Monday, 16 June 2008

Gigha birds (2008)

Message to argyllbirding yahoogroup:

Subject: Holiday sightings, wk 7-14 June - Gigha
Sent: Jun 16, 2008 1:03 am

Hi all

Just back from another pleasant holiday in Argyll, this time on Gigha (first visit). During trip also completed TTV's for the 4 required squares on the island (NR64J,N,P; NR65K), and gathered RR's in all other land tetrads (11) except S of Cara Island (not visited). Did not visit every last corner but decent coverage averaging 8 hrs/day, concentrated in early morning plus two nocturnal visits. Confirmed breeding of 34 species, 22 probable breeders and total 81 species
seen. Nothing rare but a few comments on observations in case of any interest locally:

* Cormorant confirmed at Craro with at least 6 AOS, Shag 17 AOS; Cormorant also at Eilean Garbh colony [cf. last BTO atlas, 88-91 - no records for these 2 10km sqr]
* Grey Heron confirmed at Mill Loch
* At least 40 Greylags present but no goslings seen [cf. single "possible breeder" dot for last atlas]
* 5 Lapwing with one chick West Tarbert Bay
* Single Greenshank briefly at Eun Eilean on 10/6
* 3 large gulls confirmed at Eilean Garbh, AOS: 69 HG, 64 LBB, 5 GBB on SE slope and probably lots more in total
* 4 Arctic Tern and BHG in the gull colony at Ardminish Point but no Common Terns seen
* Barn Owls seen hunting rough ground SE of Achamore Gardens and 2 more plus an "owl sp." along road N from Tarbert to Kinerarach
* House Martins at Mill Loch and Ardminish with at least 8 and 2 nests respectively
* 6 male Blackcap at Achamore Gardens, where also single Chiffchaff and Spot Fly, plus Treecreeper confirmed with probably several pairs and LTT family; a gardener said the last Golden Pheasant (photo online for 2004, and "possible breeder" in last atlas) is no more
* At least one family of 6 Raven roaming around, but far too late to confirm breeding

Generally healthy populations of Willow Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Whitethroat, Stonechat and Redpoll, but no Grey Wag, Wheatear, Mistle Thrush or Yellowhammer seen anywhere; all of the latter are mentioned in the Vie Tulloch guide, along with Corncrake and Corn Bunting, but this is now out-of-date (1988). Hopefully some of these will still be confirmed by those with better local knowledge.

Non-avian: Otters - watched a pair at close range playing in shallows near Eun Eilean for 20 mins early on 10/6. Plenty Pipistrelle, 10+ at village hall and more all along main road. Finally, whilst sea-watching off N end on 10/6 saw a Basking Shark moving W not far offshore.



Monday, 9 June 2008

Bird list for Loch of Leys, Banchory, Kincardineshire

This is a list of the species I've seen at the Loch of Leys to the north of Banchory, Kincardineshire, Scotland, about 15 miles from the coast (map). The loch is more of a bog since there is very little open water remaining. To the north and east are conifer plantations, with open farmland to the south and west.

