29 January 2012

A day in the Fylde

 After yesterday's stop off at the ringing demonstration at RSPB Vane Farm I was looking forward to a more productive ringing session at a site on Rawcliffe Moss near St Michael's on Wyre in Fylde. I had arranged to meet Seumus and Ian there between 7:30 and 8am

I was up at 6am and a quick look out of the window showed that the over night frost had not materialised and neither had the forecast wind, so conditions were looking good. After a quick breakfast I set off and with the aid of my satnav easily found the meeting point. What a useful bit of kit for finding your way around an unfamiliar area in the dark.

As I pulled up Seumus and Ian were walking back up the track having just set up the two mist nets that we would be using.

After introductions and a brief chat we went and checked the nets and my first bird of the day was a Yellowhammer, a new species for me. Subsequent net visits included Tree Sparrows, Blue Tits, a Great Tit, which were also new species for me and also a Robin, a Starling and a couple of Chaffinch.

 My first Yellowhammer

The highlight of the morning's session and another new species was a female Great Spotted Woodpecker. She could certainly peck and her claws were pretty sharp too!! Unfortunately she was already ringed but at least I got to extract her from the net and process her.

My first Great Spotted Woodpecker

Total birds processed for the morning were 21 new birds for the site and 17 retraps (in brackets):

Yellowhammer - 1
Blue Tit - 10 (11)
Great Tit - 2 (3)
Tree Sparrow - 5 (1)
Chaffinch - 2
Starling - 1
Great Spotted Woodpecker - (1)
Robin - (1)

We nearly had a Sparrowhawk, but that managed to get free of the net before we could get to it.

It was great to get a chance to catch and process some species that are not that common up in Orkney so a big thank you to Seumus and Ian for letting me join them and I hope to go out with them again during the year ahead.

Thanks to Ian for the photos.

28 January 2012

BGB Ringing Demo

It was a cold frosty morning when I set off from Pitlochry, the temperature on the car thermometer was showing -3C, I'm not used to these sub-zero temperatures!!

I arrived at the RSPB Vane Farm reserve at 10am and the Big Garden Birdwatch (BGB) ringing demonstration was well under way. I was just in time to see a male and a female Great Spotted Woodpecker being shown to the crowd. Next up for ringing were some Blue Tits, Great Tits and Chaffinches.

When there was a break waiting for the next catch to be bought back to the ringing area I had a quick chat with Rob the ringer in charge. As there were already several trainees doing the ringing I concentrated on learning how to age and sex some of the species being caught and got to handle some Blue Tits, Great Tits and Chaffinches.

I also helped out on one of the mist net rounds and extracted a Goldfinch, two Chaffinch and two Greenfinch. Right at the end of the session I got to ring a Greenfinch, my first bird ringed this year!!.

By the end of the session there had been 80 birds processed. Other species caught and rung during the demonstration included Blackbirds, Coal Tits, a Dunnock, Long Tailed Tits and a Robin.

A big thanks to Rob, the members of the Tay Ringing Group and the RSPB staff who all made me welcome and allowed me to join in with the session.

Male Great Tit waiting to be extracted from the mist net

Long-tailed Tit being shown to the people watching the ringing demonstration

Tomorrow I hoping to get out ringing with some members of the Fylde Ringing Group weather permitting. I wonder what we'll catch?


Friday 27 Jan saw me setting off on my first work trip for 2012 and indeed my first work trip since July as my leg breaking incident has prevented me from heading South since the start of August.

So at Midday I set sail on the MV Pentalina from St Margaret's Hope on South Ronaldsay across to Gills Bay on the Scottish mainland. The crossing took me out through Scapa Flow and across the Pentland Firth.

There were a couple of Cormorants drying their wings near to the harbour in the Hope and as we set off out into the bay several small groups of Eiders and a Red-throated Diver. As we got out into the Flow there were quite a few Greater Black-backed Gulls and the occassional Fulmar flying past.

