Antarctic Birding: Two ringed Sub-Antarctic (Brown) Skua in the South Shetland Islands

Steve and I flew back to rejoin HMS PROTECTOR alongside in the Falkland islands from RAF BRIZE NORTON on 10 Dec 14. After a watch handover the ship sailed for a brief period of operations around the Antarctic Peninsula before returning alongside East Cove Military Port in the Falkland Islands for the festive period. The ship again departed for the Antarctic Peninsula on 28 Dec 14 with a British Antarctic Survey (BAS) inspection team onboard. PRTR’s tasking was to inspect various stations and any vessels encountered to ensure compliance with regulations. It was a period in which HMS PROTECTOR lived up to its name as the Royal Navy’s Ice Patrol Ship.

For Steve it was only his second visit to Antarctica. Consequently, Steve will cover the majority of our exploits during Ice Patrol 2 of the 2014/15 season, as he has already started to, and I’ll chip in every now and then. During his first time on board (four months in 2012) he ticked off three (Antarctic Petrel, Adelie Penguin and Snow Petrel) of his four Antarctic target species. Unsurprisingly the forth (Emperor Penguin) was now very much top of his list.

Ferraz Station, Martel Bay, King George Island – 30 Nov 13

Glacier, Martel Bay, King George Island – 9 Jan 15

On Friday 9 Jan 15 PRTR entered Martel Inlet of King George Island in the South Shetland Islands to conduct a formal inspection of Ferraz Station (Brazilian). As per normal I strolled aft across the main deck to the Combined Tech Office to start work to be informed of a very large brown bird perched on the Quarter Deck. A brief glance confirmed the species identity as a sub-Antarctic (Brown/Great) Skua Catharacta antarctica. I returned with my camera to photograph what is a real brute of a bird. It wasn’t phased by my presence and as I snapped away I failed to notice the metal ring on its right leg.

Metal-ringed Sub-antarctic (Brown) Skua 1, Martel Bay – 9 Jan 15

Metal-ringed Sub-antarctic (Brown) Skua 1, Martel Bay – 9 Jan 15

Fortunately, it and a second metal-ringed bird remained on board throughout the time PRTR held station off Ferraz Station enabling me to confirm the number on both rings.

Metal-ringed Sub-antarctic (Brown) Skua 1, Martel Bay – 9 Jan 15

Metal-ringed Sub-antarctic (Brown) Skua 1, Martel Bay – 9 Jan 15

Metal-ringed Sub-antarctic (Brown) Skua 2, Martel Bay – 9 Jan 15

Metal-ringed Sub-antarctic (Brown) Skua 2, Martel Bay – 9 Jan 15

I have subsequently received the life histories of the two individuals from the Hiddensee Bird Ringing Centre. Both birds were ringed as adults in Nov 2004 making them at least eleven years old.

After a successful inspection PRTR departed King George Island and headed for Half Moon Island (IBA), located in the McFarlane Strait between the much larger Livingstone and Greenwich Islands, where the ship was to formally inspect Camara Station (Argentine) the following day. On passage the ship encountered a Chinese Krill Trawler. It was the second Krill Trawler to be inspected, and the first a few days before, was the first time the Royal Navy had inspected a fishing vessel in Antarctic waters.

Good birding,

Tony T BSc (Hons) GeoSci (Open)

Antarctic Birding; Leopard Seal in the Gerlache Straits

We left Port Lockroy 5 days before Christmas. Happy Birthday Trish’ mentioning Port Lockroy again is just an excuse to show a few more images from a great place.

Museum, Port Lockroy

Gentoo Penguin, Port Lockroy, 20 Dec 2014

Gentoo Penguin, Port Lockroy, 20 Dec 2014

Gentoo Penguin, Port Lockroy, 20 Dec 2014

As we headed through the Gerlache Straits; another popular location for the cruisers, I spotted a seal on an ice berg ahead of the ship. We got nearer and nearer and the seal showed no interest. At the last minute the seal lifted its head and looked in our direction and I was overjoyed to see the reptilian like head of my first Leopard Seal. I have had to lighten the image slightly as the seal was quite dark, but I was well pleased to manage a shot, (although as it was so close, I could not capture the whole animal). Leopard seals are solitary animals but apparently not too uncommon. They frequent areas near large penguin colonies where the birds form a proportion of their diet. They also take fish and krill as well as preying on other seals; particularly young Crab-eaters.

