Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Swift as a shadow, short as any dream.

We’re currently being lashed by SE winds and drizzly conditions that have stopped the Good Shepherd sailing and the planes flying but haven’t stopped a whole variety of birds arriving. The highlight from recent days has been an Olive-backed Pipit on Monday showing nicely near (but sadly not in) the Double Dyke trap before moving to Gilsetter. Another interesting sighting was a Swift at Lericum later that day. Initial views of a relatively slowly flying, pale bird with contrasting wings were certainly enough to get the blood pumping a bit, but looking at the features noted in the field and from photos, it seems that Common Swift is the most likely option. An interesting bird none the less and comfortably the latest record for the island of the species (by about 12 days), I’m happy to receive (either as comments to the blog or as emails to me) any thoughts about it that you may have based on the photos below.

Seen whizzing around the cliffs just west of North Light, the swift eventually headed off west after being chased out to sea by a Merlin. Although never looking very blunt-winged, there were certainly times the wings didn't look very pointed either. Generally the flight wasn't fast (nor was it sluggish) and it seemed 'big-winged' at times. The whole issue of late autumn swift ID is an interesting one, with some identification features of Pallid and Common appearing less reliable than was previoulsy thought.
Although the dark eye stands out from the head, there doesn't appear to be an eye patch. The forehead had only very limited white (very dificult to see in the field), although there seems to be some discussion as to how reliable this is as an identification feature.
In the field the outer primaries were the darkest part of the wing and pale fringing was visible on the upper wing coverts.
The body pluamge was certainly paler than a typical adult Common Swift, but this would be expected in a juvenile (a plumage which is not especially familiar to most British observers). Pale scaling could not be seen on the upperparts (although I woudln't like to say for certain it wasn't there on the views I had) and the underparts were mostly not seen as the bird flew below the cliff top.
In this image the plumage looks darker than in the field and shadowing has created a darker upper-mantle effect than was actually the case. All of the above images have been cropped but otherwise are unaltered.
Today has also been a good day, although there have been no outstanding rarity highlights a good number of commoner birds has made the island an enjoyable place to be. Two Long-eared Owls, 5 Short-eared Owls, Chiffchaff, a few Blackcaps, over 50 Woodcock and 400+ Blackbirds in the North of the island alone show the scale of movement taking place. It’s quite hard to go more than a few yards without a bird taking off from under your feet – real good fun, quality birding.
That's one less Skylark for the Log - a Merlin also enjoys the migrants.
The last of the seasonal staff left on Monday, so once again a big thank you to all of the people who have worked and volunteered for us this year that have helped to make our first season such an enjoyable one. With all the staff now gone, it has left us a bit short of people to actually look for birds, but with Deryk, Tommy and various other folk down the island getting out and about I hope we won’t miss too much. With birds still turning up on the east coast of Britain and the south-easterlies set to continue for a few more days, there’s still a chance of another bird or two as well (and then after that I’ll get down to the office work!).

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