Sunday, 24 November 2013

Island Hopping: Rathlin, Ireland, Iceland, Anglesey and home to Cumbrae

Posts have been a little sparse lately; it’s been a busy few months. The cruise to Ireland with the RYA was great, brilliant people, and good sightings of both minke whales and basking shark by a number of boats. I even managed to manage some decent bird sightings too, all the usual suspects, as well as sightings of both storm petrel and Leach’s storm petrel, and two beautiful sooty shearwaters off the Mull. On Rathlin we had a very hung-over visit to the seabird colony, and on a quiet walk the next morning I got great views of chough over the bay.  Everywhere we went, we were made very welcome. They rolled out a mayor, a band and a bottle or three at every stop. I've never eaten and drank so much while doing so little. 

Would you trust your life to these nutters?

"A full adult portion" - and I didn't hurl once!

Iceland was incredible, a truly amazing place. Both the landscape, and the welcoming people made it an excellent trip. Reykjavik was a brilliant base, and my trusty X-trail enabled us to get out and take in the wonderful coastline as well as the fantatstic volcanic island interior. Highlights included red necked phalarope, gyr falcon, glaucus and Iceland gulls, white beaked dolphin, Barrow’s golden eye, the northern lights and three amazing burger joints which features such delicacies as a "Big Kahuna Burger" (comes with a $5 shake), the "Bunny Lebowski" (at the Lebowski bar - they have a full white Russian menu), and the brilliant "Kevin Bacon Burger". Matt and I have already decided to go back next year. 

Vanishing White Beaked Dolphins

The joining of the North America and Eurasian plates

Last month I gave a talk to Bangor Bird Group, and had a lovely couple of days in north Wales. Whilst there I was given two tours by the great guys from NatureBites. Ther first, split into two parts: a morning exploring beautiful Anglesey - providing plenty of waders, attracting a  few raptors, and good numbers of duck, including pintail - and an afternoon seawatching -turning up gannets and auks galore as well as plenty of divers and Manx and a Balearic shearwater. The second trip, a morning looking for rarities with Ken (Katthy was at a conference), when I was treated to sightings of Lapland bunting, dotterel, glossy ibis, and more chough. 

Ken, the Bird Man, and me in my golden plover hat

Scoped Glossy Ibis

I've even had a couple of lucky local spots. Off island I managed to pick up  garganey and ringneck duck, and, on my last boat trip on Aora, we were fortunate enough to see a humpback whale - my first ever - breaching in the Arran Deep. But the fun’s over for now, I'm back on island now for the final push to finish my PhD. I’ll still be sneaking out at the weekend for walks when I can, hoping for some odd geese mixed in with the graylags, or a rogue scoter or two – anything to keep me sane.

Sanity, however, will be thin on the ground. The lab is closed until next year, when it will open up as a shiny new Field Studies Council centre, and there are only 5 of us in the building – all running on different schedules. It’s often just me, my prawns, and my laptop. It’s quiet, and a little lonely, and wonderfully conducive for work… I hate it. With the winter coming on, and the birds leaving, it feels a bit like everything has left me behind. Plus, with out all the bodies in the building, its freezing. I'm counting the days down – even though it’s a little terrifying. 37 days, including Christmas, to finish my final chapter. Then its write, write, write. So, unless there's a mega in the area, I'm signing off for now. Wish me luck, I might just need it!

Monday, 22 July 2013

One Day in Humid Haweswater

This weekend was WARM. On Mull we had missed most of the sweltering mainland weather, so I was completely unprepared for my smash and grab run to the lakes this weekend.

I had hoped to take a short run up to the RSPB reserve at Haweswater in order to see England's only resident golden eagle, and the small population of ring ouzel. For readers less into their birds, ring ouzel essentially look like blackbirds with a dirtier bill and a white bib.

Here's a picture I shamelessly pinched from the RSPB website

Although seen yearly on passage, they breed in only a handful of places in Britian. They like upland regions, and eek out a living on earthworms, grubs and beetles - much like our more familiar blackbird. This year The Rigg at Haweswater has had 5 pairs, I saw none of them.