  1. Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis) - single over West, 6 June 1987
  2. Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) - several often present
  3. Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus) - single on the water, April 1993
  4. Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) - numerous, breeds - several pairs
  5. Teal (Anas crecca) - regular, breeds
  6. Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) - common resident, breeds
  7. Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) - regular
  8. Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) - regular mainly over farmland to south
  9. Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) - common resident
  10. Grey Partridge (Perdix perdix) - formerly regular
  11. Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus) - regular but absent in mid-winter; perhaps 5-10 pairs
  12. Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) - common resident, breeds
  13. Coot (Fulica atra) - common resident, breeds
  14. Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) - common summer visitor, from late February; breeds nearby
  15. Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) - regular visitor
  16. Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) - regular visitor, probably very numerous but secretive
  17. Woodcock (Scolopax rusticola) - rodding birds seen on summer evenings, probably breeds in small numbers
  18. Curlew (Numenius arquata) - regular visitor in small numbers, possibly breeds
  19. Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus) - former breeding colony
  20. Common Gull (Larus canus) - regular visitor
  21. Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) - passes overhead commuting between Loch of Skene roost and Crow's Nest amenity site; day roost in fields to west
  22. Great Blackback (Larus marinus) - passes overhead commuting between Loch of Skene roost and Crow's Nest amenity site; day roost in fields to west (up to 150 birds)
  23. Wood Pigeon (Columba palumbus) - common resident
  24. Stock Dove (Columba oenas) - uncommon resident
  25. Tawny Owl (Strix aluco) - resident, presumably breeds
  26. Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis) - resident in small numbers
  27. Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) - resident in small numbers
  28. Skylark (Alauda arvensis) - regular visitor
  29. Common Swift (Apus apus) - regular summer visitor
  30. Swallow (Hirundo rustica) - former large roost (1400 birds, 1989); smaller roost in recent years (50 birds, 1998)
  31. House Martin (Delichon urbica) - small numbers with Swallows at roost
  32. Sand Martin (Riparia riparia) - small numbers with Swallows at roost
  33. Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) - common resident
  34. Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis) - uncommon summer visitor, breeds at east end
  35. Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarelli) - uncommon visitor
  36. Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) - common resident
  37. Robin (Erithacus rubecula) - common resident
  38. Blackbird (Turdus merula) - common resident
  39. Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris) - common winter visitor
  40. Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) - common resident
  41. Redwing (Turdus iliacus) - common winter visitor
  42. Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus) - common summer visitor, breeds
  43. Common Whitethroat (Sylvia communis) - uncommon summer visitor
  44. Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) - common summer visitor, breeds
  45. Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) - common resident, breeds in woods to north and east
  46. Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus) - common resident, breeds
  47. Coal Tit (Parus ater) - common resident, breeds in woods to north and east
  48. Blue Tit (Parus caeruleus) - common resident
  49. Great Tit (Parus major) - common resident
  50. Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris) - uncommon resident
  51. Magpie (Pica pica) - regular visitor; breeds near farms to west
  52. Jackdaw (Corvus monedula) - common visitor, feeds at Crow's Nest to west
  53. Rook (Corvus frugilegus) - common visitor, sometimes in large numbers in roost flights
  54. Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) - common resident, up to 100 birds feeding at Crow's Nest to west
  55. Hooded Crow (Corvus corone cornix) - uncommon resident, regular individuals amongst Carrion Crows at Crow's Nest to west
  56. Jay (Garrulus glandarius) - uncommon resident
  57. Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) - common resident, formerly roosted in large numbers (>1000 birds, 1989)
  58. Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) - common resident, breeds
  59. Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris) - uncommon visitor
  60. Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) - uncommon visitor
  61. Siskin (Carduelis spinus) - common resident, breeds
  62. Lesser Redpoll (Carduelis flammea) - uncommon resident breeder, larger numbers visit in winter
  63. Common Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) - uncommon visitor, possibly breeds
  64. Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) - common resident
  65. Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella) - common resident
  66. Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) - common resident, perhaps 20 pairs

NB - another species reported from the site is Grasshopper Warbler (Locustella naevia) though I'm yet to see one there and I'm fairly sure there have been none in some years. Even rarer, a presumed Marsh Warbler was reported on 8 June 2008

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Incredible birds

Vagrancy in birds is a subject of great fascination and some mystery. This page considers some of the most incredible bird records of all time, focusing on species recorded in the Western Palearctic, though also beyond (see new section below). Assessing which particular records are the most 'incredible' is of course a highly subjective task, complicated by all sorts of uncertainties. However, the following list is a personal view of a few that are up there.

The top places on my list go to seabird residents of the North Pacific, though it's very difficult to balance these against the feats of, for example, small passerine migrants. For top spot I have selected the single Western Palearctic record of Aleutian Tern, a resident of the Aleutian Islands in the North Pacific Ocean, which by the early 1990s had not even been recorded in Canada or the USA outside Alaska - a record which will take some beating!

Aleutian Tern (N Pacific only)

Farne Islands, Northumberland, 28-29 May 1979; first seen at 1.30pm by R. Haywood, warden on Inner Farne; seen down to 4m on the following day before last sighting at 5.30pm; little is known about the species, and it has not even been recorded off the west coast of North America south of Alaska, and it has only recently been found to winter off Indonesia and Malaysia.

