Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Nothing like work to ruin a holiday... (Pick up your plastic)

My Mum hates beaches and swimming pools. She used to be a lifeguard and still teaches swimming and kayaking; she says she can't relax watching everyone throw themselves or their children into stupid and dangerous situations. That's how I see plastic pollution. Fortunately for Mum, she can stay out of the way; unfortunately for me, plastic pollution is EVERYWHERE. Take, for example, this picture that I snapped whilst on the "blonde birders" trip with Tom. 

Are you following me?

How am I supposed to get a quiet weekends birding in when all I can think is, "I wonder where that came from?" or "this beach must be suffering the combined effects of prevailing wind and enclosed topography". It's just not fair.

Or how about this little doozy, take at the shag colony on Wee Cumbrae. "How many other nests are like this?", "does it impact chick survivorship via entanglement?". 

Durability is key in nesting materials
Well I'm fed up, I don't want to be surveying beach litter when I should be scanning for divers, and I definitely don't want to be checking out polymer ropes when I should be checking my footholds. So please, for me, for my hobby, for our wildlife: pick up your plastic, pick up someone else's plastic. Then maybe I can relax on my weekends instead of thinking up research methodology.


Sunday, 21 October 2012

Blonde Birders

Blondes with Bins

Its been an odd week or so here, I've barely been on my wee island. First of all I've been playing in Glasgow - planning my trip to Mexico, learning about new analytical techniques, and fiddling with the FT-IR spectrometer (I still can't believe they let me loose with it) - and on my off days I've been birding with an old friend.

By now I should have learned not neglect my friends for long periods, it leads to silliness. So when I suggested that Tom - a uni friend that I've not seen for 2 years - join me for some birding during his first visit to Scotland, I should have expected something manic.

This took the form of a lightning rattle around the country, hitting some cracking birding sites, glancing at the scenery as we tried to spot migrants from the car, and eyeing up likely lochs for ducks and divers. FYI, camping gear, scope, bins, rucksack, food, and camera gumpf = incredibly heavy. We saw some cracking birds and were treated by sights of harbour porpoise surfacing behind longtailled duck, and a feeding otter.

In total we racked up 95 species. Here are some of the highlights...

Great Northern Diver





Mallard and a Stripey faced female (Thanks Nick!)

Lesser Spotted 1

Lesser Spotted 2

Slavonian Grebe
Trip List:
  1. Longtailled Tit
  2. Great Tit
  3. Blue Tit
  4. Coal Tit
  5. House Sparrow
  6. Dunnock
  7. Shetland Wren
  8. Wren
  9. Chaffinch
  10. Brambling
  11. Twite
  12. Lesser Redpoll
  13. Siskin
  14. Goldfinch
  15. Greenfinch
  16. Goldcrest
  17. Reed Bunting
  18. Blackcap
  19. Chiffchaff
  20. Redstart
  21. Wheatear
  22. Swallow
  23. Treecreeper
  24. Song Thrush
  25. Black Bird
  26. Redwing
  27. Fieldfare
  28. Starling
  29. Collared Dove
  30. Rock Dove
  31. Wood pigeon
  32. Jackdaw
  33. Rook
  34. Raven
  35. Carrion Crow
  36. Hooded Crow
  37. Magpie
  38. Kestrel
  39. Merlin
  40. Sparrowhawk
  41. Buzzard
  42. Rock Pippit
  43. Meadow Pippit
  44. Herring Gull
  45. Common Gull
  46. Kittiwake
  47. Lesser Black Back
  48. Greater Black Back
  49. Black Headed Gull
  50. Bonxie
  51. Fulmar
  52. Gannet
  53. Guillemot
  54. Black Guillemot
  55. Shag
  56. Comorant
  57. Grey Heron
  58. Mallard
  59. Teal
  60. Wigeon
  61. Pochard
  62. Tufted Duck
  63. Goldeneye
  64. Scaup
  65. Eider
  66. Gadwall
  67. Longtailled Duck
  68. Pintail
  69. Shoveller
  70. Moorhen
  71. Merganser
  72. Goosander
  73. Great Crested Grebe
  74. Slavonian Grebe
  75. Great Northern Diver
  76. Greylag Goose
  77. Pink Footed Goose
  78. Canada Goose
  79. Mute Swan
  80. Whooper Swan
  81. Greater Spotted Woodpecker
  82. Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
  83. Turnstone
  84. Redshank
  85. Golden Plover
  86. Ringed plover
  87. Lapwing
  88. Dunlin
  89. Sanderling
  90. Curlew
  91. Snipe
  92. Oystercatcher
  93. Pheasant

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Out of My Area: The Tiree Office

This week was viva week for the MSc students, much drinking done by all; or so I assume. I decided it was a good idea to get out of the final week chaos, first to Glasgow for a couple of day's work, and then to Tiree. Ridiculously early in the morning Kathy and I hopped on a ferry from Oban, and set up an office in a little cottage in Vaul. Best. Idea. Ever.

