Sunday, 27 January 2013

Funny Divers and May Ticks

You might think that in the depth of winter then island would be dead to birds and that there is no migration. But we found out on the island last week that things are happening and that birds can and will move at anytime in the year.

The day we arrived one of the most obvious island inhabitants were the woodcocks. These were pinging up from every wet gully and pool across the island. An estimated 50 + were there and our guess was that the snow on the mainland had driven them across the firth to one of the few places still unfrozen, wet and therefore full of food. We managed to trap one in the Heligoland trap and so Carrie ringed it. They are the most stunning of birds to see close up with an intricate brown pattern for camouflage to rival the female eiders.

Also on the island was a long-eared owl that Mark managed to trap for ringing. These birds look huge on the wing but in the hand they seem to shrink. This was a young female who had eyes that could clear a night club in Edinburgh.
 The fulmers were very evident, lots of them on their nest sites cackling to each other. They have a much lower profile in the summer so it was good to see them taking centre stage.
An unexpected find was when I lifted up a slab of stone I found a nest of hibernating house mice. They barely moved when I looked in so I tucked in all the feathers and nest materials and put the slab back donw so they could settle down again till the weather warmed up.
Another little mystery was this dead gull found on Fluke Street. It is a glaucous gull, a very large pale gull that breeds in the Arctic but a few winter around the coast of Britain. This was a first year bird that hadn't made it through the winter. It would have been a May tick for me if only I have been able to get in breathing again.
Some birds come out to the island to stay the winter, a few blackbirds, robins and wrens but signs that others were on the move and using the island as a service station was the group of fieldfare that turned up on the second day and also 3 twite.

Isle of May's first white-billed diver.

But most exciting was what was happening off-shore. Firstly we surprised a red-throated diver as we came to entrance of Kirkhaven and had a great close-up view of it. Later, mooching around the edge of Rona were a group of 3 great northern divers (a May tick) looking purposeful as they fished amongst the frailer looking shags. Mixed in were a couple of tysies (another May tick for me), black guillemots, an uncommon visitor to the island at anytime. But a closer scrutiny of the divers revealed another one that looked a bit different. Bigger, with a great pale dagger of bill and pale patches on the nape it proved to be a white-billed diver (or confusingly a yellow-billed loon as it is called in the States), a very rare visitor, an everything tick for me and a first for the island. High fives and air punches all round and well done to Will for picking out the beauty.  The next day a couple of cracking looking long-tailed ducks, more arctic visitors, wandered along the west side of the island.
So even in the dead of winter there are surprises to be found out there.

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