Saturday, 8 September 2012

Semipalmated Plover in South Uist!!

Lucky for me Johanne agreed to take Friday 7th September off work and look after the youngest, Freya. This freed me up so that I could try my luck at finding some stray birds in North Uist as the weather was set to be calm and sunny following the remnants of the hurricane and westerly winds from the past few days. Lapland Bunting over the house at Carinish brought the garden list to 94 species (since January 2012) and bode well for a good day out. I ventured north to Berneray and although there was plenty of stuff about it was all common. I spent some time scrutinising Ringed Plover and at one point even thought I heard a Spotted Redshank-like call although my dreams of finding a Semipalmated Plover were just that and I moved on checking various wader sites and stand of tress until I got a call from John Kemp saying that he'd located Andrew Stevenson's sandpiper from the night before, at Ardvule and it was a Spotted. This was enough to persuade me to give up the ghost and head for Ardvule in South Uist.
An hour later I arrived at the headland to be met with plenty of waders but no Spotted Sandpiper. A couple of other people turned up including Andrew and after some searching the mood became relaxed and there was far more chat than searching going on - that is until my phone went. John Kemp was on the line " You need to be down here"
"Where's that then John" (me)
"South Glendale"
"What have you got?" (me)
"A Semipalmated Plover"
I was expecting Sandpiper to follow Semipalmated so much, that it took a short while for this to register although "showing well" got the gears in motion and once sharing the news with the somewhat stunned audience present I hurtled off south.
John was on the scene to direct me and before long we were at the site scanning through the plovers. A few maybes were flagged up when I noticed a small, dark plover heading straight for us - and it was the bird! I don't know how John felt but I was pretty much on cloud nine and couldn't help but admire John's composure and analytical approach at nailing this bird. What a belter. OK not particularly stunning to look at but a 3rd for Britain and a difficult species to identify to boot; plus this one was showing well! It wadered towards us and probably came within 15 yards of where we were stood allowing all the relevent features to be seen and indeed photographed. MEGA.
Over the next couple of hours we got great views of the bird and heard it call a couple of times once it took to the air with a very distinctive "Chu-eett".

The fours shots above show the relevent features distinguishing this bird from Ringed Plover:
Pale area at base of bill where the white from below the mask extends above the gape line of the bill; plus distinct webs between the toes, especially the outer and middle toe.
It was generally darker and slightly smaller than the other Ringed Plover although some Ringed Plover (presumably Arctic ones) also were equally dark above. The breast band was dark and narrow and one of the easiest features used to pick this bird out at a distance amongst Ringed Plover. The white reaching above the gape line was visible through the scope on 30 - 40 magnification at around 60 feet and possibly more although initially it was a difficult bird to pick out from the Ringed Plover. The beak was also rather stubby and although the latter two photos show a paler base to the lower mandible this was very difficult to see. Even more difficult to see and not actually noted in the field, although visible in the digi-scoped photos was a narrow, dull yellow eye-ring.
The most distinctive feature was the loud "Chu-eett" call. This was heard on just three or four occasions but drew attention and was why it was found in the first place. Jk recalls that he had been walking near the bay with Sue, his wife the night before when he heard the call and asked what was that. Sue obviously replied that's a Semipalmated Plover! He returned the next afternoon and the rest is history. Well done John a real birder's bird.

