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!!