Friday, December 24, 2010

Only two days to normality!! 24/12/2010.

The "normality" is not an attempt to cancel Christmas, but to rejoice in the appearance of Boxing Day when, we are told, the weather will improve!! I was going to label the top picture, in the words of the song,

"It's a new day, it's a new dawn......and I'm feeling good!!"

Well the dark clouds to the left of the picture then moved south and we got some more snow, not a lot, but a reminder things aren't yet over. Whilst the road is still bad, it is all rather picturesque, as the general picture of the house shows. For some, water availability is now beginning to be a problem, given the succession of low night temperatures have really begun to bite and the usually reliable supplies "off the hill" are now freezing up!

Due to last minute changes in arrangements, work, and various other matters, I'm now going to "sign off" until the New Year. May I wish everyone all best wishes for Christmas and 2011 and thank the various people, who have been in touch by E-mail, for their kind wishes and encouraging remarks about the Blog . What was it they used to say on TV, "Service will be resumed as soon as possible", in this case 1/01/11

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Roosting survey already producing results!

Two/three inches of fresh snow overnight was a bit of a surprise! It came in from the south ( Northern Ireland ) and didn't affect areas a few miles north of here. However, with it falling on frozen hard packed snow from previously, road conditions were treacherous and I only saw two vehicles all day ( a gritting lorry and out stoical "postie", who seems to overcome things whatever, even by delivering the mail at 2000 hours!). My landlord and neighbour called and advised he and his wife were considering using the big tractor to get over to the main road in order to attend the school play in which their daughter was appearing. She had been "evacuated" previously to ensure her involvement!

Birdwise things were quiet here, in terms of numbers, but hectic as far as feeding was concerned. I was interested to read that even the usually aggressive Robin has commenced to be more tolerant of its bretheren ( now there's a Christmas word! ) with up to six being seen at one bird table in Cheshire. The news has obviously not reached the "turf possessive" individual that inhabits this garden who is intolerant of everything!

Similarly, the newly launched BTO ( British Trust for Ornithology) survey of roosting habits of birds in gardens is already producing some surprising results. Wrens are noted as "piling into nest boxes", roosting pouches and even old House Martin nests in order to stay warm and survive the harsh overnight conditions. Records already available show that 26% are roosting in groups of 5-9 and, in Devon, 30-34 roosted together in one nest box.

I was amazed to learn that Blue Tits usually roost alone (63% of records from nest boxes are of individuals ),as do Great Tits. This did surprise me, particularly as one can see parties of titmice collectively moving to roost at this time of year, sometimes having a variety of constituent species within the flocks too. That they all then split up is fascinating. Perhaps they don't always, as I'm sure I've seen some reference to Long-tailed Tits roosting together. It would certainly make sense, as the ability of such such small birds to survive extreme conditions must be very precariously balanced, even to the extent of being on a day to day basis. On this front even House Sparrows appear to have adopted the " you know it makes sense " approach with 42% of records showing 4 , or more, are roosting together.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

20th December,2010. Do we really want a white Christmas?

Well, I finally got out and even made it over to Jura! The day was silent, bright and very cold, but with seven layers on, fairly tolerable. Whilst the quietness of a snow filled landscape is therapeutic in some ways, driving on largely untreated roads sets aside any benefit!

As I went northwards alongside Loch Indaal in the fresh light of dawn a few groups of geese could be seen out on the water and were probably all Greenland White-fronted Geese. In all other circumstances this would have been a perfect day for counting the loch as it was so calm! An odd Slavonian Grebe, some Wigeon and a forlorn looking group of Light-bellied Brent Geese lent quality and variety but birds seemed to be in much reduced numbers based on brief impression. On Jura things were also very quiet, the only evidence of passage being 3 Mute Swans winging their way southwards. Various Herons were in evidence along the Sound of Islay shoreline, with a total slightly in excess of normal, suggesting that inland haunts were frozen up and forcing them elsewhere. Odd Great Northern Diver appeared along with the ever present Shags but, all in all, the day was exceedingly dull despite the magnificent clear skies and sunlight ( no warmth, just sunlight!! ).

Returning at dusk occasional Snipe and Woodcock lifted from roadside ditches suggesting that they too were feeling the pinch. Remarkable by their absence were any parties, large or small, of Barnacle Geese and a call later from Malcolm Ogilvie explored the same theme. If they have packed together there must be some very large flocks around, but where? Time will tell!

On the question of white Christmases I'm already erring towards that wonderful line uttered by the Sheriff of Nottingham in the film Robin Hood, " And Christmas is cancelled", well at least the snowy bit! All this brought on by E-mailed Christmas wishes and a scene from a friend on Aldabra......some islands have all the luck!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Good sense eventually prevails for raptors!

Given the weather, or more precisely, the road conditions, I've elected to stay put and catch up on a few tasks! As some will notice ,this is the second post of the day, the previous one referring to yesterday ( Friday 17th ).Recent times have also allowed me to put out posts on my other Blogs, so take a look at those too!!

In recent times the Altamont Pass area, California, USA has been the focus of much acrimonious debate and action due to the extensive number of wind turbines present there and the effects these were having on local and migrant raptor populations. A 2004 State study showed that between 880-1330 were being killed there annually!!

