Sunday, 12 May 2013

Balranald waders

Photographing waders on the machair and the beaches of Balranald was one of my main reasons for making the long haul to North Uist last week. The sun came out on my first afternoon on the island and I went back for more the following day.
A pair of Twite and a Corn Bunting called from the fenceposts around the visitor centre at the RSPB reserve, as well as a very wheezy sounding House Sparrow - a Hebridean accent perhaps? The walk to the beach was accompanied by mewing Common Gulls and 'proper' Rock Doves.
On arrival, Dunlin was the most common species in a mixed flock of waders at the southern tip of the well known seawatching headland, Aird An Runair. These were mostly in their very smart summer plumage and frequently giving display calls - a high pitched descending trill. My kids have toy bombs which make a similar noise, but somehow this was much less annoying.
A few Purple Sandpipers were in the wader flock but remained distant on the rocks, untempted by the seaweed. But the Dunlin were coming to a small pool so I sat quietly next to that and with patience was able to get superb views down to a few metres.
Ringed Plover, Whimbrel and Sandering, including a few in summer plumage, were also present but, like the Purps, were not as confiding as the Dunlin, on which I was happy to concentrate.
The footpath around Aird An Runair passes into the comfort zone of breeding Lapwing, Redshank and Oystercatcher and the commotion made by all three was quite intimidating. Redshank was usually the first to kick-off, but the Oystercatcher probably the most persistent and excitable, and Lapwing the most elegantly threatening of the three.
A half-hearted seawatch produced Great and Arctic Skua harrying the Arctic Terns which breed here, but which were only present in small numbers. I didn't see any of the hoped for Poms and Long-taileds which, a week later, are now passing this point in their hundreds.
But distant views of Skuas couldn't compete with close-up waders which were almost underfoot and directly overhead, so it wasn't long before telescope was replaced by telephoto lens on the tripod again.
Sanderling in its less familiar (to a southerner at least) summer plumage
It was easy to get carried away and I left it pretty late to get to my accommodation and scramble an evening meal. But what a place: food seemed an unwelcome distraction.

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