Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Computing bonanza!

A slightly unsettled day offered no comfort to planning so I settled down and , finally, conjured up the motivation and discipline to get all the biological recording programmes I use on to a single laptop. This will allow for future mobility and keeping things up to date whilst I'm away from here. So life comprised of manuals and disks, frustration , a comment or two but, finally, success.!

BirdBase, BirdArea plus the Add-ons, MapMate, Argyll Bird Recording system plus a few other lesser "cyber-mortals" are all in there. Decisions on settings have been made and all that now remains, in the case of BirdBase, is to input all details from foreign trips carried out since 2002 and the more significant UK ones too. I sense I've a long way to go with both MapMate and the ABC systems , but I can thoroughly recommend BirdBase. Running totals of life lists for different world and local areas, the ability to add in substantial notes to individual observations, .....the programme is packed full of extremely useful features any birder requires. Based on the James Clements World List regular updates are available based on taxonomic changes .

Locally bred Goldfinch, Siskin and Stonechat have formed a loose feeding flock around the house in spite of different feeding strategies. They bring incessant activity and colour to the local landscape ! Stonechats appear to have done rather well this breeding season with birds in many places. The adjacent fells are now somewhat quiet with all Curlews having moved to feeding areas elsewhere around three weeks ago with Lapwings having gone way before that.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Migrant Cuckoos.

Quite a fresh sea with plenty of birds about, but nothing especial. Shearwaters were absolutely whizzing through, taking advantage of the SW wind and the endless troughs. Gannets, as ever, were much in evidence with over 300 around Frenchman's Rocks. A local friend explained that it happens around the ebb tide for a couple of hours or so. The whole sea conditions are whipped up around the rocks, with the accompanying chaos for fish in the area, particularly the smaller ones which are preyed upon by their larger counterparts. It is these the Gannets are after and, sure enough, as tide conditions changed, so did the concentration of birds. However an endless procession of lines of these birds continued in both directions, plying to and fro from what I presume is their colony north of the Solway. More immature birds, of differing age classes, are evident at present than I ever recollect seeing in previous seasons.

A suspected Cuckoo, seen as I was driving , went out of view too soon for confirmation but, later, was followed by another definite immature bird at a different location.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Not much happening!!

I suppose with birds like Chough, Hen Harrier, and various seabird species on the doorstep it's wrong to moan that little seems to be about!. In fact it's somewhat true, with little turn around in the suite of species which can be seen at the moment. Set against the reports of exotics elsewhere, Crossbill invasions and so on, a day spent flogging around and seeing the self same things was a bit of a frustration, so I put it down to bad luck, although everyone seems to be complaining about the self-same thing ! Not to worry, it will happen at some point!

However, may I say a big public " thank you " to Barrie and Tricia Galpin, who have just spent a whole week on Jura generating Roving Records for the BTO Atlas Survey. They've absolutely loved it, which just goes to show "us residents" should be more appreciative of what we have around us and the part of the world we live in!! We are really!!

One thing intrigues me currently. The number of parties, and total, of Grey lag Geese to be seen at present is very low and nowhere near the total that will "emerge" towards the end of August. Previously I had seen pairs with young that now seem to have simply disappeared! Is it that the adults are in moult and hunkered down around some of the far flung lochans and, therefore, not much in evidence ? Much to be done, not enough time to do it in!!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Frustrations, as in yesteryear!

Yesterday, as today (Sat.), I need to be based at home with no opportunity for active birding. It has provided me with the opportunity of reflecting heavily on the raptor persecution subject yet again and to work through a vast amount of information I've been sent or gained access to via the net. I also managed to unearth some , not all, of the notebooks I kept during the 1980-90's relating to bird of prey surveys, ringing and persecution reports. Such make depressing reading as they clearly demonstrate that old habits die hard and that the situation is little different today than in those past days. The overall total of birds of prey destroyed, or their breeding attempts interefered with, from that period to the present is difficult to comprehend in this day and age when conserving species and their habitats is so much to the fore. The willingness of some to pursue solutions reminiscent of Victorian times, in their own self-interests, is disgusting and does little except label them as pariahs within what , generally, is a more supportive national community.

But what of Bowland? Currently there are more active "war zones" than in Afghanistan!! Arguments between different factions, equally as convinced of their own rights and position, is clouding main objectives in my view.. There are a plethora of points to be resolved but bureaucracy, intransigence and personality issues are absorbing valuable time, particularly for the voluntary workers. A lead should be taken by one of the "formal" organizations aimed at resolving utterly the mish mash of cavalier activities, apparent prejudicial attention towards some individuals and the growing veneer of formality that is begining to cloak the whole operation. Instead there appears more of a willingness to frustrate initiatives by an ever growing set of rules relating to access, ringing licences, liaison requirements and so on.

Is there an operation in a corporate sense? It certainly seems not from the outside ,and what commenced as best efforts to address an issue of real concern are now begining to disintegrate. None of this will lead to better protection for raptors or to the comprehensive collection of data which will be the base upon which telling argument can rest.

It's ironic that, thirty years ago, many of the same volunteer workers active in Bowland at present were attempting to do the same as now, that is monitor the resident bird of prey populations and bring about an improvement to their status. Their continuing presence is a tribute to their passion and belief, as opposed to any political aspirations which one suspects motivate others! Seemingly their experience is being cast aside in a quest by others to dominate a situation against which the lessons of yesteryear are being ignored and fruitless activities being put in their place. In this day and age of surveillance I find it hard to believe that members of the police fraternity are given management permission to traipse around the uplands simply gathering data and that no attempts are being made to insert technology that will result in those responsible for persecution being brought to book. A list of regular sites at risk is known and could provide the basis for an initiative that demonstrated a real commitment by the Lancashire Police towards halting persecution. Is it not time for a 21st Millenium solution to be considered ?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Wader passage increases.

With little happening over the sea I decided to follow a route that took in Loch Indaal and then passed by some of the conifer plantings on the island in the hope of finding some crossbills. That part of the mission failed completely so will have to repeat the approach later!

Oystercatcher and Curlew numbers are begining to increase on Loch Indaal with the paler juveniles of the latter being noticeable, their bill length being significantly shorter too. Ringed Plover seem to have flocked, but I suspect the majority are local birds. A few groups of Dunlin were present, with the majority still in summer plumage and showing off their black bellies. Best of all was a single adult Sanderling, still in summer plumage and an absolutely stunning bird.

Whilst the majority were well offshore 27 Shelduck, with the majority being juveniles, was welcome news as it's a species ( like Eider ) that doesn't appear to enjoy the highest breeding success on Islay. Both Arctic Terns and Little Terns were at the head of the loch, seven of the latter being a good number!

Later, whilst checking out butterflies along the "Glen Road" two distant adult Golden Eagles were sailing high over the tops of the distant hills, a good contextual sighting!!! Later, and whilst gossiping about a possible past Common Rosefinch record, a Corncrake called from a nearby field west of the RSPB Gruinart Reserve.

Our passerine summer visitors are begining to deplete. During the morning, as expected, several sightings of Willow Warbler, all young birds were seen flitting along fence lines in the very south west of the island. Northern Wheatear numbers appear quite low now compared to previously although still widely present.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Warblers begin to move!

Another session seawatching! A very light ESE wind produced near calm sea conditions, the absence of sound along the coast being quite strange!.

Feeding seabird parties again moving both N and S, but also with the first adult LBBG on the move S and two Sand Martin. Endless lines of Gannets moved by, plus a stream of Manx Shearwaters. In these calm conditions the shearwaters were using a "flap and glide" flying technique and were rather slow, often being passed by Gannets and both being outstripped by passing auks, mostly Razorbills. The local Black Guillemots maintained their whirring "clockwork wing " impressions as they returned to shore.

Some young Whinchats at Claddach and perversely, a singing Common Whitethroat on overhead wires as if on territory. A couple of young Willow Warblers in the garden early morning were the first of the autumn, acknowledging, as usual, the last ten days or so of July being the point at which they begin to move out.

I was engaged by the recent story arising from a ringing expedition to the Shiant Islands off Scotland. A ringed, old Atlantic Puffin ( an OAP ) was recaptured 34 years after it was first marked making it the oldest known Atlantic Puffin within UK records. It was even recovered by the same person who'd ringed it originally. When stories emerge of some seabird populations being at low ebb it's encouraging to learn that this doesn't necessarily apply to all colonies.

I'd quite like to be an OAP and 34!!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Timely reappearance!

No, not my return to Islay but the delivery of my main telescope lens from Swarovski after its repair. As I said previously they run a phenomenal customer support service and well deserve their reputation.

And so it was away to Frenchman's Rocks this morning for a seawatching session. What with being back into the swing of things, plus the telescope now at its best, it was pure enjoyment all the way despite nothing special going through. Oh, there were plenty of birds around but no migrants as such. An endless procession of Gannet, Manx Shearwater, Fulmar, Shag, Kittiwake and Auks, all on feeding movements, and moving in both directions, made for a really enjoyable morning. A local Buzzard flying to one of the offshore islands was attacked by Arctic Terns and went lower and lower until it was skimming just above the surface of the sea. As it pitched on to one of the first rocks jutting above the water you could almost see the tension and relief ebb through its body!!

And then the weather really closed in with heavy rain coming through in a succession of showers and more prolonged intervals , hence this early post. You can't have it all.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Almost back to normal!

Journeyed up to Inverness to take the girls back to Kirkhill. As anticipated, quite a lot of traffic around. The gameplan was to do a "stock up " shop in Inverness to cover the forthcoming seawatching "season" and then to take a leisurely drive back overnight and enjoy the Highlands without traffic, plus remember it's light very early up here!
Well, some of it worked out. Flashing signs on the A9 advising torrential rain and expected floods materialised in part and then a neccessary stop behind a bad accident for a couple of hours meant I arrived for the ferry somewhat shattered!! A "classic" perched Tawny Owl on a telegraph post was about all I'd seen and little was seen on the journey across.
Since then I've slept............. back in harness Monday!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Hen Harrier debate rumbles!

From feedback received it's obvious people are both reading up about Hen Harriers and concerned about the situation, but such a position has been in place for years. With conservation efforts failing, what is the next step? Have the now perennial campaigns gone stale and people pass over the clarion calls to take action and register their disapproval? To abandon hope at this point would be a disaster! As John Miles, in the piece he submitted to Raptor Politics explained, there are ways that can be considered, but the time has come to stop wasting money and to call for Central Government action.

Is that possible given that the clientele supportive of grouse and pheasant shooting come from the ranks of those whose influence could most easily bring about positive change, but, conversely, retain the status quo if so desired? We are talking about a very obvious chasm which exists between such people and those who would forever be unable to afford the sport, even if they were interested. The former are willing to cock a snoot at the law of the land in order to enjoy their sport, except when a misdemeanour unfortunately reveals sufficient evidence to get the case in court. I find that disgraceful and a personal affront. Their passion for shooting is no different to that exhibited by the veritable army of wildlife enthusiasts within the UK who draw countless hours of enjoyment from simply observing wildlife. That the former pay for the "privilege" of indulging their passion is no justification for them supporting the law being broken in order to provide the facilities for their form of enjoyment.

Numerically, wildlife enthusiasts must far outnumber those whose passion impinges on some of the most majestic members of our natural heritage, be it Hen Harrier, Peregrine or other raptors. Opinion must forcibly be brought to bear on the whole subject area yet again and some rational, positive outcome secured against the shame that is raptor persecution. I find little solace in reading about protection initiatives in Malta, Cyprus and elsewhere when this is happening on our own doorsteps! Endless monitoring is a waste of time with thirty years of evidence providing the bedrock against which change can be justified! Such monitoring is little more than actively cataloguing disaster! Whilst no one is calling for a ban on shooting there is a need for change within that sport, and the methods employed within its management, before public opinion turns against the overall practice!!

Until Saturday I'll be much involved in other things than birding. It would be good to see some written comment and opinion appearing, preferably on the Raptor Politics website, which has a much wider readership than this Blog ( otherwise E-mail me ). Over to you, folks!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Very much a routine day!!

We all have them , and this most certainly qualified! Little time to note any wildlife due to other tasks and involvements. A single Whimbrel at the head of Loch Indaal was about the only comment and contribution I can make!

Having said all that may I mention Swarovski!! For those of us with their equipment, may I just say what a first class company they are. Necessarily having to send in my telescope recently , and a lens, I received the former back today looking like new with everything sorted out. The after sales service is superb, without fuss, rapid and efficient. Thank you! I shall very much remain a Swarovski Optik man!

The article re Hen Harriers and my future intended actions went out on the Raptor Politics web site yesterday ( read it and, more importantly, the comments made by John Miles as an adjunct). It's absolutely imperative that a head of steam is built up on this issue, and remain in no doubt that your contribution towards action will be requested in the form of some written protest at an appropriate point!!


Rain at both ends of the day but quite reasonable in between. With the girls at friends, and overnighting, it gave me the opportunity of looking at Loch Indaal during the late afternoon. A lazy high tide left wide expanses of mud and sand uncovered, but with very few birds in evidence. Curlew and Oystercatcher numbers are begining to build up slowly and a few Shelduck were around, a marked contrast to the frenetic atmosphere of autumn and winter!

Young birds continue to call from all available cover, an indication that we've not had a bad summer at all. The Outer Loch was virtually bereft of birds and, despite a good "trawl" of all suitable areas no summering Great Northern Divers could be found. July and August, (and then until late September) , are about the only months we never seem to have birds.

Hugh Harrop had been in touch yesterday ( see his comment , thanks Hugh! ) in connection with the cetacean sighting. It's his belief that it is a Risso's Dolphin. Given that I've never actually seen that species, nor was the observer anyway , it's difficult for me to comment. However, after having looked at a wider variety of pictures than in intial efforts, Hugh's advice appears to "fit the bill". Whilst there has been previous records from Islay, such are by no means regular. The Hebridean Whale and Dophin Trust web site shows only one reported record this year and three in 2008, so we're not dealing with an invasion folks!!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Cetacean identification

Given that today produced nothing it seemed an apt time to provide feedback on the cetacean that was seen off Sanaigmore cliffs by Stuart Graham on the 6th July, 2009.

It was about half a mile offshore and showed quite well. A copy of the image was sent to the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust based on the Isle of Mull. The consensus appears to be that it is a Minke Whale, although the distance involved, the fact it was taken with a telephoto lens and then cropped needs to be taken into account. The fin shape and size is nonetheless very distictive. Minke Whale are seen from time to time off the ferry plying between the mainland (Kennacraig and Port Ellen, Islay ) and so it's worth keeping an eye open for them.

Return passage of high Arctic waders.

Visits to various places ((10th July ) produced little until a walk along the beach from Traigh an Luig to Uiskentuie. Three separate parties of Redshank, Sanderling and Turnstone showed that waders from the high Arctic are now on their return migration southwards. The plumage of the latter was already begining to lose it's defintion and intensity and that of the Sanderlings was something of a "half way house". An unintended pun, the latter comment might actually represent what some of these birds still have in front of them in terms of their migration, as all the species mentioned can winter way down in Africa and, therefore, still have a long way to go. On the other hand they may opt for the winter sun of the Mediterranean or , slightly further south, become part of the vast wintering flocks of waders on the Banc d'Arguin, off Mauritania.

Sadly, the above beach and adjacent areas no longer showed any terns to be present and, as in so many previous years, it would seem their breeding attempts have failed or that they'd moved to other sites as terns can often do. By contrast several pairs of Ringed Plover were present, all acting as if they had young somewhere, which would perhaps suggest second attempts at breeding, and quite successful ones at that! Thankfully the open grazed areas to one side, and the sloping beach on the seaward side, allow a route to be chosen that leaves the shingle undisturbed except, of course, the diehard dog walkers whose inquisitive charges find it irresistable.

Friday, July 10, 2009

9th July,2009.

Infrequent postings as I'm a bit restricted with a return of this .............ear infection. It's like operating in an echo chamber and a bit painful to boot!!

Continuing good weather and sallies out to the beach with the girls to get fresh air , look in the rock pools and collect pebbles to repair the track!! Suddenly Meadow Pipits seem to be everywhere, which suggests they've had a good season along with Wheatear, Stonechat and Linnet. As ever Common Eider seems to enjoy very limited success here with very low productivity ( I've yet to see a creche on Islay! ). The sea was noticeably quiet with only the odd Gannet around, although better numbers of Herring Gull, Common Gull, Fulmar, Shag and Arctic Terns are around the offshore islands.

Back at home I watched a couple of Ravens systematically scour a hillside opposite whilst adult Curlews went ballistic. Chicks are now quite well grown but I suppose Ravens would have no difficulty in despatching one! Rabbits are very slowly begining to reappear at various points around the island following myxamatosis taking its toll previously. The large warren above the house has never recovered . Coincidentally, and rather obviously, sightings of local Buzzards are fewer in number this season as, presumably, they hunt over a wider area. The very pale local individual gave absolutely tremendous views the other day and I often wonder what visitors make of it!!!

Have had some time to think about what is best required to draw attention to the woeful situation of raptor species in parts of the UK. Clearly any support people can offer to local conservation initiatives and to national campaigns is to be welcomed. But it needs more than that. The fight needs taking to the perpetrators first of all via a firm declaration by national institutions, even by Government, that the situation is simply not going to be tolerated . Over the years the relentless efforts of the RSPB must have cost an enormous amount , a case of a voluntary organization baling out Government in my view. It's ironic that , whilst the Government spends money fulfilling its responsibilities to designate Special Protection Areas (SPA's ), under obligations within European law, in the Forest of Bowland's case one of the main resources ( Hen Harrier ) it was drawn up to protect is under siege. And don't try and persuade me differently anyone as I helped draw up the data etc for JNCC! OK, we've had recovery projects and so on, but the nett gains are minimal. If it was viewed in commercial terms it would be deemed a failure set against the outlay made available. So, review, regroup and retaliate........let's all act/speak with a single voice and let it be known that things are going to change!!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

7th July, 2009.

It seems Islay plays host to yet another rare breeding bird!! The reserve warden on the RSPB Oa Reserve rang to say that the male Tree Sparrow we'd spoken about previously is still "on territory " and chirping away but that, also, there is a pair at another location with young!!

Great news indeed for a species that was thought to be extinct ,as a breeder , within Argyll for around the last twenty years. With the population within the UK having reduced substantially, and dramatically, in recent times it's intriguing to consider where these birds might have originated. It made me smile afterwards as this is going to be depicted, in the eventual publication relating to the BTO Atlas, as one of those very isolated dots way away from other breeding strongholds that ,very often, produces a "What on earth?" reaction!! Such is the interest that Argyll county listers are known to be visiting shortly ( which eventually will include me )!!! The first step towards being the Inner Hebridean "" Fair Isle"...................

Monday, July 6, 2009

6th July,2009

A mixed bag in many respects. A rather relalaxed day at home after yesterday. The Swallows have hatched young in the barn which means a whirr of chaos every time you enter!

Catching up on various things I was disgusted to discover the senior constabulary of the Lancashire area, which covers the Forest of Bowland , are to be awarded up to 15% salary bonuses for, as the Chief Executive Officer of the Lancashire Police Authority states, " excellent performance" !!! As I see it if a senior police officer had overseen the theft of a series of national treasures, say art, on their "watch" would they be qualifying for bonuses!!! I hope you'd agree "no" !! Your thoughts are probably in line with those of Burnley Council, Hynburn Council and the Ribble Valley MP!! Constituent parts of our natural heritage, e.g Hen harriers, especially protected by law, should require to be part of the equation wherein the measure of success is made against which, in the current season, the Lancashire Constabulary has failed miserably in my view. It's no good pointing to the success achieved on United Utilities estate ,who bend over backwards to protect their rare birds of prey, when nothing is being produced from identical habitats alongside on different estates. All a question of statistics I suspect and a reduction in urban crime, welcome, but not the whole story!! As previously, the old headmaster would have said, " Can do better"!!

Off Sanaigmore on Sunday my colleague, Stuart Graham, had a cetacean that we're still not sure about. A picture has been sent off for a definite identification and we'll post both it and details in due course.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

5th July, 2009.

Collected Rachael and Katherine from Kirkhill, Inverness by 1000 hours and we commenced our journey back to Islay via the Great Glen route. Again a sunny and hot day with little respite due to the distance needing to be travelled. As can be imagined cars, caravans and motorbikes were also enjoying the delights of the Highlands and the whole journey was somewhat of a "convoy" operation. A stop in Oban for the habitual supermarket top-up provided variety followed by a busy, full but non eventful ferry journey arriving on time shortly after 2000 hours in Port Ellen, thereby allowing us to get back around 2115hours. A full day!!

4th July,2009.

Up and away at 0530 hours to catch the 0700 hours ferry. Between Bruichladdich and Carnain Pools area had at least nine ,presumably family parties, of Pied Wagtail suggesting they've had a good season. In shallow water at Bridgend Flats had a pair of Wigeon, which was a surprise suggesting they were failed local breeders, non breeders or early returning birds.

The ferry crossing and subsequent journey was rather hot and quite busy. I had a couple of calls to make so went from Fort William across to Newtonmore, which provided me with an opportunity to do some birding. Called at a few favourite sites but didn't have much, although the atmosphere of the old Caledonian Pine forests is always a tonic in themselves as far as I'm concerned. Fantastic views of Osprey, Red-throated Diver, but also a wonderful showing of Dark Green Fritillary, Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary and Small Heath butterflies. All amidst a backdrop of the Cairngorms massif, by now almost bereft of snow patches in the high corries. Sadly, this year, time didn't allow for any exploration.

Friday, July 3, 2009

3 July,2009.

Today started early and dramatically!!
The bull from the adjacent farm had forced its way through the fence into the field adjacent to the house and a battle royal then ensued with the resident "bruiser". Protracted lowing from the attendant cows (C'mon, big boy!)caused any early morning slumber to be abandoned. At a ton each, at least, a continual joust of head to head pushing for two hours left both beasts exhausted. Finally, they parted, only to then occupy vantage points eyeing one another up from a distance following the transgressor's return to home ground!! The solution seems to be stringing an electric wire along the fence line to deter both of them, a job I guess the farmer could have done without.

Given the day then turned foul, with mist and rain until late, I spent quite a period looking at recent reports of persecution of Peregrine and Hen Harrier, which appear to have risen dramatically during 2009. Various press releases issued by the RSPB and others provide details of the infinite variety of methods employed and the wide distribution of localities involved, one of which is very close to my heart and memory.

During the period 1979 to 1999 I worked for the RSPB and had responsibility for the Forest of Bowland area in Lancashire. Such is known as an English stronghold for Hen Harrier, Peregrine and Merlin. It mostly comprises large, private upland estates including that held by United Utilities ( formerly North West Water ). Except on one tenanted portion little shooting is carried out nowadays over the latter's area. The remainder, however, are exclusively managed for grouse production.

Within the above twenty years a lot of time was spent cajoling the water company into adopting conservation measures and abandoning less sympathetic land management. To their credit, this they have done such that their Bowland Estate now virtually provides the last bastion of hope in North Lancashire for the raptor species mentioned. Now, as years ago, the breeding success such birds enjoy on the private shooting estates is minimal at best.The greatest tragedy of all is that, having retired ten years ago, the situation today is no better than at the point when I first started the job thirty years ago!!

Given the Hen Harrier is a rare breeding bird within the UK, and enjoys special protection such that its persecution carries heavy penalties, why then should this arise? Sources advise me that each year sees nests mysteriously fail and adult birds disappear. Cries of innocence are raised, alongside attention directed at the token presence of odd pairs of birds which, in my view, is little more than outright arrogance and a self-regulated "contribution" to the requirements of law. It is sad that, in this day and age, our natural heritage can be set aside so peremptorily in the interests of a minority within which, one suspects, are those whose influence, wealth and position could bring about such positive change to the contrary. Here on Islay, where we have very few Red Grouse, no conflicts arise as the quite abundant harriers, and other raptors too, pose little or no threat to the interests of the Estates.

For ten years I've willingly espoused the hope that new approaches would secure change and improvement. Well, enough is enough, things aren't improving and the time to be heard and for independent pressure has arrived, unshackled by the niceties of corporate protocols. As a start may I encourage you all to read
and to continue reading it. Passionate, yes, but laced with the frustrations and sheer desperation that people feel for our declining raptors, it also contains commentary about the apparent inadequacies within our law enforcement in certain areas.

From time to time I'll update everyone on this theme, as it's unlikely to go away, like me, even in the medium term!

2 July,2009.

Well, shortly after I'd mentioned torrential storms yesterday, and their effects, we had one to be remembered when a significant amount of rain fell in quite a short period. The remaining part of the day was very oppressive with just odd spats of rain. No future as a weatherman then!!

