Thursday, 10 October 2013

August 2013

This year has been non-stop from start to finish with no signs of slowing up yet; and again this month was no different. But there were two trips in particular this month that were worth sharing. The first followed on from my recent trip to Mexico when I got the opportunity to swim with Whale Sharks; I then jumped at the chance to go swim with Basking Sharks off Coll and Tiree in the Inner Hebrides a few weeks later. An exhaustive overnight drive to Oban to catch the Mull ferry allowed us (myself and Josh Jones) to get great views of fishing Harbour Porpoise, and a nesting White-tailed Eagle. Moments later we were aboard a small fishing boat heading out towards the Small Isles.

The previous weeks trip out was a total waste of time, but thankfully the seas were alot less choppy this weekend and the waters around the northern edge of Coll seemed surprisingly sheltered. This was where the first of numerous Basking Sharks and a single Minke Whale were seen surface feeding. There were a few false alarms to get into the water where the sharks promptly dived and disappeared but once we had discovered the knack of subtly getting into the water without scaring them, it got surprisingly easier to get close to them, but Christ was that water cold!! Even with a 7mm wetsuit on!! Note the Jellyfish just below my hand that stung me...
I had only been back from Scotland a few hours before I started to plan another trip up there. Now the story of the Swinhoe's Petrel is a confusing one. After a drought of almost twenty years since the three Tynemouth birds from 1989-1994, a similar scenario seemed to be unfolding on Fair Isle. A couple of weeks ago Fair Isle birds obs managed to trap and ring an individual on an overnight ringing session. Needless to say this bird was seen released and never seen again; so no need to panic I thought. That was until the observatory trapped a Swinhoe's Petrel again. Rather remarkably a different bird. This bird was then trapped the following night, and then the next. It took a few nights of successful trapping before we twigged that this bird was surely gettable, which set the wheels in motion in try and organize a charter to Fair Isle late afternoon to return the next morning.
A fair bit on planning ensued and I eventually formed a hardcore team to fly up from the East Midlands early evening, where we wasted time around the obs till it was dark enough to start the petrel ringing session.
Unlike the previous night, there was not-a-peep out of the Swinhoe's till gone 00:30, when it started to sing and fly above our heads at close range but we still couldn't see it! A Leach's Petrel joined in too, and a good 40-odd Storm Petrels had been trapped. It was tantalizing to be so close to such a rare bird without seeing it and it just felt as if it would be one of those nights where we simply weren't going to be lucky enough and the bird would avoid the nets. More and more time passed and I was giving up hope despite the fact we could still hear the bird singing. Once again it flew around us, without us seeing it, singing as it went when the song came to a sudden end. A slight kerfuffle around the nets and a very pleased warden began to walk towards the hut with a bag, with a singing petrel inside it.

Once in the hut; this is what he pulled out:
Within a few minutes, the bird was processed again (weighed), quickly photographed and released; not to be seen again that night. This unique experience was possible one of the best highlights of my birding career so far!

Highlights elsewhere this month included the Long-billed Dowitcher at Pennington Marshes (Hampshire - 2nd), Citrine Wagtail at Marazion Marshes (Cornwall - 24th) and Booted Warbler at Climping Beach (West Sussex - 27th). August was pretty bloody good actually.
Oh, and I was at Pendeen on that infamous morning when the Red-billed Tropicbird flew underneath us below the rocks. Although the seawatching was good that weekend with a number of large shears passing, sadly the guy down the bottom of the cliff never thought to share his sighting of the Tropicbird until 30 minutes later. Once the Tropicbird had been long gone.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

July 2013

As soon as we landed, the Bridled Tern that had been frequenting the Farne Islands for a few days previous became my immediate priority. Despite a 10-hour overnight flight without any sleep, I was totally pumped for the long drive up North. I quickly resolved a few logistical problems which resulted in my mum bringing my car to Gatwick airport as time was limited in order to get the last boat of the evening.

Thankfully the roads were clear, and I even had time to pick Cain Scrimgeour up enroute in Whitley Bay. I have visited the Farnes a few times now and it is always a fun and enjoyable experience with the sheer number of seabirds. This trip didn't disappoint either with stacks of birds flying past the boat as we positioned ourselves between the archipelago. Almost two hours past before we got our first brief view of the Bridled Tern as it did a lap of the boat before disappearing into the Tern colony on Inner Farne. It was a huge relief to have connected with this unpredictable bird, but at the same time I felt very deflated with the very brief encounter.

Another two hours passed, and dusk was closing in before we were treated with another, more extended view as it flew out of the colony being mobbed by a Herring Gull; performing nicely for the small crowd. I managed a few record shots of the bird but nothing worth sharing.

Two days later and the shocking news of an Ascension Frigatebird on the Inner Hebrides got the heart beating for this was a bird many thought would never appear in the British Isles again following the moribund individual of 1953. Despite the chances of it ever being seen again being further than remote; myself, Dan Pointon, John Pegden, and Alan Lewis invested in a weekend on Islay just incase.
As expected there was no further sign of the Frigatebird, but it was nonetheless an enjoyable weekend with singing Spotted Crake, excellent views of Corn Crakes down to a few feet and by far my closest views of a male Golden Eagle holding territory at a nest site.
With the weather for the remainder of the month turning rather nice; attentions were turned to butterflies. These beasts were clearly having a more productive summer this year that gave me the opportunity to catch up (and occasionally photograph) a few species including Purple Emporer, White Admiral, Northern Brown Argus, Purple Hairstreak and perhaps the most difficult thesedays; High Brown Fritillery.
 Silver-washed Fritillery
 White Admiral
 Silver-washed Fritillery
 Dark-green Fritillery
Large Skipper
Purple Hairstreak

Bird wise, waders stole the show with a White-rumped Sandpiper at Lodmoor, Dorset (20th), Pectoral Sandpiper at Pennington Marshes, Hampshire (21st) with both Curlew Sandpiper and Little Stints there (28th). Three Spoonbills also frequented Needs Ore (1 ad, 2 juvs).