Saturday, February 28, 2009

26th/27th February,2009.

Two days taken out, quite deliberately, in order to catch up with some records work etc. The first was completely vindicated when daytime mist then turned to rain and produced a miserable outcome!!

Looking out on a couple of birdfeeders immediately outside the window two immediate conclusions could be reached, namely, that the wintering Blackbirds and Robin had left and that Chaffinches were either moving through or arriving back. Good numbers (30+) are now around along with several Reed Buntings, occasional Goldfinch and odd Coal Tit and Dunnock. A few Greenfinches have been through, all of them males. The female Sparrowhawk visits almost daily, regularly repeating the "diving into the bush" technique, but has also taken to sitting on the garden wall 2m. from the nearest feeder and less than 10m. from the window. She ignores my presence and movements and was there for twenty minutes yesterday. The fact that her presence has seen the Chaffiches retire to a nearby telephone line, from where they can escape more easily. doesn't yet appear to have registered. I've not actually seen her catch anything all winter!!!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

25th February, 2009.

After a morning at home spent the remaining part of the day at public sessions associated with the International Workshop being held on Islay to discuss issues relating to the Greenland White-fronted Goose. A sub-species, but one with such distinct distributions, both for wintering and breeding, that it is treated within the protective legislation of various countries as a full species.
The current world total is 23,000 and these birds breed on the western coast of Greenland. They winter mainly in Ireland and Scotland, with a couple of very small groups in England and in Wales. The main wintering ground in Scotland is on Islay and, in Ireland, on the Wexford Slobs. Many of the Irish sites , other than the main one, are showing reductions and this general picture appears to apply to the overall world population. The species has attracted continuing research both in the UK and Ireland, but also in Iceland , which the birds use as a staging post both on the outward and inward migrations. Serious concern is now being expressed about the status of the bird and the causes which are contributing to its reduction in population. Within the last couple of seasons all shooting has stopped within Iceland due to concerns over its plight, which action followed that imposed much time previously in both the UK and Ireland. Research in Greenland shows much incursion by Canada Geese into the same areas used by the "Whitefronts", although the direct conflict appears not to refer to the distinct nesting areas but to those used jointly by the parent birds of both species with their newly fledged young. Canada Geese are both aggressive and competitive and such interactions may be the contributing factors in the poor breeding success of the Whitefronts in recent times. Further work will obviously be required to determine the absolute factors involved and evaluate whether any solutions are possible. In the meantime it is imperative that everything possible is done to protect wintering sites and winter feeding sites, plus the invaluable "staging post" areas in Iceland.

Whilst an examination of the sub-species' autecology identifies much that is very specific and depressing in its complexity, there is almost an heroic element associated with them too. Besides flying north to Iceland in spring, they then continue on to Greenland, (after a break of around three weeks within which time they replenish their body fat reserves), but they then fly over the Greenland ice-cap to the western side of that country to their breeding grounds. Any bird that goes through all that is worth support!!!!

24th February, 2009.

Headed over to Jura on a rather cold ,damp and grey day but, thankfully, the weather held.
We,(Stuart Graham and myself), had resolved to try and get a couple more tetrads completed for the BTO Atlas survey prior to the winter survey season running out on the 28th!! This we did, and whilst the sun didn't shine on the righteous, the range of species seen was excellent. Best of all, I suppose, was the sight of two Golden Eagles and a White-tailed Eagle sailing high over the western hills allowing size, shape, wing "posture" and so on to be compared. Tremendous! Peregrine, Hen Harrier, Buzzard and Kestrel completed a nice array of raptors. A Black-throated Diver was offshore and, further north , we encountered two Great Northern Divers, all seen on a placid sea and affording good views. Overall we had a good assemblage of species, although some sections of forestry carried very little except numerous Robins ( thank goodness they're in song!). Some of the deciduous woodland on the eastern slope of the island, down on the coast north of Ardlussa, was almost devoid of birds and it will be interesting to see what is there during the breeding season.

Of course Red Deer are everywhere on Jura and are to be counted by the island's keepers next week. The total, based on past results, will probably be between 5,500-6,000 as the overall population is kept in check and monitored. Excellent views can be had of them, mostly studiously ignoring you until you cross an invisible boundary that invades their comfort zone!! Equally of interest was an Otter offshore at Lagg that put on a quite precocious performnace for quite a time!

Time too to have a chat with friends. The lady who now has my sheepdog ( Peat), to whom I shall be eternally grateful for the provision of a home. I didn't see him, which saved his confusion and my composure! Similarly, a revealing discussion with one of the keepers about the number of Mink on Jura and many of the smaller islands to the north. Bad news for much other wildlife given their rapacious outlook!

23rd February, 2009.

Misty with some rain early, and rather damp and penetrating! Improved later but still dull and grey.

Most importantly, "Happy Birthday , Katherine"!!!