The major wind energy producer (NextEra Energy Resources) has now agreed , as part of a legal settlement, to replace 2400 wind turbines within four years and pay $2.5million that can be used in a variety of ways to reduce raptor deaths and enhance breeding habitat.

The knub of the issue is that there will be much larger turbines ( that produce more energy ), but such will be fewer in number and ,thereby, reduce the number of blades that raptors might collide with. Not a complete solution but, clearly, a major improvement over the previous situation. Understandably this outcome is being hailed as a landmark agreement and one which other participants in the industry may well take as a benchmark. Were that many of the ageing turbines in the Tarifa area, SW Spain had been subject to change and replacement years ago given they are strung out as a "barrier" across one of the most important raptor migration points in southern Europe!! Having said that, some inroads have been made into the problem, but with an increasing area of turbines appearing as well, so progress is a confusing mixture!!

The blast of winter descends!

Whilst there were some quite pleasant interludes throughout the day, successive flurries and squalls had given 3/4" of snow by mid-evening that, in a modest fashion, had even drifted up a little due to the northerly wind ( like up the back door!! ).

Birds around home were in short supply with singles of Robin, Blackbird and Song Thrush ( a hebridensis) visiting for food. In one of the better periods I made a "migration watch", that I believed might produce birds hurriedly moving out in front of the weather, but it produced nothing, not even the odd Redwing. As is usually the case the only other birds noticed were Ravens and even they were circling around clearly looking for food.

Friday, December 17, 2010

New BTO survey launched.

The BTO ( British Trust for Ornithology ) has launched a new survey in the last few days which aims to extend our knowledge of where birds roost in winter, the extent to which they utilise nestboxes and whether they do so communally.

Plummeting temperatures provide an extensive hazard to birds when they are required to withstand a night that can extend to almost 16 hours in duration at the very height of winter. With feeding conditions very often also being at their most extreme the need to obtain sufficient food to withstand such prolonged stress is of paramount importance. For many species visiting our gardens this aspect is overcome by the generous provision of varying food types we make available, which an extensive number of species avidly exploit, but also heavily rely on. That they might also rely on the convenient presence of nestboxes sited in the same garden, or nearby, is at the heart of the new enquiry. If this is something you are able to help with may I suggest you take a look at the details on the BTO website

As I look out on a landscape currently covered in snow, with successive flurries moving through backed by a stiff, cold northerly wind, the prospect of spending a night out in such conditions is less than enticing!! Doubtless even a nestbox would appear a most attractive " des-res" in the circumstances ..........

Thursday, December 16, 2010

15th December....second day of goose census.

Almost predictably the day proved to be somewhat grey and cloudy compared to previously! With rain leading to snow being forecast, there was an imperative to ensure the day was completed previous to any such conditions moving in. They didn't but it did become decidedly murky late in the afternoon.

The same route was covered and, indeed, the results from both days are compared to try and arrive at precise results. Compared to yesterday this was an extremely good day for birds!! A magnificent parvipes Canada Goose feeding with Greenland White-fronted Geese, two Golden Eagle soaring together over the Oa, 500+ Twite nearby to the RSPB office on the Oa within the fodder fields introduced by the warden, Andy Schofield, which have proved to be so successful this autumn providing habitat for a plethora of passerine species. Linnet, Chaffinch, Reed Bunting and the above Twite provided an ever restless "cloud" of birds rising and settling from the cover of the field. Later a magnificent Red Kite circling over dispersed woodland nearby to Ardbeg was a nice surprise. Our final "reward" was a classic winter adult Great Northern Diver in Claggain Bay, although, at that point, visibility was beginning to fall quite rapidly.

International Goose Count. 14th December,2010.

Today was earmarked as the first of two days given over for a census organized by Scottish Natural Heritage within the goose monitoring scheme on Islay to monitor the wintering population of Greenland White-fronted Geese in their traditional haunts. Ostensibly not much different in its operation on Islay to a normal goose count, as it provides an opportunity to count all geese encountered, excepting that it's relevance is of paramount importance given the population of Greenland White-fronted Geese appears to be in decline. The need to monitor such on a frequent basis is crucial at the present time!

The day was glorious, in fact too glorious! The winter sun was in evidence for the whole day, but given its low position visibility was sometimes impaired, rather than enhanced. It's not a phenomenon we suffer from too frequently! Where its meagre warmth never reached, icy conditions still persisted, so it was an interesting day as far as progression too! However the Oa route, which includes the whole southern coast sector, was displayed at its best. Whilst the day produced nothing special, except for a Merlin speeding low across the landscape like an Exocet missile, good views, in excellent light, of various groups of geese was a real tonic.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

11th December,2010.

Given it was dark when I left home I saw little other than the odd Woodcock rising from roadside verges and a brief glimpse of an owl, in silhouette, that was possibly Short-eared Owl. The remaining part of the day was spent on Jura. Compared to recent days it was potentially balmy, but the stiff northerly breeze put paid to that and the Sound showed a strong tidal flow to the south throughout the day.

