Thursday, 3 November 2016

Isle of May, 8-17 October

Earlier this year, Gary emailed with news of his intentions of a ringing expedition to the Isle of May in October. Having heard of previous trips taken by other group members, and with a particular interest in east coast autumn migration, I very quickly showed my interest. Several months passed slowly and eventually on a mild and clear Saturday morning, after a drive up with Linda Lowndes, a friend of SNRG, we met with our other group members, Roger Hughes and Sue Pollard to board the Osprey RIB to make the short crossing to the island.

Saturday 8th

We alighted at Kirkhaven, with a welcoming party of grey seals, Shags and Turnstones, and quickly caught up with the previous group coming off the island, who had experienced an excellent week, ringing over 1200 birds, including scarcities such as Blyth's Reed Warbler and Radde’s Warbler. There were still plenty of birds left over from the recent fall, mostly thrushes and Goldcrests, and we soon set nets and began to operate traps.

We had a successful first day and were kept very busy with Goldcrests in the mist nets. 125 new birds were ringed: Goldcrest 93, Blackbird 11, Robin 7, Song Thrush 5, Redwing 3, Blackcap 3, Chiffchaff 2, Wren 1. We also retrapped a Firecrest that had been ringed the previous week, and in the evening we watched 2 Short-eared Owls on the north plateau. Yellow-browed Warbler, Redstart and Wheatear were also seen.

Sunday 9th

Got up early to work the traps and as the wind was still relatively calm, we could open a few nets. The clear conditions meant that birds had obviously started to move out, noticeable as we made our way round the island, however we still had a very productive day, particularly in the afternoon when we mist-netted a good number of birds in the top garden.

107 new birds ringed: Goldcrest 32, Blackbird 18, Redwing 17, Song Thrush 15, Robin 7, Blackcap 6, Wren 4, Yellow-browed Warbler 3, Chiffchaff 3, Redpoll 1, Brambling 1. Obviously the 3 Yellow-browed Warblers were a highlight. These would be the last we’d see for the rest of the week, after obviously getting the last of the influx that the team had experienced the previous week, when they had ringed nearly 40! A Little Bunting was seen at Kirkhaven, and several woodcock were noted.

Monday 10th

A much quieter day, the winds had increased which meant that we could only really use the traps, and although the wind was still coming from the east, there weren’t really any new birds coming in and a lot of stuff had cleared out. However, in the evening, the warden David Steel, reported a Blyth’s Reed Warbler near one of the traps, so Gary and I went down to investigate. No Blyth's sadly, but we did get a Water Rail for our efforts. 4 Manx Shearwater noted.

42 new birds ringed: Goldcrest 22, Song Thrush 8, Blackbird 5, Redwing 2, Robin 1, Blackcap 1, Lesser Whitethroat 1, Chiffchaff 1, Water Rail 1.

Tuesday 11th

Another quiet day with few new birds noted. Too windy again for nets, so traps used for most of the day.

42 new birds ringed: Blackbird 19, Blackcap 6, Robin 5, Redwing 5, Song Thrush 4, Goldcrest 2, Chiffchaff 1.

Wednesday 12th

The day started quietly, with few new birds noted an only small numbers trapped in the morning. However after lunchtime, things picked up with a few arrivals being noted, with decent numbers of Goldcrest and Chiffchaff. Lighter winds allowed more sheltered nets to be opened, and the afternoon was quite productive.

114 new birds ringed: Goldcrest 38, Robin 21, Redwing 19, Blackbird 12, Song Thrush 6, Chiffchaff 6, Redpoll 5, Blackcap 2, Lesser Whitethroat 2, Ring Ouzel 1, Redstart 1, Brambling 1.

The highlight of the day was definitely the smart 1st year male Ring Ouzel, caught first thing in one of the traps. A number of redpoll were noted arriving early afternoon, including some Common Redpoll. Some of these were trapped in the evening, and it was interesting comparing the differences between them and the browner, smaller Lesser Redpolls. A couple of Wheatear were noted too, and another Water Rail which evaded capture in the Bain trap on several occasions!

Thursday 13th

A much busier day, new birds were seen throughout the day with a general influx of thrushes, Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs. Small flocks of Brambling and redpoll were also noted, and 3 Short-eared Owls were seen on the North Plateau. David Steel reported an Olive-backed Pipit in the same area, which I looked for, but couldn’t locate (several times…..)

