Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Seawatching, Nightjars and Petrels, Oh My.

Compared to the last few weeks at St. Abbs Head this one has been positively thrilling, comprising of three lifers, a unexpected year tick and a host of other feathered goodies. Okay so not all the forthcoming birds were seen at St. Abbs but nor were they located miles from home as most decent birds seem to be these days! Out of respect for the very nice "borders birders" that seem to have finally accepted me into their fabled cult I will mention no locations when it comes to some beasties and would just like to thank Fran and Dave for putting up with me long enough to show me some truly wonderful wildlife and some top notch locations! 

This was taken on my phone..
Beginning at St. Abbs then and most days this week have begun or at least ended with lengthy seawatch from the famed Black Gable. This is foreign territory for me with my previous seawatching experience comprising of a brief scan around Druridge Bay with a set of bins fit only for peering through my neighbors window.. If they could even reach that far, i haven't tried I swear. Anyways, it seems I'm getting the hang of it and though I'm yet to turn up anything extraordinary I'm well and truly gripped! By far the best of the birds noted from the head in the last few days were 2 Great Skua, a long overdue lifer (shocking considering where I live). Next a total of 55 Manx Shearwater were a pleasure to behold with some coming remarkably close to shore. 25 Common Scoter, 8 Redshank, 20 Sandwich Tern and 12 Oystercatcher all heading south were also pretty nifty whereas the best of the rest consisted of 1000+ Gannet, 2 Teal, the odd Curlew and a healthy dose of all the regular characters including Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Razorbills, Puffins, Guillemots, Shags and Cormorants. Not a bad haul eh? Just hope my persistence pays off and I can life tic Sooty Shearwater or Long-Tailed Skua before I head home in August. Elsewhere at St. Abbs thinks have been characteristically quiet though the first vestiges of Autumn have definitely begun to appear with both a juvenile Cuckoo and Wheatear testament to this. Hirundine numbers are building nicely with dozens of Swallow and House Martin now present each night whilst with the resident breeders appear to have fledged on mass resulting in an abundance of juvenile Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Rock Pipit, Goldfinch, Pied Wagtail, Linnet, House Sparrow, Mallard, Coot and much to my delight Little Grebe. Aside from these our long-staying female Mandarin was noteworthy whilst our lone male Mute Swan continues to raise the two adopted Greylag Geese

Away from the reserve and a text from a few of the local birders provided me with the chance to catch up with one of my most longed for lifers, the Nightjar. I was however skeptical about my chances having always thought of this species as a southern specialty, far removed from little old carless me. I'm glad to say I was wrong however and the expertise of the borders birders paid off and by 10.30pm I was listening to not one but four churring Nightjars! A first for me! Better still upon leaving the location I even managed a glimpse of one as it hawked above the heather in search of moths. The Nightjar site also came up trumps with some other interesting species with both Barn Owl and Tawny Owl noted not long after arrival and Snipe, Teal and Common Sandpiper picked up around a local flood. It was here where I also greeted by a wholly unexpected but sorely welcome year tick in the form of a cracking Wood Sandpiper which showed fabulously in the dying light, sometimes to within 10 meters. How could the night possibly get any better? 

Heading back from our productive cross border search we were presented with the opportunity to head out with some local ringers with the intention of tape luring and ringing Storm Petrels! Well this news almost send me into cardiac arrest though I was told not to get my hopes up too much given the presence of a heavy fog being honest however this did little to calm my excitement and by the time we reached Eyemouth I was skipping around like a giddy schoolchild. Well cutting a long story short my hopes were not in vain and the guys ringing caught a total of 17 Storm Petrels! 15 of which were trapped and processed when I was there. Now I was grateful just for the chance to see these birds up close having never one prior to this moment. So just imagine my face when I was asked if I'd like to release a few of the birds! I was honestly fit to burst. Three Stormies in the hand later (and a good number of selfies) and it was time to head home. What a night, nothing could have prepared me for the delicate beauty of the Petrels, made even more apparent when one of the wondrous little creatures pattered from my hand to my shoulder before taking off into the gloom! Amazing!

As you can tell it's be a good few days, providing me with perhaps my fondest wildlife encounter to date. I'll finish up with a few photos courtesy of my new DSLR (Yes I finally caved), hope you find them an improvement on my usual drivel.
Just about sums up my week.. 

Please ignore the gormless expression
Plenty of these beauties making their way to/from the Bass

Long overdue moth lifer this week too!
Meadow Brown looking.. Brown.

Not bad for my first attempt at "flight photography"