Thursday, 12 June 2014

Rub of the Green

Another lovely week of sun, another lovely week of wildlife in which the colour green featured heavily. Firstly on the Farnes; not a rare bird but a rare moth! Possibly a first for the islands and definitely a scarcity in Northumberland (less than 200 individuals) a Green Silver-lines was a lovely surprise in the moth trap on Tuesday morning!

What a stunner

Green Silver-lines

Then on our day off, Lana and I headed north to John Muir country park with the intention of a nice walk/the possibility of connecting with the Greenish Warbler. After a lovely walk in the wrong direction, we eventually found the site and saw the bird instantly as it samg its heart out twenty metres above us in a pine tree. Unfortunately the light and the birds location made photographing it rather tricky.

Singing away!

Greenish Warbler with striking supercilium!

The country park was also a beautiful place for a walk, with pine woodland, dunes and Bass Rock in the background, it made for a lovely afternoon stroll where we also spotted singing yellowhammer, Small Heath, Small Copper and Northern Marsh Orchid.

Small Copper enjoying the sun

Small Heath in abundance along the dunes

Northern Marsh Orchid

And to end with once again, which is in danger of becoming a running theme; something cute. In fact, it's another Arctic Tern chick. After a few days of hatching, they are mobile and very good at hiding, so in order to help us identify which nest they are from, and track them in the future, we ring them. This little fellow from nest 97 is only a few days old, and by the end of the year will be loitering around the pack ice of Antarctica! Truly truly remarkable.

Tiny life!

Monday, 9 June 2014

Moths and Chicks

This post does exactly what it says on the tin. Having been in Cyprus and returning to a mountain of monitoring, cliff counts and visitor work has meant that I haven't had much time for photography recently. However I have made the leap into the world of smart phones so I have been able to record some of the daily goings on around the Farnes. The weather has been pretty wonderful since my return, and this has meant plenty of opportunity for moth trapping. Using a 15W Heath Trap in possibly the best location one of these has ever been used (see photo) we have some very pretty if not particularly rare species, and below I include my three personal highlights; Angle Shades, Buff Ermine and The Spectacle moth (showing exactly where it gets its name).

Home sweet home. The mighty Brownsman Island
Angle Shades, Phlogophora meticulosa

Buff Ermine, Spilarctia luteum

The Spectacle, Abrostola tripartita 
And now for the cute part. Today saw the hatching of the first Arctic Tern chick in my monitoring patch, and I was lucky enough to catch the second hatching in action. It won't be long before these little balls of fluff are running around causing chaos for us as we leave the cottage every morning.

One down, one to go!
And last but not least, a Black Tern; a splendid adult that arrived on Brownsman for the afternoon of the 5th and posed nicely amongst the Arctics.

Very smart Black Tern

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Cyprus: May 2014 Part 2.

When we able to tare ourselves away from the Akrotiri peninsula, we spent a couple of mornings in the Souni district North West of Limassol. Just outside of the town we found some wonderful areas of scrub on the edge of some abandoned housing developments, giving the area a somewhat post-apocalyptic feel. Despite this, we were treated to some wonderful birds here, including Bee-eater, singing Hoopoe, Golden Oriel, Masked Shrike and Cretzschmar's Bunting.

One of a pair of showy Cretzschmar's Buntings

Stunning Masked Shrike

Cyprus Wheatear, plenty seen everywhere
To round off a truly memorable week of festivities and birding, we thought we would try our luck at Kensington Cliffs, just to the West of Limassol. I'd read in various places that this site was inaccessible and potentially not very birder-friendly. However we arrived, parked up and walked a few hundred metres to the edge of the cliffs where we were treated to at least seven displaying Elenora's Falcon at eye level as Alpine Swift soared in the thermals alongside them. It was a spectacular location for a spectacular event.

Kensington Cliffs

Elenora's Falcon

Very blurry Alpine Swift

Our final trip was a tour of the Troodos mountains ending in Paphos for a lovely meal. In the mountains we saw singing Short-toed Treecreeper, the endemic races of Jay and Coal Tit and at Paphos Headland very confiding Crested Lark. A lovely country, with lovely people, lovely scenery and lovely birds.

Short-toed Treecreeper

Crested Lark having a dust bath

Monday, 2 June 2014

Cyprus: May 2014 Part 1.

A week in Cyprus for a family wedding, it was impossible to resist a few early mornings for some birding, having missed the main migration period but knowing that there were some wonderful breeding species to be seen! Upon arrival at our villa in the hills around Germasogia there was a singing Cyprus Wheatear, Cyprus Warbler and Sardinian Warbler. At dusk two Nightjars were churring on the hillside, and these were joined in the morning by a pair of Roller which frequented the telephone wires around us.

Endemic Cyprus Warbler

One of the pair of Rollers

If being bright blue wasn't enough, they also show a distinctive underwing pattern.

Being so close to Limassol was ideal, so our first trip out was to the Akrotiri peninsula. First stop was Zakaki Marsh, a small pool and a hide, with 15ft reed on one side and Limassol port on the other; a most unusual location but an incredible one. We visited 3 or 4 times during our stay, and every time we saw something new. The list from the site included Little Tern, Ferruginous Duck, Squacco Heron, Glossy Ibis, Spur-winged Lapwing, Black-winged Stilt, Little Grebe, Wood Sandpiper, Citrine Wagtail, Black-headed Wagtail and Sedge, Reed and Fan-tailed Warbler.

