Monday, December 28, 2009
The recent poor weather had obviously "hit" the southern and eastern parts of the island , contrasted against the south west portion ( thankfully my bit!), with far more remnant evidence of snow and ice present. The Paps of Jura still look magnificent bathed in snow and provide a backdrop to any journey taken to the north of the island, in my case to Port Askaig to pick up my teenage daughters on the afternoon ferry. Whilst active birding might be a little impaired over the next ten days or so, quite rightly, I'll doubtless now have the time to indulge in a few bits of research, holiday planning and so on, although with an inevitable focus on early mornings as, thereafter, the demands of social networking completely overtake the capacity of computer facilities available!!
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Acknowledgement to Chris Shepherd ( Traffic South East Asia ).
Friday, December 18, 2009
My post the other day relating to the poisoning of vultures in SE Asia has taken a quite remarkable coincidental twist. Watching television last evening an advert flashed on the sreen for what I believe is a product called Valorum ( designed to relieve painfiul joints I believe). I didn't catch the full details due to concentrating on a line at the bottom which stated " Contains Diclofenac. Read the details on the label", or something similar. Interesting , as it must have passed all the due tests for use on humans! Presumably the dosages are so small, any build up of residues in body fat is likely to take several lifetimes of usage before becoming toxic. Conversely it would be logical to assume the products being used on cattle are of a higher concentration and probably a very different trade name anyway! Absorbing stuff you might say.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Obviously such is also an opportunity to count our other wintering geese, mainly Barnacle Geese, efforts against which in our sector, yesterday, were severely frustrated when a military jet carried out a mock bombing run on what is known to be a designated target site, a very prominent farm house in the NW of the island. Whilst there are no loud bangs involved the sweeping, noisy presence of the aircraft caused mayhem and the 2000 or so geese beggared off almost as quickly as the plane!!
Given the weather was quite reasonable on both days , and fairly calm, other birds were noticeably active, particularly raptors , with hunting Hen Harriers, Sparrowhawk and Merlin being noted. A flock of Twite near Kilhoman was nice and a small party of Goldfinch near Saligo proved not all of them leave us in winter. Common Gulls are now becoming very obvious with some quite large parties at various locations.
Monday, December 14, 2009
Over the past few days the BTO has had a contract worker on Jura, concentrating on some of the more far flung areas for Atlas tetrad surveys. The weather has held and things, thankfully, appear to be going well.
In similar contrast, may I offer my best wishes to Bill and Pat, who've abandoned Preston for the winter and sent on warm thoughts from" Down Under"........ I'll try and convey how miserable it is over here until it's time for your return and Bowland!
Saturday, December 12, 2009
News has come that vultures in South -east Asia are again being affected very badly by another "veterinary" drug. Research has indicated that, of every 1000 White-rumped Vultures in the 1980's, only one remains today, the decline brought about by the drug diclofenac, which is used to treat cattle. Any cattle then dying fall prey to the vultures and the residues passed on , which are lethal in accumulated doses.
Regrettably a second livestock treatment, ketoprofen, has also been found to be lethal to birds and is currently compounding the previous problems created by diclofenac. Tighter controls are being called for and a switch to a drug called meloxican , which has non-toxic effects on birds .
Whereas millions of vultures are calculated to have been present across India/Pakistan/ Nepal in the 1980's , huge areas are now devoid of birds. The race is now on to bring about a culture change in the use of such drugs, primarily towards the exclusive adoption of meloxican. The situation appears to be critical , as statements from some conservation bodies that ," of any two birds present last year one will now be dead", give an indication of the crisis point things have reached. However, there is no indication such "tabloid statements " are based on survey results or are surmise designed to provoke action! Clearly there is a major problem which demands to be addressed in immediate terms. Given the large numbers of kites present in some parts of the areas above I have not seen any commentary as to whether their populations are being affected too. Thankfully their scavenging habits are more widely based than those of vultures.
Friday, December 11, 2009
Our route took in Loch Gruinart and its wider surroundings , so bird variety was high , with quite high numbers of Barnacle Geese around too. Our early arrival on the Ardnave Penninsula, in the sense of starting there this time contrasted against it being the finish point, meant we caught the geese before any foddering out had been done. They're a lot easier to count when they've not been disturbed and have spread out in several flocks.
A nice female Merlin hunted along a wall line, and then conveniently perched close to the landrover , showing no fear whatsoever. Later, a realisation that a flock of passerines comprised exclusively of Reed Buntings was a reiteration of how common they are here and how lucky we are at not having experienced the reductions seen elsewhere. We've suitable breeding habitat aplenty on Islay and, therefore, seasonal food availablility could prove critical, but doesn't, given the number of stackyards around and stubble left overwinter. Years ago , when doing some winter ringing of Reed Buntings in West Yorkshire, some birds appeared to move south and south westwards in direct contrast to birds here that appear to remain. Another species about whose lifestyle and movements we could learn more if a ringing study was completed.
The mild and calm conditions immediately provoked what appeared to be territorial behaviour by Common Buzzards in two locations, with birds floating around in close pair formation over two traditional breeding woodlands..
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Despite stops on the way home nothing additional seen that was of interest.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
So concentrated on getting the other Blogs up and running ( see Islay Wildlife, Enviro-conservation concerns and Vaunted Yiews! ). In between made enquiries relating to the updating exercise of the Argyll and Bute Biodiversity Plan, which now appears to be running to a very tight consultation period. I do wonder whether Planning Authorities and their agents deliberately put out plans they're least enthusiatic about at Christmas time and other holiday periods when the 28 days, or whatever is allowed for consultation, ends up being constrained due to everyone's commitments. Take note!
I'm now fully prepared for a health ladened winter having had the seasonal flu vaccine yesterday and the Swine flu this evening!! No excuses re poor weather and the like!.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Discussions held relating to the BTO having an Atlas contract worker on Jura for a few days in order to tackle the more far flung areas of the island. Such is necessary, as trying to accomodate logistical demands by travelling from here just doesn't work, particularly in winter!! I sincerely hope he hits a good, stable period of weather , which is probably the final determining factor to success!!!
