Archive for June 2012

June 6th – 7th – Knapdale to Kyle of Lochalsh   Leave a comment

From Edinburgh we drove in heavy rain to the west coast, fortunately it had ceased by the time we reached Loch Lomond. We drove through mountains and sleepy towns to Knapdale, an area of extensive forestry at the north end of the Kintyre peninsula.

First we headed to some nearby Standing Stones and Neolithic burial grounds and then to the site of the Scottish Beaver trial, an attempt to re-introduce these magic mammals to the UK. Having established where the spot was we continued on to Kilmory where we had wonderful panoramic views to the islands of Jura, Islay and down the Kintyre Peninsula.

Views towards Jura and Islay

 Having checked into our B&B we drove back to the Beaver site. This was not the open pond with surrounding woodland that I have seen at North American Beaver sites, but flooded birch and alder woodland with very little visibility. To make matters worse there were several Mallard families so the brown object glimpsed through the vegetation was not necessarily a Beaver.

Scotland is famous for its midges but I have never seen them in such numbers as at Knapdale. In spite of bug repellent and covering as much skin as possible we were still tormented almost beyond endurance. Margaret had to give up and wandered down to the main loch where she saw an Otter. Unlike Shetland there were large numbers of woodland birds, Willow Warblers and Siskins were abundant, whilst Lesser Redpolls provided a nice comparison with the Mealies we saw on Shetland.

 

The Beaver pond, the dam is on the top right of the pond.

 

I was back early on the 7th, crossing the Crinan Canal which cuts across the head of the Kintyre Peninsula I headed for the introduction site where almost immediately I saw a leafy branch being towed through the water. Sure enough it was being towed by a Beaver! So far there are four Beaver families in Knapdale. I really hope this trial is a sucess and is extended elsewhere, not just because it would be nice to have these mammals back in the UK but because of all the wet woodland habitat they create.

Early morning mist on the Crinan Canal.

 

A very poor shot in poor light of the Beaver towing a leafy branch.

 

Later we headed north via Oban. From Oban we took a major detour, heading inland to cross Rannoch Moor before descending into Glencoe and rejoining the coast road. We drove through Fort William and headed for our B&B, Glendale Lodge near Banavie, famous for its visiting Pine Martens. We didn’t have to wait long in mid evening a Pine Marten appeared on the steps. I was sitting with my laptop on my knee editing photos. I rapidly ran off a few shots only to realise the memory card was still, of course, in my laptop! That sorted I got a few shots, the main problem that this attractive mustelid came too close, some times only inches away on the other side of the glass! I can certainly recommend this B&B to anyone who wants to see this wonderful animal.

 

Oban

 

Pine Marten checking if it’s evening snack has been put out.

 

They really do come this close!

 

I was recommended this B&B by fellow Dorset birder Chris Chapleo. Who should I find at this B&B but Chris and his family, talk about co-incidence!

 

The following day we searched for Chequered Skipper, a butterfly whose UK range is confined to a 20Km radius around Fort William. I found one but in the strong wind and drizzle it only showed briefly. Our first White-tailed Eagle over Loch Archaig. Later we drove to Kyle of Lochalsh where we took the bridge over to Syke.

 

The Caledonian Canal joins Loch Ness and other lochs with the west coast allowing boats to pass from Inverness to Fort William. Ben Nevis, which at 1300m is the highest point of the UK can be seen in the background.

 

Bonny Prince Charlie had to ‘go over the sea to Skye’ but now there is a bridge. Well he didn’t have to go far by sea did he!

Posted June 22, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

June 2nd – 3rd – Shetland, the northern isles of Yell and Unst.   Leave a comment

On the 2nd June after birding at Quendale and East Burra, Paul took us north to the island of yell, where a Black-headed Bunting had been seen for the previous few days. unfortunately it had gone. Paul’s car suffered a puncture and we had to go even further north to the island of Unst to get it fixed.

We didn’t have enough time to explore the riches of Unst properly so we returned, along with Liz, on the 3rd and took a long walk over the moors to Seito on the north-west cliffs, then north to Hermaness, the most northerly point you can practically reach in the UK.

The weather remained cold with a stiff northerly breeze, but it was sunny and felt quite warm in the few sheltered places. We birded a few more sites on the way back but saw little except for breeding waders.

Margaret and I reach the most northerly point of the island of Unst. Behind us are Muckle Flugga and Out Stack the most northerly points of the UK.

The cliffs of Hermaness, at the north end of the island of Unst.

Nesting Gannets cover the offshore stacks.

