Sunday, June 23, 2013

Bath time

Until today I was a little worried that I would not have enough new material to put together a post this week. However, despite the wind blowing, the sun was out this Sunday. I decided to shelter from the wind and venture off to the Abbey Gardens which was yet again, stunning.

Firstly a few shots of what can be seen on Tresco at the moment.....

The spring bloom is still in full throttle with insects of all kinds making the most of the treats on offer. I would love to be able to identify each of these but trawling through hundreds of pictures online of wasps and bees is really quite a mammoth task. Maybe one day....
The hogweed is one of many flowers in bloom among the hedges across the island and seem to be a real magnet to insects of all kinds. It smells quite pungent and not pleasant but is a real draw for any critters wanting a snack.
Our Wigeon is still with us on the Great Pool and still seems to like to lurk just a little too far away for me to get a picture I am happy with. Here he is having a little ruffle of his feathers. I took this shot today and noticed that he has a new friend. We have a Drake Tufted Duck on the island at the moment. It is really nice to see a variety of ducks on the island instead of the usual Mallards and Gadwalls. You can see why they are called 'Tufted.'
Although a fairly common resident in the UK we do not see them too often.
While by the lake this House Sparrow gave me the evil eye......
My wander today took me, as I mentioned, to the Abbey Gardens. There is so much to see in there that sometimes I do not really know where to start. A few people told me they liked the 'Blackbird bathing' picture in my previous post so I headed off to the pond on the Middle Terrace to see if I could get any similar shots. I was in luck....
I loitered by the pond for about an hour and bumped into quite a few familiar faces, the above is again a House Sparrow having a wash down.
Having my shutter speed on as fast as it could be in the given light and being exceedingly trigger happy gave me some more pictures that made me smile. This blackbird was having a real clean down!

I was then graced with this immature Greenfinch's presence. While quite tentative at first he couldn't resist a bath too....
This Gold Finch and adult Greenfinch just came down for a drink. Most birds like to wash on a daily basis, either in water or dust baths, these guys must be morning showerers.
Just before I was about to leave I had one final visitor and after my last post I thought I'd have to include it. This pollen faced Starling decided he had far too much food round his mouth.

After all of this, one of our rather tatty looking male Golden Pheasants popped over just long enough for me to snap a picture to show you just how much they let themselves go after the mating season. Not even trying....

Sunday, June 16, 2013

I'm bored. It's blowing a gale outside and I don't really like watching TV very much. I thought to myself I can either do the very necessary housework or I can trapse through all the old pictures I have this year and write up a little post about things I have not included in the blog so far. Basically this is a way of me posting without going outside.

So here it is, pictures (both acceptable and bad) of visitors we have had this recently, both rare and regular.