Saturday, December 5, 2009
After the count I went up to the Inner Loch area given other recent reports have not really given any feedback for "wider" areas of Islay. A few Long-tailed Duck were present and Slavonian Grebe, Red-breasted Merganser, Great northern Diver, Eider, Greater Scaup, Light -bellied Brent Goose and Wigeon besides a variety of common waders. all in all a very enjoyable array of birds! On a point of enquiry........ I've never ever seen the Greater Scaup flock here feeding, they're always "roosting"!! The numbers fluctuate, which suggests they've feeding areas elsewhere regardless of the tides, but where?
Moving on to the RSPB Gruinart Reserve the Little Egret showed well and was obviously finding food easily given its foraging rate and success! The atmosphere here in late afternoon was terrific with the calls of anxious Teal, Mallard and Wigeon joining with a background of calls from Barnacle Geese and Greenland White-fronted Geese....terrific! On the way home a "modest pond" west of Port Charlotte provided the highest count of Moorhen I've ever had anywhere on Islay in ten years .....ten birds. It's not the commonest species so a notable hotspot!
Not a bad day, but back to normal as I write this with rain pounding on the window!
The 1st November, 2009 saw the commencement of the third year of the BTO Atlas survey, which has been detailed before. The surveys, in both winter and summer, involve two visits to each tetrad selected and the requisite records being collected. Whilst we're doing reasonably well on Islay, Jura and Colonsay, my discovery that a Regional Representative elsewhere in the UK had 320 people on his list of Atlas contacts came as a bit of a shock! I admit the fact that we're struggling to exceed double figures of resident helpers, but extend heartfelt thanks to those who have helped whilst on holidays to add records into what is a region with 26 10km. squares and 377 tetrads to cover. A challenge worthy of reality TV!
Anyway yesterday's efforts helped contribute to the pool of data, but didn't generate much of interest given the nature of the areas I'd selected, which were almost bereft of birds. Sometimes it's difficult to be convinced of how some birds, e.g. Stonechat, manage to eke a living out in the midst of such "hostile" terrain!
Friday, December 4, 2009
Nothing of real interest over the sea but 21 Northern Fulmar around at the area north of Portnahaven was a nice sight. For once Orsay (island ) and the sound appeared bereft of Atlantic Grey Seals after some quite high counts previously.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Some little time ago Malcolm Ogilvie ( Islay Nat.Hist.Trust ) had transferred on to me the dataset of moths which had accumulated over the years. The vast majority of these were from visitors to the island and none of the records had been closely examined to see if any mistakes, name changes etc, affected them. Then, through the good offices of Zoe Randle ( Butterfly Conservation ) it was arranged for Mark Young ( Aberdeen University ) to scrutinize them, for which many thanks to all! A few queries emerged, but the main thing is that we now have an updated list, at a given point in time, against which we can add further records in the future. Very soon the records will be transferred onward to be a part of the National Distribution Map exercise which is being completed at the present time, of which more later.
Very soon I shall be operating a couple more Blogs in tandem with the above, which I hope will compliment each other. I'm separating general wildlife matters away from bird content and also having a site devoted to environmental and conservation concerns. I suddenly realised last night that , given the upcoming Climate Change conference, my timing was either spot on , or unfortunate, but there you go!!!
After the wild weather of Tuesday I actually believe things are to settle down a little!
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
From forecasts it would seem the ferries are cancelled off the west coast so no respite there either!!
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Uneventful journey up the Great Glen with very little in evidence. I'd expected more Redwing and Fieldfare to be on show , but such was not the case. A flock of about 90 Redpoll sp. near Drumnadrochit was nice to see and a walk in the woods nearby to Kirkhill shortly after my arrival renewed an acquaintance with a variety of easily seen passerines.
And then , the crowning glory to a full day.......Scotland's success in the rugby!! What a match, what a defence, 27 years in the waiting and worth every minute!!
Local forays between weather fronts showed nothing over the sea, but areas close to the house produced a couple of Woodcock records. The fells are at their most forlorn at present with very little attendant wildlife. Given our recent heavy rainfall the ground is absolutely saturated and not the best conditions to be in to face the upcoming winter months. Returning home at dusk two Red Deer hinds leapt across the road and narrowly missed the car ( too "narrowly" for my liking! ). Doing an emergency stop in wet conditions on a road with ditches either side has the potential for dissater!!
Thursday, November 19, 2009
What remained of the day spent considering future plans relating to this Blog site and others I intend establishing. Had a look at a whole selection of Blogs for tips, comparisons and the like. Some appeared to be utter drivel , with no effort made to really communicate or educate, some were so repetitive in their content and style one could almost predict what was coming up based on what had gone before in the preceding month /year and some definitely needed to improve on writing style. I must be getting old as I'm afraid I don't find the move towards abbreviated English in texts, E-mails or on the social network sites to be at all attractive!! There's an interesting aspect to all these sites. Do people read them because they find them a source of information, or they like your opinions or they simply enjoy the style and subject content? I'm sure some sites endeavour to be the first to put out the news , an aspect I'm not really interested in , although breaking stories re political hot potatoes must figure amongst these. Anyway, watch this space for changes!!!
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Whilst Grey Wagtails are not uncommon birds here, given we have them breeding and as passage birds , it was nice to see birds at four different locations and to again pick up a couple of Twite flocks too.
Sadly, an absolutely filthy day at the onset, but which improved later. Due to the wind all geese, both Barnacles and Greenland White-fronts, had sought out sheltered spots and some guaranteed locations were bereft of birds just to add a challenge to the day. Little else of interest was seen ,but a final hour 's birding at the head of Loch Indaal saw quite a lot of activity amongst the resident duck and waders as a high tide inundated much of the merse
Friday, November 13, 2009
Winter thrushes are a feature at the moment with Blackbirds and Redwings scattered everywhere, but Fieldfares in much lesser numbers. Twite flocks , or smaller parties, are in evidence and Reed Buntings are noticeable generally, a pleasing aspect given their reduced numbers at many sites within the UK.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
As always travelling around vast tracts of the more rural areas of Islay you see a tremendous array of good birds. However,an incident on the 11th will stand for a long time as a quinessential image of birds and the island landscape. As we moved northwards across the Ardnave Penninsula a party of seven adult Whooper Swans could be seen flying across the sea between Islay and Colonsay. The "canvas" of these birds against a background of a wonderful blue sea coupled with views of Colonsay,Oronsay, and farther north a glimpse of Mull, was fantastic, particularly as everything was bathed in bright sunlight. Later we found them resting on a lens of water at Killinallan, doubtless thankful of reaching their wintering grounds after what might have been well in excess of thirty hours of flight from Iceland. A nice memory!
