Birds Huh!


An exciting bird experience ?

It was 4pm, the May Princess with 74 happy passengers including Osbourne House School had left an hour ago, I was just finishing off the last of my auk monitoring plot counts (last of 100), I hadn’t had any lunch to speak of and it was raining hard when my phone rang. It was my colleague Jeremy but all I could hear from heavy breathing, muttered swearing, a cacophony of kittiwakes and a lot of rustling so I immediately thought the worst, that he had fallen off a cliff and was phoning through his last testament (and with so much work still to do). But no, he could see a red-backed shrike feeding up near the Beacon. A red-backed shrike is a small bird of prey unrelated to hawks and falcons that used to breed in the UK but now apart from 1 or 2 pairs is only seen as a rare, annual migrant, and I had never seen one before. So lunch forgotten I ran up the near vertical Palpitation Brae to the top of the island wondering as I went how it had got its name. At the top I met up with Rinchen and Jeremy and we then spent an hour wandering around looking for what was meant to be a really obvious bird. Jeremy got a brief view but when he tried to direct me to it all I saw was a glimpse of its bum before it disappeared. Rather than continuing to gallop around fruitlessly searching we thought we would have a look for the marsh warbler that the day before had been seen in the top garden. The marsh warbler is rarely written about without the word skulking used and it has to be said that though exciting because only a handful breed in the UK each year it is a remarkably dull bird when seen and it also specialises in flashing a bum as it dives into a mass of nettles. It looks very like to commoner reed warbler and it is only distinguished by being “more billy, a colder brown, and longer winged” if that is of any help. Well after 20 mins of kicking nettle clumps we didn’t even get a bum glimpse so it was back to look for the shrike. By then I was getting less and less interested in any bird at all and was close to heading back down to the cottages to get into some dry clothes when Jeremy started yelling from up at the Mainlight and bouncing round the corner came an extremely dapper and beautiful male red-backed shrike. Well worth the hassle in the end but as for the marsh warbler, not a squeak.
The red-backed shrike at last.


Meanwhile the research work is taking its toll (see below). The shags are having a good year and this means that the researchers have to ring over a thousand shag chicks around the island. Shag chicks are not pretty and they do seem to be remarkable full of poo (below picture of adult pooing courtesy of my daughter, thanks Holly, good photo) so leaving your overalls looking like a painters and decorators apprentice. Of course this also leaves a distinctive aroma that isn’t helped by the shower and laundry restrictions due to water limitations. We get used to it but the visitors coming off the May Princess have been seen to visibly flinch. Birds huh !

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