret and green sandpiper. Although not great rarities these are difficult species to catch up with in the north of Scotland and indeed both of these birds were 'ticks' for my fledgling 'Scottish list'.

On a similar note, although I saw an American robin a decade ago at Godrevy, Cornwall, the chance to get one on my Scottish list required a trip to the outer hebrides. This is rather arduous at this time of the year with short days, poor light generally and the need to undertake an overnight stay due to the infrequent ferry crossings. Anyway, if birding was too easy I would have seen every species by now and probably feel totally bored with the whole twitching scene!

Having teamed up with fellow Ullapool birder Richard Rafe and BTO (Scotland) atlas guru Bob Swann, we undertook the drive to Uig, Isle of Skye for the ferry to Loch Maddy, North Uist.

American robin on a very dull day.
I got onto two late Leach's petrels on the way over which was rather surprising and we had good views of a white-tailed eagle at Loch Maddy. An hour later we were fortunate to pick up the American robin from the car as we pulled up at the site! We then enjoyed good views of the bird before it was flushed by a kestrel. With an hour of 'daylight' left, we moved over to Ardvule point for good views of sanderling, another white-tailed eagle, peregrine, snipe, turnstone and 60 or so purple sandpipers

The following morning after a night in b n b, we had a look for the female lesser scaup at Ard Mhor. Again the light was poor and the bird was rather distant but we eventually got the key ID features sorted as it fed with a flock of tufted duck and widgeon. With only another 90 minutes or so before the return ferry crossing we quickly covered a few more coastal sites and picked up long-tailed duck, grey plover, gadwall, pintail and several great northern divers. After boarding the ferry we were treated to a very unseasonal manx shearwater and on our approach to Uig another pair of white-tailed eagles were seen interacting below a large cliff face. Now it is bag packing time again as I head off for my next bout of sea time. 

lesser scaup- honestly!
Bob and Richard enjoying a very uncrowded American robin twitch!!

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Sad pigeon skulks with 2 day hangover?

- or perhaps I should not try and be a smarty pants and just say 'Mourning dove on Rum for 2nd day'!

40 hours after emptying my seabag, drinking an exceptionally large g-n-t and working through 3 weeks worth of (largely) junk mail, my phone 'beeped' during a woodland local patch sortie and there was an sms message- 'mega highland- mourning dove, Isle of Rum'- yikes- I wasn't sure of the number but knew that there had not been too many previous records of that Bird in Britain! A little later whilst sat on the computer trying to figure out the logistics of Scottish, west coast ferry links, my phone rang and local birder Richard Rafe was on the phone to say that Bob Mcmillan (see the excellent skye birds link was going for the bird and was I keen to go?!! .....
the approaches to Kinloch, Rum
the next morning we left Ullapool at 06:00 for the drive through Kyle of Lochalsh and over the Skye bridge to Armadale, where, having met up with Bob we boarded the ferry for Mallaig- already running 20 minutes late. As the ferry approached the pier in Mallaig a queue of 35+ green-clad, scope-carrying birders could be seen (im)patiently waiting to board and get to Rum. The crossing was rough and somewhat slower than anticipated and a few folk looked decidedly green by the time we approached Kinloch on Rum. The captain's announcement told everyone that we had to be back at the pier and ready to board at 14:15 - as I stepped off the ferry I looked at my watch and realised that I had 2 hours and 7 minutes to walk around the bay, locate the bird and walk back for the return sailing. It was tight but certainly doable as long as the bird cooperated and showed.......anyway after following the 'Mourning dove' signs kindly erected by the locals (not sure who but many thanks!) I arrived behind the bulk of the other birders and put up my scope in anticipation. A nervous 30 minutes passed before the first poor view was obtained- through a fellow birders' scope and largely of a silhouette that really looked like a collared dove- I was not too impressed. I quickly got tired of the hustle and bustle of the scrum as tired birders, some of whom had travelled overnight from as far a field as Cheshire, Luton and Suffolk desperately tried to get on the bird. I walked back around the house and shortly afterwards one of the rangers walked around me to a different vantage point and then waved for us to join him- the bird was now offering better views and I could clearly see the dark spot on the neck- the bird was skulking, the light was poor, I got no photos. but I was happy to 'tick' the bird. I enjoyed the view for 10 minutes or so and then decided to have a solo walk back ahead of the rush to see what else was about- the woodland just looks as if it ought to hold a scarce migrant or two. Anyway, I didn't find anything of note other than a half-heard 'probable' yellow-browed warbler. Everyone was in good spirits on the way back to Mallaig, some birders slept before the long dash south to PG for the Hermit thrush. I enjoyed watching the kittiwakes and looking back at the imposing outline of Rum. A thoroughly enjoyable and fun twitch!

dramatic scenery and light!