Saturday, 4 July 2015

Cuckoo Coll land, the isle of Coll 23-30 May 2015 part 1/3

I should be doing a blog on Cornwall that is from over a month ago, that's a first and a real shame, however, I have just finished mocks and an exam so have no excuses to stop posting!

Like the Derbyshire post I'll pick out the key species and experiences of the holiday. So to kick off, the journey... all 9 hours of it up to Oban, from 6 in the evening till 3 in the morning, it was nothing short of epic. The trouble was that I had to stay awake through the whole journey in case Dad had fallen asleep, not the most pleasing moments. After having realised that I had to be awake by 6 the following morning, I was shattered!

Anyway, the ferry as usual was fantastic way to begin the holiday of dreams. The view just from Oban was something to behold.
Here are the highlights from the boat trip...

one of 7 Black Guillemots AKA "Tysties" that were frequenting Oban harbour

Just a few of the bountiful amounts of Arctic Terns

One of a pair of Great Northern Divers that were calling on their way up to their breeding grounds 
In the same minute of seeing the Divers, this quartet of Whimbrel escorted us up the sound of Mull.

A rather late quintet(!) of Common Scoters in open ocean with 3 Females and 2 Males. Males being the darker ones at the front and back of the group.

Another GN Diver trying to fit in with bus loads of Guillemots. Surprisingly in winter plumage, non-breeder perhaps (1st summer?)

We  arrrived at the ferry terminal happy as can be awaiting an even more satisfying stay. On the car journey to our accommodation near Totronald (the RSPB reserve) we found our first special bird of the holiday, the Cuckoo.
Both genders got harrased beyong belief understandably by the Meadow Pipits 

I nearly caught this photo brilliantly, however, due to the shear speed of this action moment was too much for me to cope with!

As soon as we arrived I was off! Hugging the northern coastline towards Feall Bay. while studyng the ever characterful Ringed Plover I noticed a darker individual shadowing it on the rocks behind, so I decided to take a photo comparing the two subtly different subspecies. Them being the nominate and lighter form Hiaticula and the Northern form Tundrae...
The key differns from the Hiaticula race (front) and Tundrae (back) that I found was the bimoetrics, with the Tundrae being slimmer and seemingly weaker. Next was the shade on the mantle, clearly illustrated here with the Tundrae race being far darker. Finally, I noticed the face pattern wasn't as sharp as the Hiaticula and was rather diffused, however this identification maybe quite tenuous.

The following beach was the home of the Sanderling. Although there were two of them, I suspect they're not a pair but just two associating with ecah other as they're very sociable creatures. All the Sanderlings we encountered will be late migrants that are either non-breeders taking it slow, or a different group of Sanderling that have a different migration pattern, That rather than taking steady and stopping frequently on their way up north, may just do one big push towards their breeding grounds in the High Arctic. Little instances like this shows us the many different dimensions that make birding such an interesting hobby.

Here's one of the two in winter plumgae moulting into summer plumage. Surprisingly a few Sanderling we saw were in full winter plumage, non-breeders perhaps?

Later on I walked round the beautiful headland of Ben Feall which layed home to the first Orchid of the trip, but please don't ask me the name of it!
Early Marsh being a complete guess (don't take my word for it!) Below the cliffs edge Shags surrounded me along with the tubular-nosed Fulmars. As soon as I arrived onto the beach ((Feall bay which is one of the best in the world in my opinion, can anyone disagree?)
I found jackpot, but a seemingly poorly one, with a suspected broken leg which may have hindered its migration... May I present the White Wagtail, Motacilla Alba Alba...
I labeled it as a Female (only to make it more confusing) due to the diffused transition between the pale grey and black behind the head. But firstly what makes it a White compared to our Pied? Well Male Pieds are completely out of the equation as it's mantle colour (back colour) is far too dark, almost pitch black. However, the trouble begins when you have a female Pied Wagtail, however, again the mantle decides whether it's the real deal or not. If it was a female Pied Wagtail the mantle would be dark grey and rather blotchy with a few darker patches intermixed. While a White Wagtial would be clearly paler and have no blotches coupled with the diagnostic plain grey pattern. Although you should take precaution when labeling it as you should only decide so if experienced with the other. In other words learn common, then pick out the rarities, as the rarities normally get down to the nitty-gritty!

