Friday, July 27, 2012

I thought Rich needed a rest from his Greenish Warbler research, so I booked a holiday in a yurt on the Isle of Muck for the last week of our holiday. It was phenomenal! Corncrakes crexing from the meadows were the avian highlight, although we did see Twite, which was new for the yearlist. The mega highlights of the holiday, however, all came from the depths of the sea...

On our first day trekking around an island only slightly bigger than Bardsey, we got some distant views of two Basking Sharks feeding in the waters in front of the Isle of Eigg. We watched them for half an hour or so before heading on - there was still a lot of coastline to explore! We hoped we'd get closer views. A couple of days later, we spotted another Basking Shark, very close in to shore. The only problem was we were viewing it from Beinn Airein - the highest point on the island. We made a hurried descent to the bay and watched the shark feeding close in for a couple of hours! Brilliant! Then, on our last night as we enjoyed a few ciders, a Basking Shark appeared in the bay opposite the yurt.

Adult Gannet, Great Black-backed Gull and Shag to give this enormous sea-beast some scale. This particular shark seemed to be around 12ft long, which is big enough, but massively shorter than the largest specimen ever reported, which was trapped in a herring net in the Bay of Fundy, Canada in 1851 and measured in at a whopping 40ft and tipped the scales at an impressive 19 tonnes! Sadly, the commercial value of Basking Sharks as food, animal feed and sharks liver oil (not to mention the appalling trade in sharks fin) has resulted in over-exploitation of this species and so long-lived individuals like the 1851 specimen are rarely recorded now. Basking sharks filter-feed on blooms of plankton, small fish and invertebrates in the water column and can get through as much as 1800 tonnes of water an hour. (c) Richard Brown

Sea-beast the Second! After the excitement of the Basking Shark, came the excitement of the elusive Otter. Yet again the yurt was the place to be and we watched this large individual catching fish just offshore. It's no surprise that he was busy eating, British Otters need to consume somewhere in the region of 15% of their body weight per day to enable them to survive in our chilly waters. (c) Richard Brown

A somewhat distant Minke Whale which didn't quite make it onto the yurt list. The Minke Whale is apparently named after Miencke, a Norwegian Whaler who became the butt of his crewmates' jokes when he repeatedly harpooned this species thinking that it was the much larger Blue Whale. They crew dubbed this smallest rorqual whale 'Miencke's Whale' and the name eventually stuck. (c) Richard Brown

The yurt overlooking the much larger Isle of Rùm where several tens of thousands of pairs of Manx Shearwater breed high up in the Cuillin Hills. Which goes some way to explaining their constant presence in the waters around Muck. It seems a few pairs have started to breed on Muck but, as on Rùm, the presence of non-native rats will not be helping their productivity. (c) Richard Brown

So we're now back on Bardsey, and just in time. It might only be the last week in July but autumn is well and truly under way. Over 100 Willow Warblers have been logged for the last two days, predominantly birds of the year, along with the first few Sedge Warblers and Grasshopper Warblers heading South. Up to 13 species of wader have been around the coast and Swifts are screaming their way South. 

The first Grasshopper Warbler of the autumn was predictably a nice fresh bird of the year. Little is known about Grasshopper Warbler migration but it is likely that this smart Locustella will visit important refuelling sites in Portugal before reaching its wintering grounds in North Africa. (c) Richard Brown

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