Friday, 19 December 2014

Sibe chiffers

Managed a days birding up at Durness with Peter Stronach a couple of weeks ago. A December chiffchaff in the Balnakeil craft village was a pleasant surprise this far north and we also enjoyed the spectacle of 800+ Barnacle geese and 3 tundra beans feeding in fields near the farm. The highlight however was finding two Siberian chiffchaffs. I initially found one fly-catching near the church and after we had watched it for 20 minutes and got some decent record shots we drove back to Durness where Peter located a second bird back in the village near the garage. Both birds were very lively in the mild, sunny conditions with plenty of insect life for them to enjoy.  It was noticeable how much the birds appeared to change colour and tone as they moved in and out of the strong sunlight.  I wonder how long it will be before these birds become a full species in their own right? 

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Raptor rapture

Jon Clarke- a birding friend of mine found a rough-legged buzzard a couple of days ago. Unfortunately the bird was located on a private estate with limited access so it had to be kept quiet. Having said that, seeing the bird entailed a 45 minute land rover journey over very rough terrain with the bird favouring a very expansive area of upland grouse moor- so it was not exactly 'twitchable'.  Fortunately Jon invited me along for a day in the field to try and see the bird as it was needed for my Scottish list.  Having left home at 05:30 I was almost forced to turn back in blizzard-like conditions on the high section of the A835. Fortunately I made it through to the meeting point and was only 20 minutes late. After an hour of exhilarating land rover travel, we arrived at our vantage point and settled in- desperately trying to keep warm in the blustery, icy conditions. 10 minutes later the bird came towards us flying low over the hill and disappearing swiftly as it glided down wind and out of site!  With pretty awful light levels and the briefest of views it was not what I would consider to be a 'tickable' bird although it was obviously the RLB- at least I had got the extensive, white upper tail coverts and pale head! We stayed on site until late morning so the survey could be finished then, after studying maps of the area, we decided to try and figure out where the bird had headed and what route it was likely to follow if it came back west. 

After a 20 minute drive across the moor we picked a spot overlooking an expanse of relatively sheltered and low-lying marshy ground, nestled between the rolling, heather clad hills. A series of fence posts around the marsh looked ideal for a RLB to sit on. We had the sun at out backs so settled down to stake out the site. We saw a couple of common buzzards and enjoyed frequent views of red grouse and before long an hour had passed. I had to keep moving to try and keep warm but felt a twinge of excitement when a 'buzzard' was seen hovering persistently for 45-60 seconds over the far hill. It was little more than a speck but we thought it probably was our target bird- the hovering action seem too persistent to be a common buzzard and the jizz of our distant silhouette just suggested RLB. 

Ten minutes later we got onto a pale raptor flying very low over the ground some 800 metres away. It looked good! The bird worked its way ever closer, initially low but then higher as it was mobbed by a pair of ravens. By now we were getting some good ID features- the rakish jizz, long, angled wings, long tail and the rather deep, 'elastic' wingbeats during the birds spells of powered flight. As it got closer and started soaring in the sunlight we could easily pick out the large, squarish black carpal patches on the underwing, the dark brown/blackish belly and the diffuse band on the trailing edge of the wings. The base of the tail looked incredibly white in the bright sunshine. The bird started to put on a bit of a show for us- circling ever closer, then gliding, then undertaking powered flight. At times it looked remarkably like a marsh harrier, on one occasion almost kite-like. The bird was now aware of us and could be seen clearly looking at us as it flew to within 100 metres or so of our position providing us with crippling views! I've had a great birding year and seen a lot of good birds but I think this was easily one of the best- although nowhere near the rarest it was such an impressive bird- everything about it is just exciting- plumage, flight action, habitat - it certainly ticked all my boxes for birding enjoyment and the views we had were just brilliant! I'll certainly be buying Jon a beer or two for that one! 
eye to eye!
simply stunning!