Saturday, 26 February 2011
Pinched a bit of birding time in Scotland this week. I counted 473 Greenland Whitefronted Geese in the Tayinloan area (Argyll), but couldn't see any neck-banded birds unfortunately. They were still in the fields as I sped past Friday evening on my way home but no time to stop with more than six hours on the road ahead of me. Nice to see 3 Pink-footed Geese with them, even if it made me long for the Ribble. Otherwise just 22 Greylags in the fields. A quick look at the sea in the Sound of Gigha produced plenty of Eiders, single Slavonian Grebe, several Great Northern Divers and best of all half a dozen Velvet Scoters with twice as many Common Scoters.
Back to Scotland in the morning, but this time by rail ......
Sunday, 20 February 2011
Our final few hours on Islay were rather wet and blustery with squally showers and a cold SE wind. We opted for Machir Bay hoping for better views of Choughs and enjoyed some success with at least eleven seen. Goldfinch in the dunes was the first of that species for the trip here too. Lossit Bay held another six but we were rained-out there and left the Rhinns for the sheltered bay of Loch Indaal where we snacked on sandwiches overlooking Bridgend Merse. Some nervy Barnacle Geese scuttled away from some frantic activity over the saltmarsh that turned out to be a ringtail Hen Harrier being mobbed by Peregrine Falcon, the latter our last ‘new trip bird’. After this spectacular finale we made our way to Port Askaig for the ferry where we sheltered from the strong wind in the pub over a few cups of strong coffee.
The crossing back to Kennacraig took a little longer than scheduled due to the choppy conditions but the journey was pleasant enough even if the ship’s resident snorer was on board (the same guy ‘chainsawed’ the entire crossing on the way too!). With rough weather forecast for the following day we decided to abort ideas of an overnight in Tarbert and headed for home. A decent fish supper in Arrochar just before joining the A82 set us up nicely for the rest of the journey south, arriving back in Longton just after midnight. We notched up 910 miles, 275 of which were on the island and would love to do it again.
A fine, still start to the day soon deteriorated and as we reached the RSPB car park at Oa the rain set in. The forecasters got it wrong again but we made the best of our last full day on Islay, touring the south of the island in the car and stopping at any bays allowing viewing from the car. Treecreeper, Reed Bunting and Sparrowhawk were added to the holiday list and that Little Grebe certainly looked odd on the sea in the bay! Grey Seals and Red Deer were good but we gave up on the south and headed back towards Bowmore for a look at Loch Indaal (Great Northern Diver, Common Scoters, Pale-bellied Brent Geese and Slavonian Grebes) before heading back to base.
Mrs. B decided on a couple of hours in the warm, feet up with a coffee and a book, while I headed for the RSPB reserve at Loch Gruinart. Gadwall (a pair) and 8 Grey Plovers were new for the trip here and the Lapwing flock of 180 got more than one cursory glance in case the Killdeer seen recently on the Rhinns had relocated. No such luck, but what great views of Greenland Whitefronts, Barnacles and a fine selection ducks including Shovelers, Teals, Pintails and a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers. I’ll miss the huge flights of Barnies going to roost on the Gruinart flats and swarms of Jackdaws gathering near the visitor’s centre.
A dull start to the day didn’t deter us as we headed east towards the straits between Islay and Jura near Port Askaig. A quick look at Loch Skerrol produced 50 Whooper Swans and a few Wigeon but no sign of a Pochard or even a Coot! A ‘Mrs B. culture stop’ at Loch Finlaggan was a little more productive with a single Crossbill over the nearby plantation and 2 drake Goosanders on the loch. Otherwise the water was rather devoid of birds apart from 6 Tufted Ducks and a first winter Scaup.
The weather improved as we made our way east. Stonechat appeared on the fence alongside the road to Bunnahabhain where we parked on the rocky coat near the distillery. Another one of those magic Islay moments followed with two Otters appearing almost immediately and 5 Crossbills flew over, eventually perching in the trees above us. Then the adult Iceland Gull showed extremely well as a first winter Golden Eagle appeared over the peak to the north. Drifting in and out of the cloud hanging over the mountain, we enjoyed super views of this bird as it banked, displaying white in the tail and wings. Red Deer could be seen on Jura and from a higher vantage point back up the road we found another young Golden Eagle soaring over distant crags on Jura and heard Bullfinch in the woods below us.
We dashed back to base for lunch, passing feeding flocks of Greenland Whitefronts and Barnacle Geese, but in no time at all we were back outside enjoying the late winter sunshine at Bridgend Woods. The woods were in truth rather quiet apart from a few Coal Tits and we heard Long-tailed Tits, but little else.
