Monday, December 29, 2008

27th/28th December, 2008.

Nothing about birds I'm afraid!! Went out on the 27th , and returned the day after from Inverness with my two daughters, Rachael and Katherine. The journey out was fantastic, a day to be alive in the Highlands, with golden sunlight bathing the hills below a clear blue sky and scenes begging the attention of photographers. Until Fort William that is, when freezing fog and temperatures changed the whole atmosphere, and figures scuttled about in an atmosphere reminiscent of Dickensian London and a winter smog.

Such was the same on the return journey too with the "weather boundary" locking in at exactly the same place, at the bottom of the Great Glen, after our journey south west along Loch Ness in temperatures of -4.5C . In the latter a fairy landscape of trees adorned with frost contrasted absolutely with the greens and browns of the plantations nearer to Oban and the coast. Not surprisingly little wildlife was seen but, compared to Islay and my recent comments, I was interested to see only one Buzzard within the two combined journeys. The final part of the journey home took place below a wonderful vista of stars (within which, currently, can be seen Venus, Jupiter and Saturn )... a free show from the heavens!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

24th December,2008.

Out locally but not very much around. A succession of birds of prey ( Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Buzzard and Hen Harrier ), little over the sea but a noticeable increase in Greenfinches all of a sudden, and Reed Buntings coming to the feeding station.

May I take this opportunity to wish everone a very Happy Christmas and an enjoyable and "bird filled" New Year.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

23rd December,2008.

For the most part a rather murky day.Spent the time completing various chores, calling in on friends and taking a look at many of the Greenland White-fronted Goose flocks looking for collared birds after the reports of last week, but to no avail. A flock of around 140 Grey lag Geese at Ballinaby was the largest gathering of them I'd seen recently.
Buzzards seem very numerous at the moment, possibly needing to be more active with the demise of the rabbit population, which must have provided such easy pickings previously. Generally things seem very "settled" at the moment with no noticeable major changes in numbers of birds, flocks etc but , doubtless, this is all poised to change in the not too distant future.

Monday, December 22, 2008

21st December,2008.

Whilst the morning promised better weather it failed initially, admittedley from elsewhere!! I'd earmarked the occasion of "post dawn" as one where I'd watch the occasion of the Winter Solstice which was being streamed via the Web from Newgrange, County Meath in Ireland. Sadly cloud cover spoiled things so I abandoned such plans around 0915hours!!

The Winter Solstice, representing the commencement of the new Solar year, is an occasion that might best be described as Nature's rebirth or confirmation of a new begining as far as our diurnal calendar is concerned. Pagan, naturalistic thinking, well, maybe, but nonetheless a point of major change. We can consider the tilt of the Earth, distance from the Sun, all that, but it still represents a turning point for us all, and one of doubtless importance too, as our days get gradually longer and we move inexorably toward better conditions.

You know Newgrange was built 5000years ago ( yes,in 3000BC before both the Pyramids and Stonehenge! ). Take a look at the web site ( ) where you can read all the details but , also, download pictures of the extraordinary celebration of the longest night of the year ending and see the narrow rays of the Sun gradually streaming down the 19m. long passageway into the main chamber. To think that ,all that time ago, sufficient expertise existed which allowed the builders of this huge burial chamber to incorporate a "window" above the entrance which, at dawn after the longest night of the year, captures the rays of the rising Sun and allows them to "progress" along the passageway. If only they'd been around when we built the Channel Tunnel, costs could have been astronomically lower.......sorry , couldn't resist!!

Well, it wasn't to be this year, which is a great pity as it would have been an apt introduction for the Year of Astronomy, 2009, so I've already made a diary note for December next year.

After all that did some BTO WeBS counts, which didn't produce any surprises and then, more predictably, the weather closed in!!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

20th December, 2008.

Remained local in order to get some other jobs done. Little indication things were changing in any major way although a small group of Fieldfare near home were new and soon disappeared. Of late there has been some quite large numbers of Barnacle Geese around locally ( at least 1000 +, and sometimes more ). These are regularly using three distinct areas and, from memory, more usually adopt this pattern a little later.

The wild weather of yesterday appeared to drive everything out of the garden ( do they just sit it out in some low cover? ) but it was back today. I remember an old guy in Florida telling me he rode out a major hurricane once by going deep into the Everglades as that's what all the birds did and you were safer in there than in a built environment. Maybe there's something in it!!!

Friday, December 19, 2008

19th December, 2008.

So who spotted the mistake then?? Sorry about the confusion of the two "18ths" the first one of which refers to the 17th of course!!!

And now to add further confusion to the fold!! We're only half way through the day and here is an entry appearing already!! The weather is utterly foul today with rain, gale force winds and redirected ferries. Previous plans have been abandoned, the fire stoked up and normal service will resume as soon as possible!!

18th December, 2008.

Mixed weather and a not terribly nice day but doubtless better than the one we can anticipate tomorrow!! It was interesting to view the sand/mudflats at Bridgend and see the large amounts of "seaweed" scattered over wide areas, dredged up and then deposited by recent sea conditions. Numerous Shelduck were present, systematically sifting through the larger accumulations of piled up vegetation.

I was surprised to see good numbers of Great Tits at a friends garden bird feeding station at Ballygrant, which contrasted markedley with the virtual absence of these birds in nearby woodland tracts and underscored the obvious conclusion. It also emphasized, for the Winter Atlas Surveys, what one needs to consider as key "habitats" within each tetrad!!!

Up to Dunlossit Estate to collect the "pig box" I'd ordered (actually half a pig ). They raise a variety of breeds and use them, at various stages ,in habitat management work on the Estate. One such project is in the management of areas for Woodcock, alongside which is a research study being carried out by the Game Conservancy Trust relating to the numbers and origin of the birds. A conversation with the Head Keeper suggested that they too had had an influx of birds at the same time as they'd begun to appear in this part of the island. It occurred to me that the results coming through from the BTO Winter Atlas surveys might also give an indication of periods of arrival, distribution and comparative numbers as most field workers comment on them being obvious at this time of year. The fact that surveys are also being carried out in Ireland should add further knowledge and data to that being amassed in Scotland, Wales and England and the timings when they move further west and how weather conditions might influence it all.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

18th December,2008.

Both a mixed and rather poor day in many respects with early weather being an expression of the two and little around to hearten interest. And then all that changed.....

An E-mail from on high revealed the British Trust for Ornithology's Validation Module for the 2007-11 Atlas had been uploaded. An absolute tour de force and a fine tribute to the endeavour present within the organisation, particularly Dr.Iain Downie who has been engrossed with the development over a period of time. Now the work can begin in earnest to sift through the records generated for the first year of the project to check for any errors. Having taken a look at my area/records I have only found the odd mistake as yet and those relating , I believe, to typing mistakes. The system provides for an E-mail link back to the original observer so that the matter can be resolved. I'm sure many of us will not be able to resist stealing away for the odd peek over the Christmas period......what's that about boys and toys!!!

Many congratulations to the "extended" BTO Atlas team, yours is very much a deserving and restful Christmas.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

16th December, 2008

Prompted by an E-mail enquiry from a friend in Yorkshire, who reads this Blog, and had noticed nothing being reported in the last few days I have to say that nothing much is happening in the sense of things changing very much!!! Whilst we always have a good assemblage of species "available" for people who visit, it's actually a bit difficult to keep banging on about them, you know Chough, Golden Eagle, 50,000
wintering geese including odd Lesser Canada geese, all those sorts of things!!! So, what is to be done? In that time honoured expression of Headmasters'," Armitage,
more effort is needed".

In response to the kind enquiries of my friend I can report that the nurse did turn up this morning to take me out to the nearest coastal headland, put the rug over my kness and make sure I was facing the sea ( it's the same one that looked after Mr Grace in " Are you being Served"? ). It turned out to be a cold breeze,which made my eyes run, and , therefore, looking out for fly-by Gyr Falcon, Little Auks and white gulls proved impossible.......

Friday, December 12, 2008

12th December, 2008.

Out early to complete goose counts across the southern sector of the island and The Oa before the bad weather came in!! Some of the geese had certainly redistributed with almost 500 Greenland White-fronted Geese on The Oa, which is a high count for that area. A large pack of 2500-3000 Barnacle Geese in the Machrie area was quite nervous and mobile. Two separate Pink-footed Geese seen but, otherwise , nothing else extraordinary. Of interest appeared to be a noticeable reduction in Grey lag Geese with only 10 being noted.

By early afternoon heavy rain had set in and quite fearsome amounts of water had collected along some stretches of road in only a short period of time; as ever a rising wing had begun to flex its muscles too!!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

11th December,2008.

A fine day but rather cold and unrelenting!!

Goose counting for Scottish Natural Heritage around the Laggan Estate and the wide environs of Bowmore. Many Barnacle Geese were on Bridgend Flats roosting out on the mud after what can be surmised to have been a night of feeding given the moonlit conditions. Nonetheless we had at three large flocks of Barnacle Geese (1000+) but not many lesser parties and, in this count area , Greenland White-fronted Geese were in low numbers. Whilst little time is available to look out for much else it was nice to see 3 Bullfinch near to Loch Tallant, not that common a species on Islay, and a gathering of at least 42 Collared Doves on the outskirts of Bowmore!!

After the tragic accidents of last week the funerals have now taken place of those involved, the first involving around 800 people attending the service in central Bowmore, with a similar situation the day following. Whilst the shock, sadness and sheer quietness that pervaded the island has gradually begun to lift our thoughts remain, and will do so for a very long time yet, with the families involved and our hopes that, somehow, they will find the strength to continue.

10th December, 2008.

On an absolutely glorious day a group of us went across to Jura to complete a whole series of Atlas tetrads for the BTO Winter Atlas Survey. In all 10 tetrads were fully completed and 3 others require a further visit after the begining of the year. Certainly a good technique to employ to make progress!!

Whilst nothing extra special was seen we had a very good spread of species and everyone really enjoyed the day out despite, in places, it being a bit squelchy! Many thanks to all who contributed.

On the way home ( on Islay ) both Tawny Owl and Barn Owl were seen ....good Roving Records too!!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

8th December,2008.

Again, surprisingly, very little change detected, a fact that everyone keeps repeating despite areas being worked regularly!!