In birding terms there was little to excite, although good views of an immature Red-throated Diver in transitional plumage was interesting and, almost as a final gesture of goodwill to the day, a Sea Eagle moved from Islay to Jura as I waited for the ferry in late afternoon. Of equal interest was seeing a CalMac ferry boat enter Port Askaig given the linkspan has now been repaired. Whether or not this was the first occasion since the ill-fated collision that caused the problem a few weeks ago or not, the task was undertaken with extreme caution reminiscent of a learner driver reversing around a corner for the first time!!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sad news on several fronts!

News has been released that the elderly birdwatcher who went missing on Sunday last, when weather conditions were somewhat extreme, has been found dead in Yardley Wood, Northamptonshire. Full details have not yet been released by the Police but his unfortunate death is a reminder to us all that our hobby is not without its risks when we explore new areas, go far off the beaten track and so on, particularly abroad. A sad episode in any event.

Similar sad news has come from Northern Ireland where a young Golden Eagle, born on the Outer Hebrides this year and transferred to the official release project, has been found poisoned. Additionally news of two poisoned Buzzards in Strathspey has also emerged. In both these instances the poison carbofuran was used. The latter news comes in the immediate wake of the Stage 1 presentation and debate on the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland ) Bill which addresses this amongst other problems. The subject of raptor persecution was commented on by John Scott, MSP, who declared that Scottish Tories didn't accept there was a problem and that it was "part real, part imaginary". Given he's a member of the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee, which has led the way in bringing this draft legislation forward, received endless details on raptor persecution incidents in Scotland, his remarks are crass in the extreme and have simply rendered the situation down to what is little more than Party Politics.

A venture out into the wide and wonderful yesterday was rewarded, locally, with a 2nd winter Glaucous Gull after a tip off from a colleague. It may have been around a few days but is very mobile. Few birds are around in numbers and the anticipation, but not reality, of coming across small parties of species like Reed Bunting, Linnet, Stonechat and Meadow Pipit suggest some of these may have moved out. With such hostile circumstances of weather so widely applicable over the UK this in itself becomes a problem and lays heavy value on the provision of food at garden "feeding stations", from which we then get the added enjoyment of seeing various species at close hand.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

8th December,2010. Cheery news from BTO..

It seemed too good to be true! A return from the mainland without having picked up some bug or another, and not the sort in hedgerows either!! So, several days on and I've just thrown off some spurious flu infection that I thought I'd sort out in a couple of days. Clearly a different strain to that provided for by the seasonal jab!! Trouble is, I've survey work to get stuck into and some serious rescheduling is now required.

But amongst all this angst and frustration some news has emerged that is heartening and bodes well for the future. At its Annual Conference last weekend at Swanwick, Derbyshire the British Trust for Ornithology announced to the hardy individuals who had fought snow, road closures and the like that it was to re-brand! A new logo and fresh website were revealed as part of the process, as well as redefined objectives. Take a look at and get a flavour of what is in store. There is a video of Andy Clement's presentation which fully explains the reasons behind this updating of the organization's image and approaches for the future.

The logo grows on you more you consider it. I'll not spoil the effect, but I have to confess I always thought the Gannet logo was a little "flat". Whilst it represented the organization it conveyed little about what was involved other than some connection with birds. Its replacement is a great improvement in my view. The web site is much clearer than previously with all the expected links, but with topical information centrally placed. Again, take a look, get the flavour of the change and, most of all, if your association with BTO in the past has been marginal consider yourself being part of the revised approach. It makes sense, it's a great organization!!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

2nd December,2010.

Well, finally back on Islay after a two stage journey of return. Farther west one travelled the easier it became and now it's just cold , with no snow in evidence. Remarkably the journey back was relatively devoid of birds. There was a strange stillness to the Great Glen, almost as if one was in a frozen vacuum!

A quick visit to the harbour in Oban showed the returned Ring-billed Gull nowhere to be seen, which is par for the course when you've scant time available!!! Whilst I did have a look for the Snow Goose , present with Grey lag Geese farther down the coast,it too was absent but apparently it has now been "downgraded" and declared an escape, although the criteria for its avid acceptance previously and its recent relegation aren't at all clear!

There appears to be little news for Islay, which is probably more a product of reduced coverage than actuality. I suspect some birds will have moved out altogether, as elsewhere, due to the very cold conditions or be relying on the food made available at feeding stations. A BTO Press Release states that, in many parts of Scotland, birds have piled into gardens including species like Fieldfares.

At least the forecast for this part of the UK suggests slightly warmer conditions are in the offing........

Monday, November 29, 2010

Certainly not weather for wimps!

With 26cm. of snow just down the road, plummeting temperatures destined to reach -12C tonight , this is certainly not weather for wimps! This is real winter stuff and I confess it will be a relief to get back to the wet and windy options on Islay, where I suspect, "it's cold today, isn't it", equates to what people say in Aberdeen in July!!I think that part of Scotland is suffering most of all at the moment.

The birds are having a hard time of it with every day-lit hour being made use of. Tracks in the garden showed Brown Hare, Rabbit and Red Fox had been through the area under the cover of darkness. Despite the low temperatures of the past few days it was surprising how mild it felt within the confines of the large poly tunnel, although all things are relative and the effects of a cutting easterly wind had been eliminated. I suspect this is how many birds and animals cope overnight, seeking out some sheltered position and minimising outside effects. Alternatively, I can't think of anywhere worse than a wind swept estuary or open loch on which to spend the night time hours!! Some birds, like Wrens, can even form communal roosts in places like nest boxes which, if you're at the bottom of the pile must be pretty cosy, albeit a bit claustrophobic!! Some years ago I can remember walking along a disused railway cutting, after the winter and somewhere close to Crianlarich, and finding many carcases of Redwing within and below large Hawthorn bushes in which they had roosted, but, presumably then , perished ,perhaps because of extreme and freak conditions. A couple of years ago too, when I was out in Poland in the Bialowieza Forest,I was fascinated to learn from one of the senior researchers how , sometimes, Black Woodpeckers will seek shelter in hollow trees which had fallen and were present on the forest floor. Intriguingly this whole area of bird roosting sites and strategies is something about which little popular material appears to be available, although there are obvious major constraints connected with its study!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

How many rare birds do we miss?

Given I'm more than a bit housebound at the moment, besides not having time to go out birding, I thought I'd briefly explore the question above! This Buff-breasted Sandpiper turned up on Islay way back in September and was seen by quite a lot of folk, including some birders on holiday. It was on grazing land above Port Charlotte on Islay and was particularly faithful to a given part of the field concerned.

It was discovered by a birding colleague when he took a short cut across the field when coming off hill land. His more usual route would have missed it altogether. Given its situation neither would the field have been regularly "scrutinized" for this or other species, despite specific searches on occasions at appropriate times. This got me pondering about how much we must miss. On Islay the answer is simple.....with so few active and experienced birders, coupled with some areas receiving scant regular examination, there must be a lot that is missed. In this regard the contribution visitors make to what is found is immense.

Whilst there are hot spots up and down the UK, bird observatories and the like, not forgetting routinely worked "local patches", I suspect there is a very large volume of birds we miss. Some areas are better located than others it's true, but there's also large tracts of country that are never covered, and certainly not regularly. Whilst "fly throughs" add in another frustrating element, at least they are likely to pass differing points, be it over land or on the coast, which gives an added opportunity for them to be picked up. Conversely the east coast and SW England in autumn probably have a high "hit" rate, most certainly compared to the north west coast of Scotland where terrain and weather don't necessarily lend themselves to the quest!

So, if you ever feel depressed after an unproductive day, or an enforced
incarceration, contemplate this particular question. It soon restores motivation and a competitive edge, firms up resolve to make an even better use of time, plan journeys past suitable areas and so on. Now, what else can I cheer myself up with?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Bird feeding bonanza!

Whilst the Inverness area didn't get as much of a deluge of snow as farther east, there was enough! Temperatures are very low and I'm reflecting on the wisdom of having a No.1 haircut two days ago!!

The feeders have been festooned with birds, with all the usual aggression and desperation on display. Great, Blue and Coal Tits, Blackbirds, a male Great Spotted Woodpecker, Yellowhammer, Tree Sparrow, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Wren and Robin were all regularly present throughout the day, almost until darkness. Strangely enough the daily dawn and dusk flights of Pink-footed Geese, and some Grey lag Geese, to the stubble fields beyond Beauly appear to have temporarily ceased with the oncoming snow. A highly vocal, fast moving flock of 16 Long tailed Tits sped from the nearby woodland, over open fields towards dusk, doubtless heading for a regular roosting spot.

The nearby "Redpoll" flock appears to have moved on without there having been an opportunity to give it any real scrutiny given the high number ( 10% is one figure reported )of Common Redpoll around. As yet I've had no Siskin which suggests these local breeders have moved on already.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Changing trends in British birds.

With the International Year of Biodiversity drawing to a close the varying situation of species from across the planet has been much examined of late. The latest BTO Breeding Birds in the Wider Countryside Report adds to this debate at a national level and deals with many species with which we are familiar, some less frequently nowadays than previously!! The data is based on the efforts of volunteers and derived from the many surveys British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has administered over the years, some of them being very long standing constituents! The report advises on the contrasting fortunes of 117 British bird species, the full text of which can be accessed at

The figures show that numbers of 20% of these species have fallen by over half since the 1960's. Some of the declining species are also showing a reduction in breeding success, e.g. Spotted Flycatcher, Willow Warbler and Linnet and 39 species are shown to be laying their eggs earlier, which is thought to be the effect of climate change. Such a trend could have severe consequences for woodland insectivores like Pied Flycatcher, which,it is suggested, is likely to join the group above whose populations have reduced by more than half since the 1960's.

As has been pointed out many times previously some of these species are those we have taken for granted in past times, as their presence and abundance has given no cause for alarm. Now, even some of those which are household names are viewed with increasing concern.

However, not everything is disappointing news. 18 species have actually doubled their numbers! Great spotted Woodpecker and Woodpigeon are increasingly availing themselves of food provided in gardens and appear to be benefiting from warmer winters.

On Islay and Jura a number of species have declined noticeably through recent times, e.g. Tree Pipit and Whinchat, and possibly Wood Warbler. To these must be added Common Scoter whose regular presence may now be a thing of the past. On the credit side the recent appearance of several Tree Sparrows, very much a species eliciting concern in many other areas, and their subsequent successful breeding in two seasons, is a cause for celebration. And let's not forget the humble House Sparrow and Common Starling, species lost from some locations, but whose presence we still enjoy fairly generally.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

"What future for England's Hen Harriers?" response.

