Friday, January 30, 2009

18th January,2009.

A rather grey,overcast and damp day but the first thing that caught my interest was the fact that birds were in song!!! Song Thrush, Robin, Collared Dove and Dunnock were all part of the chorus around the cottage and emphasized how further on events were despite our not being that far south!!

A strategy of working our way along the north Norfolk coast had been agreed so we set off and , progressively, kept calling in at notable bird sites. We'd left Cley and Salthouse for later incidentally.
At Morston Little Egret, a Spotted Redshank and Grey Plover provided close and good views. Our first Marsh Harrier (2 females) at Stiffkey together with a huge pack of Pink-footed Geese put me in routine scanning mode for a while!!

Later, a single Grey Partridge at Choseley was a salutary reminder of how drastic has been the decline in this species over the years. Along with other farmland dependant birds the losses and changes have been catastrophic and begs the question of whether current day birdwatchers will ever enjoy the situation which we all took for granted as being normal in the past!!.

Titchwell RSPB reserve provided its usual rich array of species ranging from Water Rail, various duck, Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit, Snow Bunting, Bearded Tit, Water Pipit and Ruff along with many others and kept us busy for some time. Met up with friends and made arrangements for the evening before moving on.

At Stiffkey we had various Marsh Harriers going into roost, at least 10 Little Egret and a couple of both Short-eared Owl and Barn Owl ( although not the dark breasted individual which had been seen previously). Later we all met up for a drink to exchange notes and reminicences!!

17th January, 2009.

Early start with Matthew to try and miss some of the traffic. Called at Holme Pierrepoint,Nottingham to see the Lesser Scaup and then pressed on to Grafham Water in Cambridgeshire. A fine array of waterbirds ( Mallard, Wigeon, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Goldeneye, Goosander, Great crested Grebe ) met our eyes and, eventually, we found the Red-necked Grebe that was present and had quite reasonable views. A couple of adult Yellow-legged Gulls were a nice surprise

Our next stop at Fen Drayton was based on curiosity as much as anything. It comprises a large area of gravel pits,with which the RSPB now an association,and is certainly an area that's worth a visit. Clearly still under development it also carried a good variety of waterbirds including a couple of Red-breasted Mergansers. Of equal interest to me were birds like Green Woodpecker and Stock Dove which we don't have on Islay!

After calling at Coveney to look for Rough-legged Buzzard (that's all we managed! ) we continued across the Fens to Welney, this time with the roads open due to an absence of flooding which, in previous winters, has revised our intended journey. What a wonderful sight....endless Bewick Swans giving out their musical, bugling calls which, somehow, have less urgency than those of Whooper Swans,of which there was a number in nearby fields. Good numbers of Pintail and the first of several Barn Owls together with many other duck all added to the spectacle.

Time was now pressing and brief calls at various sites were the order of the day ,including Wolferton for Golden Pheasant, before arriving at Hunstanton to stock up with supplies for the week. Onward, now in the dark, to Holt but with occasional
Barn Owls to keep up our interest before settling in for a rest and review!!

16th January, 2009.

A better day for weather in the east as I made my way southwards down to Yorkshire. Taking a break just short of Berwick and looking out over the North Sea odd Gannets could be seen moving determindley nortwards back to their breeding haunts but little else was in evidence.

Eventually arrived in South Yorkshire and spent the rest of the day and evening seeing friends.

15th January, 2009.

Armed with as much directional information as possible I set off in good spirits on my mission. I hadn't reckoned on that speciality of interference, the weather!!! Low grey cloud meant we were all still using headlights at 0940hours with the same conditions returning at 1440hours. I'm also convinced that the local authority have employed a Spanish road planner in Fife as the system is confusing at best!!

Try as I might I could not pin down what I had especially wanted to see....Surf Scoters, of which there are three around along the shores of the northern Forth at the moment. Neither could I connect with the King Eider which had been reported!! Some great views of Velvet Scter and Long-tailed Duck but the day was a bad one except for the diesel prices at Morrisons!!

14th January,2009.

This is now an attempt to catch up on the entries since the above date to the present (30th ).
Left home early to get the 0700hours ferry from Port Askaig basically to avoid the poor weather which had been forecast that was duty bound to affect the ferry service. Between home and Port Charlotte had 9 Woodcock, mostly around the Gearach Farm area, which suggested a further influx had occurred.
Left Kennacraig around 0915hours and set off east towards Kinross birdwatching at various spots along the way and having a leisurely journey. Have to say that I had nothing of any real interest although saw odd new birds for the year. Spent the evening plotting and planning next day's "push" to try and see various things on the Forth.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

13th January,2009.

