Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Sound and vision

The tide was just starting to drop when I had a peep outside. All was quiet except for the natural sounds. These Turnstones were squabbling over who had the best spot and where they were going to feed - who's going first? There were 9 birds on the rock but by the time the camera made an appearance they were reduced to eight. Just enough time for a couple of shots and the starting gun had gone off and they were away feeding. It turns into a bit of a frenzy when the shore is exposed. You could hear the Common Gulls paddling in the water and throwing bit of seaweed over to find the scraps of food. Oystercatchers shouting at each other, Curlew giving alarm calls as the Hen Harrier flew by. You can't beat listening to what's going on.
This Buzzard was sheltering from the wind minding it's own business. You're never more than 5 minutes away from hearing one of these. Standing on the shore scanning the far side you always listen to what's going on on the near shore. Teal 'peeping', Wigeon whistling, Mallard quacking, Lapwing wheezing. The sound of something diving could be Shag, Cormorant, GN Diver or even an Otter. I saw all of those today mainly because of listening. The roar of the waterfalls from all around is a joy to hear at any time of year and you notice when it's gone. Even the ground slurps and gurgles, have a look.... Butterwort starting to green up for another season of eating the dreaded midge!

Monday, 26 January 2009


I decided to have a look on Loch na Keal today to see if I could catch up with the Glaucous Gull. First decent bird of the day was this Raven. Normally they'll fly off as soon as you point something at them but this one was quite obliging. It was a calm day today so the Loch was like glass making it easy to pick out the birds and beasties. A couple of GN Diver, Black Guillemot, Barnacle Goose were all added to the list. At the head of the Loch there is usually an abundance of birds. A couple of BT Diver were calling to each other as they were preening with 2 GN Diver drifting past in the background. At least 6 Slavonian Grebe were out there too but too distant for any shots. They never seem to stop feeding either!

Next thing to check was the outfall from the hatchery. A quick check through and there was the Glaucous Gull. A distant view but I'd caught up with a bird I didn't see last year. This chap had a very lucky escape a few days ago. The resident pair of WT Eagle are very partial to the odd gull and he was almost on the menu. There are some quite dramatic shots on Mullbirds website. As you can see he is alive and well for now but I do wonder if he'll be targeted again. A walk down to the shore to get the shots produced some nice views of Teal, Redshank, Goldeneye, RB Merg and Buzzard.
A drive to the campsite a bit further round the Loch produced 3 Bar-tailed Godwit, 23 Ringed Plover, 2 Turnstone a soaring Golden Eagle and an Otter.

Saturday, 24 January 2009


It looked like it was going to be nice today but I had to go out this morning. After a bit of hail last night and freezing temperatures I had to defrost the van before leaving so, of course, I had a quick look round with the bins. I spotted a pale looking wader sitting in the grass that was just too far to ID with the bins so out with the scope. Nothing to see. It must have been a Greenshank but it wandered into one of the channels and never reappeared. A few Red Deer and the usual array of gulls and waders until I clocked this chap. This is one of the East coast White-tailed Eagles (I'll edit the post when I get details from the RSPB).
Back from my travels the sun was still shining so a spot of lunch and out to get some shots hopefully. As I was departing I caught sight of 2 Mistle Thrush sitting on the fence at the roadside and off they flew. Loch Scridain was a lot choppier than when I'd passed an hour earlier so I just had a quick scan. No sign of any Divers, plenty of Shag, 3 Mergs and the 4 Common Scoter was the best I could do. Back along the road to see if the Thrushes were still close enough. One bird was on the ground murdering a huge black caterpillar, yum! No idea where he found that but it looked tasty. Tried for the shot with caterpillar dangling from beak but couldn't get it. The other bird was more obliging sitting on a post and more interested in the plane flying over than me.
The local Great Black-backed Gulls were having a spot of lunch too....a sheep carcase. An easy meal and always a good draw for WT Eagle. This was probably the reason the Eagle was present this morning. The WT Eagles always seem to stand back from these offerings but they do get some stick when they dig in. The drake Goosander was loafing about in front of these gulls but promptly moved off when the camera came out and the Greenshank was well tucked in sheltering from a non existent wind! Off into the Glen to see if I could get Golden Eagle. I picked one up as soon as I got out the motor, soaring over the mountains. He came down to land below the horizon and just sat surveying his territory and watching the Buzzards no doubt. Next to break the skyline was a first winter White-tailed Eagle. Always nice to see these birds without any tags. The WT Eagle dropped out of view and the Goldie was back up. The Buzzards, six of them, were wheeling about above the Goldie but not giving it any grief. Instinct had me looking away from the Goldie and there was the young WT Eagle back again and pretty close too. Fantastic!! A good 5 minutes of looking at one Eagle then the other before they both dropped out of sight again. That was me away home grinning again:-)

Friday, 23 January 2009

and then there were none...

