Wednesday 12 June 2013

Isle of May - days two and three

Sunday 9th June

Up at 5am and straight out. It's fully light! Why do we sleep so late back home? By 6am I was painting and by 10am I had my first ever puffin sketches and a larger watercolour with a puffin detail - still to be finished.


Apart from an hour nap post-lunch I was working out there all day. What a place.

Two interesting sightings today:

- a clifftop puffin, sunlit, four or five eels in beak (the puffins apparently only began bringing food back three or four days ago, so pufflings must be startibg to hatch.)

- a great black-backed gull flying to sea, a dead puffin clasped in its webbed feet, dangling limply below, head-down.

New birds today:

Spotted flycatcher x2 (my first ever).
Unidentified warbler.
Carrion crow.


Isle of May - day three  

Monday 10th June

Razorbill painting, guillemot sketches:


A day of birds even closer-up; in fact in the hand, though not mine. On my way back from watching warden Dave logging moths caught overnight in the mercury vapour trap, I passed via the Main Light and spotted in the Top Garden an unknown bird. It was a shrike but I didn't know anything more than that. Red-backed shrike, male, Keith was able to tell me as soon as he saw my photos. We quickly went out to try to catch it.

The Isle of May Bird Observatory exists to record the comings and goings of birds to the island. Being five miles out in the Firth of Forth it's the first land that many migrating birds will encounter when arriving in Scotland from Europe or Scandinavia. During times of migration thousands of birds can be seen to land here, even just in one day, and rarities regularly turn up. Volunteers pay to come and man the observatory, as we are this week. It's desirable for at least one to be an expert birder but it's not vital. Keith (Keith Brockie - wildlife artist. See his books on the Isle of May) is the one in our group so I've been watching and helping where I can, and learning a lot.

Ringing the shrike - after perhaps an hour of gently following as it enjoyed the shelter of the walled Top Garden we managed to catch it in the heligoland trap there. What a stunning stunning bird. Shrikes are also known as butcher birds - they are known to cache stocks of insects, small mammals and birds by impaling them on thorns or barbed wire fences. They could just as rightly be called bandit birds because of the black bandana that runs between their slate blue head and chestnut brown back. The whole underside of the bird is whitish with a gentle hint of rose. The legs and beak are black.

Interesting things today:

- A short-eared owl, before lunch, being chased by many Arctic terns from their colony at Kirkhaven harbour.

- A peregrine falcon looking for breakfast, as I ate my own outside Low Light, 8.40am:
The terns on the hill took flight, wheeled a giant curve.
A large group of puffins whirred rapidly past from nearby.
A flock of pigeons came speeding above, silhouetted.
Suddenly, among them - a pigeon that wasn't a pigeon. It was a peregrine. It flew fast, flew high, swooped low, circled on scimitar wings. At the top of a climb it tucked wings and stooped, plummeted so fast... but didn't catch anything this time. Through binoculars I managed to make out its yellow eye ring and black bandit mask; a bit like the shrike's only covering more of the peregrine's head.

- I spent three evening hours attempting a painting through a telescope. A kittiwake on nest. I've never drawn with a scope before and I didn't get on well with the hassle of setting up comfortably and the feeling I was straining my eyes. But I see the benefits of watching so closely; you can sit far enough away not to disturb your subject yet feel you're right beside it. It was very engrossing studying and translating all the details of gull and may and rocks. More work is needed to finish.

New birds today:
Short-eared owl.
Red-backed shrike (my first ever).
Whinchat (my first ever).

The old gully trap, a passing ship:


A razorbill to finish:


I love razorbills.

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