Nature Blog Network

Uist – busy winter!

Well, new year, new list so we were up and out on the 1st January having challenged ourselves to see as many species as we could during the short daylight hours. First bird of the day as it was starting to get light was a Dunnock in the garden. We had a pretty relaxing day and didn’t leave South Uist all day but managed to rack up 60 species including Green-winged Teal which was new for our Western Isles list.

We enjoyed ourselves so much we decided to do the same again the next day and concentrate our efforts on Benbecula and North Uist. 61 species some of which were different from yesterday making our year total 70 species so far. The weather was crisp and cold but sunny.

Lochmaddy harbour, North Uist, perfect end to a great days birding.

Lochmaddy harbour, North Uist, perfect end to a great days birding.

The weather turned cold again early in January with more snow lying.

Looking towards Askernish House

Looking towards Askernish House

The hard conditions meant that the birds needed every bit of food they could find – where the crofters feed the cattle on the machair is just ideal and at times there were hundreds of birds there.

The machair

The machair

Well, new year also means the next round of BTO Atlas surveys – the late winter visits needed to be done for our allocated tetrads. It’s a case of waiting for a lull in the cold wind and getting out the first chance we have. The first Timed Tetrad Visit (TTV) we did in 2011 was at Locheynort – the tetrad here covers both North and South Locheynort. There were nowhere near as many birds, or species as back in November when we last surveyed this square.

TTVing at Locheynort with Ben Mor in the background. A beautiful clear winter day - sun and no wind!

TTVing at Locheynort with Ben Mor in the background. A beautiful clear winter day - sun and no wind!

A few days later we were able to do our other South Uist TTV, near to Daliborough and then we waited for a window in the weather so that we could head over to Barra to finish off the winter TTV work there. While we waited Ian did some jobs around the garden – he’s ordered 500 trees which will arrive in March so he needs to prepare the areas where he (we!) will be planting them.

The weather station is doing well, although on the 8th Janaury there was so little wind and sub zero temperatures which subsequently froze the anemometer for a short time!

Checking out the weather station

Checking out the weather station

We joined the Scottish Weather Network and our live data can now be seen on that website, as well as on our own weather website Askernish Weather

Scottish Weather Network - live weather data around Scotland

Scottish Weather Network - live weather data around Scotland

It’s surprising how a seemingly boring trip up to Benbecula to visit the hardware shop can turn out. As ever we always make a few stops on the way to look for birds. Loch Bee is always good to have a scan across and as Ian scoped across he spotted these just sitting on a small islet.

White-tailed Eagles, one with a wing tag - digiscoped from quite a distance away.

White-tailed Eagles, one with a wing tag - digiscoped from quite a distance away.

The wing tag was difficult to read even though it only seemed to consist of one character - perhaps a 1 or an I ? or maybe just a vertical line?

The wing tag was difficult to read even though it only seemed to consist of one character - perhaps a 1 or an I ? or maybe just a vertical line?

Well, the forecast for the 22nd January was looking good so we made a reservation for the ferry to Barra. The morning of the 22nd dawned calm although a little overcast so we headed down to the Isle of Eriskay to catch the ferry over to Barra.

Plenty of birds out on the water, many Long-tailed duck, Slavonian Grebes, Eider, Great Northern and Black-throated Divers, we also had our first Fulmar of the year.

Ian dropped me at the start of the two tetrads (2km x 2km) squares that i was to survey and then he headed out to the south-west of Barra to his square. I enjoyed the surveying although i didn’t see a single bird for the first 15 minutes until a wren appeared in the undergrowth nearby. I walked out into the square NF60W – a pleasant if quiet walk – in the first hour of the survey i only saw 2 Wrens, 3 Starlings, 3 Ravens, 2 Mallard and 1 Rock Dove. The second hour i added just 4 Herring Gulls, 9 Greylag Geese and another Raven. I really enjoyed the walk though, it just felt so good to be out in the wilds, silent apart from any natural sounds, wandering around on my own for a couple of hours.

A stop for refreshment by the "Three Bridges" - the furthest point of the TTV in NF60W

A stop for refreshment by the "Three Bridges" - the furthest point of the TTV in NF60W

TTVing essentials - field notebook, flask of tea, snack

TTVing essentials - field notebook, flask of tea, snack

The photo can't capture it but there was silence, not even the distant sound of traffic, just great!

The photo can't capture it but there was silence, not even the distant sound of traffic, just great!

My next square, NF60R, was right next door to the one i’d just done and the habitat was slightly different although it too contained lots of moorland. The west of the square became more habitable and there were crofts and gardens. Spotted my first Stonechats of the year, a pair.

Meanwhile at the other end of the island Ian was enjoying his TTV. He had drawn the short straw and had NL69J to do a 2 hour survey of. Even on the map it looked hard going – lots of contours very close together. Here are the photos he took along the way…

Looking down on the Vatersay causeway

Looking down on the Vatersay causeway

Quite steep and slippery in places

Quite steep and slippery in places

Ian found this amazing lichen on the rocky hillside - if you know what it is called let me know because i haven't a clue!

Ian found this amazing lichen on the rocky hillside - if you know what it is called let me know because i haven't a clue!

More lichen

More lichen

Sea caves (it is marked natural arch on the map)

Sea caves (there is a natural arch marked on the map)

Close up of the sea cave and there were Fulmars sitting on the cliffs

Close up of the sea cave and there were Fulmars sitting on the cliffs

Ian’s bird of the day was an adult Glaucous Gull that did a flyby while he was on his TTV square.

