15 Oct 2015

15 Oct 15 - The Trip To Lewis

On the afternoon of 13 Oct, the pager mega alerted for the UK's second Wilson's Warbler at Port Nis, just South of the Butt of Lewis, which is the most Northerly point in the Western Isles. Later news came through that there had been no further sightings, but then it was see again close to dusk. Given the distance & costs involved in a trip to Lewis, then I decided I needed to wait to see it if was seen again the following morning: it was. Still undecided I was tempted to defer a decision for another day, but I did check the ferries. There was a daily morning ferry departing from Ullapool at 10:30. I decided to think about it some more, before deciding about 17:00 on the 14 Oct that I was going for it. My biggest concern was my new camera body & 400mm were still not back from the camera repairers, having had not survived being accidentally dropped on the floor of the Brands Bay hide. Fortunately, my good mate, Peter Moore, had offered to lend me his now semi-retired 400mm lens (having bought the new 100-400mm lens). I checked with Peter if the offer was still available to borrow the old lens, given he was unable to get time off work for an extended trip to the Western Isles. Fortunately, Peter appreciated it would be a long way to go without a decent camera set up & was still willing to lend me the lens. I'm sure he is still secretly wrestling with the ethics of can he tick Wilson's Warbler for his photo Year List, if his camera lens was used.
Ullapool: Other Birders crossing via Uig & arrived an hour earlier, but this was probably the easier drive to catch the boat
It was a good, but long journey up to Stirling, but then the conditions turned nasty with fifty miles of unpleasant fog, which only finally started to clear as the road climbed into the start of the Cairngorms. I arrived at the ferry terminal an hour before the planned boarding time, to find I was only the third car in the queue. But more cars, including a number of other Birder's cars soon appeared, while I was heading off for a quick breakfast at one of the local cafes. In the end there were only thirty Birders or so on the boat. But a few others had opted for the alternative route via Uig.
Ullapool: The less picture postcard side of the town
The crossing was surprisingly calm (given the time of year) & pleasant as I found a place on deck that was more or less out of the wind. Despite the night without any sleep, I was surprised about how keen I was for sea-watching, rather than trying to get a bit of kip below decks. I think I knew I wouldn't succeed with the sleep, or maybe it was the thought, that it couldn't be as dire as seawatching from the Studland patch. In the end, it was relatively uneventful Bird-wise, with low numbers of Gannets, Black Guillemots, Guillemots & Kittiwakes, as well as, a lone Grey Seal. But there were some nice views of Ullapool & the bay, before we reached the sea.
It was great to be leaving Ullapool
It is a scenic start to the crossing as we travelled down the sound to reach the sea
Further down was the entrance into another bay
We were still sheltered by the sound at this point, but the water was very still
I had been surprised when I listened to the shipping forecast that morning. Virtually the whole country was stuck in the grip of a week of prolonged cold North or North Easterly winds, but the Western Isles had Southerly winds from the Northern end of the jet stream. It was actually milder on deck that it had been at the Vis Mig point at Studland in the NE winds over the last week (despite being about 600 miles further North).
Kittiwake: Adult in wing moult
Kittiwake: First Winter
About 13:00, we docked & despite being one of the first cars on the ferry, other cars were let off first & were ahead of me on the road. The car in front of me had Birders in it & I hoped they had a Sat Nav as they immediately ignored the road signs to turn left to Port Nis. Keeping my nerve, I followed them & fortunately, it was a short cut onto the Port Nis road. Various cars turned off along the road that were clearly tourists or islanders, until I was one of a convoy of five cars heading rapidly for Port Nis. Several more cars were a few minutes behind us.
The first view of Stornoway
Getting closer
Finally, we arrived onto familiar roads, as I had already looked at Google's Street View to try & work out exactly where the Cafe Solas was (which was next to the garden where the Wilson's Warbler was showing). The problem was the cafe had been renamed since the Google camera car had been there & I had been unable to confirm the location (but it turned out to be the building I was expecting). But it wasn't a problem as the finder, Tony Marr, was waiting by the road to meet us. We all quickly headed up to view the trees behind David Nichols's house.