Remained locally but with nothing much of note. A couple of Corncrakes are still calling around the village and further north at Lossit and a Grasshopper Warbler has struck up again, presumably after a first breeding attempt. A report of 5/6 Bottle-nosed Dolphins in Portnahaven Bay was something which, hopefully, might be repeated.

A report dealing with declines in woodland birds on Earth News (BBC), based on work undertaken by the British Trust for Ornithology, provides alarming reading. The results, from the Common Birds Census survey carried out over 30 years (1966-1999) have shown significant declines in seventeen (17) species. Some of these overwinter in tropical West Africa where their habitat is being destroyed. The species involved are: Nightingale, Common Starling, Linnet, Lesser Redpoll, Spotted Flycatcher, Lesser spotted Woodpecker, Whitethroat, Willow Tit, yellowhammer, european Turtle Dove, Tree Pipit, Woodcock, Marsh Tit, Common Cuckoo, Dunnock, Willow warbler, Song Thrush and Bullfich ).

Having seen some of the habitat loss in Gambia, West Africa in 2002 and 2004 such changes perhaps come as no surprise. The real challenge is to halt the trend, but when agricultural intensification is involved in a third world country the raft of issues involved becomes even more complicated! A personal concern links with the ever apparent effects of climate change, the potential for vast changes within the Sahel Zone, immediately south of the Sahara Desert, and the possible onset of drought and extensification of the area. Such changes decimated our Whitethroat and Sand Martin populations previously when a vast extension of the area southwards caused the distance needing to be covered by migrants to increase enormously with no hospitable areas available en route for respite.

To me, the most intriguing results refer to some of our more resident bird species (Willow Tit, Marsh Tit, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Dunnock and Bullfinch) and the
causes for their decline. It would seem the possible reasons are still not absolutely determined.

Further research is to be carried out, including in Ghana and Burkino Faso, in an attempt to determine more precisely what the factors are involved.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

1st July,2009.

Light showers in the early morning which soon cleared but we then never realised the wonderful warm weather of the past couple of weeks or so. Hope that's not summer over!!!

Things generally are rather quiet and routine but lots of young birds now begining to appear . Overall it seems likely that it's been quite a good breeding season up here. At the crucial time we seem to have missed any prolonged cold periods with rain , or torrential downpours that flood things out!! On a local moor a Sort-eared Owl provided phenomenal views, simply sitting on a knoll around thirty metres away just ignoring me!! Tremendous. Later , returning home, I was intrigued to see a party of Rooks, a mixture of adults and young birds, feeding in a field which had been cut for silage a couple of days previously. The nearest rookery is about seven kilometres away and yet the birds arrive almost on cue as they don't feed regularly in this area. A case of learned behaviour by the adult birds linked to seasonality and passed on to the younger birds in the process? Nearby a group of sixteen Choughs was a great sight! Unfortunately they were far too mobile to be able to look for colour rings!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

30th June, 2009.

Another great day with lots of sunshine. Had a session seawatching, more to underpin simple enjoyment rather than realise an expectation of anything turning up that was special. The pleasure of sitting in the sun (no midges)just watching endless lines of Gannets moving to and fro against a backdrop of a shining blue sea was great. Artic Terns wheeled incessantly in the nearby bay, confirming their increased numbers locally had arrived quite late this year.

However,my laziness wasn't quite without intent. I've been looking recently at the various work which has been done on seabird passage off Islay and decided to try and repeat some of it over the next couple of years or so. Way back in the 1970's various observations were made off Frenchman's Rocks, and then repeated again in the mid 1990's. Looking back at the results it appears some quite radical changes have taken place in the numbers of certain species, suggesting it to be worthwhile to revisit the situation. Seabird numbers appear to be on such a rollercoaster of a change at present and it seems to me to be quite important to try and generate data at this point in time. Doubtless many of the future sessions will be far less cosy than was today's!!

On to Bunnahabhain to try and get a photograph of the Common Rosefinch which appears to have taken up residence there. Despite a period hanging around the area where we saw it last week, the bird never showed and may now have moved on. It wasn't all a wasted journey though! Confirmation of breeding Raven, Whinchat, Lesser Redpoll and Siskin were all welcome additions to the BTO Atlas project. Returning home a further confirmation near to Bridgend of breeding Bullfich was a bonus as it's not a particularly common species on Islay.