On my last visit to Seito in 1982, we saw a Black-browed Albatross that had built a nest in the dip on this ridge, just right of centre. It returned here for several years.

Notice the green tinge to these Gannet nests. This is caused by discarded fishing nets that the birds incorporate into their nests and often become entangled as a result.

Gannets were constantly on the move offshore

Rock stacks and arches litter the base of the cliffs.

Lambs lie on the very lip of the abyss.

Puffins (or Tammie Norie in local parlance) used to sit on the cliff tops in large numbers but increased predation by Bonxies means they now fly directly to their burrows.

No visit to Hermaness would be complete without a visit to the Bonxie (or Great Skua) colony.

Bonxies attack anyone approaching their nest. They seldom strike but come very close and are quite intimidating.

This was taken with a wide-angle lens, you can see how close these large and aggressive birds will come.

And of course we had to photograph Unst’s famous bus shelter. Starting out when someone added a couple of comfy chairs for the kids to sit on, it snowballed into a fully furnished mock flat – with its own website!

For the Unst Bus Shelter website see http://www.unstbusshelter.shetland.co.uk/index.html

Posted June 21, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

June 1st – 6th – Shetland   Leave a comment

A typical Shetland view. Long sea lochs or voes, sheltered harbours and scattered houses.

 

Weather was mainly sunny but some showers were heavy. Rainbow over Sumburgh Head.

 

 

I will post photos about the southern part of Shetland in this post and the northernmost isles in the next.

Margaret and I flew up to Edinburgh and then with just an hour to spare we caught the flight to Sumburgh. I nearly missed this flight as they tried to confiscate the bottle of whisky I had bought at Southampton airport as a present for Paul. In the end there was a compromise, I left that bottle behind and picked up a replacement one in Edinburgh duty-free. This all took time and I ended up running for my flight.

Paul met us at Sumburgh and we were soon enjoying their hospitality in nearby Virkie. I have known Paul since 1978 when he lived in Dorset and his wife Liz since the late 80’s. and it was great to visit them again.

At 60 N the sun doesn’t set in Shetland until after 11 pm in June

 

The residual twilight is known as the ‘Simmer Dim’ and lasts until the sun rises some time before 3. It is bright enough to read a book by. This is the view from Paul and Liz’s house over the Pool of Virkie and Sumburgh Head. The island of Fair Isle lies to the right just off the picture.

 

We saw this Long-eared Owl on our first evening on Shetland

 

Our first port of call on the 2nd was Quendale, where we searched for and briefly saw a Subalpine that had been there for the last few days. we then crossed three islands (by bridge) to reach East Burra where an adult Long-tailed Skua has been present for the last few summers. The bird appears to be paired with an Arctic Skua. This is by far the rarest of the four skuas to occur in the UK and apart from one site in the Hebrides is known only from autumn seawatches in the south-west, I have only seen two birds in the UK both juvs and I was really keen to see this adult. The bird flew right over our heads and gave fantastic views. Definitely the best bird we saw in Shetland and one of the best of the trip.

 

Easy to separate from the dark phase Arctic skua (top) in this photo, Long-taileds are harder to separate from pale phase Arctics, or when both are in juvenile plumage. Note the differences in structure in this photo and that juvs don’t have the long tail

 

Smaller, daintier and less aggressive than other skuas, Long-taileds are sometimes described as feeding like terns.

 

With a circumpolar arctic breeding distribution and a pelagic winter range, Long-tailed are hard to get to grips with. The two pale white shaft streaks best seen when the wing is in shade (see above) is diagnostic for this species.

 

A few pairs of Whooper Swans nest in Shetland, the only location in the UK. Aggressive when breeding, they have been known to kill sheep that wander close to their nests. This pair had five cygnets, three of which are visible here.

Arctic Terns are abundant (but declining due to the shortage of sand eels) and like skuas are aggressive in defense of their nests.

 

Great Northern Divers breed no closer than Iceland but several summer plumaged birds remain in Shetland waters for the summer.

 

Ancestors of the domestic or feral pigeon, wild (and hopefully genetically pure) Rock Doves are common.

 

Wheatears are common breeding birds.

 

Sanderlings in breeding plumage are still migrating to their high arctic breeding grounds in early June

Sanderlings in flight

 

There is a large colony of Guillemots at Sumburgh Head ….

 

… whilst Puffins sit by their burrows at the top of the cliff.

 

Fulmars nest in abundance on the rocky cliffs. They have a habit of spitting a foul-smelling oil at intruders as all seabird ringers and cliff climbers know to their cost.