A hectic day trying to get various things arranged and finalised before being away for what is almost a fortnight. Top of the list was stacking up the feeders for what now appears to be a regular squad of dependants, including the long staying single Coal Tit and Blue Tit duo, Reed Buntings, Chaffinces , Dunnock and Blacbirds. Despite almost predictable visits in the half hour before dusk a Sparrowhawk has failed to deplete these regulars, even when it perched on top of the only substantial bush in the garden and peered intently into the interior on a very agitated Coal Tit!!!

There has been no update on the Canvasback I'm afraid to say. I feel somewhat guilty at not having been able to provide some determined news prior to my departure and, at a time of year when there's not many, if any, visiting birders. The weather at the weekend is not going to be a help given there's a predicted period of Force 10 winds , and plenty of Force 8 during the quieter times!!! I'm going to try and be on line so may be able to provide an update or two from afar.

12th January,2009.

Little news as still pestered with flu, the most powerful antidote at the moment being the prospect of a trip to Norfolk!!! Changed my arrangements around to Wednesday as the predicted weather (for here) on Thursday and Friday, and actually into Saturday, is not good and I can't entertain the aspect of being delayed!!! It gives me the added flexibility of calling in at various places en-route.

Took a look at the wintering Grey lag Goose figures, kindly supplied by Margaret Morris at SNH and drawn from the December International Survey data when two days was spent covering the whole island to determine the current number of Greenland White-fronted Geese on the island, within which time numbers of other species were collected too.

It rather looks as if, at absolute maximum, the number of Grey lag Geese on Islay at the moment could be in the region of 600 birds. On the other hand, by the nature of the records, locations etc etc the number might well be two thirds of that. Wintering geese are usually very loyal to their feeding areas until such time as they're eaten out when, of course, they move. By contrast, the Grey-lag Geese here at the moment appear to be more mobile, which creates obvious problems when one tries to construct a population figure. What it does mean is that around 1000 birds have departed the island since the counts were done in the autumn (see previous posts for details). Whether that suggests these remaining birds are Islay's resident population is open to debate. The wintering population only began to be more apparent in the 2007/2008 winter "season" as, previous to that, birds were here but the numbers were fairly consistent and rather low. The wintering presence does perhaps parallel the rather exponential growth of our breeding population in recent times, so the next couple of seasons are going to very interesting.

But what of the 1000?? Are they perhaps birds destined for the Solway that are developing the habit of using Islay as a stopping off point. Sadly the collared bird seen earlier, but whose details weren't secured, appears to be one of those that has moved on. Or is all this conjecture, simply a question of trying to make the jigsaw pieces fit? Who knows? Future work might yet give us some answers.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

10th January,2009.

No bird news I'm afraid as still well out of things and indulging in operating in male wimp mode, of which more later!!!

May I correct something I published yesterday and apologise to all concerned? Despite his best endeavours Jim Dickson must have been suitably confused to see the confirmation of Lesser Scaup having been gained by a Mr Jim Dixon, likewise the latter must be worried about memory loss given his not being able to remember even being on Islay,never mind seeing Lesser Scaup ( a double whammy as I'm not sure he has!! ). Sorry,guys!

Now, for any lady readers , I have some revelatory comments about the male, when ill! Now I know you all believe we overegg the pudding and are stricken low by the simplest of ailments. I can now reveal, without any shadow of doubt, that such behaviour emanates from a genuine reaction to our sypmtoms and circumstances. Even when the male lives on his own (me) it seems necessary to utter the odd groan, sniff, cough, grimace regularly and wear "the look" whilst generally letting the world know of the wretched condition we find ourselves in. With no one there to impress all this must be genuine behaviour, communicating the severity of our condition. I can well see though why man is drawn to marriage as it does mean the surety and presence of a resident nurse! I'm sure this has been of help and you all now better understand the predicament. It is difficult being a man.........

And after all that you'll be relieved to know , after an ample dose of manly medicine ( watching football on television!) things are improving. My old Mum, long deoarted, would have commented, " If you're begining to think like that then there's not much wrong with you"!.