Headed north up the Rinns as visiblity so poor at the southern end.Conditions over the Outer loch were such that not much could be seen although "inshore" Great Northern Divers (3) and Black Guillemot noted, the latter in resplendent breeding plumage and much easier to pick out than in the depths of winter. Ihe southernmost sector of Inner Loch held quite a number of dispersed groups of Eider and a similar pattern of Red-breasted Mergansers, mainly males
At Sunderland 4 Mistle Thrush seen to fly off to the north,suggesting their being migrants , particularly when local ones are in song on their territories. Little of note at Gorm, or at Gruinart, although the numbers of Lapwing at Ballinaby were impressive at 300 still.
On to Loch Skerrols where a good array of duck included the Lesser Scaup, together with Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Greater Scaup, Mallard, Wigeon, Teal. A Coot, Little Grebe, Mute swan and Whooper swan completed the "display" together with a large flock of Barnacle Geese in the fields beyond. A really rewarding spectacle! An intriguing aspect was that a majority of the duck then moved, only for some to return later. Which water they are moving to and from is still a mystery! Time didn't allow visits to Finlaggan and Ballygrant so we may yet solve the riddle on this one!!

At the head of Inner Loch Indaal more Eider and Mergansers were present together with Long-tailed Duck, Greater Scaup, Slavonian Grebe and both Great Northern and Red-throated Divers. A mixed dispersed flock of Ringed Plover and Dunlin ranged over the exposed mud and Bar-tailed Godwits rested far out in the "bay". The Greater Scaup numbers have fluctuated recently , not excessively so, but enough to indicate there are birds elsewhere , still lending hope that the "splinter group" might contain the Canvasback!!

The Hato Pinero issue in Venezuela is still as vexing as ever. One contact there has had informal warnings from government sources about being involved in the issue, a far cry from what we take for granted within our system of public consultation in this country. Predictably no response has come from the political group in the UK allied to Venezuela and its modern socialism. The threat to the area still remains but, currently, everything seems to be at a standstill.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

21st February, 2009.

A day of distinct parts! Fine but with quite heavy mist appearing in the evening.

Completed some of the strand stretches for the Beached Bird Survey run by the RSPB.In recent years the incidence of oiled birds appears to have thankfully diminished. In times past bird corpses could sometimes be found on many beaches outside of the major and tragic oil spill incidents which occasionally took place when tankers came ashore.
The accumulated figures helped in the campaigning for better regulations relating to the operations of ships. Irresponsible tanker crews sometimes flushed their storage tanks whilst at sea which, in effect, created a reduced oil spill but, nonetheless, used to pollute the marine environment and affect auk flocks out at sea. All such now appears to be a thing of the past!

Spent more time getting up to date on the Hato Pinero question in Venezuela and dealing with E-mails. Hopefully some positive action can now move forward to draw attention to what could be an absolute disaster for conservation on the Llanos.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

20th February,2009.

A reasonable day,a cold breeze along the coast ,but calmer elsewhere. It then spoilt itself with rain coming in during late afternoon.
A day spent completing BTO WeBS counts (Wetland Bird Surveys). A short seawatch was quite enjoyable with good visibility over towards a hazy Ireland. Ca.30 single Gannets were sailing around, with odd birds going through N, along with a Kittiwake. Numbers of Fulmars were similarly patrolling offshore having returned to their breeding areas, making occasional "inspection checks" of their cliff face sites. Occasional Auks sped past, all underlining the fact that another year of productivity is imminent.

A count of Outer Loch Indaal showed numbers of Great Northern Divers and a few Red-throated Divers to be present, but little else, other than a flock of Common Scoter. It's noticeable how feeding Common Gulls are recently prevalent on some pastures, with single birds beating their way up Loch Indaal from the sea to join the ever increasing flocks, doubtless having travelled up the Irish Sea from wintering quarters further south.

Whilst taking a break at Traigh an Luig the 1st winter Glaucous Gull sailed past at eye level, appearing slightly more "creamy" now in colour than its biscuit tones of the past few months. After a round of visits to various waters a period spent overlooking Inner Loch Indaal showed no sign of the Canvasback and numbers of Greater Scaup remain low! Odd Long-tailed Duck, Slavonian Grebe, Black Guillemot, and resplendent male Red-breasted Mergansers, plus other regular species, made up for the absence!

On to Loch Gruinart where an assemblage of duck included absolutely wonderful male Pintail and Shoveler on show and a lone Greenshank. My timing (again!) was in error as I couldn't find the Lesser Canada Goose still present in that area. Noticeable generally in NW Islay is the concentration, in some areas , of Lapwing and Golden Plover and, increasingly, flocks of Starling, which are much more widely spread , all indicators that spring is not far off. But, at present , all these factors are reinforced absolutely by the tremendous show of Snowdrops carpeting the woodland floor near to Bridgend, a lovely sight and a promise of what is in store. Occasional singing Skylarks and disjointed snatches from Song Thrushes, some more continous and practised than others, are now approaching commonplace on better days, but pride of place must go to a Mistle Thrush I heard singing at Bridgend on the 6th January!! A wee bit optimistic I fear!!!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

18th February,2009.