It was good to see most of the cliff faces on both the inhabitted and un-inhabitted islands starting to get good numbers of Fulmars taking up residence with the Greater Black-backed Gulls sitting on the cliff tops watching them.

As we crossed the Pentland Firth there were some Shags and a solitary Gannet closely followed by a group of three all heading into the Flow.

The drive down to Pitlochry was fairly uneventful. A few fields holding several hundred Greylag Geese and small flocks of Curlew. Surprisingly I didn't see a single raptor in the whole journey.

The next leg of the trip takes me onto Preston calling in at the RSPB reserve at Vane Farm on the South side of Loch Leven where there is a ringing demonstration as part of the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch weekend.

23 January 2012

Aurora 2

As the weather had clouded over and started raining again I went to bed. The predictions were that Monday night's solar conditions were going to be better and the weather forecast was for clear skies.

At just after midnight Sunday, my aurora alerting system sounded an alarm and woke me up, it was showing a K index value of 6. This is one of the key figures to keep an eye on for auroral activity.

Earlier in the evening when I had seen my first aurora the K value had got up to about 5.6 so 6 should have meant even better views. A quick check out of the window showed something was visible but it was hard to see with all the light pollution in the village. So on with the warm clothes and off to a spot just down the road where it was a lot darker.

Too be honest the visual aurora although slightly visible was no better than earlier, but I did try a couple of photos before it clouded over and the rain returned. So here are my first two aurora photos taken with 30 second exposures.

So fingers crossed for some better conditions to night and some better photos soon.

22 January 2012

Aurora at last

This post has nothing to do birds, but I just wanted to record the fact that after nearly 4 years of living in Orkney this evening along with my wife Claire and good friends Marc and Penny we have all seen our first aurora.

It wasn't the best aurora in the world but you could definitely see changing shafts of light and intensities. The view wasn't helped by the varying cloud cover either.

I shall be keeping an eye on the sky for the next couple of hours or so just in case it gets better and I can maybe get a photo or two to post.

The only birding connection I can give this post is a reference to some Wigeon calling in the dark.

15 January 2012

White Gulls and Mute Swans

Finally after 13 days of wind and rain not only has the weather improved to dry and calm it has also managed to achieve it on a weekend instead of a Monday.

I haven't had any ringing opportunities so far this year as either the weather has been against it or my trainer has been busy, so it was time to go out and have the first picnic of the year. My good lady and I decided to head for West Mainland. We had a brief stop at Skaill Beach to watch a lone canoeist riding the surf, rather him than me. We decided to go to Marwick Bay as there has been quite a few reports over the last week or two of a high number of white gulls appearing in Orkney.

Now gulls are not my best group of birds to ID. Yes I can tell the difference between the common ones as long as they are in adult plumage. Juvenilles just seem to scramble my brain a bit. So the reports of Iceland and Glaucous Gulls sent me running to my ID books. ID should be fairly simple neither adult bird would have any black in the plumage, that should make them easy to pick out of the crowd then. Iceland Gulls would be about the same size as a Herring Gull and the Glaucous Gull the same size as a Great Black-backed Gull. Iceland Gulls have a small rounded head with a small bill whereas the Glaucous Gull has a large head with a large bill. Also the Iceland Gulls wings should extend beyond the tail.

Having got that sorted in my mind there were also reports of Kumlien's Gull. Now according to my ID book (A Field Guide to the Seabirds of Britain and the World) this bird is a race of Iceland Gull. Immediately alarm bells start ringing in my head and something told me identifcation was not going to be easy. The book says "Wing quills slightly darker grey than Iceland Gull and shows grey spots towards white wing tips, but difficult to identify between the two." I knew it.

Then of course there are the juvenilles. The first year birds are described as being buffy in colour with second year birds being a pale cream colour above and below. Both having white primaries.

Having arrived at the car park at Marwick Bay, the first thing we spotted apart from the two surfers were four white gulls sat on the rocks right in front of the car park.

I came to the conclusion that these were Iceland Gulls since they all had wings extending past the end of their tails and they looked like small head and bill. The only thing that has cast a little doubt in my mind is the bird centre rear who seems to have a noticeably darker grey plumage than the bird in front of it.

