Day Trip to Scotland and Some Local Birding

Hi all!

So the majority of this post isn’t technically about urban wildlife, well at least not as urban as the middle of London. But still a 20min train ride away from Glasgow central counts as pretty urban compared to the place I had a (volunteer) job interview for yesterday…..

This interview was held in Glasgow and was for a 5 month volunteer assistant ranger post on Handa Island. I have to admit before applying for this I had never heard of the place. It’s a 309 hectare island 1/2 mile off the north coast of Scotland that is managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust as a nature reserve. It supports internationally important numbers of breeding Guillemot, Razorbill and Great skua as well as Fulmar, Arctic skua, Puffin, Kittiwake, Arctic tern and lots more. It’s accessible by ferry and the only people resident on the island in the spring/summer are staff and volunteers living in the islands basic bothy. So, a million miles away from the urban streets and home ‘comforts’ of London then! It would be an amazing experience. There’s several videos people have made of the area on youtube if you want to have a look.

Anyway I figured I’d make a day of it,  got the boyfriend to get the day off work and decided the cheapest way to do this was to get an over night coach up the night before arriving at 7am for the interview at 9am, then the over night coach home late that evening (this didn’t factor in much comfortable sleep time, but we figured it was worth it). This gave us enough time to get the train down to RSPB Lochwinnoch after the interview, spend the morning/early afternoon there then head back and explore Glasgow a bit (when I say ‘explore’ I mean sit in numerous coffee shops/restaurants and recover from the battering winds/rain/lack of sleep. Oh and go and see the lego movie, which was surprisingly good!).

Lochwinnoch had a fantastic newly extended inside viewing area with floor to ceiling windows which gave you great views of the whole of the loch all from the comfort of a heated room with proper seats (with cushioning and everything!). So naturally we decided to venture out and battle our way round the mud and wind to the reserves only hide, spotting a Buzzard and a Treecreeper along the way. It was worth it just for the beauty of the area itself but as a bonus we ended up with great views of a female Goosander, several Goldeneye, several Whooper swan and a male Smew which was a bit too far even for a record photo.

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Whooper swan

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Female Goosander and Goldeneye

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Great views of the female Goosander

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IMG_0474Loved the Whooper swans, such characters! Back inside the viewing room we also saw several Curlew come in to land right in front of us. Even my non birder boyfriend was impressed with the place, but that was perhaps more to do with the scenery – and the company I hope 😉

I was also totally chuffed to get fantastic views of a Short-eared owl hunting on Staines Moor last Saturday – what a bird! And that was topped off by a Little owl in a tree on Stanwell Moor (thanks to the birder who tipped me off!) as I was walking back to my bike. Owls galore!

Tuesday I spent a lovely day exploring Moor Green Lakes in Berkshire with a friend. We saw Barnacle geese, two Grey wagtail, male and female Goosander, Little egret, Reed bunting, two Red kite, a Kestrel, had great views of a Kingfisher and as an added bonus an Oystercatcher flying overhead. Great place will definitely be going back!

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Little egret, Moor Green Lakes

So, in short it’s been a pretty awesome week of lovely weather (mostly, 2/3 days isn’t bad!) stunning birds and great company 🙂

Haven’t managed to do any bird ringing at Bedfont Lakes lately due to the weather – fingers crossed for this Sunday!

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Ringing, Reed Buntings and Redpolls…… And Other Things Not Beginning in ‘R’!

Hi all!

First off just wanted to tell you how my second bird ringing session at Bedfont Lakes went last Sunday. In my overly keen state I some how managed to be a whole 20 minutes early (like 7.30am isn’t early enough for a Sunday morning!) which meant I got to hang out in the car park whilst the sun slowly rose, shortly followed by a Buzzard overhead – already I was thinking that the day had definitely been worth getting out of bed for! It was a frosty morning but I was extra prepared in my new thermal fingerless gloves (easier when handling equipment etc), thermal socks and tea flask; all vital winter bird ringing equipment!

My trainer then arrived shortly followed by the others and, after having to push one car out of the mud and transfer all the gear to another with 4×4, we slowly got started. It was a lot quieter then the week before (see here!), I asked if that might be due to the cold and was told that actually the weather didn’t seem to have anything to do with it – some weeks you get loads of birds, some weeks you don’t! Still I got to do a fair bit of handling; mostly Blue tits, Great tits and a feisty Robin that managed to escape the grip of my skinny fingers (not hard!) and fly off to a nearby tree where it sat staring mockingly at me 😉

It was only my second week and I was very chuffed when I managed to get my first wing measurement correct. Getting the bird, wing and ruler in the right position is harder than they make it look!

Last week I also managed to get down to Staines Moor where I saw a flock of at least 70 Fieldfare

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Staines Moor

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Fieldfare

Imagine this, but times by 70…… It occurred to me after I should’ve got a photo of the whole flock 😉

I also got brilliant views of a male and female Stonechat, a Buzzard, 5 Little Egret and 30+ Meadow pipit which I spent a good while following around trying to spot a possible Water pipit or 2 amongst them as I know they have been seen there recently. Next time!

I’ve also made the most of the sunny mornings this week and made a couple of visits to Kempton Nature Reserve.

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Kempton Nature Reserve – view from the west hide

Perhaps this view doesn’t compare to the tranquil lochs and glens of the Scottish Highlands or the majestic lakes of the Lake District….. OK it doesn’t AT ALL. But my point is it means something to me and it never fails to put a smile on my face and a calm feeling in my belly, especially on a sunny day!

OK this is all getting a bit too poetic, back to the birds……..

I saw all the usual suspects – Gadwall

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Gadwall

Teal, Little Grebe, SparrowhawkReed Bunting……

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Reed bunting

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Male Reed bunting

I see up to 10 and some times more of these guys most times I visit – the warden puts out a feeder filled with millet for them and they absolutely love it. They’ve started doing some bird ringing there on a Saturday and I’m told they caught 18 individual Reed buntings in one morning!

And on Monday, as well as 5 Fieldfare and 4 Redwing I managed to spot 3 Lesser Redpoll

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Lesser redpoll

Can you spot it? 😉 it’s the slightly forked tail that first caught my eye. Then later on I got excellent views of what I presumed to be the same individuals bathing in a puddle semi-hidden amongst some trees. They didn’t seem to have any idea I was hiding just around the corner and managed to get some fantastic views through the branches of one having a good preening session – lovely intimate moment. Chuffed as these aren’t regularly spotted at this site, I’ve only seen them there once before.

One last thing…. In light of the forecasted heavy rain and hail storm I spent a good hour this morning debating whether to cycle or get the bus to London Wetland Centre where I volunteer every Friday. In the end I opted for the cycle, as I always knew I would. Funnily enough I didn’t get even a little bit wet – in fact the sun came out! After arriving my friend texted me saying he was going to also be at the wetlands that day collecting Backswimmers for an experiment. Shortly after I was told that the reserve warden was off sick so that meant no cutting down endless amount of willow (that’s not ALL we do…. promise!) and instead I got to do a bit of pond dipping followed by some bird watching!

The result was lots of oohing and aahing at Backswimmers (they’re so shiny!), admiring some diving beetles (I think this species) and my first Brambling! Beautiful birds, love the contrast of the white belly and dark markings.

So after writing this blog post my life seems even more exciting than I thought! What I don’t mention is the endless job and PhD searching and applications 😉

Still, I can’t complain!

Until next time….