Sunday, 4 March 2018

Winter ends and Spring starts - All White!

So February has been and gone and with it apparently winter has ended and spring has begun with the start of March. To mark this change in the seasons Mother Nature decided to give us 'The Beast from the East' meaning Arctic winds and snow which brought chaos to parts of the UK.

I had headed South on the 22 Feb with my first overnight stop at the Dalshian House B&B just outside of Pitlochry. It was nice to do a bit of garden bird watching over breakfast and see exotic species such has Great, Blue and Coal Tits and Chaffinch in addition to the Blackbirds, Dunnocks, House Sparrows and  Robins.

Dalshian breakfast heading South.

Feeders right outside the dining room window.
 
After a week on the South coast 'The Beast' had arrived from the East and the journey North was a bit more challenging with falling and drifting snow. Again I stopped at the Dalshian and the breakfast view had changed colour!!

Dalshian breakfast heading North.

With the cold snap the number of birds in the garden over the first weekend of March was considerably reduced, particularly on the House Sparrow front with only six seen. Four Greenfinches, four Starlings, three Blackbirds (one female and two males), a Robin and a Wren made up the other visitors.

In the field around the cottage, two Oystercatchers put in an appearance on the Sunday morning, the first seen in this field this year, and also a couple of Curlew. Shouldn't be too long before numbers of both these species start  to increase.



 

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Mystery Goose

In my last post 'Half way through February already!' I mentioned seeing an odd looking goose in amongst a group of Greylags, which I had seen on a number of occasions over the last couple of weeks in the area of Echna Loch and Echnaloch Bay.

All attempts to get a photo had so far failed, but on my way to work today I managed to get an average record shot as a starter for 10 when I spotted it alone in the same field as it was in on Sunday.

Any thoughts?

The mystery goose

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Half way through February already!

I can't believe we are already half way through February, how am I supposed to get any birding done when the months are going too quickly?

On the 4 Feb 18 I caught and ringed the Robin that had been around the garden since at least the start of the year. Up until now having one ringed and one un-ringed Robin had made it easier to confirm that there were at least two Robins in the garden. Now having two ringed individuals I won't know if I'm seeing one or the other, but if the a third bird puts in an appearance it will stand out.

On the morning of the 10 Feb 18 I managed a a short trip down into the village and along to Echnaloch and Echnaloch Bay.

In the village I saw three Hooded Crows, four Blackbirds, and a number of Starlings, House Sparrows and Rock/feral doves. In the field just to the North of the school playing field there were 25 Greylag Geese.

On Echnaloch there were 17 Tufted Duck, three Great Black-backed Gulls, two Mute Swans, four Red-breasted Mergansers, 38 Common Gull and what appeared to be a hybrid type goose, (it looked mainly like a Greylag but was a bit paler and had a white face). Tucked down in the corner nearest the Fossil Centre there were 10 Wigeon and eight Teal.

On the field between the loch and the Fossil Centre there were five Oystercatchers, six Curlew, six Lapwing and 15 Mallard. 

On the other side of the road there were 52 Oystercatchers and 16 Curlews on the beach, a single Great Black-backed Gull on the sea and 60+ Fulmar on and along the cliff.

Back at the cottage there was the female Blackbird, a Robin, a few Starlings and a couple of House Sparrows. Then a new male Blackbird put in an appearance and got himself a ring.

On the 13 Feb 18 I was on my way to work and as I was passing Echnaloch there were the usual Tufted Ducks, Mallard and Wigeon when I spotted close to the road a single male Goldeneye.

Yesterday, 17 Feb 18, I spotted first thing a male Blackbird on the lawn. This Blackbird did not have a ring so was another new arrival in the garden. A run down to the shop a bit later provided a single Oystercatcher in the field opposite Hillcrest. This was the first indication of the Oystercatchers starting to return up onto the hills for breeding. Leaving the shop and heading along the main road towards Kirkwall there were 60+ Curlews in the fields to the North of the school playing field.

Back at the cottage in the afternoon a flock of at least 11 Greenfinches appeared in the Fuchsia bushes. I manged to catch seven of them, ringed six of them and the remaining one which already had a ring on was ringed by me back at the end of June last year.

Later on I found out from my neighbour that when he took his dog for a walk in the afternoon there were 34 Jackdaws in the field on the East side of Bloomfield Road at the top of the brae.

This morning, 18 Feb 18, I had another ringing session in the garden. This time there was another Greenfinch previously ringed at the same time as the one I caught yesterday. In addition there were two more new Greenfinches, a Starling and a male Blackbird. Also in the garden was the female Blackbird, five Starlings, a Wren and  couple of House Sparrows.