The RSPB recently put out the above release dealing with the current status of Hen Harriers in England, which makes depressing reading. May I urge everyone to read it either at the RSPB's site or on the Raptor Politics website, where there are other articles too on the subject.

Such caused me to think deeply about where we are, or need to be, on this matter of raptor persecution. Much vaunted admittedly, but necessary until such time as birders and the general public rise up and declare that it has now to stop. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!!

We've to have no doubts on the issue....there is no justification for such actions, which arise from prejudice, intolerance, commercial gain and a flagrant breaking of the law. Hen Harrier is included on Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act ( as amended ) and any interference with its status attracts severe penalties, if proven. It's quite clear cut with no exemptions. Now, forget who owns the land, the pedigree of their employees, and so on, the fact of the matter is that such actions are against the law and an errant and arrogant minority are setting themselves above its provisions, not a luxury most responsible people exercise! It has to be said that there are many within the shooting fraternity who feel the situation has gone too far. These illegal actions are the bedrock of the depressed numbers and distribution in England and the virtual absence of the species from parts of Scotland, e.g. Angus, arising as a consequence of the actions of a few who are actively setting themselves above the law. This is why it is so important that the proposed legislation goes through in Scotland whereby landowners can face a fine, or imprisonment, if any of their staff are convicted of killing birds of prey. The official term is "vicarious liability" and Roseanna Cunningham ( Scotland's Environment Minister ) must be congratulated on progressing the matter.

Let's take an honest look at the "tools" available to combat such activities. The voluntary sector, notably RSPB to their credit, have spent endless sums and devoted an immense amount of time to the issue. But it is not producing the required results!
Keeping the issue alive is not an easy task and repeatedly finding a focal point for action is difficult. Extensive political activity is also regulated by Charity Commission regulation, so there are major constraints associated with any campaigning. Government agencies similarly suffer from constraints, given their formal position within the Administration, and unilateral action is difficult. The Police, whatever their commitment, are under immense permanent pressure and the cutting back imminently of services will not help in this regard.

Have things changed in the last ten, twenty, thirty years? Not really and, therefore, these time honoured approaches should be accepted as having failed and new ones adopted. So what might comprise these alternatives?

Doubtless talk of licencing and quotas will, and must, proceed, but I fear the road to adoption will be paved with frustration and I still have little confidence the erring minority will faithfully pledge and maintain support. It seems to me that, rather than endlessly pouring out depressing results about Hen Harrier productivity, we should turn our attention directly on those responsible for the situation and not only of their actions, but the position being adopted by them. Divert the concern relating to Hen Harriers and direct it at those who exhibit a repeated willingness to ignore the law. Whilst many members of the public don't give a damn about Hen Harriers they would bridle at the thought that people were operating an industry based on illegality and setting themselves above the law, and very often people who should know better too! The demographics and attitudes of many people have changed with increasing urbanisation and countryside sports don't automatically enjoy the respect they did in many quarters. I'm buoyed up by the thought that shooting itself could see a backlash of opposition if its arrogant minority fail to change their ways. I'm not against shooting, and feel it far better some form of balance should be struck, rather than the sport and tradition increasingly have to fight off sanction and regulation....but only if the practitioners recognize the right of others to enjoy the components of the countryside they attach value to. To galvanize support for targeted opposition and regulation should not prove difficult, on paper at least. However I'm not convinced many who voice off about these matters ever really get down to doing something about it and so they must carry some responsibility for allowing the status quo to continue and Hen Harriers to slide into gradual local extinction.

An extensive co-ordinated campaign is needed, not just a 210,000 petition from the RSPB, but a joint one from Wildlife Trusts, Ramblers Association, Natural History Societies, BTO members, in fact everyone who's affronted by the current abuse, plus members of the general public approached through Facebook and other facilities.
Fifty letters received by each and every elected member of our respective national and country governments on a given day would be a good start to get the onslaught under way. Other initiatives could follow. Similar efforts have been tried before, of course they have, but there is a need for a fresh beginning and an expression of sincere opposition ( not concern, things need to go up a gear! ) to ensure the subject is never far away from the attention of those who could effect the necessary changes. It's a numbers game, and the expression of what the public feels is right that are the key elements, coupled with comments on confidence and future support (or its withdrawal!) that indicate to government members people are fed up.

In the end, instead of persistently grumbling about things , it's down to us to do something about it or concede the loss. The rhetoric has not changed in thirty years! Then we believed various initiatives, compromises, legislation changes would do the trick. The truth is they haven't and a drastic change in approach is required.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Waxwing in local village.

Maybe absent , but not totally disconnected!!!

Here is a Waxwing photographed on the 19th November in the local village, Portnahaven on Islay, courtesy of Stuart Graham. So the influx is still producing birds roaming to the west! A look around Inverness this morning produced none, although birds can be extremely mobile or, of course, moved on altogether.

Eagle Owls gain reprieve.

A somewhat unanticipated announcement by Richard Benyon, MP ( Minister for Natural Environment and Fisheries )has finally injected some sense into the debate and proposed cull associated with Eagle Owls. An E-mail sent on to the Raptor Politics web site by DEFRA yesterday advised that the Minister had issued a statement which said "After considering all the facts on the threat that Eagle Owls pose to native wildlife I have not been convinced that any immediate action is needed to control them. We will continue to monitor the effect they are having on other species, such as Hen Harriers,and will reassess the situation if necessary."

