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!