Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Otter on Benbecula

It's not always easy to find otters in the Outer Hebrides although you regularly bump into them when you're least expecting to. Today was one of those days and although the light was poor and my two small sprogs, Finlay (age 6) and Freya (age 3) were there to help, it did show very well; well enough to get a couple of shots.

Finlay also enjoyed the site of the otter rolling in a rock pool, getting quite excited as it tackled various crabs and eels. Freya on the other hand was more interested in the tennis ball we'd found and took to splashing in a puddle. I took the opportunity to creep a little closer as the otter devoured a catch on a rock. It appeared completely oblivious to my approach as it munched away although once finished it became alert and obviously knew something wasn't quite right as when it returned to feed, it took a route away from my crouched position.

We managed to watch it for a total of around 20 minutes just after mid-day and typically a couple of hours after high tide. This isn't always the case and activity varies with tide height and from day to day at different feeding grounds. Slowly but surely the notes taken on regular observations throughout the last few years and from surveys to identify hot spots of otter activity to avoid disturbance during developments; are helping build a picture of where best to find them and at what time.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Eagles and Otters

Out again today and our first stop produced 3 otters feeding in a freshwater loch on Benbecula. Initially difficult to see as they were feeding under the semi-emergent vegetation before they came out on the bank and lolloped around in an exuberant manner. They re-entered the loch to fish with one of the two youngsters showing well chasing and catching eels around a rock promontory before finally disappearing on a small vegetated island. In all we probably watched their escapades for 30 - 40 minutes before moving on to North Uist. Short-eared Owls appeared in good numbers as well as a couple of male Hen Harriers before once again we located another family of otters with 2 youngsters.

After around half an hour of watching the family feeding and running around on a small rocky island the 2 youngsters decided to swim to our side of the tidal inlet. The 2 of them gave excellent views as they swam through the aqua-marine waters stopping to feed on small fish within 30 feet of the shore. Eventually they appeared to hear the shutter of the camera clicking and they headed back towards the haven of their rocky island, calling for mum as they swam. They clambered out on the rocks and after a short grooming session settled down to snooze in a tangle of furry bodies.
Following this was going to be difficult but our Golden Eagle sighting was also something quite special. The first bird rose to the south of us providing us with good views as it sailed past our elevated position. Without a wing beat it soared away into the distance where it began to circle and was joined by a second larger bird, the female of the pair. They circled for a while before one suddenly folded it's wings and began to rocket towards the moor in a shallow stoop. Close to the ground it pulled up at the last minute as a female Hen Harrier twisted out of reach. The second eagle joined in the pursuit stooping at the harrier as it desperately tried to evade both birds. There was another attempt by the eagles to catch the harrier but each time the harrier managed to out manoeuvre them. After a frantic few mintues as the eagles circled the harrier managed to gain some height and eventually spiral up on a thermal above it's attackers. Almost at cloud height the harrier folded its wings and left the scene as fast as it could leaving the eagles behind.

One of the best things about being out in the field showing people the wildlife of the islands is that every now and then you witness a piece of fascintaing behaviour which allows a little more insight into the lives of the animals of the islands.

Western Isles Wildlife

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Wildlife Day Tour in Benbecula and South Uist

Fine weather and decent day out looking at the wildlife with many of the beasties that Uist is renowned for: 3 otters showing well for over half an hour was a good start followed by a pair of Black-throated Divers with a chick and 2 Golden Eagles circling over a low hill. Add to that good numbers of Red-throated Divers, an immature White-tailed Eagle, a Merlin and a couple of Short-eared Owls and most people would be happy (I was). Also spotted during the day were Corn Bunting (still showing a worrying decline); 3 Black-tailed Godwits, Sanderling, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Lapwing plus plenty of Arctic and Common Terns amongst others. What was also pleasing was the good numbers of young birds about with what appear to be good survival rates this year. At Stoneybridge we found a Red-breasted Mergsanser with 11, well grown young which seems astonishing with all the large gulls that are normally found in the area.

At Drimsdale young Sand Martins were on the wing with this relatively new colony growing from strength to strength after an absence of around 20 years as a breeding species in the Outer Hebrides.

The wildflowers were also striking with many of the roadside verges adorned with vetches whilst the machair crops had an abundance of wildflowers such as Corn Marigold, Charlock and Long-headed Poppies. Orchids included Hebridean Spotted Orchid and Lesser Butterfly Orchid whilst at Drimsdale we found Rest Harrow in bloom. The latter is found in just two locations throughout the whole of the county.

All in all a very pleasant day out: Western Isles Wildlife

Friday, 13 July 2012

Mega in Stinky Bay

Although the lack of sleep was catching up on me from the continuous tour leading I found myself in a somewhat brighter than normal mood on 8th June. There was nothing exceptional about the day, it was sunny with a warm breeze blowing from the east and the minibus back door was jammed shut whilst the engine started without a hitch. All was pretty normal until we ( me and a group from Travelling Naturalist) pulled up at Stinky Bay on the west side of Benbecula. I was pointing out a couple of close Whimbrel on the beach when I noticed a pale bird amongst the mixed flock of smaller waders further up the beach. It appeared to have some rich orange colouring around the neck and was a little larger than the accompnaying Dunlin and Ringed Plover. My scope was kindly passed over and I balaned it on the dash of the bus so I could steady it whilst my heart began to beat a little quicker. I focussed in on the mystery wader and could hardly believe the words that came out of my own mouth “It’s a sand plover”. There was a cacophany of questions but by this time I was out the door with my tripod and attempting to ascertain which species of sand plover we had. The heavy bill and leggy look pointed to Greater Sand Plover and once we had creapt a little closer in the bus my suspicions were confirmed; a real knee-trembler! During the next half an hour we managed to secure a number of photos and a couple of people arrived to admire the bird although around 10 am it flew inland, seperatiing from the main group of waders much to the disappointment of a number of others who arrived just a little too late.
Luckily this mega was relocated in a nearby field late in the evening and showed well on and off in Stinky Bay during the next day (see Gary Waddington’s blog). We went on to have an excellent day’s birding on the 8th with excellent views of a pair of Red-necked Phalaropes, a 1st yr Little Gull at Balranald, 2 showy Corncrakes, an immature Iceland Gull at Loch na Reivil, an Osprey over the main road, a scattering of male Hen Harriers and a fine adult Golden Eagle.