A fine day and very calm with the added bonus of sound carrying over distances, which is a nice change! A group of us was on the Isle of Jura completing survey work for the BTO Atlas.

For those who don't know Jura, it is a rather large,long island with a road running up its eastern coastline for most of its length. This makes it difficult in terms of completing survey work as , to reach any western parts , you've a long hike over fairly inhospitable ,boggy territory. This winter we've concentrated on covering tetrads down the eastrn sector, where most of the habitat diversity, in the form of deciduous woodland, conifer plantations and scrub areas, exist anyway.

All in all a good day bringing the total number of tetrads covered this winter into the mid-twenties. No mean feat and a tribute to the "Islay team" who have willingly supported the days in question. As expected, bird numbers weren't high but a reasonable variety was seen. The few hill areas we did cover carried very little indeed. One tettrad ( 2x2km ) had no birds "on the ground" at all.....any recorded were overflying. Much as we thought ,but necessary in the cause of science!! Or at least that's what I tried to persuade them!!!!

Monday, February 16, 2009

16th February,2009..

An early post in many respects! Finally the weather improved in that it was clear with even a little sunshine for some of the day. It then became a little murky to say the least!!
Spent most of the morning on E-mails relating to the Hato Pinero issue in Venezuela and then had a meeting at the RSPB office at Gruinart to finalise plans for Wednesday's BTO Winter Atlas Survey "bash" on Jura. Quite pleased, in advance, in terms of what will have been achieved this winter in terms of coverage.
Had a good look around Loch Indaal and, quite frankly, am a bit intrigued! Significant numbers of duck seem to have gone,particularly Wigeon. I could find no divers on the Inner Loch nor any grebes, although that can sometimes be down to luck! I could only pinpoint around 80 Greater Scaup, which is somewhat bizarre as they don't move out to that extent (800+) at this time of year. A report from a colleague in Berkshire, southern England has seen a similar exodus of Pochard from a wintering area. Awaiting the morrow!!

15th February, 2009.

Another day when, quite frankly, little serious birding could be done due to the weather. The mist was really thick at the onset and for most of the morning, lifted a little and then returned, receding more seriously towards evening. Hopeless!

And so more campaigning!! As you'll see in one of the comments, a friend had mentioned Water Aid as something gaining her support since visiting Ethiopia. Way back in the 1970's, when I was in Gambia, a commonplace sight was to see women and children carrying containers of water back to their villages from some local, natural, but not necessarily clean, supply. A necessary but demanding daily task!! More recent visits have shown the beneficial effects a "practical charity" , such as Water Aid, can achieve with safe water supplies now being present in the centre of each village. The design seems universal, with a pipe from the supply set centrally into a raised concrete plinth and a hand pump generating the flow of water. I suspect just as much gossip is exchanged as in out local post offices so other benefits arise from them too!!!

In Southern Ethiopia last March the heartrending sight of utterly emaciated cattle being driven many kilometres to a water supply brought home how close to the brink many people live, as villagers were in precisely the same predicament. Desperate circumstances demand desperate solutions, but to see people filling water cans from roadside puddles again reinforced the plight some have to face on a day to day basis. It was further rammed home when we had to visit three shops in order to find one where we could buy a bottle of water each!! A further key element was that we had the financial resources that allowed us to purchase a supply!! Setting all this against the absolute slendour of then seeing Ruspoli's Turaco, a very beautiful , but endangered bird, provided confusing contrasts and inner conflicts that required a lot of reflection on what is of real value!!
Anyway, to move these people away from such debilitating effects is precisely what Water Aid achieves where it can. It doesn't necessarily mean you donating money either. Helping their campaigns, usually by computer input, so it isn't onerous, is a key part of their functioning. So key into or use the new link opposite and, like me, set aside the shame of not having been involved before!!!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

14th February,2009.

Thankfully a little less misty which made it worthwhile going out. Birds generally are still not that numerous and it's very much a question of " meeting old friends" on any local outing. This morning proved to be no exception with the Lapwing and Golden Plover still being in evidence, a few thrushes, but little out on the open hill. The usual culprits appear to be at any feeding station, either in the village or elsewhere, but, at least down here, with a noticeable lack of Greenfinches. A female Sparrowhawk visited the garden yet again and repeated its "diving into the bush" trick after the birds that had sought shelter below.

Corvids were to the fore with several Ravens being optimistic and indulging in brief aerial antics. A party of eight Chough locally, birds I've not seen too often around home in this new year.

Viewing over the sea provided a forlorn picture with little in evidence although, gradually, the numbers of Common Gull are begining to increase , as has Herring Gulls previously. Patience and persistence as better days are sure to come!!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

13th February,2009.