Not only did I manage to get a tonne of loose ends tied up (not to mention a mass or reading and writing done), but I got some wonderful walks and birding in. On the ferry we had sightings of feeding otter and common dolphins, as well as plenty of gannets and kittiwakes, and a great northern diver on the way into Gott Bay.

Once on the island we were greeted by fields of lapwing, starling and golden plover; and as we pulled up to the cottage two ravens were mobbing a buzzard over the cliff. A good start. We took a trip over to Loch a Phuill; Kathy went running, I went to the hide. After an hour I'd had a few whoopers, wigeon, tufties, mallards teal and pintail. Then the wildfowlers arrived and everything left. So we carried on round to Hynish (male hen harrier, mippits, wheatear, starling, pied and alba wags, barwits, sanderling, raven, hooded crow, cormorant and shag).

On the way back to the cottage I spotted sanderling huddling behind seaweed on the beach at Vaul. So off I went again. An hour lying on rocks at the beach as the tide came in gave me sanderling, ringed plover, redshank, turnstone, curlew and little stint.

Next morning the wind had dropped and I took the van around to Loch a Phuill again. More golden plover, lapwing, ducks, swans, greylags, alba wags... then something landed beside the hide. Another alba wag, but, no black bib. Funny looking grey wag? No yellow rump, and big wing bars. A citrine wagtail!!! I'm not often so conflicted, I'd found a great bird, but I had no phone signal, and I had no one with me to confirm my ID. Camera out I snapped as many pictures as I could, then headed for the cottage.

As soon as I got in, I tried to ring a few of my birding mates, and showed my pictures and the Collins guide to Kathy to get someone else's opinion. No reply on the phones, I tried the RSPB on Coll... No answer.
Kathy decided she was going to go snorkelling and, too excited to work, I pick up my camera and followed her to the beach. Half way across we came across a stranded guillemot, and as I herded it down the beach I spotted a figure with camera and binoculars climbing over a gate... A BIRDER!

Ditching Kathy I went over, ditched any idea of feeling foolish, and asked if he'd check my identification photos. Well, I was greeted with very polite disbelief, it would be a first for the county - apparently the first person I'd run into was Jim, the rare bird recorder for the region. I pressed on, offering a coffee in exchange for 5 minutes of his time. 20 minutes exciting minutes later, my ID was confirmed, phone calls had been made, and we were on our way back to look for my bird. Which was gone. But, phone numbers, bird pictures, and email addresses were swapped, and we went our separate ways.

30 minutes later, Jim was on the phone. Buff bellied pippit on the way to Caoles, another county first! I hopped into the van again. Luckily the bird remained until both John and myself made it the the scene, before vanishing over a fence. Still, a fab little bird. And a great day. In the evening Jim was on the phone again, my bird had been relocated at the edge of the loch; Kathy and I celebrated with wine and chess, and I went to bed happy!

I made a pact with myself to confine activities to the cottage as much as possible to work. However, I did spend an hour on the beach Friday morning, sea watching whilst Kathy snorkelled in the Gunna sound. More gannets, shags, and eider, a big Grey Seal and - as I stood to take pictures of Kathy - I flushed a female hen harrier. And a quick trip to Loch a Phuill on Friday evening saw me run into both Jim and my wagtail again, true to form, the little bird was sticking to the reedy beck that led to the beach.

There wasn't much action for the rest of the stay, and I was so cream crackered that I didn't step outside whilst on the ferry back, but it really was a great trip! You can look at the pictures now...

Base Camp

Citrine Wag


Kathy in the Gunna Sound

Mobile Office

Sanderling at Vaul

Little Stint

Scap view

Passing Mull

Sands at Hynish

Wheatear at Hynish