Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Project Solfach- Choughs and Starlings

Winter on Bardsey can be a very quiet period in terms of birdlife: very few passerines overwinter, save for the resident Wrens, Dunnocks, Robins, Blackbirds and Chaffinches; and whilst many coastal areas around the rest of the UK experience large influxes of waders and wildfowl during winter, Bardsey receives a very minimal number of waders overwintering, and virtually no wildfowl.

However, the one increase that Bardsey does receive in terms of overwintering bird species is that of Choughs, Rock Pipits and Starlings. These species, along with a few others, gather en masse onto a very small beach on the western side of the island: Solfach. Winter storms bring in large amounts of kelp and other seaweeds (which are deciduous, 'dropping' their fronds in the autumn), and these piles produce a bounty of food for birds in the form of flies and their larvae.

Over the last week, I have been trying to photograph the Choughs and Starlings which are making use of the food on Solfach. Numbers of Choughs at the moment are averaging at about 22 per day, but some winters this number can be over 50. Starlings have only been present in numbers up to 350. I set up my small hide on the beach a week ago, and this helped immensely in getting up close to the birds, although many of the Choughs are very tame anyway. I have included a range of my images in this post.

Solfach, with the flock of Choughs busy feeding in front of my hide

One thing I tried a few days ago was to get some wide angle landscapes of the Choughs. To do this, I placed my camera near one of their favourite feeding areas, and then set a remote shutter release to take a picture every 30 seconds. I just had to hope that a bird came close enough and posed for long enough to get some pictures. These are the best of the selection

Some portraits of the very dazzling Starlings. The upper two images were taken at 1/80 sec, to try and blurr the motion of the bird shaking

Choughs in flight. Some of my favourite images of these charismatic birds

Starlings spend most of their time fighting amongst each other, over feeding areas on the beach. This is quite a challenge to capture, but a little persistence yielded some pleasing results 

The advantage of the hide on Solfach is that you can get really up close and personal to the Choughs, which provides some great opportunities for close up images as they go about feeding. Observing behavioural traits is also very interesting, such as pairs preening each other (fourth image from the top), brief squabbles between younger and older birds, and even the brief exposing of a Choughs ear! (second from the top)

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