Monday, November 9, 2009
The 1st November signified the commencement of the third year of the BTO Winter Atlas. Almost unbelievably one volunteer has already been up to Jura and completed four tetrad surveys, the second "batch" of which can be completed during one of our team visits after the year end. With a fairly clear run of time until Christmas I'm hoping to complete an appreciable number of tetrads and make inroads into those remaining to allow us a greater " free rein" in the final year when we can concentrate on mopping up activities!!
A press release, issued by Natural England, relating to the lack of success in Hen Harrier breeding this season makes for solemn reading. I do wonder about the current situation. Passive commentary from the Government's body responsible for overseeing conservation matters and, similar outpourings from the RSPB, appear lacking in both fire and resolve. The release provides more emphasis to the fact that a pair of harriers has nested in a cereal field in southern England than to exclaiming that a particular effort will be made to tackle persecution next season and improve the lot of the species once and for all. Other agencies claiming no persecution has taken place for the last four years appear to be utterly divorced from reality and one wonders whether they should be involved in the debate at all!! A sad situation no better than thirty years ago! In my view our justification for castigating Mediterranean countries where shooting of raptors still persists, but is slowly improving, is brought into question in the light of the persistent depradations against Hen Harriers in the UK !!
Little of particular note appears to have occurred on Islay during my absence , although the Cattle Egret, present before I left, is still here and an immature Black Redstart had been picked up dead in Portnahaven during the last week. Set against our efforts at Flamborough this is not just a cruel irony..... Portnahaven is my closest village!!
Friday, November 6, 2009
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Monday, October 19, 2009
In September we see birds passing through on sea watches, with some staying over for a short while, very often at Loch Gruinart. Similar movements back north occur in May, making it one of the earliest and latest of the geese to be noted on passage. Our wintering population has grown very steadily in recent years from around 20 to < 40 with the birds usually centred on Loch Indaal. Figures this weekend suggest our wintering population has arrived and is of the same "order" as in recent winters.
By contrast a couple of weeks ago there was 28,000 at Strangford Loch and it will be interesting to see what figures arise from yesterday. A point of real interest is that the above flock had been looked at for juveniles and provided a return of <1%, which is a real worry. There has been several years where the birds had obviously enjoyed good breeding seasons, but this most recent one appears to have been rather different! Given the Barnacle Goose population wintering on the Solway Firth at Caerlaverock originates from Svalbard it will be interesting to compare the figures that come forward once the flocks there are scrutinized.
Our worry on Islay is what the situation might be with Greenland White-fronted Geese whose population has reduced in numbers in recent years and which could do with a really good boost to its numbers!!! Ageing observations on flocks will again produce commentary on this at some point in the winter!
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Completed a whole variety of tasks associated with the upcoming BTO Winter Atlas survey, which commences on the !st November. The third winter of four, it's generating as much enthusiasm as the first with several people mentioning how much they're looking forward to it. I rather guess the weather may have turned a little different by then!
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Being tied to home more than normal I tried an early morning migration watch from the yard. Not the US of A idea of the "backyard" but merely standing on the concrete apron between the house and the barn and looking eagerly northwards. Not a lot, it must be said, and, indeed, we seem to be in an almost strange period of vacuum at the moment with very little on the move. Passage of many passerines, notably pipits , seems to have been early, thrushes, as yet, aren't that obvious and finches are virtually absent. Perhaps weather, perhaps geographical, but a bit frustrating.
Some readers may find it strange no reports of raptor persecution, Hen harrier success etc has been mentioned of late. Such is quite deliberate as it happens. The various complaints and " issues" arising between the Lancashire Police and raptor workers in the Forest of Bowland resulted in a series of formal complaints being submitted through a legal advocate. To their credit the Lancashire Police have instituted an internal inquiry to examine the issues involved and various people are being asked for statements of fact or observation., myself included given the twenty years I had running protection schemes in the area, organizing survey work etc and, necessarily liaising with the Police , landowners and other factions. Having encouraged people to view the site ( Raptor Politics ) it seemed courteous to mention why the "traffic" is a little restricted at present. Until such time as the inquiry is completed it also seems senssible to limit any reportage and comment and to treat the matter on a very formal basis.
There is real artistry in the capture of the flight positions of the ducks concerned, so full marks to the creator and to the photographer. There are many others and should I ever go to Montreal I'd certainly ensure I visited and took in the whole selection!
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Basically spent the remainder of the day around Loch Indaal, particularly the Inner Loch. Almost 20 Slavonian Grebes, good numbers of Red-throated Divers with some diverse plumages on show, 400-500 Golden Plover ( finally ) but nothing amongst them, increasing numbers of Greater Scaup with over 30 Light -bellied Brent Geese in amongst them, Wigeon on the increase and parties of resplendent Eider. All topped up by a variety of waders and other duck species that provided a really good day!! At one point there was around 5000 Barnacle Geese simply resting or hanging around following the possibility of them having fed overnight given the moonlit conditions. Given the absolutely overcast conditions now in evidence they must then forgo feeding for 12 hours or so and then "flood out" tomorrow morning!!
Given there was no Grey-lag Geese included with them I checked a local area and found 150/160 which are using a loch and nearby stubble area for resting and feeding. It stll suggests over 500 have moved on in recent weeks and poses where they go to?
In some ways pride of place must go to a single bird which turned up in the garden early this morning! A species I record perhaps once a year... the humble House Sparrow. A very alert male arrived, stationed himself in "the bush" and took in the situation before moving on, testament to the fact even this species we very much take for granted moves around to a limited extent.
And so the final chapter of the day! Late evening my young daughters Katherine and Rachael will be arriving for most of their half term. Doubtless I shall become acquainted with new specialities ( Facebook ....already threatened ) making me into a silver social networking advocate!!