The trees the Wilson's Warbler was favouring: When not skulking elsewhere in the garden
The right hand end of the same tree line: David showed us a photo of the same field taken in 1994 before he planted any of these trees. I guess he never expected it would result in so many visitors
The back of the main street in Port Nis
About half of the crowd 
The Wilson's Warbler had been recently seen, but had disappeared again. We were told it wasn't showing for long when it was on view & was working a circuit around these trees at the back of David's garden, as well as, in parts of his garden. About about thirty minutes of looking, it was finally picked up in the trees, where I had a quick view of it: a small bright green Warbler with brighter yellow underparts & a black cap. One of the great things about nearly all New World Warblers is they immediately stand out from the Old World Warblers. It quickly dropped into the trees & was gone. After another hour, it reappeared & a nearby helpful comment said 'it's on the wire'. I grabbed the camera & hoped the camera settings were about right: they were, having already been adjusted earlier in the afternoon.
Wilson's Warbler: My thirteenth species of New World Warbler in the UK & Ireland, which includes Yellow Warbler & Blue-winged Warbler seen in Ireland
Wilson's Warbler: I'm surprised about how short the primaries look. This is my second New World Warbler which was sharing a bush with a Yellow-browed Warbler: the first being the Yellow Warbler at Loop Head, Ireland in Oct 1995
All too quickly it disappeared back into the trees & was gone again. Another long ninety minutes before the next sighting. But this time I was expecting it to show. Earlier that afternoon, I had heard the Yellow-browed Warbler that was also in the area call, while I was watching the Wilson's Warbler. Both Warblers seem to move on at the same time. Having just heard the Yellow-browed Warbler start calling in the trees, then I was half expecting the Wilson's Warbler to pop out. Fortunately, it did, in one of the nearby conifers. A quick check with the bins & then the camera was brought back into action. All too quickly it flicked right & back into the trees again. I waiting for over another hour, but there was no further sign of either Warbler.
Hooded Crow: They were locally common on the Western Isles as well as around Ullapool
It was now late afternoon & I decided that I needed to head back into Stornoway to try & find some accommodation for the night. Having not slept for a day & a half, then some food & a good night's kip was essential. But first I wanted to explore the local area, as there have been some great rarities seen over recent years near to Port Nis. Just to the North of Port Nis is the Butt of Lewis lighthouse, where the UK's only Purple Martin was found. This is the most Northerly point on the Western Isles. It's also been a long standing local joke locally given one of the local Birders is Ian Lewis & a couple of years ago, he travelled up specially to see the Butt of Lewis.
Ian Lewis: One of the local Poole Birders taken in Lhasa, Tibet. I will leave you to do the Butt of Lewis jokes, I can't be bothered (26 June 05)
Butt of Lewis Lighthouse: The lighthouse was build in 1862 by David & Thomas Stevenson, two of the famous Lighthouse Stevenson family
Butt of Lewis: It's must have been a bleak area to live before the lighthouse was automated. This is in the Guinness Book of Records for the windiest spot in the UK
A close up of the folding in the rocks
Rabbits: Interesting to see a field of Rabbits with several black Rabbits in it, near to Port Nis. I often see black Rabbits among the local Studland Rabbits. I've never been sure if somebody has released a pet black Rabbit, which has produced the subsequent black Rabbits, or if there is an occasional black Rabbit colour morph which appears with too much in-breeding. But the Rabbits are always normal or jet black, but never inbetween
I am surprised that all the visiting Birders have failed to alert the Bird Info Services to the influx of Great Horned Owls in the area. I managed to see three on Lewis, with additional individuals on Harris & North Uist, on the following days.
Great Horned Owl: Stornoway harbour
Great Horned Owl: Near Butt of Lewis
Great Horned Owl: Black Morph roosting on the Butt of Lewis lighthouse