111 new birds ringed: Robin 27, Blackbird 19, Song Thrush 18, Redwing 13, Goldcrest 13, Chiffchaff 12, Blackcap 4, Lesser Whitethroat 3, Wren 1, Lesser Redpoll 1.

Friday 14th

Heavy rain overnight, which continued until mid-morning, which meant traps couldn’t be operated until a bit later than usual. However the poor weather meant that there had been a fall of common migrants on the island, with lots of thrushes, Blackbirds and Robins as well as the ever-present Goldcrests!

Traps were worked all day, and nets were barely opened, but still a total of 201 new birds was achieved throughout the day. Blackbird 76, Robin 45, Blackcap 35, Song Thrush 18, Goldcrest 15, Redwing 5, Dunnock 2, Chiffchaff 2, Redpoll 2, Reed Warbler 1.

Catching so many Blackbirds was a highlight and sometimes the catching boxes in the traps were full of them! A Reed Warbler in one of the traps got pulses racing but was clearly a Eurasian Reewa. Definitely a good fall day though, and had we been able to open nets, we may have been a bit over-run!

There was plenty to see otherwise, with a decent passage of Skylark, an apparent influx of Blackcaps, flocks of Brambling, Snipe and Jack Snipe and a Great Grey Shrike in the top Garden at the end of the day. The Little Bunting was also noted, and David Steel once again saw the Olive-backed Pipit as well as a Dusky Warbler.

Saturday 15th

We were meant to depart today, but were told the previous afternoon that we wouldn’t be able to get off the island due to inclement weather so we had to stay put til Sunday. We awoke to heavy rain which stayed put til late morning, when Tom and Gary had had enough of sitting it out and decided to go birding. Tom went searching hopelessly for the OBP and Dusky Warbler, while Gary had other intentions. He came up trumps, as he came back to Low Light with two Woodcock from the Heligoland traps.

Ringing started properly from around midday and another excellent day was had with 129 new birds ringed: Blackbird 58, Blackcap 23, Robin 18, Song Thrush 11, Redwing 10, Woodcock 4, Dunnock 2, Goldcrest 1, Wren 1, Great Grey Shrike 1.

4 Woodcock throughout the day was a great experience, and was only a small sample of the 40+ that were seen across the island that day. The shrike was caught in the Bain trap shortly after midday and was a favourite amongst the group and what was presumably the same bird stayed with us til the last day. The poor weather had obviously delivered again as common migrants were still everywhere, especially Blackbirds, Blackcaps and robins. Big flocks of winter thrushes were noted coming in and over 150 Brambling were logged.

Sunday 16th

A day of mixed fortunes. We had packed up and cleaned the Low light and were ready to leave when we received a call from the boatmen saying that they were unable to come until Tuesday! We were all ready to go, but things are never straight forward on an island! Luckily Gary had provisioned enough food to keep us going and we were helped along by the ample emergency rations in the Low Light too.

Normal service was resumed and traps were driven once again in the afternoon with a steady trickle of birds throughout, and 57 new birds were ringed: Song Thrush 21, Blackbird 19, Redwing 8, Dunnock 4, Robin 4, Barred Warbler 1.

The Barred Warbler, a 1st year bird, was caught on the very last trap drive, and more than made up for the disappointment of not being able to get home. A Firecrest was also seen by Tom in the morning. We went for an evening wander round the island to see if we could see the Northern Lights which were forecast, but the cloudy sky put paid to that, but we spent the time wisely in getting an owl net up in the Top garden, as 2 Asio sp were seen to come in to roost.

Monday 17th.

Hopes were high for getting off the island today. In the meantime, Gary and Linda went to check the Owl nets and managed to flush a Long-eared owl successfully in the right direction. It made Linda’s week and was a truly beautiful bird to see so close. It must have been a good omen, as we received a visit later on from David, who brought the good news that we were being taken off the island that afternoon. We packed up, cleaned the Low Light and got off the island, but not before getting a soaking on the trip back in the RIB.

We all had an amazing week, with some new birds ringed and seen for some of the group. A total of 931 new birds were ringed in the time we were there. Had the wind been calmer, who knows what else we’d have managed in the mist-nets which largely stayed furled. Though, without the poor weather, would there have been as many birds anyway?

Thanks to Gary for his organisation and patience in scribing, and a special mention has to go to Sue for looking after us for the week too, it was much appreciated!


Totals for the week:


1 comment:

  1. Great trip. Fantastic birds. The Long Eared Owl was AWESOME.