Further north the rather late Arctic Tern was still around, preening assiduously and possibly preparing to leave? A favourite isolated clump of trees/ bushes held a variety of common birds, where none can sometimes be present, which included ca.15 Blackbirds and a Goldcrest, which suggested they were migrants. A period of mist and rain didn't help with counts over various waters but provided a lunch stop! Duck numbers are now begining to be more in evidence with the first Goldeneye present. "The geese" are just thoroughly confusing!!!. A normal year would see an accumulation of Barnacle Geese, ( collective noun could be a " barking" ! ), and Greenland White-fronted Geese present for a period at the head of Loch Gruinart ( the RSPB reserve ). Whilst good numbers of birds are there, others have gone straight on to stubbles, or are on the salt marsh at the head of Loch Indaal. The Grey-lag Geese have usually shown some reduction by now, but substantial numbers appear to be enjoying the company, and competition (!) from the large numbers of Barnacle Geese sharing the spilt grain that, by now , will have produced nutritious shoots. Time will tell as, when this temporary feast is exhausted, it will be interesting to see the patterns that emerge thereafter.
In transit had some good, prolonged views of an immature female Merlin near to Coul and hunting Hen Harrier. Spent some time with Chris and Tony Johnson from Bolton, who are up here on holiday, before returning home. Having known them for over thirty years I was also reminded that they've been associated with the RSPB Bolton Members Group for around the same period!! They're stepping down next year for a well deserved rest after taking on , over the years, virtually every task a members group engages in. I would suspect it's some sort of " members group record" for a man and wife team to have completed and hope the RSPB has something in mind as an apt "thank you" for service!!
Saturday, October 10, 2009
I'm at the point of re-joining the BTO Garden Birdwatch scheme. I'd withdrawn due to my absences away abroad etc, but Mike Toms, ( Head of Garden Ecology, BTO ) assured me that gaps in observations don't affect the national statistics coming through , so I'm poised to recommence recording the birds which visit and feed in the garden. Increasingly, particularly in bad weather, gardens are playing a key role in sustaining our wildlife. Whilst here on Islay, with its wide expanses of countryside unaffected by intensive development, the situation is far less critical than some areas elsewhere, but our weather is probably a tad worse than theirs!!! I haven't a large garden...........a square of grass surrounded by a low wall containing three stunted bushes and set in the middle of an isolated moor!! The wind affects everything, including the feeders which quite often have to be retrieved from the fields nearby after a particularly strong blow!! Nonetheless it is enjoyable and doubtless produces some data of value. My personal interest is noting the contribution it provides to the birds on passage as, obviously, little cover is provided for any resident species ( Starlings in the chimney, Swallows in the barn!! ). I actually let the garden "overgrow" this year completely, an action I suspect my landlord is still trying to work out!! It arose from having a Corncrake in a nettle bed just over the wall and thinking I could provide some more undisturbed cover in the garden! Well, it didn't work as the bird soon passed on to somewhere else! I did leave the burgeoning vegetation and have been utterly surprised at the numbers of birds it has attracted during the late summer and early autumn. Wiilow Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Northern Wheatear, Linnet , Twite, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Siskin, Lesser Redpoll, Reed Bunting , and, later, Meadow Pipit all came for a poke around, the advantage being that I knew they weren't "local" birds but those dispersing from either nearby or from much farther afield. I'll not bore you with what has visted in the past, but it's quite impressive and goes to show how gardens can provide a temporary haven for birds on the move.
I'm now faced with strimming the whole lot down and confusing people further as the only person undertaking garden maintenance at the onset of winter!! Strange people , birdwatchers!!
Seriously may I recommend taking part in the Garden Birdwatch scheme if you're in the UK as it's a worthwhile conservation exercise in itself and brings a lot of enjoyment. It's that BTO website again !!
And so I turned to validating Atlas Survey records!! As many will know the British Trust for Ornithology are conducting a survey between 2007-2011 aimed at mapping the distribution of alll bird species during the winters and breeding seasons within those years. Necessarily the local Regional Representatives for each geographical area ( mine is Islay, Jura and Colonsay ) have to cast an eye over submitted records to ensure their integrity etc. There appears to be very few queries arise in actuality, but all records need to be scrutinized nonetheless. Grid references, computer entry problems and the usual gamut of "human" mistakes throw up a few records requiring amendment. In parallel with all this a few queries arise which lead to debate. For example,presumed non-breeding Great Northern Divers can hang on here until mid-June and then suddenly disappear, presumably northwards, to other areas in which they pass the summer. They breed in neither area and only really summer in one but it raises the question of what staus you afford them whilst they're in our waters!! Wintering Pintail which hang on in April in suitable breeding habitat, and then suddenly "disappear" overnight in good migration conditions, as do Goldeneye, have probably no intention of staying to breed in the first place!!
The bewildering choice of identifying pure Rock Doves that are like some of the Feral Pigeons elswhere, and sometimes act in the same way up here is understandable. Last year a mixture of the few Feral Pigeons in Bowmore, some of which look like Rock Doves , accompanied by a Rose-coloured Starling seeking out the lunch time leftovers in the square was entertaining. They all had a preference for chips!!
The 2009/2010 Winter Atlas commences on 1st November so now is the time to take a look at the BTO Website and see how you might assist. Give it a try as it can turn up various surprises, even in your own home area!!
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Confess that after finishing some necessary commitments I just went out today and had a good days birding and immersed myself in birds, a visit to the island's metropolis ( Bowmore ), shopping and a good gossip!! My God, has she......really....did she...all that stuff.. In some ways , it's far more important than the Tory Party Conference, international terrorism and such like when you live divorced from reality in so many respects in a place like this.
Anyway, I really enjoyed my time with birds. Nothing special, just views! An appreciable number of Barnacle Geese are in with an estimated total ( by me) of 18-19,000 already. October 7th is usually a date at which we can anticipate some birds being in evidence , but, this year, higher numbers than expected were around and slightly earlier. Similarly the Solway population of Barnacle Geese showed 14,000+ to be present yesterday. The interesting thing about this is that they are from Svalbard ( Spitsbergen ) and our birds are from Greenland. Were weather conditions that awry generally across the whole Arctic to cause such an evacuatiuon? Is the rest of " our " wintering population currently "holed up " in Iceland en route from Greenland.... or what? All interesting stuff!!
