Thursday, 21 July 2011

Quick one.

Things have been beginning to come in up here as well, a Pectoral Sandpiper has paraded the front of the Visitors Centre for the past few days, along with Ruff, up to 6 Greenshank and a roosting Med Gull. (But their no Holywell Terek)

Today the reserve staff had a brush cutter training course, so after doing the morning tasks, including emptying the Moth Trap, which held, 2 Dark Arches, 1 Burnished Brass, 3 Double Square Spot, 1 Silver Y, 1 Antler Moth, 3 Common Rustic, 2 Large Yellow Underwing, 1 Middle Barred Minor, 1 Common Wainscot, 1 Square Spot Rustic and 1 Lesser Yellow Underwings. I was also asked to observe if there was any Corn Bunting activity in an area of the site, which I found a copulating pair.

So by early afternoon I was free, feeling a bit twitchy I headed for a reported Glaucous Gull site, that one of the local birders had told me about in the morning, and once she realised I hadn't seen one before she said I had to go. Not knowing what to expect, as most twitches for them back in Northumberland resulted in dipping, I headed down to Peterhead. I pulled up in the car park to find a reasonable sized group of Gulls on a sandy bank just below the bridge, it didn't take long for me to pick up the Glaucous.

I enjoyed watching this Gull for a while before heading South, to Black Dogs, in search of the Black Scoter. On hindsight I should have done it the other way round, as when I arrived on the dunes, the realization of the task ahead became apparent. Hundreds of Eiders, possibly thousand, as well as the same amount of Common Scoter cluttered an area of sea just North of Mucar Golf Course, bobbing up in down in the waves the amount of separate rafts made it look like I would be there for a while. Scanning across to the more distant rafts I was soon onto 2 Drake Surf Scoters, and then not along afterwards the Black Scoter, another lifer for the day.

Pleased to see both birds I wandered back to the car quite content, being distracted from these beauties before heading for the reserve.

Monday, 18 July 2011

First Day

Today I had my reserve induction, and began getting put through the motions and morning routine. I'm pleased to see were responsiblele for a Moth trap, I'll keep you updated with our catches from tomorrow.

Mondays are cleaning days, the Visitors Centre, toilets and hides, we also set the Mink trap. After lunch all the cleaning tasks had been finished and we headed over to the Fen Hide to clear the boardwalk area a bit. We were done by roughly 16:00, headed back for tea, then I was straight out onto the reserve.

Tonight I headed for Rattray, and the dunes, 2 miles of wild sea, sand and dunes, I wasn't disappointed. Making use of the reserves pickup truck I headed down the sandy track, parking up and walking through the dunes to the shoreline. The North Easterly wind was pumping out some canny waves, and a light rain made visibility poor, but it was chocker with birds! 60+ Sanderling ran along the beach, along with Ringed Plover and a single Dunlin. Arctic and Common Terns sat on the rocks, joined by Kittiwake, Herring Gull, Cormorant, Shag, Great Black Backed Gull and a lone Grey Heron.

Look at that Tail!

Just off shore 3 Grey Seals were bottling, and a large number of Gannets were diving presumably in a fish bowl just off shore.

Hanging around the area 2 Arctic Skuas flew overhead, one dark and one pale, the pale bird later began mobbing the Heron, with Terns in pursuit.

I did the rounds of the hides afterwards, with 30+ Swift, Grasshopper Warbler and 3 recently fledged Common Buzzards being the highlights.

For some reason the RSPB's computer won't let me reply to comments on posts. So, thanks Johnny, I'm pleased I can continue to keep up to date with my adventures :)

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Still Dreaming??

Today was my first day at the RSPB's Loch of Strathbeg, I arrived last night in wet and miserable weather, so was pleased to here that I had free roam today, with my induction starting on Monday. I certainly made the most of my day.

I knew very little about the reserve or the species it held, and other than a quick look last night, its layout was unknown to me as well.

This morning I set out in warm, bright but breezy weather, firstly stopping at the visitors centre, which has an observatory looking out over an area of the reserve, which includes one of its Common Tern nesting islands. Teal, Wigeon, Black-Headed Gull, Carrion Crow, Oystercatcher, Hooded Crow, Lapwing, and Common Buzzard, along with 6 Greenshank, 2 Black-Tailed Godwit and a Ruff were seen here. Moving on at 11:00 I began following the track to the tower hide. Along the way I added Yellowhammer, and Reed Bunting as well as, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Painted Lady, Small White, and Small Tortoiseshell.