Parakeet Auklet (N Pacific only)

Lake Vättern, Sweden, mid-Dec 1860 (after a severe Easterly gale); the implication is that this individual was already far from home (e.g. in Baltic or Barents Sea) before being caught up in the storm and blown overland to its final destination, some distance inland; it is hard to imagine what precise route it may have taken, but the species is normally confined to the North Pacific and does not occur in the Arctic Ocean; it is quite numerous with about 1 million breeding in Alaska, but confined to the coast (unlike next species)

Long-billed Murrelet (Brachyramphus perdix, formerly considered as a race of Marbled Murrelet Brachyramphus marmoratus perdix) (N Pacific only)

Zollikon, Lake Zurich, Switzerland, between 15 and 18 December 1997 - 1st-win. discovered dead in a fishing net, presumed drowned; the distribution of this species is confined to the North Pacific where it breeds individually in forest some distance from the sea (up to 70km for sister species, Marbled Murrelet), hence is well able to travel overland and indeed has been recorded as a vagrant in continental North America as far as the Atlantic coast; the population is thought to number 10's of thousands; nevertheless, assuming an eastern origin from the southern part of its range, the feat of this seabird in reaching western Europe, perhaps travelling in excess of 8000 miles overland, surpasses even the most extreme Siberian passerine vagrants; furthermore, there are plenty of large water bodies along possible routes; more likely the bird took a more direct route over the Arctic Ocean/Barents Sea, where it perhaps had chance to rest and feed. [References: OB 96: 172, 1999; NO 47: 40-41, 2000; Maumary, L. & Knaus, P. (2000) "Marbled Murrelet in Switzerland: a Pacific Ocean auk new to the Western Palearctic", British Birds vol. 93, pp. 190-199].

Long-billed Murrelet (Brachyramphus perdix) (N Pacific only)

Reservoir on River Olt at Porumbacu, Transilvania, central Romania, from 21 December 2006; photo; see also BirdForum thread. This occurrence supports the view that all three of these birds recorded in the Western Palaearctic have arrived more via an easterly route than westerly. Nevertheless, so far inland another utterly incredible record!

Long-billed Murrelet (Brachyramphus perdix) (N Pacific only)

Dawlish Warren/Dawlish, Devon, from 7 November 2006 - 1st-win, initially identified as Little Auk, see log. Fascinating that this one appears to be of 1st-win age (on basis of striations on breast) hence has arrived during, or at the end of, its initial dispersal as a juvenile. Hard to know which way it may have arrived, but interesting to note that a further Brachyramphus species had been reported migrating S at Skogsøy, Øygarden, Western Norway, Norway on 29 September 2005 in the company of Little Auk (c.f. Another all-dark alcid amongst Little Auk was reported off Whitburn, NE England, on 13 November 2004 - but not conclusively identified. And recent weeks have seen many thousands of Little Auk off the east coast of Britain (peak day count 7881, Farne Islands, 2 November 2006). Just possibly the bird got lost north of the species breeding range (in the region of Kamchatka and the Sea of Okhotsk) and came over from the same region as the most north-easterly populations of Little Auk. Or, perhaps less likely, it may have dispersed the other way round the pole and joined up with Little Auks off Greenland - this route would also fit with an arrival on the west side of the British Isles. However, neither option looks very realistic, hence this record is high on the "incredible" scale and ranked above the next - a species sharing almost the same breeding range which also reached the same county of Devon in SW England.

Ancient Murrelet (N Pacific only)

Lundy, Devon, 27 May 1989; found at 1.45pm and seen again at 2.45pm before flying out to sea; seen again the following morning before flying out to sea again; a group of birders who had set off for the island, despite the fact that it would be dark when they got there, miraculously encountered the bird at sea about 6 miles east of the island, and watched it at distances down to 2m swimming in the company of a much shyer Razorbill; the bird was subsequently seen by many thousands of birdwatchers up to 26 June 1990, between 4 April and 20 June 1991 and between 30 March and 29 April 1992 when it was last seen.

