Friday, March 28, 2008

A few lifers!

A little sally into West Wales and through Somerset to Devon brought its reward.

Black Duck,Rosy-Coloured Starling and King Eider as lifers and an accompanying cast of
Chough, Spoonbill, Long Eared Owl,Franklins Gull and GWE.

A long drive but an enjoyable one with all the country scenery. A really lovely B and B, where they let me go out first thing and return for my breakfast later before my drive back into Somerset and home.

I do like Devon - I say this everytime I venture forth.The people are friendly as well as the incomers. This is no reflection on elsewhere just my thoughts.

Will continue later.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The white-winged gull

Interruption to the daily tales from Scotland. I have now solved the problem of my mysterious white winged gull.
Edit: It appears I haven't!
Birdguides thought it might be a 2nd winter Med Gull.There were no other reports to Birdguides on that date - and it seems as that part of the coast is regularly watched I may be mistaken.So be it - I can only report what I saw, altho I did make notes at the time- for now I shall record it as a gull species.....but as I am not an expert on gulls(never claimed to be) I shall just remember this trip with the mysterious gull unexplained!

I wonder what that gull was?

On my train journey to Aviemore from Edinburgh I was busy watching the outside world.
My first journey on a train on this particular route.
Its a really interesting journey. First through Edinburgh and then along the coast - the north of the Firth of Forth.One travels across the Firth of Forth on the rail bridge as apposed to the Forth Road Bridge. That bridge has been made famous by the story of as soon as they finish painting it they have to start again! I read somewhere that this time they have got some clever paint that means it doesn't have to be done for some time. Must go and find that tale.(Sounds like turkey's voting for Christmas from the companies point of view. I expect the tax payers in Scotland are pleased.)

I digress ....

I was travelling between Inverkeith and Kirkcaldy - birding as I went when we reached Kinghorn Station and we went through very slowly I spotted a flock of Seagulls , mainly Herring Gulls- and I spotted a white winged Gull!

Now I was looking out for different gulls particularly large ones after my recent successes with finding a Caspian Gull and generally watching and seeing a variety of Gulls.

NB note my new hobby is looking at gulls, something I used to find so daunting that I didn't! I waited for friends to say there is a xxxxxxxx and looking ! Very lazy but honest.
Last year I began trying to id - I felt fairly confident with Glaucous Gulls having
been able to see them regularly ...starting from my first juvenile self found on the Isle of Sheppey in 2004.....when it decided to fly over me!
They are so stonkingly big as well!

It has helped birding with Bob who fortunately has been seriously birding for the last 30 years and is very experienced.He helped me find my Caspian in that we were at Dungeness and he had seen the juvenile before I spotted it but he let me find it and go through the salient id features before saying he had seen it! Very helpful learning technik (sic).

This is by way of background.

A birding friend from birding forums BBF and BF also has helped my gull interest! You know who you are Shifty!He recommended a couple of Gull id books.

Back to the WW Gull.
I spotted a very different gull amidst the Herring Gulls, and was thinking Iceland as that was what I was looking for - for my year list. Well this Bird was white all over - so I thought thats no Iceland! So I watched it and noted some details, black legs, white with black spots on the tips of feathers on its wings with a dark face.
Black spots on the tail like a band but not as obvious a band as in birds of prey.

Best description would be like someone had dipped the ends of the feathers in paint! They were not splodged or streaked.

Well that was what i had as notes....I had an overall impression.It was smaller than the Herrings and much bigger than a BH Gull.It appeared to be a "sparky" bird holding its own amid the biggies.I was aware of its black legs.

So what is it?

I searched the Seabirds book at my Hotel but as i was thinking Iceland - I looked there and it defo wasn't that- nothing seemed to fit.

Then I got carried away with the Scottish birding - the Bird Race and visits to Findhorn Valley - but when we saw an Iceland Gull in Aviemore I remembered it all again.

I did not realise the significance of the black legs until Shifty emailed about them!

I returned home and began getting my notes and pics together.
On Thursday I went to Barnes WWT and was in the bins and scope shop when I spied the Gull book....Olsen and Larsson.It looked really good and despite being expensive I purchased it on the recommendation of Shifty!

Later that day I was flicking through the book admiring the photos and the illustrations when I spotted my bird...yes the photo leapt off the page...whats that?

