Monday, 26 January 2015

Oycxiting Times

18th-25th January
The Big Garden Birdwatch was a highlight of Saturday. In the absence of  having taken many other pictures during the week, I'll pepper this update with BGBW shots.
After a dark, windy winter it is still pretty windy, but getting a bit lighter now and there are a few reminders that it will eventually be spring again. Although Oystercatcher is not really a summer migrant, it is one of the many species that abandon us (Turnstone, Redshank, Curlew, Snipe, Purple Sandpiper and possibly a few Woodcock are the only waders that remain right through the winter, whilst passerines are limited to the resident Fair Isle Wren, House Sparrow, Starling, Rock Pipit, Hooded Crow and Raven, with the four common thrush species usully present in varying numbers, a handful of Robins and a few Skylarks and Snow Buntings often overwintering), so it was good to get one in the Havens whilst doing the Beached Bird Survey yesterday, the first on the island since 10th November. The BBS produced, amongst other more typical finds, a dead juvenile Herring Gull that had been ringed in one of the Fair Isle breeding colonies in July 2014.
Rock Pipit was an expected one for us, but counts as an 'other species' on the RSPB form, as there won't be many British gardens that expect this species.
Other new birds owed more to the bad weather than any signs of spring, with juvenile Iceland Gull sightings on 19th, 23rd and 25th and Glaucous Gulls on 23rd (and adult and juvenile), 24th (one juvenile) and 25th (two juveniles), with a bit of seawatching producing Little Auk and blue Fulmar (20th) and Great Northern Diver (23rd). Cold weather further south and south-easterly winds were probably responsible for our first Lapwing (21st) and Brambling (22nd) of the year, with the latter also the first January record since 2003, along with Golden Plover (20th-21st), a flock of 25 Twite (20th) and a small increase in Fieldfare and Song Thrush.
Not countable on the BGBW (it didn't land in the garden), but this Glaucous Gull (bottom bird) flew over, having clearly annoyed these two Great Black-backed Gulls, which harried it for some time.
Amongst the wildfowl, the Shoveler and 2 Barnacle Geese both lingered and there were 8 Wigeon and 2 Long-tailed Duck, whilst other species still present included Peregrine, Merlin and Water Rail.
The House Sparrow flock peaked at 11. They don't always stay at the Obs throughout the winter, but as we haven't been away on holiday, they've had a constant supply of feed, so haven't had to decamp down the island this winter.

Starlings were the commonest species recorded, with a peak of 24. They made amazingly short work of fat-laced pine cones and slices of apple.
Wintering Blackbird numbers across the island seem to have dwindled a bit recently, this immature male is the only one using the Obs garden regularly. The only other bird to call in was the wintering Robin (Rock Dove and Fair Isle Wren managed to miss our chosen hour).
Guillemots had returned to the cliffs early in the period as another reminder that spring will get here eventually, but as the wind increased, they dissipated again. The bulbs daring to start poking through in the garden are having a similarly stop-go start to the year, with fresh green shoots being regularly burned brown by wind and salt spray.
Preparing food for the BGBW. The Good Shepherd sailed fairly recently, so we've not had to rely on lard-filled pine cones for ourselves yet. Mmmmm lard.
The girls were quite excited and Grace managed an impressive 45 minutes at the window before being distracted. The culprit being ...
...a Fair Isle Mouse (a slightly larger form of the Field Mouse), which took advantage of some bird seed that had  been dropped at the back door.
As we cling to the few signs that spring is on its way, there's also the chance to relive last year's excellent birding, with an article on Birdguides summarising the excitement of breaking the Fair Isle year list record (subject to the various rarities committees accepting all the rarity records of course)  and start to wonder what 2015 will bring. We'll be running the Prediction Competition again this year, so get your thinking caps on (check the tab above for last year's rules, which I'll be updating shortly) and start dreaming. 

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