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.

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