Monday, December 28, 2009

A day of transition?

Compared to recent days today was milder, relatively that is , and altogether more pleasant. Whilst I didn't have a lot of time I managed a good scout around Loch Indaal. I was a bit disappointed with the results as sections of the merse were still frozen and numbers of birds quite low. By way of compensation some good views of Great Northern Diver were obtained and reinforced the need to have a camera ready even on domestic linked trips!!

The recent poor weather had obviously "hit" the southern and eastern parts of the island , contrasted against the south west portion ( thankfully my bit!), with far more remnant evidence of snow and ice present. The Paps of Jura still look magnificent bathed in snow and provide a backdrop to any journey taken to the north of the island, in my case to Port Askaig to pick up my teenage daughters on the afternoon ferry. Whilst active birding might be a little impaired over the next ten days or so, quite rightly, I'll doubtless now have the time to indulge in a few bits of research, holiday planning and so on, although with an inevitable focus on early mornings as, thereafter, the demands of social networking completely overtake the capacity of computer facilities available!!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

International Trade in Wildlife Specimens.

Recently I received a document entitled " Identification Sheets for Wildlife Species Traded in South East Asia". It had been produced by TRAFFIC South East Asia to assist enforcement officials identify wildlife species commonly found in trade. Its focus is equally as relevant here in the UK, in Europe, the USA and elsewhere as in Asia.
TRAFFIC, established in 1976, oversees the wildlife trade and monitoring network, and is a joint programme of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It works in close co-operation with the Secretariat of CITES (see below) and details of its structure and activities can be found at

As you can imagine it has connections with many organizations worldwide one of which is the Wildlife Alliance USA ( ), which has a community focus that compliments the work of TRAFFIC. Whilst the following information is a little formal in content, it is worthwhile setting it out to explain that there are efforts made worldwide to protect our most vulnerable species from the ravages of trade. CITES ( the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora ) is an international agreement between Governments aimed at ensuring international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants doesn't threaten their survival.

There are three official "Appendices" which apply controls to the 30,000 (yes,thirty thousand!) species covered in the Convention. Various levels of regulation apply, obviously aimed at minimizing the threat to species based on their status in the wild at the current time. It can be complicated, as many differing levels of legislation and regulation might apply, but clearly efforts are directed at maintaining viable populations of species listed.

Sadly, trade persists outside the limits of such controls and continued vigilance at points of importation and exportation are essential. The document makes alarming reading in that it brings home the unfortunate focus which is directed at our most vulnerable wildlife. There are many species we might not recognize, but the names of others, like the Tibetan Antelope, Snow Leopard and Sun Bear, are all too familiar due to television programmes.Such could be said to be the "iconic end" to a list that embraces various otter and primate species, Hornbills, Parrots, Crocodiles and Alligators, Lizards, Snakes, Turtles, Tortoises, Frogs, Fish and plants like Orchids. Even the diminutive Seahorse is included!!

It is all too easy to say" Why can't it be stopped in this day and age"?. The reasons are many and complex and range from cultural traditions, unscrupulous trading, to sheer acquisitive possession. Whilst we're all aware of the alleged properties of Rhino horn, the extensive demand for animal parts for traditional medicinal products of all kinds is frightening. Given the rarity of some specimens and by-products there are always those who will take the risk of trading in such goods in order to make money. At the other end of the spectrum there are those for whom the illegal procurement and possession of a rare specimen is both an obsession and a risk worth taking.
Endless other machinations creep in as well. I'd not even appreciated that, beyond the demand for live specimens, bird of prey carcases, including owls, were also in demand for medicinal purposes and magic! The pet trade, the song bird trade, the wild meat trade, the skin trade, the jewellery trade, besides the traditional medicines trade, all have connections to these activities. Now, before you stride off and lobby your hapless local pet shop owner or others, appreciate there is trade allowed in common or sufficiently abundant species, which can be obtained under licence , but are still scrutinized under the regulations mentioned above.

