Wednesday, October 21, 2009

20th October,2009.

Unfortunately I am having to suspend posts to this site until 31st October, 2009. I apologise to those gaining access and finding nothing new!!! Be back to you shortly.

John S. Armitage.

Monday, October 19, 2009

18th October,2009.

This weekend was when the survey of Light-bellied Brent Geese ( Branta bernicla hrota ) occurs, with a firther survey in mid-January, 2010. Very large numbers of these birds winter in Ireland and, usually, by comparison, we have very few to add in to the total. This population hails from Svalbard ( Spitsbergen ) and Greenland contrasted against the Dark-bellied form ( Branta bernicla ) whose breeding grounds are in Russia/ Western Siberia.

In September we see birds passing through on sea watches, with some staying over for a short while, very often at Loch Gruinart. Similar movements back north occur in May, making it one of the earliest and latest of the geese to be noted on passage. Our wintering population has grown very steadily in recent years from around 20 to < 40 with the birds usually centred on Loch Indaal. Figures this weekend suggest our wintering population has arrived and is of the same "order" as in recent winters.

By contrast a couple of weeks ago there was 28,000 at Strangford Loch and it will be interesting to see what figures arise from yesterday. A point of real interest is that the above flock had been looked at for juveniles and provided a return of <1%, which is a real worry. There has been several years where the birds had obviously enjoyed good breeding seasons, but this most recent one appears to have been rather different! Given the Barnacle Goose population wintering on the Solway Firth at Caerlaverock originates from Svalbard it will be interesting to compare the figures that come forward once the flocks there are scrutinized.

Our worry on Islay is what the situation might be with Greenland White-fronted Geese whose population has reduced in numbers in recent years and which could do with a really good boost to its numbers!!! Ageing observations on flocks will again produce commentary on this at some point in the winter!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

16th October,2009.

An absolutely glorious day. quite warm and sunny throughout. The sea was an inviting expanse of blue but with few birds around. A local loch had six rather tired adult Whooper Swans present, a party of Greenland White-fronted Geese and around thirty Grey lag Geese. All but latter had probably just arrived and were taking a well earned rest!!

Completed a whole variety of tasks associated with the upcoming BTO Winter Atlas survey, which commences on the !st November. The third winter of four, it's generating as much enthusiasm as the first with several people mentioning how much they're looking forward to it. I rather guess the weather may have turned a little different by then!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

15th October,2009.

Another early post given the constraints of the current circumstances!!

Being tied to home more than normal I tried an early morning migration watch from the yard. Not the US of A idea of the "backyard" but merely standing on the concrete apron between the house and the barn and looking eagerly northwards. Not a lot, it must be said, and, indeed, we seem to be in an almost strange period of vacuum at the moment with very little on the move. Passage of many passerines, notably pipits , seems to have been early, thrushes, as yet, aren't that obvious and finches are virtually absent. Perhaps weather, perhaps geographical, but a bit frustrating.

Some readers may find it strange no reports of raptor persecution, Hen harrier success etc has been mentioned of late. Such is quite deliberate as it happens. The various complaints and " issues" arising between the Lancashire Police and raptor workers in the Forest of Bowland resulted in a series of formal complaints being submitted through a legal advocate. To their credit the Lancashire Police have instituted an internal inquiry to examine the issues involved and various people are being asked for statements of fact or observation., myself included given the twenty years I had running protection schemes in the area, organizing survey work etc and, necessarily liaising with the Police , landowners and other factions. Having encouraged people to view the site ( Raptor Politics ) it seemed courteous to mention why the "traffic" is a little restricted at present. Until such time as the inquiry is completed it also seems senssible to limit any reportage and comment and to treat the matter on a very formal basis.

And finally, and differently......... I had the following sent through to me by a colleague.

This is topiary with a difference and, as I understand it, are examples present within some Botannical Gardens in Montreal. I've many others but , obviously, space prevents showing all of them. The one following is my own favourite and, I think, very clever indeed.

There is real artistry in the capture of the flight positions of the ducks concerned, so full marks to the creator and to the photographer. There are many others and should I ever go to Montreal I'd certainly ensure I visited and took in the whole selection!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

14th October, 2009.

An early post for reasons outlined later!! Despite the mist and light rain I went around the local coastal " circuit" nurturing the possibility of seeing some of the naval vessels returning south that had been involved in the NATO Joint Warrior exercise in the Minch.. With 12 NATO and Allied Nations involved I reckoned on seeing something as odd ones of them dodged southwards via the Irish Sea . Suffice to say my hunch reinforced the idea I should never have considered being a navigator!!