Thank goodness commonsense has shone through at last. It's been worth all the hard work and, in this context, thanks must go to a number of people. Tony Warburton, President of the World Owl Trust, Chrissie Harper whose sheer persistence must have weighed heavily on some and to the Raptor Politics website. Whilst I don't always agree with some of the comments made by contributors against articles on the site the fact that there is a facility where all such views can be expressed is a strength and allows things to be brought out into the open. Finally, a well deserved "thank you" to Dr. Mark Avery ( Director of Conservation, RSPB ) whose initial scepticism was amended eventually and an honest appraisal issued that the Ministers announcement closely mirrors in many respects. One might even suspect hands on tillers!

In these times of economic stringency a proposed cull would have incurred cost that might best be described as subscribing to lunacy given the paucity of evidence of actual harm. I suppose the task now is to ensure that the necessary monitoring research is put in hand to gain a once and for all up to date assessment of the situation. More cost that one might question, but undoubtedly a much cheaper outcome in the end and something that raptor workers should be prepared to assist with. But, of course, don't forget, the species is still included in the list of so-called Alien Species as no statement has been made to the contrary.

Whilst there will always be subjects over which there is dissention I feel this was a good day for conservation and democracy in action. That sounds a bit "plum" but I think the outcome should serve to encourage many people that sustained polite argument can win through in the end. Now, what about these Hen Harriers!!!!

Friday, November 19, 2010

19 th November,2010.

An early post! Whilst Islay enjoyed sightings of a number of flocks and small parties of Wawings recently, such was nothing compared to the numbers seen in NE Scotland. Various ringing groups have been busy previous to the main "thrust" of birds moving on and quite appreciable numbers have been caught and ringed, with some being fitted with colour rings too. Around 90 were caught in the Inverness area, with similar success in Orkney and Aberdeen. A bird ringed in Aberdeen was noted in Cumbria seven days later so the movement through was quite rapid. So,if any more find their way across to the Hebrides it's certainly worthwhile taking a close look at them if the occasion arises.

The other movement tipped as being underway ,or even intensifying, is that of Redpoll species with some interesting records arising already. Whilst there's a lot of nice habitat hereabouts to Kirkhill all birds I've managed to get close views of so far have been Lesser Redpoll. Clearly need to try harder!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

17th November,2010.

The day could have started off better! A near collision with a hearse, clearly on its way to a funeral, ( honestly not my fault), with my destination being the Nissan garage for my car's annual MOT inspection , generated a certain foreboding. Hitherto fully dormant pagan instincts emerged and I considered the possibility of this being a "sign" and the wrath of the Norse God of Death ( actually a Goddess named Hel who lives in the underworld of Niflheim ) being transmitted through the inspection results. All proved to be unfounded, but I think I would have preferred a black cat! Superstitious....not in the slightest!!

Due to this birding was a bit limited, so I did a bit of surfing whilst waiting for the MOT results. The recent report by RSPB Scotland on White-tailed Eagle (Sea Eagle) success in 2010 is extremely encouraging and shows the new Islay "colonists" to be part of an expanding vanguard. This season (2010) 46 young birds fledged, 10 more than in 2009, from 52 adult breeding pairs of birds, which, in itself, was 6 more than in 2009. All this , coupled with the previous results from a study in Wester Ross carried out by Scottish Natural Heritage, showing that the presence of such birds had a minimal impact on lamb stocks, augurs well for the future and the restoration of a species hunted to extinction in past times.

Less welcome was news of a successful prosecution from the Scottish Borders where an employee on the Leadhills Estate had been seen to lay out a dead Rabbit laced with carbufuran. This substance, on my understanding, was banned in 2001 and to discover its usage in the open environment is sheer lunacy given its toxicity to humans and animals alike. In many ways we have not progressed much beyond the attitudes which prevailed and brought the initial population of White-tailed Eagles to its knees!!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

16th November,2010.

A very cold dawn broke and the two sheepdogs acted more like Huskies as I was dragged down the icy lane. And I never thought I would appreciate Islay's weather!!

Bird wise I have to say the early morning and evening "overflights" of geese are
impressive and banish any feelings of homesickness. Grey-lag and Pink-footed Geese come in from the east in the morning to feed on the stubble fields around Beauly and beyond. In the still morning air Whooper Swans could be heard bugling on the nearby Firth adding further atmosphere to an emerging scene where the gleaming snow capped peaks to the north were now being picked out by the morning sun.

As ever passerines like Bullfich, Lesser Redpoll and Long-tailed Tit were a nice attraction compared to species seen around my home where Choughs and Ravens are more likely!

And finally, an apology ( and from a Yorkshire man too mind!) The piece I wrote about Eagle Owl predation on Hen harriers has an error within it!! The Eagle Owl alighted on the harriers nest in the dim light of dawn and disturbed the incubating female Hen Harrier ( not an Eagle Owl as I stated). Sadly the harrier never returned afterwards. Thanks to Tony Warburton ( World Owl Trust ) for spotting the error as the situation is complicated enough at present without me inserting doubt and confusion.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

15th November,2010.

