Sunday, 29 January 2012

Big Garden Birdwatch

I have just finished my hour surveying the garden for the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch. Anyone who happens to read this blog is most likely already familiar with this event. It is such a simple survey that makes a huge contribution to our knowledge of our birds. Last year I carried out two surveys, one in my Northern Ireland garden and one with RSPB staff at an event at the Belfast Museum.

I topped up the feeders earlier in the morning plus some extra food and let things settle down for awhile and for the numbers to build up. The first 15mins of the hour were the most exciting. Good numbers of finches filled the garden, a treecreeper made an appearance then all of a sudden out of nowhere and 12mins into the survey a female Sparrowhawk!!! I could not believe my luck, first one I have ever seen in this garden and my first of this year, brilliant. It was all over in a matter of seconds, she struck, touched down briefly then flew off in the Dingwall direction empty handed.

As you can imagine it was fairly quiet for awhile after but numbers built up again including a poor lone House Sparrow who was missing an eye but strangely no sign of any Starlings.

End Result:

Blackbird - 3
Chaffinch - 38
Greenfinch - 5
Goldfinch - 7
Siskin - 2
Robin - 2
Great Tit - 2
Blue Tit - 2
Treepcreeper - 1
House Sparrow - 1
Coal Tit - 1
Dunnock - 2
Sparrowhawk - 1

Birds seen during hour but not included in survey results were:

Buzzard - 2
Red Kite - 1
Carrion Crow - 7
Jackdaw - 3
Woodpigeons - 23
Herring Gull - 4
Common Gull - 3

Saturday, 28 January 2012

That's why birders go to Iceland...

Ok apologies for the cheesey title but I seem to have been putting in quite a bit of effort to see the Gulls that are around this winter. To sum up there have been 3 species of gull reported that are rare in these parts, Glaucous, Iceland and Ring-billed. So far I have only connected with the Glaucous which was superb in it's own right but I was hungry for more.

Anyway I had a fairly disappointing Gull day during the week so I decided to try again today (28th). The weather started off frosty and overcast. I tried the school/library carpark again as the library is open but no school, excellent I thought but no kids = no chips = no gulls. It was very quiet. I tried the old bread trick at the boating pond but again just Herring and Black-headed Gulls.

Adult winter Black-headed Gul

I headed round to the fish factory at the business park to see what I could find and as I turned the corner towards the back of the building immediately locked on to a "white" gull. I just knew I was in luck. I parked the car and made my way over and yes it was just what I had hoped, an Iceland Gull, I had finally connected with one during this white-winged gull invasion to the UK this winter. Another life tick for me and a truely beautiful looking bird. The Glaucous was also present and they were almost side by side which was great for comparing the two. It showed very well but the light was poor for photos. After an hour I moved on after noticed a small group of 5 Bullfinch in one of the trees. I always enjoy seeing Bullfinches.

To Ferry Point now and not long after I pulled up a convoy of 6 cars pulled in all full with birders, a local group perhaps. They all headed for the point whilst I decided to enjoy a walk West towards the river mouth. By the now the weather was perfect, sunny, frosty and calm conditions. Ben Wyvis looking stunning covered in snow against the clear blue sky. The usual suspects were present with a pair of Goldeneye in close to shore giving good views. The hedgerows were full of birds, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, and one of my favourites, the Brambling. There was also Yellowhammers, Reed Buntings and a good number of Tree Sparrows. Heading further along the track and all of sudden there was an influx of geese, greylags with a good number of pink-footed giving fairly close fly-by views. Near to the small white building I stopped and scanned the small islands, there was loads of birds around. More Goldeneye, 3 Little Grebes, Lapwing, Teal, Wigeon, many geese, a Cormorant, Redshank, Great Black-backed, Herring and many Common Gulls. I scanned the Common Gulls for the off chance the Ring-billed might in there somewhere but to be honest I would be very hard pushed to pick one out if it was not an Adult with my limited experience. Even in the bird guides, 1st and 2nd winters look the same to me.

I turned and headed back to the car, an excellent day of birding and weather. I then decided with the light the way it was to head back to the fish factory to try and get some better photos. When I arrived there was another birder in my usual parking spot but they left after a short time. The Iceland Gull was still there and was easily picked out. It looked even more stunning in the sunlight and I got some half decent record shots whilst enjoying the bird.

