Saturday, 29 August 2015

North Ron (23rd July-29th August)

Sigh... yet another long gap between blog posts and it will be particularly hard to catch up on what I've seen in the last month as it has been absolutely hectic birding here on North Ron.  Seawatching attempts yielded 2 Sooty Shearwaters, numerous Storm Petrels and a couple Manx Shearwaters whilst Arctic Terns numbered into their thousands.  Another Leach's Petrel was trapped and ringed on the 27th alongside many more Storm Petrels.  Nearing the end of the month the island began to feel the mid-summer lull in bird activity with only a few Redpoll, Black GuillemotsArctic Skuas and Bonxies to entertain us.  

With the onset of August, activity gradually began to increase again with a few Ruff and Golden Plovers arriving (many still in their stunning summer plumage).  Hundreds of Knot and Sanderling also began moving through the island alongside TurnstoneDunlin, Ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper and a few Green Sandpipers.  I can hardly contain myself with the excitement at the sight of relatively common waders in their summer plumage so watching hundreds of each on a daily basis is an awesome spectacle to behold and appreciate.

A few Spotted Flycatchers featured along the way adding a spur of excitement to some otherwise quiet census routes.  A Spotted Redshank on Gretchen was a good bird for the island followed by a surprisingly early Fieldfare on the 8th August and a Goldcrest on the 13th.  We were all quite fortunate to get a second stab at connecting with a BEE-EATER which Gavin found flying over the obs before heading to Holland House were all the obs team gauged themselves on its lush colours.

An AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER, found by Stephen mid-month kick started our efforts in preparation for our first wave of common migrants which soon followed the fresh easterly wind. The plover remained for several days and I encountered it on a few occasions, at times alerting itself with it's triple pipping call as it flew over with other Golden Plover.  I also finally connected with my first island Short-eared Owl whilst doing the nets at Holland House.

American Golden Plover

One of my personal highlights was chancing upon a MARSH WARBLER on the 15th whilst heading back to the obs one day to start my shift.  By pure chance I happened to see it perched out in the open on the perimeter fence of Beranha before it realised it didn't like the attention so became a lot more skulking.  Thankfully, proper confirmation came when Kevin, Stephen, George, Alex and I returned with a net.  It was trapped surprisingly quickly but despite taking several biometrics for separating Marsh and Reed the Walinder method failed at assigning the bird to either species.  Using the formula A-(BxC)=? where A=bill to skull, B=tarsus width and C=bill width at base of nostril.  We measured 15.5mm, 2.1mm and 3.4mm for each respectively.  This produced a value of 8.36.  According to Svensons, only six out of 959 fell in the range 8.0-8.5 whilst values between 4.5-8.0 would have confirmed A. palustris and a value between 8.5-12.5 would settle the debate on A. scirpaceus.  It seems this bird was a rare example of one that doesn't assign itself using this formula.  However, dividing the bill to skull measurement by the wing length (68mm) produced a result of 4.39 which is well in the range of Marsh (4.16-4.86) and well outside that for Reed (3.67-4.21).  Bios aside, we were all confident in agreeing that the subtleties in upperpart colouration, fairly pale primary tips, yellowish tarsus and bright feet as well as the general jizz suited Marsh over Reed.

The odd Peregrine has also appeared on the island, often flushing entire wader flocks making census a particularly challenging task not to mention the difficulty of sorting out numbers at log in the evening.  A Marsh Harrier also arrived on the island a little later in the month, producing some mayhem around the lochs as it would often flushed many of the increasing number of wildfowl including TealWigeonGadwallTufted DuckShoveler and Mallard.

Our first proper fall of passerine migrants occurred around the 17th onwards and lasted for over a week with Willow Warbler numbers topping triple figures.  Wheatears have also been trickling through as have a couple dozen Pied FlycatchersWhinchat and lesser numbers of Redstart and Wood Warbler.  I've also been fortunate enough to have found a few Icterine WarblersBarred Warblers and Wrynecks as well as getting to see a few of the former two and one of the latter in the hand.  Helping with the ringing also gave me the opportunity to ring an Icterine Warbler and Barred Warbler for myself after having seen so many in the field for the last few days it was a great treat to observe them at such close quarters.  A trapped Whinchat was a bonus bird to see in the hand.  An influx of lepidoptera has also not gone unnoticed with Painted Ladys and Red Admirals featuring heavily on most days alongside some rewarding moth trapping nights.

Mark Warren (the assistant warden) treated us all to another great find, this time a GREENISH WARBLER at Stennabreck on the 19th which took a fair long time to finally track down but after a few hours of our combined efforts the obs team were able to appreciate some good views and get the chance to take some pictures.

The 20th brought with it yet more good migrants but more of the same with the exception of a Wood Sandpiper which flew overhead calling, I saw a further three on the Post Office Flash on later dates.

BOOTED WARBLER, yet another brilliant bird, found by Johny on his first day on the island took several hours of booting around multiple thistle fields before it gave itself up to the last remaining observers.  It proceeded to show fairly well until dusk, gifting us all with a lot of smiles as additional reward for our hard efforts.  That afternoon a very happy small group of the obs team were watching Icterine WarblerBarred Warbler and Booted Warbler in the same field!

Booted Warbler

By late August several Icterine Warblers and the odd Barred Warbler were still about alongside a more recent arrival of Lesser Whitethroats.  A Garganey also appeared again amongst the Teal only to be flushed yet again by the 2 Marsh Harriers now frequenting the island.  A juvenile Red-backed Shrike on the 25th was my first for the autumn.


Icterine Warbler

Yet another flurry of activity occurred on the 29th when none other than Gary Prescott (the biking birder) walked into the obs!  It was great to get the opportunity to catch up with his adventures since I last met him down in Falmouth where I show him the King Eider on patch.  No sooner had he walked in, Mark phoned.  He'd just found another Greenish Warbler!  Five minutes on the bike and we were watching it hopping around on the wires providing us with some point blank views at close range in the open!  What a way to round up the month.  And we still have two more days of August left, anything can happen!

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