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