Spent some time at the RSPB Gruinart office sorting out the BTO Atlas surveys on Jura which staff are to provide help with. Crucial things like ferry times, winter daylight, intended deerstalking arrangements; all fall into the mix of things which have to be taken into account when planning work on the island including, most of all, the weather!!!!

Monday, December 8, 2008

7th December,2008.

Very little locally, although a lone Blue Tit turned up at the feeders for all of twenty minutes during the morning showing some birds were on the move!

The debate relating to the proposed release of White-tailed Eagles (Sea Eagle) in East Anglia, UK has begun to intensify. Whilst I fully respect the individuals behind the proposal I'm defeated by the logic employed when this includes an admission that there is very flimsy evidence as to the presence of the birds in the past ,and that way, way back in time too!! The fact that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which presides over the regulations governing such schemes, downgraded the species into the "Least Concern" category within the last decade due to its improving fortunes and would judge this proposal, on the evidence available, to be an "intrduction" scheme , as opposed to a "reintroduction scheme" provide major points against its progression in my opinion. Shouldn't we also ask whether this proposal should be seen as a priority set against the many other pressing demands to try and improve biodiversity in the UK? Perhaps a more mundane thought but, in times of economic difficulties , shouldn't "pipe dreams" be set aside and the use of hard fought for budgets directed at more immediate and urgent candidates?

When there is ample evidence of too many bird populations having reduced, too many individual species seemingly experiencing real problems and still a requirement for reserve land acquisition and management, I've serious doubts in my own mind as to whether the idea is at all sensible. Research funds are always so desperately needed to establish the causes of change and decline of species, and not just birds, that I don't believe the time is right to consider a proposal of this sort. I suspect there are so many "deserving causes" in this particular respect the list would be very long and present a sobering reality of the desperate situation we are in. For some of the participating agencies it does, however, provide the opportunity to promote conservation widely, sing the praises of yet another large iconic species and to attract funding for other purposes........or is that a motivating force too heavily weighted in its favour!!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

6th December, 2008.

A hard frost lit by a beautiful emerging dawn was a sight to behold and led to a cold but, nonetheless , glorious day. There was virtually no wind and Loch Indaal was more reminiscent of a mill pond than a sea loch.
The conditions were perfect for survey work and another tetrad within the BTO Atlas survey was completed. Scrutiny of endless Greenland White-fronted Goose flocks failed to locate the collared bird of yesterday but, as the birds become more confiding, this should become an easier task!!

Stangely little appears to have changed in terms of species composition but nice views of birds like Slavonian Grebe, Long-tailed Duck and Red throated and Great Northern Divers are always a bonus. Our wintering Light bellied Brent Geese appear to be split into at least two distinct groups and it's nice to see the gradual increase of birds over several winters. Large groups of duck at both Loch Gorm and Gruinart sat out on the ice and a male Peregrine took a Blacbird right next to the car at the latter site in an attack more typical of Sparrowhawk!!!
At Loch Gorm two Otters, not quite adult sized, played just offshore in a seemingly never ending series of dives and "vertical appearances" just like a pair of swimmers in a synchrinized dancing competition!!!
Finally, in the diminishing light of a disengaging day Woodcock were seen moving at three sites from their daytime lying up positions to their nocturnal feeding areas. Presumably some of these birds are from Europe and form the regular surge of birds that appears at this time of year.

Friday, December 5, 2008

5th December, 2008.

Despite the glorious day it did little to lift peoples' spirits after recent events, a situation which will take more than a little while to alter.

Goose counting for Scottish Natural Heritage again but on my own "home territory" the Rinns. Contrasting against yesterday's comments we had a couple of "packs" of Barnacle Geese of 1000+ but the majority are in smaller numbers. I came across a Greenland White-fronted Goose wearing a numbered collar but , unfortunately, they all spooked before I had the time to get details. At least there is one in residence to look out for!!!

A nice flock of Golden Plover at Cladville along with Lapwing, and quite a concentration of feeding Curlew (ca. 100 )at Octomore, were nice to see coupled with a single Merlin at Kilchiaran, but little time to take in much else. Flocks of passerines seem in short supply although a couple of Redwing flocks encountered and odd ,small parties of Blackbirds in a few places suggested there had possibly been an arrival of birds given the poor weather across the eastern mainland.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

4th December, 2008.

The extreme weather never arrived, although it blew a bit overnight and we had heavy rain for a time!! Strangely enough it seems milder after the last few days.

Out goose counting all day for Scottish Natural Heritage on the Gruinart sector. The large packs of Barnacle Geese seem to have broken up and a variety of different sized flocks and small parties are spread around. A military fighter/bomber on a training run spread mayhem amongst all the geese around Loch Gruinart which, perversely, made for a wonderful sight for the time they were all in the air!! A flock of at least 25 Reed Buntings at Killinallan showed their demise elsewhere has not been as drastically felt here. The days are now drawing in with "good" light only really being present between 0900 hours and 1600 hours with a cloudy or overcast day adding a difference too.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

3rd December, 2008.

A blanket of sadness has descended over the island at the news that, yesterday evening, a tragic accident occurred wherein two adults and a young lad, all locals from up the road, were killed in a traffic accident when their vehicle, in trying to avoid a cow which had strayed on the road, hit a lorry. In an island community, where everyone knows everyone, without them necessarily being close friends, such a loss nonetheless is keenly felt. All our thoughts are with those left behind.

Staying locally generated very little, although, strangely enough, a few, new aspects emerged at home associated with the feeding station!! Suddenly three Dunnocks are present, a bird commented on before as not being all that common on Islay. Additionally an immature female Sparrowhawk dropped in over the wall and proceeded to "stalk" a couple of very frightened Chaffinches which had dived into the middle of Number Two bush!! The hawk raised itself high on its long legs and , leaning forward,went into the bush to emerge 2m away on the other side where, a couple of seconds previously, the finches had erupted in panic!! I've never seen such behaviour previously.

2nd December, 2008.

A day spent necessarily behind a desk, for the most part, due to some changed arrangements. Birding locally between sleet showers produced nothing.
The single Coal Tit was present at home immediately after dawn, which suggests it even roosted in the garden. Whenever I was there during the day it was feeding almost continuously, which made for an 8 hour long meal..... I then reminded myself the remaining time of the day (16hours) was spent in roost in very low or sub-zero temperatures. Not an aspect we think too much about but which must be a real trial in periods of continuing poor weather. The amount of body fat available to burn as energy, and therefore "warmth", must be minimal so it's hardly surprising birds stoke up during the short days of winter.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

1st December, 2008.

Tentative mobility initially then passed all the tests so back in business!!!

Had a look for Waxwings which had been reported previously but they'd obviously moved on from the village, which is hardly surprising given the limited amount of food present. The sea is now somewhat quiet but worth a scrutiny given the possibility of " white winged" gulls or even Little Auks.

Of interest on my return was a single Coal Tit feeding voraciously on seed I'd put out. This is the first titmouse I've ever had in the garden ( to my knowledge ) in three years despite the conifer forests opposite. Whether it's a local bird or part of what appears to have been a noticeable arrival into the UK of autumn migrants can only be guessed at!

Progressively working through bird photographs on a DVD kindly sent on by Barry Lancaster ( Australia ) based on our Ethiopia trip in March was an absolute joy. What a country for birding. Quite a hard trip in some respects but well worth it!!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

25th November, 2008.

Well, not quite as I intended but a few adventures in between!! I departed on the 20th down to Yorkshire, uneventful and smooth journey except I then managed to sprain my ankle (not the usual one, the other!!) and for a time thought it was broken. After being used to striding over moorland etc how can anyone fall over in an Asda car park?
Anyway , after a couple of "domestic days" getting things done to the car, shopping ( managed to coincide with the 20% M & S discounts ) , seeing friends and family, things were approaching normal so had a visit to the Potteric Carr Nature Reserve near Doncaster. Managed to see a couple of Yellow-legged Gulls but missed the Caspian Gull whilst we were sitting , absolutely frozen, in a hide awaiting the hopeful arrival of Bittern which Matthew, my son, hasn't seen this year. Suffice to say we were disappointed.
Sunday saw Matthew and I depart early into Lincolnshire pursuing a few good birds. At Covenham Reservoir we had excellent views of Grey Phalarope after braving extremely icy roads and at least a couple of inches of snow in places ( plus a few cars in ditches etc ). A Long-tailed Duck and a Purple Sandpiper were also there besides a good variety of waterbirds. Another good site!!
On to Grainthorpe to see the Saxaul Grey Shrike...... what a confiding bird, using humans as a means of locating prey which they had disturbed and, consequently being only a metre or so away. I have to publish an acknowledgement here as Matthew had seen it previously but still visited the site in the full knowledge that I was "catching one up" on him for my Bubo list!!!

On to Donna Nook, ostensibly to see the Glaucous Gull, which wasn't playing ball!! The area is an important natal site for Atlantic Grey Seals of which the UK has approximately 38% of the world population. There's around 700 pups being born there this year and innumerable ones were still around wuth their Mums in close attendance, watched by several hundred people given it was Sunday afternoon. Rather different to the hushed privacy of the birthing suites of NHS hospitals it has to be said and with a cutting northerly wind too!!!
Returned and took my eldest daughter back to York, where she's at the College of Law ( introduced to the new boy friend too, real Dad duty stuff!! ).

And so, with yesterday spent in a flurry of Christmas shopping, car MOT etc etc I then returned to Islay today happy, much poorer, and with a limp. Not a bad holiday!!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

19th November, 2008.

A repeat of the day previous but made more difficult by the poor weather over the first few hours ( mist and driving ). Eventually this stopped and, despite some of the geese having redistributed themselves over the area, we managed to cover everything.

Not much else of note although there seems to be more winter thrushes over the south part of the island than on the west. The reported Waxwings of yesterday in Bowmore had sadly not been seen today and the best I could do was meeting the man whose garden they'd been in!!!

On to the mainland tomorrow and will attempt to match technology with competence and keep this running whilst I'm away.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

18th November, 2008.

A better day with the wind subsiding. Noticed we're now approaching dusk at 1610hours so we're really into winter!!