1st-winter Glaucous for comparison
1st-winter Iceland Gull - Larus glaucoides
Bullfinch (for my girlfriend)
So 2 out of 3 gulls and I am very happy to be able to pick these out of a crowd and ID them. Although as I write this the Ring-billed was reported at front of the library / school on the grass at 14.00. I was there just after 14.00 for a quick check and I didn't see anything (don't I feel a bit stupid!).

Anyway coming to the end of January and my list stands at 70 species with 8 life ticks, a very enjoyable first month of the year.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Loadsa ducks...

Woke up to a beautiful sunny frosty morning today (26th) so I decided to do a bit of birding in Inverness before college in the afternoon. I headed to the Longman Hide at the Outfall first. The layby was very full with a burger van and 3 customers that had stopped so I didnt stay long. There were small numbers of Teal, Wigeon and Goldeneye on the very calm water. There was also small groups of Redshank, Curlew and Oystercatcher with a handful of Great Black-backed, Black-headed and Herring Gulls. Four Cormorants were sat out on one of the markers.

I then made my way around to the small bay opposite the football ground carpark. Again some Wigeon were present on the far side with some Mallard and some Redshank also. Then a dark looking duck caught my eye over in a shaded corner. I watched closely and then noticed there was 2! I watched them for about 20 minutes getting decent views, they slowly drifted towards me and I was confident now, Scaup! A life tick for me, brilliant.

I now headed round the corner to Milton of Culloden where c50 Shelduck were just off the shore. There were again good numbers of Wigeon and Teal a bit further out. Plenty of Mallard and group of 20 Goldeneye were also present. As I walked along the shore and rounded a small corner I saw Scaup everywhere, 46 in total. It was getting close to leaving time now and I wanted to check further around nearer the point before college so I headed back. Whilst heading back to the car a distant Great Crested Grebe, my first of the year, was seen.

Scaup - Aythya marila
I moved around to Arturlie Point to have a quick check which produced similar species that had been seen so far but with the added bonus of 4 Rock Pipits that landed on the shore just as I was leaving.

Rock Pipit

Gulls again...

Finding myself becoming quite addicted to Gull watching and identification. Like a whole science of it's own at times but thoroughly enjoyable too. To add to the Glaucous that has been hanging around the fish factory in Dingwall Business park there has now been an Iceland Gull reported in the fields surrounding the business park and a Ring-billed Gull reported at the academy. With this in mind I decided to do some gull watching in Dingwall on Wednesday (Jan 25th).

The weather was overcast and miserable and I first popped into Tescos to buy a couple cheap loaves of bread and then headed around to the Academy just after the kids had finished their lunch for the gull fest. Hundreds of gulls flying around with the majority being Herring Gull. I tried very hard to see the Ring-billed but it wasn't to be. Feeling rather uncomfortable sitting with bins and camera outside a school I headed to the boating pond to see if I could entice some gulls across the road.

Within minutes the place was full of Herring and Black-headed Gulls on the pond all looking to get some of my bread. Unfortunately that was all that showed up but it was worth a try and I got some decent close ups of some which will help me with feather structure etc.

Black-headed Gull in flight.
Herring Gull
Herring Gull
Herring Gulls fighting over bread.
I left the boating pond and headed round to the Business Park to check out the fish factory and the surrounding area. Straight away I locked onto the Glaucous Gull on the fish factory roof. Unfortunately I could not get too close as there is some construction going on. I tried and hoped for an Iceland Gull but I couldn't see any (that's not to say there wasn't any!). I then drove down Docharty Brae to check the fields, again I couldn't see an Iceland but there was a group of 14 Whooper Swans which was nice to see.

Back at home in the garden the Long-Tailed Tit flock were present, 8 of them, and they are becoming quite regular now. I did notice that all 8 birds had been ringed, is this because they form small close flocks and all got caught in the nets together? Any comments welcome.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Just a quick one...

