Saturday, September 26, 2009

25th September,2009.

In between a few other tasks had a good walk out on the moor. Whilst the weather wasn't particularly pleasant, it was good to be away from a computer for a while!!

The most dramatic point to come through was that the widespread, and quite large , numbers of Meadow Pipit now appear to have gone through. Numbers were less dense and more widespread. By contrast "Alba" wagtails were in good numbers, with doubtless a proportion of "Whites" in amongst them when good views could be had. Earlier, as they dispersed, Reed Buntings were quite widespread, but they now seem to be less generally distributed and in parties already. Contrasted againgst many areas on the UK mainland, our popoulation is still robust and good flocks are encountered in winter. Whilst birds are around, the quietness of the moors is now evident, although wandering flocks of Starling and Fieldfares will be around later to break the monotony! Occasional Sparrowhawk is still moving through causing havoc amongst the remaining bird parties on the moor. The "local" Hen Harriers have all but disappeared, as sightings are few and far between. I suspect they were unsuccessful this breeding season , as activity diminished quite early. The local young Buzzards appear to have moved on, temporarily or otherwise. I'm now spared the high pitched contact calls they utter from the various telegraph poles around the house which are penetrating and somewhat "wearing" after a while! You may remember I mentioned a long while ago that the local Rabbit population had suffered from myxamatosis and was much depleted. It's still not recoverd and very few individuals are seen, which must have had an obvious effect on the Buzzards in terms of food availablity , but doesn't appear to have affected the productivity with at least three young being produced this year.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

21st September, 2009.

Over the past few days I've been much involved, working alongside other lobbyists, in what might best be described as my "other activities", i.e. campaigning activities associated with climate change, environmental conservation issues and population matters. This is set to continue, and probably extend within the next few months, but doubtless time for birding will soon be found!

A few years ago there was a level of scepticism associated with the subject of global warming and whether such was a developing feature or , simply, a product of cyclical change. I now sincerely believe more than sufficient compelling evidence exists to support the claim and am relieved at the momentum for action that , finally, appears to be occurring. Within the last few days, the immediate future and , then within the next three months real evidence of commitment to consider, or implement , change has occurred:

  • China is to institute tough domestic measures relating to carbon emissions
  • a "Climate Summit" meeting is to be held at the United Nations tomorrow
  • the aircraft industry and manufacturers have pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2050 and, of course
  • the meeting by world leaders in Copenhagen, Denmark in December to debate the subject.

At a national (UK ) level the current Party Conference being held by the Liberal Democrats is set to debate the subject and determine policy for the future. All such actions build up awareness besides resulting, hopefully, in positive initiatives aimed at constructive change. In parallel with this their policy document relating to wildlife and natural heritage is also to be welcomed.

Whilst policies and endless debate sometimes do little in themselves to bring about change, the intent associated with such is something to which the group or party can be held to in the future. In this context the undoubted, forthcoming UK election is an opportunity to consider where each of the parties stand in relation to such matters. I admit to having little interest, or patience, with the "also ran conservationists" , who , usually , have the most to say and do the least in practice when it comes to personal action. I'm still apalled at the utter lack of responsibility some people show when it comes to simple, straightforward actions associated with energy conservation.......switching off televisions playing to themselves, lights all over the house etc. It's all part of the above dilemma and suggests there's still a long way to go, not just at international and national level, but at a personal level too!! But we are in all this together and, therefore, as much of a team approach as possible is the only solution to this immense problem. Standing aside is not an option as far as I'm concerned!!

Whilst many people would profess to have litte technical knowledge of a subject like climate change, I never fail to be amazed at how tuned in they are to some of the current effects. To a lot of people the word, PHENOLOGY , and the discipline it embraces probably means very little

" the periodic plant and life cycle events, and how these are influenced by seasonal and interannual variations in climate".

Comments like, " they never used to flower at this time of year", " some of the summer visitors (Birds! ) seem to get earlier", " you know, the local weather has really changed, we're getting far more easterly winds than ever I can remember", all things I've heard in the last few years. Not precise scientific stuff maybe, but a gentle reminder that even the untrained eye, albeit attuned to local circumstances, is begining to pick up on changes.