Lets face it folks, this weekend was a mini holiday, and I had the Matt and the 'rents with me. I hadn't had breakfast by 10, and by the time we made it to Haweswater the place was rammed and it was far too hot to climb The Rigg with scope/camera etc. Next time I'll bag one for you I promise. Heading round to the RSPB hut/hide there was no sign of the resident goldie either. Undergoing his end of season moult, he was probably sulking somewhere amongst the crags.

Other birdlife was vocal, but near invisible. Meadow pippits and skylarks were both heard, by the lake common sandpiper were calling, and chaffinches chipped overhead. In the plantation on the shoreline the high song of goldcrest was near constant. On the lake itself greylag and Canada geese were waiting out their own moult, and Ravens repeatedly broke the ridge line, giving momentary hopes for something bigger.

Heading back to the camp we made another dash down toward Ullswater, a reservoir the great Wainright was none to fond of for its detrimental effect on the valley. We too the opportunity to walk the Aira Force, enjoying the much needed shade.

This decision was soon regretted in the oppressive humidity of the climb back up the hill, so we headed for cold ginger beer and chips at the van.

Low flow at Aira Force
Playing with shutter speeds

Looking down into Ullswater

Thousands of feet and years of rain have erroded the soil and polished the bark of these Oak roots

If you're taking a caravan trip to the Ullswater area, try the Troutbeck Heck CC site. Take pitch 71, you have a great view out over the hills and only one neighbouring pitch. Take antihistamines, there are enough cleggs for a small airforce, but at least there are entertaining visits from the 20 odd horses at Rookin House. The only problem will be jealousy of the quad biking, clay pigeon shooting, pony trekking visitors that will be your main distraction over the fence - that said, its a nice quiet sight, ideally placed of the a66.

So long to Mull...

This year was my final working trip to Mull. It was graced with some truly awful drizzly weather, swell just high enough to make sightings near impossible, and one frustratingly unreliable boat operator.

I often wondered if my experience of the boats at Cardigan Bay is enough to qualify me to demonstrate on the marine mammal course - I would joke that I was bought along solely to be cheerful in the rain and point at stuff. Well this trip I was damned cheerful, and I bloody well pointed.

I raved about the black guillemots and shouted out the passing petrels, I "awww"ed at the new born porpoises and explained about reintroduction of the white-tailed eagle. I mimed all the things I'd like to do to the inconsiderate tourists on Lunga, and finally made the short walk round Staffa's basalt columns to Fingal's Cave. I shared out the biscuits.  Thankfully, in response, many of the student were cheerful, some of them even pointed too; so did the other punters on the boats. Then came "The Pointing".

An oyster catcher sees off a greater black back on Staffa


Juv WTE...


For week one most of "The Pointing" had been in the direction of eagles and seals. During the land tour - interesting castles and rocks, and one out of place great crested grebe... The second week looked to be panning out the same - although I finally did get to wander around Staffa on the 14th. Then came the 15th. Nat and Claire's magical mystery land tour.

I had a feeling it was going to be a good one when, at our first stop, we had an WT eagle ripping up a rabbit for its oversized, chocolate brown "chick". Stopping to take a look at a passing golden eagle, Claire and I spotted an otter on the far side of one of the islands in Loch na Keal, then another flying WTE, followed by another otter at the mouth of Loch Scridden, followed by cake. Excellent.

The 16th was my final boat trip, and the luck continued.
     10 minutes out - harbour porpoise.
     30 minutes out I shouted Ewen to verify something bottlenosey that I'd seen on the horizon.
     34 mins out - I'm ready to admit I was imagining things.
     35 mins out - 15 BN dolphins around the boat at varying distances and an WTE overhead.
    About 130 mins out -  I'm gazing lazily over the stern to "pick up anything we miss" when a minke surfaces right behind the tender. The animal is seen on two further occasions in a combined 12 minutes.

Bottlenose dolphins in dreich weather.