The origin is most likely from the west. In the 1989/90 winter larger than usual numbers of Ancient Murrelet had been seen along the California coast, with 4 venturing inland. A possible scenario was the bird straying inland and somehow getting into the Atlantic late in 1989, then at spring migration migrating north and east looking for a coast (as it would in the Pacific) eventually arriving off the coast of SW England; congregations of breeding auks may then have carried it into the Lundy area. Crossing continental North America is the hardest step here, but the species is a regular inland vagrant here, far more abundant than any of its sister species. It can apparently survive well for some time on fresh water and there are three previous Atlantic records. A western origin is the expressed view of Rob Hume (BBRC) and Alan Knox (BOURC) in their comments on the original British Birds paper on the record [Waldon, J (1994) "Ancient Murrelet in Devon: new to the Western Paleartic, British Birds 87, 307-310]

Crested Auklet (N Pacific only)

45 miles NE off Langanes, Iceland, August 1912

Tufted Puffin (N Pacific only)

Laholmsbukten, Lagoset, Sweden, Jun 1994 - adult in breeding plumage offshore.

Glaucous-winged Gull (N Pacific only)

El Hierro, Canary Islands, Feb 1992 and Essaouira, Morocco, Jan 1995; both were adults and presumably the same individual.

Slender-billed Curlew (Siberia, winters NW Africa)

Druridge, Northumberland 4-7 May 1998; the breeding grounds of this species remain unknown; neither are there any regular wintering sites with only a handful of sightings of wintering birds in recent years. See linked document for more details about recent occurrences.

Jouanin's Petrel (Arabian Sea, vagrant to Hawaii)

Cimadolmo, Treviso, Italy, 2 November 1953; 3 seen during a storm, one was collected; must have arrived via the Red Sea.

Varied Thrush (USA/Canada W coast)

1st win. male, Nanquidno, 9-23 Nov 1982; an abnormally-coloured individual, lacking the usual orange tone; grey-plumaged individuals are rarely recorded in wild birds, but would seem even less likely for a captive bird; this helped to exclude the escape possibility for such an unexpected vagrant from the west coast of America

Swainson's Hawk (W USA/Canada)

2nd year, Røst, Norway, 6 May 1986; this species is only rarely recorded on the east coast of America

Swainson's Thrush (N America)

Ukraine, November 1893; to reach Europe over the Atlantic is one then continue as far as Ukraine is quite an achievement (presumably a reverse migrant)

Fox Sparrow (N America)

Liguria, Italy, 1930

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (N America)

Yugoslavia, October 1976

Black-throated Green Warbler (N America)

adult male Heligoland, 19 November 1858

Hermit Thrush (N America)

Luxembourg, August 1975; this bird had presumably arrived from America in spring or the previous autumn

White's Thrush (Siberia, winters SE Asia)

Greenland, Oct 1954

Siberian Rubythroat (Siberia/NE China, wintering SE Asia as far as India)

adult male, Iceland, 8 Nov 1943

Lanceolated Warbler (Siberia to NE China & N Japan, wintering between NE India and Philippines)

c. 70 nautical miles N of Bear Island, Arctic Ocean, 15 September 1982

Tickell's Thrush (W Himalayas, winters E India)

Heligoland, 15 October 1932

Long-tailed Shrike (Central Asia, wintering Indian subcontinent)

Howmore, South Uist, 27 October-4 November 2000

Shrenck's Little Bittern (China, winters Indonesia)

1st win. female, Piemonte, Italy, 12 November 1912

Eastern Crowned Warbler (China, winters India/SE Asia)

single collected Heligoland, 4 October 1843

Chinese Pond Heron (China, winters SE Asia/Indonesia)

Hettesylt, Norway, autumn 1973

Brunnich's Guillemot (Arctic Ocean)

Austria, 1882; also recorded in Romania!

Ross's Gull (Arctic Ocean)

Sardinia, January 1906

Royal Tern (USA, West Africa)

1st win. bird ringed USA, Kenfig Pool, 24 Nov 1989; there have been five British Isles records; finding a ringed bird was a remarkable occurrence and proved transatlantic vagrancy

Black-browed Albatross (S Atlantic)

female, Faeroes, 1860-May 1894, i.e. for 34 years

Spitzbergen, June 1878 (rather a long way from home!)

