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.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

4th June, 2008.

A day of two halves with fine weather until late afternoon when rain thereafter!! Whilst all the recording area was covered little was happening so some considerable time was spent in various woodlands. The first family parties of Long-tailed Tit and Blue Tit were noted and records of quite interesting species, for Islay, generated such as Bullfinch and Blackcap. Things generally are very quiet but I guess that, within a week or so, many young birds will be in evidence and activity levels increase.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

3rd June, 2008.

A beautiful day but fairly quiet for birds. A few highlights emerged!! Excellent views of a Red -throated Diver on one loch and a pair of Common Scoter on another was of interest. An "excursion" out of the recording area up the "Glen Road" to various sites around Lossit was a change and produced Little Grebe, Tufted Duck, Spotted Flycatcher and Blackap.

Later in the evening a further excursion for Corncrakes and Spotted Crake was successful. On returning home a Corncrake was located immediately opposite the house but thankfully far enough away not to interrupt sound sleep!!!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

2nd June, 2008.

A glorious day throughout providing a backdrop to showing off Islay at its best and giving an opportunity for colleague and friend John Warner to see some of the island's specialities.
A morning visit to Frenchman's Rocks showed Manx Shearwaters and Gannets to be moving but little else other than a single Whimbrel. A run around the recording area produced a couple of Corncrakes, a few waders ( Dunlin, Turnstone ) but little else at what is now a fairly quiet time of year.
Marsh Fritillary butterflies were much in evidence and, if the weather holds, the chance to complete some survey work in " new" areas could arise.

!st June, 2008.

Finally returned (! ) after a series of successful trips to various places at home and abroad, of which I will post some separate details later.
Apparently the weather on Islay during the last three weeks has been very dry and , already, some difficulties are being experienced with water supplies where individual sources are involved. True to form it rained virtually the whole way on my way northwards to the ferry terminal but then cleared as we reached Islay. A couple of Basking Sharks off the south coast of Islay were relatively close and seen well.

Pleased to be back!