Leopard Seal, Port Lockroy, 20 Dec 2014

Antarctic Shag, Gerlache Straits, 20 Dec 2014

Gerlache Straits

 

Steve C

Birding Hampshire – Fareham Creek

Today I decided to go out birding, so headed for Fareham Creek in hope of waders. It probably would have helped if I had checked the tides, as when I got there, the tide was fully in. Not deterred I soldiered on and could see Goldeneye, Wigeon and Teal on the water. All the waders I could see were roosting on the few small islands or man-made rafts. Most of them were Oystercatchers and Redshanks but I did see two Greenshank amongst them. Other than that the walk was pretty quiet. Near the end though I found a Redshank feeding in a small pond on the edge of a field and managed to get a few decent shots.

Redshank, Fareham Creek, 24th Jan 2015

Redshank, Fareham Creek, 24th Jan 2015

Mark C

Antarctic Birding: Port Lockroy Birds

After completing the transit of the Neumayer Channel we paid a visit to the ladies of the ‘Penguin Post Office’ at Port Lockroy. Most of the ship’s company managed to get ashore for an hour or so on the ship’s boats and glad to say I was on one of them. I placed many images of the museum on the blog when I last visited in December 2012 so I won’t do too many this time.

Neumayer Channel

Neumayer Channel

Neumayer Channel

Nissen Hut

Nissen Hut

Needless to say there were as expected plenty of Gentoo Penguins in the area with a supporting cast of Pale-faced Sheathbills and Antarctic Shags.

Gentoo Penguin, Port Lockroy, 20 Dec 2014

Gentoo Penguin, Port Lockroy, 20 Dec 2014

Antarctic Shags, Port Lockroy, 20 Dec 2014

Pale-faced Sheathbills, Port Lockroy, 20 Dec 2014

 

Steve C

Antarctic Birding: Penguins and Ice

Protector crossed a relatively calm Drake’s Passage; passed through the Antarctic Convergence and entered 60 degrees south on the 18th December. The Antarctic Convergence is the circumpolar region found between 50 and 60 degrees south. Where the warmer more saline waters to the north, mix with the colder, denser and less saline waters moving north from the Antarctic. Certainly the birds encountered south of the Convergence are the more Antarctic species. Black-bellied Storm Petrels are generally found further north than Wilson’s and around the South Shetlands which we sailed past you commonly see both. Southern Fulmars and Cape Petrels are both common breeding birds on the Antarctic Peninsula where Protector does a lot of her work.

Black-bellied Storm Petrel, Antarctica, 18 Dec 2014

Cape Petrel and Southern Fulmar, Antarctica, 18 Dec 2014

Southern Fulmars, Schollaert Channel, 19 Dec 2014

As you would expect Penguins are also commonly seen. The three common species of the peninsula area are Gentoo, Chinstrap and Adelie, and it won’t come as any surprise that these will feature heavily in coming entries. Lastly is the Antarctic scenery. Again no surprises that it is absolutely stunning. Especially around the peninsula, and to respect my wife’s wishes, I will include a couple of scenery/general interest shots in most entries. The two shots below were taken in the Neumayer Channel which is a regular haunt of the cruise ships.

Chinstrap Penguins, Antarctica, 18 Dec 2014

Gentoo Penguins, Schollaert Channel, 19 Dec 2014

Neumayer Channel

Neumayer Channel

Steve

Antarctic Birding: Heading south with Southern Royal Albatrosses

Protector headed south in mid-December for ice period 2. We had relatively decent weather as we crossed Drake’s Passage on the 17th, during the day we had at least three Southern Royal Albatrosses with the ship. I’ve said plenty about this species on previous entries, so you’ll be glad to hear I won’t rabbit on. Just hopefully enjoy the images.

Southern Royal Albatross, South Atlantic - 17 Dec 2014

Southern Royal Albatross, South Atlantic - 17 Dec 2014

Southern Royal Albatross, South Atlantic - 17 Dec 2014

Southern Royal Albatross, South Atlantic - 17 Dec 2014

Southern Royal Albatross, South Atlantic - 17 Dec 2014

Southern Royal Albatross, South Atlantic - 17 Dec 2014

 

Steve C

Falkland Birding: Night Heron and Lady’s Slippers.