Basically spent the remainder of the day around Loch Indaal, particularly the Inner Loch. Almost 20 Slavonian Grebes, good numbers of Red-throated Divers with some diverse plumages on show, 400-500 Golden Plover ( finally ) but nothing amongst them, increasing numbers of Greater Scaup with over 30 Light -bellied Brent Geese in amongst them, Wigeon on the increase and parties of resplendent Eider. All topped up by a variety of waders and other duck species that provided a really good day!! At one point there was around 5000 Barnacle Geese simply resting or hanging around following the possibility of them having fed overnight given the moonlit conditions. Given the absolutely overcast conditions now in evidence they must then forgo feeding for 12 hours or so and then "flood out" tomorrow morning!!

Given there was no Grey-lag Geese included with them I checked a local area and found 150/160 which are using a loch and nearby stubble area for resting and feeding. It stll suggests over 500 have moved on in recent weeks and poses where they go to?

In some ways pride of place must go to a single bird which turned up in the garden early this morning! A species I record perhaps once a year... the humble House Sparrow. A very alert male arrived, stationed himself in "the bush" and took in the situation before moving on, testament to the fact even this species we very much take for granted moves around to a limited extent.

And so the final chapter of the day! Late evening my young daughters Katherine and Rachael will be arriving for most of their half term. Doubtless I shall become acquainted with new specialities ( Facebook ....already threatened ) making me into a silver social networking advocate!!

13th October, 2009.

A grey sea, slight swell and light SW wind held promise, but produced little, so I moved on to complete a BTO WeBS count of Outer Loch Indaal given the favourable conditions. Strangely enough, other than a few auks, 12 Red-throated Divers and a handful of Great Northern Divers, it held virtually nothing, although the all dark heads and narrow chevron marking on the necks of the latter showed well, with no birds in winter plumage.

Further north the rather late Arctic Tern was still around, preening assiduously and possibly preparing to leave? A favourite isolated clump of trees/ bushes held a variety of common birds, where none can sometimes be present, which included ca.15 Blackbirds and a Goldcrest, which suggested they were migrants. A period of mist and rain didn't help with counts over various waters but provided a lunch stop! Duck numbers are now begining to be more in evidence with the first Goldeneye present. "The geese" are just thoroughly confusing!!!. A normal year would see an accumulation of Barnacle Geese, ( collective noun could be a " barking" ! ), and Greenland White-fronted Geese present for a period at the head of Loch Gruinart ( the RSPB reserve ). Whilst good numbers of birds are there, others have gone straight on to stubbles, or are on the salt marsh at the head of Loch Indaal. The Grey-lag Geese have usually shown some reduction by now, but substantial numbers appear to be enjoying the company, and competition (!) from the large numbers of Barnacle Geese sharing the spilt grain that, by now , will have produced nutritious shoots. Time will tell as, when this temporary feast is exhausted, it will be interesting to see the patterns that emerge thereafter.

In transit had some good, prolonged views of an immature female Merlin near to Coul and hunting Hen Harrier. Spent some time with Chris and Tony Johnson from Bolton, who are up here on holiday, before returning home. Having known them for over thirty years I was also reminded that they've been associated with the RSPB Bolton Members Group for around the same period!! They're stepping down next year for a well deserved rest after taking on , over the years, virtually every task a members group engages in. I would suspect it's some sort of " members group record" for a man and wife team to have completed and hope the RSPB has something in mind as an apt "thank you" for service!!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

9th October, 2009.

A day of utter contrasts to yesterday!! Rain, strong wind squalls, threatening cloud cover and, altogether , a washout generally. The last inclement day recently, with drizzly rain , backed by a light SE wind, covered my windows in salt, a penalty of living close to the sea. This one, but with much stronger winds and lashing rain, cleaned it all off!!!