An early start to catch the ferry and enjoy a perfect transfer across to the mainland, contrasting starkly with the experiences of recent days with ferries being disrupted because of the weather.

As previously the journey northwards, in the early stages, was glorious and uplifting with perfect light bathing the glens and their woodlands , bringing alive the autumn colours to maximum effect. Later, cloudy conditions and some rain brought a different contrast to the wide open landscape around Spean Bridge. Despite this the "Commando Monument" above that hamlet stood out proudly amidst that "wild" basin, its fresh scarlet and white wreaths from the Remembrance Services of yesterday gleaming in the failing light, a testament to sacrifice and courage. I was alone in my "pilgrimage" which somehow, in itself, brought a particular poignancy to the occasion. Previous to that the peaks of Ben Nevis and the surrounding hills had stood dark and foreboding above Fort William, clothed in cloud and , yes, I'm afraid to mention, copious amounts of snow at their highest extent. Later, views of Loch Ness were limited due to darkness descending quite quickly. Finally, arrival at Kirkhill, in the real darkness of an impending winter's night, with temperatures going down and frost already hanging in the air.

As is often the case on this journey, the amount of bird life in evidence was minimal. I'd perhaps expected an obvious presence of Redwing and Fieldfare, but there was none of either!

14th November,2010

A slightly delayed entry due to being in transit! Due to ferry changes my intended day on Jura was frustrated, but such allowed me to complete a series of WeBS Counts ( BTO Monthly Waterbird Counts )and also the first of the Low Tide Counts on Inner Loch Indaal. These determine the numbers and distribution of birds within given sectors. The ensuing information can then be used to "screen" any future proposed developments as it indicates where the most important feeding areas are.

Prior to that an opportunity arose to survey Outer Loch Indaal given there was virtually no wind which means divers,in particular,can be easily picked out. Good numbers of both Great Northern and Red throated Diver were present and a single Black-throated Diver. A few Red-throats had passed south off SW Islay earlier in the day and numbers of all these species may yet increase further. A gradual counting of birds around the Outer and Inner Loch provided a real selection of birds....Common Scoter, numbers of Northern Eider, Wigeon and Red-breasted Merganser, Pintail, Mallard, Teal, a Goosander, 6 Long-tailed Duck, Shelduck, Goldeneye, more divers, numbers of Slavonian Grebe, odd Razorbill and Black Guillemot ,both Mute and Whooper Swan and, of course, geese. As often happens, the Greater Scaup flock appeared to have moved offshore and weren't in evidence!! Waders species though were similarly well represented, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Knot,Redshank,Turnstone, Purple Sandpiper, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Oystercatcher, a Greenshank, and, best of all, a 1st winter Grey Phalarope, doubtless driven in by the storms of recent days. An absolutely delightful bird with pristine markings characteristic of its age. Over the years I seem to have been very lucky at coming across this species, usually totally unexpectedly, as today ,but not a bad surprise!!

The lochs I visited for WeBS counts ( Gorm and nearby lochans, Skerrols, Tallant ) provided a similar array of waterbird species. Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, odd Greater Scaup, a few Pochard, Goldeneye, still good numbers of Tufted Duck at Loch Gorm, Little Grebe, geese again, Mute Swan and almost 80 Whooper Swan on Loch Skerrols. Various "family disputes" arose within the latter and their bugling on such a calm afternoon was intense and clear. Whilst some broods of three and four were present, a lot are of two only, which contrasts markedly with the broods of some local Mutes which are often of up to five. Of course, the numbers of Whoopers here currently are also swelled with non-breeders and,collectively, many may yet move further south. Last winter's severe weather cleared out virtually all wintering birds so conditions hereon are on interest!

And so ended a very rich and rewarding day's birdwatching on what was an enjoyable day in its own right!!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

13th November, 2010.

OK, return of the prodigal and all that! Truth is I've been inundated with work and blogging had to accept a back position. Whilst I could indulge in a litany of good birds seen since mid October I'll refrain as, at this point, I don't really think historical reiteration serves much purpose. There's been quite a few good birds on Islay, but now gone! In fact, I've always questioned the relevance of sites which simply regurgitate records, as being of any assistance given more immediate information is required by birders to assist them in catching up with things! Sites linking records to relevance I do think have a "place in nature" as the information serves to educate and give people a better understanding of what they're seeing when visiting an area. Anyway, that's the burst on the banjo over!!

Nationally, the finding of a dead Eagle Owl in coastal Norfolk may result in prejudiced views becoming more flexible, as is the Scandinavian research showing birds have made it across the "straits" between Sweden and Gotland. The "case" suggesting Eagle Owls are reticent about crossing over large tracts of water may yet be dis proven. In all honesty, all I would really wish is that, prior to any real consideration of the bird's status, and any reaction required against this in the UK, there is an open minded evaluation of the real facts and possibilities. Set aside the egos and bruised utterances, for once let's think of birds themselves! Mark Avery's ( Director, Conservation, RSPB ), detailed Blog providing results of pellet analysis, and a taste for Rabbit, has diverted the over zealous, "these birds are a threat to Hen Harriers" brigade particularly since Tony Warburton ( World Owl Trust ) was allowed sight of the acclaimed video claiming an Eagle Owl predated a Hen Harrier nest. It didn't, but possibly its presence nearby and on the nest caused such a disruption to an incubating female Eagle Owl prior to dawn that she deserted.