 

Closely related to albatrosses and shearwaters, Fulmars only superficially resemble gulls.

 

Paul, Margaret and Liz at Lea Gardens. Perhaps the most remarkable thing we saw in Shetland were these gardens belonging to Paul’s friends. With low temperatures, constant gales and high salt spray it is difficult to get anything to grow on these islands, but they have shown what can be done with time, effort and a lot of skill. It’s also a great place for Mealy Redpoll.

 

Posted June 21, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

1st – 17th June – Scotland   Leave a comment

Sorry I haven’t been able to update the blog for so long but Margaret and I have spent the last couple of weeks in Scotland.

This is just a brief summary of the trip, a more detailed account and photographs will appear later.

We flew on 1/6 to Sumburgh in Shetland via Edinburgh and spent until 6/6 staying with Paul and Liz Harvey. We had cold but generally sunny weather but the bitter N wind put an end to migration, Paul had expected a lot of goodies at that time of year but migrants, other than breeding migrants like Wheatear were almost absent. Over four and a half days we recorded just four warblers, one each of Chiffchaff, Whitethroat, Subalpine and Marsh! Shetland lies at the same latitude as southern Greenland so we weren’t really expecting a hear wave.
We dipped on a vagrant Black-headed Bunting that had been there the day before, but had great views of the adult Long-tailed Skua and saw three of the increasingly rare Red-Necked Phalaropes (a tiny Arctic wader) distantly. We saw one Whooper Swan on the nest and also a pair with five cygnets, Shetland being the only place in the UK where this species breeds. There were several sum plum Great Northern Divers offshore and we even heard one calling.
Hermaness reserve which is as far north as you can get in the UK was excellent as ever, although Puffins no longer sit on the cliff top due to Bonxie predation and Arctic Skua  is now rare for the same reason. Bonxies (or Great skuas) put on their usual vicious defense of their breeding area.

Just north of Hermaness on the island of Unst is the Muckle Flugga lighthouse and beyond that Out Stack. At 60 52′ this is the most northerly point of the British Ilses.

Back on the mainland we drove to Knapdale in Argyll where whilst being bittern by millions of midges, I scored with the introduced European Beaver. Glenroy Lodge near Fort William gave fantastic views of Pine Martin and to our amazement we found that fellow Dorset birder Chris Chapleo and family were staying there (he had recommended the B&B to me as place to see Pine Martins)
I only got a poor flight view of Chequered Skipper Butterfly, which is confirmed to a 20km radius of Fort William, mainly due to high winds and drizzle, but White-Tailed Eagle and Black-throated Diver in sum plum were compensation.
On Skye, a boat trip gave us great views of White-Tailed and Golden Eagle plus a close Red-Throated Diver (far closer and more photogenic than the 30+ we saw on Shetland). We saw many auks and few Manx on the crossing to and from the Outer Hebrides but no Storm Petrels. The Isles of Harris / Lewis were fantastic for scenery but quiet for birds. I expect that because it was a Sunday they were at church like the rest of the island, certainly all shops, garages and visitor centers were closed and there were no cars on the road.
North Uist produced great sightings of Corncrake, the long-staying male Snowy Owl, masses of breeding waders and distant views of a Golden Eagle eyrie. Unfortunately the Greater Sand Plover that had been there for several days disappeared just before we arrived.

The wonderful beaches and mountains of the Isle of Harris

We returned to the mainland via Skye and drove over and around the incredible Applecross peninsula, the highest road in the UK, before heading Speyside. Two full and two half days here gave us Red and Black Grouse, Ptarmigan, Dotterel, Ring Ousel, Slavonian Grebe, Scotsbill, Crested Tit, Goosander, Dipper and a total of 10 Ospreys and 5 Red Kites in the wider area.

The hard slog up the Cairngorm Mountains

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On a wet day we headed for the coast near Aberdeen where I got flight views of a vagrant Black Scoter but dipped on the King Eider. There were literally thousands of Common Scoters and Eiders on the sand or the sea, and with a stiff wind, rain and a crashing surf sorting through seaducks wasn’t easy.
We ended the trip with a visit to Margaret’s brother and his family near Edinburgh before flying home on Sunday evening.
A really great trip with far better weather than I expected and most of the target birds seen. I’m glad I flew and hired a car in Edinburg as we drove 1900 miles, that would have been 3000 if we had driven from Poole.
I have taken loads of photos, but due to other commitments, including those arising from a death in the family, I might not be able to post them on the blog for a while.

Posted June 20, 2012 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized