Sunday, May 31, 2009

30th May,2009.

An absolutely beautiful day but with the wind lessening what, otherwise,would have been a scorcher!!!

Young birds now begining to appear locally ( Blackbird, Stonechat, Curlew, and others too based on parental behaviour! ).The requested survey by Butterfly Conservation for Painted Lady butterflies within the period 1100hours to 1300hours produced nothing at my vantage point, but doubtless we will be seeing some soon. Information now emerging about this phenomenon presents a fascinating story!!

A Spanish research worker reported phenomenal breeding in the Atlas mountains, Morocco following winter rain with, for example, 150,000 pupae being estimated in a single field. Mass dispersal across the Mediterranean began as early as February from this population,and breeding commenced in southern Europe. Further waves occurred into Spain, France and Italy with arrivals into Germany, northern France and the Netherlands last week. Stable isotope work on these showed them to have originated from the Atlas Mountain popuulation.

On 21st May the first real arrival took place at Portland Bill with 100+ being recorded.Then a huge immigration into Britain took place on the 24/25th may with millions estimated to have arrived and to be moving NW. Many of these would be from the broods produced in southern Europe, but faded individuals originated from the Atlas mountain population.The arrival further north is now anticipated, particularly with favourable weather being in place, although specimens have already been noted in the Outer Hebrides!! Of even greater fascination is to learn this is part of a global phenomenon with a similar major movement of the species a couple of weeks ago from Mexico into California.

Apparently numbers of Large White, Red Admiral and Clouded Yellow butterflies and Silver Y moths have been reported in the UK too , so worthwhile keeping an eye open.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

29th May,2009.

Despite the nice (enough) weather have spent the last two days updating BTO Atlas material, inputs to the database etc. It's rather windy, despite the nice sunny conditions, which is a shame! Also restricted due to having damaged two tyres whilst out checking sites for Grey lag Goose productivity. The downside of living in wonderful wilderness areas is the fact that convenient recourse to material things is something that requires arrangement, in this case next Tuesday when the items are delivered from the mainland!!!!!

Moth trapping is a bit slow, but night time temperatures now begining to creep up, but then being spoilt by the wind. Had to concede defeat and bring in the trap as it was being moved around last night!!! Enquiries today revealed no reports of Painted Lady butterflies on Islay so far, but numbers have been recorded in North Lancashire and Dumfries and Galloway so we might yet be lucky!

Mid-evening saw the presence of a single Collared Dove in the garden, which is quite an event and obviously involved a bird on the move as the nearest are quite a distance away. An obvious advantage to having a garden with only three bushes is that you can more easily spot visitors!!!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

27th May,2009.

A summary really of what has been a very busy three days! Birds aplenty, not many moths and decidedly mixed weather. Across on Jura the sun shone and yet, reports came of showers, even hail, tracking in and giving people a real wetting.

High on the eastern coast the woods were alive with birds and included a good show of warblers ( Blackcap,Garden Warbler,Common Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler,Willow Warbler, Wood Warbler and Chiffchaff ). A few surprises in the form of two lots of Canada Geese were present!! Sadly no Tree pipit were recorded which is a worry as this species seems to be reducing as each year goes by!!

Over the summer and autumn I shall be spending quite a time on Jura doing recording work. The British Entomological and Natural History Society ( from their Maitland Emmett Research Fund ) have provided grant aid to cover the costs of my travel and remaining on Jura whilst undertaking moth recording. Whilst some work has been carried out there are parts that are a little bit "out of the way" and worth concentrating on. The amount of material from previously is not large, at least that I've been able to find, and this is an opportunity to improve on all of that. At some point during the winter I will provide a summary of what , hopefully, will be quite an extensive set of records that might even include a surprise or two!!

Having just picked up on the news of the tens of thousands of Painted Lady butterflies that moved north along the east coast of England recently, particularly Norfolk, I can report not a one was seen on Jura!!! A further report from someone who had been in Morocco previous to the above event advised that a mass migration northwards of the species was taking place there, with 000's being killed on the highway by traffic!!

Monday, May 25, 2009

24th May,2009.

Rather cold temperatures again overnight were the prelude to a quite sharp day too, unless you could find a sheltered spot. A seawatch saw a few Great Northern Divers powering their way northwards, with a single bird offshore too, and a Red-throated Diver also on the move. Manx Shearwaters moved steadily southwards, but not in great numbers and all the usual array of feeding species was present. With an incoming tide, and breakers swelling into various bays, local Common Gulls were riding the upwelling water and feeding in a similar fashion to phalaropes, but less speedily and mechanically, by picking small food items off the surface!

By now the main passage of Whimbrel will have subsided and, therefore, the intention to try and establish a possible total number has passed until next season. A previous period of high pressure, giving clear night-time conditions for passage, probably meant birds were moving over at height whilst the weather was favourable. Whilst a few good groups were encountered the expected build up at a couple of locations never occurred. At best a total in the very low hundreds probably passed , whilst in a more usual season I believe we could have well in excess of a 1000 birds move through!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

23rd May, 2009.

A day's opportunities completely spoilt by weather with mist and rain, with some quite heavy showers, and then the sun eventually appearing very late in the day!.

It provided a chance to watch Gillingham and Shrewsbury battle it out in a soccer play-off final where it was a shame one team had to win. A brilliant match!! Equally the Rugby Union European Final between Leicester and Leinster saw the latter victorious after a tremendous game with Sexton and O'Driscoll shining stars!!

So, no direct birding other than of a near virtual kind!! In Venezuela things go from bad to worse. Whilst there has been no known new initiatives at Hato de Pineiro, new areas at El Frio and Cedral have been designated for rice cultivation. However, the newest threat would appear to be within the Canaima National Park, a World Heritage site that has already seen a powerline forced through its midst following the current Government assuming power. On that occasion indigenous peoples dismantled several towers using home made spanners!. Despite these indigenous residents protestations UNESCO undermined the process by visiting the site and issuing a flawed declaration that was interpreted as support and the scheme proceeded!! New initiatives are now occurring again, plus serious deforestation has also taken place on the Sierra de Lema. That this Government has no empathy with the natural environment is abundantly clear and an absolute tradgedy about which more international protest should arise. Thus far, as with the Llanos, even critical commentary from conservation agencies has been noteworthy only by its absence!!

But it doesn't end there! Critical reaction to the Malaysian Federal Land Agency's initiative to establish 100,000 hectares of palm oil plantations in the Brazilian Amazon ( yes, you read it right!! )has alledgedly resulted in all references to the action on the Governments internet servers being removed. Apparently all E-mails referring to the problem routed through Streamyx, the monopoly internet service provider in Malaysia, are not being delivered. Who says Government intervention isn't alive and well!! After Malaysian timber companies raped the Asia Pacific and decimated rainforest, it now seems a new era has dawned with equally damaging developments on another continent.

It's time to start letter writing. folks, and set the cosy "taking an interest" stance aside. We all support organizations which are involved in conservation in one way or another. A single letter from each to respective country Ambassadors would flag out the problem, to then be followed by as many similar approaches from individuals as can be mustered, otherwise we're selling our supposed "interest" short.
If you want an example of how a three hundred year old tradition can be affected by disclosure and public reaction turn to the events in the UK in the last three weeks, and we're certainly not seen as revolutionaries!!!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

22 nd May,2009.

An absolutely glorious day!! The low temperatures overnight had ensured a rather poor moth catch but data will slowly accumulate!! At the other extreme Green-veined White butterflies were everywhere once the sun had a little warmth.

Gathered in a few "Roving Records" fot the Atlas, including a couple of broods of Grey lag Geese. Earlier discussions with the Chairman of the Islay Goose Management Group confirmed my feelings that we are very probably going to see quite an increase this year followed, again, by increasing numbers remaining overwinter. Time will tell!! Further discussions on Corncrakes later at RSPB suggested the situation at the southern end of the Rinns may reflect the pattern whereby increasing numbers of birds can "concentrate" at suitable locations, particularly former strongholds, from which a more widely distributed population can result. It will be interesting to see what happens once the males start dispersing after the first brreding attempts!

This year appears much better for numbers of breeding Northern Wheatears, Whinchat, Grasshopper Warblers and Common Whitethroat on Islay so it will be interesting to see what the situation is elsewhere. Little seemed to be happening as far as migrants were concerned, with no unexpected surprises arising. Duck broods are appearing and the RSPB Gruinart Mute Swans are the proud parents of at least six cygnets!! This is where Atlas work really comes into its own!!!

As i'm writing this on the Saturday morning of the 23rd I feel vindicated in the decision not to complete further survey work on Corncrakes last night. Early morning showed mist clothing the whole landscape, rain lashing the windows and penetrating cold. In the words of the song, " What a difference a day makes", Islay is contrary in the extreme , but I suppose that's the attraction.

AND, if you haven't seen it, watch the film " RENDITION", a tribute to the paranoia and flawed decision making that goes on in national governments with reference to terrorism, matched against tha actual justifications given and actions taken of those that actually are involved!!

Friday, May 22, 2009

21st May,2009.

Still on the quest to determine how much, if any really, we get of skua passage in spring, I completed a seawatch within the morning. Despite a fairly heavy shower belt moving through, when birds might have moved before it or immediately after its passing, the result was again nil. Birds continue to move into the Solway, SW Scotland, before rising to make their overland journey towards the North Sea. Last year Arctic Skuas were seen passing eastwards along the south coast of Islay to either move up the Sound between Jura and the mainland or cross the mainland in a north easterly direction. another thing to determine!! Otherwise, as might be imagined, birds at sea were either local breeders or birds on feeding movements, ie Gannet and Manx Shearwater. A return visit in the afternoon saw very quiet conditions.

Evidence that not all common species have yet arrived and are in breeding quarters came in the form of a hirundine flock forming at Claddach Loch at the onset of rain. Eventually 30/40 Swallows, 10 House Martins and a single Sand Martin sat out the squall together on a convenient fence line. New, additional Sedge Warblers were noticeable and the Whinchat local to home is now in good heart, as are two Cuckoos in advance of 0430hours each morning!!

The Corncrake survey organized by RSPB saw various teams coasting around the island overnight ( a good way to get a reputation!! ), the results from which will be collated later. As birds are possibly still arriving further surveys will be completed. The local situation is a bit complicated this year with either several birds in a given area or ones that can move somewhat quickly!!! I'll do another survey tonight to try and sort out the confusion!!! An even better way to get a reputation!!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

12/13th May,2009

Routine survey work during the two days in really nice weather, although tempered by a quite fresh easterly wind that took the edge off the temperatures at times!! No obvious surprises or observations but a real pleasure to be out.

Goldfinch seem to be everywhere this year and numbers of birds are still coming to feeders and being remarked on by several people. At home Lesser Redpoll "passage" appears to have finished, but Siskins are still in evidence derived, I suspect, from the local breeding stock.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

11th May,2009.

Another absolutely glorious day with, at least until early afternoon, a very light ESE wind that resulted in the sea having a surface of almost continuous blue and there being little sound ( not a commonplace happening if you live near the sea! ).

Given the nature of the weather little was happening over the sea ,although a couple of Shelduck flew south. The whole day was spent on BTO Atlas work, or other counts, and was really enjoyable. Not surprisingly the outer part of Loch Indaal is now virtually devoid of birds, although a number of Great Northern Divers remain. New Sedge Warblers had arrived at various places, as had Common Whitethroat, but a couple of the latter had moved on too.Grasshopper Warblers were reeling away in various places and two locations saw the arrival of Whinchats. The number of Corncrakes locally has now risen to three so we may eventually see even more than last year!

Despite a late night vigil the hoped for Barn Owls never appeared and now Swallows are making full use of the entry apertures into the barn! Elsewhere the Barn Owls that are being filmed in isolation, with the resultant pictures being beamed to the Islay Trust building, have their first young. Try for an intimate view of their lives!!

Monday, May 11, 2009

10th May,2009.

A major change in the weather with light WSW winds and, finally, some warm sun! The overnight conditions had seen new arrivals of summer migrants and the onshore wind ensured sea passage was improved.

A seawatch saw Manx Shearwaters (c.250) scudding south and around 100 Kittiwakes moving north. The usual processions of feeding Gannets and Auks were more in evidence too. Arctic Terns had finally arrived with one party and dispersed birds around and over 40 Red-throated Divers made their way north in eight different parties. Whimbrel were arriving high, most flying through and none in big parties. A party of 6 Greater Scaup flew south, wrong direction , wrong season!!! At last, a dark phase Arctic Skua put in an appearance and had local Common Gulls in uproar.

Over the day it was obvious increased numbers of some summer migrants had arrived (Swallow, Cuckoo, Sedge Warbler and Grasshopper Warbler ) and that Common Whitethroats had staked claims in a widespread fashion!! Three Greenland Wheatear were in the NW sector of the Rinns and, finally, Northern Wheatear numbers appear to have stabilised!

At Gruinart some nice Black-tailed Godwit were present , raising hopes , as has happened in recent springs to no avail, that they might remain to breed. A couple of small broods of Mallard and a few Teal were around, but Wigeon and Pintail appear to have left. A small number of Barnacle Geese are still presenr , as is a Whooper Swan, whilst on Loch Indaal odd Great Northern Divers remain.

A thoroughly enjoyable day and a respite that hopefully remains for a few days yet!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

9th May,2009.

Thankfully back in harness with the weather also improving too.

Set against the tremendous results with skua sightings, both off the Outer Hebrides and within the Solwat Firth, I concentrated all effort into seawatching but with mixed results. Sadly no skuas whatsoever but 45 Light bellied Brent Geese, a Red throated Diver north and sustained sightings of Gannet, Manx Shearwater, Kittiwake, Auks ( mainly Razorbill) was both enjoyable and a great change after being "denied" any opportunity for fieldwork. A couple of Whimbrel remained along the coastline and a Great Northern Diver was offshore. Sadly, after tomorrow, it seems we're in for a period of easterlies, which may bring with it increased numbers of summer vistors given they seem to be at low ebb.

Friday, May 8, 2009

8th May,2009.

Apologies for the lack of continuity but recruited back into official duties for past few as usual from tomorrow!!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

5th May,2009.

A day not dis-similar to yesterday but with more rain as opposed to heavy mist!! All in all a nuisance but allowing computer work or admin. to get completed!! The forecast is slightly better for the next few days so we might be past the worst! Little picked up over the sea!

An apology and correction! I mentioned Greenland White-fronted Geese yesterday and the possibilty of them not yet having reached eastern Greenland. Such refers to Barnacle Geese ,of course, as White-fronts fly over the ice cap to breed in areas in the west. I suspect both populations will be in the middle of things by now!!

4th May,2009.

What a dreadful day, improving only at the end of the afternoon. A fresh SW wind (F5/6 at times) brought in successive waves of mist and rain such that I had only 300m
of visibility for a seawatch that I eventually abandoned. It appeared that only Gannets and "locals" were on the move, or could be seen amidst the heavy sea. The first brood of Grey lag Goose goslings on Eilean Mhic Coinnich, just off the SW tip, was a timely reminder that our Greenland White-fronted Geese might only just have arrived on the eastern side of Greenland, and may not yet be there!! Their breeding season has yet to be completed!!!

The photograph in the header is one looking off the southwestern end of Islay. A little to the north of this, three islets are located known as Frenchman's Rocks. Over the years these rocks, located at the very SW tip of the island, have taken various ships to the bottom. The site is that of an historic wreck given full protection under a Statutory Instrument issued in 1976.

Found in the mid 1970's the wreck is thought to be that of a Spanish Armada ship, the Sante Maria de La Vista, one of only two or three Armada ships not discovered. Such would date the wreck as being 1588, but a coin found on the wreck site , a Caralous 111 silver coin ,is dated 1688.

Another theory is that the wreck might be that of a French frigate, which had been in battle with an English ship and come off worst, eventually floundering on the rocks. It appears tidal currents have distributed most of the wreckage, or the ship, badly holed, limped off elsewhere. The fact that the site is named Frenchman's Rocks perhaps adds some credence to the latter story, when the area may have been first named by locals. These are not the only wrecks around Islay and some tragic stories accompany some of the incidents. Anyone interested is directed to the book "Dive Islay - Wrecks" by S.Blackburn, which catalogues many of them and provided the information for the above entries.