Aside form a storm petrel whipping past at about 240 mins out, the rest of the trip is uneventful, no one cares. The sight of the only whale this trip has buoyed everyone, and the students diligently carry on their seabird transects.

Allowing them to go off effort half way into the sound of Mull, they were rewarded with one of the best views of porpoise I have ever seen, with one individual coming alongside and rolling to take a look at us. There are more WTE's in the tree's behind us as the porpoise's circle, and I'm not sure which way to look. Steaming back to Tobermory is quiet. As we leave I'm presented with my prize for spotting the first whale, the Mars bar I wanted 2 years previously.

Mull for me was 3 years, 6 visits, 14 boats trips (over 4 different boats), and 4 land tours; 5 slices of Duart Castle cake, 30 odd Tunnock's wafer biscuits, and one hard earned Mars bar. I have met over 150 students, and only around 2% have been seasick in my general vicinity. I've been out in wind whipped rain and swell so high that I was soaked to the skin and STILL managed to get sunburn. I've seen porpoises, common dolphin, bottlenosed dolphin, minke whales, basking shark and even a dead risso's dolphin.  I've ticked off white-tailed eagle, puffin and storm petrel. I've snacked with photographers in blazing heat off the Treshnish Isles, and shivered with students on Lunga. I've even hummed Mendelssohn in Fingal's Cave. I never did make it to that tearoom on Muck, but I can keep that as a future goal.

The truth of it, is that I'm not quite sure how to say goodbye to this place, the people, and the two weeks that have been the highlight of every year throughout my PhD. Despite always visiting with around 30 people, the trips have always been a very personal experience for me. It was never a holiday (and often no picnic), but it was refreshing. Two defined weeks away from my life, not to relax, but to focus entirely on something else. I can't imagine a year without it now.

For those of you thinking of a trip to Mull, I can whole heartedly recommend a trip aboard Sula Baeg with Sealife Surveys - their excellent guides and 40 odd years of local knowledge are worth anyone's money. If you fancy an island hop (and your safety info in Gaelic), jump aboard Turus Mara, leaving from the Ulva ferry slip, but arrive early and boost for the top deck for the best views. For otters, take a picnic to Loch Na Keal and Loch Scridden, sit quiet and hope. For eagles of all kinds, look up. If you see a blonde girl with a camera and a blissed out look, offer her a wafer biscuit.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Brace yourselves...

Okay, I have no shame.

But its true. Next week is the first of my 2 trips to Mull. 3 days exploring the otter haunts and seal haul outs. A couple of boat trips to take in the Treshnish Isles, looking out for basking sharks and catching up with the puffins on Lunga, finally exploring Staffa and taking a peek inside Fingles cave. Then, to round off the month, its lakeland with Matt and the 'rents. Hoping for Ring Ouzel near Haweswater, but I've no guarantee of steering the group that way... might have to take a detour on my own somewhere along the line!

August brings a cruise down to Belfast with the RYA's cruise in company, starting at Largs and heading over the Irish Sea, via Rathlin Island. Then September, the highlight of the year, Iceland. Okay it's ostensibly for a conference, and its kind of the off season. but that all adds to the challenge. The guides are out, and I'm planning my routes to bag those northern species. And throughout it all I'm out on the research boats once or twice a month, sampling for microplastics (FYI Monday was a birding bust, nothing but a few gannets and tysties).

So prepare yourselves for a flurry of excited, self indulgent posts. Lets hope the weather improves.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Out of my Area: Leighton Moss

Yesterday morning I packed my bins, my scope and my Eurovision hangover, and was out of the house at 6.30. I headed to Paisley to meet the folks from the Renfrewshire bird group, and from there we took a warm, cramped coach ride to Leighton Moss.

We breifly stopped off at the Eric Morcambe hide first, checking in on the waders and wildfowl. Quickly allowing us to rack up Avocet, Little Egret, Shelduck, Black Tailled Godwit, Redshank, Curlew, Teal, Black Headed Gull, Gadwall and - from the side of the path - Sedge warbler, Long Tailled Tit, and Cetti's warbler. Then it was back on the bus to the main reserve.

