Monday, 26 January 2015

Local Haunts...

Sensational Starlings
Dad and I went to check on the Gretna starling roost at Rigg on the evening of 19th Jan. We arrived at around 4pm and noticed the main group of birds were quite a distance away to the east so we headed down another back road to find a suitable vantage point from there. Our first record was a female sparrowhawk flying in front of us and targeted some early roosting starlings in a nearby garden and the high pitched squealing told us that she was successful in tagging a bird. Later on some starlings on the wire were mimicking the call of a curlew which was just wonderful to hear/see. As the number of birds built to over a hundred thousand they performed some high intensity shaping from theoretically a peregrine due to the speed of the murmurations. An incredible display and always a winter highlight for me!
Starling roost viewing from Redkirk
Wonderful shapes, mother nature is the best artist in the world by a country mile!!
Some birds dropped into roost v close by.
Garden Records
One of our garden records of interest throughout the month were a flock of 30 plus siskin targeting our alder tree during the second week of January. Another record was five bullfinch taking grit off the driveway which included three cocks. Dad saw a grey hen (female black grouse) at the top of the drive on the 17th. A small number of house sparrows on the 25th is a nice record for the garden. Three lesser redpoll in the back garden on the 3rd Jan and a pair of mistle thrush regularly seen at the top of the mature ash in the arboretum at first light. Long-tailed tits were seen in a small flock once on the 17th heading towards the fat-balls. Up the valley I had a flock of over a hundred redpoll on the 20th. Common sightings were nuthatch, GS woodpeckers, robin, dunnock, robin and the three regular tit species. The first sub-song was a great tit on the 2nd Jan in the front garden.

Whens the next flight?
On the 20th Jan myself and Dad called into Carlisle airport to see the black redstart which was been there for around two months. Nice views of the bird and a new species for me. 
Black redstart at Carlisle airport
Castle Carrock Counts
On the 16th at Castle Carrock reservoir we had 30 wigeon, 30 teal and a female goldeneye before 140 wigeon and 120 canada geese dropped in presumably from a nearby shoot. On the 21st Jan we had 45 tufted duck, 5 goldeneye with goldcrest calling in the canopy above.

Stoatally unexpected!
Myself and dad were at the top of the drive getting in the car to head down to the local reservoir when a stoat ran across the road in-front of us and into a stonewall! It peered out and looked at us for a short spell before disappearing out of sight. I love encounters like that because it is difficult to go out and directly look for the highly sporadic species, its mainly pot luck.

Buzzard bonanza!
On the 17th of the month myself and dad observed 8 buzzards tight together soaring on a thermal column over the heart of the valley! We saw some territorial dispute with birds interacting and talon grappling. Later that day I saw a female sparrowhawk harassing a kestrel at the top of the fell.
Owl update
A number of barn and tawny owl records in the local areas throughout January and also vocal long-eared owls at the start of the month as their fascinating winter observations continue. We are keeping a check on the opposing fell-side for short-eared owls at low light as our chances of seeing them increases going into February. 

Fast Food!
On the 20th January as we were having lunch in the kitchen we got onto a female peregrine out of the window as it flew towards the house before making its way west back down the valley!

Thanks for looking :)

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Glen Hurich - Turn your clocks back 30 years

I started the new year off with a week long stay in Glen Hurich situated in the district of Sunart in the Western Highlands. We were based on the east side of Loch Doilet in Stag Cottage. I was joined by friends, Cain, Rachel, Andrew, Ciara and Heather as we set out to experience some winter wildlife connections and here are some of the highlights...

Shell-Shocked Herring Gull
On the Monday we went to the wildlife hide Garbha Eilean in the morning to observe the sea loch. My personal highlight was watching a herring gull dropping a common whelk numerous times on the rocky shoreline right in front of the hide. Sometimes the bird would get it wrong and drop it on the water but eventually he/she got into it and had a good feed while been very aware of intruding birds. We also saw a herring gull catch and feed on a common starfish which was also fascinating to see. Another record was an adult WTE with a satellite transmitter on its back. Other sightings from the hide were three otters, little grebe, RB mergansers, shags, cormorants, common seals and a female sparrowhawk.

