Thursday, 27 February 2014

Corys' on the move?

We have moved North to within 20 nautical miles of the coast of Ghana and inside the 200 metre depth contour. The change in the numbers of seabirds is very noticeable with a steady, albeit light passage of pomarine and arctic skuas, a handful of grey phalaropes, single 'comic' tern and hundreds of Corys' shearwaters. The shearwaters are becoming increasingly restless, forming into rafts of several hundred birds- this possibly being the precursor to their north-western migration back to higher latitudes- I have seen similar behaviour with regard to great shearwaters before they head south from Greenland for their autumnal migration. Both Cory's (C.borealis) and Scopoli's (C. diomedea) are found here and as Paul Stancliff of the BTO pointed out the bird immediately below shows the white primary 'fingers' extending into the black 'hand' - a good feature for Scopoli's. 

part of a 'raft' of several hundred Cory's/Scopoli's shearwaters

pom skua

Friday, 21 February 2014

Cetacean central

After 8 days at sea, pelagic birding has been very low key and I have only recorded a handful of distant 'Calonectris' shearwaters- presumed to be Cory's but all rather distant (not sure if Cape Verde shearwater disperses this far south?). I also saw a very distant 'probable' tropic bird sp. and a single skua- a long-tailed I think- cold grey tones, long, slender wings, buoyant, tern-like flight…..

I have been much busier with cetaceans though and have recorded 7 confirmed species:- sperm whale, clymene dolphin, short-finned pilot whale, an impressive pod of circa 500 melon-headed whales. Frasers' dolphin, rough-toothed dolphin and spinner dolphin- not a bad haul and I should not complain but the days are very long without a constant stream of seabirds to ID and record!

spinner dolphin
Frasers' dolphin with calf (foreground), melon-heads behind
melon-headed whales- note the white lips
long-tailed skua-probably?

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Anas horribilis

April 2013 saw me undertake a near 270 mile round trip down to Strontian in search of the long staying Black duck. I had just returned from offshore Morocco, the bird had not been reported for some time and in consequence a nasty little dip was the order of the day. With the bird recently reported back in its' winter quarters, a second attempt was obviously required. This morning at 06:00 the high section of the A835 south-east of Ullapool was white with snow, the wind creating a near blizzard and I seriously thought about aborting my attempt, however by the time I got to a reasonable turning area the snow had abated so I cautiously continued my journey. 20 minutes later I was rewarded with a fine barn owl flying over the road- a scarce bird in this part of the world since the local populations were decimated by two very long, harsh winters a few years ago. After a brief crossing on the Corran ferry I arrived in Strontian. Several small groups of mallard could be seen scattered around the bay but there was no sign of the target bird- I had a horrible sinking feeling in my stomach as I drove on to the main car park. As I was putting on my waterproofs Peter Stronach saw the bird fly in to the bay- happy days! We watched the bird wing-flap showing the conspicuous white underwing. It moved slowly around the bay with a female mallard and it certainly looked as if they had paired off. Despite putting out some bread all of the ducks refused to come in to feed and in very low light and rain I could only get a couple of miserable record shots. It was a long way to twitch a duck and I did not find it a particularly exciting species- drab plumage and no real interesting behaviour - maybe I'm being a bit harsh but it is certainly not my most enjoyable trans-atlantic vagrant- even if it was a 'lifer'!

The 'special relationship'

I have also done a bit of diving and ducking closer to home- Portmahomack on the east coast to be precise, where I had nice views of a smashing drake velvet scoter and a very sleepy long-tailed duck.

snoozing long-tailed duck
velvet scoter

Saturday, 1 February 2014

A 'first' for Bulgaria!

Fantastic news today as I received an email from the BNRC (Bulgarian national rarities committee) to say that the Black-throated accentor I recorded in the Black sea late last year has been accepted as a first for Bulgaria! (see post 'siberian stunners' 21.10.2013 for photos.) I have never considered the possibility of being fortunate enough to record a country first so it is an excellent result. The BNRC have also asked for descriptions of the Pallas's and yellow-browed warblers that I recorded during the autumnal migration as apparently they are rarities for Bulgaria too. 

In fact this January has been a really good birding month for me, with the BTO bird track system telling me that I have a year list of 111- that in itself is a bit of a result for the highlands and islands at this time of the year and with some pretty difficult weather conditions.

Highlight birds early on included glossy ibis and American coot. these were followed by a trip to North Uist where I caught up with the marvellous marsh sandpiper that had been frequenting the shoreline at Kyles Paible. A birding friend also took me to a hen harrier roost where I was lucky to see two ringtails and an adult male bird. Also at the site were greenland whitefronts and a snow bunting. I also saw white-tailed eagle and corn bunting on North Uist although I failed to get decent enough views to 'tick' the Pied -billed grebe at Balranald. 

Kyles Paible, North Uist- during the months only hour of sunshine?
approaches to Uig, Isle of Skye
It has been a good month 'locally' for gulls, with the ring-billed seen briefly in Dingwall and a lovely  little gull seen at Brora. I also managed self-found glaucous and Iceland gulls on a couple of local patches- other 'good' finds have included brambling and velvet scoter- both species being surprisingly scarce on the NW coast of Scotland. 

Iceland gull- Achnahaird
Little gull- Brora