Monday, December 28, 2009

A day of transition?

Compared to recent days today was milder, relatively that is , and altogether more pleasant. Whilst I didn't have a lot of time I managed a good scout around Loch Indaal. I was a bit disappointed with the results as sections of the merse were still frozen and numbers of birds quite low. By way of compensation some good views of Great Northern Diver were obtained and reinforced the need to have a camera ready even on domestic linked trips!!

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

International Trade in Wildlife Specimens.

Recently I received a document entitled " Identification Sheets for Wildlife Species Traded in South East Asia". It had been produced by TRAFFIC South East Asia to assist enforcement officials identify wildlife species commonly found in trade. Its focus is equally as relevant here in the UK, in Europe, the USA and elsewhere as in Asia.
TRAFFIC, established in 1976, oversees the wildlife trade and monitoring network, and is a joint programme of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It works in close co-operation with the Secretariat of CITES (see below) and details of its structure and activities can be found at

As you can imagine it has connections with many organizations worldwide one of which is the Wildlife Alliance USA ( ), which has a community focus that compliments the work of TRAFFIC. Whilst the following information is a little formal in content, it is worthwhile setting it out to explain that there are efforts made worldwide to protect our most vulnerable species from the ravages of trade. CITES ( the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora ) is an international agreement between Governments aimed at ensuring international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants doesn't threaten their survival.

There are three official "Appendices" which apply controls to the 30,000 (yes,thirty thousand!) species covered in the Convention. Various levels of regulation apply, obviously aimed at minimizing the threat to species based on their status in the wild at the current time. It can be complicated, as many differing levels of legislation and regulation might apply, but clearly efforts are directed at maintaining viable populations of species listed.

Sadly, trade persists outside the limits of such controls and continued vigilance at points of importation and exportation are essential. The document makes alarming reading in that it brings home the unfortunate focus which is directed at our most vulnerable wildlife. There are many species we might not recognize, but the names of others, like the Tibetan Antelope, Snow Leopard and Sun Bear, are all too familiar due to television programmes.Such could be said to be the "iconic end" to a list that embraces various otter and primate species, Hornbills, Parrots, Crocodiles and Alligators, Lizards, Snakes, Turtles, Tortoises, Frogs, Fish and plants like Orchids. Even the diminutive Seahorse is included!!

It is all too easy to say" Why can't it be stopped in this day and age"?. The reasons are many and complex and range from cultural traditions, unscrupulous trading, to sheer acquisitive possession. Whilst we're all aware of the alleged properties of Rhino horn, the extensive demand for animal parts for traditional medicinal products of all kinds is frightening. Given the rarity of some specimens and by-products there are always those who will take the risk of trading in such goods in order to make money. At the other end of the spectrum there are those for whom the illegal procurement and possession of a rare specimen is both an obsession and a risk worth taking.
Endless other machinations creep in as well. I'd not even appreciated that, beyond the demand for live specimens, bird of prey carcases, including owls, were also in demand for medicinal purposes and magic! The pet trade, the song bird trade, the wild meat trade, the skin trade, the jewellery trade, besides the traditional medicines trade, all have connections to these activities. Now, before you stride off and lobby your hapless local pet shop owner or others, appreciate there is trade allowed in common or sufficiently abundant species, which can be obtained under licence , but are still scrutinized under the regulations mentioned above.

However, as an example of how illegal trade manifests itself, there was a report in September, 2009 of a man trying to smuggle 39 parrot eggs from Bali into Western Australia in a special vest made for the purpose!

He was apprehended at Perth International Airport and charged with smuggling wildlife into the country. Later another man was charged with the alleged possession of endangered species specimens and wildlife smuggling offences.

{ May I thank the Australian Customs and Border Protection Agency for the illustration opposite. }.