This is a female Black Redstart. As you can see they are charcoal grey all over except the bright orange tail that is visible pretty much only during flight. They usually arrive here in fairly good number during the beginning of Spring and although slightly drab looking I think they are rather elegant.
This male I took by the community centre, on the cricket pitch. I may be wrong but generally I seem to see them in open areas, rocky outcrops, beaches and open fields.
We have had very few real rarities visit us this year and to be honest I find standing amongst tens (and sometimes hundreds) of other birdwatchers staring intently at a hedgerow or field for hours on end quite dull and not what I enjoy. I prefer stumbling around seeing what I can find. The following picture is of three Ring Billed Ducks that graced the Great Pool this spring and are the calibre of rarity that get some nature lovers salivating.
The drake (front of the pack) is a majestic looking fellow and I think he looks rather content having two avid female followers behind him. They are a common duck all along West and Central North America and migrate to the East Coast during the Winter. I find it amazing that very occasionally these birds overshoot their usual route and cross the entire Atlantic Ocean and end up here. These three stayed with us for a few weeks and then moved on. It is quite a shame to think that they do not stand too much of a chance of surviving being so far away from their natural habitat. However journeys and anomalies like this can, once in a blue moon, be the beginning of new species inhabiting our country.
The above picture is of a Short billed Dowitcher and probably the rarest arrival I have been in the presence of. I believe this visitor was the third recorded visitor ever on British soil, although you can never tell how many have graced our shores and not been seen and identified. These guys usually live in the coastal areas in North America and do not migrate away from the continent. It is believed that this poor lost soul got caught in some strong Westerly gales and got blown off course. The Scillies can be the first land lost migrants see when this happens hence it being a good place for this sort of accidental visitor.
The first day I heard of this arrival the weather was appalling and I ventured down to Oliver's Battery (near Carn Near) and photographed a blob in the mist that could have been anything. The next day however the skies were clearer and the masses had left. I tried again and to my surprise there was a very small group of people gathered within ten feet of the unflinching bird. I joined and got my shot. I had to ask one of the experts that was present why we were so able to get so close without upsetting the poor guy and the answer surprised me. We were the first humans this bird had ever seen. It was highly likely that this individual had come from the tundra high up in North America and away from human settlement. As a result he had no concept of humans and the dangers they may cause. It made me think that there are still small pockets in the world where we aren't seen as a threat.
Now for a few that you are more likely to see.
Fieldfares are a regular winter visitor to our island and are usually found in flocks traipsing through open areas such as the heliport and the nearby fields.
To me they look like a hybrid of four or five different birds with their head not matching their wings, which in turn don't quite add up against their fronts. Maybe it's just me though...
This particular species usually breeds in North Europe and seeks warmer climates with us from around October time. They are members of the thrush family and have that unmistakable posture that all of the thrush family seem to have.
Another migrant we always host that adopt a very proud stance is the Wheatear. The name actually means 'White Arse' in old English and the reasons are pretty clear when these take flight. Their rear is a rather obvious white compared to the darkness of their body and wings.

This spring there were what I believe to be hundreds in and around the heliport with the above picture being taken on the fencing surrounding the landing area. There are very picturesque methinks.

This is a pretty terrible picture I know but it was taken from quite a distance and I thought that it was worth mentioning Woodchat Shrikes in this post. We get a small influx of these birds most years and I think they are quite interesting. One of the giveaways with identifying these is the fact that they like to perch on objects that give them a good view of the surrounding area. They do this to help them spot prey. It is well known that when food is in plentiful supply these birds often use thorny bushes to impale their catches (insects mainly) and store them for a later date. A spiny larder! Usually residing in Southern Europe they often overshoot their winter migration and arrive on the Scillies.

Anyway a little introduction of things you may see on our little rocks in the middle of the sea. However I must say that to be honest I rather like seeing our usual suspects across the islands. There is always something good to see rare or not. This following photo of a 'boring' bathing blackbird made me smile more than any of the previous photos.

I really should at least try and do some form of token housework before tomorrow. Or maybe I shall just turn on the telly........Night.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

After the last few weeks I'd forgotten that the weather can be pretty terrible here. It's currently very grey and very drizzly. Not really rambling weather. I did however manage to get out on Tuesday to have one last wander in the sun. I think I  pretty much went everywhere.....

This will be the last picture of a Reed Warbler I shall put up and then i'll drop it! Although I am still after a picture where the view is not obstructed, this will do for now. They are still present and very vocal around both pools at the moment.
This drake Wigeon is a new arrival on the Great Pool and has been with us for a few days now. It is the first one I have seen here and frustratingly seems to enjoy feeding just out of reach of my camera's zoom hence the picture being a bit patchy.