Monday, 3 September 2012

The Moth Man that Wanted to be a Beaver

The lure of a day looking at difficult to identify macro moths at the Aigas Field Centre in Beauly accompanied by our very own Hebridean Moth Man was hard to resist; and so on a wet and windy Friday 31st August I found myself with Moth Man heading across the Minch on a rocky ferry. Birds and cetaceans were in short supply although perhaps the force 7 and poor visibilty didn't help much although Moth Man did manage to catch a breaching Minke Whale at the moment I turned to scan the white water on the other side of the ferry. Apparently it almost cleared the sea surface and made one hell of a splash as I'm sure you can imagine (as I had to) a 30 foot whale would do!
We drove through the highlands and got to our wild camp ground on the edge of the River Beauly not far from the field centre in plenty of time for me to hammer the pegs for the tent into the rocky ground well before darkness descended upon us. We enjoyed the local birdlife including Great Spotted Woodpecker, Bullfinch and Long-taild Tits (all rare birds in the Outer Hebrides) before setting our respective moth traps and retiring to the two-man tent. The next day started well with Moth Man out before dawn checking the traps to make sure no moth would escape or be eaten before we had chance to examine them, whilst I reclined on a rock that lay underneath the tent and my back. I was just about drifting off when a large clatter brought me round. This was shortly followed by a few choice words and I imagined that Moth Man had dropped his trap that he had apparently decided to move in the dark. Happy with this scenario I drifted off to sleep. As it turned out Moth Man had discovered a rather deep hole and stuck his foot in it. This resulted in a rather nasty fall and loss of skin to the hand and knee area. He put on a brave face and drunk some of his cold coffee from the day before although he did seem happier after I made him a bacon butty and a fresh cuppa. The traps were fairly quiet although mine held 2 Anomalous and Moth Man had his first Barred Chestnuts as well as various micros that he warbled on about for a while. We arrived at the field centre early and enjoyed poking our noses into the pre-set traps with one sheltering a superb Angle-striped Sallow. Unfortunately I don't have a photo of this beauty but will try and include one, once I get one from Moth Man. Some of the other delights can be seen below:
Barred Chestnut

Barred Chestnut

Blue-bordered Carpet

Dotted Carpet

Rosy Minor

There were many others that I failed to photograph which were very nice but I couldn't resist capturing a few micros which were well worth a look and unfamiliar to us from the islands.
Epinotia tringonella

Epinotia tringonella

Eudonia truncicolella

Ypsolopha parethasella

After lunch we had a talk about Pine-tree Lappet which is very rare and was trapped at Aigas on my last visit here in 2010. They actually caught two of these massive moths at the time and as fortune would have it, one laid eggs. These had been reared over the intervening years and lovingly cared for revealing an unexpected life cycle. The catterpillar basically takes two years as a larva and then pupates to become an adult moth in its third year whilst it's closest relations genetically can apparently manage three generations in one year. It is described as a pest of conifers in some parts of Europe and how it came to be in Scotland is very much a mystery. At the moment it occurs at such low density that it is no threat although once the Forestry Commision got wind of its existence they weren't keen on admiring it for its beauty and are to be convinced to its harmlessness; quite understanably.
Anyhow following a couple of short talks we headed off for a walk around part of Aigas estate which is when Moth Man realised that actually deep in his heart he wanted to be a beaver. Before I could mutter Ypsolopha he was down on his knees gnawing away avidly at the base of a tree close to a beaver's lodge.

Moth Man turned Beaver
Eventually I managed to prize him away from his new found lust with the mention of leaf-mining micros and news of an Acleris laterana. This seemed to do the trick and we quickly returned to base where we were rewarded with close, if somewhat brief views of a Hobby.
The course came to an end with discussion on the separation of Lempke's Gold Spot and Gold Spot and Mark Young promising to show some genitlia to Moth Man if he'd like to visit. The rain then started and we drove through Glen Shiel and Skye in awe at the most dramatic flash floods, as the water cascading down the mountain sides. Amazingly as we approached Uig the clouds parted and the sun peaked out just before dusk; behind was Armagedon!
Our second and final night was spent in Uig Woodland where I camped and Moth Man mooched. The morning brought us decent catches in our moth traps with pride of place going to Ypsolopha vittella which neither of us had seen before.

Ypsolopha vittella
We caught the morning ferry to Lochmaddy in somewhat drier and less windy conditions than we had come across in. Lots of Kittiwakes were seen around Skye along with reasonable numbers of Manx Shearwaters and auks. The mid-Minch itself was pretty quiet until we were just over half way across when a small flock of 6 Storm Petrels were seen dancing above the waves to the north of the ferry. These were followed by another 2 singles before a brief sighting of a close Risso's Dolphin. Finally as we entered the outer harbour an adult White-tailed Eagle was watched to the north, hanging on the wind before casuing pandemonium amongst the gulls feeding around the fish farm. A fine end to great couple of days.

Angle-striped Sallow