Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Whopping Day for Whoopers!! 28.10.2014

Finally, it seemed, we were to get a break in the successive days of poor weather and receive something more decent. Not only was the weather fine, with light winds throughout, but the warmth of the afternoon sun  was something to take advantage of !  Such "windows of opportunity" are quickly identified and exploited by birds and such proved to be the case with birds from Iceland clearly on the move.

Shortly after dawn I was outside, at home, and heard an intriguing combination of distant calls progressing towards me down the valley from the north.  Eventually they separated and proved to be two skeins, one of 10 Whooper Swans and the other of 30 Pink-footed Geese. What a magnificent sight as they passed closely overhead with the bugling and "wink wink" calls now clearly distinct. Both continued southwards doubtless towards Ireland or the Solway Firth/ NW England.

I'd arranged to meet up at RSPB Gruinart with Geoff Carr up here on holiday with family. It was a good choice as the area was heaving with birds. Whilst we were there a total in excess of 100 Whooper Swans arrived in varying sized groups, with some staying and resting or feeding out on the loch, but with others flying straight through. I'd seen others on my journey up to Gruinart with different groups seen on my way back too. Reports from the west of Islay suggested a succession of groups had moved through to Ireland and, although counts weren't available, there appeared every possibility that 300-400 birds had been involved throughout the day. I love Whooper days!

Besides catching up on gossip from South Yorkshire, discussing the woeful situation arising out of increased persecution of raptors in the Peak District and similar topics , we had some good birding too.  Geese were all around with some extremely confiding Barnacle Geese from the "New Hide". Grey lag Geese and Greenland White-fronted Geese were there too, with us having the benefit of an update on the latter from Ed. Burrell ( WWT ) who's back on the island for the winter to continue his research. On a couple of occasions we had an obliging White-tailed Eagle move languidly down the loch, creating absolute panic and havoc in its wake amongst the assembled geese. At intervals too the assemblage of Golden Plovers took flight and parties of Common Snipe moved around providing a dynamic, ever-changing scene.

We looked in vain for Green-winged Teal amongst the throng of duck out on the reserve lagoons, but the light wasn't very kind ( too direct and too intense...although we shouldn't complain! ). Later we tried similarly to see if the Lesser Scaup was still around on Ardnave Loch, but again without success. A female Goldeneye, Wigeon, Mallard, Mute Swans and, guess what, more Whooper Swans were present and Chough called around us as we took a late lunch.

And so, as I eventually wound my way southwards down the Rinns, the various groups of Whooper Swans seen at the onset of the day had mostly gone.  A couple of parties of Redwing were present, feeding up voraciously and no doubt preparing for the next leg of their own journey.  A good day.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Reflections on Hurricane Gonzalo.

After a number of weeks away I'm back "on base" ....and what a welcome!  Hurricane Gonzalo ensured last night was more than a little stormy, noisy and disruptive.  But , in between....

After a period of being on the move I then spent a couple of weeks based near Spurn Bird Observatory.  But, first of all, let me give you details of where!  Based at Kilnsea, East Yorkshire, is Westmere Farm, Kilnsea ( see ) where Sue and Andrew Wells provide bed and breakfast facilities ( and evening meals by arrangement ).  A working farm, there can be no warmer welcome than at Westmere .Whilst George Clooney opted for a 7Star Hotel for his honeymoon, I opted for Westmere and feel I got the better service. If you wish to stay near Spurn then look no further!!  And, to boot, Westmere is the base out of which the Spurn Bird Festival operates so if you wish to have assured accommodation , then book now for the future!!!

So what did Spurn deliver? Well, I had a great time. I suppose the late 1950's and 1960's saw me spending quite a lot of time there and being introduced to real birding by real birders.....John Cudworth, Charlie Winn, George Edwards and many others whose names I've forgotten.  A return visit was a joy, but a sentimental journey too. I suppose my best personal contribution was finding a Lesser Grey Shrike ( 1958) and, in associated days a Spoonbill , which sparked off a discussion with Ralph Chislett, the indomitable County recorder,despite a photograph of  a species now increasingly part of our avifauna, even as a  breeding species.

This stay was no exception.  Whilst I'd missed a couple of weeks within which Spurn had recorded half the Western Palaearctic list , or so it seemed from the distance of patrolling things via a pager!!  However, I couldn't grumble. A Masked Shrike, 3rd for Britain, Barred Warbler, Firecrest, Yellow-browed Warbler, Richard's Pipit, Black Redstart, Pomarine Skua, Little complaints at that . I missed a Little Bunting and Common Rosefinch.

Later there were two days when duck and goose passage much exceeded  those records previously established. On the first day I was "camped out" near Easington to the north and thoroughly enjoyed a ten hour seawatch despite being cramped in a car. Ducks and geese flying tight in to the coast, even over the beach, was a tremendous experience supplemented by southward moving waders, Red-throated Divers and terns. A great day! And next day was just as good, although I'd to extract the car  in a somewhat right angled condition after so many hours of dedicated observation !!!!

And then back to Islay. At Claddach Bay this morning the wind backed rollers moved incessantly towards the coast in a never ending succession creating a seething cauldron of white frothing water within the bay, replenished by huge rolling banks of water whose white tops were swept away by the wind. I actually saw Shags attempting to take off and being swept through 180 degrees and deposited roughly within adjacent waters! Some managed to gain height , but could make no progress!  The exception was Gannets, a number of adults of which still, despite the conditions, managed to fight their way northwards.  Precious little was in evidence within a full two hours until a young immature Long-tailed Skua swept through southwards on the wind, turned, held in the wind, before moving on. A real bonus followed, sadly, by little else despite high hopes. It would have been easy to miss birds further out, although a fog bank limited distant observations, but the vigil had been worthwhile extended further by finding a group of 12 + Purple Sandpipers in a nearby bay.  Not a bad return!!