Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Birding in the north-east

Last weekend Dave and I headed over to the north east coast to do a bit of birding (after a visit to the book fair at the SOC at Aberlady Bay). Saturday was a stunning day, if a little windy, with fantastic visibility so our first stop was North Berwick to gaze longingly at Bass Rock. The number of gannets on or flying around Bass Rock was simply breathtaking!

After an al fresco lunch, Dave suggested tootling down the coast to the National Trust for Scotland’s St Abbs Head National Nature Reserve. We parked at the visitor centre and took a walk along the cliffs to the lighthouse and back. The cliffs are home to an extensive breeding colony of razorbill, guillemot, kittiwake, fulmar, shag, herring gull, the occasional oystercatcher, jackdaw and so on.

How many species can you see?

Out to sea, strings of gannets were flying low over the waves, heading towards Bass Rock, and in the surrounding fields, wheatear and meadow pipits were plentiful. Halfway to the lighthouse, we heard whimbrel calling from somewhere very close by and turned round to see two feeding right behind us. Their call is a wonderfully evocative sound and to see and hear them so close was brilliant.


When we reached the lighthouse, we realised that the reason there hadn't seemed to be massive numbers of seabirds on the cliffs was because we hadn't reached the main colony yet. The cliffs at the lighthouse end were teaming with birds, including hundreds of kittiwakes, some of which were very close to where we were stood watching them. Some of the kittiwakes were already on eggs whilst many were still nest building. 

Kittiwake carrying nest material

As we drove away from St Abbs Head, we were treated to the sight of a roe deer buck walking casually across the road and jumping a pretty high fence with such grace and ease. It didn't seem at all bothered that we were there and even stopped to look at us for a few seconds before sauntering off across the field!

After staying the night with friends in Northumberland, we went out to Cresswell Pond and Druridge Bay on Sunday and then stopped for a look at Coquet Island (from the mainland). This area has a cracking coastline that is home to so many birds. To name but a few, we spent the morning looking at avocet on Cresswell Pond, red throated diver, common scoter, gannet and sandwich tern out at sea off Druridge Bay, turnstone and eider just offshore, oystercatacher, black tailed godwit, redshank, lapwing (amongst others) on the ponds at Druridge Bay and puffin and possibly roseate terns off Coquet Island. The area was buzzing with swifts, swallows and house martins and whitethroats were singing away in the scrub.

All in all, it was a cracking weekend. The weather, for once, stayed kind to us (other than the fierce wind which made it a little cold) and the birds were very obliging. Even Max enjoyed himself!

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Fifty up

Having become completely fed up with all the wind and rain that has been preventing me from putting my nets up recently, I was delighted to see a forecast saying it was going to be both dry and calm today.  When I woke up, the forecast was correct for once and I almost ran down to the garden to set the nets.

The catch started nicely with a chaffinch and a couple of dunnocks finding the nets quite quickly. One of the dunnocks was a re-trap from my first garden ringing session back in March. Its CP was a tad bigger than it had been back then! A gorgeous male starling jumped into the nets next and for once, I found this one quite easy to age as an adult.

'Spotless' adult male starling
Two house sparrows followed, with the female being bigger and quite considerably heavier than the male (and yes, I double checked the scales). The next bird into the net, an adult female blackbird, was the fiftieth bird processed in the garden. Out of those fifty, only five have been re-traps. I was hoping I might also break fifty birds ringed today but unfortunately, the sun decided to come out to play and bring its friend, the light breeze, with it.

Lucky number 50
A couple of hours later, having had no further birds, I was contemplating taking the nets down and digging out the lawnmower. Luckily, I listened to my intuition and left the nets up for a few more minutes. Just as well I did because within a minute or two, the sun and the breeze went to play hide and seek behind the clouds and my garden became blackbird central.

Three blackbirds and a robin later and the conditions changed once more and this time I did take the nets down. One of the blackbirds was a re-trap, therefore leaving me short by two for my fifty new birds ringed. I will just have to save that milestone for next time (which, judging by the weather forecast I have just seen, may be some time).

Oh, and note to self (and anyone else out there who is as unobservant as me when they are mowing the lawn) … lawnmowers and guy ropes don’t mix! Oh, and just in case you are wondering, guy ropes also don’t mix with strimmers!!!