Goose counting for SNH along the whole southern sector of the island. The 18th and the 19th November are designated International Count dates when, here, the main objective is to ensure we try get very precise counts of geese which then assists in the construction of population numbers. Currently this is particularly important for Greenland White-fronted Geese as their numbers have reduced noticeably over recent years. Doubtless this is due to problems on the breeding grounds and productivity levels as the winter quarters and circumstances surrounding these remain the same, i.e. feeding areas generally remain intact and no shooting is allowed. The same route as today will be followed tomorrow and the counts from both days compared to try and obtain the most critical total figure as is possible.

Strangely little of particular note seen ....numbers of Buzzards, male Hen Harrier, probably 200 in total in one flock of Starling, Fieldfare and Redwing on The Oa with the latter, all dark birds with very bold breast markings and wide prominent eyestripes,being in the much greater majority.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

15th November, 2008.

A reasonable day, mild with the occasional shower and mixed visibility allowing a series of BTO WeBS Counts and Atlas surveys to be completed.

Sadly the passage of birds over the sea is now much reduced, although a Great Northern Diver, a few Kittiwakes, an immature Gannet and a couple of Fulmars moved south. Outer Loch Indaal was almost devoid of birds and numbers of divers seem to have reduced, perhaps influenced by the recent storms. Hopefully another good day will arise that allows an unbiased count to take place. By contrast two or three flocks of Common Scoter were present, restless and chasing as ever!.

The Gorm/Sunderland area held some nice flocks of Barnacle and Greenland White-fronted Geese which are now begining to be a little more trusting and are providing tremendous views. The stubbles in that area saw good numbers of Rock Dove present and,feeding along with Rooks and Jackdaws, 54 Hooded Crow, a testament to how common this species actually is on the island. A few Scaup, along with a flock of Tufted Duck and a single Pochard, some Goldeneye, odd Mallard on Loch Gorm and a fine group of displaying Teal on nearby Loch nan Cachie provided a good selection of wildfowl to view.

Whilst flocks of Redwing are scattered here and there, Fieldfare are in much fewer numbers and, currently, Blacbird numbers seem to have dropped generally. A report from my local "postie" advises Woodcock have appeared this week at various places which seems a little earlier than last year. My house usually receives its delivery half an hour or so after dark and so the "explosion" of odd birds feeding alongside the moorland road is something of a feature at this time of year.

Friday, November 14, 2008

13th November, 2008.

Yet another day of contrast with rolling mists present throughout the whole day on the south Rinns making it pointless as far as birdwatching was concerned.

The time afforded the opportunity to review various arrangements and plans, particularly for doing BTO Atlas work on Jura. Hopefully we'll get a spell of weather that is a little bit more predictable than of late!!

The Grey lag Goose numbers appear to have reduced quite markedley and similar to the pattern in previous autumns. Whilst we received no further large influx the large "packs" have now broken up, but there is probably no more than 500 birds present across the island. This means around 1000 have moved elsewhere leaving us guessing yet again as to their destination. News came of a collared bird having been seen but of the collar details not having been secured. If this bird remains,and is seen again, it could be an invaluable piece of evidence in what still remains a very intriguing mystery.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

12th November, 2008.

Rather a turn around in the weather with a calm night 11th/12th so no whistling and moaning in the windows, and a fine dawn promised a good day, which held to be true.

Across to Jura with Malcolm Ogilvie to do a check for Greenland White-fronted Geese. The numbers of this important sub-species, almost treated as a full species, has plummeted and we're probably only receiving 50% of what we had a decade ago. Historically birds used Jura, although not to any great extent. The regular site north of the Feolin ferry appears to have been abandoned and we could find no other birds at sites further north around Lowlandmans Bay where small numbers could sometimes be discovered. I suppose the saving grace would be that there is a surfeit of suitable habitat should the fortunes of the birds ever really escalate and the situation return to what it was previously.

Nonetheless a really enjoyable day with some nice views of birds we might expect up here and perhaps take for granted ( we put the world to rights on a few fronts too and indulged that wonderful Islay pastime of getting up to date!!! ). I bade farewell to Malcolm , who is about to go down to Antarctica, thinking he might actually end up getting better weather than we might anticipate over the next month!!!

Looked for the very probable Grey Phalarope which had been reported yesterday on the shores of Loch Indaal north of Bowmore, but without success.

11th November, 2008.

After two days of pretty poor weather today could have been considered the Fianl Act in a Wagnerian opera!!! Wind, sleet, squalls strong enough to knock you over and waves, atopped by white crests, advancing across Loch Indaal as a fleet of galleons in some naval conflict!!! It was pretty bad.

However,three teams of us braved all that in order to complete goose counts for SNH. The Gruinart area was open to the weather, but less ferocious intervals allowed us to count good numbers of both Barnacle and Greenland White-fronted Geese although both species were very edgy and easily disturbed. Two separate Snow Buntings at Killinallan and a female Merlin, quite a dark individual, were nice but little else of particular note was seen for obvious reasons.

Better times are forecast!!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

8th November, 2009.

Back in harness again after a further week of " technical tussles". Today was a day of two halves, with the second doubtless being a prelude to the forecasted battering we are to experience over the next few days!!

Birdwatching around Loch Indaal was enjoyable but with nothing particularly notable present. The wintering populations are begining to settle down and waders generally seemed to be in fewer numbers. The Scaup flock was huddled in three distinct groups near the shore and provided a fine sight. As in previous winters the total number seems to be reduced but there is still plenty of time for it to be supplemented. Amazingly I couldn't find one Slavonian Grebe set against the high figure seen previously, but I guess that was a consequence of a wind backed tide making the sighting of small birds out on the loch somewhat difficult.

Light bellied Brent Geese seem to be with us in slightly better numbers with nearly fifty on the loch compared to more recent wintering numbes of 30+.

A couple of hours spent, yet again, searching for what I suspect was a Rough legged Buzzard met with as much lack of success as previously!! First glimpsed briefly on the 16th October the next occasion saw an equally short lived view of the bird battling across the moor during a sleet squall on the 28th. So frustrating when two thirds of the features are seen, but not everything. an absolute necessity in my book I'm afraid. Sadly it may now be miles away!! Suffice to say that , over the past couple of years, there has been a very pale Common Buzzard around in the Loch Gorm area, a very attractive bird but much different in shape and general impression. This has given rise to all sorts of suggestions as to what it might be but, generally, without a mention of the most obvious!!. The lesson being that Common Buzzards are quite varied in ther plumages and care is needed when other species are suspected......

Finally made it home before the worst of it set in!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

1st November, 2008.

A calm day ready made for completing a count of Outer Loch Indaal!! Over 60 Great Northern Diver were present, two parties being into double figures. This is a feature of this precise time of year with the birds either moving on or dispersing widely over the loch. Little else in any numbers except the Common Scoter flock, restless as ever, off Port Charlotte.

Later time spent enjoying the wide range of species within Inner Loch Indaal including a total of 41 Slavonian Grebes, which I believe is one of the highest autumn counts we've had ( a similar count in spring occurred in 1997 and a count of 37 occurred in November 1994.). The weather looks as if it might hold for a few days so it could be worth repeating the effort as we get so few opportunities to obtain a true picture of their numbers. A few Long-tailed Duck tantalisingly close but not quite close enough to get a photograph!!!

Today was the start of the second winter period of the British Trust for Ornithology's Atlas Survey determining the distribution of both wintering and breeding birds during 2007-2011. Now you may laugh, but visiting various spots during the day with the intention of securing Roving Records,I was amazed at how many Dunnocks I'd seen!. Yes, Dunnocks folks! Not a species you can always guarantee to come across easily on Islay and equally as welcome as any of the slightly more " exotics" we play host to.

Days like this when the surface of both sea lochs and inland ones are virtually "glassy" is a good time to come across Otters. Two at different spots in Loch Indaal and two individuals playing around in Loch Gorm were a nice surprise.

31st October, 2008.

A belated return after a series of adventures, the most incovenient being my computer monitor going up in smoke and the wait until a replacement could be obtained!! All is now back to normal.

Counting geese for Scottish Natural Heritage through most of the day but then went down to The Oa to see a couple of Lapland Buntings that were with a group of Snow Buntings. All such was forgotten about when Andy Schofield and I came across two Red Kites at the very tip of The Oa. Both were tagged and early suggestions indicate they might be from the Highlands, although we wondered if there was a possibility of them coming across from the Northern Ireland scheme. Watching those and then various Hen Harriers pursuing the Twite flock was a real spectacle.

Returning home in the dark the first roadside Woodcock of the winter was near Gearach

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

15th October, 2008.

This entry is as much a situation report as anything!! For most of this week I shall be immersed in completing reports on one thing or another , having had to conjure up the self discipline to resist birding and do some proper work!! From enquiries not a lot that's new appears to be around, thankfully.
Next week I shall have my daughters here challenging my skills as entertainments manager, referee, cook and host and my patience to withstand not being able to watch my favourite TV programmes!!! However, I'm much looking forward to it and the opportunity it brings to explore odd new corners of Islay and have some fun!

I'm planning to do some early morning migration watches, as a test, from the house and just to check whether anything worthwhile occurs. Sadly, the west coast of Islay doesn't appear that good compared to many spots but I can't believe it's devoid of interest either. Certainly not a great number of passerines pass along the coast at Frenchman's Rocks. We shall see!!!

Monday, October 13, 2008

12th October,2008.

Spent most of the day birdwatching with friends, so lots of banter and fun!!! Whilst we covered quite some ground we had some good birds too, including the Rose-coloured Starling still in the centre of Bowmore. It's begining to look a bit tatty, but still as ebullient as previously.

Managed to confirm productivity of another eagle pair seen together with their single young bird this time. Only one territory remains for which data is unavailable, which is the farthest away of them all!!

This weekend was the count date for Light-bellied Brent Geese. Birds present on both Loch Indaal and Loch Gruinart but also a party of 8 resting along the shoreline in Machir Bay. With the number of people around these moved off eventually, as did a single Arctic Tern, which we'd first seen almost lying prone on the sand seemingly utterly exhausted. Various beaches had Ringed Plover and some Sanderling suggesting this week had seen quite a peak in passage. Finally, two or three small flocks of Golden Plover seen as these seem to have been quite scarce here this autumn , at least so far. Depressingly, reports of certainly more than one American Golden Plover from "neighbouring" Tiree, where doubtless they didn't have the constraint of thousands of newly arrived and nervous Barnacle Geese spooking everything every few minutes!!!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

11th October, 2008.

