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.