I'm at the point of re-joining the BTO Garden Birdwatch scheme. I'd withdrawn due to my absences away abroad etc, but Mike Toms, ( Head of Garden Ecology, BTO ) assured me that gaps in observations don't affect the national statistics coming through , so I'm poised to recommence recording the birds which visit and feed in the garden. Increasingly, particularly in bad weather, gardens are playing a key role in sustaining our wildlife. Whilst here on Islay, with its wide expanses of countryside unaffected by intensive development, the situation is far less critical than some areas elsewhere, but our weather is probably a tad worse than theirs!!! I haven't a large garden...........a square of grass surrounded by a low wall containing three stunted bushes and set in the middle of an isolated moor!! The wind affects everything, including the feeders which quite often have to be retrieved from the fields nearby after a particularly strong blow!! Nonetheless it is enjoyable and doubtless produces some data of value. My personal interest is noting the contribution it provides to the birds on passage as, obviously, little cover is provided for any resident species ( Starlings in the chimney, Swallows in the barn!! ). I actually let the garden "overgrow" this year completely, an action I suspect my landlord is still trying to work out!! It arose from having a Corncrake in a nettle bed just over the wall and thinking I could provide some more undisturbed cover in the garden! Well, it didn't work as the bird soon passed on to somewhere else! I did leave the burgeoning vegetation and have been utterly surprised at the numbers of birds it has attracted during the late summer and early autumn. Wiilow Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Northern Wheatear, Linnet , Twite, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Siskin, Lesser Redpoll, Reed Bunting , and, later, Meadow Pipit all came for a poke around, the advantage being that I knew they weren't "local" birds but those dispersing from either nearby or from much farther afield. I'll not bore you with what has visted in the past, but it's quite impressive and goes to show how gardens can provide a temporary haven for birds on the move.

I'm now faced with strimming the whole lot down and confusing people further as the only person undertaking garden maintenance at the onset of winter!! Strange people , birdwatchers!!
Seriously may I recommend taking part in the Garden Birdwatch scheme if you're in the UK as it's a worthwhile conservation exercise in itself and brings a lot of enjoyment. It's that BTO website again !!

8th October, 2009.

A rather beautiful autumn day against which my initial intentions were ruined early on by the discovery of a bank transfer I'd made having gone astray. As the day moved on ,the situation got worse in that the money appears to have gone walkabouts!!! So, as you might imagine, more than a little time was spent selecting telephone options within far off telephone facilities and repeating the circumstances in mantra like fashion!! Predictions of when it ought to be found ranged from five days to a month , but I remain sceptical that anybody can predict when something lost will be found, but the assurances kept coming with Biblical confidence!

And so I turned to validating Atlas Survey records!! As many will know the British Trust for Ornithology are conducting a survey between 2007-2011 aimed at mapping the distribution of alll bird species during the winters and breeding seasons within those years. Necessarily the local Regional Representatives for each geographical area ( mine is Islay, Jura and Colonsay ) have to cast an eye over submitted records to ensure their integrity etc. There appears to be very few queries arise in actuality, but all records need to be scrutinized nonetheless. Grid references, computer entry problems and the usual gamut of "human" mistakes throw up a few records requiring amendment. In parallel with all this a few queries arise which lead to debate. For example,presumed non-breeding Great Northern Divers can hang on here until mid-June and then suddenly disappear, presumably northwards, to other areas in which they pass the summer. They breed in neither area and only really summer in one but it raises the question of what staus you afford them whilst they're in our waters!! Wintering Pintail which hang on in April in suitable breeding habitat, and then suddenly "disappear" overnight in good migration conditions, as do Goldeneye, have probably no intention of staying to breed in the first place!!

The bewildering choice of identifying pure Rock Doves that are like some of the Feral Pigeons elswhere, and sometimes act in the same way up here is understandable. Last year a mixture of the few Feral Pigeons in Bowmore, some of which look like Rock Doves , accompanied by a Rose-coloured Starling seeking out the lunch time leftovers in the square was entertaining. They all had a preference for chips!!

The 2009/2010 Winter Atlas commences on 1st November so now is the time to take a look at the BTO Website and see how you might assist. Give it a try as it can turn up various surprises, even in your own home area!!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

7th October, 2009.

Well, back from the dead and all the usual sentiments of apology! Have managed to set aside the yoke of work and be in a position to engage with real involvement............birding!!!

Confess that after finishing some necessary commitments I just went out today and had a good days birding and immersed myself in birds, a visit to the island's metropolis ( Bowmore ), shopping and a good gossip!! My God, has she......really....did she...all that stuff.. In some ways , it's far more important than the Tory Party Conference, international terrorism and such like when you live divorced from reality in so many respects in a place like this.

Anyway, I really enjoyed my time with birds. Nothing special, just views! An appreciable number of Barnacle Geese are in with an estimated total ( by me) of 18-19,000 already. October 7th is usually a date at which we can anticipate some birds being in evidence , but, this year, higher numbers than expected were around and slightly earlier. Similarly the Solway population of Barnacle Geese showed 14,000+ to be present yesterday. The interesting thing about this is that they are from Svalbard ( Spitsbergen ) and our birds are from Greenland. Were weather conditions that awry generally across the whole Arctic to cause such an evacuatiuon? Is the rest of " our " wintering population currently "holed up " in Iceland en route from Greenland.... or what? All interesting stuff!!

And finally, congratulations to No. 1 son and Rose on their engagement!!