30 Oct 2015

23 Oct 15 - Blue Friday

One of my favourite early 80s classics was New Order's Blue Monday. But today, I had a call from Sussex Butterfly mate, Neil Hulme, to say it was Blue Friday. This immediately got the alarm bells ringing. I was cooking some lunch at the time, but within fifteen minutes I had finished cooking, bolted down the food, grabbed the cameras & was walking out to the car. Next stop Beeding cement factory site, near Shoreham-by-sea. Guess I had better explain. Neil has been keeping a close eye out over the last few weeks for Long-tailed Blues hatching out. Earlier in the Autumn, there had been an arrival of Long-tailed Blues, a rare migratory European Butterfly, into Kent & Sussex. Neil had been checking the foodplant, Broad-leaved Everlasting Peas, at a number of locations & found a good number of eggs. After that it was a case of waiting to see if any of these hatched into Butterflies. Apparently, the caterpillars spend all their lives in the flowers & pea pods. As a result, it is unlikely that there will be any sightings after the eggs have hatched, until the Butterflies appear.
Long-tailed Blue: Female. Roosting on a pea pod
It is only 110 miles & should have been no more than two hours drive, but it was a Friday afternoon leading into a half term & the roads were clogged at every point. As I got closer, I had several calls from Neil to confirm how close I was, as he was waiting to show me the roosting Long-tailed Blue. But he really needed to leave as he was taking his better half out that evening. Finally, I arrived & we had a quick chat & Neil was off, while I was left to photograph the Long-tailed Blue. I had chance to play around with the camera's built in flash, which I've hardly used in the two years of having the camera. But the light was fading as there was less than an hour of light left. Eventually, I was happy with the photos & left the Long-tailed Blue roosting. Glad to say it was seen on the next couple of days, although it did disappear after a male was seen. So perhaps some Butterfly hanky-panky & the female was heading South.
Long-tailed Blue: Female. With the recent cold NE winds I had been losing confidence that any would hatch out. But was happy to be proved wrong & to see my first Long-tailed Blue
In most Butterflies, I understand that males are likely to hatch out first, so they are ready for when the females emerge. But with the final brood of Long-tailed Blues, the first out are the females & they are waiting for a male to hatch. Once they have mated, it is believed the females will then leave the site & be heading South so the next batch of eggs will be laid in a more benign climate.

29 Oct 2015

17 Oct 15 - My Favourite Scottish Castle

I've made a number of trips over the last decade to the Western Isles & the route nearly always takes me past my favourite Scottish castle: Eilean Donan Castle. It is just to the South of Kyle of Lochalsh, which is the town with the bridge to Isle of Skye.
Eilean Donan Castle: Looking superb in the darkness
Apparently, the first fortified castle was built in the mid 13th century with four subsequent major rebuilds to it. It was partially destroyed during the Jacobite uprising in 1719 & was left as a ruin, until the castle & island was bought in 1911 & the castle was rebuilt. It is now open to the public from Feb to Dec. More information of the castle's history can be found here.
Eilean Donan Castle: This is what it looks like in the day (5 June 12)
Eilean Donan Castle: One of these days I will have to plan to pass the castle during the day when it is open & I'm not heading off to catch a ferry (5 June 12)
Eilean Donan Castle: (5 June 12)

28 Oct 2015

17 Oct 15 - Common Dolphins

After the day on Berneray & North Uist, I caught the mid afternoon ferry back to Uig, Skye. Ideally, I would have had another day on North Uist, but I couldn't get reservation on the ferry for the car on the 18 Oct.
The Hebrides: The regular Calmac ferry coming into Lochmaddy
Getting ready to unload the vehicles
A smaller boat that looks like it will be perfect to landings on isolated islands
Initially, the ferry runs close to the shore of North Uist, before heading out towards Skye
It was very quiet on deck with small numbers of Gannets, Guillemots & Kittiwakes and a couple of Razorbills.
Guillemot: I saw about twenty, but this was the only close individual
Then I picked up a party of about twelve Dolphins coming for the ship. I was pleased to see they were Common Dolphins, rather than Bottle-nosed Dolphins: which are the more regular UK species. They put on a great display including jumping out of the water on some occasions. Unfortunately, we were moving too fast & they failed to catch us. All too quickly they gave up. As we got closer to Skye, I saw another pair of Common Dolphins. I am always happy to see Cetaceans of any species, but the first pod of Common Dolphins put on the best display that I've ever seen in UK waters.
Common Dolphin: The initial views were only one or two Dolphins & weren't brilliant
Common Dolphin: Jumping out of the water
Common Dolphin: Jumping clear of the water
Common Dolphin: Common Dolphins are 5 - 6 ft long & only two-thirds of the length of the larger Bottle-nosed Dolphins. They also have this distinctive hourglass pattern on the side
Common Dolphin: I am assuming this is an immature Common Dolphin given the paler grey hourglass markings
Common Dolphin: One of the highlights of the Western Isles trip
Finally, the headland close to Uig came into sight & we were only a few minutes away from docking. Time to head down to the car deck.
The headland by Uig
I ended up heading for the Loch Garton area & spent a couple of hours driving back roads hoping to bump into a Pine Martin, but had no joy. The following day started off dull & miserable and after a quick look around, I decided I had had a great trip to the Western Isles & would start the long trek home.