I suppose the strap line is, please be aware and do what you can, and , if you can do more, then DO IT!! At the end of the day many of the measures make sound sense anyway and provide positive leads to creating a much better place to live in.

Monday, September 21, 2009

20th September,2009.

Each year in the UK an event is held called the National Moth Night. This is organized by Atropus ( a journal dedicated to the study of lepidoptera and dragonflies ) and Butterfly Conservation, the national voluntary organization campaigning for moths and butterflies and their habitats.

This year the trapping dates were the 18th and 19th September. The dates change each year so that a different part of the season is covered for recording purposes. Since commencing in 1998 the scheme has enjoyed increasing success. Many reports have been received from new areas, records of scarce species generated and, in , 2008 records were received from Ireland of White Prominent, a moth which had not been recorded for 70 years.

The reason two dates are chosen is to accomodate the possibility of bad weather. Having looked at the forecasts I decided that Saturday the 19th, into the 20th , would be best. How wrong can you be? A particularly heavy rain shower occurred after about an hour , and others occurred during the night, so conditions were far from perfect. In summary, my contribution to the exercise was the princeley number of TWO moths, both of which I'd recorded before. Such are the pleasures of science!!!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

18th September, 2009.

Everything appears to have cleared out given the good weather we've enjoyed. Cold searching techniques by colleagues and myself have turned up nothing , but also confirmed that the "tail end" warblers, hirundines and chats have moved on. There's a strange feeling of vacuum, that even refers itself to the landscape, as the multitudes of Meadow Pipits have moved through and not been replaced. Various places seem silent! Looking back at these weeks last year still shows a few of such species to be present up to and including the last week of the month.

As if to pour insult on injury we are not enjoying any of the fall out of good birds that are turning up along the east coast of Scotland and England! These drift migrants have been brought across in the favourable weather conditions which has seen the presence of easterly winds literally assisting birds westwards to our shores. It seems that we're on the wrong island and should be on Orkney or Fair Isle!!!

It will be interesting to see if we can anticipate any more of our "normal" migrants at this time of year or whether passage has already more or less finished to be replaced quite soon now by the passage of winter thrushes. And of one thing we can be certain, the vacuum and silence will soon be filled by the presence and calls of our 45,000+ wintering geese!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

15th/16th September, 2009.

Fine both days with much more sun today and really pleasant.

An early post and something quite different. Man on a mission stuff for two days, albeit with no success, although none was actually expected at this time of year. I've long believed that we must have resident Long-eared Owl on Islay!! There are breeding birds on nearby Colonsay and I suspect some reported sightings of owls on Jura are of this species. Some historical references are present for Islay and there has been a couple of sightings in recent years.

Whilst associated with Wintersett Ringing Station many years ago, we monitored for Long-eared Owls locally and caught and ringed birds at a local winter roost. Not an easy species by any means and best looked for, listened for actually, in spring and later when young start giving out their squeaky calls, said to sound like an unoiled gate hinge!!!

Here on Islay there are many places where they could be, and more I've looked the more convinced I've become. So, a few more visits in winter to check on best access etc to various sites and then a more comprehensive survey next spring. Now, I'm ready for some more seawatching!!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

14th September, 2009.

A rather grey day, although somewhat bright ,until later when sunshine broke through. A southerly breeze produced a sea with a very slight swell.

At first light a party of 18 Grey lag Geese flew over the house towards the coast and, later, 10 flew south out at sea. This latter is only the second occasion I've witnessed direct movement off Islay and such may tie in with the wider "situation" which continues to intrigue us all!!

A seawatch, within which I did a three hour count, contrasted sharply with that of the 12th. Whilst Manx Shearwater and Gannet numbers were around the same, quite a variety of other birds were on the move. Red-throated Diver, Whimbrel, Redshank, Turnstone, Black Guillemot, a Puffin, a few unidentified auks, a Black-headed Gull ( not common at Frenchman's Rocks ), 3 Arctic Skua and a fine Pomarine Skua. Passerines on the move: Grey Wagtail, "Alba" Wagtails, Meadow Pipit, Twite , Linnet, with, noticeably, not a single hirundine being seen. A "Greenland" Wheatear " was on rocks nearby and a Sparrowhawk sat out on Frenchman's Rocks for a while before departing south, immediately replaced by a Hooded Crow which commenced to feed on what were obviously the remains of some hapless prey the hawk had feasted on!!

