This page is updated by Martyn and Jan who have now set up residence on South Uist as crofters.
Martyn was head of centre at Kindrogan for 9 years and Jan was the Bursar .
A view looking out from the croft …
Look out for regular bulletins … in reverse date order
Over to Kindrogan to prepare for the Orkney trip this weekend.
Very grey and uneventful ferry crossing, but plenty to see at Kindrogan. One of the young tawny owls was sitting out in the open by the river, making an obvious target for scolding blackbirds (that’s how I found it), a cuckoo was calling from atop a tree below the crag, nesting swallows and house martins were buzzing around the Steadings, and, well before dusk, a couple of very playful pine martens were feeding at the log pile. Another individual arrived just as it was going dark, but I had great views from the hide. A woodcock roding overhead added to the Kindrogan experience.
The young blackbirds are growing fast – still seems to be four in the nest. The pair of greenfinches is still about and must be nesting nearby, and the wheatear territory seems to centre on the big rock by the creek.
A sedge warbler sang for several minutes from the ‘veg patch’ before flying off, and I’ve been hearing a greenshank calling from the creek area.
We have a celeb on the croft – our local male starling. He is the most amazing mimic I have ever heard, and gives regular performances from our shed roof. These recitals are always watched by an appreciative audience of four or five other starlings – females I assume – who sit in a huddle a couple of feet away along the ridge. You can almost see them swooning as he runs through his repertoire. Within the space of a few minutes, and without hesitation or repetition but with plenty of deviation, I heard him rattle off curlew, lapwing, golden plover, redshank, corncrake, hen, a person talking in the distance, a barking dog and a tin roof banging in the wind. What a little star, he should have taken a bow and sent the hat around! Mind you, fame may already have gone to his head, for instead of enjoying this playboy lifestyle perhaps he should concentrate on his mate and babies in the nest under our oil tank! Boys will be boys.
A red letter day
We have three male corncrakes calling on the croft, but, despite spending hours over several days trying to see one, I’ve failed dismally. They are just so good at hiding in the iris beds.
Not today though. Breakfast was interrupted by a corncrake on the lawn. There he was, bold as brass, strutting about in the open, head up, beak wide open, craking away. We watched him for half an hour before he crept into the longer grass and disappeared from view, though we could still hear him calling.
There was a downside though. Not only was my cup of tea cold, but Jan saw him first, so I lost the ‘first to see a corncrake’ bet. Guess I’ll be doing the washing up again tonight.
Walked over to Gualan (the tidal island) this evening. Not a cloud in the sky, so suggested to Jan that we wait to see the green flash at sunset. She had never heard of this, so we sat in the dunes for half an hour watching the sun slowly sink to meet the sea – and there it was, the green flash, as the last traces of the sun disappeared ‘beneath’ the waves.
Had a go at recording the corncrakes tonight. Our friend from this morning was giving it some stick, hardly drew a breath in two hours. Hope for his sake that the effort impressed a female corncrake as much as it did me!
Have a listen to a corncrake and lapwing from a recording I made about midnight here www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrxQabGSAfM
Some pictures of the corncrake in the garden of the croft
It dawned on me that it was quieter today, and I realised that the dunlin have gone. For days now there have been dunlin feeding along the creek and out in the bay, hundreds of them with their smart black bellies, and amphibian-like calls and song have filled the air. We still have our local breeding population, but most have now headed north to Arctic breeding grounds. They could well be replaced by another wave passing through in the next few days
Little brown jobs
LBJ’s cause all sorts of identification problems for birdwatchers, and twite must be the ultimate LBJ, often described as a drab streaky-brown northern linnet. However, now that they are a garden bird for me, I can confirm that they are in fact beautiful little birds, full of charm. A pair must be nesting nearby, and have been spending most of the day working their way through the dandelion seed-heads. They methodically extract each individual seed, snip off the fluffy ‘parachute’, and eat the seed itself. When they move on to the next plant, a bare stalk surrounded by discarded fluff is all that is left of the dandelion ‘clock’.
I wonder if they would come to a nyger seed feeder? The seeds would certainly be about the right size, so think I’ll give it a try.
Sun 4th May
What a great time of year to be on the coast.
