Sunday, 31 May 2015

Courting couples & sad singles

Well I think it is official - spring has been dire for birds (and birders) in the NW Highlands- it has rained almost every day in May (and late April) and temperatures have rarely got up to 12 degrees celsius. Strong NW and W airflow has just compounded the misery for all concerned. My considerable time on local patches indicates that some migrants have been almost two weeks late in arriving, compared to 'typical' spring movements for up here, with densities of returning birds still remaining low. Following extensive field time I have however had small successes- in the form of a single pair of redstarts displaying and holding territory. Similarly, a single pair of winchats are now also on territory. In consideration of the expansive and suitable habit for these species, only a single pair of each causes me some concern and I wonder how long it will be before these species become locally extinct? A few pairs of spotted flycatchers are also nest building, although obviously struggling to find airborne insects. Swallows and martin numbers are just reaching what I would consider 'normal' for the area. Perhaps just as worrying is the number of unpaired birds that remain, with single male wood warbler and just two lone, male, whitethroats still bursting their lungs as they continue to struggle to find suitable mates- low densities are obviously making it difficult to find a date! Hopefully some keen and willing ladies may yet show up for the unpaired males although time is running short. Hmm- perhaps I sense a horrible analogy to my own situation! ;). Wheatear numbers are also low and a small number of males have also failed to find partners and can still be heard singing in a last ditch attempt to find a partner- I have watched these sad singles repeatedly chased off the territories of the paired birds. On a brighter note I saw a single, recently fledged grey wagtail yesterday- begging for food, so at least one of the three pairs that I am aware of have had a modicum of success. Hopefully June will see better conditions and increased breeding success. 

where are the ladies?
I'm alright- she was hard to find but my girlfriend seems impressed!
me too- but she still makes me sing every day!
well I'm still single and well in the brown stuff!

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Kentish Plover twitch

Migration remains a bit of a concern with everything late, and/or in low numbers. Since my last post I have seen a handful of swallows, a few cuckoos and blackcaps and the occasional house martin. Although numbers of wheatears, willow warblers and chiffchaffs have slowly risen, they are still scarce on the ground and I have yet to find a single spotted flycatcher, redstart, sedge warbler, winchat or grasshopper warbler- they can't be too far away now- surely? 

A recent twitch to Moray for a couple of Avocets turned into a horrible dip- the news came out late as usual for that part of the world, as although there are plenty of good birders in Moray there do not appear to be any subscribers to the bird news services and so good birds are usually just put on the local website. Although subsequently picked up by the news services, this often results in the birders nightmare of getting news of much sought after birds 4 or 5 hours too late to twitch them successfully! An Avocet in Scotland is almost a mega!! Anyway, moving swiftly on, I successfully twitched the marvellous Snowy owl on the Black Isle. The bird looked good to be a genuine vagrant- recent Northerly and North-easterly winds, the bird was in great condition with clean unworn primaries and tail feathers, photographs showed the feet to be pristine, no leg rings and so the general concensus in the field was that it was a wild bird. Following the happy, near 80 mile journey home I was just going through the motions of updating my BUBO Scottish/Highland life lists when news broke that it was an escape- from the Black isle wildlife park. Grrrrrrrrrrr. I make no secret of my distaste for keeping birds in aviaries - especially raptors, so I'm glad it escaped, hope it survives and continues to head north! (last seen at Tarbet Ness yesterday). 

So it was with much relief that I successfully twitched the wonderful Kentish Plover at Dornoch- yet another great find by dedicated patch birder Dean Macaskill. A nervy couple of hours working the beach finally paid off when we saw some other birders scrutinising the piles of seaweed high up near the dunes. The area held a number of ringed plover and dunlin and eventually we got onto the very cryptic K.P. I couldn't get closer than 50 or 60 metres for fear of harassing and flushing the bird so got some record shots from the dune system. The photos do not really do it justice as through the scope it was a gem of a bird. The bird of my year so far and a welcome addition to my life list! Hopefully the spring will turn up a few more twitchable rares!