Heavy sea running through morning with poor visibilty at 0800hrs but gradually improving by midday. Wind F5+ SW which seemed to be limiting movement. A few Gannets south (60+), a Great Northern Diver, Eider pair, and a few Kittiwakes comprised the main interest.

Had a good look around the south Rinns. The majority of passerine flocks seem to have moved on compared to previously although Linnet and Goldfinch still in evidence. There appears to be a lull in thrush migration too. A flock of 25 Grey lag Geese on the coast was comprised of noticeably very pale birds.

Spent time putting together the figures derived from the various surveys of Grey lag Geese in September. The highest day total was 1457 and the accepted band of likely presence in the period was 1400-1600. A number of these also now seem to have moved on although a further precise count will be attempted next week. The large influx of birds to supplement our own breeding birds I anticipated might happen in September doesn't appear to have occurred, although the initial Islay total may have been reduced due to the effects of shooting. Certainly we have not seen the total of 1800 birds we had last year exceeded. The large accumulations have now broken up,flocks are more mobile and, therefore, somewhat more difficult to monitor.

Friday, October 10, 2008

10th October, 2008.

The Innuit have a whole series of words for snow. Here , in Scotland, we have a similar array of words for the weather! Today it was grim!!

Spent the whole day (again) behind a computer screen planning surveys and the like given that the BTO Atlas Survey 2007-2011 commences its second winter in three weeks time!! In addition to this there are many other surveys that can be contributed to, some which are European wide in their application. One is Trektellen ( ) which is probably the foremost visible bird migration site in NW Europe. It has an ever growing network of sites on the Continent, but also here, that contribute observations on the movements of birds.
In the last couple of days 15,000 Jackdaws have been on the move in the Low Countries but also at one site, De Nolle in Holland, 5500 Blue Tit, 2500 Coal Tit, 500 Great Tit, 500 Goldcrest and 25,000 Chaffich have been counted passing through!! Migration at its most spectacular!! Whether these mass movements will be reflected in the arrival of birds in Britain has yet to be awaited....

And if you're really bitten by the visible migration bug take a look at It's the web site of Falsterbo Bird Observatory and if you get away with looking at it for less than 30mins. then you're skimping!!! It's magnificent. I stayed there in August and September in the early 1960's ( let's not dwell on that!! ) and was blown away with the sheer number of birds that can move through a site. It's all in English so there's no excuse...have a go.

Ok...back to cyber space!!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

9th October, 2008.

An early post, partly as a consequence of the weather becoming atrocious from mid-morning!!

Apologies, but I omitted to mention that there had been a 1st winter Little Gull at the head of Loch Indaal yesterday as well as 2 Arctic Terns.
On station at the same site just after dawn this morning but no sign of "the plover", indeed some of the waders appeared to have moved out including the Golden Plover. That's birding!!

Every cloud has a silver lining though. The Greenland White-fronted Goose I mentioned yesterday wearing the red collar marked J3H was a first for Britain!!! I shall explain!

This summer an expedition took place to Western Greenland with the intention of catching and marking some Greenland White-fronted Geese. There is considerable concern at the moment about the global population of this very distinct sub-species whose breeding grounds seem to be under assault from an increasing population of Canada Geese. The overall numbers have decreased and productivity has, on occasion , been poor. However, mounting expeditions to Greenland is costly and conditions, safety etc are not to be taken lightly. Despite all this a group this summer visited one of the important areas and caught 35 birds which they fitted with neck collars. These don't affect the birds but, importantly, allow their movements , relationships, productivity etc to be tracked and , most of all, longevity to be assessed. J3H was an adult male caught with 8 other non-breeders on the 16th July, 2008. He has now made that long, long journey to his winter quarters ( think about it, from western Greenland!!!, maybe with a stopover in Iceland ... compare this with going to see Aunt Agatha and all that goes with it, sandwiches, stops on the motorway, signs telling you to rest when tired. What a phenomenon!! )
In summary, he was the first that has been reported making it to Britain ( to Islay!!)..we'll certainly keep a welcome!

So that you can follow up on what happens I'll post further details from time to time and provide some web site references too.

8th October, 2008.

Both Barnacle and Greenland White-fronted Geese moving north ,in small numbers , first thing as they "readjusted" after overshooting the island. A flock of 37 White-fronts on the south Rinns was obviously newly arrived with most birds asleep! Gradually activity increased and they began preening or feeding. Amongst them was an adult bird wearing a collar (bearing letters and a number) which allows its movements to be tracked based on the reports from birdwatchers sent back to the organizer of the scheme ( Tony Fox ).I'll post details in due course.

A seawatch showed a few birds on the move including 104 Kittiwakes, odd Manx Shearwater, Red-throated Diver and a flock of Turnstone. Auk numbers have been extremely low to date with only around 20 seen this morning.Two Black-throated Divers were offshore.

Further north odd Swallows were still around at Bruichladdich but a nice surprise was a flock of 29 Mistle Thrush, which I think is the highest number I've seen on Islay. Local birds form flocks in autumn but, equally, they may have been migrants given a few Blackbirds and Song Thrush were with them.

Inner Loch Indaal was alive with birds, compared to the Outer loch , which was virtually devoid of birds. A lone wader loosely associated with Golden Plover showed enough to suggest American Golden Plover but, shortly after finding it, all birds "spooked", including the 4000 + Barnacle Geese!!!!, and everything went in diverse directions!!! An hour spent looking for it, unsuccessfully, added to the frustration so a search arranged for first thing in the morning!!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

7th October,2008.

A dreadful day for weather in that it rained end to end so I was thankful that I'd two or three meetings to attend
Discussions at SNH about BTO Atlas work on Jura over the coming winter and next summer reinforced the necessity to recruit any and everybody to submit records from their visits to that island. It really is so big!! Given that the earliest ferry from Islay is not that early and the travelling time needed to get "up" the island is not insubstantial, the only solution is to be temporarily resident there, which was the object of the meeting. However, anybody reading this who is to take holidays there at any time, please , please consider making available your obsevations as any input will be invaluable. Please read the BTO website first to get details re the Atlas survey. Additionally I'm also hoping to do something similar personally on other occasions next year in terms of recording moths as so little appears to have been completed previously on Jura.

Down to The Oa, not to be seen at its best in damp and dreary weather, to discuss results associated with Raven distribution and breeding this year. The next task is to put all the data together and come to a view as to the current population levels and breeding success this season.

6th October, 2008.

Spent the whole day behind a computer setting up programmes associated with bird species recording worldwide, or other programmes dealing with distribution on a geographical or spatial basis. Fascinating but slow given the abilities of an ageing cyberchild but full of potential for the future!!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

4th October, 2008.

A goose day with the first Barnacle Geese heard in the half light passing over the house whilst I was still in bed!!! Later small groups continued to go north, including Greenland White-fronted Geese too, as a lot of the geese had obviously overshot the island as a consequence of the strong northerly winds. They seem so able to gauge supportive weather conditions, i.e. tailwinds, but,on this occasion,things were a little robust!!!

It's almost an emotional occasion when the geese arrive!! Normally, or eventually like now, they congregate at the top of Loch Gruinart for a period until dispersing over the island. The sight of birds arriving high from the north and wiffling ( that'll not be in the spellchecker!!! ) down to fly just above the surface of the water to the head of the loch is absolutely marvellous. As you might imagine the calling, even cacophony, from the birds both as they arrive , and later, is spellbinding. Relief, celebration, lost youngsters,'s all in there. An avian soap opera but, above all else , doubtless pronounced joy at actually being back in familiar surroundings after such a long flight originating in Greenland. What the youngsters make of it all would be fascinating to know, not just the long flight but then , for a period , being precipitated amongst what yesterday was probably in excess of 30,000 birds. Just like being taken to your first really big football match as a child!!!
A wonderful spectacle that never wanes in its drama.

Friday, October 3, 2008

2nd October, 2008.

After a fruitless day yesterday a single Leach's Petrel seen flying north (!) early morning previous to conditions abating for a period. A few other species moving: Red-throated Diver, Ringed Plover, Kittiwake and two small parties of LB Brent Geese on the coast showed they'd arrived in overnight.
Later, around Loch Gorm between 50-60 Greenland White-fronted Geese were present, but none seen anywhere else, Tufted Duck numbers had risen to 70+ and a couple of parties of thrushes (Blackbird and Song Thrush, the latter very greyish birds )present but mobile.
Loch Gruinart had had an arrival of Barnacle Geese yesterday and overnight with ca. 300 present and 11 LB Brent Geese remaining.
Birds of prey again obvious with Hen Harrier,Peregrine,Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel around.
Later the winds more northerly and much more can always tell when there's a real've to turn the sound up on the TV!!!!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

30th September, 2008.

An attempt to seawatch earned a soaking, but little else, with visibility pretty poor until mid morning too.

For a period the weather settled down allowing a good examination of Loch Indaal. A lot of the smaller waders ( Dunlin, Sanderling and Ringed Plover) had moved on and, of the larger ones remaining, most were well out. Wigeon and Scaup numbers are gradually rising and 29 LB Brent Geese were present compared to the 16 of yesterday. A couple of Whooper Swan had arrived. Unfortunately a Peregrine and male Hen Harrier did their utmost to redistribute everything at intervals making counts difficult at best!!

Loch Gruinart was less disturbed by the wind, showed good numbers of Curlew and a variety of other waders, including a Greenshank. With even a small amount of flooding on the reserve lagoons since the weekend Teal numbers are already rising.

Possibly the best experience of the day was seeing four Golden Eagles together ( two adults and two birds of the year ) a distance from an established eyrie/territory setting thoughts in train of whether breeding has occurred this year at a long abamdoned site. The immature birds were in spectacular condition!! Seeing immature birds on Islay not infrequently pays tribute to the absence of persecution we enjoy here compared to other areas of mainland Scotland!!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

29th September, 2008.

Strong westerly winds and rain squalls at intervals again raised hopes that they would bring in something good, or promote passage, but nothing resulted other than Gannet, Manx Shearwater, Fulmar and Kittiwake moving through, in fact zipping through at times!!

Most of day spent identifying and agreeing survey sections for the BTO Low Tide Surveys of Loch Indaal. Little time to really scrutinize what was around but 16 Pale-bellied Brent present, which may be the forerunners to our small wintering flock. Grey lag Goose numbers actually appear to have dropped and certainly we've had no arrival of more birds late month as I'd anticipated. It's not too late of course!!!