And finally, congratulations to No. 1 son and Rose on their engagement!!
Saturday, September 26, 2009
The most dramatic point to come through was that the widespread, and quite large , numbers of Meadow Pipit now appear to have gone through. Numbers were less dense and more widespread. By contrast "Alba" wagtails were in good numbers, with doubtless a proportion of "Whites" in amongst them when good views could be had. Earlier, as they dispersed, Reed Buntings were quite widespread, but they now seem to be less generally distributed and in parties already. Contrasted againgst many areas on the UK mainland, our popoulation is still robust and good flocks are encountered in winter. Whilst birds are around, the quietness of the moors is now evident, although wandering flocks of Starling and Fieldfares will be around later to break the monotony! Occasional Sparrowhawk is still moving through causing havoc amongst the remaining bird parties on the moor. The "local" Hen Harriers have all but disappeared, as sightings are few and far between. I suspect they were unsuccessful this breeding season , as activity diminished quite early. The local young Buzzards appear to have moved on, temporarily or otherwise. I'm now spared the high pitched contact calls they utter from the various telegraph poles around the house which are penetrating and somewhat "wearing" after a while! You may remember I mentioned a long while ago that the local Rabbit population had suffered from myxamatosis and was much depleted. It's still not recoverd and very few individuals are seen, which must have had an obvious effect on the Buzzards in terms of food availablity , but doesn't appear to have affected the productivity with at least three young being produced this year.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
A few years ago there was a level of scepticism associated with the subject of global warming and whether such was a developing feature or , simply, a product of cyclical change. I now sincerely believe more than sufficient compelling evidence exists to support the claim and am relieved at the momentum for action that , finally, appears to be occurring. Within the last few days, the immediate future and , then within the next three months real evidence of commitment to consider, or implement , change has occurred:
- China is to institute tough domestic measures relating to carbon emissions
- a "Climate Summit" meeting is to be held at the United Nations tomorrow
- the aircraft industry and manufacturers have pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2050 and, of course
- the meeting by world leaders in Copenhagen, Denmark in December to debate the subject.
At a national (UK ) level the current Party Conference being held by the Liberal Democrats is set to debate the subject and determine policy for the future. All such actions build up awareness besides resulting, hopefully, in positive initiatives aimed at constructive change. In parallel with this their policy document relating to wildlife and natural heritage is also to be welcomed.
Whilst policies and endless debate sometimes do little in themselves to bring about change, the intent associated with such is something to which the group or party can be held to in the future. In this context the undoubted, forthcoming UK election is an opportunity to consider where each of the parties stand in relation to such matters. I admit to having little interest, or patience, with the "also ran conservationists" , who , usually , have the most to say and do the least in practice when it comes to personal action. I'm still apalled at the utter lack of responsibility some people show when it comes to simple, straightforward actions associated with energy conservation.......switching off televisions playing to themselves, lights all over the house etc. It's all part of the above dilemma and suggests there's still a long way to go, not just at international and national level, but at a personal level too!! But we are in all this together and, therefore, as much of a team approach as possible is the only solution to this immense problem. Standing aside is not an option as far as I'm concerned!!
Whilst many people would profess to have litte technical knowledge of a subject like climate change, I never fail to be amazed at how tuned in they are to some of the current effects. To a lot of people the word, PHENOLOGY , and the discipline it embraces probably means very little
" the periodic plant and life cycle events, and how these are influenced by seasonal and interannual variations in climate".
Comments like, " they never used to flower at this time of year", " some of the summer visitors (Birds! ) seem to get earlier", " you know, the local weather has really changed, we're getting far more easterly winds than ever I can remember", all things I've heard in the last few years. Not precise scientific stuff maybe, but a gentle reminder that even the untrained eye, albeit attuned to local circumstances, is begining to pick up on changes.
I suppose the strap line is, please be aware and do what you can, and , if you can do more, then DO IT!! At the end of the day many of the measures make sound sense anyway and provide positive leads to creating a much better place to live in.
Monday, September 21, 2009
This year the trapping dates were the 18th and 19th September. The dates change each year so that a different part of the season is covered for recording purposes. Since commencing in 1998 the scheme has enjoyed increasing success. Many reports have been received from new areas, records of scarce species generated and, in , 2008 records were received from Ireland of White Prominent, a moth which had not been recorded for 70 years.
The reason two dates are chosen is to accomodate the possibility of bad weather. Having looked at the forecasts I decided that Saturday the 19th, into the 20th , would be best. How wrong can you be? A particularly heavy rain shower occurred after about an hour , and others occurred during the night, so conditions were far from perfect. In summary, my contribution to the exercise was the princeley number of TWO moths, both of which I'd recorded before. Such are the pleasures of science!!!
Saturday, September 19, 2009
As if to pour insult on injury we are not enjoying any of the fall out of good birds that are turning up along the east coast of Scotland and England! These drift migrants have been brought across in the favourable weather conditions which has seen the presence of easterly winds literally assisting birds westwards to our shores. It seems that we're on the wrong island and should be on Orkney or Fair Isle!!!
It will be interesting to see if we can anticipate any more of our "normal" migrants at this time of year or whether passage has already more or less finished to be replaced quite soon now by the passage of winter thrushes. And of one thing we can be certain, the vacuum and silence will soon be filled by the presence and calls of our 45,000+ wintering geese!
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
An early post and something quite different. Man on a mission stuff for two days, albeit with no success, although none was actually expected at this time of year. I've long believed that we must have resident Long-eared Owl on Islay!! There are breeding birds on nearby Colonsay and I suspect some reported sightings of owls on Jura are of this species. Some historical references are present for Islay and there has been a couple of sightings in recent years.
Whilst associated with Wintersett Ringing Station many years ago, we monitored for Long-eared Owls locally and caught and ringed birds at a local winter roost. Not an easy species by any means and best looked for, listened for actually, in spring and later when young start giving out their squeaky calls, said to sound like an unoiled gate hinge!!!