An aspect that is sometimes not as apparent as might be the case is that smuggling such "merchandise", be it horn, skins, live specimens or derivatives, can involve lucrative trade practices by well organized syndicates. Such is being done for money, big money sometimes! This is a challenge of "practice", as opposed to the need to amend cultural traditions when it comes to the use of traditional medicines . None of these challenges are easy to address and all agencies involved deserve our support and recognition.

Sadly it is not only the rare and exotic that fall foul of the collecting mentality or the willingness to submit requirements through the appropriate legal procedures.

Acknowledgement to Chris Shepherd ( Traffic South East Asia ).

The Lesser Adjutants shown in the illustration are not listed on CITES, but evoke the same sympathy in my view, by being in demand and traded as live specimens as are their rarer counterparts. With the wonderful filmed offerings on television nowadays and the plethora of wildlife trips available, do we not need to move on and set aside the opportunities to possess or have "close proximity" experiences of some wretched, captive specimen , however well housed? I suppose it's not everyone who can holiday in Cambodia, go into the reserve area on the Tonle Sap and see the birds above in the wild. But by not objecting to their incarceration we're lending justification to it and helping demand!!
In summary, all of this is disgusting, saddening and a blight on the more civilized views that most people hold towards our natural world and what it contains. However, it is an unfortunate reality and clearly something which needs to be addressed, contained and hopefully eliminated. At a personal level our vigilance, both at home and abroad, is necessary but , above that, our willingness to lend support to constituent organizations involved is an imperative, be it directly or in any campaigning they conduct.
Finally I think we ought to recognize the commitment shown by all staff associated with this worldwide" policing" of such illegal activities. The continuing resolve needed to address such disheartening activities on a regular basis is to be admired and our moral support and thanks should be a continuing "given" in this respect. And on that note may I personally thank Richard Thomas ( TRAFFIC UK ) for his assistance with a variety of elements relied upon for the above.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Wintering birds.

A "round" of local areas showed a nice mixed flock of Lapwings and Golden Plover in a couple of fields they seem to favour each winter. Their arrival always seems quite late into the autumn with the Lapwings possibly being local breeders anyway. Over the past couple of days there has been a noticeable increase in Starling flocks. Given the advancing bad weather from the east , and conditions "tightening" in many places on the Continent, these may well be birds which have been displaced westwards and, indeed, birds which might well move on further into Ireland. Hunting Hen Harriers seem to be met with at all times of the day at present, which is a reflection on the short period of daylight available and the paucity in usual prey numbers in many areas.

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

15/16th December, 2009.

A combined post given that both days were given over to the Greenland White-fronted Goose International Count. Several teams cover the whole of Islay on both days, with the two successive counts for the same routes being compared and a composite total arrived at. Similarly, teams will be covering other parts of the wintering area elsewhere. Whilst the "Greenland" White-fronted Goose is a sub-species it is treated as a separate species due to its discrete population and wintering areas. Sadly, numbers over the past few years have declined, with the main concerns and attention for this being focussed on the breeding grounds. There is thought to be competition with other species, notably the increasing incursion of Canada Geese, but much more work needs to be carried out in what is not the easiest of environments to carry out research , the logistics for which are very expensive to say the least.

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

14th December, 2009.

A rather early post following a slightly disappointing morning's birding, when a couple of survey areas turned up not terribly much!! The number and variety of birds in open areas, such as surrounds the house, plummets at this time of year , although the incoming cold weather may see passerines visiting the garden for food out of sheer necessity. A noticeably colder day and somewhat grey throughout, with darkness incoming by 1600 hours. I keep reminding myself we've only a few days to go before the shortest day arrives and then it's all change!!

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

Bad news for Asian vultures.

A day necessarily spent at home dealing with some arrangements and admin .matters. A shame too as the day was fine ,bright and crisp!.

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

10th December, 2009.

Another day out goose counting in what turned out to be fine and mild weather conditions. A real joy to be out and seeing Islay at its best.

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

9th December,2009.