A small group of Mistle Thrushes late afternoon rising from a juncus ridden pasture and flying off SW suggested passage birds.

Monday, September 29, 2008

28th September, 2008.

Quite a long seawatch in seemingly favourable conditions but with very little moving, either in volume or variety. A few Red throated Divers broke the monotony but little else. The weather looks as if it could favourably influence passage over the next couple of days, although tomorrow will be "sacrificed" due to considering Low Tide Counts for Loch Indaal with Neil Calbrade( British Trust for Orniyhology ).

These are surveys, repeated every six years, that basically document the distribution of feeding birds at low tide and, in the process,identify the most important sections within the estuary. Such information is crucial should any developments be considered,or other fundamental changes, that could affect the estuary.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

27th September, 2008.

System restored and business as normal!!

Seawatching most of morning with fresh SW winds in evidence. A single Sooty Shearwater and 105 Manx Sheawater went south, Gannets were moving around in low numbers and in all directions. A Red-breasted Merganser, several Red throated Diver,Great Skua, the first noticeable Auk passage (albeit only 90), small no.s of Fulmar and odd Kittiwake comprised the main species through in conditions I'd suspected might be better!!

Few birds in Outer Loch Indaal but the reserve pools at Gruinart look to have potential. The vegetation has been "topped" and the area will now be flooded. Teal and Snipe numbers are already increasing and two Black-tailed Godwits were present. The flats at Loch Gruinart held 5 LB Brent Geese and a party of Barnacle Geese were resting up in a field nearby, no doubt recovering from their recent journey southwards. Shortly after quite heavy rain set in for the whole afternoon, which may have grounded some birds. Hopefully we may yet get our share of American waders, individuals of which have graced various island locations in NW Scotalnd!!

Friday, September 19, 2008

19th September, 2008.

Seawatch early with five groups of Light bellied Brent Geese south, a few Red throated Diver south and a couple of Great Skua. Mist and rain came in at 1000hrs. and persisted for most of the day with visibilty being poor.

Noticeable that Chaffinch "falling out of sky" into garden, feeding and then moving on as visibility improved.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

15th September,2008.

An absolutely foul day with the rain never stopping and being quite heavy at times. Birding proved hopeless with nothing of note , or new, turned in. The local Swallows appear to have left in front of the bad weather as no sign of them or numbers of Meadow Pipits.
The forecasts look better unless you're in banking!!!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

13th September, 2008.

Back in harness after an enforced step out!! Decided to spend a day covering the whole of the recording area (see May for details) as little seems to have been reported on recently!
The day started with a count of 117 Meadow Pipits on the telephone wires outside, an apt reminder of them being an iconic September migrant. Sea passage was slow and routine with no exceptional sightings or numbers.
Numbers of adult Red-throated Divers were on Loch Indaal, plus two well grown immatures no doubt transferred from nearby breeding lochans.The first Black-throated Divers of the winter seen, as were several Slavonian Grebes consorting with Eiders. Later, numbers of them also do this with the Scaup flock, seemingly not yet arrived.

And then a surprise! A party of Barnacle Geese flying up the loch and cutting northwards overland. Certainly the first I've seen and quite early. A few Light-bellied Brent Geese were new but were then seen to fly off heading towards Ireland.Duck numbers,and variety,are begining to improve with Wigeon, Pintail and Common Scoter present as were numbers of Red-breasted Merganser and Eider.

Grey lag Geese deserve a mention (barely!!) given the amount of time devoted to them. An intention to complete another full count saw the total nigh on a thousand fewer than last time. I've no doubt that,somewhere, there were other birds, but where? This isn't new, just frustrating!! When the final baling of barley straw is being completed they move somewhere, it possibly even varies, and take time out. As it was a few hundred birds were on Loch Gorm, but not the entire total, and there was none on Bridgend Merse. Having moaned about that scenario, observations of three small groups coming in from the south, high over Loch Indaal, were intriguing and added yet another twist to a convoluted story!!

A good variety of waders around, but all common species. Numbers of Herring Gulls are noticeable at various places but, strangely, no numbers seen moving through.

Finally,the second brood of Swallows(4) from the barn at home fledged and joined(?) their siblings (3) on the wires outside. The numbers add up but I didn't realise this happened as I'd presumed the first brood "went independent". Given the dreadful weather recently I'm actually surprised the parents managed to feed them!!

Another Wheatear appeared locally and made me wonder if these are Icelandic birds. Ours have been gone for some time now, we then get an early September "flush" of birds and then a few of the obviously larger Greenland birds slightly later. very often these occur along the west and north west coasts too. Of common species,Pied Wagtail numbers have reduced slightly, Robins appear to be everywhere ,have obviously arrived in numbers and are present in some pretty whacky bits of cover, some good Linnet flocks are in evidence suggesting a successful breeding season.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

8th September, 2008.

Due to a medical appointment the morning was a bit of a write off but then spent the remaining part of the day at Loch Gruinart and surrounding areas. Surprisingly quiet but duck numbers obviously improving (Wigeon and Teal) and 22 Lapwing arrived high from the south. Waders were widely spread on the loch itself given low tide but nice views of Bar-tailed Godwit. An adult Peregrine attempted to take a Redshank from a group just in front of me, coming in low at a tremendous speed but being unsuccessful. The Light bellied Brent Geese are now back to two being present on one of the banks central to the loch.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

6th September, 2008.

A steady passage of Gannets and shearwaters during the morning. Backed by a fresh north-easterly wind which seemed not to have encompassed much else in its influence until a lone Pomarine Skua flew south. Such proved to be the only evidence of real variety. Patience is obviously the game this autumn!!

A single adult Spotted Flycatcher sought shelter in the lee of the garden's only true bush from where, on its perch on the wall, it hunted prey throughout most of the afternoon. Later, at more or less the same time as yesterday evening, a male Hen Harrier quartered the grass moor opposite, no doubt grateful that the wind had died a little and was causing less disruption to the vegetation.

Friday, September 5, 2008

4th September, 2008.

A glorious day throughout!! Light and variable winds and fantastic visibility out over the sea.
Several hours seawatching brought little despite a light northerly wind at commencement. This soon faded with a SW occasional breeze noted afterwards for a while. Whilst Gannets and Manx Shearwater, as so often before, were mainly moving south others were circling out at sea suggesting all birds were on feeding movements. Small numbers of LBBG, Kittiwake and Fulmar and odd waders ( Oystercatcher and Redshank )flew south but no real imperative was behind the passage. A single Red-throated Diver sped south by contrast.

The most exciting occurence was a small party of Grey lag Geese which came in high from the NW, passed by southwards and then swung in a direct line bound for Ireland. Earlier than anticipated this is certainly evidence that we do receive, or witness, this species moving southwards in autumn. It will now be fascinating to see if further birds swell the numbers of the congregated flocks counted on Tuesday. Despite a continuing vigil these proved to be the only birds involved!!

14 Chough around the house later in the day were very mobile and noisy and finally gathered together and moved off northwards.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

2nd September, 2008.

An absolutely glorious day throughout in stark contrast to some of the recent ones we've had.
The whole day spent counting Grey lag Geese with the support and help of Scttish Natural Heritage and RSPB staff. A couple of years ago I started, independently, attempting to gather in the total numbers of Grey lag Geese that now accumulate at various points in autumn on Islay. RSPB has always completed counts on the reserve at Gruinart but the distributional patterns have changed with time and now birds are more mobile and using several areas.
Last year saw a final toatal of 1840 birds in September, which had gradually increased over the years from a relatively low figure. A report of 4000 birds last autumn was disregarded as the counts immediately subsequent to that never registered in excess of the 1800 birds counted previously.
This year linked to the Scottish Grey lag Goose Survey 2008 being organized by the The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust aimed at establishing the population to the north and west of the Great Glen on both mainland Scotland and the islands.
Coverage was excellent, with many thanks to all the participants, although the total, thus far, is 3/400 short of last year's figure. Whether or not the birds shot earlier in the year has seen an effect on the overall population is difficult to tell as yet.

I shall carry out at least a couple more counts in September as it is my contention that, besides the large "gatherings" of local birds, we also see an influx of birds from elsewhere during the month, several weeks before the main influx of Barnacle and Greenland White-fronted Geese. Soon after the main body of Grey lags appears to move on, although slightly more than normal remained during last winter. To where and from whence are now key questions which, hopefully, might begin to be answered next year with the intention to try and catch and place numbered collars on some birds so their movements can be traced.

Whilst no doubt there'll continue to be armchair theories on the subject the fact remains that we have at least a baseline of data against which we can now compare the numbers and distribution of birds in the future. Work earlier that I completed counting broods might also be extended next year so that we have a better idea of the precise numbers of breeding pairs and their success. Fascinating and frustrating stuff, with an anxious eye also being cast on the situation by our farmers, who see the extension of the "season" wherein we have a presence of large numbers of geese
growing annually!!

Little opportunity for general birding but a single Wheater at Ballinaby showed passage continuing. A thorough examination of areas favoured by Light-bellied Brent Geese saw none here yet in contrast to the situation in Ireland where they have been present for several days.

1st September, 2008.

Several hours too soon was the verdict!!! After my fruitless vigil for Basking Shark yesterday news came in that , on the Sunday evening, at least five (some reports suggested eight) came into the sound between Orsay Island and Port Weymss and were there for almost half an hour. Of four seen very well, three were judged to be full size and one significantly smaller. They finally headed out to the open sea through the gap between Orsay and Eilean Mhic Coinnich. The last three years has seen small, but increasing, numbers of these animals in our local waters where they appear to be spending most of the summer. Many thanks to Calum Anderson and Ian Turner for the reports.

Of more concern are reports about Mink on both Islay and Jura. Long since thought absent, after the campaign to eradicate them, it suggests, for Jura at least, that a small remnant population may have persisted throughout and is,currently,enjoying a periodic increase. Additionally two specimens were caught in the south of Islay recently, begging doubts of them ever having been completely cleared out previously. The outside possibility of them swimming across from Jura to Islay in favourable, calm conditions can't be ruled out as such may have been part of the reason for them appearing on Jura from the mainland years before.

Of less interest, this particular mammal spent the day organizing the various arrangemnts for the Grey lag Goose count tomorrow!