Here on Islay there are many places where they could be, and more I've looked the more convinced I've become. So, a few more visits in winter to check on best access etc to various sites and then a more comprehensive survey next spring. Now, I'm ready for some more seawatching!!
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
At first light a party of 18 Grey lag Geese flew over the house towards the coast and, later, 10 flew south out at sea. This latter is only the second occasion I've witnessed direct movement off Islay and such may tie in with the wider "situation" which continues to intrigue us all!!
A seawatch, within which I did a three hour count, contrasted sharply with that of the 12th. Whilst Manx Shearwater and Gannet numbers were around the same, quite a variety of other birds were on the move. Red-throated Diver, Whimbrel, Redshank, Turnstone, Black Guillemot, a Puffin, a few unidentified auks, a Black-headed Gull ( not common at Frenchman's Rocks ), 3 Arctic Skua and a fine Pomarine Skua. Passerines on the move: Grey Wagtail, "Alba" Wagtails, Meadow Pipit, Twite , Linnet, with, noticeably, not a single hirundine being seen. A "Greenland" Wheatear " was on rocks nearby and a Sparrowhawk sat out on Frenchman's Rocks for a while before departing south, immediately replaced by a Hooded Crow which commenced to feed on what were obviously the remains of some hapless prey the hawk had feasted on!!
At one point what I took to be a Bottle-nosed Dolphin cast high out of the water, twisted, and returned, the whole episode taking little more than two seconds . Later, again for a short period only, a fin appeared which confirmed the sighting.
And, finally, back to the house to examine the moth trap, and wrestle, as always, with identifying some of the less obvious specimens now turning up!!
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Timed counts within a seawatch over three hours showed 390 Manx Shearwater and 470 Gannet moving south and odd Fulmar and a few Kittiwake. A single Puffin and three individual auks flew south but nothing more! Passerines fared slightly better with at least three flocks of Twite coming down the coast and a single Grey Wagtail.
Variety was provided in the form of a boat from the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust passing north and then prescribing a huge arc in the waters off west Islay, doubtless on one of their holiday survey cruises.
With past weather, particularly in August, being very wet and unsuitable for moth trapping ( 10" in a month is a bit of a wash out!! ) the recent weather has been welcomed to say the least. However, temperatures at night have been quite low and catches appear to have followed course! Pale Eggar and Autumnal Rustc, (and a quite late (?) Antler moth), have been the most noticeable in the catch.
Friday, September 11, 2009
Limited numbers of Gannet and Manx Shearwater passed ( ca. 300 each ), 40+ Fulmar and the odd Kittiwake, a couple of Red-throated Diver and a party of Wigeon........and that was it! My good friend Andy Schofield maintains you should hang on in , come what may , as IT will turn up eventually. Well, after almost three hours, there seemed more likelihood of a computer terminal flying past than IT turning up ( sorry, folks ). What's more the dreaded midges were out in force! After Three Anointings ( of repellant ) this Biblical epic of a seawatch was losing its focus......but I've to confess that I enjoyed every minute!!. For once, the opportunity to just sit and watch the birds moving leaisurely past was a real treat! There was no imperative to keep five or six "running counts" going of species on the move!! Throughout the time 50-60 Kittiwakes rested out on Frenchman's Rocks, as did a small party of Redshank and of Turnstone along with the odd Alba wagtail and Meadow Pipit migrating south. It occurred to me that the handful of Hooded Crows that diligently search around on the rocks each morning session were possibly doing it in the hope of finding some exhausted migrant that had succumbed!
Later, birding the local area, a mixed flock of Linnet and Lesser Redpoll, and a few other parties of the former, Skylark numbers within the grasslands , as well as replenished numbers of Meadow Pipit compared to yesterday, showed birds were well and truly on the move and taking benefit from the good weather conditions. Near home two "Greenland" Wheatear and a Northern Wheatear paid additional testament to passage happening after none had been seen yesterday whilst covering a lot of ground.
A further round of Grey-lag Goose counts produced similar figures to previously. Time was spent going through as many of the birds as possible looking for neck collars,but to no avail. Marking has been carried out elsewhere and that possibility , at least for some of the birds, necessarily needs to be covered.
Whilst there was little on outer Loch Indaal , the mid section showed several Red-throated Divers, one pair with a well grown youngster they'd obviously brought from their breeding lochan. There appears to be somewhat of a lull in wader numbers at the moment with the high numbers of previously having moved on. Reminders of summer were Arctic Terns, Whinchat and Swallows, but an early indication of autumn was the number of Robins distributed around, even in odd places!! Our population in autumn and winter is boosted quite dramatically by immigrant birds even, it would seem, at this early stage!.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
The weather wasn't that good throughout the day with continuing strong winds and heavy squalls. I took advantage of the opportunity to look at the results from the Grey-lag Goose survey, talk to other counters and, generally, to get a feel of the situation which had emerged. So saying, I'm somewhat confused!
The total was very close to that of last year, i.e.1600, which I'm loathe to believe is correct, although duty bound to accept until something higher is obtained. Given there were plenty of broods around, and that only around 50 birds have been shot in the interim, this would mean that we'd either missed some birds or that some birds had moved on already. The alternative, of course, is that the popultion has remeined relatively stable as has happened elsewhere after a period of growth. Similarly, of the birds which did move off last winter, a reduced number may have returned to breed. In the circumstances it seems sensible to continue counts until at least the end of September to keep checking the figures. Whilst there did seem to be a lot of birds around, conjecture as to the reasons surrouding the count, or the reality, is pointless and only the counts can be taken as representing the true situation. In my opinion the total still represents what could be present "island wide" as a breeding /non-breeding population and little evidence exists this early in the season of any immigration. So, we press on to find the answers!! Elsewhere in Scotland the matter is being debated by the Scottish NFU as similar trends have been noted at other locations and concerns are being expressed by the farming community. So, back to the counting board........
Had what appeared to be a good hebridensis Song Thrush locally. A very dark bird compared to the local ones and one whose provenance was presumably Skye or further north.
Monday, September 7, 2009
Whilst the final results aren't in the weather meant that we all enjoyed good coverage. A major count I had on the Bridgend Merse involved birds that were resting, bathing or simply hanging around. Many barley fields have not yet been harvested which, compared to last year, was an activity completed!! Tomorrow I should be in a position to determine whether we've more birds around than in previous years. We can consider conclusions then!!