At the Tower Hide, I had my first, of what was going to be many, encounters with an Osprey. Its was feeding on the shorts grass out in front of the hide harassed by a Carrion Crow a few times, it soon finished its meal and began hunting again. It began circling upwards, then hovering over a pool to the right, then all of a sudden plummeted, and caught a fish, this was the first time I had seen an Osprey fish, but it wasn't the last, over the day had had 5 more encounters such as this.

After a while I found myself once again in the visitors centre, not much had changed although I did meet a few of the local birders, who were very helpful. An hour or two past and I headed in for tea.

Tea was done and the other two reserve hides were on the cards, a short drive to the other end of the Loch. First spot was the Bay Hide, which gave good views of the Loch and another Tern platform, a large number of wildfowl were present on the Loch and a Osprey performed for me again. Quite a bit of time was spent in here just soaking up the atmosphere, before I moved on to the Fen Hide.

A Grasshopper Warbler was heard reeling as I made my way past the gate, heading down into the boggy woodlands, and along the boardwalk before reaching the hide. The sunset was reflecting its red light off the waters surfaces, creating a calm peaceful atmosphere, just me and the birds, or so it seemed.

After picking up a lone Whooper Swan I noticed movement in the water, an Otter! which swam straight past the hide. 22:30 and I headed off. Another great day.

There was more images from today, but the RSPB's Internet connection is still at a rate similar to dial up and there's no WIFI, I think I would have been here all night.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Mull showing off its star attractions...

This morning we headed down to Ulva Ferry, booked on Martin's Eagle trip, something I was dying to do. Heading out at 10:00am we picked up a pair of Golden Eagle on the Southern side of Loch Na Keal, performing for us. 

Soon after the male White-Tailed Eagle approached the boat, attracted by the Gulls that had gathered, alls I can say is I wish I had another day.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Finishing as it began

Today was my last day on the boat, from my two weeks volunteering with Sea Life Surveys. I've had a brilliant time and would like to say a big thank you to Ewan, Jimbo, Popz and the SLS staff for giving me the opportunity, but for also making me one of the team.

It was a 7 hour trip today, headed out in fair weather with a bit of a breeze. Harbour Porpoise, Manx Shearwater, Gannet, Fulmar, Kittiwake, Common Gull, Guillemot, Razorbill, Puffin, Shag and Great Black Backed Gull were seen as we left the sound and headed for the 'middle ground'. Towards the Cairns I picked up a distant immature Minke, proving to be extremely difficult to see. After a few distant views the whale deep dived, and reappeared right on the stern of the boat! Associating with the boat this young whale provide absolutely stunning views four or five times. The best I've seen in my two weeks here.

Approaching the Cairns I picked up a single Storm Petrel feeding, then a Basking Shark was spotted, then another, then another, then another, on first arrival we counted 13 in the vicinity of the boat although travelling through and around the Cairns there was at least 25 in the area. Something unbelievable to see, one of the best wildlife spectacles I've seen to date.

A quick lunch and we were off South as Killer Whales had been reported off Staffa, that would of been the cherry on top of the cake, but unfortunately visibility turned poor and we weren't successful in picking them up, although we did have another extremely good view of an adult Minke Whale, and a great show from a Great Skua and some Kittiwakes.

A brilliant trip to end my time with SLF. I'll definitely be back.

After clearing up, myself and Ewan headed for the chippy, fed ourselves and the Herring Gulls then headed off. For some reason Ewan thought that I hadn't seen enough in my two week stay, so we were soon heading to South Mull in search of Short-Eared Owl and Hen Harrier, I wasn't complaining. We found both, 5 Short-Eared Owls, 2 of which were interacting and a pair of Hen Harrier, just missing a distant food pass by seconds.

Tomorrow I head back to the mainland, spending a day at Loch Garten, before driving over to the Loch of Strathbeg to begin my two week RSPB residential, should be another brilliant two weeks. But before I head off myself and Ewan are booked on the Loch Na Keal White-Tailed Eagle trip, hopefully it will produce some good images, it will be a brilliant experience either way.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Hello Beautiful

Good trip again today, Minke Whale, Basking Shark (another breaching, although I only got the splash), Harbour Porpoise (4+ at one point  feeding with some diving Gannets), and Great Skua being the highlights, still no Dolphins.