At one point what I took to be a Bottle-nosed Dolphin cast high out of the water, twisted, and returned, the whole episode taking little more than two seconds . Later, again for a short period only, a fin appeared which confirmed the sighting.

And, finally, back to the house to examine the moth trap, and wrestle, as always, with identifying some of the less obvious specimens now turning up!!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

12th September,2009.

With conditions similar to yesterday I anticipated little and received not much more! The weather was glorious , the midges were tolerable and it was a real pleasure to be out. Some mist patches very early , and a very heavy dew, but, thereafter was tremendous!!

Timed counts within a seawatch over three hours showed 390 Manx Shearwater and 470 Gannet moving south and odd Fulmar and a few Kittiwake. A single Puffin and three individual auks flew south but nothing more! Passerines fared slightly better with at least three flocks of Twite coming down the coast and a single Grey Wagtail.

Variety was provided in the form of a boat from the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust passing north and then prescribing a huge arc in the waters off west Islay, doubtless on one of their holiday survey cruises.

With past weather, particularly in August, being very wet and unsuitable for moth trapping ( 10" in a month is a bit of a wash out!! ) the recent weather has been welcomed to say the least. However, temperatures at night have been quite low and catches appear to have followed course! Pale Eggar and Autumnal Rustc, (and a quite late (?) Antler moth), have been the most noticeable in the catch.

Friday, September 11, 2009

11th September,2009.

Early mist delayed the start to a seawatch session I'd promised myself , whatever the conditions. As such, a flat sea. light winds and reasonable visibilty ( a fog bank lay in the distance ) held liitle potential for surprises!

Limited numbers of Gannet and Manx Shearwater passed ( ca. 300 each ), 40+ Fulmar and the odd Kittiwake, a couple of Red-throated Diver and a party of Wigeon........and that was it! My good friend Andy Schofield maintains you should hang on in , come what may , as IT will turn up eventually. Well, after almost three hours, there seemed more likelihood of a computer terminal flying past than IT turning up ( sorry, folks ). What's more the dreaded midges were out in force! After Three Anointings ( of repellant ) this Biblical epic of a seawatch was losing its focus......but I've to confess that I enjoyed every minute!!. For once, the opportunity to just sit and watch the birds moving leaisurely past was a real treat! There was no imperative to keep five or six "running counts" going of species on the move!! Throughout the time 50-60 Kittiwakes rested out on Frenchman's Rocks, as did a small party of Redshank and of Turnstone along with the odd Alba wagtail and Meadow Pipit migrating south. It occurred to me that the handful of Hooded Crows that diligently search around on the rocks each morning session were possibly doing it in the hope of finding some exhausted migrant that had succumbed!

Later, birding the local area, a mixed flock of Linnet and Lesser Redpoll, and a few other parties of the former, Skylark numbers within the grasslands , as well as replenished numbers of Meadow Pipit compared to yesterday, showed birds were well and truly on the move and taking benefit from the good weather conditions. Near home two "Greenland" Wheatear and a Northern Wheatear paid additional testament to passage happening after none had been seen yesterday whilst covering a lot of ground.

10th September,2009.

A really nice day with afternoon temperatures better than comfortable!!

A further round of Grey-lag Goose counts produced similar figures to previously. Time was spent going through as many of the birds as possible looking for neck collars,but to no avail. Marking has been carried out elsewhere and that possibility , at least for some of the birds, necessarily needs to be covered.

Whilst there was little on outer Loch Indaal , the mid section showed several Red-throated Divers, one pair with a well grown youngster they'd obviously brought from their breeding lochan. There appears to be somewhat of a lull in wader numbers at the moment with the high numbers of previously having moved on. Reminders of summer were Arctic Terns, Whinchat and Swallows, but an early indication of autumn was the number of Robins distributed around, even in odd places!! Our population in autumn and winter is boosted quite dramatically by immigrant birds even, it would seem, at this early stage!.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

8th September, 2009.

A night of Wagnerian proportions, or so I was told, which offered strong winds, rain, lightning , thunder ...the lot. However, it was within sleeping time so I'm afraid I missed it!!!