Beautiful frosty sunny weather again on Sunday morning so my girlfriend and I decided to take a short walk from Ferry Point heading West along the Firth, wasn't supposed to be a birdwatching walk but I took my bins just incase. At the far end of the walk a flock of c50 Yellowhammer and Reed Buntings was nice to see as was a juvenile Cormorant on the edge of the shore. Heading back to the point I spotted some Teal my first of the year and then 2 Tree Sparrows in the field next to the crossroads also my first of the year and a bird I always enjoy seeing. A lone Redwing (maybe the same one from Saturday was also in the field)

Today (Monday) in the garden were good numbers of Chaffinch, Greenfinch, 8 Siskin and 6 Goldfinch amongst other regulars. Just after lunchtime though a single Long-Tailed Tit another year first landed on the feeders a few times over the course of the afternoon.

Just a short one today as I am busy with coursework (and yes I am actually doing it this time!)

Long-tailed Tit this afternoon.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

More Glaucous hunting...

Was a lovely frosty, sunny day when I woke up and I just couldn't resist going out. I decided to check out the fish factory in Dingwall again for the Glaucous Gull thats still hanging around and maybe get some better record shots.

I arrived about half 10ish and I locked on to the gull straight away, showing well on the fish factory roof. Unfortunately though the harsh light from the sun at it's current angle meant that attempting photos was a bit pointless. All the gulls looked like dark silhouettes, so I decided to spend some time at Ferry Point and come back later on.

The views from the point were stunning in the sunshine, tide was pretty much all the way out. A single Redwing was calling from the top of one of the trees which is my first this year as was a Grey Heron round the corner near the shore. There were the ususal numbers of Wigeon, Redshank and Dunlin with all the gulls and a Little Grebe at the river mouth. Large numbers of Geese, c2000, kept coming and going whilst I was there which is spectacular to watch when they all take off together. Another year tick was 6 Whooper Swans that could be seen on the other side of the firth. Curlew and Oystercatcher also present. A pleasant morning and by now it was 12.30 and I headed back to the fish factory.

The angle of the sun was a bit less harsh now and the Glaucous was almost still in the same place on the fish factory roof. I started taking some snaps and I managed to at least get some half decent record shots this time with different profiles instead of just head-on shots like last time which is no help for ID. After watching it for half an hour and looking over the pictures I'm fairly confident it is a 1st-winter bird.

Posing nicely for plumage detail shot.
1st-winter Glaucous Gull
Glaucous Gull
So some beautiful weather, some half decent shots of the Glaucous and 3 year ticks, a good morning I would say.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

I've developed a twitch...

Wednesday forecast looked fairly dry so I decided to finally make the trip up to the Loch Fleet area to see the Greater Yellowlegs. It's been there for over three weeks now but I was a bit wary of going up because I hadn't done anything like that before and I wasn't familiar with the area. But it had gone on long enough and I knew if I didn't at least give it a go I would regret it. I decided to make a day of it by taking in some other sites in the area.

I left the house just after 8 and filled up in Dingwall first. Some fantastic views of several Buzzards on the way up and I arrived at Dornoch Beach just as the sun was rising and there wasn't another person to be seen. I took a stroll West first, it was a beautiful morning and the sea was calm. There wasn't much of note straight away, a couple Carrion Crows and 16 Oystercatcher at the point. I made my way back when a lone White-fronted Goose flew over, the belly had very obvious bold black patches, Greenland perhaps? Anyway another lifer for me, great start. I now headed East of the carpark. As I headed along the beach I noticed more and more birds out on the sea. Spent almost an hour watching Common Scoters (another lifer), Common Eiders and Long-Tailed Ducks, the two latter both year ticks. Black-headed, Common and Herring Gulls were also present. As I was looking through my scope something caught my eye just in front of me that on first impression looked different. I looked up after fumbling for my camera and they had gone but just to my left were 2 Turnstone (year tick) and I assumed thats what I saw. A couple minutes later the birds appeared on top of the rock in front of me again, two Purple Sandpipers! Another lifer and very obliging for photos. As I started to make my way back to the car I spotted a Red-Throated Diver and you guessed it, another life tick.

Red-throated Diver - Gavia stellata

Turnstone - Arenaria interpres
Purple Sandpiper - Calidris maritima
What an excellent morning and a good indicator, I hoped, for the rest of the day. As I headed back to the car there were 2 Yellowhammer in the Gorse bushes another year tick. I decided now to check out Embo so I headed North to Embo pier. Again there was a good number of birds out on the sea, this time all Eiders. Curlew, Dunlin, Redshank and Cormorant (including a dead one on the beach) were present. From the pier itself a Red-Breasted Merganser and another Red-throated Diver were seen. On the way out of Embo, 6 Greylag were spotted in a roadside field.