However, as an example of how illegal trade manifests itself, there was a report in September, 2009 of a man trying to smuggle 39 parrot eggs from Bali into Western Australia in a special vest made for the purpose!

He was apprehended at Perth International Airport and charged with smuggling wildlife into the country. Later another man was charged with the alleged possession of endangered species specimens and wildlife smuggling offences.

{ May I thank the Australian Customs and Border Protection Agency for the illustration opposite. }.

An aspect that is sometimes not as apparent as might be the case is that smuggling such "merchandise", be it horn, skins, live specimens or derivatives, can involve lucrative trade practices by well organized syndicates. Such is being done for money, big money sometimes! This is a challenge of "practice", as opposed to the need to amend cultural traditions when it comes to the use of traditional medicines . None of these challenges are easy to address and all agencies involved deserve our support and recognition.

Sadly it is not only the rare and exotic that fall foul of the collecting mentality or the willingness to submit requirements through the appropriate legal procedures.

Acknowledgement to Chris Shepherd ( Traffic South East Asia ).

The Lesser Adjutants shown in the illustration are not listed on CITES, but evoke the same sympathy in my view, by being in demand and traded as live specimens as are their rarer counterparts. With the wonderful filmed offerings on television nowadays and the plethora of wildlife trips available, do we not need to move on and set aside the opportunities to possess or have "close proximity" experiences of some wretched, captive specimen , however well housed? I suppose it's not everyone who can holiday in Cambodia, go into the reserve area on the Tonle Sap and see the birds above in the wild. But by not objecting to their incarceration we're lending justification to it and helping demand!!
In summary, all of this is disgusting, saddening and a blight on the more civilized views that most people hold towards our natural world and what it contains. However, it is an unfortunate reality and clearly something which needs to be addressed, contained and hopefully eliminated. At a personal level our vigilance, both at home and abroad, is necessary but , above that, our willingness to lend support to constituent organizations involved is an imperative, be it directly or in any campaigning they conduct.
Finally I think we ought to recognize the commitment shown by all staff associated with this worldwide" policing" of such illegal activities. The continuing resolve needed to address such disheartening activities on a regular basis is to be admired and our moral support and thanks should be a continuing "given" in this respect. And on that note may I personally thank Richard Thomas ( TRAFFIC UK ) for his assistance with a variety of elements relied upon for the above.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Wintering birds.

A "round" of local areas showed a nice mixed flock of Lapwings and Golden Plover in a couple of fields they seem to favour each winter. Their arrival always seems quite late into the autumn with the Lapwings possibly being local breeders anyway. Over the past couple of days there has been a noticeable increase in Starling flocks. Given the advancing bad weather from the east , and conditions "tightening" in many places on the Continent, these may well be birds which have been displaced westwards and, indeed, birds which might well move on further into Ireland. Hunting Hen Harriers seem to be met with at all times of the day at present, which is a reflection on the short period of daylight available and the paucity in usual prey numbers in many areas.

My post the other day relating to the poisoning of vultures in SE Asia has taken a quite remarkable coincidental twist. Watching television last evening an advert flashed on the sreen for what I believe is a product called Valorum ( designed to relieve painfiul joints I believe). I didn't catch the full details due to concentrating on a line at the bottom which stated " Contains Diclofenac. Read the details on the label", or something similar. Interesting , as it must have passed all the due tests for use on humans! Presumably the dosages are so small, any build up of residues in body fat is likely to take several lifetimes of usage before becoming toxic. Conversely it would be logical to assume the products being used on cattle are of a higher concentration and probably a very different trade name anyway! Absorbing stuff you might say.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

15/16th December, 2009.

A combined post given that both days were given over to the Greenland White-fronted Goose International Count. Several teams cover the whole of Islay on both days, with the two successive counts for the same routes being compared and a composite total arrived at. Similarly, teams will be covering other parts of the wintering area elsewhere. Whilst the "Greenland" White-fronted Goose is a sub-species it is treated as a separate species due to its discrete population and wintering areas. Sadly, numbers over the past few years have declined, with the main concerns and attention for this being focussed on the breeding grounds. There is thought to be competition with other species, notably the increasing incursion of Canada Geese, but much more work needs to be carried out in what is not the easiest of environments to carry out research , the logistics for which are very expensive to say the least.

Obviously such is also an opportunity to count our other wintering geese, mainly Barnacle Geese, efforts against which in our sector, yesterday, were severely frustrated when a military jet carried out a mock bombing run on what is known to be a designated target site, a very prominent farm house in the NW of the island. Whilst there are no loud bangs involved the sweeping, noisy presence of the aircraft caused mayhem and the 2000 or so geese beggared off almost as quickly as the plane!!

Given the weather was quite reasonable on both days , and fairly calm, other birds were noticeably active, particularly raptors , with hunting Hen Harriers, Sparrowhawk and Merlin being noted. A flock of Twite near Kilhoman was nice and a small party of Goldfinch near Saligo proved not all of them leave us in winter. Common Gulls are now becoming very obvious with some quite large parties at various locations.

Monday, December 14, 2009

14th December, 2009.

A rather early post following a slightly disappointing morning's birding, when a couple of survey areas turned up not terribly much!! The number and variety of birds in open areas, such as surrounds the house, plummets at this time of year , although the incoming cold weather may see passerines visiting the garden for food out of sheer necessity. A noticeably colder day and somewhat grey throughout, with darkness incoming by 1600 hours. I keep reminding myself we've only a few days to go before the shortest day arrives and then it's all change!!

Over the past few days the BTO has had a contract worker on Jura, concentrating on some of the more far flung areas for Atlas tetrad surveys. The weather has held and things, thankfully, appear to be going well.

In similar contrast, may I offer my best wishes to Bill and Pat, who've abandoned Preston for the winter and sent on warm thoughts from" Down Under"........ I'll try and convey how miserable it is over here until it's time for your return and Bowland!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Bad news for Asian vultures.

A day necessarily spent at home dealing with some arrangements and admin .matters. A shame too as the day was fine ,bright and crisp!.

News has come that vultures in South -east Asia are again being affected very badly by another "veterinary" drug. Research has indicated that, of every 1000 White-rumped Vultures in the 1980's, only one remains today, the decline brought about by the drug diclofenac, which is used to treat cattle. Any cattle then dying fall prey to the vultures and the residues passed on , which are lethal in accumulated doses.

Regrettably a second livestock treatment, ketoprofen, has also been found to be lethal to birds and is currently compounding the previous problems created by diclofenac. Tighter controls are being called for and a switch to a drug called meloxican , which has non-toxic effects on birds .

Whereas millions of vultures are calculated to have been present across India/Pakistan/ Nepal in the 1980's , huge areas are now devoid of birds. The race is now on to bring about a culture change in the use of such drugs, primarily towards the exclusive adoption of meloxican. The situation appears to be critical , as statements from some conservation bodies that ," of any two birds present last year one will now be dead", give an indication of the crisis point things have reached. However, there is no indication such "tabloid statements " are based on survey results or are surmise designed to provoke action! Clearly there is a major problem which demands to be addressed in immediate terms. Given the large numbers of kites present in some parts of the areas above I have not seen any commentary as to whether their populations are being affected too. Thankfully their scavenging habits are more widely based than those of vultures.

Friday, December 11, 2009

10th December, 2009.

Another day out goose counting in what turned out to be fine and mild weather conditions. A real joy to be out and seeing Islay at its best.

Our route took in Loch Gruinart and its wider surroundings , so bird variety was high , with quite high numbers of Barnacle Geese around too. Our early arrival on the Ardnave Penninsula, in the sense of starting there this time contrasted against it being the finish point, meant we caught the geese before any foddering out had been done. They're a lot easier to count when they've not been disturbed and have spread out in several flocks.