Both a fine and pleasant day devoted to one of the routine goose counts for Scttish Natural Heritage .For once, no rain, good visibility and geese that are begining to be a little more confident and not "spook" at every nearby presence. A couple of big packs of Baranacle Geese, i.e. of 2000+, more widely spread Greenland White-fronted Geese and a single Pink-footed Goose completed our species list with Grey-lag Goose not being seen. Whilst we get a few Pink-footed Geese moving through in autumn, and not always anything subatantial at that, only the odd bird remanis with us , usually caught up within one of the big flocks present, so it was quite nice to catch this one! All in all , a good day.

Despite stops on the way home nothing additional seen that was of interest.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

8th December, 2009.

A female Merlin past the house in the early morning was a nice surprise, the weather that moved in shortly after wasn't! Squally rain advancing in waves up the glen was most certainly not as planned or welcome.

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

7th December, 2009.

A segmented day due to appointments! An opportunity in the morning to be out on the coast and a nearby moor linked with one of the better weather periods of the day! The sea is now largely devoid of birds other than those immediately along the coastline.. Herring Gulls appear to hang about around the nearby village, their ringing cries redolent of a seaside location, with G.B.B.G.'s more frequently along the coast and often taking advantage of bathing at a freshwater loch. The moorland provided a patiently hunting female Hen Harrier and a very close male Merlin , whose powder blue coloration was magnificent!

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

A good winter's birding day!

The main objective of the day was to get a WeBS count of Outer Loch Indaal given the weather conditions were suitable. Achieved, with a slightly surprising result in that the number of Great Northern Divers exceeded 20, not a particularly high count, but with all other species virtually absent! Thankfully a flock of Barnacle Geese north of Nerabus included not only a " hutchinsii" Canada Goose but also a "parvipes", with excellent views of both being obtained.

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!

4th December,2009.

A somewhat more targeted day! Fine until the evening when heavy rain ensued and temperatures felt lower!!

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

3rd December,2009.

At last, a free day! Whilst survey work was calling the need to have a good look around the northern parts of Islay won out in the end. I did manage to complete a number of BTO WeBS counts on various waters , although a low sun and the distribution of birds within Inner Loch Indaal made counting impossible as everything was in silhouette and at distance. A brief appearance by an immature Golden Eagle over Bridgend Woods put the nearby roosting Barnacle Geese to flight for what was a few minutes of calling and pandemonium. Both in the Outer and Inner loch diver numbers seemed low, as did other waterbirds, but a further check can be made when conditions are more supportive.

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

2nd December,2009.

Recurring problems with the water supply meant I had to remain at home. Thankfully ( to Archie ) all is now restored and back to normal.

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

!st December,2009.

Back on Islay and into normality, although"normality" weighed in a little fiercely!! A fresh to srong southerly wind had white-capped waves advancing up Loch Indaal like a fleet of galleons in full sail. An official goose count was hampered somewhat by the wind and visibility conditions, and also produced a challenge in the form of the geese having chosen less regularly used spots in which to shelter and feed. Others were on the mudflats at Bridgend resting up after, presumably, having fed in the part moonlit conditions last night. Progressively conditions became worse with the onset of heavy rain, which hampered things further! Not pleasant.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

25th November,2009.

A very early post , as the sensible option for today is to remain linked to this computer and stoke up the fire!!! The weather is pretty bad , which is in contast to the previous few days as it's been relatively calm with odd showers only. Long walks with the dog have been rewarded with my being within woodland, always a pleasure away from Islay, although we do have some small blocks of deciduous woodland, not being besieged by a constant wind and an array of the commoner bird species. A vain attempt to find Crested Tit was tried, but failed! Whilst nothing is too numerous I get the feeling that commoner passerines , e.g. Chaffinh, are in better numbers than we enjoy back home.

From forecasts it would seem the ferries are cancelled off the west coast so no respite there either!!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

21st November,2009.