Cormorants - Phalacrocorax carbo

Deceased juvenile Cormorant
It was now time to head off to the South Side of Loch Fleet near Skelbo to see if I could connect with the Greater Yellowlegs, I must admit I was quite apprehensive. A decent sized flock of Lapwings were seen on the way there. I made it to the location near the entrance to Coul Farm and checked all the reported places it had been seen (several times by the time I left) but no luck, just a few gulls and pheasants. There was however a massive flock of finches which consisted mostly of Chaffinch but with good numbers of Greenfinch, Linnet and Brambling! The Brambling has been one of my favourite birds ever since I saw one for the first time when a lone male appeared in my garden early 2010. I hadn't managed to see once since so to see them in such numbers was excelllent.

Brambling - Fringilla Montifringilla

I ventured down the track to the South shore of Loch Fleet to check the inlets for the GY just incase but again no sign of it, there was however a noisy restless flock of small birds moving about on the shoreline and closer inspection revealed them to be Twite, a bird I first saw on a beach in Northern Ireland last year. I left this area and checked the flooded field near Coul Farm one last time just incase but with no luck, so my first real twitch was a fail but at least I tried. I then headed on further round the road to a roadside carpark just beside the ruins of Skelbo Castle with views right across the loch.

Skelbo Castle ruins
A half hour spent watching from the carpark produced numbers of Wigeon, Mallard, Oystercatchers, Eiders, Curlew, Redshank and a Little Grebe. There were also some Common Seals watching me closely just offshore.

By now I was starting to lose light so I called it a day and what a brilliant day it was and probably my last full day of birding til around Easter. 38 species seen, 4 life ticks and another 10 year ticks, not bad. Now it's time to crack on with all this coursework, for real this time!

Sunday, 8 January 2012

A Glaucous in a haystack...

As mentioned before I have been trying to improve my gull ID skills lately and it was reported recently on the Highland & Moray Birds forum that a Glaucous gull had been since around the fish factory at the Dingwall business park so I thought I would have a go and try and locate it.

I left the house at around 11:00am and headed to the Dingwall Business park. I pulled up at the front and started scanning the rooftops, there were gulls everywhere, and nothing like the stench of fish on a Sunday morning to make you feel alive. It was one of those overcase grey drizzly days but I persisted. At first it was a bit overwhelming as I had never even seen a Glaucous in the flesh before but I started by just looking for something that looked "different". So far no luck, so I moved around to the back of the factory and away from the puzzled glances of our Polish imports. At the back was a much better view of more gulls but again it was difficult to pick anything out with the poor light and the fact that they kept getting disturbed every few minutes. I was able to pick out Herring, Great Black-backed and Lesser Black-backed but after 45mins I was about to give up when I happened to look at 3 large gulls on the roof of the building accross the road from the front, so I made my back around with a large skein of geese flying over and a Wren in the hedgerow (my first of the year) seen on the way. As I came back into view of the 3 gulls they were still there and it was obvious one was slightly larger and paler. I kept moving closer and got a half decent view of the gull and some record shots and I was fairly certain I had found a Glaucous! Upon returning home later that day I had it confirmed online, my first Glaucous Gull, probably a 1st-winter and my second life tick this year. The Glaucous breeds in Arctic Regions and a few hundred are seen each year during winter in the UK and Ireland And you know what? This gull stuff is good fun and addictive.

Glaucous Gull & 1st-winter Herring Gull
Probably 1st-winter Glaucous - Larus hyperboreus
I decided to check out some other gull "hotspots" in Dingwall, the boating pond in Pefferside Park and the Academy. Pefferside park was fairly quite but a Red Kite flew over and a Grey Wagtail (another first of the year) was spotted near a large puddle before flying off. There was a few Herring and Black-headed Gulls but nothing else of note and the Academy was even more quiet with just a few Herring Gulls. Overall though an enjoyable couple of hours.