Once i’d finished my two TTVs i sat for another cup of tea then wandered along into another square, collecting some Roving Records – Sparrowhawk was a good one. Ian picked me up and we headed back to Vatersay, we hadn’t been there before so wanted to explore a little as well as collect some Roving Records. We found this at the side of the road…

Memorial to the plane crash in 1944 on Vatersay

Memorial to the plane crash in 1944 on Vatersay

Amazingly the remains of the aircraft that crashed 67 years ago is still there on the hillside

Amazingly some of the remains of the aircraft that crashed 67 years ago is still there on the hillside

Once finished on Vatersay we drove slowly around Barra stopping to bird in lots of places and had a big surprise to find a Blackcap in a garden in Earsairidh. We eventually headed up past the airport to Eoligarry and the sun was beginning to disappear. Then “what the heck!” (or words to that effect), there were zillions of snails all over the fence posts – were they hibernating there? I really don’t know.

On this stretch of road the fence posts were festooned with snails

On this stretch of road the fence posts were festooned with snails

Mmm, don't tell the French

Mmm, don't tell the French

Packed tightly together (huddling together for warmth?)

Packed tightly together (huddling together for warmth?)

We headed home on the ferry, the end of yet another great day out on Barra.

I had made a rather rash new years resolution that i would ring at Druidibeg plantation in every month of 2011. So, as time was running out to get a visit in during January and the weather was looking about as good as it was going to get, i was up while it was still dark on the 27th Janaury and set out with nets and poles to the site – leaving Ian still in bed and promising to put up and man the garden nets. Ah well, the usual quiet day at Druidibeg – i did think that i might not catch anything then a Blackbird blundered into the net – a female that had first been ringed there by us last October. Apart from a Sparrowhawk and a couple of Ravens i only saw four other birds and they all had rings on – a pair of Blackbirds and 2 Goldcrests. Ach well, it’s a great place to spend a few hours and Ian didn’t do much better in the garden :)

I haven’t done a ringing summary for January as we ringed  less than 30 birds.

The latest Outer Hebrides Bird Report is out and covers the year 2007. It is available to buy online at Hebridean Gifts for £11 including post and packing. The report contains all the usual fascinating information and photographs.

Outer Hebrides Bird Report 2007

Outer Hebrides Bird Report 2007

The last day of January saw us heading up to Lewis on the ferry from Berneray – time to spend some time at my house making sure that everything is spick and span and ready for what i’m sure will be a huge influx of potential buyers in 2011. I also wanted to take the opportunity to catch up with friends this time, although time still managed to get behind me and i didn’t manage to fit everyone in – ah well, next time. I also visited the estate agents and reduced the house price – for full details see Hebridean House (with option of croft) for sale – Surely offers over £115,000 for a large detached house with 3 (or 4) bedrooms which stands on half an acre has to be a bargain that will get snapped up very soon!

While away in Lewis i managed just once to get on the internet at a friends house and checked the weather station to see how the Uist weather was doing. Oh dear, it was the 3rd February and the weather web site hadn’t been updated since the 2nd February, what could be going on? The evening was a little rough as we had a gale and the power in Carloway was off for nearly 18 hours – thank goodness for gas cooking and an open fire!

Ian spent some time before we left Lewis to go and search for tits in Stornoway Woods – sorry that sounds a bit dodgy doesn’t it, i’ll rephrase it. Ian needed Blue Tit and Long-tailed Tit for his 2011 Outer Hebrides list and Coal Tit would have been a bonus as it would be a Outer Hebrides tick for him :) He left titless and disappointed.

The forecast looked good for a Monday return on the ferry, although on enquiring the first ferry of the day was booked. The smaller ferry Loch Bhrushda is doing the Sound of Harris run while the Loch Portain is in dry dock. Loch Bhrushda usually plies Eriskay to Barra so i’m not sure which ferry is doing that run – the old blue one? Can’t remember what it’s called.

We got home to the ominous sound of silence and a chilly atmosphere. The power was off. And, oh bugger, no internet – the hub was totally dead. We found out that a nearby lightning strike had caused problems locally – our neighbours hub had also been “blown up” by the lightning strike too. Our power had tripped off and the freezer had mostly defrosted – plenty of supplies of liver and bacon to be eaten up, great, liver, my favourite :(

BT were most excellent and we received our new hub just two days later. Luckily we hadn’t lost any weather data as the console has a battery backup and the data is stored in the logger and downloaded to the computer when reconnected.

Do you remember the Chaffinch we controlled here back in November? It was ringed on the left leg and enquiries with the local ringers drew a blank. We received news that it had originally been ringed in Barra during September – it had then travelled north to us which i found a little strange.


View Chaffinch Control in a larger map

Other, sadder, recoveries included one of our Blackbirds that was found dead by a neighbour and one of our House Sparrows that was found by another neighbour. The Blackbird had been ringed as a juvenile bird back in August and the Sparrow had also been first ringed during August. And finally news was received about a Starling that we originally ringed on the 9th December 2010 here in Askernish was found by our friend John 11km away in South Glendale just 12 days later on the 21st December 2010.


View Starling recovery in a larger map

We had a very enjoyable Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) outing to Loch Bee for our monthly count, fairly quiet with only 21 species seen, plenty of Wigeon, over 350 birds out on the loch. A lovely day and a picnic lunch at Ardivachar afterwards – can’t be bad for a winters day.

On the 13th February i was cooking dinner in the kitchen and shouted to Ian that there was a moth on the outside of the window, he dashed for a pot and we had our first macro moth of the year, a very smart looking Dotted Border which we’ve been told is a first for our 10km square.

Dotted Border

Dotted Border

So, that’s all the news for now – sorry it’s been so long arriving!

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