Tuesday, March 31, 2009

30th March,2009.

The day promised much until the mist and drizzle rode in in successive waves , persisting until mid afternoon. Undeterred it provided an opportunity to get out after a couple of days necessarily involved in other issues. Incidentally, the Hato Pinero problem in Venezuela appears to be on "hold" for some strange reason, as no further action has taken place. Possibly the fact that the Government has now taken over the country's airline, Aeropostal, initially introduced by the French over 80 years ago, is engaging the process of "social progression" to saturation point!! Despite another attempt to enlist help and advice on the subject from the Parliamentary Labour Support Group linked to Venezuela their Chairman has not deigned to respond!

Some evidence of GBBG's and LBBG arriving down on the Rinns, a few Gannets around but nothing of particular note arising from a sea watch. The last few days has seen Meadow Pipit numbers increase, with many birds assuming territory more or less immediately. An attempt to count Great Northern Divers on Loch Indaal came to nought after a while given the visibilty. I'm amazed at the number of pairs of Grey lag Geese at various spots, besides the presence of small parties too. Do these filter in to Islay ,via the Rinns, from some, as yet unknown ,wintering area on the mainland? I suspect we might see another increase in our population this breeding season.

Given the weather the opportunity to visit friends appeared the most sensible option and provided the wonderful chance to have excellent views of the female Great Spotted Woodpecker in their garden. The bird has been here most of the winter and is a real "bonus" bird for Islay. Whilst there have been many claims of brief sightings over the years, usually in late autumn, it isn't a species we have in residence and many local birders had yet to see one until this individual arrived. It will be interesting to see whether it moves back, presumably to the mainland, or remains.

And finally, by way of an update!! At the very point, literally, of Ian Brooke intending to explain the intricacies of transferring photographs on to Blogs, we had an electricity supply failure. This threatened to be serious as it alledgedly was affecting the whole west coast of Scotland but, thankfully, all was restored a couple of hours later. In such circumstances the irony of having a wave generation plant a couple of kilometres down the coast from me, which has been proved viable but never linked to the grid, fails to placate!!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

26/27th March.2009.

For the past two days we've had persistent winds between F6-8 throughout day and night. Relentless, wearing, noisy and utterly hopeless for any kind of productive wildlife work! On the night of the 26th I heard the wheelie bins involved in a weird pas de deux, back and forth on the concrete apron between the house and the barn. Sure enough, next morning, one was flung over the wood heap and the other was way down the track, its contents wind strewn across the adjacent field!

The night of the 27th was one of those designated as a survey date for the national Garden Moth Scheme for which one attempts to trap whatever the conditions. Despite best efforts to tie down the trap it was hopeless and I'd fears the actual tube would be whisked away and be broken!! With luck conditions may begin to improve...

Birding locally on both days produced very little with small birds hardly in evidence at all. Regular sightings on both days of a hunting male Hen Harrier suggested a lack of success as it was tossed about in the wind above a moving sea of juncus! The sight of a few Herring Gulls and six Hooded Crows hunkered down on the ground behind a grass knoll was a sure sign things were a bit desperate!! The sea was a boiling cauldron of foam and breakers on the 26th with little in evidence except the occasional Shag or Gannet. With the winds changing to northerly a temporary halt is doubtless applying to all aspiring summer migrants attempting to reach their intended summer breeding haunts.

This week saw a very telling TV programme relating to the 20th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez disaster, the super tanker which came aground in the Arctic and caused so much environmental degradation. Human error and incompetence appeared to be the basic causes but, thankfully, no similar incident has occurred since then. $2 billion has been spent on clean up operations, even then not necessarily sorting out all the problems it is claimed by some and $1 billion paid out in damages. A sobering thought! One can't escape the irony of the the resource that caused such devastation then contributing to factors involved in climate change that is now, again, having such a drastic impact on Arctic environments!!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

25th March,2009.

A day largely spent on domestic chores but with the odd highlight arising, e.g. a male Hen Harrier hunting immediately outside the house and Stonechats back locally.

