Friday, 5 May 2017

Mull April 2017: Some birds

Visits to the Scottish Islands always give the chance of seeing some birds that we don't get in the |West Country. The Mull trip was no exception and we came away with a reasonable list of sightings. And here's some of the evidence but before getting to them, a confession.

One day I'm going to write a blog entitled 'Things that can go wrong when using a digital camera'. You name it, I've probably done it and this holiday was no exception.
Cock-up #1 (CU1): Forgetting to switch from manual to auto focus when needed.
Cock-up #2 (CU2): Forgetting to switch the image stabilising on when I'm using a zoom lens.
Cock-up #3 (CU3): Forgetting to switch to sports setting when trying to photograph birds in motion.
Cock-up #4 (CU4): Forgetting to take the right lens with me when I KNOW I'll need my longest lens.
You'll see examples of potentially good photographs blighted by ineptitude and one or other of the above. But that's life and I did see the birds in the feather: that's the important thing.
A Curlew to the left, which we see in Cornwall, and a Whimbrell to the right, which we don't as they are restricted to the north-west of Scotland. They are fairly similar but the distinguishing feature is the beak. That of the Whimbrell is somewhat thicker and less downward curved (CU2).
The larger picture is of a Black Guillimot, with pretty much the same distribution as the Whimbrell, and the inset is of a 'common' Guillimot, which we do see down west. The bright red legs of the Black Guillimot are a useful diagnostic feature (CU1 and CU2 -  a double whammy).
A Great Northern Diver, widely distributed but not common. I'm not that good at identifying Divers but the speckled back of the Great Northern gives it away. I'm always open to correction by those who know better (CU2).
Wheatear, one of our earliest migrants. A busy bird, always on the move and never stopping anywhere too long. More often than not you only see it from the back, which is useful as its white rump is a clear feature (CU2, CU4 with a touch of CU3 as well).
I mentioned previously that we went Sea Eagle;White Tailed Eagle spotting at an RSPB hide in Glen Tiororan. Did we see any? Sort of. The fixed telescopes at the hide enabled us to spot a bird on the nest but, as it was about 3/4 mile away, it was impossible to get a decent photograph. The above is as as good as I got: it could have been better but this black flying arrow kept getting in the way. Some purists are somewhat sniffy about this type of organised viewing but we enjoyed it. It got us out into the countryside and we learnt a lot about the habits of the birds from the resident RSPB warden. We also saw at first hand how our RSPB membership subscription was being spent (CU4).
But when we were returning from our boat trip, we did motor past a Sea Eagle's nest quite near the shore. One of the birds conveniently sat on a tree stump for a while until it flapped off to escape from some irritating crows (CU4).
The huge nest was in a nearby tree, with the other bird of the pair sitting on their eggs (CU4).
Sea Eagle in flight, with the white tail and yellow beak clearly visible (CU3).
A composite of shots of the bird as it tried to escape from the marauding crows. These are big birds, the largest in the UK by far, with an eight foot wing span. Camera settings were OK for this set but the sun was in the wrong place.
On the island of Lungha we were fortunate to be able to get close to a few shags on a cliff top. They didn't seem to mind us eating our sandwiches a few yards from them. Here is one showing off the 'courting' tuft of feathers very nicely.
We had a great view of the courtship behaviour of the birds, with foot drumming, beak displays, throat clicking and general 'look at me, I'm great' posturing. The females looked impassive as the males preened and ponced about but isn't that always the way?
No trip to the islands would be complete without Puffins and we saw lots of them. It's always a delight to see them up close and they never seem to be perturbed by the presence of people gawking at them.
Puffins coexist quite happily with rabbits. They don't share the same burrows but they do live side by side without any problems. I wish we could have lingered longer on Lungha.

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