"Albert Ross", a female, first recorded at Bass Rock 1967-1969 and, not finding a mate there, presumably the same bird at the Saito outcrop, Hermaness, Shetland 1970-1995

Ascension Frigatebird (S Atlantic)

Tiree, 10 July 1953 (reidentified as this species in 2002, BB 96, 2)

Killitz's Plover (Africa S of Sahara, also Egypt; resident)

single, S Norway, May 1913

Moussier's Redstart (N Africa resident)

Dinas Head, Dyfed, 24 April 1988

White-crowned Black Wheatear (N Africa/Middle East/Arabia resident)

Kessingland, Suffolk, 1-5 June 1982

In addition to the above, the following two species have occurred on numerous occasions over recent years in the North Atlantic, yet their occurrence here still remains very much a mystery:

Swinhoe's Petrel (Sea of Japan, winters off SE Asia)

Several North Atlantic records in recent years, see linked document for more details. The species had never been recorded on this side of the world in earlier years and its sudden appearance here is still unexplained.

Elegant Tern (Mexico/USA - Pacific coast only)

At least 25 records for the North Atlantic, including known long-staying birds, since the first in France in 1974. The majority of records have been from the French Atlantic coast (especially Banc d'Arguin, Arcachon, Gironde, France) with 1/2 individuals many years to date, but with others reported from Northern Ireland (1982), Irish Republic (1982, 1999, 2002), Spain (1993), Belgium (1998), Denmark (2000), UK (2002), Netherlands (2002), Canary Islands (2004), Germany (2004) and finally an extraordinary record of one of the French birds, of uncertain ID, in South Africa (2005) (see linked document for more details). Some of these records will relate to the same wandering individual, e.g. this is known to be the case for the 2002 records in the UK and the Netherlands.

The amazing thing about these records is that Elegant Tern is both a very coastal, i.e. non-pelagic, species by nature and is also a strictly Pacific seabird in terms of its New World distribution - there had only been one record on the Atlantic side of the USA before 1999! Thus there has recently been an interesting debate about the likely origins (and identification) of these birds, e.g. on the ID Frontiers website.

Beyond the Western Paleartic

Brown Shrike (W Siberia, Mongolia and China, wintering SE Asia)

single, Fairview, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, 23/11/97-1/12/97; see this linked page with further information on this occurence; this record is a strong rival to any of those listed above due to the phenomenal distance involved; the location where the bird was observed could hardly be further from its usual range with approximate travel distances of 12000km for arrival from the west of 11000km from the east; the magnitude of the feat can be appreciated by first considering the latter option - this species is an extremely rare vagrant in western Europe and has already travelled a huge distance to get that far; to then imagine it crossing the Atlantic is unreasonable, though ship assistance might be an option (Halifax is a port with ships from Europe); nevertheless, other Siberian vagrants have penetrated west as far as Iceland and even Greenland (c.f. notes on Siberian Rubythroat and White's Thrush above); for arrival from the west, traversing of a major ocean can be avoided if it is assumed the bird crossed via the Bering straight; however, this just extends the travel distance and does not seem reasonable either! Further discussion is here.

Red-necked Stint (E Siberia, wintering SE Asia to Australia, a few reaching South Africa)

various records for US east coast, and Bermuda, e.g. single(s), Connecticut, July-August 2000; again, direction of travel is uncertain but the birds presumably originated in Siberia and followed a west-to-east route. The Little Stint, which breeds in Siberia further west than the Red-necked (as far as the extreme north of Scandinavia) and winters down into South Africa, has also been recorded on the east coast of the US, and Bermuda! Such birds must have followed an opposite east-to-west route, but may have originated from a region in Siberia neighbouring the breeding grounds of the Red-necked birds. Further, the Little Stint has also been recorded on the West coast of the US, e.g. California (Sept 1983). It would be very interesting to know if either species occurs at the southern tip of South America, as might be expected.

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (Siberia, winters Australia)

Tristan da Cuhna, Jun 1950

Arctic Warbler (Asia)

Kilauea Point NWR, Kaua'i, Hawaii, 13 February 2000 - probably this species, see full account here; this was the first and only passerine vagrant recorded on the main Hawaiian islands.

Would welcome any other suggestions from further afield for this section!