The walk around Mare Harbour on the 14th of December produced a few nice sighting. Black-crowned Night Herons are relatively common around the islands but to watch one fishing on a hot summer’s afternoon was a bonus. As well as the more expected birds (see images below), we came across at least 100 Lady’s Slipper Orchids; unfortunately most had just gone over, but the odd plant was still in full bloom. A few weeks earlier and the scene would have looked absolutely stunning.

Black-crowned Night Heron, Mare Harbour - 14 Dec 2014

Black-crowned Night Heron, Mare Harbour - 14 Dec 2014

Black-crowned Night Heron, Mare Harbour - 14 Dec 2014

Ladies Slipper Orchid, Mare Harbour - 14 Dec 2014

Long-tailed Meadowlark, Mare Harbour - 14 Dec 2014

Falkland Steamer Duck, Mare Harbour - 14 Dec 2014

Turkey Vultures, Mare Harbour - 14 Dec 2014

 

Steve C

Falkland Birding: Rockhopper and Shag Colonies along Ragged Hil

There are a number of Southern Rockhopper colonies along Ragged Hill. As well as containing the odd Macaroni the Rockhopper colonies also contain a good number of Imperial or King Shags.  The intense blue eye of the King Shag never fails to impress. (hence the couple of head shots below).

Rockhopper and King Shag Colony, Ragged Hill, 9 Nov 2014

Rockhopper and King Shag Colony, Ragged Hill, 9 Nov 2014

The Southern Rockhopper colonies had suffered from dramatic declines when I was based on the island back in 2006, but I am glad to report that Alan informed me that the penguins have enjoyed good breeding seasons for the last few years and numbers have started to increase again. Long may it continue.

Southern Rockhopper, Ragged Hill, 9 Nov 2014

Southern Rockhopper, Ragged Hill, 9 Nov 2014

Southern Rockhopper, Ragged Hill, 9 Nov 2014

King Shag, Ragged Hill, 9 Nov 2014

King Shag, Ragged Hill, 9 Nov 2014

King Shag, Ragged Hill, 9 Nov 2014

Steve C

Falkland Birding: Blackish Oystercatch

A brief walk around Mare Harbour on the 14th Dec produced a decent number of Blackish Oystercatchers, feeding as they tend to do on the more rocky shorelines. The Blackish is one of two Oystercatchers on the islands; the other being Magellanic.

Blackish Oystercatcher, Mare Hbr, 14 Dec 2014

Blackish Oystercatcher, Mare Hbr, 14 Dec 2014

 

The bird can be easily overlooked on rocks due to its dark plumage giving it excellent camouflage.  However like most oystercatchers its call is a loud and clear peep. The bird is a common resident and well distributed around the coast.

Blackish Oystercatcher, Mare Hbr, 14 Dec 2014

Blackish Oystercatcher, Mare Hbr, 14 Dec 2014

Steve C

Falkland Island birding: Macaroni Penguin ‘Mega’ at Ragged Hill

After the successful ‘twitch’ for the Northern Rockhopper Penguin at Diamond Cove, and a fly over by the helicopter I would have been onboard had I gone on the organized trip to Volunteer Point, Alan Henry took us to the Southern Rockhopper Penguin colonies at Ragged Hill. Like the vast majority of the penguin rockeries that I have had the good fortune to visit the colonies were dominated by just a single species of penguin. The exception being Thule Island of the South Sandwich Islands but even there the Adelie and Chinstrap Penguins were segregated with the ‘Chinstraps’ on the hillside and the ‘Adelies’ on the plateau. However, unlike those previously visited colonies also present amongst the ‘Rockhoppers’ were hundreds of nesting Imperial Shags.

Southern Rockhopper Penguin and Imperial Shag colony, Ragged Hill – 9 Nov 14

Imperial Shag, Ragged Hill – 9 Nov 14

Imperial Shag, Ragged Hill – 9 Nov 14

The target species was Macaroni Penguin, a species that neither Steve nor I had seen ashore. Again our luck was in although not until we scanned the second colony we visited along the cliff top on the northern coast of Berkeley Sound. Just a single bird was present that presumably was paired up with a Southern Rockhopper Penguin.