This morning was a bit of a wash out so I was glad to be otherwise occupied in the shop. First customer this morning had a tale of being stuck by lightning. Leaning against a lightswitch in the shed while waiting for a hail storm to pass then next thing he knows he's lying on the ground - cor blimey!!
Anyway, I digress, the weather cleared and it was time for a scan about the Loch. First bird of note was a drake Goosander which has been present off and on all month. Next on the list was a drake Goldeneye then this Peregrine. No apologies for the quality as this was even further away than yesterdays Otter. The bird was feeding on what looked like a bag of Ready Salted crisps (I'd just finished mine). It's crop was bulging so it was a hearty meal and I'm hoping it wasn't a Greenshank as I could only find one of those. After the meal was finished the Peregrine proceeded to waddle around on the grass and wipe it's face!! A nice male Hen Harrier floated into the view as I was watching the antics so I followed that while the clean up was going on. The Harrier dropped into the grass and didn't reappear so I went back to the Peregrine and that was gone too. A quick scan before the next shower hit produced another drake Goosander, 10 Teal and 12 Oystercatchers.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Just a quick look....

Got up this morning and wandered outside to look at the view, it was still there and still pretty! One of the local Hoodies (Hooded Crow and not a teenage ASBOphile) was making a racket down on the shore. I had to have a look to see what he was shouting about....nothing to be seen. The local Buzzard was observing the state of play and begging for his photo to be taken. Not one to upset the locals I duly obliged. I almost had to step back to fit him in the view and it's not turned out too bad considering the shutter speed was 1/8 of a second!!

I scanned the rest of the shoreline and found 5 Ringed Plover, 4 Lapwing, 2 Raven, 2 GBB Gull, 5 Redshank and 2 Greenshank. The next thing through the viewfinder was a misshapen piece of wall that promptly stuck it's head up for a scratch! Out with the camera again even though I knew this wouldn't work but you can tell what it is. Took the camera off the scope to have a proper look and there was another Otter fishing just behind this one. Not bad for a quick look before breakfast.

Just thought I'd give an update on the WT Eagle pictures. I've posted a different picture to the earlier post so you can see the differences. Starting from the left the first bird had Yellow tags which means this bird was from 2006. It's bill is completely yellow and should have a white tail by next year. The bird is a female and the adult birds in the photo are the parents of this bird. The next bird is an adult male. The third bird has no wing tags and looking at the bill colouration half yellow, half black indicates a first year bird. Going on size comparison with the first bird this is also a female. I couldn't read the ring on this bird but it could potentially be last years youngster from this pair. The last bird is the adult female. Hope that helps!
Yesterday's post had an adult male bird followed by two first year birds. Again check the bill colouration.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

They're back!!

I set off today with the intention of counting the Greenland White-fronted Geese down the Ross of Mull.
First port of call was to see if the Common Scoters were still around. Sod's Law, all four birds together when it doesn't really matter. It was nice to watch them feeding and manipulating the mussels and swallowing them whole. How do they break them down to get the meat out of them?

While watching the Scoters this Heron was feeding in the shallows and I was full of intentions of getting a shot. He flew off while I was setting the scope up 'another chance missed', I thought. An almighty 'squawk' announced his arrival back to the breakfast table. Obviously something tasty on the menu down there. A stunning adult bird - I took a few shots and left him in peace.

Off to Fidden for the Geese.......
These Greenland White-fronted Geese are pretty faithful to their winter sites. No sign on bird race day but today there they were. 32 birds in total which is down on last years high of 46. Also present were 4 Barnacle Goose, 2 Canada Goose and 30 Greylag Goose. These birds are notoriously difficult to get close to so I'm happy with distant shots. I did try further round the field but it was head shots only.