Monday, September 1, 2008

31st August, 2008.

Ah, light westerlies, drizzle and varying visibility due to banks of mist. A seawatchers dream!! It lasted three hours and then turned into a nice day!! Within that time seabirds were going through in better numbers than of late, several Great Skuas(Bonxies) sped south but precious little else. A lone Curlew ventured south calling hauntingly through the mist to lost or non-existent colleagues!!

Two Northern Wheaters locally were probably just that, birds from much farther north , even Iceland as our own summer breeding birds have now been gone for some time.

Spent some time looking for the "local" Basking Shark that has been seen on various occasions, but without success.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

30th August, 2008.

Well, if yesterday was quiet over the sea today was decidedley dead!!! The wind had changed slightly in that there was more south-east in it , which is a major thumbs down for seawatching. In essence , birds moving south are actually being moved away from the coast, so it wasn't surprising very little was on offer. I stuck it out just in case but, besides a very slow passage of Manx Shearwater and Gannet, very little else came through.

Spent time scouring local areas for migrants, but with no success. I eventually came to the conclusion the day was not to be mine!!!!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

29th August, 2008.

Seawatching with SE winds is never the best conditions in which to expect really good passage , and so it proved today. Nonetheless nearly a thousand Manx Shearwaters went through in three hours with numbers of Gannets too. Of equal interest were over fifty LBBG's whose passage always commences around now and can be quite short lived. Habitually they migrate along the coast, sometimes in a band within 100m. of the sea over the land itself.

Waders were also on the move with Black-tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Turnstone and Dunlin noted. There seems to be very few Arctic Skuas this year, doubtless a consequence of their apparent poor breeding season. By contrast low figures of Great Skua are a constant feature. An early Scaup flew south along with a few Arctic Terns but little else.

Later an examination of Loch Indaal showed the overnight situation to have hardly changed with both numbers and species of waders being the same as yesterday

Friday, August 29, 2008

28th August, 2008.

Another poor day with mist and rain at various intervals. Early evening on the Rinns saw an all enveloping mist blanketing the landscape in silence,more reminiscent of November than August!!!

A series of meetings , or contacts, during the day relating to future Raven work, the BTO Atlas or the upcoming Grey lag Goose count. Spent a couple of hours alongside Loch Indaal looking at waders but nothing present that was out of the ordinary. Numbers of Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Sanderling present and doubtless will begin to fluctuate widely as successive waves of birds migrate through. A single Osprey flew north.
Of common species the most noticeable are the flocks of Linnet and Greenfinch, both species appearing to have had quite a good breeding season. Several parties, but in lesser numbers , of Goldfinch are around and Pied/White Wagtails seem to be everywhere that provides suitable feeding.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

27th August, 2008.

A rather poor day with intervals of driving rain and mist, although quite mild. Attended the RSPB "Bat Walk" at Gruinart in the evening which was marred by poor weather in many respects. Nonetheless we had a series of views, and registrations on the bat detectors, and successive parties of Grey lag Geese flew over to their roost on Loch Gruinart.
I was amused by the thought of the gentleman, who's cottage is in a similar situation to mine, ie remote, blissfully unaware of 25 people staring intently at his porch from whose roof emerged the Pipistrelle Bats until he, in turn, looked out of the window. I couldn't help thinking what my reaction would have been .......casting a view around for the space craft I suspect!!! However we're used to strange goings on on Islay!!!!

Monday, August 25, 2008

22 - 24th August, 2008.

Across to University of Stirling to attend the British Trust for Ornithology meeting associated with bird monitoring in Scotland. Extremely useful and good to see familiar faces. The contribution of records so far relating to the BTO Atlas Project 2007-2011 is impressive and really encouraging.
Looking forward to a big "push" on coverage for Islay and Jura during the winter of 2008 and next year's breeding season, although that achieved so far is very pleasing.

16-22 August, 2008.

A relaxing week with my eldest daughter, Ashley, visiting so little birdwatching done. Time spent talking, walking, eating, reading and watching the Olympics!!!My television watching profile has been altered considerably with a conversion to
"Come Dine with Me", "Friends", a variety of Soaps ( what happened to Jack and Vera, Len and Elsie, Dirty Den .....seems I've a few episodes of various programmes to catch up on!! ). I've been persuaded to watch out for re-runs of "Sex and the City" or the new film. Worse still my very social positioning has been severely questioned....I'm not on Facebook! The realisation that my computer address book has fewer contacts than appears to be the case for most Facebook devotees suggests a tendency to reclusiveness!!

On more familiar ground we did have a gorgeous walk across to Frenchman's Rocks with the local Atlantic Grey Seals putting on a show just below us. How they can doze upright in a strong swell is very impressive, with only the occasional opening of their dark liquid eyes!! In wonderful holiday weather ( a contra for good birding ) odd Great Skuas were moving through as well as shearwaters and Gannets. A juvenile Cuckoo hanging around locally for a couple of days was a nice surprise.

All in all, a good time.

Friday, August 15, 2008

14th August, 2008.

With very light and variable south/south easterlies it was unlikely that sea passage would be particularly heavy and such proved to be the case with both Gannet and shearwater numbers down by half compared to yesterday. Lines of passage were much farther out and across a broad front making counting difficult, particularly with a species like Fulmar, the total south again being near a hundred.

Waders appeared to be taking benefit fron the situation with passage noted of Bar-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Turnstone, Curlew, Whimbrel and Ringed Plover. Two single Arctic Terns flew south and odd Razorbill and Great Skua noted.

Later in the day odd Wheatears appeared around home , suggesting the arrival of passage birds given none had been noted for a couple of days.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

13th August, 2008.

After a rather foul day yesterday, today was gorgeous, with open skies and warm sunshine, and it was relatively calm.
An early seawatch, after watching the women's Olympic cycling time trial and our medal success (!!), produced little variety but nearly 5000 Manx Shearwaters south in two hours, passage then falling off dramatically. Well over 100 Fulmars also went south, with one single migrating "flock" of 23! Gannets, as ever, a few Oystercatcher, a Curlew and Whimbrel comprised the rest.

A wide variety of typical autumn waders on Loch Indaal but nothing exceptional.

Rabbits....myxamatosis is affecting many of the rabbits on the island. The big warren above the house, doubtless the reliable larder for the local eagles, Buzzards, Raven and Hooded Crows has been hit hard, although not terribly far from that area , at Claddach, the populations appear not to have been affected

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

11th August, 2008.

Although the wind had only backed a few points it made a huge difference to sea passage compared to yesterday! In the same time period less than half of the Manx Shearwaters and Gannets went south contrasted against the 10th and there was little else on the move either. Three Bar-tailed Godwits south and the odd Kittiwake comprised "the rest". Blustery conditions and the wind more south west saw the birds working hard and moving through at half the speed too!

After hearing of other Wheatears on the coast farther north in the recording area it seems likely that all birds were migrants. None were in evidence this morning and nothing appeared to have arrived that was new (except the weather , which deteriorated as the day went on!).

Monday, August 11, 2008

10th August, 2008.

Fully mobile again!!
One of the things that characterizes this time of year is the large gatherings of Meadow Pipit along some of the less disturbed roads in the moorland areas. Doubtless those present at the moment are "local bred" , but as autumn proceeds the numbers are obviously turning over quite frequently, as migrants and "locals" alike move through. The population in winter is quite low by comparison. 60/70 birds on the track this morning was typical.

Seawatching was quite productive with ca.4500 ManxShearwater and ca.1800/1900 Gannet moving south. A few waders were in evidence too, Redshank, Dunlin, Oystercatcher and a single Ruff. Other seabirds involved included Kittiwake, both Great and Arctic Skuas, Fulmar plus a lone young Puffin on the sea , the only auk seen.

Young Wheatears were in a couple of places and will soon be moving on. Warblers suddenly seem to be very few and far between!!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

3rd/4th August,2008.

A bit restricted at the moment due to a damaged ankle but progressing!!! The 3rd (Sun) had unexpected and awful weather after hopes had been raised for change. The whole predicted weather system has now changed completely for the next few days.
The 4th was a gorgeous day with butterflies much in evidence locally ( Ringlet,
Small Tortoiseshell, Meadow Brown and Green-veined White ).

Throughout the day it was interesting to see a (small ) progression of warblers moving through the garden. Willow Warblers and a Whitethroat, and all juveniles, feeding for a while before setting off unerringly on their southwards migration across an open field to the next scrub-clump.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

2nd August, 2008.

An absolutely splendid day.....yes, sunshine and warmth!!!! A minimal wind and, altogether, a nice day for birding.
The sea saw a consistent passage of Manx Shearwater south, Gannets moving north and south , presumably on feeding forays, with the odd Kittiwake and Fulmar between although no auks!!!
The Inner Loch area saw a good selection of waders ( Oystercatcher, Curlew, Knot, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit and Redshank ) with some passage of the latter too. Care must be taken with the varying bill lengths of Curlew to avoid presumption of Whimbrel and the yellow legs of odd young Redshank to avoid imagination!!! Hopefully the message will get around!!!
An Osprey perched on a perfectly positioned post for hunting on Loch Gorm but undoubtedley was frustrated by the now increasing water levels in terms of searching for prey, due to the excessive recent rain.

Local to home an immature Whitethroat early in the day and Willow Warbler later suggested an ongoing imperative passage of summer migrants. Oh, yes, I can actually spell deteriorate!!

Friday, August 1, 2008

1st August, 2008.

If yesterday was bad today detioriorated still further, with steady downpours being heavier at intervals and then, thankfully, coming to an end in late afternnon.Within an hour small birds were in evidence along the track from the house ( 4/5 Willow Warblers, 2 Wheatears and at least two Whinchats with what I presumed were "local" families of Stonechat and Reed Bunting ). Another hour saw the summer visitors having moved away, doubtless relieved their migrations could resume in better conditions.
The forecasts look more reasonable for the next few days with favourable conditions developing for seawatching midweek ( SW veering NW ) and, from Sunday, nights being suitable for operating a moth trap.

31st July, 2008

Awakened early to the rain absolutely lashing the front of the house ruining all thoughts of a seawatching session. Eventually it abated whilst I was on my way to the RSPB Gruinart office to discuss various survey work and to agree allocations relating to next winter's Atlas work ( on the day the breeding season work finished!! ).

