Saturday, 27 June 2015

Blyth's Reed Warbler...

So last week Tom (the other blonde birder) and I made ourselves a bet. 400 before 40. That's over ten new birds a year for both of us... So when I saw that the Inverurie Bylth's reed warbler was still showing this morning, I hoped in the car and drove the two hours into Aberdeenshire. 

Arriving at 10:30 I met Jim (a local birder) who had been on site since 8 that morning. He'd met up with folk who'd seen the bird earlier, but hadn't gotten a look in himself. The bird was reeling away in the pines across the river, so we settled in for the long haul. 

After half an hour of staring at nothing we were joined by another couple, and just a few minutes later the bird dropped into view, showing in the bare branches at the bottom of the pine before climbing out of site.

Over the next few hours we were joined by about ten others, all twitching at every hen chaffinch and becoming steadily more angsty... After another 2 hours of nothing, a few of us decided to go grab a quick bit to eat, 25 minutes away, no more. Confident that there would be no good views in the near future, we headed back up the river to the cars. Well, you know what happens now.

On our way back from snacking we pass another birder who had given up and headed for the car. The internationally accepted migrant invite for a good long show. Then, of course, we saw one of the other birders running back along the track. The bird was singing out in the open. After a mad dash along the tow-path I got a slightly longer scoped view on this occasion and that was all she wrote, having only had a half pint of smoothy and a garage sandwich all day I headed for baked brie and cider at home. 

I didn't manage any pictures, so here's one of a poplar hawk moth that was hanging around outside my classroom this week.

This is what happens when your classroom lights are on all night!

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Tactical errors.

On Friday afternoon I decided to take a walk around the hill, wanting to stretch my legs and work off some of the week's cake intake. The forestry path winds its way through the forestry land, and always has good numbers of siskin, coal tit and mistle thrush, along with green and greater spotted woodpecker, deer and red squirrels. It was a warm climb considering the overcast weather, and I stopped often for water. On my third stop, with the ground levelling off, I heard crossbills in the distance. Hurrying on, I broke into a clearing where I could see roughly 10 birds feeding in the surrounding trees. As I watched, another 5 birds joined them, then another 12 went over, and suddenly they were everywhere. Cursing my lack of camera and bins, I tried to pick out the birds in the pine tops. With the young out of the nest the birds were frantically feeding and moved ahead of me through the trees as I ambled onward, never allowing a decent view. 

I  getting used to the sound of so many crossbills around me, when a dark shaped skitted across to my right. A big dark shape. I couldn't believe it, I had walked right up to a pine marten at three in the afternoon. Unbelievable luck, had I not have slowed down for the crossbills I would have flushed it as I approached. I froze, the animal had gone behind a bush. Its path would bring it out onto the road about 5 meters ahead of me. Grabbing my phone from my pocket in the event of its sudden reappearance, I waited. 

I wasn't waiting long, a minute later it appeared 15 meters up the track. I snapped some classic Nessie-quality shots before it loped off into the treeline. Feeling elated I continued the further hour and 15 minutes around the hill, seeing another three large crossbill groups. 

Classic phone camera bluriness

This morning the weather was overcast, uninspiring; but with a flock of crossbills so big moving around and the chance of anther pine marten encounter, I picked up the camera and headed for the hill. I was very aware of the extra weight in my bag as I climbed the forestry track, but was distracted by green woodpecker and cuckoo. As the trees got denser I slowed, listening for the tell tale chirp of feeding crossbills. I had just gotten to the flattest section of path when I heard the first bird off to my left, then two more. Hesitantly I picked my way along a deer path to a clearing. And there were my birds.

There were around thirty five altogether, moving between the tall conifers and lower, less dense scots pines. I snapped happily away at anything that would come close enough, but a second disaster fell. Battery outage. After my session in the pine marten hide I had neglected to recharge the batteries... Cursing inwardly I watched as the birds continued to feed in the trees, youngsters flying up to harass the adults at the cones. As I gave up and turned for home, the weather added insult to my camera-based injury; the sun finally broke through the clouds, bathing the tree tops in a warm glow.

