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

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

One swallow.....

As the winds have turned to the west, things have quietened down in recent days. With most of the lingering migrants clearing out and being replaced by the Puffins which made an appearance on mass today, cleaning out burrows and catching up with each other. A welcome migrant yesterday came in the form of our first Swallow of the year; and every year seeing them for the first time again always brings a sharp reminder just how majestic these birds are. Another big highlight was the discovery of an adult Iceland Gull in the roost, which then gave a wonderful fly-by as we stood on the roof of the Pele Tower. Other than that, Sandwich Tern numbers are increasing every day, and we eagerly await the arrival of our other tern species, and hopefully some nice migrants in the coming weeks!

Bridled Guillemot taking flight

Pretty poor record shot of our first Swallow of the year

Smart Fieldfare in the Veg Patch

Another poor record shot of the adult Iceland Gull, not doing this beautiful bird justice!

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

First eggs of the year!

It has been 11 days since I set foot on the mainland, due to fog and rough seas, but today there was a window and a shower was wonderfully appreciated. As we were in the harbour waiting to return, there were meadow pipits pouring over us, so we were eager to get back. On the islands at the moment are two black redstart, five wheatear, eight goldcrests and a host of over common migrants. There were two main highlights today, the first being a great tit, the first since 2005. The second was a water rail, which I was alerted by when it came and scratched on the window as I was in the basement making a shoe rack. Needless to say it was quite a surprise.
The other nice surprise today was our first shag eggs of the year. This is around 30 days earlier than last year due to the truly awful weather that was had in march and april last year. As a result of this, the shags suffered badly, so let hope that this year they will bounce back!

Black Redstart, Phoenicurus ochruros

Black Redstart, Phoenicurus ochruros

Northern Wheatear, Oenanthe oenanthe

Happy family!

One content seal!

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

First day of Passage

Today we saw the first signs of Spring passage on the islands, with at least 4 new goldcrest present 37 meadow pipit and singles of starling, song thrush and snow bunting. The Puffins are also back on the island in their thousands, and one of the places they enjoy hanging out is on top of the Pele Tower, where if you are very quiet you can get great views of them. The Guillemots have also returned to the cliffs in their thousands and are busy displaying.

Puffin, Fratercula arctica

Goldcrest, Regulus regulus

Saturday, 22 March 2014

First Day on the Farnes

Our first full day on the Farnes, and the weather has been wonderful and the first migrants of the year are around. Aside from the seabirds present, there has been a good movement of gannets, a blackbird, a rook and two snow buntings showing very well, as well as a peregrine hunting over the wideopens.

The Pele Tower, our new home

Inner Farne lighthouse

Pele Tower, St Cuthberts Chapel and the jetties

One of the snow buntings present today, Plectrophenax nivalis

Snow Bunting, Plectophenax nivalis

Friday, 21 March 2014

Training for the Farnes!

So, I am actually writing this from my new home; the Pele Tower on the Farne Islands. We moved out today, and it is safe to say it is a truly stunning place to live, if not a little chilly at the moment.
The team have spent the last week training in Gibside, and wonderful NT property in Gateshead. We spent most of the time indoors, however in the mornings and evenings we did get out,  and the variety of birds on offer was wonderful.
Below are just a few photos, but there were singing chiffchaff, treecreeper and crossbill, drumming great spotted woodpecker and the selection of birds below. Well worth a visit to this site if you are ever in the area!

Little Grebe, Tachybaptus ruficollis

Nuthatch, Sitta europaea

European Dipper, Cinclus cinclus

Red Kite, Milvus milvus

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Back home

So, back in Littlehampton for a brief period before our next adventure begins on the FARNE ISLANDS!! Some lovely  birds around, only a few minutes from the house in the case of the first two, the long-staying first winter Kumlien's Gull and the second winter (3cy) Glaucous Gull. I have made two visits now, and both times they have been showing very well in the harbour mouth from West Beach. Light was poor on both occasions, but I managed to get a shot of both, with a nice one of the Kumlien's showing the brown wash in the primaries and the obvious dark tail band.

Kumlien's Gull, Larus glaucoides kumlieni

Glaucous Gull, Larus hyperboreus

Our second outing was to make the journey up to Warnham, which is always a lovely place to visit, but this time with the added incentive of a Mealy (or Common, whichever you prefer) Redpoll up for grabs. We spent 20 minutes watching the Redpolls, Siskins, Long-tailed Tits and others busy on the feeders before the star bird arrived for a brief showing. I managed a shot showing the two pure white wing bars, overall greyish tones and the contrasting dark ear covert spot, all key ID features.  Also on the reserve was a Raven, many Grey Herons busy nest building and a nice pair of Great Crested Grebes.

Siskin, Carduelis spinus

Long-tailed Tit, Aegithalos caudatus

Lesser Redpoll, Carduelis flammea cabaret
Mealy Redpoll, Carduelis flammea flammea