In the afternoon I had to pop down to the shop and the signs of the returning Oystercatchers was becoming more apparent with 13 in the field South of Ruemuera, along with six Lapwing and four Curlew and there was a further six Oystercatchers on the school playing field.

Later I had to go into town so on the way back stopped off at Echnaloch and Echnaloch Bay. In the bay there were 29 Oystercatchers, three Redshank, 60+ Lapwing, three Common Gulls, a single Hooded Crow and a first for the year two Ringed Plovers.

Then along the South side of the bay flying low was a male Hen Harrier, who flew along side the car, turned behind it then flew along the roadside edge of the loch.

In the field to the South of the loch there were around 250 Greylag Geese. But in amongst them there were two geese that stood out. One was the same size as the Greylags but a lot paler, the other was the one that I have mentioned previously that was paler and had the white face. Now it was with the Greylags it could be seen that it was a bit bigger than the Greylags. All the photos I have tried to take so far have all been rubbish so I need to get a decent shot to try and get a better ID. It has been around for at least a couple of weeks now.

On the loch itself, there were nine Wigeon, 18 Tufted Duck, 20 Common Gull ( four on fence posts the rest on the loch), a Moorhen perched on a fence post, three Mallard, two Mute Swans and a single Long-tailed Duck.

Burray North End (28 Jan 18)

No this isn't a post about the local Burray Football Team, but a short post on sightings at the North end of Burray on my way back from a quick trip into town.

First stop was at the South end of Barrier 3 where I saw my first Redshank of the year with two on the East side of the barrier perched on a couple of the blocks. Also on the East side of the Barrier out in the bay was my first Red-breasted Merganser (a female) of the year.

Then I moved up to the Wind Turbine at Northfield to see what was on and around the quarry pool.

Wind Turbine at Northfield
The water level was very high, not surprising with the amount of rain we have had recently. The two small islands that can be seen are usually much bigger.

Quarry Pool next to wind turbine
Skulking around the far side of the pool was a Moorhen and on the pool was a female Tufted Duck. Other than that and a couple of Common Gull flying over that was it.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Intruder or Mate?

Today started off cold but calm. There had been a fairly heavy over night frost and the pond was completed frozen over.

There was quite a nice sunrise this morning but it didn't take long for the cloud to start moving in and by mid-morning the wind started to pick up.



 As soon as it was light Mrs Blackbird and an un-ringed Robin were busy feeding and shortly after half a dozen House Sparrows put in an appearance along with a mixed flock of about 20 Rock/Feral Doves. There were also half a dozen Starlings briefly before they headed out into the fields. I'm assuming the Robin is the one that has been in the garden for a while now but cona't be 100% sure.

Late morning an a male Blackbird appeared in the garden. It has been quite a few weeks since there has been a male in the garden, the female has had it all to herself until now. Although she followed him around the garden she didn't chase him off. So I'm wondering if he is going to be a potential mate rather than a intruder. The male was ringed so he could be from one of last year's or the year before broods. If he sticks around I will have to see if I can catch him and check the ring number out.

By early afternoon he had disappeared but Mrs Blackbird continued to feed in the increasing wind which was up to Force 6 by the time it got dark. The Robin was still about too and was joined by a Wren, both of whom were flitting through the rocks and long grass trying to keep out of the wind.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Nice surprise - Stonechat

On my way back from town this morning (18 Jan) there was a Grey Heron as I came off of Barrier 3 onto Burray tucked in close to the barrier on the East side of the barrier.

I decided to make a brief stop at the lay-by between Echnaloch Bay and Echna Loch before the next snow shower passed through.

Out in the bay there were a couple of Great Black-backed Gulls, a couple of Lapwing, seven Long-tailed Ducks and a single Cormorant. Along the cliffs there was c50 Fulmars.

On the other side of the road on Echna Loch there were a couple of Mute Swans a couple of Great Black-backed Gulls, three Common Gulls, eight Tufted Ducks and three Mallards.

Out corner of my eye I saw something drop down from one of the fence posts onto the ground and a few seconds pop back up again. It continued along the fence line dropping from the each fence post to the ground and then back up to the next post along. It was a pleasant surprise to see a male Stonechat. Not only a new species for the year but a new species for my Burray bird list.


Curlews

On Tuesday (16 Jan) Morning I had to take my wife to the doctors for an appointment. As we reached the bottom of the hill to join the main road I spotted a couple of flocks of Curlew, totaling roughly 80-100 birds, in the fields on the other side of the main road. In the winter they quite often appear in these fields around high tide when the water level pushes them off the shore where they tend to feed. Sometimes the flocks seem to head over towards South Ronaldsay and on other times they come to Burray. I'm not sure what factors determine which way they go but suspect it maybe to do with the wind direction. As it has been dark when I've been passing these fields so far this year this is the first time I've seen them in daylight with the Curlew in them. So that's another species added to my Burray year list.