Weather, worse, so let's not talk about it!! It did attempt to improve but, by then, I was deep into campaigning mode!
Before mentioning that may I just touch on the following? Recently I've been thinking of how best to improve this Blog site after occasionally tinkering about over the past few months. A recent suggestion( thanks Ron! ) about including photographs is something I intend to pursue, not just of birds, but landscapes and moths too. Being an ex "conservation campaigner" I'm also going to use it to extol people to contribute to those I'm involved in personally to lend weight to the case. Nothing radical or highly political, just the sensible expression of genuinely held views aimed at bringing about change. I've no illusions that the readership (numerically) of the Blog is still low so I'll put some effort into that too.However,one things bugs me !! Whilst Blogs are personal outpourings, is it the sort of thing people want to read? Dare I ask the question?

Anyway, yesterday was spent pursuing the apparent plight of the area in Venezuela I'd mentioned before (Hato Pinero ) . A huge ranch, admittedley privately owned , that the Government wishes to turn into a more intensive agricultural enterprise ( a "bread basket" in fact ). It's currently operated on very traditional lines, much of the landscape remains as ever was and, of course, it is absolutely marvellous for wildlife, particularly birds. I very much treasure the memories of the time I spent there and hope a reasoned solution can be applied to its future. So time yesterday was spent constructing a game plan of how best the value of the area for wildlife could be inserted into approaches to politicians, and others, without the views being ignored. Better still, how alternative and integrated ideas can be assembled. Various names in the UK have come out of the hat and I'm considering an open letter , which can be presented to a conference taking place in London in April. Despite the bad press both the country and its President has received, immense social progress has been achieved. It's so easy to take for granted the availability of health care, education, three meals a day and so on, but these are initiatives which have become a reality there within the last decade. The task now is to balance the retention of a resource, which could contribute to such needs, against what its potential can be in other ways when, in the not too distant future, a more expanded tourist industry is in place and the area can be seen as an important part of the country's natural heritage.

Friday, February 13, 2009

12th February,2009.

Not much to convey, I'm afraid. Foul weather, foul mood!! Mist and rain until mid-afternoon when it was too late to do anything and, worse still, the forecast suggests a repeat of such conditions for a few days yet!!!

Marshalling some optimism I set in motion arrangements to go over to Jura and complete some Atlas work next week. A "window" has appeared when all involved appear to be available, so all we need is good weather!! It's imperative that we get as many tetrads covered as possible prior to the end of February when the current Winter Survey concludes. And then, in April, the next Breeding Bird Atlas season begins!! The winter has shown that the reasonable conditions we've enjoyed previously can turn "negative" and prevent much from happening and I guess there'll need to be a realistic assessment of what is left and how best we achieve coverage over the final two winters. Whilst I know the work has been done, there's nonetheless quite an amount of data to commit into the system for Islay before we can develop a "game plan" for the future. At the end of the day, given the absolute minimum of volunteer helpers available here, the coverage achieved will be a fitting tribute to Islay's hardy stalwarts and their continuing willingness to support the surveys.
One aspect appears to have changed somewhat markedley this winter. Usually we have a noticeable presence of visiting birders , both at Christmas/New Year and thereafter. Much fewer seem to have been around, less "tour minibuses" and activities generally aren't as obvious. Doubtless this will have an effect on the number of incidental records received too, although I have to say there are "stalwarts" amongst these ranks as well whose contributions each winter, based on their week or fortnight holiday each season, are very much valued. You know who you are ( I've always wanted to write that )!!

And mentioning writing, has anyone ever read any novels by Henning Mankell? I have to admit to being a voracious reader , although I'm not usually drawn towards crime /detective novels. I picked up a book recently, from the library van, by the above author ("Firewall" ) and couldn't put it down! It figures Kurt Wallander, policeman in Ystad, Sweden and is packed with suspense and action from end to end. It also prompts you to lock the door and look under the bed before you retire, so be warned! He's written others involving the same character so I shall be on the lookout!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

11th February,2009.

Another nice day, slightly warmer and no frost to begin with. The hills retained a dusting of snow which provided a wonderful backdrop to the landscape below, for the most part bathed in sunshine.
The initial results from yesterday showed there to have been 14,000 Barnacle Geese assembled at the head of Loch Indaal in the morning. A very impressive sight and one that almost repeated itself today too.
At various places both Fieldfares and Redwing were present suggesting their having "filtered back" from Ireland (?) already in the clear overnight conditions or possibly they had been forced over from the mainland given the poor weather in various parts. Both Golden Plover and Lapwing are now to be seen concentrated at various points.
On the Oa an immature Golden Eagle made a long ,but shallow,"dive" at a grouse it had spotted on an adjacent hillside. Oh, to have such eyesight!!! Survey results would both extend and improve enormously!!! Previously a male Peregrine had circled the whole area below the large radio mast at Port Ellen, thoroughly but in a matter of seconds!!!

The geese were largely where they had been yesterday so a useful comparison can now be made of the two sets of figures for the purposes of the international census. At one point we "lost" quite an appreciable number Of Barnacle Geese, only to find them packed together on the beach at Kintra. Again, these birds were possibly roosting after a session of night feeding. Sometimes it's useful to simply listen for geese you are looking for , but can't see, as they're very vocal and sociable and can be traced to some unseen spot.

And then the journey home, with the coast of Northern Ireland clearly visible along the horizon, picked out in an endless variety of hues of grey and violet, but occasionally lit by golden bands of sunlight streaming from behind low cloud.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

10th February,2009.

A harsh frost but with a beautiful day to follow made it a joy to be out. Counting geese on the Oa and SE Islay sector for what is the international count. Driving into Bowmore, before commencing, thousands of Barnacle Geese were present on Bridgend Flats, presumably preparing to spend most of the day resting up after a night feeding below the full moon.
Our counts too saw most geese congregated in given areas, which obviously makes the counting easier. Nothing else of particular note around except a few Redwing here and there. The opportunity to access various farms, and their stackyards, helps to confirm how widespread and how many Reed Buntings we actually have on Islay. In many places more obvious than Chaffinch!
A White-tailed Eagle has turned up on the Solway generating much conjecture as to its origin. It too appears not to carry any wing tags or rings. In 2008, due to a licensing difficulty, no White-tailed Eagles were wing tagged. They do have a ring on the left leg carrying two no.s. Having said all that the bird at Bridgend last week wasn't tagged but, despite good views, I think it would have been an act of faith to say it wasn't ringed!
Had another look for the Canvasback, but without any success. Indeed the Greater Scaup flock appeared to have reduced even more by about 40/50 birds. It was in the same place as previously, in relatively calm conditions, which normally would see a lot of birds present.

Monday, February 9, 2009

8th February,2009.

A day not dis-similar to yesterday , although we actually did have a few snow flurries late afternoon. Nothing exciting on the bird front, although I didn't go very far up the Rinns.
On Thursday, whilst we were goose counting, we had a Greenland White-fronted Goose at Cladville wearing a collar (J3H), which was there again today. Second time around it did register as the bird I'd first seen on the 8th October,2008 and which had been caught and ringed in Western Greenland on 16th July, 2008. I looked out my original notes and, yes, it was the bird whose details Tony Fox had kindly confirmed etc. Without turning back the Blog this was the bird that was part of a group of White-fronts found resting at Claddach Loch on the 8th October, presumably newly arrived. Despite searches over the ensuing days I didn't find it again and presumed it had perhaps moved through to Ireland. Good to see it's still prospering and wintering locally. Given that wintering geese are generally faithful to a selection of feeding areas it will be interesting to keep an eye out for it in future winters too, although I don't envy its journeys to and from Greenland!!!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

7th February,2009.

I was somewhat annoyed with myself as I'd followed a weather forecast that predicted snow and poor conditions for us here, which turned out to be totally wrong. A great day, but with a strong, cold northerly wind which kept everything "down". My intentions to have a day in and get paperwork done were set aside in part but, in all honesty, the change in direction produced nothing!! Out on the south Rinns in the morning was very quiet with little that was different. The Lapwing and Golden Plover flocks were still at Cladville, together with odd Redshank, but nothing was on the move over the sea. Small birds are at a premium.

As you might imagine, watched the Six Nations Rugby matches in the afternoon/evening. Well, with two players called Armitage, brothers actually, in the England team, and whose father is called John, it seemed necessary!! The game was poor and nothing to compare with that between Ireland and France , which followed. The latter had two of my favourite players in it anyway ( Chabal and O'Driscoll ).

Friday, February 6, 2009

6th February,2009.

Actually our weather today was very similar to yesterday, in its pattern, with slight snow overnight and then a reasonable day to follow. Except the wind is now northerly and very cold!!!

Set out with the intention of trying to determine how many "white winged" gulls we actually had in the northern most part of the island. Various birds , both Glaucous and Iceland, have been reported and of varying ages and it's never easy to know if they are wintering or just passing through. In the end I saw the regular immature Glaucous Gull west of Bridgend, at the head of Loch Indaal, and the fully adult Iceland Gull uo at Bunnahabhain, which I believe is now returning for its fifth winter, An absolutely stunning bird!
A prolonged look for the Canvasback amongst the 300+ Greater Scaup on Loch Indaal was unsuccessful but not helped by rather choppy viewing conditions. I did genuinely feel the bird was not with them and we really need the whole flock to appear. It's ridiculous where so many birds can disappear to!!!