Very little seems to be around but such is likely to change soon. "My" Swallows have ventured outside but it makes me wonder what the odds are on their survival with the weather being so bleak overall.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

30th July, 2008.

Still immersed in admin work after my return but managed a couple of outings locally. Generally things seem quiet but Willow Warbler in one of the two bushes (!) in the garden showed migration was in progress. Two very juvenile Goldfinches suggested breeding nearby. After a late start there are at least five young Swallows in the barn, which requires a couple of inspections per day as they manage all too often to get caught up in things!
The group of nine Choughs is still around and two young Wheatears were presumed locally bred. The weather has changed dramatically with fresh winds and rain so returning to forms, bills and computer work has not been too much of a hardship!!!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

24th -26th July,2008.

Journeying north, via Cley on the 24th, where it was a real treat to see newly arrived Wood Sandpipers with earlier migrant Green Sandpipers, neither of which we get all that often on Islay. The White rumped Sandpiper showed well and, briefly, the Pectoral Sandpiper, which may have actually left that afternoon based on later information. Whilst time was pressing the array of other good birds was too good to be ignored....Spotted Redshank, Curlew Sandpiper, Knot, Black-tailed Godwit,Golden Plover, Ruff, Avocet, Spoonbill, Marsh Harrier and many others. A wonderful place but yet inevitably under threat if the loss of the coastal shore line is anything to go by, and that comparison from January too!!!

A visit to see Black-necked Grebe at Potteric Carr NR, near Doncaster, where they have bred successfully this year, also provided an opportunity to see the most recent extension to the reserve. This site is an absolute gem and gives a real sense of wilderness despite it being cheek by jowl with motorways and the very heartland of Doncaster itself.

And finally!! A quick visit back to one of my past local sites near Penistone ( Royd Moor Reservoir ) provided two Willow Tits and a feeling of some comfort that they'd not all been lost to the area.
Whilst South Yorkshire might seem a strange "stepping off " point for Islay it is possible to leave there and catch a ferry all in the same day, weather, road works and caravans apart!!! A Minke Whale in the latter part of the journey signalled a return to familiar waters in what is basically the Eastern Atlantic Seabord.

23rd July, 2008.

Attended the WeBS Local Organizers Advisory Committee (LOAC) meeting at the BTO HQ. What a wonderful integration of ancient and modern The Nunnery building displays!!
A very useful meeting, which finished late afternoon and thereby allowed an exploration of Thetford itself, the home of Thomas Paine. I'd not realised his involvement in France around the period of the French Revolution. His support for the uprising, but his advocation that the King be exiled rather than executed, which brought about a threat of imprisonment from Robespierre from which he narrowly escaped!! He is also credited with creating the name, the United States of America where he lived for many years.
Escapism is also linked to Thetford itself in another way as the film location of that beloved series " Dads Army" ( yes, Ok, I enjoyed them too!! ).

Spent a great evening birding with Mark Collier locally. Managed absolutely phenomenal views of Nightjar....perched churring, hunting, wing clapping and showing shape and markings off in mind boggling displays of sinuous flight.

20th-22nd July, 2008.

An overnight drive on the 19th/20th saw me opposite Coquet Island in Northumberland at dawn hoping to see Roseate Tern, which I didn't, as I hadn't reckoned on a blistering sunrise that put everything in silhouette! No matter, an early returning Whimbrel and an Arctic Skua moving south were of interest. As usual Puffins were much in evidence but worrying reports are emerging from the Farne Islands, further to the north, that the population there this year is much reduced.

Pressed on to North Yorkshire to the raptor watchpoint at Wykeham. After five and a half hours of waiting excellent views of a Honey Buzzard hunting over the opposite side of the valley more than recompensed the wait, particularly when a female Goshawk also arrived in the area with what looked like a rabbit. A couple of Crossbills added further value!!

On Monday (21st)searches in my past local area for both Pied Flycatcher and Willow Tit proved fruitless and, in the latter's case, prompted thoughts that the population is not doing at all well. Compensation came in the form of a Pectoral Sandpiper at Edderthorpe Flash seen in soaring temperatures beyond what I'm currently used to on Islay!!!

Tuesday saw me on my way down to Thetford, Norfolk on another hot day. Views of Stone Curlew in the evening at the Weeting Heath reserve plus celebratory fish and chips to follow.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

19th July,2008.

The end of two and a half weeks near Inverness, which has been very relaxing and enjoyable , apart from the weather!! Always good to spend time with the girls and realise how quickly they're growing up, which includes an increasing ability to act as my "computer advisers"!!
A little quiet for birds in the immediate area but, would you believe, the local Chiffchaff is still going strong. Odd records of Crossbill make me believe there's a few in residence locally.

I'm now travelling south, to Yorkshire and Norfolk. Whilst there'll be many opportunities to see good birds I may not have access to a computer and reportage might need to await my return to Islay on the 27th July.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

14th July, 2008.

Weather been rather unkind but now appears to have settled down. Speckled Wood and Green-veined White butterflies were on the wing early on the 14th, hopefully suggesting better weather in store for us!

The last few days has been characterized by the appearance of young birds of various species. At the same time Willow Warblers were around in odd places and clearly begining to disperse. Song has finally begun to diminish but still a few stalwarts hang on. Nothing seen in the "local" area that was new but a couple of Crossbills heard within the woodlands suggesting birds still moving through or remaining for a while.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

9th July, 2008.

Much the same routine over the past two days but with the weather having deteriorated slightly!!! Tuesday saw two/three Common Crossbill in the pine woodlands near the house, first located through their quite distinctive "chip, chip" calls. Shortly afterwards they all flew off to the west and, doubtless, are part of the recent eruption of birds westwards from the European continent.

Yesterday further evidence of autumn migration having started when a small party of Sand Martin went through SSE followed by a party of Swifts powering their way southwards. Later spent the afternoon talking to James Wolstencroft previous to him and his family commencing their own southward migration home to Arusha NP in Tanzania. As previously we debated the continuing global environmental crises and put forward a few solutions!!!

Monday, July 7, 2008

6th July, 2008

Now settled into a routine! The weather has provided an opportunity to explore both the local and wider areas around the Beauly Firth in the last few days, which, scenically, is very attractive. I realise one of the things I miss on Islay are large deciduous woodlands and mature trees and hedgerows along roads, so being here is a very enjoyable change. Amazed thar several Chiffchaffs are still singing lustily ( is that the intent behind the song,I ask?) but Willow Warblers appear to have ceased completely. Local walks still producing new breeding records and finding a small Tree Sparrow population was a nice surprise.

Of course things came to a stop to watch the Wimbledon finals!!!!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

2nd July, 2008.

A less complicated day than yesterday and already enjoying the walks around the adjacent woods and lanes with the newest member of the family, Kyle, a 7month old sheepdog. The utter transition brought about by an absence of windy conditions and the ability to enjoy birdsong is tremendous!! Nice also to have birds like Great spotted Woodpecker, Blackap, Garden Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher and Yellowhammer on the doorstep. The Roving Records form for the BTO Atlas Survey is already filling up!

Next in line is to try out the moth trap here as, with all the surrounding mixed woodland and open field areas , I guess that will be productive too.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

1st July, 2008.

After leaving home at 0545hours I finally made it off the island early afternoon due to various ferries being cancelled due to bad weather!! The sea crossing was a little rough in places but have known far worse! Thankfully the journey up to Kirkhill, near Inverness was uneventful, although I did miss out on an opportunity to try and see the Common Rosefinch at Tyndrum!!

I'm up here for almost three weeks looking after my daughters whilst their mother is away on holiday. Arrived around 2100hours making it a rather long day with not much of note in between.

Monday, June 30, 2008

30th June, 2008.

Certainly a day of mixed weather with a rather fine morning and afternoon but then rain setting in. Thankfully I doubt we've any continuing concerns about our water supplies!!!

A final round of observations relating to Ravens and repeated confirmation that their usage of the island's tip has reduced considerably with the systematic capping of rubbish. A consequence might be more wide ranging foraging activities and the "adoption" of favoured areas.

On to spend the evening with Andy and Michelle plus their visitor, James Wolstencroft, who'd I'd met previously in Spain and who now lives in Tanzania. Some good stories and a few ears burning no doubt!!!

Travelling back late evening had a male Merlin on the Rinns on virtually the same date as my only summer record of last year in a nearby area.

And finally,the news of the day! Learned that my eldest daughter, Ashley, had gained a First Class Honours degree in Law. Yours, very proud!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

27th June, 2008.

Nothing special from a bird records viewpoint but plenty of nice views of birds! I've always to remind myself what a privilege it is to live on Islay and to see birds like Hen Harrier on the doorstep, literally in my case, and to go just down the road and watch seabirds. Wonderful!!!!

A mixed day with some quite heavy rain in the afternoon. Early survey work produced a predictable crop of records but with two more areas with Red-legged Partridge and some really handsome juvenile Mistle Thrushes. Unless I've simply missed them , one species which seems to be less in evidence this season is Whinchat. A major role of the BTO Atlas Project is to document changes in both the distribution and numbers of our native breeding birds and I suspect we are in for many surprises, some of which may not be that enjoyable either!!

A good start to the signing up season and, no, I'm not talking of football!!!!! Reserved four tetrads for a colleague for both winter and breeding season 2009, so I'd better declare my hand and register my own choices too!!

Friday, June 27, 2008

25th-26th June,2008.

Given that everyone I spoke to was saying how quiet it was at the moment I decided to have two full days devoted to admin work to play catch up!!! I've come to a conclusion it's something I ought to do more regularly!!!

As you know the BTO Atlas Survey is running from 2007-2011 and aims to record the distribution of both wintering and breeding species in Britain and Ireland over that period. We've made a good start on Islay, given the small number of active birdwatchers, but tribute must also be paid to the records received from the many visitors who have been here. It will be a challenge to gain the full coverage required, particularly on Jura, but one not to be fazed about!!!
There are two ways to contribute. One via "Roving Records", that is recording all birds seen both at home and whilst you're travelling around ( on holiday too! ). The other is to complete a "Timed Tetrad Survey", which is most likely close to your home area. A tetrad is an area 2 x 2km around which you plan a route, taking in as many different habitats as possible , recording all the birds you encounter. Records can either be submitted on a form or directly on-line. Have a look at the BTO web site ( ) where there's an absolute wealth of detail.