We then headed South along the coastal path to the Fishermen's huts, as this was where the carcass of a whale had been reported and that it was providing good feeding for the gulls. As we walked along the path other white gulls could be seen on the rocks and flying past. Not far from the Fishermen's Huts there was a distinct change to the smell of the air going from one of fresh sea air to that of rotting flesh. There were lots of gulls flying around and as we approached the huts the carcass could be seen down on the water's edge.

On the small cliff to the right there were over 50 gulls, three Greater Black-backed Gulls, three Herring gulls, a couple of Common Gulls and the rest white gulls. A single Fulmar flew past.

These two I think are Iceland Gulls.

These I think are Glaucous Gulls.

If I'm wrong I would be happy to be corrected.

After chatting to some of the local birders we headed back to the car park for our picnic. As the tide went out more white gulls could be seen on the beach, along with a couple of Redshanks, approx 25 Turnstones, a male Red Breasted Merganser, a female Eider and a Rock Pipit.

Having never paid too much attention to gulls that much, these two white gulls were new ones to my life list.

The drive home took us past the Ring of Brodgar and as we passed over the bridge where Harray Loch flows into Stenness Loch I spotted a pair of Mute Swans with a couple of youngsters. With the sun starting to set toward Hoy I just had to stop and take a few photos.


A nice way to end the day out.

1 January 2012

First post of 2012

Happy New Year, 2012 has offically started.

Despite the cold wind it has been a bright sunny day, not that it will last for long according to the forecast.

First task of the year was to enter the final few weeks of garden bird observations for 2011 into the online reporting system of the BTO's Garden Bird Watch survey. Then find a new notebook for 2012 as by pure coincidence I managed to finish 2011 on the last page of the previous one. Strangely my pocket notebook for my birding activities also finished on the last page on my last outing for 2011. How spooky is that?

I have decided that instead of making New Year resolutions this year, as they are never kept, I'm going to set myself some Aims instead.

The first Aim is to get my leg back to normal service. After breaking it back in August the swelling just doesn't want to go away in a hurry. I'm hoping that by going out and doing more birding and ringing I might be able to get the old muscles pumping again and get rid of the fluid build up causing the swelling.

To that end I went out for a walk to my local loch, the Loch of Ayre, and out round the headland of Skaildaquoy Point. Not much out on the sea, a few female Eiders, a couple of Great Black-backed Gulls, a pair of Mallard and a couple of Cormorants. Along the beach there were a small flock of Turnstones, a couple of Redshank and a solitary Rock Pipit. Flying overhead were a Common Gull and a Raven. There seemed to be a distinct lack of gulls about today and I didn't see any Mergansers either.

On the loch were a pair of Mute Swans with a youngster, five Goldeneye, six Tufted Duck and two male Long Tailed Ducks which took flight and headed out to sea. Around the loch edge, sheltering from the wind, were a couple of Grey Herons, twenty Mallards, 100+ Wigeon, 80+ Lapwings and 40+ Oystercatchers. In a field on the Northern edge of the loch was a mixed flock of 80+ Starlings, 50+ Curlew and a dozen Oystercatchers.

The highlight of the afternoon was watching a female Hen Harrier hunting along the Northern edge of the loch.

The second Aim is to update this blog on a more regular basis and tinker around with the layout/format. All feedback greatly received. At least I'm starting with good intent by posting this entry.

The third Aim is to get my C permit and starting ringing on my own. I had some plans in place last year to help me achieve this aim but the busted leg stopped any hope of that. So a concerted effort this year to those plans back on track so watch this blog for progress.

As I take a break from entering all my birding efforts from last year into the spreadsheet for submission to the county recorder for inclusion in the 2011 Orkney Bird Report my final Aim for the year is not to leave this task until the end of the year. Instead the aim will be to submit my input every quarter, so if you don't spot me commenting on this in early April then give me a prompt.

On which note I shall close this blog entry and get back to the spreadsheet.