Macaroni Penguin, Ragged Hill – 9 Nov 14

Macaroni Penguin, Ragged Hill – 9 Nov 14

Also present were three Macaroni/Southern Rockhopper hybrids. Whilst Steve and I enjoyed the wildlife spectacle Alan retained a sense of professionalism and visited a third rockery to confirm the total number of ‘hybrids’ present. For me the highlight of the day was watching the ‘Rockhoppers’ live up to their name, as they mainly jumped their way from the rocks at the foot of the cliff that were surrounded by turbulent waters to the top of the steep cliff. I watched the freshly returned ‘Rockhopper’ photographed below make its way from the sea to its nest where it displayed with its mate reluctant to relinquish incubation of the egg(s).

Macaroni/Southern Rockhopper Penguin hybrid, Ragged Hill – 9 Nov 14

Southern Rockhopper Penguin, Ragged Hill – 9 Nov 14

Southern Rockhopper Penguin, Ragged Hill – 9 Nov 14

Also present at the seabird colony were the inevitable scavengers. The Turkey Vulture photographed below kept watch over the colony throughout on the lookout for an easy meal. It was soon joined by a second bird.

Turkey Vulture, Ragged Hill – 9 Nov 14

Our good fortune continued on the drive back across the moorland when we encountered a female Red-backed Hawk followed by my best sighting of a Southern Caracara.

Red-backed Hawk (female), Ragged Hill – 9 Nov 14

Southern Caracara, Ragged Hill – 9 Nov 14

Good birding,

Tony T BSc (Hons) GeoSci (Open)

Falkland Birding: Two-banded Plover

Towards the end of October, as I walked back to the ship from Fox Point  I noticed a Two-banded Plover that had been feeding in the salt water at the end of East Cove.  Just where the track starts back to the main road, a fresh water pond spills out and runs across the road into East Cove. It is a popular spot for the smaller waders to wash and preen. I saw the Two-banded Plover walk up to the fresh water and guessed it was going to bathe, so I quickly plonked myself down to take a few snaps. Sure enough the bird started to bathe about twenty feet away allowing me great views of the action.

Two-banded Plover, Bertha's Beach, 25 Oct 2014

Two-banded Plover, Bertha's Beach, 25 Oct 2014

Two-banded Plover, Bertha's Beach, 25 Oct 2014

Two-banded Plover, Bertha's Beach, 25 Oct 2014

Two-banded Plover, Bertha's Beach, 25 Oct 2014

Two-banded Plover, Bertha's Beach, 25 Oct 2014

Steve C

Falkland Island birding: Northern Rockhopper Penguin ‘Mega’ at Diamond Cove

In stark contrast to the previous day the 9 Nov 14 was bright, sunny and calm. The weather couldn’t have been better for a ‘twitch’. All we had to hope for was that the Northern Rockhopper Penguin would be at the nest that it had established with its ‘Southern’ partner, and not be out at sea feeding. Our destination was Diamond Cove located on the northern side of Berkeley Sound. The route was initially along a tarmac road, but that changed first into a graveled road, then a farm track that eventually petered out. The last few kilometers across the moorland involved full on ‘off roading’.

Alan informed us that a Cocoi Heron had been reported along the western shore of Berkeley Sound. Consequently, we stopped at each vantage point that we came across along the stretch of road that hugged the sound. Unfortunately we dipped. However, at one of the stops I was treated to my best ever views of Brown-hooded Gull. The adult birds looked absolutely stunning and the pink tinge on their chests was very vivid. Unfortunately the photograph below doesn’t do justice to the intensity of the pink flush.

Brown-hooded Gull, Berkeley Sound (west) – 9 Nov 14

It was only a short walk from where Alan parked up to the Rockhopper Rockery and Alan knew exactly where to look. Steve and I had barely climbed out of the car and grabbed our cameras when Alan called us over shouting that we were in luck. Not only was the bird ‘showing’ but it was literally just meters away, stood adjacent to its ‘Southern’ partner that was incubating the egg. The Northern Rockhopper Penguin is a particularly smart looking bird with much more extensive yellow plumes compared to its ‘Southern’ cousin. Steve and I had hoped to tick off the species during the passage from Cape Town in September but the more southerly track taken by HMS PROTECTOR to avoid bad weather took the ship away from its stronghold around Tristan de Cunha.