A nice female Merlin hunted along a wall line, and then conveniently perched close to the landrover , showing no fear whatsoever. Later, a realisation that a flock of passerines comprised exclusively of Reed Buntings was a reiteration of how common they are here and how lucky we are at not having experienced the reductions seen elsewhere. We've suitable breeding habitat aplenty on Islay and, therefore, seasonal food availablility could prove critical, but doesn't, given the number of stackyards around and stubble left overwinter. Years ago , when doing some winter ringing of Reed Buntings in West Yorkshire, some birds appeared to move south and south westwards in direct contrast to birds here that appear to remain. Another species about whose lifestyle and movements we could learn more if a ringing study was completed.

The mild and calm conditions immediately provoked what appeared to be territorial behaviour by Common Buzzards in two locations, with birds floating around in close pair formation over two traditional breeding woodlands..

Thursday, December 10, 2009

9th December,2009.

Both a fine and pleasant day devoted to one of the routine goose counts for Scttish Natural Heritage .For once, no rain, good visibility and geese that are begining to be a little more confident and not "spook" at every nearby presence. A couple of big packs of Baranacle Geese, i.e. of 2000+, more widely spread Greenland White-fronted Geese and a single Pink-footed Goose completed our species list with Grey-lag Goose not being seen. Whilst we get a few Pink-footed Geese moving through in autumn, and not always anything subatantial at that, only the odd bird remanis with us , usually caught up within one of the big flocks present, so it was quite nice to catch this one! All in all , a good day.

Despite stops on the way home nothing additional seen that was of interest.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

8th December, 2009.

A female Merlin past the house in the early morning was a nice surprise, the weather that moved in shortly after wasn't! Squally rain advancing in waves up the glen was most certainly not as planned or welcome.

So concentrated on getting the other Blogs up and running ( see Islay Wildlife, Enviro-conservation concerns and Vaunted Yiews! ). In between made enquiries relating to the updating exercise of the Argyll and Bute Biodiversity Plan, which now appears to be running to a very tight consultation period. I do wonder whether Planning Authorities and their agents deliberately put out plans they're least enthusiatic about at Christmas time and other holiday periods when the 28 days, or whatever is allowed for consultation, ends up being constrained due to everyone's commitments. Take note!

I'm now fully prepared for a health ladened winter having had the seasonal flu vaccine yesterday and the Swine flu this evening!! No excuses re poor weather and the like!.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

7th December, 2009.

A segmented day due to appointments! An opportunity in the morning to be out on the coast and a nearby moor linked with one of the better weather periods of the day! The sea is now largely devoid of birds other than those immediately along the coastline.. Herring Gulls appear to hang about around the nearby village, their ringing cries redolent of a seaside location, with G.B.B.G.'s more frequently along the coast and often taking advantage of bathing at a freshwater loch. The moorland provided a patiently hunting female Hen Harrier and a very close male Merlin , whose powder blue coloration was magnificent!

Discussions held relating to the BTO having an Atlas contract worker on Jura for a few days in order to tackle the more far flung areas of the island. Such is necessary, as trying to accomodate logistical demands by travelling from here just doesn't work, particularly in winter!! I sincerely hope he hits a good, stable period of weather , which is probably the final determining factor to success!!!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A good winter's birding day!

The main objective of the day was to get a WeBS count of Outer Loch Indaal given the weather conditions were suitable. Achieved, with a slightly surprising result in that the number of Great Northern Divers exceeded 20, not a particularly high count, but with all other species virtually absent! Thankfully a flock of Barnacle Geese north of Nerabus included not only a " hutchinsii" Canada Goose but also a "parvipes", with excellent views of both being obtained.

After the count I went up to the Inner Loch area given other recent reports have not really given any feedback for "wider" areas of Islay. A few Long-tailed Duck were present and Slavonian Grebe, Red-breasted Merganser, Great northern Diver, Eider, Greater Scaup, Light -bellied Brent Goose and Wigeon besides a variety of common waders. all in all a very enjoyable array of birds! On a point of enquiry........ I've never ever seen the Greater Scaup flock here feeding, they're always "roosting"!! The numbers fluctuate, which suggests they've feeding areas elsewhere regardless of the tides, but where?