Loch Indaal was flat calm and in perfect seaduck scanning conditions we found 100+ Scaup, 38 Common Scoter and 3 Long-tailed Ducks. A quick stop at the Bowmore distillery and local Co-op (good with food) to stock up on essentials like single malt, wine, coke and cake was in order before a last look over Indaal on the way home. Crystal-clear and without a breathe of a breeze we could see the mountains of Jura in the backdrop as we ‘scoped the bay with Long-tailed Ducks, Great Northern Divers (4+) and Slavonian Grebes stealing the show. A perfect end to a near-perfect day (depending on Champion’s League results).
A cold and blustery day, thankfully with few showers. Early breakfast but late departure due to all the geese outside the front door! A quick look at the huge but virtually bird less Loch Gorm was a detour down to the coast en route to the Rhinns. Ringed Plover, Dunlin and Turnstone were all ‘trip birds’ but not quite what we were after.
The rocky shore at Bruichladdich came up with the goods though as 7 Purple Sandpipers were discovered feeding with Ringed Plovers and Turnstones there. Fifteen Pale-bellied Brent Geese gave great views offshore but still no Long-tailed Ducks. Plenty of goose close-ups and a perched female Merlin between Port Charlotte and Portnaven kept us amused (although Angie liked the Highland ‘Coos’ and Alpacas better I think). The birding went up a notch near Frenchman’s Rocks with 3 Great Northern Divers on show (as well as 3 Grey Seals) as we watched Fulmars and Gannets offshore before heading north back up the Rhinns. Scanning the goose flocks paid dividends as a male Hen Harrier was discovered quartering the rough pasture. He crossed the road only to do battle with another male before they both headed off to hunt in low-level flight. Awesome!
White horses battered the rocks off Machir Bay as we searched for Choughs in the driving wind. We found at least half a dozen but another close encounter with a grey cock Hen Harrier stole the show as he hunted over phragmites near the cemetery. Circling the loch, ‘trip photographer’, Mrs. B was busy with so many Greenland Whitefronts on show right next to the road and one flock of Barnies included a single Pink-footed Goose. A male Stonechat was a nice surprise in such atrocious conditions. “One last check of these Barnies” (Angie’s heard that one before!), was quickly followed by “Guess what I’ve got?”. It was almost 5 pm and light was fading but the Richardson’s Canada Goose could be seen quite easily on the Gruinart Flats; our seventh goose species of the trip so far.
Early rise for the first ferry from nearby Kennacraig to Port Ellen on Islay. With most of the crossing made in the near dark, we saw very few birds until Islay was in sight. Black Guillemots, Common Guillemots, Shags and Eiders were bettered by a Great Northern Diver close to the boat as neared the port.
Settling in was a tricky affair with all those Barnacle Geese on the doorstep (especially as I knew there was a Richardson’s Canada Goose out there somewhere), and we were in the field swiftly after a quick brew and bite to eat. ‘Local’ birding around Loch Gruinart this afternoon gave us Whooper Swans, Pintail, Rock Doves and Greenshank.
In between showers we managed a quick walk around the Loch Ardnave where Raven and Chough fed near Rooks and Hooded Crows. A flock of a dozen Tufted Ducks accompanied several Goldeneye and 9 Whoopers on the loch and we could hear Twite but deteriorating weather prevented further exploration. Retracing our steps alongside Loch Gruinart and checking the Barnies for the small Canada Goose, we found we still had time to check the east side of the loch. Apart from a flock of 6 Ravens and 40 Linnet we saw very little so we headed into Bowmore for petrol (£1.42 / litre!) getting better views of Slavonian Grebe from the pier.
Saturday, 19 February 2011
Big 10+ metre tide on the Ribble today covering most of the reserve at RSPB Heketh Out Marsh. Ringtail Hen Harrier, Marsh Harrier and a couple of Merlins on view from Karen's Viewpoint as the saltmarsh was flooded but as usual I became restless and walked towards Hundred End.
Dabbling ducks came onto the flooded saltmarsh with the tide, mostly Teal and a few Wigeon but 65 Pintail on the reserve is quite exceptional.
Located this Rock Pipit at the base of the seawall near Hundred End where another Water / Rock Pipit flew over calling.
This 'Shortie' was having a great time on the flooded marsh, picking off rodents at will alongside a Kestrel. A few Brown Hares could be seen escaping the incoming waters and a Stoat came close as I sat quietly watching the owl.
Inland fields are good for swans at the moment with 136 Whoopers and 34 Bewick's Swans and a Barn Owl hunting at 1.45 pm must be hungry.