It was an IVORY gull! 1st winter juv. I compared my notes and it was an Ivory! Wow lifer!
Hang on better check what else could it be......couldn't find any other white gull with those black spots in the pattern they were!

Wish I had had my camera for a record shot.

NB I did know what an Ivory Gull adult looked like - it was the juvs I dont remember seeing(noticing on film or in photos).

I was not expecting or looking for an Ivory Gull but I know I have seen one now!

Pleased I am really excited!

Now I want to see an Adult! - in real life I mean!
(Technical points the black was on the primaries, outer wing-coverts and tail feathers.)

By chance i have found a page from someones blog about an Ivory juv and an Iceland Gull in Ayrshire!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Quest for the Surf Scoter

When we were on our "Bird Race" we spent time sea watching on the Moray Firth.
The last time I had seen a Surf Scoter was on the Moray Firth. Not one had been seen there this winter.We did see 110 Common Scoters and several Velvet Scoters.
110! 110 yes that number and very close views too.(As far as my year list went I had already seen both Common and Velvets but certainly not as close views!)

On the third day we went on an exbirdition up the East Coast north of Inverness -
to go onto the Black Isle to look at the other side of the Moray Firth and to wend our way to Dornoch.

Saw this animal and was amazed at its face - not sure if its caught in this pic though- appeared deep in thought!

Not so much snow about here!

We birded our way up the East Coast to Dornoch.What a absolutely stunning Town this is and what a location.

The Cathedral so its a City?
I love to look at Churches where ever I go and sometimes when we are birding it isn't possible so a photo opportunity was not to be turned down!

On to the Target bird of the day!

We got to the coast and the car park to sea watch, at first there appears to be nothing there, then as your eyes get used to the sea and glare and the lumps and bumps you begin to see ......yes black dots and these became Scoters hundreds of them! A velvet but mainly commons and more velvets and mixed up lots of Long tailed Ducks which are a really lovely and striking bird of its own! But we were after a rare a and search and scan and scan....
"Whats this?" No I think I saw it and its gone!

What to look for with a Surf scoter - well you might think its the bill or beak...but in lumpy sea best bet is to look for the white circle on the back of its neck.

We were there scanning...John, Peter, Paul, Bryan (I don't like sea watching)and moi.

When Bryan says I think I have got it...."help" to Peter if you were there you would appreciate this "look in my scope" (Bryan is over 6foot and Peter well he is smaller shall we say!) How Peter managed to look in the scope, see anything and be able to confirm it we dont know but he did!

Where? Eventually we were all on the bird and enjoying views of it.

How did Bryan spot it? Well as often with birding a bit of luck...many birds took off and flew while he was watching them and in the midst a white circle on a neck!

Bryan (I dont like sea watching) was the hero!

NB By the end of the week Bryan was loving it!

Target bird found we could have lunch!

Interesting birds.....well inquisitive and hungry birds well just plain get in there and get their food birds!
Rooks, Hooded Crows and Jackdaws.

One very brave or stoopid Rook pictured here!

On to Embo

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

This is Tulloch Moor.

How I wish I had been able to get into blogger while I was in Scotland and I could have done a daily blog - its so easy to post every day and not leave it until one returns!

We met a lovely working dog called Millie in the woods in Nethybridge. She came up to me carrying a large piece of pine which she had dug up or found! She was wearing her Save and Rescue gear (green and white) and had been working all the previous night in the Cairngorms where they were trying to find a man who was missing.
She was full of beans! Her owner rather tired!
Millie was up for fun and we had some!
It was a privilege to met both her owner and Millie!
Millie is a collie with one ear up and one ear down!

I did mean to keep a dog list but somehow it got forgotten!
But I do remember a Soft coated Wheaten terrier, a Weimeraner (sp?), a Labrador cross and something, who was a real gorgeous beast!
Cairns, Scotties and Westies as one would expect! Dachshunds and Labs and Retreviers.
Plenty of Heinze 57's and rescue dogs.
What do you expect on bird feeders?
Why these......

Ok so its Scotland and Red Squirrels are to be encouraged!
There were 3 of these delightful creatures coming to the feeders and it was really fun to watch their antics!

The pics are records and taken through glass windows!

Where to now?

This is "Brave Bryan" altho I am sure this was before the surreal experience but maybe not!

The feeders at our Hotel.

Surreal experience

We stopped further down the valley on our way out to see if the Golden Eagles would put in an appearance.Conclusion drawn was that it had been too wild and windy and the pair had flown further down!