Sat at home I went through the pictures... no sterling shots, but now all of them were stinkers. At least you can tell what these are!

Monday, 15 June 2015

Kingussie Icky (or "can you really call it a record shot if you can barely tell what it is?")

On Saturday morning the summer had already buggered off somewhere else. I was restless, annoyed and more than a little damp after the drizzle. I spent the day mooching around Pitlochry and napping on the sofa. I glanced at RBA, saw the report of the Kingussie Icterine, and ignored it. The weather was rubbish. Then at four, the other half of the blonde birders messaged me his (sunny) views of the West Mids melodious warbler, then - adding insult to injury - told me he was off for the black eared wheatear the following day. Well, no way was I missing out.

The next morning was bright and clear and I threw my stuff into the car and boosted north on the A9, rolling into Kingussie at about 10:00. There was no one around as I got out of the car, had it flitted overnight? Well, I'd hardly walked three feet when I met a man walking from the far end of the path. Two minutes of brief conversation later and he was pointing be down the road to where he had seen a crowd of birders the previous day - result.

Armed with local knowledge I positioned myself opposite the likely looking stand of trees, and within a minute had the bird singing away in front of me. Ten minutes later I was joined by a couple of local lads and a guy from Lancashire. and we moved location to get the light behind us. The second spot was more distant but the light was now behind us, the bird glowed a pale yellow standing out even without bins. 

After 30 minutes we moved back to the cars to set up scopes, through which you could easily pick out the heavy bill and the pale patch on the wing. I just couldn't get a decent shot of the bird to save my life. After about 2 hours observation I said goodbye to my new friends and headed up the road.

The tree favoured was just far enough from both vantage points to make pictures bloody awkward

Is that a bit of a primary projection? 

From Kingussie I went to Craigellachie Nature Reserve on the outskirts of Aviemore with the aim of getting some wood warbler shots, but while I heard the birds, I didn't manage to connect with one. However, I did get some lovely views (although again, awful pictures) of flycatchers, common sand, tree pipit and goldcrest. I called it a day at only two, heading back along the A9 to enjoy the last of the sun at home, you never know when it will go again...

Brief views of pied fly resulted in one usable record

The pied flies were more and confiding numerous

Unlike the KD Trips, the Craigellachie birds have more typical habitat and I got to see some lovely branch-strutting

Friday, 12 June 2015

Summer arrives at Kindrogan

Well in the last month the buds have finally burst and the sun has very occasionally deigned to show its self from behind the perma-cloud. It feels like the local wildlife is enjoying the shift in the weather too, and I've had loads of really good sightings around the centre. 

In owl news, we've had four fledgling tawnies on site - hissing in the woods near the river. They look pretty far along and are flying easily between the trees at the low ropes course. On the hill the birds are in good voice and I had a flock of 15 crossbills near the shelter spot. Plants-wise, the soft needles of larches are now in their fresh acidic green and the spruces show the bright new growth at the ends of their branches. The purple flowered stems of bugle have sprouted everywhere and the sycamore trees hum with bees. I have also managed to add to my list of ladybirds, spotting a cream spot tucked into a fence post up by the rafting site.

Hoolet 1 of 4

We have had a photography course on site for a fortnight, putting out extra feeders and lurking in hides at all the best locations (yes, I was jealous). Their evening reports had given me the urge to ditch work and go and play all week, so when they left I grabbed myself a beer and my camera and headed straight down for an evening in the pine marten hide. It was busy, over the four hours it was visit regularly buy 6 red squirrels, a greater spotted woodpecker feeding a fledgling, bullfinch, black bird, mistle and song thrush, tits, chaffs, tree creepers and - finally - at about half past nine, one very hungry pine marten. The light had lost its quality, but I rattled off a couple of shots anyway, downed the last of my beer and headed across the lawn to bed. Who knows how long it will be summer for here at Kindrogan, but, while it lasts, I'd better make the most of it.

The pine marten logs attract more than one opportunistic squirrel