Walking across the croft and over the shore to the tidal sand dune island of Gualan gave plenty of opportunity for wader ID – birds moving north are in a variety of plumages from winter through to full breeding splendour. My favourite must be the noisy harlequin turnstone, but there were also hundreds of dunlin and sanderling, plus ringed plover, whimbrel and curlew busily feeding. Offshore, eider were displaying, red-breasted merganser, two great northern divers and little tern fishing.
Great northern divers are big birds, and, if you are not familiar with their breeding plumage, look it up – they really are magnificent.
On the croft itself the breeding oystercatcher, redshank and lapwing are always on guard, and rise up quickly and noisily to see off any passing threat – raven, gull, buzzard or harrier.
Friday 2nd May
On my way back home …
Arriving Lochmaddy (North Uist) Friday evening – impressive sky.
Waternish Point was the hot-spot again for birds (gannets, auks, shearwaters, bonxie) and porpoises wherever you looked
The corncrakes are back at the croft. On Wednesday 23rd a single male was ‘craking’ from early evening, and by the following night there were three of them. Glen the Dog can’t work out what the noise is, and stands staring at the offending clump of irises with his cheeks puffed out.
He actually got to be a proper sheepdog the other day, moving five trespassing sheep off our land. I reckon he prefers being a croft dog to a field centre dog, and it is great to see him recovering so well from his badly broken leg last September. Cally the Dog isn’t really that fussed, she has simply swapped the nice warm wood burner at Kindrogan for the nice warm Rayburn in the croft kitchen.
Our garden birds are certainly different. We have house sparrows, starlings and blackbirds, even a greenfinch singing the other day, but also a pair of wheatear and meadow pipits. Every now and again there is extra excitement as a beautiful male hen harrier drifts over hunting, while the lapwings regularly see off the local buzzard.
Arctic terns have now joined the little terns fishing Loch Bee, and a few whimbrel have been passing through on their way north – they give their distinctive call as they fly over, drawing attention to themselves, very handy for the birdwatcher.
I’ve been on the ferry a couple of times this week, and there seem to be more auks every crossing, especially puffins. Waterish Point (Skye) always seems to be a particular hotspot, with hundreds of puffins, guillemot and razorbill flying back and forth, thirty gannets plunge-diving and a summer plumaged great northern diver close-by today (30th).
Leaving Lochmaddy this morning I picked out a black-throated diver, and a single cormorant amongst the shags – the white patches on its flank were very obvious. The shags have marvellous crests at this time of year, almost like the plumes on a knight’s helmet.
As the ferry left the pier a family came rushing up on deck and stood next to me – I guess the binoculars gave me away as a fellow birdwatcher. Dad announced “We just have to see a golden eagle before we leave!” Well, it really was his lucky day – I’d been watching a pair circling over the hills for several minutes, so was happy to point them out.
Scottish Islands with FSC
I will still be running the island trips for FSC, two to Orkney and one to Tire (all with Robin Sutton) this year. Let us know what islands you would like to see included in our programme for 2015 and beyond, and we’ll see what we can do.
Our location “Eochar” South Uist
So far this week I’ve crossed the Minch four times on the Uig (Skye) to Lochmaddy (North Uist) route aboard Cal Mac’s MV ‘Hebrides’. Even the crew recognise me now, and give me a cheery wave. What that means, of course, is that I have had a good excuse to do plenty of birdwatching from the ferry, and a couple heading out to the Uists for Easter couldn’t believe their luck when they ended up with their own personal wildlife guide for the entire crossing – old habits die hard!
Highlights were a raft of over 500 Manx shearwaters just off Uig, two beautiful great northern divers right alongside the ferry, a porpoise, and an otter I spotted slipping into the sea off rocks as we entered Lochmaddy harbour. Other birds seen included puffin, razorbill, guillemot (many still in winter plumage), black guillemot, fulmar, gannet, shag, kittiwake, great skua, red-throated diver and eider.
Arriving at the croft we were greeted by displaying redshank and lapwing, snipe drumming, 10 red-breasted mergansers and little terns fishing in the creek. A starling singing from a telegraph pole had an absolutely amazing repertoire of wader impersonations.
Blackbirds are nesting in the hedge around the old vegetable plot, but no sign of corncrakes yet.