Reflecting on the past couple of weeks or so I was surprised to find that I'd seen 44species of bird within the 2-3 sq.km surrounding the house at Kirkhill and all seen whilst dogwalking!! Not bad, but the most interesting point is that all the records were from "ordinary countryside" not from any protected or reserve areas. In this sense the future and management of such areas is of paramount importance as they play such a crucial role in the retention of our national biodiversity.

Whilst the panacea for such concerns is to usually try and pass on the responsibility to farmers and landowners there is much that can fall within the aegis of our established institutions!! Looking around generally the small plots of land or woodland, the roadside hedgerows that Local Authorities seem so intent on "maintaining" beyond the retention of any value, the strips of land alongside railways, roadside verges, laneside banks, churchyards....the list goes on! All have relevance and I believe will have an increasing role to play in supporting our wildlife. Much has been done, but there is a need to be ever alert to the possibility of a potential loss of value. Each and every action needs to be contemplated as the "we've always done it this way" may need to be revised from time to time. Reintroductions of the more spectacular species appear to be in vogue nowadays matched, somewhat perversely in my view, with annual reports of gloom that catalogue the ever decreasing populations of all too many of the "commoner" species. Perhaps we need to be a little more alert on our "current watch" and provide more attention to the mundane rather than the iconic!!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

24th March,2009.

A final walk out early morning before leaving to return to Islay. The wind had dropped , although it was still cold, a mere prelude to the conditions that would arise later in the day!!
Three Whooper Swans did a fly past, bugling all the while, and a dog Red Fox stole along the edge of the woodland strip above us, showing mainly in silhouette but displaying a fine brush to good effect. I doubt the dog actually saw it but the scent was enough to excite!! Soon enough it was time to set off and take the girls through to school after having a chat with their Mum, who'd arrived back overnight, and then turn south westwards for the long journey to the ferry terminal. Usually the Highland scenery is sufficient to sustain any long journey, but not when the cloud base lowers and the mist rolls in, the wind rises and rain gives you an absolute hammering every inch of the journey! Suffice to say I saw very few birds!! Respite was in the form of a "supermarket shop". taking advantage of an empty car, before the last leg of the journey. Immediately prior to the boat's sudden appearance out of the mist I'd reservations about either its arrival or return but the weather ameliorated a little and, whilst slightly late , we set off. The journey home across the island was pretty poor with very heavy , "horizontal" showers. Close to home a ewe and her two lambs, and not very old ones at that, were loathe to leave the road, where at least the surface had some comparative dryness from that of the adjacent moor. What a way to enter the world!! A bad day, but a signal of new beginings.

Monday, March 23, 2009

23rd March,2009.

As I write this on the morning of the 23rd, Spring, in all its glory, has gone somewhat into reverse!! Heavy rain overnight, low temperatures now and a cutting wind, and snow forecast for later. Occasional sunny periods are prompting song and the local Chiffchaffs are stoically continuing.
A hectic period since Friday with Technical Rehearsals, Dress Rehearsals, Rehearsals and actual performances at the Festival of Dance at Eden Court in Inverness. Not for me,you understand, but for Number 3 daughter, Katherine, who did very well. Actually, I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to the next occasion.
I'll be on my way back to Islay tomorrow in what I hope will be reasonable conditions! At least an advantage arising from this time of year is that inclement weather tends not to last.....

Friday, March 20, 2009

20th March,2009.

Yes, as I'm sure you've noticed, I've got the dates wrong!!! The penalty of doing entries across the midnight hour!! The previous 20th March entry refers to the 19th of course!! Apologies.

20th March,2009.

Following the mist clearing in the valley, which it did fairly rapidly, we again had an absolutely fabulous day!! Spring is actually here...but for keeps?
The early morning walk had Pink-footed Geese calling in the mist from the lower fields of the wide valley whilst we looked down on its cotton wool expanse. Our return saw four Roe Deer burst through from the adjacent field, cross the road and continue over the extensive plough to the woods beyond. Amazingly their body colour blended so well with that of the dark earth that all that could be seen was four white hindquarters rising and falling in line towards the woodland boundary. The dog never saw them, but did a sterling job once he had the scent with an Olympic standard tug of war ensuing with all the excitement!!
Later a single Small Tortoiseshell butterfly passed over the garden and, from lunchtime, a single Chiffchaff called from the tangled spinney behind the house, its initial song being quite haphazard and dis-jointed until, after a fairly infrequent series of efforts and at the end of the afternoon, its song arose strongly and in the familiar cadence from which its name arises.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

18th March,2009.