Early start to get the 0700 hours ferry, but the weather held firm and no problems encountered.
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!!

19th/20th November,2009.

With several parts of the country suffering from floods, and Islay having its share of inclement weather too, the loss of my water supply was a mixture of frustration and embarassment!!! The connection to the spring-fed supply had broken and all supplies on store had been drawn down. A problem then emerged with the pump governing the supply to the house so I was pleased to be moving off early on the 21st. Hopefully the necessary repairs will have been completed by my return!!

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

18th November,2009.

A busy day amending arrangements around my needing to be up in Kirkhill, Inverness from the weekend. The weather forecast for both Saturday and Sunday started off pretty poor with the distinct likelihood of cancelled ferry services. Having decided on a "window of opportunity" on early Saturday morning the matter is now in the lap of the Gods! Such is the downside to living on an island when ferries can be affected by high seas/wind and the flight service can be affected by high winds, fog and runway condition. Leaving "connections" to the last miniute to any appointments etc on the mainland is foolhardy at best! Having decided all that the last weather update of the day saw the overall situation ameliorating slightly !!

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

17th November, 2009.

The second day of the International Count, thankfully graced by much better weather. Mild, even sunny at times, but with a fresh wind. I was counting on a different route so comparisons between the counts weren't possible. Wintering geese appear to be broadly hefted to given areas within which they move around, some being very "loyal" to relatively small sectors. Our count on the Rinns wasn't grossly at odds with yesterday, which was a relief!. Of interest was a small group of 35 Grey-lag Geese "roosting" out on the open moor north of Kilchiaran picked up by Kevin Wiggins. Not easy to see and I suspect in a location that couldn't be seen from other vantage points other than the very high hill holding the , now defunct, transmitter ststion. I wondered the extent to which the same location might have been used by local birds as a moulting spot earlier in the year as they appeared to go missing at times! And were probably missed on counts too!

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.

16th November,2009.

The first day of the Greenland White-fronted Goose International Survey. On Islay this is organized by Scottish Natural Heritage within the normal goose management scheme. In recent years the numbers of this distinctive subspecies have been reducing and, therefore, a close eye is kept on the population figures. A little under 6000 was counted recently but, hopefully, the figure will rise as more birds arrive.

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

12th November, 2009.

Grabbed a couple of hours before the weather set in with a vengeance. For two to three hours in the afternoon there was very heavy continuous rain. The house is located in a shallow basin with a road running across it N/S and a ditch diagonally across the centre. Such was the ferocity of the rain storm that a huge lagoon built up due the the ditch overflowing, a feature I've never seen here before despite some bad weather. I'd visions of my own local "reserve" developing but, sadly, over several succeeding hours the water ebbed away!

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

10th/11th November, 2009.

Goose counting on both days supported by wonderful weather that I suspect has provided everyone with a nice break after recent less pleasant spells!!

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

9th November, 2009.

A day exclusively given over to playing catch -up with E-mails, phone calls, correspondence etc!!

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 !!

8th November,2009.

As one might imagine the return journey to Islay was held in extremely good weather, calm, sunny and a complete contrast to what had been endured over the past week!! Surprisingly, very little was seen over the whole day, an outcome that is becoming a reality all too often and a comment on how much our native bird populations have fallen!

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

6th November, 2009.

An early departure to the east coast lured by the possibility of possible migrants and a report of an Olive backed Pipit. Visits to former valued sites fed little other than nostalgia and the day became increasingly disappointing. A few passerines were obviously on the move ( Blackbird, Fieldfare, Redwing, Siskin, Skylark ) and a couple of parties of Whooper Swan totalling around 40, but little else.

The day ended with a return journey with heavy traffic and a flat tyre. Not the best..........

5th November,2009.

A busy day in some respects, but late morning found us at Edderthorpe Flash, near Darfield, which is west of Doncaster. This whole area has been transformed by a major reclamation scheme as, previously, it was the site of a large coal mining disposal tip and accompanying subsidence flash.