A male Goosander near to Bunnahabhain was a good Islay record but, of equal interest, was the absence of any on the loch on Jura , which can be viewed over the Sound of Islay. This latter site was the more reliable until the fish farming enterprise finished and , increasingly, the loch holds few, if any,birds.
As yesterday a few Redwing, a flock of Fieldfare at Ellister but little else that is evidence of change. Hardly surprising with the weather which, incidentally, is more or less our normal winter dosage, not a once in 18years occurence as is being pleaded by southern parts of the UK !!

5th February, 2009.

A pre-dawn peek at the weather saw a sprinkling of overnight snow ,which was then the precursor to a quite nice day. Cold, but fine, and with some bright, sunny periods.
A further surprise awaited me as I drove into Bowmore! Looking over the exposed Flats, just after Bridgend, the immense shape of a Sea Eagle could be seen perched out on a projecting rock, but I coudn't stop as it was "rush hour" (well I did have a car in front of me and one behind!!). Malcolm (Ogilvie ) and myself were counting geese together, and had to travel past the spot again, so we managed absolutely tremendous views of this immature bird feeding on what looked like a dead Heron. An intrusive Raven looked quite small by comparison!! The eagle showed no wing tags and, presumably, is one of the several birds which have been present off the east coast of Islay or down in the very south east of the island.
Our "partnership" for the day had a motive behind it, besides counting geese!! Malcolm has recently returned from a month down in Antarctica so we had ample opportunity to have a good, long chat about it. Absolutely fascinating and looking forward to a couple of talks which are being prepared.
The main goose contenders ( Barnacle and Greenland White-fronts ) showed no surprises, but we both agreed that the Grey-lag Goose numbers appeared to be gradually creeping up again. Perhaps the counts on Tuesday and Wednesday next week, when effort is put into establishing precisely the actual population figures present, rather than the distribution of geese, will allow a comparison with those earlier in the winter.
It was a joy to be out; with the eastern hills clothed in snow and providing a spectacular backdrop, the clear sky and fine light the day swept away all memories of the poor weather we've had in recent days!!!
An odd party of Redwing at a couple of places ( dark birds wth wide eyestripes ), some noticeable parties of feeding Curlew, and a few places with dispersed groups of Lapwing suggest spring is "round the corner".

A really enjoyable day in a variety of respects!!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

3rd February, 2009.

Thankfully we've not suffered from any of the snowfalls that have affected other parts of the country and, on Sunday,even had a very pleasant day. Whilst I was out yesterday on the southern Rinns everywhere is rather quiet, with bird numbers seemingly down to a minimum. The time has also allowed me to complete a mammoth "push" on admin work, not quite completed, but improved.

I was entertained this morning to receive the first copy of the newsletter of the Sam Veasna Centre in Cambodia. The Centre was set up by friends of Sam Veasna after he died of malaria at the age of 35. An excellent fieldman I'm sure he'd be very proud to see the great strides forward that conservation has secured in his name.
Last year at this time I was in Cambodia on the Oriental Bird Club trip which makes use of the various community centres run by SVC and WCS. Village communities have agreed to give up hunting over their lands in "exchange" for involvement in local centres like Tmatboey from which they receive payment for looking after the facilities, providing local guides etc. As a result of such initiatives the White-shouldered Ibis population has risen from two adults, yes TWO, in 2002 to 23 adults in 2008.....a tremendous result for what is a very rare bird. As one of the 128 people who visited there last year I feel both privileged at having seen such work succeed but, also, feel a sense of hope that such schemes can achieve such marvellous results. Other schemes are afoot and I most certainly hope I shall be able to go back, meet old friends and enjoy the wonderful food too!!! Anyone who is into world birding should consider this trip, but also take in other areas of Cambodia too. It's a fabulous country, trying very hard to regain its feet after a turbulent past and it deserves every support. WCS, as an American organization we don't hear too much about in the UK, is doing a sterling job.....the quiet, positive side of American support for which it deserves every shred of praise. Try it in 2010 and see Giant Ibis, Milky Stork, White-winged Duck plus many, many more! Asian heaven!! If anyone wants more information at any time just come back to me and , in between, take a look at

Sunday, February 1, 2009

28th/31st January, 2009.

A rather fortunate return choice as the last four days have seen Force 7/8 south easterlies giving us a battering with ferries being disrupted. As ever, when it's like this, the best thing is to simply settle down and get all the "inside tasks" done. The wind moaning and whistling throughout the day and night provides little respite and can be quite wearing, but that's life.

As ever, no surprises awaited my return and, with seemingly poor weather throughout the period I've been away, little of consequence appears to have been seen either. A timely absence thankfully!

26th/27th January, 2009.

Generally a rather leisurely return journey back to Islay, with somewhat poor weather on the 27th. Precious little seen but a good opportunity to reflect on the many good places and sightings of the past week.

25th January,2009.

