Thursday, 28 February 2013

February 2013

With my workload significantly increasing this term and the deadline for my final media project getting ever closer, I thought it best that I had better get down to filming. So early on the 1st I made the journey up to the Cairngorms and began filming in the adverse weather conditions. It was pretty much a white-out on top Cairngorm but I nonetheless found 20+ Ptarmigan. I got a little footage but my camera was seriously struggling so I descended again. Snow Buntings in the car park peaked at 15. The remainder of the day was spent at Loch Garten RSPB with Crested Tits regularly visiting the feeders.

The following day I was more optimistic, the wind was just as strong but the weather forecast seemed better; perhaps I was in for a better chance filming the Ptarmigan. I had arranged an interview with the Ranger first thing and whilst that was in full swing everything started to go wrong. Firstly my microphone wasn't working and then I noticed my phone ringing: Dan Pointon. That only means one thing; MEGA!

Once the interview had finished I promptly returned the call; there was a bloody Pine Grosbeak on Shetland. There was only ever going to be one outcome here, I went to the hostel, changed my dates and made a casual drive to Aberdeen for the over night ferry. Surprisingly there were only three other birders on the ferry so we decided to team up and share a hire car. The next morning we raced to Collafirth shortly after first light and connected immediately! The brute was munching away on pine needles less than 10ft away offering superb views, and even occasionally flew down to the ground less than 4ft from where I was standing to drink. It eventually got light enough to take some decent photos. We spent over two hours enjoying this beast before heading off in pursuit of gulls.

At East Voe of Scalloway we quickly located the first-winter Ring-billed Gull as it came to bread, and two Iceland Gulls (a first-winter and adult) sheltering from the wind in a sheep field. A Black Guillemot was in the harbour there. The remainder of the day was spent trying to find something new without success; but who could complain?!
I caught the overnight ferry back to Aberdeen and headed straight back into the Cairngorms to continue filming. The weather hadn't changed and I struggled to get any other decent footage of my target species so I'll definitely have to return in March. In the meantime I hit the forests and connected with all the expected specialities (including Capercaillie and Crossbills) but failed with Golden Eagle.

A week later and I had an assignment due but managed to wangle some free time to go to Ireland for the day. Unfortunately myself and Stuart Piner failed miserably to see the adult drake Baikal Teal at Tacumshin Lake (Co. Wexford) despite searching the area thoroughly. Nonetheless there was a nice selection of birds present including the juvenile female Northern Harrier frequently hunting the marsh.

Once the assignment was done and dusted, I went back south to surprise Emma for valentines (who said romance was dead?). There were a few things I wanted to see whilst back in the south so headed off to East Sussex with Lee Fuller for the residing adult winter Bonaparte's Gull (16th). It wasn't showing as well as I had hoped for photography but I still couldn't really complain. On the way home we stopped at Goring for the Snow Bunting and then finally Emsworth for the resident Spotted Redshank; both were far more obliging.  And the Great Grey Shrike finally gave itself up at Beaulieau Road Station (17th) with presumably the same male Hen Harrier quartering the heath.
Being February I really didn't expect there to be much else going on on the birding front this month. I was given some work for the week whilst in Hampshire; very handy I thought, that was until the drake Harlequin Duck on the Outer Hebrides broke. Bugger. If I was in Carlisle I would've left for this bird immediately but in this case I had to wait till the weekend. It was a long week but the bird lingered on so myself, Kev Hale, David Campbell and Gordon Beck made the overnight journey to the Isle of Skye to catch the ferry to North Uist. Whilst at Uig we were treated to fantastic aerial displays from a White-tailed Eagle giving two Golden Eagles some serious grief for at least thirty minutes!

Once on North Uist we dashed to Balranald RSPB where we promptly located the Harlequin Duck diving and preening near off shore rocks. A truly stunning bird to stay the least, even if it wasn't quite in full adult plumage just yet. Unfortunately my photos of the bird simply don't do it justice! Also on the same beach was a flighty 1st winter Glaucous Gull, 20+ Purple Sandpiper, 200+ Linnet and Twite with what looked like a Greenland-type Redpoll amongst them briefly before the flock were flushed by a hunting Merlin.
There was also a rather convenient supporting cast on the nearby reserve with a Richardson's Canada Goose amongst the 1000+ Barnacle Geese, a female Ring-necked Duck amongst the Tufties and two white-morph Lesser Snow Geese loosely associating with Greylags; all of which contributed to an even more memorable trip!
Once home (Southampton) and recovered I had two days spare before making the journey back to Carlisle yet again. I managed a little birding with a White-fronted Goose at Tundry Pond (24th) but failed with a drake Ferruginous Duck at Blashford Lakes (25th), although a very showy Bittern made up for that! Now with this month quickly coming to an end - I hope things are going to quieten down a little to let me concentrate on my assignments.

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