This body of water has become a particularly interesting site for waders and duck, and other migrants. An absolute feast of wildfowl met our eyes ( Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Gadwall, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye,Pochard ) plus many Coot, some Whooper Swan, a large flock of Golden Plover, and some Lapwing. Our quarry was soon immature Little Stint in absolutely stunning condition, a delightful bird!

Sadly the weather again intervened, badly, and we had to leave mid afternoon and find solace in football.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

4th November,2009.

An early start (0600 hours) with a trip through to Spurn Point Bird Observatory, east of Hull, and on the most south east point of Yorkshire. The weather in Sheffield was foul with heavy rain but all this improved as we travelled eastwards and, eventually, we had a pleasant day.

All in all we had nothing of particular significance but, nonetheless, had a good day! Odd late Chiffchaff, good views of a whole variety of waders, some sea passage of Common Scoter and Pink footed Goose, a female Sparrowhawk arriving over the sea from Continental Europe and clearly being close to collapse, and, generally, taking time to visit a whole series of different areas was really enjoyable. At the end of the day managed to meet up with past friends and colleagues staying at the Obsevatory from which arose the inevitable crack, wit and exchange of stories that provided an apt end to a very fulfilling day visiting an area I first set foot on in 1958!

3rd November,2009.

A "parental" day!! Went through to Doncaster to meet with eldest daughter Ashley, who had travelled down from Newcastle by train, so that we could have a day of gossip and updating. All such was accomplished successfully ( ! ) within an enjoyable late morning and afternoon before I took on the much changed traffic systems of Doncaster and she returned northwards.

Had an enjoyable evening with Matthew and Rose, previous to her departing for Venice on a study tour for a few days, and Matthew and I planning our birding trips, cuisine and the football matches we were to watch on TV!! Essential man fodder!

2nd November,2009.

After transferring the car in for bodywork repair we visited a whole series of sites in the west B,arnsley area of South Yorkshire. I'm quite impressed and surprised at the number of woodlands which have Nuthatch in them nowadays. When I left South Yorkshire in 1999 few, if any, of the woodlands in the Barnsley area held Nuthatch, so the increase and expansion has been pretty swift!

Whilst we had a good selection of woodland species our quarry for the day, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, remained elusive! Redwing were clearly arriving, and moving west, and records of Kingfisher and Water Rail were good in a local context. An enjoyable day that, additionally, produced a lot of good memories but, also , reminded me that the process of environmental change marches inexorably forward, be it with the reclamation of previously wild areas, the conversion of ruined buildings or even the introduction of new facilities within the countryside

1st November 2009

Apologies for the lack of presence in the last few days, but I've had quite a lot of personal matters to attend to. I'm now in South Yorkshire for a few days ( in Sheffield ). My son has accused me of bringing Islay weather with me as, for several hours today, it rained really heavily together with a good F.6/7 wind!!

We managed to get out to various areas to the west of Sheffield in the afternoon and I thoroughly enjoyed being in old " stamping grounds".Whilst all of the watercourses were swollen with the recent rain we still managed to see Dipper near Deepcar, but then moved to near Broomhead where we were extremely fortunate to have quite good views of a male Northern Goshawk over a plantation. Sadly one of the plantations in which they nested has been partially felled and recent feedback suggests persecution is as bad as ever. A great shame for what is a magnificent raptor!!

Local reservoirs produced a somewhat predictable array of duck and the conditions once again started to deteriorate. So, home James, for what was then a rather spectacular firework display at the nearby training ground of Sheffield Wednesday football club!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

20th October,2009.

Unfortunately I am having to suspend posts to this site until 31st October, 2009. I apologise to those gaining access and finding nothing new!!! Be back to you shortly.

John S. Armitage.

Monday, October 19, 2009

18th October,2009.