Well, after that burst on the banjo, let's get back to serious birdy matters. The most recent Clements updates relating to the World List are a bit of a shock with Green-winged Teal being lumped with Eurasian Teal, in a sense where we started from previously. Gull species are affected too and I can well see there'll be some contentious debate following the original changes, all of which have been incorporated into books, lists etc now, in effect being reversed. In the end it might actually result in a better understanding of such complex issues as there must now be a call for both explanation and justification of such abrupt changes. Not everyone will accept them, of course, which muddies the pool even further!!!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

9th January, 2009.

Whilst still out of things with flu the day, somewhat perversely, proved to be a good one!!

Firstly, backtracking a little! On the 6th, when I first came across the putative Canvasback, there was also another duck in the flock that was extremely elusive but, nonetheless, seen briefly on a few occasions. Andy Schofield also managed to see it a couple of times later and both of us were convinced it was a female Lesser Scaup!!!
Mainly due to tidal conditions the duration over which we studied it was relatively short and we never had it in flight. Then, of course, we ran out of daylight.

I mentioned it to Malcolm Ogilvie who expressed a reservation about it being in a marine rather than a freshwater situation. Later I unearthed a reference sugesting they can winter in sheltered bays along with Greater Scaup, which intrigued me further. By then Jim Dixon had said he would come across from the mainland and try and get photographs of the Canvasback, so I suggested he might keep an eye open for it on his visit as, whilst we were convinced of its identification, we needed better views of it to be entirely satisfied.

Imagine my delight when JD not only reported he had come across the bird but had photographs of it too!!! It was on Loch Skerrols, which is near to the head of Loch Indaal and entertains a succession of Greater Scaup parties in differing numbers. Presumably the bird had become "caught up" in one of these exchanges?

Two mega species in one flock.....what good fortune and certainly worth the five hour vigil on the 6th!! Sadly though the Canvasback wasn't even seen!! It's now critical that we get a photograph of it, and not just of the bird but of the bill, as this should be completely black with no other colouration, however slight, suggesting hybridisation along the line. Regrettably that's unlikely to happen over the next few days when we've some real filthy weather in store!!

Friday, January 9, 2009

8th January,2009.

Hi everyone! Precious little today as I'm out of it completely with flu!!

The Canvasbak was seen first thing in the morning by Andy Schofield ,and for the first time in flight! He described it as "massive" set against the accompanying Greater Scaup, which goes some way towards dispelling concerns about its size. Jim Dixon from Argyll mainland is coming across tomoorrow to try and get some pictures of the bird, which will hopefully resolve any nagging doubts we have about it being any sort of hybrid, even showing minimum signs. Lets hope the conditions are kinder than these last few days.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

7th January,2009.

Sadly thick mist and headlights driving saw the begining to the day from home at 0830hours but conditions were improved by the time I arrived at the head of Loch Indaal. Andy had got there at 0830hours and seen the bird , but in poor conditions, but then the flock "disintegrated" and it hadn't remained with the 530 Greater Scaup present.Whilst one satellite fock of 60+ was found, Loch Skerrols checked , where Greater Scaup sometimes are present, and an appreciable wait completed in the hope for the other flock "segment" to return, no further sighting was achieved. I checked the whole of Loch Indaal to its mouth but, again, with no success. Whilst all this was disappointing I've every confidence that the bird is still here as the total number of Greater Scaup (at least 900+ ) are prone to move around , but then "re-congregate" so I'm sure it will be seen again. Famous last words!!!

Other than that, it was a fabulous day for birds!! Probably an all time maxima for Long-tailed Duck, with 32 being seen,(the bald headed , domed headed males already showing off in display), all three diver species, Slavonian Grebe, 20+ Pintail, plus great views of birds like Goldeneye, Eider, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Scoter, Light-bellied Brent Geese and successions of Barnacle Geese leaving their night time roost areas at the begining of our vigil. The 2nd winter Glaucous Gull fed on some unfortunate auk and repeatedley sparred with GBBG's. A vist to Loch Skerrols ( one of my favourite locations on Islay ) provide us with 21 Whooper Swans, a Coot, a male Pochard, Tufted Duck, Greater Scaup, Wigeon, Teal, Little Grebe and Mute Swan. A good day in anybody's notebook!

6th January,2009.

At commencement,and for most of the day, things were fairly routine until, going through part of the wintering Greater Scaup flock at the head of Loch Indaal, I found a Canvasback!!!! The head shape and bill contours make this bird unmistakeable (other than eliminating Aythya hybrids!)and although it was a 1st W male/female it was an absolute joy in the initial period following discovery until the flock went elsewhere.They returned after about two hours which allowed me to contact Andy Schofield to ensure some confirmation was secured.