Porpoising Porpoise
On the Tuesday myself, Ciara and Rachel headed up to Mallaig to go on-board Lochnevis the passenger ferry which covers the Small Isles. We just arrived for the 1020 departure and within 10 minutes we had excellent views of around 15 harbour porpoise with some animals porpoising just off the bow! Other sightings on the excursion were GN diver, kittiwakes, guillemots and shags. The vessel landed on the isles of Canna, Muck, Rum and Eigg as we enjoyed great seascapes of the inner Hebrides and its beautiful diversity. The dynamic weather was incredible to see throughout the trip with Atlantic squalls and sunny intervals providing amazing skyscapes! Calm trips at sea are good for increasing your chances of seeing marine life but rough days are a great experience of the power of the planet and the marine environment. Mother nature is not to be messed with, just to be admired. 
The weak morning sun breaking through nimbus clouds in the Western Highlands...
Lochnevis alongside Canna looking south towards Rum...
Liking Lichens
The abundance of lichens in the surrounding area was astonishing in every habitat we covered and some of the species encountered were dog lichen, tree-lungwort, common greenshield, map, bloodspot, devils matchstick, octopus suckers, ghost antler, blacktar, yellow splash, crab eye, sea ivory and beard lichen. 

Marvelling at Moss
Viewing the wide variety of mosses was also a highlight as they produced wonderful colourations in the less vibrant winter season. After viewing some ID record photos on my phone I think we saw redshank moss, flat-topped bog-moss, common haircap moss, heathstar moss and great hairy screw moss.  
Loch Doilet under a full moon...
Owl about that!!
On the Wednesday evening as we were sat in the living room relaxing with a natural history book when barn owl landed on the window still and was looking in straight at me! I reacted to it and by the time others looked at the small window the bird had taken off out of sight. Another unique moment to experience and not a bad evening of wildlife watching sat on the couch and having a barn owl in one window and pine marten in the other!

All Hail Mother Nature
On Thursday 8th we headed up to the district of Moidart and parked up at the 'raptor viewpoint' to scan the surrounding area. After ten minutes of persevering we observed a white-tailed eagle flying with real intent and just following on was a hailstorm moving at a great speed through Loch Moidart with the eagle just keeping ahead up the storm cloud! An amazing sight of the dynamic weather systems you get in this part of the world.
Tree Trouble! Andrew and Cain pictured
Dipper with a Difference
On Thursday afternoon we went for a walk on the south side of Loch Sheil where we watched two dippers feeding out in the open loch which were theoretically forced out due to the strong water currents in the networked rivers. We also saw goldcrests, treecreeper, two WTEs and a golden eagle.

Tree-mendous night out
On Thursday evening we decided to head out on a night drive to see what mammals we could get. We set off at around 2130, covering a woodland route in challenging conditions with strong winds and heavy rain. After travelling about 7 miles seeing a solitary tawny owl we headed back on our self when we were only a couple of miles from the cottage we got blocked by three spruce over the road. There was no way of shifting them so we had to go back on ourselves again and head north hoping the road was clear to take a huge diversion to circuit back round to Stag Cottage. As we got up close to Glenfinnan to the north we had a blocked road again and it was 1am by this time. After getting back on track again at 3am we took the long way round through Moidart dodging a number of small branches before the road blocked us again north of Strontian with Cain managing to saw off the top end of the tree with a handy device. We arrived back to the cottage at half 5 with no mammals except deer but a great adventure!
Female Pine Marten at the window, image courtesy of Ciara Laverty
Magical Mustelids
One of the main reasons for staying at the location was for the chance to see pine martens. We had some great views of baited animals on the window still but the best view was of a huge male in day time as we were walking on the far side of Loch Doilet. A beautiful charismatic animal that will hopefully continue to expand its range for more people to enjoy and for their integral role in ecosystems and grey squirrel control. 

If you want a wild retreat in 2015 to experience some wonderful connections with the natural world then Stag Cottage is an excellent option. You can enquire about accommodation availability on the website here -