All across the island the butterflies are enjoying the sudden bloom of flowers. Above is a picture of a male (top) and female Common Blue butterflies. They don't open their wings very often when not flying as it gives their presence away so I was quite happy to get a picture of each.
My ongoing challenge to get some decent pictures of our two resident buzzards got a small step closer to what I would be happy with. They are nearly always out circling over the centre of the island in the early evening and 99% of the time hundreds of feet up and nothing but a dot in my viewfinder.  I did manage to get these two shots before they both ascended to their usual great heights. If it wasn't for the bloody tree I would have been perfectly happy with this next shot.
I have been trying to see if this pair have bred this year but am yet to see any signs.
Just as I was about to call it a day I heard the familiar struggle of a swan trying to get airborne. I turned around to see this guy heading straight towards me. This shot was taken with my lens at 70mm and I only just managed to get the bird in the frame, he was scarily close! He is of course on of our resident Mute Swans.
 I stumbled across a flock of Linnets and Greenfinches feasting in the shrubbery alongside the Abbey pool.
Finally, I was kind of lucky while photographing this sparrow. It had a little shake and my picture captured him mid tremble and looking rather funny.
Fingers crossed the sun comes back out soon!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Finally I got them! After spending too long loitering near the Abbey pool on my personal challenge to photograph a Reed Warbler I gave up. It was just far too boring. So whilst rambling along the Great Pool I decided to venture towards the bird hide halfway along the path. Its usually the noise they make that give away their presence but not this time. One of the reeds was bent at a funny angle and it caught my eye. There it was precariously balanced at towards the tip was one of two Reed Warblers gathering nest material! Still I want to get better....

To capture them in focus was a real challenge as the autofocus cannot handle the reeds swaying in the breeze so I had to revert back to good old manual adjustment and hope that I was quick enough before the bird moved. They were quite far away and therefore are not as large in the frame as I would like, however I quite like the way they are captured busy at work in their natural environment.
I took a stroll towards the Abbey Gardens on one of the beautiful sunny days we have had recently and while going past the old heliport I was greeted by a few guys perched on the fence happy to be snapped. Photographing Hirundines while they are stationary is far easier than while they are on the wing!
I was also confused for a few minutes when I caught sight of this juvenile Blackbird. I couldn't think what it was until I remembered that the young I have seen recently also have the yellow lining around their beaks. We have all kinds of young dotted across the island at the moment however I am still trying to hold back on chick photos! Amongst the new additions in our world I have seen Mallards, Mute Swans, Gadwalls, Starlings, Shelducks, Pheasants and Robins........ 
Besides the fact that the Gardens are looking absolutely stunning at the moment and are worth a look I had two purposes for my trip. Firstly I wanted to see if I could find one our endemic Smooth Stick Insects that only exist on the Isles of Scilly. There is a particular bush in the middle of the Valhalla Exhibition that they seem to favour and it is always worth checking for a number of them sunbathing on the leaves. I, however failed miserably.
My other intention was to see if I could capture something that puzzles the odd garden visitor during the months of May and June. Every now and again visitors ask what the black bird with the gold head is called. Here is the answer:
Birds of all kinds are attracted to our flowering Puya plants. They seem to have an insatiable appetite for the nectar on offer. As a result their heads become covered in pollen giving them a yellow mask. This is above image is also one that puzzled me for a minute or two. It is another juvenile, a starling. You can see the difference between the young and the adult on the left and in the picture below.
The highlight of my day and a couple of photos I am rather proud of are of a bird I have wanted to get a decent shot of for ages. I don't think many of them present on the Scillies but they are by no means rare. While fiddling around with my camera on the middle terrace I noticed movement in the flowering Bottlebrush tree just feet away from me. My immediate thought was that it was one of the millions of sparrows we have over here but I was quickly and happily proved wrong.

This female Blackcap posed for a few brief seconds before being startled by the shutter on my camera as I snapped away. Not before I got two images I am rather proud of!
My day off consisted of me strolling around the island for quite some time hence the abundance of photos this time. I'm not sure i'll be able to upload so many in future posts! Just a couple more of some little guys.....
This Green Tiger Beetle was standing out in the middle of the track towards Pentle. I thought it looked rather stunning.
Finally I was quite happy with this shot too. To get him in focus was rather lucky...
This bee was feasting on the flowering Tea Tree plant in The Abbey Gardens.
I have some more pictures to put up but the housework beckons.....


Sunday, June 2, 2013

At Sea

If the sun is shining and the seas are flat the locals and visitors on Scilly do everything they can to get out on the water. The islands are dotted with everything from kayakers to motor yachts. My girlfriend and I decided to opt for a ridiculously powerful R.I.B to take us around the islands and we definitely felt we made the right choice.