An absolutely glorious day eventually and a pleasure to be outside! For once the day had the smell, as well as the warmth, of spring so we might yet be on our way!!
In between short jaunts out had a long wander around locally. In one of the stubble fields down by the river around 1300 Pink-footed Geese were feeding along with much fewer numbers of Grey-lag Geese, all intent on putting on weight and getting in the best of condition before moving back to their northward breeding haunts. The noise was quite something as they squabbled, socialised and communicated in their inimitable way, providing an audible backdrop that will soon disappear with their departure and leave a major absence of sound enveloping the landscape despite the best efforts of the remaining spring songsters!

At the other end of the day a couple of Pipistrelle-sized bats were around the house and trees confirming how mild it had suddenly become!!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

16th March,2009.

A poor day until late in the afternoon when very pleasant. Went into the nearby woods ostensibly to look for Crested Tit,but without success. Whilst they're there I suspect the popuation is quite low. Little else of note except the "local" Buzzards have obviously decided where they'll be breeding again and gave a fine display over one of the clearings.
Based on the frantic sniffing and obvious excitement from the dog, I'm always envious of what we must be missing when out in the countryside. Admittedley much will have passed by hours previously, but to be able to see everything that uses a given area would,I suspect, be a huge surprise.

Monday, March 16, 2009

15th March,2009.

I have to confess from the start that today's entry barely touches on wildlife as, despite time spent out, little of note or difference was seen, although much is around. Perhaps the time can be used for "social commentary".......

In times past the occasional opportunity arose to visit a friend, play, stay for tea and scramble back home on a late bus! Such has now become embedded in the culture as....THE SLEEPOVER!!! I'm not sure if the expression has made the Oxford Dictionary yet, or what the definition would be, but it seems to entail retiring to an upstairs room, spending an endless time on Bebo,staying up very late, hopefully watching a PG rated film,and eating!! Oh ,lots of eating, all the while this being accompanied by a litany from the daughter excluded from the proceedings as to how supplies of anything digestible are disappearing and now we've no apple juice left either!! It all sounds like the reportage of a trader at the Stock Exchange when there's a definite downward run on retail consummables! Eventually, all subsides and you're left with a minimum number of hours to regain your sanity, rest and be ready to deal with the late morning request of "What's for breakfast?"

And then there's dogs! Never stay in a house where the owner has bought the dog a squeaky tennis ball!!! Dogs have an uncanny ability to equal the sound pitch of a football commentator whilst musically masticating behind the settee during the most dramatic parts of a match, in this case that between Rangers and Celtic. And what a match too! Regardless of the outcome both teams provided an occasion to remember with end to end action throughout.

And so, as I lie in my bed at the end of the day, my fists gradually unclenching, I think, " I wonder if I should apply to be on the TV programme, "Grumpy Old Men"? No comments please!!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

14th March,2009.

Finally a day that "held", perhaps indicating the weather is finally begining to improve!!
I was struck today by the fact that , since I arrived up here, I'd only recorded Redwings on the first day, and never since, and no Fieldfares at all. By now I would have thought they would have been begining to move back east. A further contrast is that I've had a single Pied Wagtail only, whereas, back on Islay they're most certainly a spring feature! The intriguing elements of bird movements and distributions!!
Lesser Redpoll now seem to be more numerous locally than do Siskins, with a few of the latter coming to the bird feeders, including the odd resplendent male!!
Looking at various websites little seems to be happening on Islay, although a White-billed Diver has been reported off Mull.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

13th March,2009.