On the way back, coming up the hill to the cottage the field to the South of Ruemuera had a mixed flock of c30 Lapwings, c40 Starlings and six Blackbirds.

Back at the cottage the usual Blackbird was rummaging around the garden and three Greenfinches and three House Sparrows put in an appearance. The latter have been quite noticeable lately by their lack of appearance as usually I get good numbers of them.

Later morning saw the arrival of the snow and at first it didn't seem to be settling.


But after an hour the garden and surrounding area was starting to look quite white.

A Common Gull put in a brief appearance to investigate some apple that I had put out but Mrs Blackbird soon saw it off.


Monday, 15 January 2018

Windy - Calm - Storm - Snow

Last Tuesday (10 Jan) the weather got a bit blowy, resulting in me taking the precautionary measure of relocating from the work's office in Kirkwall to the home office. This was due to the wind speed increasing from the south-east and high tide was a tea-time. South-easterlies can be the worst direction for pushing the sea in off the North Sea and causing over-topping on the Churchill Barriers.

Having safely got across Barriers 1 and 2 and onto Burray a quick glance at Echna Loch had a few Tufted Ducks and Mallards and a couple of Common Gulls. On the other side of the road there were a few more Common Gull out on the flow and the Fulmars patrolling the cliff.

On Thursday (11 Jan) the weather took a rest and it was a lovely calm sunny day. Tim D one of the local birders was out and about and at lunch time spotted three groups of Black-throated Divers totaling around 60 birds. They were quite a way out into the Flow towards the accommodation platform that is currently moored up. He also found over 50 Slavonian Grebes.

From Friday (12 Jan) onwards the wind started ramping back up again until it peaked on Sunday evening (14 Jan). I was recording gusts in excess of 58mph here at the cottage.

As a result the garden was pretty quiet with just the Blackbird, the two Robins two Greenfinches and six Starlings taking shelter and feeding. Apart from a Raven, a few Common Gulls and a lot of Rock/Feral Doves the only bird of interest was a Grey Heron trying to fly across the fields out the back of the cottage. It was certainly struggling to make headway against the wind even when it dropped down to a couple of feet above the ground!!

Today the temperature has dropped and we are now in for a week of snow, sleet and hail. As I was driving up the track to the cottage this evening I spotted what looked like a Short-eared Owl hunting along the fence line. I didn't get a clear look at it as it kept dropping out of sight and it was also out of the main beam of the headlights, but from the colouring I did see, it's shape and flight it certainly looked like one. If it was that would be the first time I have seen one in the dark, all my sightings to date have always been in full daylight.

It's starting to get light as I set off for work now, so in a few more weeks I'll be able to start checking out Echnaloch Bay and Echna Loch on my way to work.

Time to go and find my boot grippers just in case we do actually get some proper snow.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

First Lapwing of the year

I came home a bit earlier than usual this afternoon, as the strong SE wind was starting to cause the sea to over-top Churchill Barrier 2 and with an incoming tide I didn't want to get caught out on the wrong side of the Barriers if condition worsened as high tide approached.

So it was still daylight and as I turned of the main road through the island onto the road towards the cottage there was a flock of eight Lapwing in the field below Ruemuera.
 

Saturday, 6 January 2018

6/7 Jan 18 - First weekend of the year

Saturday was spent trying to catch up on a few jobs around the cottage, but I kept one eye on the garden and had the ground trap set to do some ringing if the opportunity arose.

Weather-wise it was dry, generally cloudy with the odd sunny interlude and the wind was decreasing from North-West as it backed round to the West.

It was fairly quiet in the garden with my usual female Blackbird, a few House Sparrows and Starlings and mixed flock of Rock Doves and feral pigeons. I also saw two Robins, I know it was two as one was ringed and the other wasn't, and also the male Pheasant was back.

However, I managed to add two new species to my 2018 Burray list in the form of eight Greenfinches and a Wren.

On one of the fields the other side of my paddock there was another gathering of Common Gulls and a quick scan of the cliffs on the North side of Echnaloch Bay had 60+ Fulmars up a bit on the count a couple of days ago.

Sunday was spent doing a few outdoor jobs until the cold got the better of me and I retreated indoors to do some other jobs. Again my ground trap was set and I managed to catch the ringed female Blackbird and confirmed that I ringers her back in March 2016 when she was a youngster. The only other bird caught was a female Greenfinch.

Other birds in the garden today were 12 Starlings, four House Sparrows, a Wren, the male Pheasant and a Robin. In the fields around the cottage there were 50+ Common Gulls and two Hooded Crows.