Would you believe that, for the winter period, 484, 888 records have already been received and 15,754 tetrads surveyed!! Some records are still to be submitted so those totals will rise.

I'm already making arrangements for coverage for next winter and the following breeding season ( yes, I know, this one's not finished yet!! ) so, for those who have been involved, expect a knock on the door!! For those who never started, or who stuttered at the first fence, now is the time to plan ahead and commit!!!!! Seriously, do get in touch with me if you're interested in doing any surveys on Islay or Jura, otherwise the details of your own local regional organizer can be obtained from the web site.

Right, the mist has now lifted so I'm off out birdwatching!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

24th June,2008.

The night of the 23rd June was given over to an island wide Corncrake survey, with some extra work on this (my) local recording area last night ( which was rather a waste of time in many respects due to weather!! ). The survey is organized by the local RSPB office, with the help of volunteers, to monitor the situation from year to year.

Not very long ago the population had reached quite perilous levels and there was very real concern about its future. Over the past three to four seasons this situation has reversed such that there is now a very healthy population with now possibly in excess of 80 birds calling. This season alone might yet demonstrate a 15-20% increase which is excellent news.

My reason for putting an entry in dedicated to Corncrake is simply to raise what are a series of fascinating points relating to the area known as the South Rinns ( the very south west of Islay ). For many years (very) small numbers of Corncrakes could be guaranteed in that area but the pattern seems to have changed. When I lived in the village of Portnaheven I could very often hear as I lay in bed a bird calling from its favourite territory within the village. Since then three or four birds seem to be present further to the north west up the Rinns with the "regulars" largely having disappeared. Things do change from season to season and, of course, birds don't call just because you need them to on the survey night!!!! . Further work might yet prove the situation to be different!!!!

After being quite brilliant weather for a period things could now best be described as " changeable".

Saturday, June 21, 2008

20th June, 2008..

A rather mixed day for weather and activities! Early Atlas work produced a few quite interesting records. Whilst we have several "iconic" species on Islay ( Golden Eagle, Corncrake, Hen Harrier, Chough etc ) it's sometimes easy to pay less attention to those at the edge of their range or in small breeding numbers. Confirming breeding Teal ( with chicks ) , Mistle Thrush ( fledged chicks ), Woodpigeon and even two Red-legged Partridge territories was a welcome change. The latter stem from released stock from which low numbers survive and breed but with limited success.

A day then spent on Raven work with a fair degree of success.

Whilst eating lunch time was spent observing an active Hen Harrier's nest from afar. Sometimes adult birds are away hunting for several hours, but not on this occasion!! The female bird swept in and actually dropped prey directly into the nest, which suggests the young are quite well developed. Such precision reminded me of a quite different experience I had recently whilst birdwatching with my son , Matthew, in the Pennines in South Yorkshire. The 16th May, 2008 represented the 55th anniversary of the famed Dambusters raid when Lancaster Bombers were despatched to try and breach the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe Dams in the Ruhr valley. The bombs had been devised by Barnes Wallis and were designed to "bounce" along the surface of the water until they reached the dam wall ( which was the comparison with the female harrier's precise action! At least in my mind!! ).
That morning, as we were walking away from Royd Moor Reservoir, near Penistone, north of the Peak District National Park, we heard the deep throaty grumble of aircraft engines and, seemingly at no distance at all, a Lancaster Bomber did a full turn in front of us. We actually saw it "in circuit" twice more!!
The anniversary date had sparked the occasion of a fly past over the Rivelin Valley Dams , south
of Sheffield by what is now the one remaining plane of that type and where they had practised for their mission during the Second World War. I was absolutely amazed at how powerful it
sounded and thrilled by the close views we had of it , although our plans to go up the Dewent Valley ( where the Rivelin Dams are ) to look for Goshawk had to be abandoned!!! Apparently the event was televised, with large numbers of people "on site" to witness the spectacle. A very welcome memory.

Friday, June 20, 2008

19th June, 2008.

An absolutely glorious day , which started rather early!!! Of late there has been around 60 Starlings around the garden, mainly recently fledged birds. Whilst I've not yet worked out where they roost they appear immediately first light and feed on the open land surrounding the house. Until yesterday!!!! A liitle after 0430hrs, even a bit early for me, I was aware of
" activity" in the bedroom and awoke properly to find two of the birds had come in through the window and were flying around and squawking etc!!! After urging them out it seemed pointless even bothering to go back to bed so got a few jobs done and then went out and completed some BTO Atlas work. Wild birds aren't always a pleasure!!!!!

Certainly a day to be out!!! The breeding season has now begun to display its success with young birds increasingly in evidence and providing the confirmations required by the BTO Breeding Atlas survey. Whilst the final two weeks of June are always somewhat quiet for migrants there's still excitement at discovering species in, say, a particular woodland that had not been apparent on an earlier visit. As a backcloth the never ending "feeding patrols" of Gannet, Fulmar, Kittiwakes and auks and terns are a spectacle in themselves!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

14th June, 2008.

Nothing particularly new noted, although activity over the sea and along the coast is high with local gulls, terns and Fulmars in evidence and Gannets, Manx Shearwaters, Kittiwakes and auks offshore making somewhat longer journeys to and from their nesting areas/feeding grounds.

Sadly it seems the Golden Eagles within the recording area have lost their youngster this year despite it reaching an advanced stage in growth. The site is a coastal one and it appears the youngster fell from the nest into the sea. Hopes were that it had somehow been "retained" below the nest but no evidence has emerged. This has apparently happened on a previous occasion and is a penalty associated with such a precarious location. Generally the pairs on Islay do well and some young birds are produced each year and are seen, as immatures, afterwards, a testament to a lack of disturbance and persecution.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

13th June, 2008.

A gorgeous June day but with rather a cold wind. Spent the whole day following up on fledged Raven broods, checking the numbers involved. Those located all appeared to be simply sitting around in the sun awaiting the return of a parent from foraging. Grey lag Goose broods are now becoming more obvious for counting too.
More bird activity now as parents frantically feed ever demanding youngsters. Some Sand Martin young were almost hanging out of their nest holes in anticipation of the returning parent and the next feed. Lapwing and Curlew youngsters too are now in view with some being quite well grown. All such information is invaluable to the BTO's Atlas Survey, which aims to determine the breeding ( and wintering ) distribution, and abundance, of all species present in Britain and Ireland during the period 2007-2011. Recently fledged young , or parents feeding youngsters, are irrefutable evidence of breeding having taken place at that locality and just the sort of record to be sought out over the next few weeks. Our breeding season tends to be a little later up here compared to, say, southern England and "evidence" will still be emerging into early July.
If anyone reading this is intending to be on holiday fairly soon, or over the winter period, do feel free to contact me if you wish to take part and contribute Roving Records, i.e. records generated from any part of the area being visited. Thank you.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

9th/10th June, 2008.

Two days almost exclusively dedicated to administrative work are an inevitable penalty of being away birdwatching for almost a month!!! Quick forays to local sites ensured some sanity but produced very little or indicated any sense of change.

In amongst the forms and telephone calls found an opportunity to lend weight to the campaign the Humane Society International are running related to the decision taken by the Icelandic Government on the 20th May, 2008 to allow 40 Minke Whales to be killed within the next six months. This is in defiance of the commercial whaling ban the International Whaling Commission imposed in 1986 and is a direct reversal of the decision taken by the Icelandic Government in 2007. Besides feeling this action could lend encouragement to others to do the same I personally feel the decision to be utterly lamentable. Since moving to Islay in 1999 the number of sightings of Minke Whales has only recently started to be more frequent and only then involving odd individuals. Such would seem to indicate an improving situation but one that I certainly feel should be allowed to proceed unchecked for some little time yet before initiatives of this sort are even considered, and then after extensive research. Personally I would be relieved if international agreement could be reached such that the practice of whale hunting was abandoned absolutely!

So folks, after that burst on the banjo, if you feel concerned by the above please log in to the HSI website and lend weight to the current campaign.

Monday, June 9, 2008

8th June, 2008.

The 7/8th June was National Moth Night aimed at encouraging people within the UK to attend events or to record moths locally if they had the necesaary expertise and equipment. This is the event's 10th anniversary so it's begining to be a fixture within the annual calendar of natural history "happenings" aimed at bringing about an increasing awareness of the world around us all.

And so I dutifully put out my Actinic trap, as I've done on many nights before, only to find this morning that some technical fault had developed and that it had "cut off" at some point through the night. The trap is powered from a caravan ( rechargeable ) battery and emits UV light to which the moths respond. They are caught in the box-like trap and find refuge in the egg box sections put in there for the express purpose of them providing them with refuge. In the morning they can be examined and released safely.
Whilst problems had obviously arisen, all was not lost as the trap had clearly operated for most of the, thankfully short, night and various species had been caught ( Buff-tip, White Ermine, Clouded-bordered Brindle and Heart and Dart ). Hopefully the fairly calm and relatively warm nights will continue and allow more trapping to take place and records generated.

After my colleague's repeated, but unsuccessful, forays last week to hear the local Grasshopper Warbler in song guess what commenced to sing again this evening after his departure!!!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

6th June, 2008.

Out and about early in order to "deliver" JW to the 0700hrs ferry. The journey afforded an opportunity to scan various places before any disturbance had occurred , but to little benefit. It did provide an increasing appreciation of actually how many rabbits are on this island!!!!! A party of Red-breasted Mergansers heralded the begining of what will be the gradual build up of one or more moulting flocks in various places.

Returned home to start work on what, by now, is quite a pile of admin/correspondence etc given I've been away almost a month........the downside of birdwatching trips!! Thank goodness things are quiet.

5th June, 2008.

Again an increasingly quiet period with migration winding down and broods of young birds only just begining to emerge. Full coverage of the recording area showed two waters with Common Scoter present ( two males and a female and two males ) which is very encouraging news. Over the past few years the numbers at their stronghold on Islay has diminished compared to previously but, hopefully, a small resurgence might be occurring.

Grey lag Goose broods are now in evidence with seemingly more successful pairs noted already than in recent years. Whilst little passage was in evidence , other than feeding movements, 180+ Gannets, 15+ Fulmar and 30 Arctic Tern wheeling around and feeding over an area of turbulence was exciting to watch with Manx Shearwaters passing southwards as a back drop.