Avocet from the Eric Morecambe hide
After 3 hours and 30 minutes on the coach I was beginning to realise just how antisocial I have become in my time on Cumbrae. Explaining that I was heading to look for bearded tits first, I slunk off in the opposite direction to everyone else, heading for the public hide and the scrapes.

The first thing I found was the insects, the air was thick with them; and they were obviously feeding the host of warblers that I could hear in the reeds. As i looked above the reeds a marsh harrier was lazily flapping to gain height. I rattled off a few blurry shots in case I was the only on to get a glimpse that day (I needn't have bothered).

Then, as I stood at the edge of one of the scrapes, there was a bouncing flash of honey brown, a long tail, and bright underside - bearded tit. Tick. 

The causeway was a fly smorgasbord

Blurry Harrier
 When I got tired of the flies and increasing numbers of people I headed back toward the main reserve. Catching up with Gary and some of the others on the way. From their view over the marsh we could watch 3 harriers working the reed beds; then another raptor broke the skyline, too light underneath for a marsh harrier. What do you know, Osprey (we later caught up with the same individual sat in a tree at the Greisedale hide).

As I left the others and headed back towards the hides I past Eddie, who said he'd had marsh tit at the feeders about 40 mins before. But as I wandered round I couldn't catch sight of one. I checked out the other hides and added Pochard, Great Crested Grebe, Tufted duck and Shovellor to the list, then decided it was time to sample the reserve's supplies of coffee and cake (They're both excellent by the way).

With 30 minutes left until we were due back on the bus I nipped down to the feeders, finally adding Marsh tit to the day total (and the year list), and getting great vies of bullfinch and nuthatch.

Nuthatch at the feeders

Marsh tit at the feeders

I just missed the last ferry on the way home, so I decided to head down to Portencross to see what was moving off-shore, then kip in the car. I added Shag, Razorbill, Gannet, Herring and Greater and Lessser Black Backed gulls, and Cuckoo to the day total.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Fun in Faro: you can talk the talk, but can you stalk the stork?

Having hardly been abroad before, I was looking forward to getting away the week before last (and hoping birds to my list), this time at a conference in beautiful Faro in the Algarve.  I meant to do a couple of posts about this latest week “out of my area”; however, work is manic. So here are the Cliffs Notes.

Day 1: BT godwit, Common Tern, Turnstone, Swift, Swallow, Shelduck, House Martin, Goldfinch, White Stork.

My trip started off in an optimistic fashion. I spent the 2 and a half hour flight spent flicking hopefully through the Collins guide. Then – as we came into land – I saw my first White Stork, flying low over the marsh. On the way to the hotel my taxi driver (who I had told I liked birds) drove via a couple of stork nests specially. Arrived at my hotel in at 17:30; grabbed a quick shower, put on a thick coating of factor 30, picked up bins and camera, and headed for the harbour.

The first thing I noticed was the swifts. Having not seen any swifts at home yet, the cacophony of screams was brilliant. A great reminder that summer wasn’t far away. I quickly located a prospective restaurant for dinner, but decided to walk a little further along the shorefront (and try to identify a possible boat trip for Sunday morning).

Looking out over the marsh I saw the familiar shapes of turnstone and common tern, both displaying, as well as a number of feeding godwit and turnstone. Further out another stork was feeding, and all the time the was the sound of the swifts. Walking back I saw another loner take up a seat at the afore mentioned seafood place. And that’s how I met Michiel, who also studies microplastics (and is also a keen birder). A networking win!

Stork nest, Faro marina

Day 2: White Stork, Curlew, Sardinian Warbler, Hoopoe, Cattle Egret, Turnstone, Swallow, Swift, Sand Martin, Black Winged Stilt, Little Tern, Mallard, Dunlin, Black Headed Gull, Herring Gull, Starling, Goldfinch, House Sparrow, Knot, Azure Winged Magpie.

Breakfast at 7:30 and out by 8. Trying to catch the coolest part of the day, I took a walk down to the harbour to see what was moving about. The swifts were still filling the air, running low alongside the walls of old Faro. I decided to duck into the shade of the old city, and found more stork topping the old buildings like statues.