This weekend was when the survey of Light-bellied Brent Geese ( Branta bernicla hrota ) occurs, with a firther survey in mid-January, 2010. Very large numbers of these birds winter in Ireland and, usually, by comparison, we have very few to add in to the total. This population hails from Svalbard ( Spitsbergen ) and Greenland contrasted against the Dark-bellied form ( Branta bernicla ) whose breeding grounds are in Russia/ Western Siberia.

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

16th October,2009.

An absolutely glorious day. quite warm and sunny throughout. The sea was an inviting expanse of blue but with few birds around. A local loch had six rather tired adult Whooper Swans present, a party of Greenland White-fronted Geese and around thirty Grey lag Geese. All but latter had probably just arrived and were taking a well earned rest!!

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

15th October,2009.

Another early post given the constraints of the current circumstances!!

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.

And finally, and differently......... I had the following sent through to me by a colleague.

This is topiary with a difference and, as I understand it, are examples present within some Botannical Gardens in Montreal. I've many others but , obviously, space prevents showing all of them. The one following is my own favourite and, I think, very clever indeed.

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

14th October, 2009.

An early post for reasons outlined later!! Despite the mist and light rain I went around the local coastal " circuit" nurturing the possibility of seeing some of the naval vessels returning south that had been involved in the NATO Joint Warrior exercise in the Minch.. With 12 NATO and Allied Nations involved I reckoned on seeing something as odd ones of them dodged southwards via the Irish Sea . Suffice to say my hunch reinforced the idea I should never have considered being a navigator!!

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!!

13th October, 2009.

A grey sea, slight swell and light SW wind held promise, but produced little, so I moved on to complete a BTO WeBS count of Outer Loch Indaal given the favourable conditions. Strangely enough, other than a few auks, 12 Red-throated Divers and a handful of Great Northern Divers, it held virtually nothing, although the all dark heads and narrow chevron marking on the necks of the latter showed well, with no birds in winter plumage.

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

9th October, 2009.

A day of utter contrasts to yesterday!! Rain, strong wind squalls, threatening cloud cover and, altogether , a washout generally. The last inclement day recently, with drizzly rain , backed by a light SE wind, covered my windows in salt, a penalty of living close to the sea. This one, but with much stronger winds and lashing rain, cleaned it all off!!!

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 !!

8th October, 2009.

A rather beautiful autumn day against which my initial intentions were ruined early on by the discovery of a bank transfer I'd made having gone astray. As the day moved on ,the situation got worse in that the money appears to have gone walkabouts!!! So, as you might imagine, more than a little time was spent selecting telephone options within far off telephone facilities and repeating the circumstances in mantra like fashion!! Predictions of when it ought to be found ranged from five days to a month , but I remain sceptical that anybody can predict when something lost will be found, but the assurances kept coming with Biblical confidence!

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

7th October, 2009.

Well, back from the dead and all the usual sentiments of apology! Have managed to set aside the yoke of work and be in a position to engage with real involvement............birding!!!

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

25th September,2009.

In between a few other tasks had a good walk out on the moor. Whilst the weather wasn't particularly pleasant, it was good to be away from a computer for a while!!

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

21st September, 2009.

Over the past few days I've been much involved, working alongside other lobbyists, in what might best be described as my "other activities", i.e. campaigning activities associated with climate change, environmental conservation issues and population matters. This is set to continue, and probably extend within the next few months, but doubtless time for birding will soon be found!

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

20th September,2009.

Each year in the UK an event is held called the National Moth Night. This is organized by Atropus ( a journal dedicated to the study of lepidoptera and dragonflies ) and Butterfly Conservation, the national voluntary organization campaigning for moths and butterflies and their habitats.

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

18th September, 2009.

Everything appears to have cleared out given the good weather we've enjoyed. Cold searching techniques by colleagues and myself have turned up nothing , but also confirmed that the "tail end" warblers, hirundines and chats have moved on. There's a strange feeling of vacuum, that even refers itself to the landscape, as the multitudes of Meadow Pipits have moved through and not been replaced. Various places seem silent! Looking back at these weeks last year still shows a few of such species to be present up to and including the last week of the month.