Mark and Susie Groves who run Island Safaris took us out from St Marys harbour to Puffin Island (where no Puffins dwell!) to Mincarlo, then across to Annet and the back of St Agnes through the Western Rocks and over to Peninnis Head on St Marys and we then tore back around the Garrison and return happy and in one piece back to the harbour.

Going out in a smaller boat than the 'tripper boats' makes it so much easier to approach the wildlife and therefore it is wonderful being able to see the array of sea life with the naked eye. However it is rather tricky keeping the camera still when you are bobbing around in the ocean. This resulted in me taking hundreds of shots of wonky horizons, out of focus blobs and many a bird half in and half out the shot. However persistence is the only way!
Our first sighting was a surprising one and occurred within five minutes of leaving the Quay. As we cruised towards Puffin Island, near Samson we noticed the profile of something we couldn't quite make out. As we got closer we could make out a pair of Peregrine Falcons perched on an outcrop.
Neither myself or our hosts had seen, nor heard of Peregrines in this area before. Coupling this with the fact that it was a male and a female present could suggest that they may be scouting the area for breeding maybe? I was enjoying the fact that the male on the right (you can tell by the lack of marking on his chest) was rather lazily perched while the female was flying around scanning
 the area at regular intervals. He seemed to have rather chauvinistic tendencies!
We do have a few Peregrines on the Archipelago with a family being present on the Eastern Isles. You can sometimes see them on Round Island or occasionally I have seen one or two on the North End of Tresco too.
We then zoomed off towards Mincarlo, seeing Gannets and Fulmars above, but they were too far away to capture on my camera. When we arrived at our destination we were greeted with Puffins and Razorbills galore. It was a real change from my last visit three weeks or so ago when it was rather quiet out there. The oohs and aahs were definitely appropriate as we were surrounded by auks diving, flying and swimming all around us. There were hundreds of them!
It was fun watching these masters of the sea on dry land as they awkwardly stumbled around on the rocks.
Razorbills are part of the Auk family along with Puffins and are in good number this year. They are larger than puffins and obviously lack the colour on their beak.
You can see in this picture that with wings as squat and stubby as theirs they are not the best of fliers. Watching them take off from the water you can often see them running across the surface for tens of metres before getting properly airborne. Every now and again they skim on their plump bellies as they struggle to get moving. This following picture of a Puffin shows you what I mean.
Although I had a picture of a shag in my previous post, I wanted to put this image up as I thought the green hues on this Shags feathers were really rather stunning.
Whenever you are visiting off islands and uninhabited areas it is almost impossible to not see any of our resident seals. We were met by quite a few off Annet. As the tide was high they were all in the water and therefore I didn't get any pictures of them basking on the rocks this time. I think that although you only see their heads I prefer seeing them at seaas you really get a sense of how at home they are amongst the white water and tidal surges.
Please don't take this as some sort of cheeky advertising but I truly feel that if you are visiting Scilly, or are lucky enough to live here, then a trip out with Mark and Susie is a must. Apart from have an amazing boat, they are friendly, genuinely passionate and extremely knowledgeable.
Back on dry land.
I am slightly worried about the fact that I may have been noticed, staring at a patch of reeds by the Abbey pool for rather prolonged periods of time on quite a few occasions. I think I must look rather peculiar staring away and possibly even, slightly deranged. I have been trying to catch a picture of one of our visiting Reed Warblers for bloody ages. They are so easy to locate as they relentlessly 'sing' a cacophony of garbled noises at a very loud volume. However, they do so while tucked away at the bottom of the reeds and rarely come out into sight. The above is the best image I have got so far and I'm sure I'll be lurking by the edge of the pool on many more occasions to get a better picture. These guys are the prime target for another summer visitor, the Cuckoo. They target the nests of Reed Warblers laying their eggs and leaving the unsuspecting soon to be parents to raise their young.

That's it, weekend over, time to think about going back to work tomorrow. Ah well........