No respite, up early doing a round of visits to Matthew's WeBS count sites near to Penistone, South Yorshire. Nice to visit previous birding haunts but, sadly, some lamentable changes and developments too! Overall, though, a good selection of waterbirds at the various reservoirs we covered. A real bonus was finding a Little Owl perched in the shelter of a stone wall and giving fine views. Equally satisfying were several views of Red Grouse at different locations in the moorland areas we visited and two Ravens near Winscar, a species that has secured a remarkable recovery in the Peak Park area in recent years.

A journey through to Fairburn Ings RSPB reserve to see Long-eared Owl. There has been six at maximum, but daily sighting totals vary. Today only one was in view, puffed out with the cold but showing well at distance in the bright, and welcome, winter sun! Said farewell to Matthew, for the present time, and went through to York to see Ashley for a Dad/daughter gossip. Already half way through the course at the College of Law, time seems to have flown by since the autumn. A pleasant meal with her and Dan and then back to Fairburn for an overnight.

24th January, 2009.

Early departure with no time for birthday reflections (mine). Called at Santon Downham and had a walk along the river, in both directions, but nothing out of the ordinary. Very cold with a serious frost. An attempt to see the Great Grey Shrike at Lakenheath met with failure and the Redpoll flock there previously appeared to have moved on.
Went past Coveney for the Rough-legged Buzzard, which also allowed us to grab some food. Various groups around , one of which had located the very pale Common Buzzard reported previously from this same area.
Pressing on, not least from the cold, we went across to Rutland Water. A whole selection of nice birds present (2 Great Northern Diver, 23 Red-crested Pochard {surely these aren't all escapes, time to grasp the nettle!},1, poss. 2, Black-necked Grebes, Tree Sparrows at the Centre and a very distant Smew ). A fitting end to what had been a very good holiday!

23rd January, 2009.

Mobile again we retraced our steps to Felbrigg in rather grey and dismal weather. I really like this area with the mature deciduous woodland, the secluded lake, all overseen by the imposing hall.
We had excellent views, and on several occasions, of Hawfinch with the closest flight views I've ever secured. Really good. A walk down to the lake produced an assortment of common duck species but also a pair of Mandarin skulking in the shelter of the flooded woodland. Nuthatch and other common passerines were seen and a mutual resolve to spend a complete day here on some occasion.
Moving south we took the obligatory breakfast sandwiches at the Kingfisher Restaurant at Walcott ( which means you can seawatch at the same time from the car!)
A Black-throated Diver and a couple of passing Guillemots were all we managed as things were very quiet.

Passing through Great Yarmouth we had good views of several adult Mediterranen Gulls hanging around the carparks but nothing else offshore. The weather was now deteriorating with the wind rising and stinging rain showers. A call at Lowestoft produced no Black Redstart but a walk along the dockland foreshore showed Sanderling, Turnstone and some exceptionally close Purple Sandpipers, somewhat marred by the worsening weather. A single Shag graced the inner harbour.
Moving on we had a flock of 23 Waxwing in trees adjacent to the main road south, resulting in some ( I thought expert! ) vehicle manouvering, which left a local lady and her dog considering their lives were in jeopardy!! Seamless execution I thought, ... oh dear, that's perhaps what she was thinking!!!

A final visit to Kessingland, on a day when you'd to keep moving to survive ( it's that woman with her dog again!! ) and with the cold wind really cutting across everything, our attempting to find Firecrest at the local sewage works was perhaps ill-fated from the begining. A Chiffchaff was but small consolation following a very brief glimpse of a "crest" which never called and couldn't be relocated. Our return journey, with the weather relenting slightly, saw us looking, in a relaxed fashion,
at some large flocks of Pink-footed Geese. Whilst we got nothing special it was exciting to be parked up in close proximity to them and to watch all the squabbling and strife within this very large feeding flock.
And so, an evening spent getting ready for an early departure to enable us to call in at various places on our return journey. A good week, not perhaps progressing as smoothly or successfully as some in the past, but one with some nice surprises, some excellent views of good birds and one having provided an opportunity to catch up with friends too. In that context, may I say, " Thanks, Patrick", for a variety of help and information throughout the week.

22nd January,2009.

A bad day!! Set off to Felbrigg in heavy rain and , progressively, began to have problems with the car again! Having got on site we took stock and decided to find a garage/agent as the weather was still foul. Eventually we traced a Nissan specialist located, wait for it, two miles from Holt!!! We limped back , as we were now losing power, belching out fumes and certainly not helping the climate!!
May I pay tribute to Crayford and Abbs, the garage, as they sorted out the problem, relayed us back and forth to Holt and restored the situation back to normal. Matthew's eventual prognosis proved correct in that the cause of the problem was a stuck "Exhaust Gas Recirculation Valve", now happily cleaned and refitted resulting in the car feeling like new!!!
One consolation was that it rained nearly all day, whilst we remained in the cottage avoiding it all. Bad day finally turned to good day with the return of the car and we spent the rest of the evening planning how best to play catch-up on the sites we'd missed visting.