From there I walked south along the coast, picking up Black Winged Stilt, Cattle Egret, and Little Tern on the way out of town. At the side of the cycle path a number of small warblers were moving amongst the low scrub. After 10 minutes of intermittent views I concluded Sardinian warbler, but I’m happy to be corrected!

Sardianian Warbler

Black Winged Stilt feeding happily amongst the fly-tipped plastics

I turned back as it began to get warm, just in time to see a hoopoe shoot across the road. I considered hopping a boat trip and getting to see a little more of the wetlands; however, by that point I was already a tomato, time to go skulk in the hotel before conference registration.

And then –  just when I thought the fun was over – Michiel and I decided to take a wander round the university grounds as the other delegates checked in, just giving us enough time to catch a few azure winged magpie (not to mention a brace of mosquito bites in my case). Then it was time for introductions, networking and free sangria, before heading back to the hotels.

Day 3: Serin, Hoopoe, Azure winged magpie, Bee-eater, Pied fly catcher, House martin, House sparrow, Swallow, Swift.

Today was a full day of networking and lectures, and an opportunity to catch up with the other microplastics researchers at the conference. Today’s new face was Tomas from CEFAS, who also works on microplastic impacts.

At the break between sessions I took my camera out to where we’d seen the magpies the day before, on the way down to the trees a hoopoe lifted and headed out over the scrub. There were four magpies moving between the trees and the cut grass, and today they were joined by a number of pied flycatchers, moving between the branches of the pines. I heard something I didn’t recognise, scolding me from the trees. Something bright and small was chasing between the low branches. After

At lunch I stuffed as much food I could fit into my face then headed out with my binoculars. I could hear something else I couldn’t recognise coming from the far side of campus. Regretting my choice of sandals I made my way through the gravel to the chain-link, just in time to see a bee-eater lift off in pursuit. Over the next 20 minutes I watched 3 birds move between the dead trees ask the hawked for insects.


Azure winged magpie


Throng at the plastics posters
Day 4: Serin, Jay, Greenfinch, Azure winged magpie, Bee-eater, Pied fly catcher, House martin, House sparrow, Swallow, Swift, Collared dove, Goldfinch.

A complete blur of a day; mainly focusing on my lurking around my poster, trying to hand out as many business cards as possible, and trying to eat my bodyweight in free cake. In the evening I avoid the crowds in favour of lounging in my hotel watching episodes of Castle.

Day 5:  House martin, House sparrow, Swallow, Swift, Collared dove, Goldfinch, Sanderling, Sardinian warbler, Yellow wagtail, Collared pratincole, Little ringed plover, Dunlin, Kentish plover, Crested lark, Little Tern, Gannet, Grey heron, White Stork, Spoonbill, Little egret, Probable Andouins Gull.

Last day of the conference. Everyone that went to the banquet the night before looked very queasy at breakfast, I wasn’t sure if Jen was going to feel well enough for the trip to Ilha Deserta, but I scoffed as much as I could anyway. It’d be rude to let anything go to waste.

The morning revolved around impacts assessments, MSFD, good cake, and bad coffee. But after lunch Jen, Michiel and I hopped in the first taxi out, made quick change at the hotel, and ran to the pier. A 45 minute boat ride and we were on the fringes of the Atlantic and as soon as we were ashore we struck bird.

A pair of large larks was moving by the boardwalk. We weren’t sure whether we had Thekla or Crested lark; the individual we saw up - close was very darkly marked on the breast, however, looking at the long beak, red underwings, and VERY pointed crest, we went with Crested.

Crested Lark
The island itself is around 3 km in circumference, low scrub, with a bar and a gull colony at its centre. We headed out on the Atlantic side of the island, walking along the sand. Michiel and I hung back to get a very over the scrub, and soon picked up Kentish plover and yellow wagtail. Then a pair of dark, sandy birds lifted from around 50 meters away, one looping back, one flying swiftly across the island; almost barrel chested, white undersides, sharp wings and a forked tail – Pratincole!