Also in the field with the geese were a few plovers. The Lapwings were well spaced out but I counted 28 (A huge flock compared to the 4 birds I have at home). The numbers will build though. I saw one Meadow Pipit and 2 Rock Pipit as I was driving to my next stop at the farm. I was met by 10 Oystercatchers feeding on the short grass and very close but someone else was there to greet me too. One of the working dogs came to say hello and proceeded to 'herd' the Oystercatchers away from me which, I'm sure, I didn't tell him to do- what a good dog eh?!
Time was cracking on so I started to head for home. I was flagged down by the farmer who told me there was a Glaucous Gull hanging around. Had I seen it? Nope. It'll be good info though.
I checked another location known for WF Goose and drew a blank. Plenty of Buzzards and Kestrels along the way and a stunning raven in full tumbling mode.
I checked Loch Scridain from various points and picked up 1 Guillemot, 1 Black Guillemot, 3 GN Diver, plenty of Shag, 1 Cormorant and no Eider (wonder where they are). About half a mile down the Loch I could see these 3 WT Eagles sitting on the rocks. Got to have a closer look don't you? The Adult bird is a male and the 2 first winter birds look like females.

Monday, 19 January 2009

It's a living thing..

Yet again the weather has not been too grand. Although it always looks fantastic it's not always the best for wandering about looking for things. I had a look down the Loch to see what was coming in the next half hour or so and it didn't look good but you only have to wait! Another check and you could see some blue sky approaching. Get the gear ready and take a quick shot from the door - that'll do. Todays target was to find some woodland birds.
I set off full of hope (always a dangerous thing) and thinking happy thoughts. It's not right to drive past good locations so I had a quick look for the BT Diver and the Common Scoters - no sign of either. There was a Buzzard sitting on a telegraph pole just down the road so out with the camera. I could see he was staring intently at the ground but giving a good switched on, attached to scope, line it up...and then he was off the pole into the grass. My, how I laughed. Vole in talons off he went into the wood.
That was my cue to go and do the same. The easiest place to find woodland birds in the winter is, of course, on the garden feeders and not in the woods. Into the wood and up the path only to find the path is now a stream.
I did hear a Blue Tit while I was in there but nothing else. On the way back out I was admiring the Beech trees with their moss covered trunks(wonder if they ever go swimming) so I give it a go with the arty shot.
No sign of any birds in the wood so a wander down the road might be better. After 15 minutes of wandering and only 2 Blackbirds to show for it I was ready to move on.
Another shot of some moss this time on a Birch tree. At least this stuff doesn't hide away! There were a few signs of budding along the roadside with some snowdrops coming up and the Honeysuckle is trying too.

Enough of the woods and back to the water. There has to be something out there....looooook a Dunnock in the scrub. I watched this little fella rooting away in the dead bracken till he decided it was time to go. Stunning little bird. The tide was just starting to drop away so the Common Seals were showing well. Out on the water but too far away for photos were 4 Razorbills, numerous Shag, 8 GN Diver and 6 RB Merg.

I could see the weather was starting to close in again but I had enough time to try for something else about half a mile up the road. As I was scanning around I caught sight of a bird in the bottom of the scope view, whip the scope back and you've got....nothing!! Switch to bins and scan again.....4 Black Guillemot in various stages of moult. They were feeding heartily so this was the best I could do and the snow was starting to fall again. I'd failed miserably with the woodland birds but there's always tomorrow.
While typing this post the view outside has disappeared and reappeared about 3 times.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Eagles galore!!

The Mull Bird Club had a run out today despite the prospect of gale force winds and lashings of rain. I checked the local forecast and it looked pretty good to me (moderate wind with some showers) until about 3ish. I set off early to check a few spots on the way to our starting point at Loch na Keal.
There's not a great deal you can check while driving along the single track roads but you always keep your eyes open so first on the list this morning was the regular ringtail Hen Harrier quartering the marsh out the front. Next stop on the mad dash was a regular WT Eagle spot and sure enough there was an adult male bird sitting proud in a tree. Carrying on with the selfish birding I headed for Loch na Keal and a search for a bird I missed on the Bird Race. A quick scan produced about 30 Wigeon, 10 RB Merg, 1 GN Diver and the target bird...1 Slavonian Grebe - woohoo!
I was first to arrive on scene at the meeting place and the weather was starting to deteriorate already. Best get some things pinned down so we could move on quickly. Gulls were easy sitting on a spit of land - Common, Black-headed, Herring and Great Black-backed with Oystercatchers and Curlew in the fields. A friendly Robin was wondering if I had any food - too early for lunch mate. I moved position to get a better view along the shoreline and there was 2 WT Eagle sitting on the spit. The rest of the Bird Club were just starting to arrive so things were quickly pointed out along with a shout of 2 large birds approaching. Another 2 White-tails - not a bad start.