To a similar rairty degree as the White Wagtail and to a similar migration pattern (with most seen in spring when migrating north.) I found one male Greenland Wheatear that was very shifty and therefore I left with no photograph :(.

 I circled back round towards our place by walking across Crossapol Bay.

Yet more Sanderlings were picking up scraps from the dead seaweed. It still makes me wonder what the urge is for those tiny little birds to want to travel to an area (Greenland, High Arctic etc.) to breed.  Why not breed on these island or somewhere else secluded I'm sure they'd be able to rear chicks, it baffles me!

Once I got back home I noticed a family of Stonechats ironically chatting away to each other, some very young chicks soon revealed themselves and became a very regular thing to see while staying on the island. However unusually I noticed that one Female Whitethroat must have been very fond of their calls and seems to had been following them, have any of you heard of this behaviour before? 

That was it for the day... In the evening my Dad and I discussed where to go the following morning, we decided that it'd be the best port of call to go via Calgary point which faces towards Gunna and Tiree. 

The day was fantastic, with bird after bird after bird. Our first exciting encounter of Waders was made today...
Here you can see a mixed flock of Dunlin and Ringed Plover (and just for the pernickety people out there Tundra Ringed Plover as well!) This is what drew me to Coll at this time of year seeing what you'd recognise as a coastal bird grazing in beautiful meadows AKA Machair along with the local sheep, just brilliant! There were around 50 Ringed Plover and 25 Dunlin sifting throught the Daisies and in British farming respects, weeds! Croftland like this is some of the best and most fertile in the world due to the nutrient rich sands getting blown in from the Atlantic. This is the reason why most of the Western palearctic Waders channel through this gap looking for the large bay and croftland. The Gulf Stream I'm sure will have another positive affect on the Waders who are searching for the route further North or are looking to breed. If you want to have the best wader experience I'd suggest travelling to Coll, it's magical! John Bowler from the neighbouring isle of Tiree says this wasn't even the peak time of migration for Waders, being two weeks earlier, I could only imagine the numbers passing through. but to put it into perspective on Tiree (which is watched far more meticulously) has over a 1000 Dunlin in one bay in early May, so if you correspond that to the number of bays there are you'd be into 10s of thousands! All I'm thinking about is cannon netting ;)

In the following field we found a lone "Curlew", thanks Dad... Shortly to be reidentified as a Whimbrel, even before this Pagham harbour bird seeing one Whimbrel does give you some sort of tingling, only to present a bright white rump!
Another example of how fanastic it is to see such a wonderful bird in such a unique habitat! Following on from that we turned right and entered the grand Crossapol bay where our Wader compatriots decided to check on us again...

Sadly it was raining while we enjoyed watching these beauties, so couldn't spend to long on this shelterless beach. However, another large flock of waders flew in and formed a lovely formation with this Sanderling squadron. here was them all together...

As you can tell the variable weather took a turn fo the better with the sun forcing its way through the clouds! A little way down the beach was another Sanderling but this time had a highly welcome visitor!

It was a very snugged up Little Tern. These are a very local breeders in the UK and of course very special to the Hebrides... As you can see, quite small! After getting off the beach we encountered yet more beautiful shell blown meadows as well as another lone Whimbrel! But again Eurasian!

I'm sure that's enough to keep you occupied for the time being, I'm carrying on tomorrow!


  1. What a great post and what a great part of the world - its been a long time since I was there.

    If you are interested you may like to join in with Wild Bird Wednesday - which is a blog link up that runs on my photo blog every Wednesday - about 40 - 50 bird bloggers from around the world normally join in and you would be very welcome as well. Hope this makes sense,

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

    1. Thanks Stewart for the feedback, I'll make sure I check your blog out,


  2. Great blog Biff, where's the rest of it though!!!