Moving on to the RSPB Gruinart Reserve the Little Egret showed well and was obviously finding food easily given its foraging rate and success! The atmosphere here in late afternoon was terrific with the calls of anxious Teal, Mallard and Wigeon joining with a background of calls from Barnacle Geese and Greenland White-fronted Geese....terrific! On the way home a "modest pond" west of Port Charlotte provided the highest count of Moorhen I've ever had anywhere on Islay in ten years .....ten birds. It's not the commonest species so a notable hotspot!

Not a bad day, but back to normal as I write this with rain pounding on the window!

4th December,2009.

A somewhat more targeted day! Fine until the evening when heavy rain ensued and temperatures felt lower!!

The 1st November, 2009 saw the commencement of the third year of the BTO Atlas survey, which has been detailed before. The surveys, in both winter and summer, involve two visits to each tetrad selected and the requisite records being collected. Whilst we're doing reasonably well on Islay, Jura and Colonsay, my discovery that a Regional Representative elsewhere in the UK had 320 people on his list of Atlas contacts came as a bit of a shock! I admit the fact that we're struggling to exceed double figures of resident helpers, but extend heartfelt thanks to those who have helped whilst on holidays to add records into what is a region with 26 10km. squares and 377 tetrads to cover. A challenge worthy of reality TV!

Anyway yesterday's efforts helped contribute to the pool of data, but didn't generate much of interest given the nature of the areas I'd selected, which were almost bereft of birds. Sometimes it's difficult to be convinced of how some birds, e.g. Stonechat, manage to eke a living out in the midst of such "hostile" terrain!

Friday, December 4, 2009

3rd December,2009.

At last, a free day! Whilst survey work was calling the need to have a good look around the northern parts of Islay won out in the end. I did manage to complete a number of BTO WeBS counts on various waters , although a low sun and the distribution of birds within Inner Loch Indaal made counting impossible as everything was in silhouette and at distance. A brief appearance by an immature Golden Eagle over Bridgend Woods put the nearby roosting Barnacle Geese to flight for what was a few minutes of calling and pandemonium. Both in the Outer and Inner loch diver numbers seemed low, as did other waterbirds, but a further check can be made when conditions are more supportive.

Nothing of real interest over the sea but 21 Northern Fulmar around at the area north of Portnahaven was a nice sight. For once Orsay (island ) and the sound appeared bereft of Atlantic Grey Seals after some quite high counts previously.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

2nd December,2009.

Recurring problems with the water supply meant I had to remain at home. Thankfully ( to Archie ) all is now restored and back to normal.

Some little time ago Malcolm Ogilvie ( Islay Nat.Hist.Trust ) had transferred on to me the dataset of moths which had accumulated over the years. The vast majority of these were from visitors to the island and none of the records had been closely examined to see if any mistakes, name changes etc, affected them. Then, through the good offices of Zoe Randle ( Butterfly Conservation ) it was arranged for Mark Young ( Aberdeen University ) to scrutinize them, for which many thanks to all! A few queries emerged, but the main thing is that we now have an updated list, at a given point in time, against which we can add further records in the future. Very soon the records will be transferred onward to be a part of the National Distribution Map exercise which is being completed at the present time, of which more later.

Very soon I shall be operating a couple more Blogs in tandem with the above, which I hope will compliment each other. I'm separating general wildlife matters away from bird content and also having a site devoted to environmental and conservation concerns. I suddenly realised last night that , given the upcoming Climate Change conference, my timing was either spot on , or unfortunate, but there you go!!!

After the wild weather of Tuesday I actually believe things are to settle down a little!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

!st December,2009.

Back on Islay and into normality, although"normality" weighed in a little fiercely!! A fresh to srong southerly wind had white-capped waves advancing up Loch Indaal like a fleet of galleons in full sail. An official goose count was hampered somewhat by the wind and visibility conditions, and also produced a challenge in the form of the geese having chosen less regularly used spots in which to shelter and feed. Others were on the mudflats at Bridgend resting up after, presumably, having fed in the part moonlit conditions last night. Progressively conditions became worse with the onset of heavy rain, which hampered things further! Not pleasant.