21st January,2009.

Again, a day spent "working" the endless good spots along Norfolk's north coast.By now much of what we were seeing we'd encountered before, but the weather was improved and it was a joy to be out and about. Some excellent views of various species including a duo of Water Rails "working" the ditch near the Centre at Titchwell, overcoming their usual reticence in the hunt for food supplies.
A rather dispersed flock of Velvet Scoter off Hunstanton within an equally strung out flock of Common Scoter was unexpected, seen below wheeling Fulmars now having arrived back at their neaby breeding cliff.
Went on to Dersingham Bog, a national reserve and, again, a site I'd only overlooked before. What an atmospheric place! Whilst we saw little (not including the reported Great Grey Shrike!!), it was a joy to walk around and pledge a return, perhaps in summer. A party of Goldcrest frenetically working their way through the gorse and heather was entertaining as they secured a last feed before roost.

Another enjoyable day which began to be marred by problems with the beloved and reliable Nissan X-trail, surely not!! After discussions etc we concluded it was a bum load of fuel I'd received and a partial tank filling seemed to improve the problem!.

20th January, 2009.

Spent some time local to Holt looking for the black-bellied Dipper that was using a nearby stream as its feeding territory. Reports had come from widely spaced locations due, I suspect, to the stream having quite high levels in parts. Several people were about but the bird proved elusive.
Then went on to Sculthorpe Reserve, where I'd never been before. It's run by the Hawk and Owl Trust and is an absolutely delightful place. Located in the Wensum Valley it comprises saw sedge fen (an important habitat for preservation ) with accompanying woodlands. Facilities are new with extensive boardwalks, hides (web cam players, which include Marsh Harriers in the breeding season ) plus it's good for birds!!!! One of the more reliable places for Willow Tit in Norfolk, which we had, it also provided excellent views of many other feeding passerines, including Brambling. A single male Golden Pheasant was nice!! A place to revisit in the
Bill now had to leave so we revised our plans a little and went up to the north coast. Looked around the Wells area, which was quiet,although we did manage to find a Black Brant amongst a flock of dark bellied Brent Geese in that aarea. Moving east we scoped a large pack of Pink-footed Geese beyond Stiffkey and found two Bean geese amongst them, gaining much better views than we've usually achieved at Cantley!! It was surprising how easily they merged into the press of birds and were repeatedly
A seawatch at Salthouse produced nothing, but the nearby 1st winter Glaucous Gull was a positive diversion. A walk around Kelling Heath was pleasant in nice but cold weather but produced little other than foraging tit parties. Back to Cley where, at the Coastguards, we had some distant Common Scoter and a nice flock of 40 Snow Bunting containing at least three adult male birds. A little later we parked at the eastern end of the reserve intending to count in roosting Marsh Harriers. A year tick in the form of Chris Harbard appeared, who I've not seen for a few years, diverted things a little but we had a number of birds over the reed beds.
Returned to Holt to catch a part of the Inaugration Ceremony of Barack Obama, the new President in the USA. A real moment of history in my opinion, a black man as president with a newly awakened electorate, hopeful and proud. His statements already lend hope for a troubled world and will hopefully also result in the USA regaining a more dignified position and reputation, as much for its own sake as any other! God forbid the minority factions, in which that country seems to excel, will leave him alone to work at the opportunity he deserves.

19th January, 2009.

Down to Lynford Arboretum for just after dawn with an expectation of Hawfinch, of which there was none!! Contrasted against previous years it actually seemed fewer birds of all species were around. A flock of 60 Siskins was nice , as were views of Roe Deer and Muntjac. Met up with Bill Stone here and we all went across to Lakenheath RSPB Reserve where we bumped into Neil Calbrade (BTO)who I'd intended to contact with a couple of issues whilst down in Norfolk!! As we were all with friends I left business aside and we all set about trying to locate the Great Grey Shrike ( they did, we didn't!!). Compensation came in the form of two Common Cranes, Bearded Tit and excellent views of a Water Pipit and a couple of tantalising glimpses of Chinese Water Deer.
Later, looking over the lagoon near the car park we were entertained by an absolute bonanza of gulls ( Black-backs, Herring, Yellow-legged, Caspian,Common and BHG).Despite living near the sea gulls aren't a feature of life on Islay. Most move out in early winter and its not until early spring that we get large numbers of adult Common and Herring Gulls arriving and moving through.
Moved on to Weney in the early afternoon and scanned over the floodland for the Great White Egret which is present. As previously hordes of duck and swans were about but we made no progress in seeing the egret until receiving some instructions from the warden ( many thanks ) about it having taken up residence in a particular ditch nearby. And there it was.....a magnificent bird in perfect surroundings. Whilst there we also had Grey Wagtail and a Green Sandpiper, the latter being a species that I don't normally see until the autumn nowadays.

A good day!!