With a nasty looking hail shower travelling towards us we headed off back to where I had the Slav. We dodged that shower and stopped to look through a flock of Greylags (nothing extra there) but picked up Blackbird, Song Thrush and Dunnock. Back on the lochside we had a flock of Teal close in, Golden Eagle over the ridge behind us, Mallards and Goldeneye distant and Slavonian Grebe up and down. It's never good looking for them on choppy water - we got 5 in total and also 1 Black Guillemot. En route to lunch we saw plenty of Shag, RB Merg, the odd Slav, GN Diver, Black Guillemot and a single Goosander. Star prize for the day goes to Barnacle Goose. They are usually on Inch Kenneth but today they were on the beach on our side. There was approx 80 birds.

We headed onto Loch Beg, my local patch, and immediately picked up a Hen Harrier, Stonechat, Lapwing, Little Grebe and a distant Otter. The sky was now grey and threatening rain - not much time left! Greenshank, Redshank and close views of a Kestrel and another hunting Hen Harrier were in the bag before the rain started. Cracking views of Shag, RB Merg and GN Diver were the finishing touches to the day and we dipped the BT Diver and Common Scoter - can't get 'em all. I had 40 birds on my list but there were extra birds (Sparrowhawk, Fieldfare, Goldfinch etc) that I didn't see. Another great day out!

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Monster bird

The weather is it's usual cloudy gray self and set in for the next few days with the wind increasing. Not great birding conditions but I'll keep an eye on the stuff outside the door. Speaking of which...a young White-tailed Eagle sitting in a tree close to the road. Couldn't resist the short drive down the road and taking a snap. Shame about the dull conditions and gusty wind.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009


I thought it was about time I put some up to date images on here. We've had a couple of grey days but this morning looked like it was going to be a peach.
Off I went to see what I could get shots of. As I pulled up so did this Buzzard so it was out with the 'scope and the camera and snap away merrily....not. I'm sure this bird was transfixed by the antics of the lunatic trying to photograph him. The lenses were all misted up and I was having to demist before every shot - what fun! It kept the Buzzard amused anyway.

I'd had enough of the 'wipe and click' game so it was time to check the Loch. I was hoping to get a shot of the Black-throated Diver but every time you point a scope at it, off it goes. I put my eye to the scope and there was an Otters tail just disappearing from view - did I imagine that? No, he was there heading somewhere with a purpose and that somewhere was closer to me. I had a quick scan with the bins to see if there was anything else I should be paying attention to and there was the trusty BT Diver making haste away from me but heading for the Otter. Camera back on scope in a hurry and try to get the shot - not a great result but you can see the BT Diver and the Otter in the top left.

The Otter was heading for a point of land a bit too far away and he'd probably emerge where I couldn't see him so I had to dash along the road and try to get in position. He was well into his breakfast before I was in position and, you've guessed it, the lenses were misted up again. I managed a few shots but he was chewing that rapidly that his head was always blurred. Fish finished he was off like a shot running towards me then a toilet stop and then into the water..bye! I watched him swimming away from me and turned my attention back to the Divers. No chance of any shots but the BT was still there and a decent count of 11 Great Northern Diver.

Next on the hit list were the Common Scoters that we'd seen on the bird race. A quick scan around and the Scoters were in the same area but the Otter was heading in the same direction. He had another fish so he was going to haul out again. He surfaced close to a GN Diver which skittered off over the surface calling away and that put the Otter off his choice of where to haul out. I left him in peace and concentrated on the Scoters. When these birds turned up they both had the white faces of female/juv birds but one of the birds is now moulting and it's a male - superb!

All of that in an hour was pretty good going so I headed back to base and took some snaps of this Redshank and also some hinds that are hanging around. Thought I'd leave it at that and try again after lunch.

I headed off round the other side of the Loch to see what was on offer. The usual Little Grebe, Lapwing, Curlew, Teal, Wigeon and Shag. I caught a flash of movement on one of the points and there was the second Otter of the day - back lit but better than this mornings effort. He was soon asleep with nothing to see but a bit of fur sticking over the rocks....onward.

I'd seen an adult Golden Eagle flying around earlier in the day and I was quite surprised to find this juv bird sitting proud and watching the day go by. You can see the white on the tail and the lovely golden head. This was quite a distance away - scope on 60X and camera on full zoom too. It won't be too long before the Goldie's are in full display mode and this one will be put in it's place. I was short on time so I moved on. The tide was well out and so were all the seabirds so I scanned the ridges again and there was an adult Golden Eagle but too distant to photograph or chase for that matter.