Well, the girls have survived my cooking for a whole week and I'm much more conversant with a wide selection of walks locally in what is quintessential Scotland. Woodlands, farmland, snow capped hills as a background and the Beauly Firth just in the valley below us! A week that has gone by all too quickly in many respects! The routines of school buses, dancing classes, guitar practice,quilting club, hockey matches, all an amalgam of confusion at the begining,, have now fallen into place leaving more time to explore around. Well, that's when the weather's fine, that is!! There's a gradual atmosphere of improvement with birdsong in full swing but litte, other than gorse, in flower. Doubtless the next week will see a huge difference.
Friends in southern England report the arrival of Wheatear and Sand Martins so we can expect records to begin arising up here quite soon. Comparisons with years previous show these arrival dates to be amazingly close and so begins the spectacle of spring which emerges each year. Having said all that, data is begining to show that ,in some respests, certain natural and annual phenomena are begining to happen earlier as each year goes by. A consequence of global warming and a subject area that we must all necessarily address at a personal level. In some respects the urgency of the situation appears not to have registered with some people. Whilst I have grave reservations about the location of some windfarms, I was amazed to hear on the radio yesterday that a significant proportion of windfarms had been turned down on appeal based on the opposition of local groups etc. My own opposition stems from the siting of such developments where the our natural heritage would be grossly affected, the proposals on Lewis were an example of this. Not all proposals are as damaging ,except visually perhaps? This is where "personal aesthetics" enters the stage and not a little "not in my back yard" reaction too! Whilst I can empathise with the latter, such a reality begs we perhaps need to have an even better consultation and site selection process to begin with, rather than waste resources arguing over proposals that are finalised and submitted to the planning process. There may also come a time when we all might need to accomodate our personal best preferences within the cause for the common good!!!

It does always make me smile to see the grand old windmills of yesteryear operating as tourist facilities. I ponder the question of whether the current visitors would have objected to the presence of these numerous structures in times past had they lived in their vicinity? Perhaps we ought to consider "past quaint" and "current
elegant" as selection criteria........,

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

10th March,2009

Early morning saw a fine flock of around 30 Lesser Redpoll not far from the house. As ever restless and calling, their trilling /churring calls ( how do you describe Redpoll calls? )seemingly being very slightly lower in pitch than normal, although the birds showed no obvious signs of being any different!!
From time to time concern has been expressed about the population of Song Thrush in Britain. With the upsurge in post dawn song it's nice, for once, to have a positive line to report in that they appear to be in quite good numbers locally!
The final walk of the day saw an almost full moon in evidence, and calm conditions, resulting in a quite eerie outcome broken only by an overflying and calling Oystercatcher and the distant barking of a Roe Deer. A peaceful end to a day chock full of technological computer challenges, which proved far too difficult to master using the limited expertise of this ageing cyberchild. I'm managing to enter this by utilising my daughters lap top computer and operating under very precise threats I don't wish to contemplate given my track record for "getting things wrong".

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

9th March,2009.

A day of short walks and long showers coupled with not very warm temperatures either!!
The inaugural "school run" was completed under a cosmetic cloud, promised recriminations relating to purloined garments and a general air of chaos that left me reaching for the kettle on my return. I now know why Wogan was so popular and sweet tea is a necessary requisite until at least 10 o'clock!!!

Having said all that I can now count the dog as a firm friend. His obedience knows no bounds, with a prompt retiral to his "bed" , when ordered, from where he then studies passing events with forlorn eyes as if he's doing everyone a favour. I was impressed, until it was explained that he does this to avoid being put into the outdoor compound where it's draughty and wet. It's a sad admission to make, but all this seems to be the absolute definition of my being rather gullible.......

A couple of forays out saw a single Red Kite languidly move across the local landscape giving an impression of utter relaxation on the wing. Marvellous!

Monday, March 9, 2009

7th March,2009.

The first morning and the enjoyment of a long walk with the dog!! A mixed environment near Beauly with woodlands, agricultural land and the river. All areas were absolutely bursting with birdsong, which is a real treat contrasted against Islay , where we haven't many of the species anyway, but where most song gets dragged away by the wind except on very calm days. The pleasure of having birds like Yellowhammer, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Tree Sparrow so close at hand was a bonus in itself, although I suppose visitors to Islay view the birds on Loch Indaal in much the same way. A nice change!!

Similarly the pleasure of a night time walk within virtual silence, except for the muted calling of a nearby Tawny Owl, was a quiet end to a fulsome day!!

6th March,2009.

