Monday, 11 April 2016

Urban birding, Oban style

As I discovered when I lived there a few years ago, Poole can be pretty good for urban birding, but Oban in Agyll & Bute, from where we have just returned after a week's holiday, takes some beating. I stumbled across Black Guillemots breeding in the harbour wall there on my first visit many years ago, and have often detoured to look for them on trips up the west coast of Scotland ever since. They are invariably in the harbour somewhere, but not always close in to the harbour wall, this being seemingly dependent on the state of the tide, their mood and, judging by several visits last week, the prevailing levels of testosterone in the colony!
Weather also seemed to have an impact on whether the Tysties were close in to the harbour wall - or perhaps it was just that every time I visited it was hammering down! This added to the challenge of trying to get the correct exposure on dark birds with white wing patches on shimmering water, as if that wasn't challenging enough. But it was certainly fun trying and several wet hours were well spent doing precisely that. Lovely birds, in stunning plumages and full of character.
Oban harbour in winter is also a good place to find rarer gulls - I bumped into a Ring-billed Gull on an earlier visit, and this week a peek over the harbour wall was rewarded with eye-ball to eye-ball views of a 1st winter Iceland Gull. This seemed content to potter around in the shallows and wait for the fine-smelling produce to be dispensed from the local chip shop. I knew how it felt, and eventually dragged myself away to grab a bag of Oban's finest.
After the velvet Black Guillemot and snow white Iceland Gull, Oban's third good harbour bird was somewhere in between - the Hooded Crow. A small flock of these, now regarded as a separate species from the closely related Carrion Crown with which it shares a hybrid zone across parts of Scotland, was feeding on the beach. They were picking up molluscs, then taking off and gaining height before dropping them to break the shells and get at the soft meat inside. I spent a while trying to capture this interesting and intelligent behaviour on film.
A great location for urban birding, and Claire eventually became suspicious at my uncharacteristic and repeated suggestions that we pop into town for a spot of shopping.

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