Sunday, 26 April 2015

Critical time for 'spring' migrants

Spring is woefully late and very unpredictable in the NW Highlands this year. Last week saw a trickle of migrants finally arrive and although numbers have been worryingly low it has been good to record my first wheatears, chiffchaffs, and willow warblers. By putting in a ridiculous amount of field time I have also recorded single singing tree pipit and blackcap and a couple of common sandpipers. A few days of mild temperatures and strong sunshine last week made my world of birding seem reassuringly 'normal', with my local patches full of calling tits and finches. Forward a few days to 'Take 2' and as if a harbinger of poor weather, I have been seeing good numbers of redwing, pink-footed geese and a couple of iceland gulls- it feels more like early March than late April!
guess the month!
snow at circa 15 metres above sea level
The last couple of days have witnessed tumbling temperatures- I had to use de-icer early this morning and it has been snowing intermittently for most of today. Although normal to get falls of snow on the hills and mountains at this time of year at this relatively high latitude, it is a nasty surprise to find snow lying at sea level. 

pink footed geese
My local patches include a couple of sheltered, wooded glens and river courses that provide some cover for resident and migrant birds alike, but today everything was bitterly cold and miserable and awfully challenging for the smaller passerines. There are no flying insects to support the newly arrived migrants and it was rather disconcerting to see several willow warblers and chiffchaffs stirring up leaf litter in an attempt to find invertebrate fodder this morning. I don't recall ever seeing leaf warblers in falling snow before. Some of the birds are looking sluggish and bedraggled and making no attempt to sing as they concentrate on maintaining their metabolisms. The softer, water soaked pastures are full of flocks of passage wheatears and meadow pipits, again desperately probing for nourishment, when normally these birds would be frenetically moving up the coast. My chances of recording a swallow must be about the same as winning the lotto- and I don't even buy tickets. As for redstarts, whinchats, sedge warblers and groppers I can only hope that good numbers are backed-up down south. I'm badly missing spring on the Lizard!! 

A selection of 'happy' shots from last week:-

singing chiffchaff
common sandpiper
tree pipit
wheatear in hailstones

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Sleepy North sea

Just back from a five week stint in the North sea. I had hoped to start seeing some visible migration as we got into early April but with low temperatures, predominately NW airflow and plenty of fog, bird numbers were very low with just two robins, two meadow pipits and a stonechat recorded on and from the vessel.  Seabird numbers were also low, although that was not unexpected for the time of year. Highlights included a few puffins and a tatty looking Iceland gull that didn't look sharp enough to be an adult with the main features of the plumage and bare parts leading me to conclude that it was most likely a 3rd winter- hopefully a larophile will point me in the right direction if that age is incorrect.

Aside from that a brief port call to Montrose allowed a couple of hours strolling around the coastal plain  where I got a shot of a an interesting leucistic oystercatcher. Spring feels a long way off!