An early start to get the 0700 hours ferry to the mainland , the penalty of living on the opposite "corner" of the island to the terminal! All progressed well,and got better, with views of a lovely immature Iceland Gull in the harbour at Tarbert as I took breakfast ( actually as I ate my lunch, due to falling asleep on the boat and missing breakfast! ).

The journey northwards was equally productive with excellent views of the Snow Goose within the Grey lag Goose flock at Craobh Haven. I was struck by the numbers of Grey lag Geese at various points south of Oban and perhaps it's not just us on Islay that are seeing an increase!

Disappointment finally struck with all gulls around the harbour at Oban being disturbed by activity on the "beach" and my having to move on and miss the possibility of seeing the Ring-billed Gull.

The journey up the Great Glen was mostly rather grey and dull and without anything of note. A landscape seemingly bereft of much life in the depths of winter but soon to become alive with song and colour. And so to Kirkhill where I'll be looking after my youngest daughters for the next couple of weeks or so!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

4th March, 2009.

Given that I'd be in the way of the contractors I set off early in quite bright weather, but with a stiff,cold SW wind and had a session seawatching. Noticeably more Gannets around generally and Fulmars still sailing around offshore. A few Auks were in evidence, virtually all singles and flying south. A single Red-breasted Merganser south and single figures of GBBG moving north more or less saw the totality of passage. The onshore wind resulted in the odd "mega" wave crashing on the rocks and the sea was being forced in constrained fury into the various inlets and bays. In one bay the unseen, sub-surface strength of the currents was evidenced by the large piles of kelp stalks at the limit of the strand line, stripped from the seabed below and flung high on the shore.

Further round a flock of Purple Sandpiper, soon to be on their way further north, was another reminder of the greater regularity with which we're seeing this species this winter. As I went farther north the visibility closed in and, it began to snow, infrequently at first, and then more regularly. Undeterred I tried to check a heronry, but whilst I could hear the birds I couldn't see them through what was now a serious effort by the weather resulting in local roads infilling rather quickly!! It was amusing to see a gathering of hares spread around a snow covered field, doubtless believing they were still invisible within their cosy forms against the increasing carpet of whiteness!!

Eventually it seemed sensible to return home as it did rather look as if we could be receiving more than a fair share of snow and I wasn't acheiving much anyway. I'd visions of all windows being out at the house and a carpet of snow gracing the kitchen but surprise, surprise, immediately south of Craigfad, green fields appeared and even a weak, infrequent sun!!! I did feel a bit of a wimp..... Surprisingly many parts of the island had had none at all!!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

3rd March,2009.

Just a note to say I'm unlikely to be very active, in a birding sense, until Friday whilst some construction work is being completed at the house!! Probably as well as the weather is a bit miserable to say the least with snow forecast on the mainland! Just the time to have all the windows taken out!!!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

28th February,2009.

With lengthening days and improving conditions anything we get thrown at us weatherwise now is soon despatched. Winter's not quite over but certainly spring is on its way!!
Birdwatching locally to, er, fit in with the Six Nations Rugby matches if the truth be known. Wothwhile, although nothing exceptional yet. The sea was much as before with Gannets and Fulmars around but nothing distinctly on the move. Common Gulls and Herring Gulls are now begining to come out over the local moorland and fields to feed and congregate and the calls of the latter can be heard at the house from the nearby cliffs. For the first time this year Lapwings were up on the moor, twirling and diving and giving out of their display calls....a wonderful sound. And equally, two Choughs were flying to and from their breeding sites with a group of 12 non-breeders (?) seen from the house later. The local Ravens sail out over the moor occasionally and "cronk" their way around on the look out for food.

News has come of a proposed wind farm to be sited around eight miles from the south -west coast of Islay. Given the probable spacings of the turbines my concern would not necessarily, or particularly, be for seabirds moving south at sealevel, but for the geese and swans which can move offshore at greater elevation and in inclement visibilty conditions and how they might fare. Whilst having been involved in many surveys and proposals over the years associated with land based wind farms, I have no experience of how "sea based" farms are evaluated and will follow developments with a great deal of interest, not least due to the site being straight opposite my seawatching "sector"!!