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

15th/16th September, 2009.

Fine both days with much more sun today and really pleasant.

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

14th September, 2009.

A rather grey day, although somewhat bright ,until later when sunshine broke through. A southerly breeze produced a sea with a very slight swell.

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

12th September,2009.

With conditions similar to yesterday I anticipated little and received not much more! The weather was glorious , the midges were tolerable and it was a real pleasure to be out. Some mist patches very early , and a very heavy dew, but, thereafter was tremendous!!

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

11th September,2009.

Early mist delayed the start to a seawatch session I'd promised myself , whatever the conditions. As such, a flat sea. light winds and reasonable visibilty ( a fog bank lay in the distance ) held liitle potential for surprises!

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.

10th September,2009.

A really nice day with afternoon temperatures better than comfortable!!

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

8th September, 2009.

A night of Wagnerian proportions, or so I was told, which offered strong winds, rain, lightning , thunder ...the lot. However, it was within sleeping time so I'm afraid I missed it!!!

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

7th September, 2009.

Thankfully a good day to complete the Grey-lag Goose survey!! Fine weather with good visibility and no rain!

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

4th September,2009.

A breezy day at the onset and, finally, some fine weather too!!

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

2nd September,2009.

Weather still unsettled but not too unkind a mix!

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

Ist September,2009.

In the main a fine day but with some really heavy showers during the early afternoon ensuring the trend continues of our having received almost 10" of rain in August!!

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

31st August,2009.

A poor day in many respects until things settled down in the late afternoon. Rain squalls overnight had obviously grounded a few migrants and their continuation seemed also to be causing Meadow Pipits to be " backing up", unable to continue in the strong winds and rain. Northern Wheatear, Common Whitethroat and Lesser Redpoll were all in evidence with two small flocks of the latter.

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

29th August, 2009.

A fine day but with a fresh SW/W wind, but no rain!!

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

27th August, 2009

A really mixed day for weather with a light SW wind and almost calm conditions, increasing wind and rain half the afternoon and then sunnier times, ending with a wild wind and lashing rain in the evening.!

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

25th August,2009.

Five hours of seawatching was both thoroughly enjoyable and quite productive. Counts over a four hour period produced almost 1400 Gannet and nearly 2200 Manx Shearwater moving south. Other species on the move included a few parties of Whimbrel, over 50 Fulmar, odd Ringed Plover, a couple of Great Skua and a single Common Scoter. Perversely very few Auks were seen, which presumably means they are using different feeding areas.

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

24th August,2009.

A fresh SW wind and fine conditions after the deluge of yesterday augured well for seawatching, and so it proved to be. An incessant stream of Manx Shearwater flew south including a single Balearic Shearwater which showed quite well. As the tide welled up at the southern end of Frenchman's Rocks 350+ Gannets milled around , diving incessantly into the frothy turbulence. A single Great Skua went through and a distant party of what appeared to be Bar-tailed Godwit struggled in the increasing wind. Three Whimbrel were also found on a rocky islet offshore . A small passage of LBBG had occurred previous to 1100 hours, the birds hugging the coastline as opposed to being offshore, a habit noticed many times previously, indeed small parties of birds sometimes move down the valley where the house is located in marked contrast to other seabird species.

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

22nd August, 2009.

A couple of things of note. In the post I put out about Cambodia the web address of the Sam Veasna Centre is slightly wrong. Sorry! It should be , it's an "a" not a "u" at the end.

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

21st August, 2009.

Well I've just spent what has resulted in two whole days organizing survey work, talking on conservation issues and similar matters without having had any opportunity for fieldwork. Sometimes the preparatory arrangements or follow up work required far outstrips the actual time spent achieving the objectives!! It's a mad world!!