Northern and Southern Rockhopper Penguins, Diamond Cove – 9 Nov 14

Northern Rockhopper Penguin, Diamond Cove – 9 Nov 14

Despite the fine weather conditions we were a little concerned about how successful the breeding attempt would be because the egg was partially visible, due to the half standing posture of the incubating bird. However, Alan has since informed us that the egg did subsequently hatch.

I had previously only ever seen the one Southern Rockhopper Penguin. That had been back in early April when HMS PROTECTOR entered the Magellan Strait on passage to Punta Arenas, Chile. However, on this occasion I was able to enjoy at close quarters the spectacle that is a Southern Rockhopper Penguin colony. It was a real treat,

Southern Rockhopper, Diamond Cove – 9 Nov 14

Southern Rockhopper, Diamond Cove – 9 Nov 14

Northern Rockhopper Penguin was my second ‘mega’ for the Falkland Islands. My first was Mourning Sierra-finch from Mark’s bedroom window at Mount Pleasant Camp on 22 Jan 14.

Good birding,

Tony T BSc (Hons) GeoSci (Open)

Birding Wales: Red Kites at Nant yr Arian, Aberystywth

Today I headed for the Red Kite feeding station at Nant yr Arian near Aberystwyth. I arrived about 30 minutes before the feeding started and after a brief chat with the warden I headed for the hide that overlooks the small grassy area where the warden puts out the food. Kites were circling in the air and as soon as the food began to be dispersed t they were swooping down like Peregrines, grabbing the food, before shooting back into the air.
Needless to say, 400 images later and I have plenty of blurred Red Kite pictures.
An amazing sight with over 150 to 180 kites in the air at any one time, a must for any visitor to this part of West Wales.

Red Kite, Bwlch Nant yr Arian, Aberystwyth, 2nd January 2015

Red Kite, Bwlch Nant yr Arian, Aberystwyth, 2nd January 2015

Red Kite, Bwlch Nant yr Arian, Aberystwyth, 2nd January 2015

As you can see the last image shows that the bird is wing tagged. This scheme is followed throughout all the re-introduction schemes within the UK. The left wing tag is black and indicates that this is a Welsh bird. The blue wing tag on the right indicates that it was born in 2010 (or possibly 2001 but the wing tag does not usually stay on for that long).

Goosander, Bwlch Nant yr Arian, Aberystwyth, 2nd January 2015

Also on the lake were two female Goosanders but no sign of any males and a few siskins with the regular passerines on the feeders, near the reserve centre.
Mark C

Antarctic Birding; Leopard Seal in the Gerlache Straits

We left Port Lockroy 5 days before Christmas. Happy Birthday Trish’ mentioning Port Lockroy again is just an excuse to show a few more images from a great place.

Museum, Port Lockroy

Gentoo Penguin, Port Lockroy, 20 Dec 2014

Gentoo Penguin, Port Lockroy, 20 Dec 2014

Gentoo Penguin, Port Lockroy, 20 Dec 2014

As we headed through the Gerlache Straits; another popular location for the cruisers, I spotted a seal on an ice berg ahead of the ship. We got nearer and nearer and the seal showed no interest. At the last minute the seal lifted its head and looked in our direction and I was overjoyed to see the reptilian like head of my first Leopard Seal. I have had to lighten the image slightly as the seal was quite dark, but I was well pleased to manage a shot, (although as it was so close, I could not capture the whole animal). Leopard seals are solitary animals but apparently not too uncommon. They frequent areas near large penguin colonies where the birds form a proportion of their diet. They also take fish and krill as well as preying on other seals; particularly young Crab-eaters.

Leopard Seal, Port Lockroy, 20 Dec 2014

Antarctic Shag, Gerlache Straits, 20 Dec 2014

Gerlache Straits

 

Steve C

Birding Wales: Dippers and Kites

Well today saw the start of my New Year’s resolutions. They are; Get fit, loose weight and do more birding. So today I headed out from my inlaws house in Aberystwyth, Wales in search of some birds. Immediately I spotted Buzzards in the distance and a Red Kite floating lazily over the valley. On the River Ystwyth I found a Dipper feeding along the edge and then another 400 metres further found another. This bird was singing, the song reminding me of a juvenile warbler learning its trade. The weather was very overcast and this was the best image I could get.

Dipper, Aberystwyth Wales, 1st January 2015

I didn’t see any more good birds apart from another Red Kite on the way back.

Red Kite, Aberyswyth Wales, 1st January 2015

Mark C