Seabird safari, August 2013

A bit late I know, but I did some seabird work in the northern North Sea back in August and have just got around to editing the photos. Huge numbers of Gannets were the main omnipresent feature, but as you’ll see, we had a few nice things. Including what I think is a first for the Northern Hemisphere…

White-beaked Dolphins (26) White-beaked Dolphins (22) White-beaked Dolphins (20)White-beaked Dolphins breaching

Sooty Shearwater (213) Sooty Shearwater (196) Sooty Shearwater (184) Sooty Shearwater (178) Sooty Shearwater (171) Sooty Shearwater (163) Sooty Shearwater (161) Sooty Shearwater (154) Sooty Shearwater (147) Sooty Shearwater (34) Sooty Shearwater (33)Sooty Shearwaters. Note the prominent pale fringes to the last bird, only visible on good views. I could watch Sooties all day.

Killer Whales, NW of Foula (1) Killer Whales, NW of Foula (10) Killer Whales, NW of Foula (18)

Orca. Three animals NW of Foula, possibly the same as seen later off Aberdeen. 

Greater & Lesser Black-backed Gulls (1)

Greater and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Obvious size difference!

Great Black-backed Gull (6)

Four Greater Black-backed Gulls. Obvious size variation!

Gannets Great Skuas and FulmarsGreat Skuas (otherwise known as Bonxie) harassing a swarm of Fulmars and Gannets

Great Skua attacked by Fulmars Great Skua being attacked by Fulmar (2)They don’t have it all their own way. Fulmars hold their own and often chase off Bonxies. Fulmars are probably the only birds that Bonxies respect!

Gannet plunge diving (1) Gannet with fish (6) Gannet melee (11) Gannet melee (8) Gannet (15) Gannet (8)Gannets

Fulmars & Great Skuas (2) Fulmar melee (24) Fulmar melee (23) Fulmar melee (20) Fulmar melee (1) Fulmars  (6)Fulmars

Foula (1) Foula (7) Foula (11)

Foula (14)Foula

Feeding frenzy (22) Feeding frenzy (25) Feeding frenzy (14) Feeding frenzy (10) Feeding frenzy (16) Feeding frenzy (18)Bonxie mugging Gannets for food. Note the Ben Hur style chariot racing in the 2nd pic, with a Bonxie riding two Gannets!

Fair Isle (5)Fair Isle. A Swinhoe’s Petrel was present on here a couple of days earlier (and probably still present at this point), but we failed to find it at sea. 

British Storm-petrel (46) British Storm-petrel (45) British Storm-petrel (29)British Storm Petrel

Arctic Skua (1) Arctic Skua (8)Arctic Skua

Emperor Penguin baloon (3)Wait, what’s that off the port bow…??

Emperor Penguin baloon (2)What the….!?!?  Its a 1st winter Emperor Penguin!!! I assume it’s the first record of the this species for the Northern Hemisphere. Not even Lees & Gilroy predicted this one… 

Problem gull

No surprise there then. Many gulls can cause problems, but not all of them make you double take when they fly past and land on the small area of grass infront of you. This beast did such a thing in Highland the other week, and i think you’ll agree that there is a superficial resemblance to Slaty-backed Gull. Unfortunately, it is only a superficial resemblance. Primary pattern is wrong (although note the hint of “moons” inside the black tips), orbital ring colour is wrong and trailing edge to the secondaries is not broad enough, among other issues. So what was it? Hybrid Herring x Greater Black-back? Runt Greater Black-back? Answers on a postcard please.

Caithness Bean’s & Kumlien’s

Jan 29th-31st

For the second time this month, I thought a trip around the northern coast of Scotland would be a good idea. The 5 hr drive from Aberdeen to Thurso was uneventful, and dark. I was hoping to spend the day reaping the rewards of birding the underwatched area of Caithness for gulls and gooses. Lochs Calder, Scarmclate and Watten were disappointingly devoid of American wildfowl, but a nice flock of Snow Buntings in fields around Loch Watten were a surprise. The highlight was finding a flock of grey geese on one of the back roads between Loch Watten and Wick. In among the omnipresent Greylags were some Euro White-fronts, but more importantly 29 Tundra Bean Geese were also in the flock. Now, Bean Goose is something I’ve only ever found on a couple of occasions before, so It’s always a red letter day when I do. Most of them were bog standard Tundras, but a couple were slightly more aloof from the flock, preferring the company of Greylags. The orange on the bill was more extensive, and they were subtly bigger. However, the key word I think is subtly. My ideal vagrant Taiga beans would be graceful swan-necked things with loads of orange on the bill, but I still think these could have been Taigas. Bean Geese occupy such a vast and remote range, does anyone really know what’s going on with them?  I’ve got some crappy video to upload, so watch this space…

A single Iceland Gull was the only winger present in Wick harbour, but things started to pick up in a ploughed field at Bower with 3 Icelands in with the large flock of commoner gulls. Interestingly the 3rd win could have been a very pale Kumlien’s, but was just too distant to nail properly. I needn’t have worried about dodgy distant Kumlien’s, as I arrived in Thurso to be greeted with a stunning frame filling 3rd win Kumlien’s, together with a juv Iceland. After a bit of bread was thrown in the mix, gulls just appeared from nowhere and included another juv and an adult Iceland. Then a second ad Iceland appeared, flying close in front of me back and forth calling plaintively for food. It took me a minute to realise that it actually showed thin grey bars on the outer primaries and was actually a second Kumlien’s! Two Nearctic stunners in the same view, and I was on my own enjoying this spectacle. Magic!

Winger fest part 1

Thought i’d kick this blog off with a quick run down of the past few weeks. After spending a very enjoyable (from what i remember of it!) New Years in Glasgow with Dan Brown and the rest of the punkbirders, i looked at the weather charts and saw the incoming beast of a storm from the North Atlantic. Heading north, it slowly became apparent that a winger fest of grand proportions was in progress. A Glauc in Wick harbour was followed by an Iceland at Duncansby Head, then an adult  Iceland in Thurso and two 1st yrs in Castletown cemented my thoughts about going further west…

I arrived at Kinlochbervie with about an hour of light left, and of the 20 or so gulls present in the small harbour, about half sported white wings! Pick of the bunch was a nice Kumlien’s that refused to land, but luckily flew just close enough on a few occasions to get papped and blogged.

 3rd winter Kumlien’s. Note even on this poor shot the grey outer webs to the outer 5 primaries contrast with the whiter inner 5 primaries. The tail is also contrastingly dark. Belter!