Tuesday, 4 October 2011

A Shrike on the Horn

Today began with coffee out on the deck of the Principal Keepers cottage over looking Kirkhaven and the most stunning sunrise I have seen for a while.

There wasn't a breath of wind and I could hear the seals from the end of the island grumbling and wailing. The last couple of days have been quite interesting as it has been generally fairly still but with light east winds bringing in at different times a deluge of rain, thick fog (called haar round here) and a whole pile of interesting birds.

Jeremy and I have been torn between wanting to lookf or birds and get on with the long list of island close down tasks, So a compromise was reached where we have been wearing our binoculars every moment of the day and have got on with the tasks but just very slowly, with repeated interruptions for checking out birds (message to line manager - don't worry Caroline, all the jobs were done, honest). For example Jeremy spotted his first crossbill for his Isle of May list when he was perched on top of a hide that we were reroofing with a hammer in his hand. It was a close run thing whether it was the hammer or the binoculars that he brought up to watch it.

A redwing

Things started getting interesting on Friday late afternoon when redwings started appearing, these beautiful thrushes come from Scanadnavia to spend the winter here in the UK. By Saturday there were at least 200 on the island with similar numbers of song thrushes and also parties of robins and blackbirds. A load of rain later on on Saturday briought in more migrants including my favourite a great grey shrike whh seemed to like perching on the trumpet of the South Horn.

Great Grey Shrike

While looking for the shrike I also found this tiny treecreeper on the side of one of the fog horn buildings. Normally you only see these birds fly a few yards in the woodland where it noremally lives but this little birds had flown hundreds of miles on migration. It was exhausted and starving and immediately started feeding.


Sunday was a better day for weather and we woke to find the island absolutely hooching with birds. Mostly they were goldcrests, unbelievably they are Britain's smallest bird yet they were stopping off on the island to refuel and rest while on a journey of hundreds of miles. Mixed in with them were chiffchaffs, bramblings, blackcaps, whitethroats, garden warblers and about 50 wheatears. The bird watching was exciting as you just didn't know what would should out of cover or drop out of the sky next.


The calm conditions of last night and this morning were good for travel so most of the birds have now left the island and just in time as tonight it has all blown up again. A south westerly gale is now howling down the chimney, rattling the gates, sending spray across the island and generally making life for humans and birds more difficult out here. According to the forecast it will be with us for 3-4 days and this will slow down or stop bird and human journeys until the next bit of favourable weather but until then I will be remembering 1200 goldcrests peep peeing from every wall and bush.

West Rona this evening.

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