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!!