Thankfully,both he and Louise Gregory managed to get there whilst viewing conditions were fairly reasonable, but deteriorating, and to get views of the bird which, at times, was difficult. It had a knack of merging successfully within the flock and choppy conditions didn't help either. Shortly afterwards James How and Michal Sur arrived, who were driving past and noticed the commotion!! Thankfully everyone got views of the bird and were agreed as to its identity although we all felt better light would have helped age/sex it more easily. By this time immature males should begin to show more characteristics of adult males, than being similar to a female. Whilst it does have a chestnut "cast" to its head and a slightly darker back I'm persuaded into thinking that the bird is an adult female given their plumage and colouration can vary.

Now, Canvasbacks apart, all this raises some interesting questions!!! Canvasbacks breed in NW North America and winter in SE America, very often consorting with
Greater Scaup. It must be presumed they both travelled here together, which rather demolishes the presumption that I believe many of us shared that "our" Greater Scaup come from Iceland, along with "our" Slavonian Grebes!!! I doubt we'll ever know the truth but it again raises queries about birdlife for which we have no solid answers , even in these modern times.

So the evening was spent looking at pictures of Canvasbacks, predominantly males I have to say ( sorry ladies) that are a bit special in full breeding plumage, all of which didn't help of course!!!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

5th January,2009.

A glorious day but with a rather fresh SE wind that was strong enough to spoil counting on Outer Loch Indaal. As it was a lot of birds appeared to have abandoned the outer area and moved into the "central" section witnessed by well over thirty Great Northern Divers being seen there.
As is customary at this time of year Herring Gull numbers begin to rise and noticeable concentrations were present at various places. A flock of around fifty Common Scoter comprised mostly females, although others could have been present in the "inner" section. A total of 43 Light bellied Brent Geese noted along the western shoreline, a mid winter figure that seems to grow as each year passes.
In the Rockside/Coul area a flock of around 50 Skylark fed in stubble, which was a very reassuring sight and , further on, Lapwings and ca.40 Golden Plover were present. Of interest, and at three locations, were Song Thrushes that were very dark in colour, begging the question whether these might be hebridensis individuals that had moved further south for the winter. There are still many questions to be answered!!!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

3rd January, 2009.

A rather busy and tiring day involving the return of the girls and our catching the 0700 hours ferry, so up at 0515hours ( not the natural rising time for young ladies, let it be said ). The "conversation" did mention parental cruelty but didn't go quite as far as threats to caLL Esther Rantzen, that doyen defender of sub-five footers!!! I'd looked forward to the journey along the Portnahaven-Kilchiaran coastal road before any disturbance had occurred but all we saw was a single Woodcock fleeing a roadside feeding patch!! The ferry journey was in darkness, as was my return one, so produced nothing!!

Following the hectic schedule I managed half an hour on my return in Lochgilphead. I was surprised at the good numbers of Black-headed Gulls around compared to the token presence we have on Islay currently. I couldn't find the Mediterranean Gull which had been seen recently but, save for one, I couldn't really find any useful vantage points either!! The outer areas of Loch Fynne were almost devoid of birds other than a few gulls, Heron, Mallard, Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Mute Swan and a couple of Little Grebe but, by then, the light was failing badly.

The late journey down the Rinns produced a really nice Barn Owl perched on the coastal fence between Carn and Craigfad Farms showing its back pattern off to good effect.

Friday, January 2, 2009

1st January,2009.

Happy New Year everyone!

Well, things didn't quite get off to the start we wanted! After going down to the village to watch the fireworks display to celebrate the New Year nothing really happened, so we came back home!! Later we learned they'd actually begun at 0045hours....everything has a timeless quality on Islay, even the New Year!

A tour around the south Rinns later in the day turned up nothing special except a few geese and waders. It was strange that, even seeing birds encountered over the last few days. brought with it a new excitement! A large pack of Barnacle Geese at Octomore (1500-2000) [ you're not really going to count them , are you Dad?] unfortunately included nothing else. The sea off the west coast showed nothing except two blokes fishing from a rowing boat!! Amidst a changing display of passerines in the garden of 11 species ( remember only three bushes ) a passing female Hen Harrier , quite a large one actually, caused temporary havoc. And so the start to the new recording year commenced!!