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Monday, 19 March 2012

Wildlife gardening does pay!

After yesterdays chance encounter, you could definitely say that spring bird passage is well and truly underway. At a time when Rum was feeling a bit birdless,and nerdy birdy excitment was only to be encountered on our neighbouring islands, we well and truly pull it out the bag in style, and I will certainly remember the experience for as long as my faculties do. Here's the story.....
By chance I had just come back to Stable Bothy for lunch and was enjoying yet another round of cheese and marmite sandwiches (with lashings of hot tea of course).My mind was wondering off onto something random as usual,when all of a sudden Norman bursts through the door panting with excitement about a small heron-like bird that he and Derek had just seen landing in the forthcoming wildlife garden. Norman's pretty good on his birds, and thought it was a probable bittern. Something rang true in the man’s voice, so I grabbed my bins and camera and flew through the door. But was Norman seeing things, had he been fooled by the zombified re-animation of an Indian runner duck (they have a pretty upright stance I thought)? In reality, I didn’t have anything to lose as twitching from the comfort of your own home doesn't really involve much effort and comes highly recommended. In a few paces the mystery was settled as I was indeed face to face with one of our most secretive of birds, the Eurasian bittern Botaurus stellaris, a member of the heron family.

At first it stood in full view on the raised bank right next to the Community Hall.Then it moved into the boggy area in the Wildlife Garden for a minute or two before deciding to make its escape. It moved out around the back of the teashop extension and then towards the woodland between the hall and Lea Cottage. It wasn’t really bothered by our presence at all and casually strutted around unaware of any apparent danger. 


As the species spend the majority of their lives deep in a reed bed, it was a rare privilege to study the bird’s jerky movements as it moved around on its long powerful legs and large feet.

It’s amazing ‘owl like’ cryptic plumage was so camouflaging that you could hardly see it when it stood motionless pretending to be a reed.If you didn't know it was there, you would have quite easily walked straight past it.

Absolutely awesome stuff and proves without question our wildlife garden’s worth for UK Biodiversity Action Plan species! Effortlessly achieved without even a single reed planted yet (I must order more); am I fully justified in turning the whole thing into an extensive phragmites reedbed? Apart from Zapper Moppus normanskii who was luckily on a lead at the time, it was great there had been no other dogs lurking with intent around the hall that day, for in all probability, it would have been munched for having such a laid back attitude! All in all, we watched it for about half an hour (1300-1330) before it finally crept quietly into deeper cover.

Note the pale and chunky bill.Definitely not the American counterpart. 

According to our records, there has never been a bittern observed on the island before and only a handful of sightings in the Highlands and Islands ever, so good going Norman! Spoke to the Scottish Ornithologists Club’s Angus Murray to clarify their current status, and as suspected, the species doesn’t even breed in Scotland. Only three have overwintered in the whole of the country during 2011/12 including a bird from the Loch of Strathbeg, Aberdeenshire. So what was it doing here? Well, in a nutshell it was lost! It is a vagrant species. East Anglia and Lancashire is still the UK breeding stronghold for the species (c.75 breeding pairs), but you get an increase to the UK population from birds from Eastern Europe in the winter. These birds will have the migratory urge to return SE back across into mainland Europe to start breeding. Your guess is as good as mine, but this bird presumably moved NW instead of SE probably as a consequence of the south south-easterly airflow which was coming off the mainland over the weekend.

Todays whooper swans.Note the paler bill of the immatures

Other recent wildlife news includes a male otter at Bagh na h-Uamha on Sunday 18th, and at least 7 common seals hauled out between Bagh na h-Uamha and Port na Caranean. 4 starlings (a fairly unusual occurance for Rum) were a welcome change around Kinloch Glen on Friday (16th) and 30+ whooper swans were observed moving north by Sean at Camas Pliasgaig (to breeding grounds in Iceland/Faroes) on the 18th. Another 9 whoopers were spotted in Loch Scresort today (19th) (6 adult and 3 immature, see picture).They’re now storm-bound due to the atrocious weather (strong SW winds with heavy rain) and I wouldn’t be surprised if their enforced stay continued well into tomorrow or the next day by the look of things.Despite a reasonable look, the bittern was not re-located today (19th). 
Friday's starlings

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