View from the hide....

Two of the four Fudge Ducks ever present

Pair of Spur-winged Plover showing very well

Black-winged Stilt
Further down towards the sea was Ladies Mile, a long dirt track with some fairly grotty looking beaches on one side and some fairly grotty looking pools on the other. Despite the location, this site also provided some great birds, with four Kentish Plover and 12 Little Stint present all visits.

Pair of Kentish Plover

One of the cracking Little Stints

The last stop on the tour on the peninsula was the Phassouri reedbeds, another excellent site tucked away down a little track. It consisted of more gigantic reed with a beautiful grazing meadow covered with wild flowers, butterflies and birds. Here we found Wood Sandpiper, Cattle Egret, Glossy Ibis, Squacco Heron, Fan-tailed Warbler, Blue and Black-headed Wagtail and singing Black Francolin. The insect life included Goliath Wasps, Common Blue and Swallowtail butterfly.

One of many Cattle Egret

Blue-headed Wagtail alongside a Cypriot cow

Black-headed Wagtail, one of the group of around 10 birds

Distant Fan-tailed Warbler
Goliath Wasp (photo courtesy of Lana)

Monday, 28 April 2014

Things are hotting up!

By this title, I don't mean the weather. The sun seems to have got bored of the north-east and left, and the fog has returned, although it is slightly warmer! The prolonged easterlies mean that things have started to happen, not in a major way as yet, but in a very nice way indeed. For the last few days the island has been covered in Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers and Wheatears and we have had a mini influx of Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat. Amongst the slightly less common were a flock of 290 odd Barnacle Geese, Mealy and Lesser Redpolls, a single Common Sandpiper and Greenshank. Today stole the show however, with a male Pied Flycatcher and a Wryneck arriving on the islands, both giving excellent views.
Many of the islands Guillemots are now on eggs, the first Razorbill egg was found today on Brownsman, there are now a few Eider nests starting to appear and some Swallows have been prospecting St Cuthberts Chapel. We have also had our second clutch of Mallard ducklings, but none of them seem to be fairing very well at the moment.
With more easterlies predicted for the week ahead, and with certain places in the UK getting some mega birds, we are sure that something big will turn up shortly......

Singing Willow Warbler in the Alders

Some of the 290 Barnacle Geese

Very obliging Common Sandpiper

Lesser Whitethroat sunning itself

Mealy/Common Redpoll enjoying North Rocks

Stunning Swallow hopefully here to stay
The star pair, wonderfully showy Wryneck and....
Pied Flycatcher, equally as pretty!

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

When the wind blows from the east....

The migrants turn up. And so they have done, with some cracking birds over the last few days. The uncontested highlight was a Wryneck that was found on Lady's Path yesterday and gave incredible views for all of 30 seconds before making its way around the island and proving very tricky to pin down again. Alongside the Wryneck we've had a female Ring Ouzel present , plenty of Chiffchaffs and a few Willow Warblers (some proving incredibly tricky to separate), a superb male Blackcap and male Redstart, a not-so-superb Brambling, a Garden Warbler and a pair of Wigeon today. The more permanent fixtures include Robin, Wheatear, Song Thrush and a pair of Shoveler.
As I look out the window now, the weather is looking grotty and the easterlies continue to gently blow, which is a great sign for us here on the islands (in rare bird terms)!! We are all keeping our fingers crossed that the Wryneck was just the start of things to come!

Glorious male Redstart

Showing off his tail! Such a shame about the small twig crossing his beak!

Male Blackcap showing down to a few feet

Female type Brambling, sweet and showing very well

As for the seabirds, we have our first Puffin eggs, and the Brownsman team found the first Guillemot egg of the year, so the countdown begins. We are also expecting the return of our Arctic Terns any day now! The peace and quiet e have on the islands at the moment is drawing closer and closer to its end.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Gulls are in the air!

As is spring. With westerly winds, birding has been slow over the last few days, on both the seabird and migrant fronts. Aside from a few wheatear and a blackbird, the sunshine over the last few days has been a welcome relief, and also presented a great opportunity to photograph some of the resident birds on the island, and I chose to target the gulls. Somewhat unappreciated and often demonised, our resident gulls are clean, sharp and elegant looking birds. Our smallest resident is the Black-headed Gull, which doesn't make a particularly pleasant noise but is on the rise and is good news for the Terns and waders that they nest around, as they are great at seeing off predators. We have around 500 pairs on the island, including these two.

Black-headed Gulls reflecting on island life!!

The next step up are the Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gulls. And then top of the chain, the Greater Black-backed Gulls; ferocious predators which are picking through the islands population of Feral Pigeons at present.

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Herring Gull

Greater Black-backed Gull with its meal

In other news around the islands, Sandwich Tern numbers continue to build, and courtship is taking place, which involves some splendid dancing, offers of small fish and lots of chasing around, as these two are perfectly demonstrating. We have also had our first new arrivals of the year, in the form of 9 very cute Mallard ducklings, and we were delighted today to discover the first Ringed Plover nest of the year, which is incredibly well camouflaged on the rocks and allows great views of this wonderful little bird.

Sandwich Terns courting

Mallard and her ducklings

Ringed Plover returns to the nest