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

19th August,2009.

Yet another day of rain and mist, but with the dreaded midges emerging en masse too due to the mild conditions.

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.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

18th August,2009.

News recently, via BirdLife International, that a higher count than anticipated (161 ) of White-shouldered Ibis at Western Siem Pang, Cambodia had been realised was most encouraging. Contrasted against this , another source of information reported that studies since the 1980's of Kenya's wildlife showed it to have reduced by up to 40%. A far less reassuring comment that global conservation was progressing in a consistent fashion. In the latter report a particular comment caught my eye, which I personally believe is critical to the success of many of the initiatives now being undertaken. It was acknowledged that , where there was local community involvement, the declines and degradation of habitat had been significantly less. Having seen such at work, particularly in West Africa and Cambodia, I would very much agree with the conclusion.
In Cambodia the Wildlife Conservation Society, an American organization founded in 1895 and currently involved in over 500 conservation projects in 60 countries ( see ) , has been involved in various initiatives aimed at improving the populations of ibis, stork and vulture species and several others . It has provided help and guidance to the Sam Veasnu Centre ( SVC ) which, in turn, has links with various community based schemes in the country similar to those alluded to above.
In 2008 , as part of an Oriental Bird Club tour, I had the privilege to visit many of the key sites in Cambodia and see several species that are " on the brink" , including White-shouldered Ibis. The SVC provided a guide (see below ) in addition to the services of BirdTour Asia.
Sophoan Sanh spoke good English, proved to be an experienced birder, was well travelled within her own country and others nearby and extremely knowledgeable about Cambodian culture. Supporting her was a group of drivers and ladies who did the cooking whilst we were in some of the more remote places.

That year only 130 people visited the Tmatboey community based project , mostly within January and February when weather conditions are at their best. This particular community protects the Giant Ibis and White-shoulderd Ibis within the adjacent dipterocarp forest areas besides overseeing the provision and cleaning of the accomodation facilities which have been built. Income is fed back to the community from such visits and it's pleasing to report that 2008 met its financial targets and the objectives of the business plan ( you can't escape business plans nowadays , not even deep in the forest!!! ). A year round presence , not just aimed at showing visitors birds, but ensuring hunting is controlled, watching for forest fires and ensuring habitat is maintained and census work undertaken, is all a part of the service provided.

Simple, straightforward, but effective and a lifeline for both the birds and the community that itself would have had to depend on natural resources within the 30 years of civil strife that ravaged the country. Now, with economic prosperity improving, conservation is part of the fabric of opportunity that is benefitting both isolated communities and the wildlife in their adjacent environments.

In 2009 the SVC ( see ) organized two SVC Super Tours, birding trips which visited 11 sites in 14 days!! A wide selection of birds was seen at mouth watering sites such as that shown here.

These are to be repeated in 2010 ( in January and February ) besides there being another Oriental Bird Club Tour.
There are other areas under review in Cambodia. Kae seima, Mondulkiri, in Eastern Cambodia sounds enticing to say the least. Until relatively recently this area only had one road linking it to the country's infrastructure, is said to have the most diverse range of habitats in Cambodia, has elephants, eight species of cat , including tiger, and a wide variety of bird species. It's certainly the one I hope to visit at some future point.
So, to everyone who has not yet visited SE Asia, give it a try , sign up for a real adventure and see sites and birds you'll never forget. It is truly fantastic, utterly unspoiled and the food is unbelievable! Contact the SVC and they'll do the rest. Believe me whether it's exploring the backwaters of the Sonle Tap by small boat, camping deep in the forest near to a trapeang that attracts White-winged Duck or venturing out on the vast Mekong River to see the newly described wagtail that lives out its existent on the small islands in the middle, you'll come back with memories that I suspect have no match with any others previously. At the same time you'll be chanelling the much required income directly into front line bird conservation schemes that deserve our support as they're linked to world threatened species! Do it!!!