Just as we were celebrating this, an imm. gull we didn’t recognise went over. Short, heavy, reddish bill with black tip – long wings – white head – dark eye – dark legs – dark “hand”. It was Michiel that called Andouins gull, and I’m not going to argue with him!

We cut inland across the gull colony – getting better sighting of the various gulls and wagtails on the way – and make our way to the quieter inshore side of the island. Here were picked up a range of waders, more little tern, and Sardinian warbler (and I begin to properly burn in the sun).Then the other caught us up, and we made our way back round toward the jetty; where we sat on the seawall together – watching the fish and geckos - while we waited for the boat.


Kentish Plover

On the way in we were chillier, and more intent on sharing our opinions of the trip; but we got brief sightings of little ringed plover and spoonbill. All in all, those snatched hours out on the island with new friends were the highlight of the trip. Much more enjoyable that running between seminar rooms in the heat (however good the talks were)! I can only apologize to my new friends for how long it’s taken me to post this. I hope I see you all next year!

Friday, 26 April 2013

Granite and Gannets - The Naturalist Blonde goes to Ailsa Craig

 Well, I had a day in heaven! A few months ago - at the suggestion of Bernie Z - I approached the RSPB with an offer of cleaning up the plastic on Ailsa Craig, and examining the level of plastic in nests on the island.

Nest plastic can increase chick and adult mortality by entangling them in nests, and can make for pretty gruesome sights. I wanted to get an idea of the scale of this problem in the Clyde, particularly on a reserve so important to nesting seabirds.

If you haven't heard about Ailsa before, its a huge hunk of granite, 10 miles off Girvan. Over the years its been a haven for pirates, Roman Catholics and the Northern Lighthouse Board. Until recently it was blasted to provide beautiful blue hone granite for curling stones. But, more importantly, it is home to kittiwakes, shag, fulmar, tysties, the odd pair of puffin, and around 35'000 gannets.

To get there you hire a boat from Girvan or Campbletown (we went from Girvan); its about an hour's crossing, and I imagine it could be pretty miserable in really poor weather. As it was, we were heading out into the wind and chopping waves on our trip. Our skipper, Mark, was in two minds as to whether we should go at all. Thank goodness the RSPB folk on the trip were hardy too!

Due to the conditions, it took about an hour and a half to get to the island. During which time we had a few Tysties, manx shearwater and 3 sandwich terns (a year tick). Standing directly behind the wheelhouse I was out of most of the elements (and my fladden suit has yet to fail me), however, I was very happy when the boat dropped into the lee of the island.

Landing at the old pier (with very reassuring signage), and offloading all the gear we'd need for our hour and a half ashore. As the folk headed off, to look for signs of twite and put out bait stations, I unravelled by tape measure and set about running some speedy plastic transects. It wasn't difficult.

Why is that written on this side too? We're already there...
 Bernie hadn't been exaggerating about the plastic levels. The lack of any foliage higher than scrub height meant that plastics carried in on the waves had been picked up by the wind and blown further inland. I think "strewn" is an excellent description.

It was the usual mix of stuff, but some was clearly beautifully aged. Ropes I attempted to clear were turning to dust as I handled them, their pieces dropping between the boulders, or being carried by the breeze. I had to move pretty carefully to make sure I was collecting as much as I could and not just creating a different problem.

Frayed and fragmenting
After running a quick 3 "look-see" transects I took the camera and went to scope out prospective clearing sites. Moving quickly round from the lighthouse to the south-east foghorn, heading back for a snatched lunch, before we were back on the boat to carry out counts on the colony.

Fog horn and kittiwake cave
As we moved southward round the island the number of birds and levels of activity drastically increased. Everywhere there were birds fishing, following nearby trawlers, bringing in nesting material, squabbling on the cliffs, loathing on the water or just filling the sky above. As the guys trained there eyes inland at the colony, I took the opprtunity to snap a completely unnoticed raft of around 30 kittiwake, then Andrew's sharp eyes on the cliff provided me with another year tick, a pair of puffin.