To the surreal.Bryan spotted a tree trunk and said it looks like a German Officer- see if you can see it? We could!

shortly after this 2 Spitfires flew across the valley. Weird or what?
And I looked across the valley and it looked just like the Russian front where there was a valley and it looked for all the world like the Panzars would come through with their tanks!

It could not go on!

Hahaha - it was like a parallel universe!

White out

Well lets see if blogger lets me post some pics gave up on me on Monday!

Looks like it is working. The pic is of a near whiteout we sat through!
Glad John knows the weather around here! A trifle scary! Winds blowing small tornado's past us, really exciting to watch on the TV but I think not from a minibus!

Still we are all explorers at heart and so we ventured out after the snow and wind died down.

After the whiteout

across the bridge

Paul and Bryan

Paul and "Eagle"

It was very cold as I think you can see. Salutary lesson watching the weather change so very quickly from sunny to white out to sunny!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Day 2 Findhorn Valley (B)

We had a coffee stop and another scan and then on towards the top of the valley.

There is a bridge that goes across the River Findhorn (its private) but there is a good area to park. We watched the weather here as the snow arrived - we sat through bit of a storm - a whiteout- on being asked by a wary Bryan "will the road be alright to go back on" John's response of "It will be fine".
Were they really reassured? Well I was knowing Johns reputation as something of a weatherman.
Still watching small tornado's of snow pass by us and the hills disappear was a trifle scary.
Next the sun comes out! Bryan and Paul intrepid as ever walked over the bridge tothe other side. Despite John saying "well I wouldn't cross that bridge" I needed pics so I followed the guys. The bridge did look a little less solid than it had in the past and as it sighed and creaked as I walked over it - I wondered what I was doing! It was a relief to reach the chaps!
It was vvvvcold and the wind gusted at us and it was vvvvcold!

Pics to follow I am with Paul on the bridge and Paul id with Bryan. We had a laugh taking the pics I even had to take my glove off to attempt a photo with Pauls camera.
Frostbite almost set in!

Day 2 Findhorn Valley

Well after the Bird Race what could be better than a trip to the Findhorn Valley.

Its my favorite valley in the Highlands!
There was a deep frost this morning on awaking.

First a trip via Tulloch Moor where yesterday we had distant views of Black Grouse. Nothing showing this morning.
Then Findhorn.
We drove up the valley and played overtaking with the recyling lorry and coal delivery lorry!We stopped a couple of times looking for Golden Eagles. We found Red Deer, Stags on one side of the valley and Hinds on the other.Two pics - the hinds were a very long way away on the other side of the valley.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Scotland Birding!

Yes I'm in Bonny Scotland.

Took the train up here.
Sunny in Edinburgh and lovely till just before the Cairngorms. They are full of snow and it was wet and miserable. Not too bad when I got to Aviemore or Nethybridge where I am staying.

Birds seen on route (in Scotland) Rooks hundreds and hundreds, Pink feet geese, Marsh Harrier and Buzzard - Gulls galore now just checking on a white winged species - will let you know what it might have been!
Chaffinchs around feeders outside a station in the Cairngorms.
Wood pigeons.
Robin singing here!

It will get better!

Brief report on Sunday (full details plus any pics I can rescue!) will be on the blog!
Woke to real snow! Made the trip out magical in the forests and across the moors!
The Bird Race two teams competing against each other in fun! Racing around the Highlands and up(or down?) the Moray Firth!
There should have been a big race with lots of teams but the guy who organises it was away. We didn't mind!

There are 5 of us staying here this week. So its quality not quantity!
Our Team with John P saw 81 species in the day and the other team with Jonny saw 86 species grand total of different birds seen 98!
Scenery! I forget how beautiful the Highlands are!
110 Scaup - I kid you not! Females and males on the Moray Firth.
Eider (year tic) and Long tailed Ducks on the sea
Black and Red grouse (year tics)
and Black Guillemot in scopes from Lossiemouth sea watching!A rare at any time!

Dipper (another year tic - which I had forgotten I hadn't seen this year!) Gannet- way in the distance.
Flocks of mixed finches with brightly coloured Yellowhammers amidst them try as I might I couldn't see a Brambling (must all be down south!)

oh and Pine Marten footprints in the Snow...and a red squirrel!
more later!

The blog will have pics on when I return to London. Some little local technical difficulties here!