27 Oct 2015

17 Oct 15 - Berneray & North Uist

The only sign of life at the ferry terminal on Berneray were a couple of Rock Pipits.
Rock Pipit
When you come out of the terminal road, you are meant to turn left & onto the causeway to cross onto North Uist. But there wasn't a sign & so I ended up turning right to the small village of Borve. But it is a very scenic village & was well worth the time spent looking around it.
Borve: Picture postcard photos on a day like today
Borve: A more traditional looking house (shame about the car spoiling the photo)
Borve: A great looking garden
Common Seals: Fitting in with the sleepy look of Borve
As I drove in, I flushed a Snipe from the road side. It didn't go far, but was well camouflaged. 
Snipe: Skulking in a small gap in the vegetation
I saw a lot more Black Sheep on the islands than I do in Dorset
All the roads in Borve end in dead ends & so after a look around, I ended up taking the causeway over to North Uist.
The rugged fields of Port Nan Long, North Uist
Some of the locals were confused when I stopped at some trees to try some pishing
The first stop on North Uist was Lochmaddy to book the ferry off. I had wanted to come off on Sunday 18, but was told that both the ferries from North Uist & South Uist were full. I guess there were people over for the weekend & heading home. In the end I had to compromise & make a booking for the late afternoon. Not ideal, but it would give me enough time to have a quick, but not too hurried, look around the excellent Balranald area.
Scolpaig Tower: These days the government keeps the same building project going, with schemes like the O2 in Greenwich & the new Hinkley power station
The road to Balranald passes the Scolpaig Tower. This well known local landmark was built around 1830 as a Georgian folly to provide employment for the locals during a period of local famine. The road to Balranald isn't a quick road as it is nearly all a single track road with plenty of passing points. There isn't a lot of traffic, but having to regularly give way, means it does take a while getting around the island. But there is plenty to keep looking out for on the road & it is very scenic, so not having to hurry isn't too much of a problem. After about thirty minutes driving from Lochmaddy, I reached the turn off for Balranald.
Panoramic view of two of the lochs along the approach road
Any Birders who have never been to North Uist & Balranald in particular, have really missed out on a stunning RSPB reserve. The side road to Balranald has lakes on either side of the road with excellent looking meadows & fields, which are the Summer home to the reserve's best known visitor, Corncrake. The whole area is farmed for the wildlife & as a result, is a very good example of how great the Western Isles can be for Corncrakes & breeding Waders. But in Winter, the reserve is also popular with Geese & Wildfowl. My only Winter visit was in Feb 13, after a Harlequin Duck had been found. I was in Scotland for a few days, on the way back from the Shetland Pine Grosbeak trip & decided to have a couple of days on North Uist. As well as the Harlequin Duck & a Glaucous Gull on the sea, there was a Richardson's Canada Goose (Cackling Goose) in a flock of about 400 Barnacles and a Ring-necked Duck on the reserve. With two presumably wild Snow Geese a few miles further South, it was a great couple of days. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite as good on this visit as the main Geese numbers hadn't arrived yet (or if they had they were feeding elsewhere on North Uist). But there were a few skeins of Whooper Swans, as well as, a couple of family parties of Barnacle Geese, plus Wigeon and Teal.
Whooper Swan party
Whooper Swan: Adult
House Sparrow: Male. One of a flock of about fifteen House Sparrows looking for food on these hay bales
Corn Bunting: Always a good sign of a well managed habitat when you see Corn Buntings
Panoramic view of the bay at Balranald This is a stunning bay to look at
On the drive back to Lochmaddy, there was time for a quick stop at Grenitote. There is a small side road that leads down to another stunning bay. Had there been more time, I would have left the car & taken the track out towards the dunes & ultimately the sea. But this was only a fifteen minute stop for a hot drink & a quick scan of the bay. The highlight was a party of four Pale-bellied Brent Geese.
The Grenitote pcinic site: This must be one of the best views from a picnic site & even better I've yet to find it in use despite several visits in June
Pale-bellied Brent Geese
Pale-bellied Brent Geese
Other short roadside stops were made for a flock of Golden Plover & a Buzzard.
Golden Plover
Buzzard: A real shame this wasn't something more interesting
A final roadside stop was needed for this view of the bay just outside of Lochmaddy. The house with this view is very lucky.
View of the bay just outside Lochmaddy: On the road to Solas & Grenitote
 All too quickly it was time to join the queue waiting for the ferry to dock to take me to Uig, Skye. It had been a great extension to the Wilson's Warbler twitch & excellent weather. Several locals said the weather was better than during the summer.

26 Oct 2015

17 Oct 15 - The Crossing From Harris To Berneray

It was very quiet first thing on the Sat morning for the ferry from Harris to Berneray. But just after 09:00, the ferry appeared winding around the small islands near to the port of Leverbugh. We were quickly loaded onto the ferry & heading back for the hour long crossing to the small port on Berneray.
The Calmac ferry: In the end it was just me & two vans on the ferry
It was an interesting crossing as the ferry weaves between small islands between Harris & Berneray. It was also like a mill pond with no waves on the water: perfect for photography.
Leverburgh disappears into the distance
North Uist in the distance
I like the waves in this shot
The sky got more dramatic as the sun disappeared as we passed these small islands
There were good numbers of Birds sitting on the water between the two islands, which flew if the ferry got too close.
Great Northern Diver: Nice to see in this plumage
Gannet: There were a few feeding or flying past
Cormorant: Colour-ringed individual. AADH white on purple
Eider: Some great reflections due to the calm water
The clear stars of the crossing were the Black Guillemots.
Black Guillemot
Black Guillemot
Black Guillemot
Black Guillemot
Black Guillemot
Black Guillemot
Black Guillemot
After a great hour, we were soon approaching the small village of Borve on Berneray
Approaching the quay on Berneray in the early morning mist
The place was deserted: So wouldn't be great if you were a foot passenger