Gannets were everywhere above, almost impossible to focus on.
Kittiwake raft
Multiply the by about 500 (and add a lot of up) and you're starting to get an idea of the scale of things
My first puffins of the year
A full lap of the island done, and weirdly exhausted, I took as many snaps of the retreating island as we headed back to Girvan. The five 30 start had done me in and I alternately dozed, plotted out potential work sites, and looked out for passing wildlife.
Ailsa Craig Lighthouse
Beach plastic
45 minutes later we were in site of the harbour, and - just as I thought the day was over - a red throated diver (another year tick) flew above the boat, distracting us from the victory flapjacks. Then, all too soon, we were back in the harbour and unloading. 

Crying off the post trip cuppa, I jumped in the car to head for home and a much needed glass of wine.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Hopeless in the Highlands Part 1

Base camp for this trip is a cottage in Tomintoul (highest village in the highlands – just saying). Day one started well. Breakfast at 5, then we had to de-ice the inside of the car – twice. Then off to caper-watch at Loch Garten. 

Spotted a couple of black grouse on the way across, then rolled into the car park with the sun barely up and made our way up to the hide. Stopped for a quick shuftie at the feeders first. Bang. Crested tit. Off the mark.

Unfortunately, when we got into the hide the dawn patrol informed us that a female caper had flown across the screens just after first light, but hadn't been seen since. EJ was on the nest, but the fog was so thick we could only see his silhouette. So we spent our time enjoying a hot chocolate and long views of the crested tit, siskin, greater spotted woodpecker and red squirrel.

I wouldn't complain about one of these nicking from my feeders!
After being kicked out at 8 we headed for second breakfast in Granton. Then, thoroughly refreshed, headed back toward Nethy Bridge. A wander through the woods at the kirk gave us another 50 odd chaffinch, gold crest and a couple of treecreeper. 

The light through the trees was magic.
After another quick snack,we nipped back to Loch Garten for a proper view of the ospreys. Bumped into Jen, one of the group that went ringing on Little Cumbrae, who's now volunteering on the osprey project. She pointed us in the direction of Forest Lodge - a really great site and well worth a longer explore than we were able to give it. We also found  a cracking little toad!

Most. Determined. Toad. Ever.
By 3 we were shattered, so we headed off to the Glenlivet distillery. Stoat, red grouse, grey and red-legged partridge en route. Then, 50 minutes later and 3 bottles better off, Reeve’s pheasant on the way home (yeah I know it’s not a qualifying tick, but a cracking looking bird).

Blink and you'll miss him
In the end, not a bad day, 6 more birds for the year list and one life tick. Back to Loch Garten tomorrow to try for capercallie and crossbills again, then off to Cairngorm Plateau for a chance of ptarmigan. But, for now a little whisky and an early night.

Friday, 22 March 2013

"Normal" service has been resumed.

It been all quiet on the western front over the winter, I know. There hasn't been that much to report. 

But, with the longer days upon us and me being on a fitness kick, I've been out of the house with the camera a lot more. I may not be sharp enough between 5 and 7 am to get beautiful wildlife shots, but there are some great views to be had.

Arran at sunset
Blurry Bute at 6 30 am
Arran at 7 am

One reason I've not been posting was that over winter, I wasn't the Naturalist Blonde - autumn brought a flush of winter/non-breeding plumage (ornithologically speaking) - I was the most un-natural blue.

Another cause of the posting slow down was the loss of my long lens, resulting in fewer pretty pictures to show you. On the plus side, I spent a lot more time looking at the the birds, and that's always a bonus in my eyes!

Anyway, I'm back now, with some big trips and plenty of birding planned for the new year. The coming month should include Spurn, Arran and Ailsa Craig, followed by Egypt, Mull, and Portugal later in the year. 

The Blonde Birders will also be back in action - touring the country; keep your eyes open for guest posts from black-country birder, Thomas Christian. 

Having said all that, today Cumbrae is subject to gusting wind and blizzards, so you might have to wait a little longer for new posts. Hope your weather is better than ours!
Happy Birding!