I tried for some more shots of the juv Goldie but the sun was behind clouds and a breeze was picking up. I headed for home not expecting to get any more photo opportunities - foolish. Red-breasted Mergansers are a pain to digiscope but I'll get a decent shot one day. Here is today's effort plus the closing scene for today's entry - a view down the Loch.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Bird Race

For once the weatherman was right and the predicted wind and rain was there in force! We, a team of three, headed for a coastal location for the starting point. It's hard enough to find birds in the good weather so we set our target low for this spot but you have to look or you get nothing. Gulls were easy enough with Herring, Common and GBB followed by Hooded Crow. A sheltered piece of shoreline produce Mallard, Teal, Wigeon and Oystercatcher the rest of the place was dead. A flushed Grey Heron, flyby Greylag and a lucky find of a single Rock Pipit with a single Skylark patrolling the edges of the seaweed. On the way to the next stop we picked up Rock Dove, Song Thrush, Rook and Starling. 15 birds for the first hour, maaan it was bad! Needless to say things didn't improve any but we soldiered on. By lunchtime we had 38 species on the list with highlights of GN Diver and Common Scoter.
As we set off again we immediately picked up a Hen Harrier, a good banker on a bad day. Little Grebe was next on the list with, yet again, just a single bird. The wind was starting to increase and making life difficult to spot the birds we desperately needed from the Lochs. Not a Merg, Diver or Auk to be seen on a normally productive stretch but we still had time. A quick stop at a garden feeder gave us Goldfinch and Coal Tit. A high point overlooking an inlet gave us the RB Merg that should have been on the list this morning but nothing else. Damn! White-tailed Eagle was easy enough with a female sitting in a regular spot and a first-year bird clearing the trees behind her and eventually landing right next to her. The young bird was a female too but not one of the adult birds youngsters as she failed last year. A Meadow Pipit flushed from the side of the road put us on 45 and we knew that the only hope of winning was if everyone else was having the same problems as us. A flock of Barnacle Goose, 3 Mistle Thrush and a single Kittiwake had us into the last half hour. The only thing we picked up was an Eider. A total of fifty on the day.
It was hard work and we had fun battling the elements but we didn't win this year. One of the other teams turned in with 60 for the day. 72 species were seen on the day by the four teams that competed. Here's to next year!!

Friday, 9 January 2009

Who gives a hoot?

After my last posting I had a wander round the Loch to see if I could squeeze in another year tick or two. We have a few Little Grebe that spent the winter here and I always fear they could become a snack for the Otters. I counted four Little Grebes out there and 2 Otters fishing the shallows but not near the Grebes. Good views of 2 GN Diver doing a lot of chasing each other and calling - either pairing up or 'get off my land'!! Travelling a bit further on I completed the trilogy of Divers for the year with a Red-throated.

So, who gives a hoot? Going back to 5th Jan I was standing outside admiring the view when I heard a strange barking call coming from the wood not too far away. I heard the call 3 times and then attempted an imitation of the call and out flies an Owl straight over my head. Bear in mind this was about 5:30pm and dark, the bird could have been a Tawny but the wings looked too long and I've not heard a Tawny 'bark'. I'm wondering if it was a Long-eared Owl (see pic). The Tawny's have been making a right racket every night, kee-vik, whoo-hoo, so they do give a hoot.
We went off to stick making (a shepherds crook or walking stick in case your wondering) classes last night and the hope of a Barn Owl on the way. Not two minutes down the road and Barn Owl was in the bag for the year, my 100th species this year. The drive back home at about 10:30pm produced another 4 Barn Owls and a Woodcock. Result!
Tomorrow is winter Bird Race day so hopefully a few more year ticks to be had there. It's going to be wet and windy so that will provide a challenge for everyone. Last years total was 73 species with 89 species seen by all teams.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

New Years Res

Well I didn't actually get to a reservoir but I did get out! Spent the days before and after New Year down in Somerset. Managed to see some fantastic birds down there...Great Bustard, Cattle Egret, Firecrest, Black Redstart and made the journey to see the Snowy Owl too - it would have been rude not to!
I've been following blogs for a while now and like many others I feel inspired to give it a go.
I had a quick run out this morning to get some local stuff on the year list. First on the list today was Black-throated Diver and while watching this the familiar 'chip-chip' of a Crossbill could be heard flying over then landing in the top of a conifer. 2 birds sitting pretty, marvellous. Back to the Loch and there is a couple of Common Scoter loafing, not that common up here! The Great Northern Divers were in good numbers and encouraged to call by the low cloud/misty conditions. I did see 3 Porpoise just before I rapped in for lunch.