The weather wasn't that good throughout the day with continuing strong winds and heavy squalls. I took advantage of the opportunity to look at the results from the Grey-lag Goose survey, talk to other counters and, generally, to get a feel of the situation which had emerged. So saying, I'm somewhat confused!

The total was very close to that of last year, i.e.1600, which I'm loathe to believe is correct, although duty bound to accept until something higher is obtained. Given there were plenty of broods around, and that only around 50 birds have been shot in the interim, this would mean that we'd either missed some birds or that some birds had moved on already. The alternative, of course, is that the popultion has remeined relatively stable as has happened elsewhere after a period of growth. Similarly, of the birds which did move off last winter, a reduced number may have returned to breed. In the circumstances it seems sensible to continue counts until at least the end of September to keep checking the figures. Whilst there did seem to be a lot of birds around, conjecture as to the reasons surrouding the count, or the reality, is pointless and only the counts can be taken as representing the true situation. In my opinion the total still represents what could be present "island wide" as a breeding /non-breeding population and little evidence exists this early in the season of any immigration. So, we press on to find the answers!! Elsewhere in Scotland the matter is being debated by the Scottish NFU as similar trends have been noted at other locations and concerns are being expressed by the farming community. So, back to the counting board........

Had what appeared to be a good hebridensis Song Thrush locally. A very dark bird compared to the local ones and one whose provenance was presumably Skye or further north.

Monday, September 7, 2009

7th September, 2009.

Thankfully a good day to complete the Grey-lag Goose survey!! Fine weather with good visibility and no rain!

Whilst the final results aren't in the weather meant that we all enjoyed good coverage. A major count I had on the Bridgend Merse involved birds that were resting, bathing or simply hanging around. Many barley fields have not yet been harvested which, compared to last year, was an activity completed!! Tomorrow I should be in a position to determine whether we've more birds around than in previous years. We can consider conclusions then!!

A bonus midday was an immature White-tailed Eagle moving north of Loch Skerrols being mobbed by Buzzards. Thankfully it avoided Inner Loch Indaal and moved south east over high land ,as opposed to disturbing all the Grey-lag Geese I'd just counted!!! A real " barn door" ragged immature as my notebook records!

In passing, odd Northern Wheatear still around, lots of Linnets ( they appear to have had a very good season ) and an appreciable number of " White" Wagtail amongst the many wagtail parties around. On the way home a female Hen Harrier created havoc over several moorland stretches, lifting endless., otherwise unrecorded Meadow Pipits, into an aerial parade of anxious, calling individuals.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

4th September,2009.

A breezy day at the onset and, finally, some fine weather too!!

A busy day calling at Scottish Natural Heritage, RSPB and elsewhere to talk about forthcoming surveys, goose counting and much else. Any birding was whilst being mobile in many senses! A decision to delay the Grey lag Goose count, so ( hopefully ) some more of the barley harvest could be retrieved , paid off with work in full swing . This will mean more geese are out on the stubbles and much easier to count!

By evening Outer Loch Indaal was quite calm but little had changed. Razorbill groups, a feature of the late "summer", a few Shag, and 15+ Arctic Tern were the only birds of note. Earlier a group of 13 Mistle Thrush was the first seen . The tide in the Inner Loch was quite high forcing waders off elsewhere, although a few Curlew perched stoically on odd wave washed rocks!

Details have emerged, relating to the Tree Sparrows, which possibly makes the breeding on the Oa reserve this summer even more significant. Malcolm Ogilvie had kindly extracted and summarized records held by the Islay Natural History Trust and had added further comment that suggests it may be forty years since the species bred. Indeed some doubt is held over the fact of whether they actually ever bred in the past. Occurences were often during the breeding season but there appears to be no firm evidence of actual breeding, certainly in recent decades as suggested in other sources. So, 2009 might well be the begining of something quite positive!!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

2nd September,2009.

Weather still unsettled but not too unkind a mix!

