Friday, 29 August 2014

The Last Session

The final seabird ringing session of the year took place this week involving all the Fulmar chicks on Inner Farne. It won't be long until these guys leave the islands and get their first taste of the ocean, potentially their home for the next 60 years!!!! Fulmar chicks are feared by predators thanks to a special defence mechanism; vomit. If another bird is caught in the firing line of this oily mixture, it destroys the waterproofing of its feathers and can render it unable to fly. For us, it just means a revolting smell that is incredibly difficult to get off your clothes, so pouncing on them quickly is a must.

Fulmar and I

Lana, ringing with a view

As for migrant birds... well. A poorly timed day off saw us miss the first excitement of the Autumn, a Citrine Wagtail. With easterlies hitting we knew there was a risk, but didn't expect it to be that bad!! Having seen two before it wasn't the end of the world, but it is now a gaping hole in my Farnes list. Despite a nice sprinkling of Wrynecks, Pied Flys, Greenish and Icterine Warblers along the east coast, the Citrine Wag had only had a supporting cast of Willow Warblers, Wheatears and a single Whinchat (all lovely in their own right may I add).

Wheatear poses nicely.

Rock Pipit catching the light nicely.

The main highlight for us came from the sea (or over the sea) in the form of a Great Shearwater, a good bird for the east coast and only the 13th record for the Farnes. It showed well but fairly distantly as it made its way through the Inner Sound and continued its way northward. Unfortunately it was way too far away for a photo, but to give you an idea, I've borrowed one from Wikipedia to help set the scene.

So here I am seawatching and sheltering from the NW wind......

And this is almost exactly the image I was seeing through my scope a few minutes later......

Now I must confess that it was a little further away than this, but only a little.. OK quite a bit. Anyway, to keep spirits high in the face of  more less-than-useless Westerly winds, an unusual arrival was found today in the form of a male Southern Hawker dragonfly. This beauty is a bit of a rarity on the islands and is still reasonably local this far north. It was also very posy, unusual for a dragonfly...

Southern Hawker, looking confused as to his whereabouts

And that's all for now. Looking to next weekend, we are due more easterlies and with that hopefully more lovely birds. Until next time, here is a little puzzle. Spot the Willow Warbler.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Bertha batters

As I sit here writing this post, my view from the window is of a big North Sea, swell battering the rocks and juvenile Shags struggling to stand up. Luckily its fairly warm inside, although the window isn't completely wind-proof, from a gusting force 7 anyway. It certainly does not feel like August. These constant westerlies mean quiet days for us, both in bird and human terms, as the islands have been closed today. A single Sand Martin and a Kestrel provided the excitement. However, Roseate Tern numbers are building nicely, up to about 60 now, and they are incredibly showy. These very rare UK breeders nest just down the coast on Coquet Island where they had an excellent year, and we are reaping the rewards.

Juvenile Roseate Tern

Adult Roseate Tern

Juvenile still wanting food
Our other Terns are almost all gone now, and just a few Arctic and Sandwich Terns linger, showing very nicely with the Roseates down by the jetty, sometimes upside down.....

Sandwich Tern shaking off  after a wash

The recent high tides mean that the waders lingering on the islands get pushed up nice and close and make them a lot easier to count. Average numbers from Inner Farne this week have included 200 Turnstone, 20 Dunlin, 10 Purple Sandpipers, a few Redshank and a few Knot, including some lovely adult birds. Nothing as rare as the lovely Stilt Sandpiper that has been at Cresswell Pond recently however, and my photo below really doesn't do it any justice.

Redshank, Turnstone, Dunlin (not playing ball) and a lovely adult Knot.

Stilt Sandpiper with Lapwing

There have been a few nice moths and butterflies around as well. A few vagrant Wall Browns have been on the island, as well as a Painted Lady. Moth highlights have included Willow Beauty and this lovely Angle Shades that was sheltering in the Pele Tower this morning.

Angle Shades

Wall Brown (complete with wall)
Now we just long for these winds to change, to bring us exciting bird, butterflies and moths, before our attention soon turns to these guys.....

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Natural break

It has been a busy few months, but things are finally winding down on the Farnes as our seabirds slowly depart for a long winter at sea. Our attention now begins to turn to migrant birds, butterflies and moths. The Guillemots are long departed now, but I got this snap of an adult male leaving with his chick a few weeks ago. These two will spend 6 weeks together, flightless on the sea before going their separate ways.

Guillemot and Jumpling

Lana and I were also lucky enough to get a visit in to Bass Rock recently, and what a remarkable place. Seeing 150 thousand odd Gannets on a tiny island is truly magical and I can't recommend it enough. There were plenty of young around alongside their parents still looking very fluffy!

Feed me!!!

Adults courting

So back on the Farnes, and our sleep is being hampered somewhat by Storm Petrels. These tiny seabirds are on the move as the young seek out breeding colonies along the coast for future years. This means we can trap them, however they only come inshore at night to avoid predation, and this means setting up nets and staying up until the small hours. We have had a very successful time recently, with good numbers of European Storm Petrels and 3 Leach's Petrels (slightly larger and rarer) caught. These remarkable little birds breed on isolated islands in rocky crevices and sometimes burrows, and have a lifespan of around 30 years, amazing for a bird the size of a Chaffinch.

European Storm Petrel.

Aside from the Stormies, we have had a few Willow Warblers on the islands, as well as some Common and Green Sandpipers. Now we are waiting for the easterlies to come. We have also been busy trapping moths and recording butterflies, and top of the table at the moment are Red Admirals and Garden Tigers, both equally stunning. I also include a picture of a Burnished Brass moth below, as they are lovely and add weight to my opinion that moths are just as, if not nicer, than butterflies.

Garden Tiger Moth

Burnished Brass Moth
Red Admiral rescued from the VC

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)