24 years ago on 23/2 we married in Gretna Green. Straight after the wedding it was a reception for two of cheese and pickle sandwiches and beer then straight off to Southerness beach so Colin could look for Purple Sandpipers! Luckily it did not put me off and we have tried to keep a tradition ever since of visiting Scotland in Feb each year (as a minimum). Last week it was our first trip to Islay in the Inner Hebrides. Relatively short (2 hours ish) sailing which even Colin managed OK (no sea legs!).
The island is very beautiful to look at having been shaped by the last ice age and also on the Western side battered by the forces of the Atlantic. The picture below was taken at Machir Bar where we had been watching Choughs in the sand dunes.
For those interested in history this is a terrific island to explore as it contains prehistoric standing stones, hill forts and some early Christian sites that escaped destruction by the Vikings.
Islay was once also the capital of a Kingdom. In the middle ages the MacDonald Lords of the Isles ruled from here controlling most of the west coast of Scotland and all of the offshore islands.
These are the remains of the island headquarters on Finlaggan Loch which was the home of the MacDonald Chiefs from the 12th to the 16th centuries.
If you head up the coast road on the East side of the Island towards the ruins of Kidalton church and its 9th century stone cross keep your eyes open for seals as you pass the bays.
For those who like to partake in the 'water of life' or as Robert Burns would know it, "usquabae" there are a total of 7 working distilleries on the island as well as one on Jura! The one above, Bunnahabhainn, is on the coast north of Port Askaig. In case you are wondering it is pronounced Boo-na-ha-ven! We visited Bowmore distillery and made a few purchases.....I am sure we will be back at some point to visit the rest but in the meantime the rest of Scotland awaits. Next stop Loch Lomond, Ben Nevis and Fort William next weekend!
Our long-awaited Islay trip began with a very wet journey north along the M6. The rain began to ease as we approached Glasgow so we decided on an attempt to see the Taiga Bean Geese near Falkirk. I had tried for these just the previous week, only to be defeated by gale force winds and driving rain, so another ‘dip’ was out of the question. A mixed flock of Bamblings and Chaffinches between the lochs and Fannyside Muir was nice, but not quite what we wanted so it was with some relief when we located some Taiga Bean Geese further to the east in the valley near Slamannan. Only 20 – 40 birds could be seen, but I am in little doubt that more were present in the ‘dead ground’ behind the ridge.
According to The Birds of Scotland the Taiga Bean Goose stronghold used to be the Dee Marshes around Castle Douglas in Dumfries & Galloway. Flocks varied in size from 200 in the 1920's to 4-500 in the late 1930's. Numbers steadily decreased until the site was abandoned by the 1980's thought to be a result of site drainage. As this flock dispersed Bean Geese began to frequent other sites until the mid-1980's when the Slamannan plateau became a regular feeding site. Quite difficult to locate in this undulating countryside, I was very pleased to see these birds after a frustrating search.
Exploring the road in search of better views yielded a flock of 50+ Bramblings but we had to return to the original spot to see the geese once again, this time with some nice ‘scope views. Satisfied we headed back towards the M8, crossing Erskine Bridge before dark with time for a quick bite to eat before passing Loch Lomond and Loch Fyne, eventually reaching Tarbert late evening.
More from the Islay trip soon.
Friday, 11 February 2011
Andy Bate and I enjoyed a bit of birding at Marshside yesterday (11th) with most birds seen on Crossens Inner. Spectacular numbers of birds once again: 1500 Pink-footed Geese, 1000's of Wigeon, loads of Teal, Pintail and Gadwall; a few Shoveler, 800+ Black-tailed Godwits, 105 Golden Plover, 5+ Dunlin, 40 Ruff and 10 Redshank. One female Merlin way out over the outer marsh and single Peregrine watching proceedings on the inner where 2 Barnacle Geese plus this hybrid were feeding with the Pink-feet. Must be the birds I saw at Hesketh Out Marsh not so long ago and very similar to the birds photographed on Islay a few years back.
Interestingly I read "The hybrid Canada X Barnacle Goose flock (now ca. 48) was regular at The Laggan (this flock was close to 70 birds 3-4 years ago and they are all resident on the peninsula)" here on the Machrihanish (unofficial) Bird Observatory website. (Argyll).
This afternoon (Saturday 12th) Angie and I popped down to RSPB Hesketh Out Marsh. Bewick's Swan (ad' + imm'), Short-eared Owl, Barn Owl and ringtail Hen Harrier seen in the first five minutes after leaving the car was quite a nice start. Walking down to Hundred End we added another ringtail Hen Harrier, Marsh Harrier, a second Barn Owl, Merlin and 180 Whooper Swans. Little Owl and a chorus of 'singing' Grey Partridges could be heard as we reached the car as the light faded at 5.30 pm.