A bonus midday was an immature White-tailed Eagle moving north of Loch Skerrols being mobbed by Buzzards. Thankfully it avoided Inner Loch Indaal and moved south east over high land ,as opposed to disturbing all the Grey-lag Geese I'd just counted!!! A real " barn door" ragged immature as my notebook records!
In passing, odd Northern Wheatear still around, lots of Linnets ( they appear to have had a very good season ) and an appreciable number of " White" Wagtail amongst the many wagtail parties around. On the way home a female Hen Harrier created havoc over several moorland stretches, lifting endless., otherwise unrecorded Meadow Pipits, into an aerial parade of anxious, calling individuals.
Saturday, September 5, 2009
A busy day calling at Scottish Natural Heritage, RSPB and elsewhere to talk about forthcoming surveys, goose counting and much else. Any birding was whilst being mobile in many senses! A decision to delay the Grey lag Goose count, so ( hopefully ) some more of the barley harvest could be retrieved , paid off with work in full swing . This will mean more geese are out on the stubbles and much easier to count!
By evening Outer Loch Indaal was quite calm but little had changed. Razorbill groups, a feature of the late "summer", a few Shag, and 15+ Arctic Tern were the only birds of note. Earlier a group of 13 Mistle Thrush was the first seen . The tide in the Inner Loch was quite high forcing waders off elsewhere, although a few Curlew perched stoically on odd wave washed rocks!
Details have emerged, relating to the Tree Sparrows, which possibly makes the breeding on the Oa reserve this summer even more significant. Malcolm Ogilvie had kindly extracted and summarized records held by the Islay Natural History Trust and had added further comment that suggests it may be forty years since the species bred. Indeed some doubt is held over the fact of whether they actually ever bred in the past. Occurences were often during the breeding season but there appears to be no firm evidence of actual breeding, certainly in recent decades as suggested in other sources. So, 2009 might well be the begining of something quite positive!!
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Down on The Oa all day , ostensibly sorting out BTO Atlas Survey data but, as always , discussion ranged over many things. Whilst this RSPB reserve is managed primarily for Chough it also has coastline on three of its boundaries and, therefore, carries various small seabird colonies besides birds like Hen Harrier and Golden Eagle in its heartland. Cropping rotations now introduced ensure stubble fields are availble for small passerines in winter, coupled with adjacent weed ridden corridors , thus providing a veritable feast upon which the birds can rely during the "leaner" months. Even now the area was alive with Linnets and Twite, a few Reed Bunting and Starling. More importantly , the stars of the show were still there in the form of several Tree Sparrows, both adults and youngsters. Arriving out of the blue in late spring two, possibly three . pairs nested and have had second broods too. Hopefully they might remain through the winter , given food is available, and be the makings of a small permanent colony. Whilst it's never been common on Islay it's certainly a most welcome addition to the island's avifauna again given it's over twenty years since they were known to breed before and virtually no known records of occurence since.
Later a few Sand Martin and Swallow were around Loch Kinnabus, including some very young looking birds. Additionally a flock of at least 96 Goldfinch was in the vicinity , the largest charm I've seen in recent years.
Not bad for a paper work day!!
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Whilst seawatching was an option little coverage of sites in recent times, away from RSPB Reserves, suggested it worth doing a round trip to see what was about!! The penalty of virtually no active birders on the island and a huge area to cover places additional value on contributions by visitors.A count of Atlantic Grey Seal off Portnahaven showed good numbers present and a maximum of 106 counted by a colleague earlier.
Whilst the conditions weren't ideal I decided to complete a BTO WeBS count over Outer Loch Indaal. A few Eider, Common Scoter, Arctic Tern, Gannet and Kittiwake were the most obvious birds other than Razorbill with several small groups, or family units, spread over the outer waters. An obvious Greenland Wheatear, the first of the autumn, was south of Port Charlotte.
Inner Loch Indaal showed wader numbers to be increasing but, again, difficult to count in the conditions. The lone Barnacle Goose was still present, awaiting the arrival of its well travelled colleagues!! 8 immature Shelduck, Red throated Diver, Red -breasted Merganser , Common Scoter and Eider , with most other duck species due to arrive shortly. A single Razorbill youngster , sheltering at the very head of the loch in the lee of Black Rock, was intriguing until it showed itself well.
Linnet flocks are now in evidence and several amounted to between 50-70, which suugested an encouraging breeding season. On to Loch Gruinart, with Linnet, a Northern Wheatear, and an endless selection of waders ( Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Whimbrel, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Greenshank, Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Knot, Curlew Sandpiper, Dunlin and Lapwing ). Again, very few duck in evidence and, as it happens, no Grey lag Geese , one species I was on the look out for prior to the forthcoming survey. The poor weather of late has halted the harvesting of barley fields where the geese move to immediately the action has died down. This makes them easier to count and then check again as they move to nearby Loch Gruinart to roost. This year could be a bit of a challenge and suggests extra counts might be needed!!
On wet fields at Ballinaby Ringed Plover, Dunlin and Bar-tailed Godwit were feeding with 3 Black -tailed Godwit .
A good day with Northern Wheatear, Common Whitethroat still near home, doubtless held up by the poor weather. A few House Martin and Swallow still remain with reported late broods around.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Spent the early part of the day examining the counts from last winter of Grey lag Geese, kindly supplied by Maragret Morris, Goose Management Officer ( SNH ). Certainly, in 2008-2009, the large numbers in September appeared to reduce by around two-thirds in October, even before the main arrival of Barnacle and Greenland White-fronted Geese. The remaining birds maintained their numbers within certain limits until into the New Year and then commenced to reduce with no obvious pulse of birds returning. Clearly it will be necessary to look at all the figures again and to compare the results against the forthcoming winter to see if a pattern emerges. Already there appears to be quite a lot of birds around but not as tighly flocked as previuosly.