Adult winter Black-headed Gull
I've noticed that this blog has had a few visitors now from UK and further afield. Please leave a comment if you feel like it, it would be nice to hear from some of you about what you think.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

REED all about it...

The last couple of days have been really miserable weather-wise with lots (and lots) of rain. Today it had brightened up a bit so I decided to head out to Ferry Point for a couple hours and take a walk along the water's edge back towards the mouth of the Conon River.

The geese were in the fields again as they have been for the last few days. Hundreds of Greylags on show in the field nearest the houses on the waterfront. All the fields were heavily flooded with some deep enough for the geese to swim around. I spent a good while analysing the flock again for anything different but I couldn't see anything just hundreds of Greylags (which are still fun to watch).

I headed West along the "Round Dingwall Walk" keeping an eye on the shoreline and the adjacent fields. 3 Buzzards were circling overhead and calling and plenty of Black-headed Gulls flying about. Getting closer to the river mouth and the "islands" that it creates revealed produced hundreds of gulls included quite a few common which let me test my gull ID and I had fun being able to pick out some 1st-winters. There were also plenty Herring Gulls a few Great Black-backed Gulls and c200 Lapwing. A cormorant also flew West further inland. I kept walking West until the first of the stormy showers rolled in. Just before turning back I spotted a Little Grebe and a Reed Bunting, with the Reed Bunting being a tick for the area.

On my way back I spotted a couple of Goldeneyes and plenty of Redshank. One of the fields also held good numbers of Curlew. The highlight of the walk was found in one of the fields closer to the start of the walk which was a small group of Pink-footed Geese. 7 of them on their own in clear view which was great to be able to watch them without my eyes having to fight through the masses of Greylags.

A quick check at the point produced the usual suspects, plenty of Wigeon, but also a Cormorant giving good views only a few metres off shore on a sandbank drying off. The next stormy shower came in at that point even harder this time so I called it a day.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Here we go again...

As I opened my curtains and looked out of my window on New Years day a Blue Tit was to be my first bird of 2012. Over the next hour or two watching the garden and the area behind also produced Blackbird, Buzzard, Carrion Crow, Chaffinch, Coal Tit, Dunnock, Goldfinch, Great Tit, Greenfinch, Herring Gull, House Sparrow, Robin, Siskin, Starling and Woodpigeon. Not a bad start from the comfort of one's home!

Today I woke up to snowy, sunny weather and decided to go out. Ferry Point was where I was going and also to check some other gull hotspots in Dingwall (I'm trying to get into my gull ID lately). I set off about 11 o'clock and as I was driving down Ferry Road towards the point my eye caught something in the neighbouring field, geese and lot's of them. I pulled over and got bins out, camera out and wellies on. This is the kind of flock I had been looking to test my ID skills on this winter. I made my way through the muddy flooded field, walking slowly and keeping my distance when I finally got to a decent viewpoint. Just as I did the blizzard hit, almost white out conditions which left me soaked through. I rushed back to the car to dry off and moved round to the point for a quick check before I called it a day. There were plenty of gulls about but I was forced back into the car after just a couple minutes because of the weather.

As I headed back up the Ferry Road conditions cleared up rapidly and the sun was back out. I decided to have another shot at the flock of geese. A good 45mins spent standing in the mud putting my ID skills to the test produced some 500 geese the majority being Greylags but I did pick up a handful of Pink-footed Geese a nice start to 2012. I'm sure I have seen Pink-foots before but not close or confident enough to confirm.

Greylag Geese - Anser Anser
Spot the Pink-Footed Geese - Anser brachyrhynchus
Crop of previous photo
I also went back to the point for another attempt. Birds seen were Carrion Crow, Blackbird, Herring Gull, Black-headed Gull, Woodpigeon, Robin, Wigeon, c60 Redshank, Dunlin, Oystercatcher and a lone Bar-Tailed Godwit. I could see the bad weather coming in again so I headed home.

In the garden the weather had driven good numbers of birds in. A massive Finch flock with 4 Goldfinch (a garden record), 8 Greenfinch, 3 Siskin and c50 Chaffinch. There was also 2 House Sparrow, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, 6 Blackbird, Robin, 2 Dunnock and 4 Starling.

So a couple days in and I am at 26 species, hoping to get out for the day properly at least once before college re-commences but we'll see what the weather does!