Down on The Oa all day , ostensibly sorting out BTO Atlas Survey data but, as always , discussion ranged over many things. Whilst this RSPB reserve is managed primarily for Chough it also has coastline on three of its boundaries and, therefore, carries various small seabird colonies besides birds like Hen Harrier and Golden Eagle in its heartland. Cropping rotations now introduced ensure stubble fields are availble for small passerines in winter, coupled with adjacent weed ridden corridors , thus providing a veritable feast upon which the birds can rely during the "leaner" months. Even now the area was alive with Linnets and Twite, a few Reed Bunting and Starling. More importantly , the stars of the show were still there in the form of several Tree Sparrows, both adults and youngsters. Arriving out of the blue in late spring two, possibly three . pairs nested and have had second broods too. Hopefully they might remain through the winter , given food is available, and be the makings of a small permanent colony. Whilst it's never been common on Islay it's certainly a most welcome addition to the island's avifauna again given it's over twenty years since they were known to breed before and virtually no known records of occurence since.

Later a few Sand Martin and Swallow were around Loch Kinnabus, including some very young looking birds. Additionally a flock of at least 96 Goldfinch was in the vicinity , the largest charm I've seen in recent years.

Not bad for a paper work day!!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Ist September,2009.

In the main a fine day but with some really heavy showers during the early afternoon ensuring the trend continues of our having received almost 10" of rain in August!!

Whilst seawatching was an option little coverage of sites in recent times, away from RSPB Reserves, suggested it worth doing a round trip to see what was about!! The penalty of virtually no active birders on the island and a huge area to cover places additional value on contributions by visitors.A count of Atlantic Grey Seal off Portnahaven showed good numbers present and a maximum of 106 counted by a colleague earlier.

Whilst the conditions weren't ideal I decided to complete a BTO WeBS count over Outer Loch Indaal. A few Eider, Common Scoter, Arctic Tern, Gannet and Kittiwake were the most obvious birds other than Razorbill with several small groups, or family units, spread over the outer waters. An obvious Greenland Wheatear, the first of the autumn, was south of Port Charlotte.

Inner Loch Indaal showed wader numbers to be increasing but, again, difficult to count in the conditions. The lone Barnacle Goose was still present, awaiting the arrival of its well travelled colleagues!! 8 immature Shelduck, Red throated Diver, Red -breasted Merganser , Common Scoter and Eider , with most other duck species due to arrive shortly. A single Razorbill youngster , sheltering at the very head of the loch in the lee of Black Rock, was intriguing until it showed itself well.

Linnet flocks are now in evidence and several amounted to between 50-70, which suugested an encouraging breeding season. On to Loch Gruinart, with Linnet, a Northern Wheatear, and an endless selection of waders ( Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Whimbrel, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Greenshank, Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Knot, Curlew Sandpiper, Dunlin and Lapwing ). Again, very few duck in evidence and, as it happens, no Grey lag Geese , one species I was on the look out for prior to the forthcoming survey. The poor weather of late has halted the harvesting of barley fields where the geese move to immediately the action has died down. This makes them easier to count and then check again as they move to nearby Loch Gruinart to roost. This year could be a bit of a challenge and suggests extra counts might be needed!!

On wet fields at Ballinaby Ringed Plover, Dunlin and Bar-tailed Godwit were feeding with 3 Black -tailed Godwit .

A good day with Northern Wheatear, Common Whitethroat still near home, doubtless held up by the poor weather. A few House Martin and Swallow still remain with reported late broods around.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

31st August,2009.

A poor day in many respects until things settled down in the late afternoon. Rain squalls overnight had obviously grounded a few migrants and their continuation seemed also to be causing Meadow Pipits to be " backing up", unable to continue in the strong winds and rain. Northern Wheatear, Common Whitethroat and Lesser Redpoll were all in evidence with two small flocks of the latter.

Spent the early part of the day examining the counts from last winter of Grey lag Geese, kindly supplied by Maragret Morris, Goose Management Officer ( SNH ). Certainly, in 2008-2009, the large numbers in September appeared to reduce by around two-thirds in October, even before the main arrival of Barnacle and Greenland White-fronted Geese. The remaining birds maintained their numbers within certain limits until into the New Year and then commenced to reduce with no obvious pulse of birds returning. Clearly it will be necessary to look at all the figures again and to compare the results against the forthcoming winter to see if a pattern emerges. Already there appears to be quite a lot of birds around but not as tighly flocked as previuosly.

As a reminder that winter is approaching (!!) a report from the Western Isles included a sighting of Light -bellied Brent Geese moving south.