As a reminder that winter is approaching (!!) a report from the Western Isles included a sighting of Light -bellied Brent Geese moving south.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Seawatching was somewhat disappointing as a fresh westerly over the last day or so ought really to have produced more, but failed to do so. Nonetheless counts over the first two hours produced just over 2000 Manx Shearwater, much reduced numbers of Gannet, but increasing numbers of Kittiwake and Fulmar. Most birds were hugging the coastline whilst moving south. At times like this it would be entirely possible to have birds almost passing below you , or at least very close, if you were positioned at the very edge of the rocks. However, the possibility of getting "washed off" by the occasional strong, high wave crashing through puts paid to the idea! As it was , spume carried on the wind was a nuisance and required optics to be cleaned every 20 minutes or so!
A single Great Skua made heavy progress south, as did a Red-throated Diver and 3 Puffin sped through with only two other auks being recorded. Puffins are now quite uncommon here and sadly appear to have ceased breeding here sometime during the mid-eighties. Four Turnstone were the only waders recorded and along with odd LBBG and Herring Gull more or less completed everything on the move south. Despite the disappointment expectations remained high and it was good to simply sit and have tremendous close views of birds sailing by. Additionally, taking time out to watch the changing moods of the sea as varying light conditions exploited, or muted, its colours was an additional bonus.
Strangely enough, as the volume of passage reduced and a decision to deliberately look for quality for a couple of hours was taken , the overall quantity of everything went down! Typical!!
Friday, August 28, 2009
Seawatch counts over 2 1/2 hours showed bird numbers differ substantially from day to day with 2700 Manx Shearwater and around 600 Gannet moving today, no waders other than 2 Turnstone and virtually no auks again and passage finishing much "earlier" even though the conditions were better. Similarly virtually no Fulmar were on the move, but variety was provided by several Arctic Terns, Arctic Skua and Great Skua. Kittiwakes appear now to be moving as almost 60 went south, some being of mixed parties of adults with beautifully marked juveniles.
At home the sudden arrival of 2 Northern Wheatear and a Whinchat suggested some passerines were on the move too, as had happened yesterday with the brief appearance of 2 Common Whitetroat, young birds that were obviously moving together.
Having been hooked on migration since an early age details of what routes birds used , where they went and how quickly they completed their journeys was a mystery until the recent use of satellite technology. Ringing recoveries showed their presumed eventual destination, but even this was complicated by some species moving around significantly , e.g. Swallow, in their winter quarters. Fascinating details are now increasingly being revealed that takes us another quantum leap forward in our understanding of migration . A report yesterday relating to Eurasian Hobby, based on work carried out by Meyburg and colleagues , is no exception. Large numbers of Eurasian Hobby have been ringed but virtually no recoveries ever received. A bird fitted with a transmitter in 2008 in Germany left its breeding area in mid August and went south to the island of Elba, where it took a "week out". It then continued south into Africa into its winter quarters in Angola, the whole journey taking 49 days with the average distance travelled being 174 km. per day ( more if you take out the "rest week" ). Absolutely stunning and underlining the fact that even the Common Whitethroats moving through the garden at this time of year may be an appreciable distance away the next morning!! My utter and permanent conversion into being permanently in awe of this phenomenon happened many years ago. Spending time on the east coast of Yorkshire, at Spurn Bird Observatory, and witnessing the arrival of Goldcrests from continental Europe in autumn was an almost religious experience!! The fact that a little bundle of less than 5 grams could make that journey across the North Sea, with all the potential accompanying difficulties, turned me into the obsessive nut I am today when it comes to anything to do with migration!!!
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Later, at home, a single immature Sparrowhawk put up 60/70 Meadow Pipits in the rush ladened field in front of the house, a good indication that numbers of the latter are moving towards their peak.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Nearby a party of 7 Northern Wheatear suggested overnight migrants poised to make their next move!
Sadly the quality of the day deteriorated rapidly with the news of the death, in a boating accident in the Highlands, of Dr Mike Madders and his son , Daniel. A friend and colleague who'll be missed enormously and an ornithological research talent, especially on raptors and in connection with windfarms, whose loss will have reverberations worldwide.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Had to be based at home but managed some time out locally. Given I'm surrounded by wilderness and only a kilometre from the sea, local birdwatching can be as productive as anywhere!! As it was there was little of particular note except what I suspect to be the last , or close to it, of Northern Wheatear and Whinchat. We may yet get odd "Greenland" Wheatear through on migration.
Friday, August 21, 2009
Today , at Rutland Water in Leicestershire the British BirdFair commenced for three days. The proceeds this year will go towards the Preventing Extinctions Programme being administered by BirdLife. It is expected that over 20,000 birdwatchers will attend the event over the three days. One element of the above programme is that BirdLife are to initiate enquiries into 47 bird species not seen within living memory , some of which for up to 184 years. Whilst this may seem a little strange, the locations and habitats of most of these are predominantly in remote, little visited , hostile environments, some of which are isolated islands. The thinking behind this initiative acknowledges the need to publicise losses and extinctions, about which there is ample evidence, but that it would also be irresponsible to allow some of these little known small and fragile populations to possibly slip into extinction without first being sure nothing can be done to retain their presence, whatever their numbers. Some stories we are all familiar with , but if efforts are made they sometimes can bring about extraordinary success , as with the Seychelles Magpie Robin, which in many respects was in precisely the same situation until action was taken.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Spent the whole day sorting out BTO matters, arrangements for the upcoming survey of Grey lag Geese and collecting a moth trap for a neighbour. The trap was provided by Butterfly Conservation some time ago and left with the Islay Natural History Trust for easy transfer. A couple of identification guides are also available to make life easier! Whilst its use might only result in some of the commoner species being recorded it will extend our knowledge of the distribution of moths on Islay which is grossly under-recorded . It links to the mains electricity supply so there's no fiddling around with car batteries and the like!
Can recommend the film " Vantage Point". It deals with a supposed modern day assassination attempt of a US President. It's violent, and not a very comfortable film to watch , but it employs some intriguing flashback sequences, presenting a different theme and perspective on each occasion for the same time period until the final uninterrupted "run" to the end.
Numbers of Siskin, Lesser Redpoll, Goldfinch and Reed Bunting have been visiting the feeders. Based on adult males and numbers I guess up to five families of Siskin have been in attendance with all the squabbles that entails. An apt opportunity for identifying the differences between the juveniles of all the different species given they're just outside the window.