Th Basking shark today was a bigger animal, pushing 6 metres, it was also very showy, feeding on the large amounts of plankton off the Cairns of Coll.

Double click image to get a better view.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Three Monsters and a Tiddler

Headed out on another 7 hour trip today, glorious weather as we left the harbour this morning. Up through the sound we picked up the usual birds, and Harbour Porpoise. It was a steady journey out into the Atlantic enjoying the rays, and the flat sea, with a few Guillemots and Razorbills attending to their chicks, when it all began. Out in the open water we picked up 2 separate Minke Whales, just heading through, moving at pace. On reaching the Cairns another Minke was picked up in the usual tideline area, just off the 'Splasha' rock. 

When we began heading into the Cairns for lunch, a Great Skua investigated the boat and a very small Basking Shark was picked up just off the shoreline. 

 You can just see its gaping mouth on the image below, a polarised filter would have been ideal.

After lunch we headed back out, towards the Isle of Rum, Harbour Porpoise and another Basking Shark were seen as we left the Cairns. Out in the open ocean we all heard a large splash and turned round to see the aftermath of presumably a large Basking Shark breaching. We were in new grounds for Pops, large numbers of Manx Shearwater, along with Kittiwake, Razorbill, Bridled, Common, and Black Guillemot. A Great Skua came around to investigate before heading over to harass some Kittiwakes.

Although the best birds of the day had to be the 2 Storm Petrel which flew past the bow, a first for me.

Out again tomorrow, I'm hoping for some Dolphins.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Just a few for now

For the past couple of days I've been exploring the Southern end of Mull, roughing it. I headed down to the Ross of Mull on Friday night, it was a beautiful warm, calm night, in a beautiful place covered in white beaches and sandy fields. An Irish Hare was encountered crossing the road and feeding amongst the seaweed as I past Fidden. A quiet beach held a Raven family, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Curlew and a few Hooded Crow.

I parked up for the night, read a few chapters of 'Mountains of the Mind' and fell asleep to the sounds of at least 2 Corncrakes. My wake up call wasn't as relaxed, the car suddenly began to rock, and I sat up to find a cow scratching itself on my wing mirror! One Corncrake could still be heard.

Saturday saw me crossing over to Iona, in search of more Corncrake, and to explore the island. As I knew before heading over, finding Corncrakes this time of year was going to be difficult, and that it was, hearing 5 + but seeing none, although I still enjoyed my visit (apart from the mass of tourists)

On return I began heading for Loch Na Keal, stopping off at a White Tailed Eagle viewpoint on my way, luckily I caught a glimpse, and a pretty terrible photograph, hopefully this week will hold some close encounters.

Parking up on the South side of Loch Na Keal, I continued my book, learning how the imagination and perceptions of mountains had become. Lulled off to sleep by the unique and deeply wild call of the Red Throated Diver.

Sunday mornings bathing pool, under the bridge, was a bit fresh to say the least.

Heading back North I travelled through Glen More, breath taking.

I spent a good hour with this 'gang of hoodies', a bit more skitish than our Carrion Crow, but after a while I felt to be 'one of the gang', although keeping myself within a respectable distance.

I headed on towards Grasspoint where I picked up Red Deer and Snipe on the marshes. It was also here where my perception of some so called wildlife photographers was reinforced. Parking up in the small car park I could see a figure walking into the field towards a big stag, out of curiosity I lifted my bins, and there he was, a wildlife photographer in his finest, walking directly towards the stag with no respect to the animal or his surroundings. He would stop now and again to get his 'shot' but never happy, eventually forcing the deer back into the long grass, unfortunately he never came down towards the car park.

Off the point out to sea a large number of birds were feeding on the tideline, mostly Kittiwake, Gannet, and Black Guillemot. Two Arctic Skuas harassed some of the Kittiwakes for a while before heading North.

Back on the boat tomorrow, missed Common Dolphins on Saturday, so fingers crossed.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Horizontal rain and wrinkled fingers

Monday saw me back on the boat for a 7 hour whale watch, my first proper day volunteering. It was warm and sunny, a bit breezy but Pops decided the Cairns of Coll were the place to be today. Highlights of the trip were 1 young Minke Whale just off the Cairns, Great Skua flying low over the boat, a lone Barnacle Goose on the Cairns, and Black Guillemot.