Frenchman's Rocks also have a quite different one of the premier seawatching sites in Scotland ( although recent entries wouldn't suggest such!!!! ).
Worth watching over at any time , the area comes into its own in late summer into early winter when, routinely, many seabird species are involved in movements to southern wintering areas. The real bonus appears with particular weather systems bringing strong winds from the west accompanied by squalls of rain. Pelagic species such as Leach's Petrels and Sabines Gulls can occur along with enhanced numbers of commoner species. Looking westwards and north westwards, from our coastline locally, I'm reminded that the next landfall is the Eastern Seabord of North America, so there's a fair maritime catchment area in between!! Hopefully future postings will highlight some of the passage we can experience on this side of the pond!!

Monday, May 4, 2009

3rd May,2009.

A quite pleasant day but with occasional showers, some of which were quite heavy. Otherwise intervals of warm sun, which is a laways a change.

An early seawatch brought nothing exceptional despite the northwest wind. Odd Manx Shearwater and Whimbrel were the highlights, so it was particularly disappointing to learn later in the day that the Outer Hebrides had had an exceptional passage of Pomarine Skuas with over two hundred being seen. Are these skirting western Irish waters, rather than the "rat run" up through the Irish sea, past Islay , Mull etc with us only getting the occasional bird using this route? Certainly the visibility in the morning was such that individuals , or groups, far out towards Ireland would have been seen from Islay.

On then to BTO Atlas work looking at central/northern parts of Islay and enjoying exploring odd corners I rarely get the opportunity of visiting. Whilst nothing special occurred, a possible new heronry, a couple of new sites for Common Sandpiper and Teal, all begin to add in to the overall picture of our breeding bird distribution on the island. In one of the more protracted periods of sunshine a good emergence of Green-veined White butterflies was evident along with Peacock, Green Hairsteak and Orange-tip being seen, the latter quite a scarce butterfly on Islay.

An evening television programme about the history of agriculture and the changing methods of sowing and harvesting wheat was really interesting, although disconcerting given I could recollect a lot of the main features!!! Being taken by my uncle, as a small boy, to see the last remaining pair of Shire horses at the plough in our local area in South Yorkshire, has always remained with me ......they're so very big from a little boy's perspective!!! Later, in the 80's in Tunisia, viewing a landscape of rolling, swaying wheat, and knowing something was different, until I suddenly realised they were still using long stemmed varieties long after we had moved to much shorter varieties back home, which are far more stable.

And so, realising they 'd now started making history programmes about my boyhood, I went to bed!!!!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

2nd May.2009.

A rather routine day spent completing BTO Atlas work, which, sadly, generated no nice surprises!! Overall, the situation is still not fully advanced here as far as summer migrants are concerned, but, then, I reminded myself that it is only the very begining of May. I wonder how much our thoughts and expectations are tempered by the fact that there were a few early arrivals, but we're only just into the time when the majority of visitors would be with us if we make comparisons with earlier years?

We express concern about the effects climate change is having and the earlier arrival of some migrants and then express equal concern when other species appear to be slightly late !! A friend based in Tanzania recently expressed worries that little or nothing had moved through Arusha and then , with much jubilation, announced "They're here"!!! I guess we've still much to learn about the influences of weather and other local effects, and seasonal aberrations will always occur anyway,'s the long term changes that are the real worry!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

1st May,2009.

Two days essentially spent on various arrangements relating to BTO surveys, particularly the Atlas. Realistically it's not worthwhile starting serious work here before the end of April/begining of May as most of the summer visitors haven't arrived to breed ( still haven't in "volume" or in many cases as yet! ). Completing surveys in early May and late June/early July tends to pick up good confirmatory evidence of resident breeding species so, all in all, the system works well. Our only problem is a lack of participants! However, a couple of groups are visiting on holiday and days have been agreed in outline with the "Islay stalwarts" so that a group of us can "migrate" to Jura for the day!

The night of the 30th April/1st May,2009 was a bit wild with strong easterlies and rain, in fact quite a substantial amount of rain!! My Actinic lamp (moth trap) was blown over despite being in a supposedley sheltered position! Thankfully, everything fell on grass so no damage was done. A couple of "moth-ers" are visting Islay soon and such will help generate records for what is essentially an under-worked area. You can imagine, if we're short on resident birdwatchers, moth-ers are a rather rare commodity!!!

Some spells spent seawatching produced very little despite a promising SW wind. A depression tracking in next week might produce better conditions and some skua records!!