Tuesday another 7 hour trip, although wet and windy so the Sula Beag just hugged the coastline, heading towards the Trishnish Isles, with the highlight being Harbour Porpoise in the Sound. Tuesday evening Ewan and I went down to Tobermory for fish and chips and to scan for the Peregrine, no sign, although this bold individual kept us entertained.

 Next we headed on to a site in search of Hen Harrier, we sat at a viewpoint for a good while, picking up Meadow Pipits, Skylark, and Mistle Thrush, just as we were heading back a male Hen Harrier was picked up hunting over a coniferous belt, showing well for a couple of minutes before moving around and up a valley.

Today a shorter 4 hour trip, heading out towards Ardnamurchan Point,  the sea was flat and calm, although it was still breezy and wet, horizontal at some points. Harbour Porpoise and 2 Great Skua were the highlights out of the Sound. No whales around the point although there was large rafts of Manx Shearwater, Puffin, Common, Bridled and Black Guillemot, as well as Gannets and a distant Diver sp. The journey back produced another Harbour Porpoise, Common Seals, and an elusive Otter.

Tonight I headed down to Ardmore Point, it was still drizzling but it was calm. Some Goldcrests were showing well as I got out the car, and a male Peregrine flew over head as I walked down to the hide. On arrival in the hide 2 Red Throated Diver were feeding in the bay, 8 Common Sandpiper were roosting on the shoreline, and a lone Grey Heron was standing on the rocks. Highlights on the walk back to the car were Crossbill, and a female Sparrowhawk over head.

On the way back to Tobermory I had a quick stop off at the water treatment/tip, 1 Common Sandpiper stood boldly on the machinery, counted 25+ Raven and 2 Buzzards in the area of the tip, and a single Grasshopper Warbler was reeling.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

The Stuff of Dreams

For the next two weeks I'm volunteering with Sea Life Surveys, based on the Isle of Mull, thanks to Ewan

I arrived at Tobermory on Friday evening, only venturing a far as the harbour, the weather was pleasant, and the Peregrine on the church kept me company for a good hour or so. That night I couldn't have dreamt of what was to follow.

Saturday morning Ewan took me to one of his favourite local patches, Coal Tit, Goldcrest and Siskin could be heard as we left the car and headed down the track. After a short while we picked up the bird Ewan had intended on showing me, a Golden Eagle, the male was up, although relatively low, being mobbed by a Hooded Crow. We stood and watched for a good 10 minutes as the male circled over head, soon to be joined by the female. A breath-taking experience. We continued on towards the forest, not far down the track I spotted a Tawny Owl sitting out in the open, providing excellent views and a good opportunity to take some photographs.

We left the Owl and continued around to the Bay, where after seconds a dog Otter appeared along the shoreline, showing for 5-10 minutes before both it and us headed off. A sign of good things to come?

It was Ewan's bosses birthday and a boat trip and BBQ had been planned, we met on the Sula Beag at lunchtime and headed off towards the Cairns of Coll. Gannets, Great black Backed Gull, Common Gull, Manx Shearwater, Guillemot, and a Harbour Porpoise with a small calf were seen on the journey out of the sound. An adult Minke Whale broke the surface off Ardnamurchan point, providing some great views.

On Arrival to the Cairns of Coll we were hit by wildlife, a Great Skua came to inspect the boat within seconds, and a Basking Shark was picked up not far away, as well as another adult Minke Whale close to the boat! A few of us climbed into the rib to try and join the Basking Shark in the water, unfortunately it moved off after a short while and I missed out, although being so close to it in the rib was an experience in itself. Instead I got the chance to swim with the Seals, an amazing experience, even though I was confused by the snorkel. Great Black Backed Gull, Common Tern, Arctic Tern, Turnstone, 2 Great Skua, Raven, and Eider were all seen in the area. The Sula Beg stayed out in the Atlantic until the early hours of the morning.

 Look at that water !

from the Cairns of Coll, looking towards the Isle of Rum

Today we headed for Burg, a Scottish National Trust site, with the plan to follow the fossil tree trail. This area has some dramatic scenery and great habitat, the highlights of the day being, Whinchat, Dark Green Fritillary, Scotch Argus, Slender Scotch Burnet Moth and Golden Ringed Dragonfly. There was also a large number of young Wheatear in the area.

Oh and these characters…

An amazing experience already, I can't wait to see what the coming days hold.