Recently I've had a few telephone calls from people on the much dealt with subject of Hen Harriers. Calls for new initiatives, quotas etc etc fill me with dread. Quotas.....c'mon, grow up , that would be the worst initiative coming from UK conservationists ever. It would herald similar calls in due course for "containment" of other birds of prey that the game bird lobby felt were a threat to their interests. Liberalism and compromise have their boundaries, now get real. Talk to the people involved for God's sake and come to an acceptable solution between all parties involved instead of trying to insert "grey suit solutions" from afar. They're real people, with real concerns, talk to them and respect them, but produce a solution arising from hard negotiation, not a product of some handkerchief up the sleeve Sir Humphrey origin !!

And finally! Well, I've been on Jura all day. Not a lot happening but the sight of two adult White-tailed Eagles ( Sea Eagles ) , doubtless the Islay breeding pair , circling over Port Askaig before descending into woodland south of that area to roost, was a real bonus.

I think I'll set aside the banjo for a gin and tonic! Cheers.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Condemnation of Hen Harrier persecution increases!

Way back in mid September an article in The Guardian revealed that consideration was being given by Scottish Ministers to tighter controls over grouse moor owners under a new wildlife bill. Such would make the owners legally responsible for the actions of their gamekeepers, which clearly would have repercussions should persecution of birds of prey then be proved to have occurred. Furthermore, mention was also made of a proposal to actually licence the "operation" of grouse moors and to transfer the investigation of persecution incidents from the police to one of Scotland's animal welfare charities. Whether or not such innovative changes will occur is to be awaited.

Understandably many of the 255 Scottish Estates have themselves condemned the persecution of birds of prey and raised objections to controls being collectively applied. What is clear is that self-regulation is simply not working and the recalcitrant minority are continuing to "muddy the pool" to such an extent that 2009 was one of the worst years on record when it came to the number of incidents involving birds of prey and persecution. And let's not fool ourselves , such statistics undoubtedly represent the very tip of the iceberg !!

Following on from this debate has come a report on work commissioned by Scottish Natural Heritage on this self same subject. One of the report's main authors, Professor Steve Redpath, has stated that investigations between 2003-2007 of the 3696 square kilometres that comprise grouse moors across Britain should potentially hold 499 breeding pairs of Hen Harriers given the species favours the same upland heather moor habitat. The reality is that success resulting from breeding attempts on these estates is closer to 1%. Such is now the revealed truth that shatters, utterly, any consideration that self regulation can be a part of a future solution. The opportunity to proceed on trust has been, and is being, abused and must be abandoned completely. Thankfully there are some estates that abide by the requirements and resident birds of prey have been left alone. Their tolerance and acceptance of the legal situation is providing, quite literally, the lifeline to particular species. As ever the Game and Wildlife Trust has paraded its "PR mantra" around claiming licences should be issued to estates to limit the number of harriers present and thus bring about a more equitable spread of birds. At this point in time the emphasis needs to be directed at ensuring newly arrived birds on previously "unoccupied" estates are afforded protection!! Given the number of birds eliminated already, in sheer disregard of the law of the land, can anyone foresee a situation where such trust could be offered? The expression about burning boats springs to mind !!

Professor Des Thompson, another of the report's authors, has commented further that the evolving situation must be one where innovation is needed to address the needs of estates and the retention of our bird of prey populations alike. Whilst I agree entirely, the needs of such innovation demand, in some quarters, an immense change in a current culture embedded in prejudice as much as they do from any practical conditions which might be introduced. Peer pressure ( forgive the pun! ) has a part to play and the outward labelling of those who might continue to commit such crimes, and gain estate owners overall a bad name, has to be employed such that they are relegated to the position of being pariahs in their own community.

At some point in the near future Natural England will report on what has been a nine year long research project linked to harriers, their success ,distribution etc etc in England. Within the period the Government's organization has been resolute in its non participation in political debate, clearly awaiting the full body of evidence at its disposal. With the abysmal situation in England, as far as Hen Harriers' breeding success is concerned, one looks forward to their imminent revelations and presume there will be great accord with the report released above and with similar apportionment of responsibility. One hopes the conclusions will persuade the Government of the day to be as strong as their counterparts in Scotland and address the issue robustly!!

17th October,2010.

A day given over, in part, to surveying the Light-bellied Brent Geese present on Islay and Jura as a contribution to the much more wider monitoring activities which will have also been undertaken in Ireland where the majority of them are present in winter. Yesterday I checked the area on Jura where a group had taken up residence at the end of last winter. Unfortunately none were present, so it remains to be seen whether it was a one-off occurrence in 09/10 or whether some birds will turn up there.

After a plethora of records in recent times birds were quite hard to find on Islay ( always seems to happen on a survey day!!). In all I only pinned down 22 ( 21 on Loch Indaal and a single bird at Loch Gruinart ). Loch Indaal was again absolutely alive with birds and such a sheer joy to be part of that I spent the best part of two hours simply going through the vast numbers of different birds that were present. Some of the best were the "speckly" Grey Plover which were very confiding and provided extraordinarily good views. A rather restless flock of Golden Plover were also present with birds wheeling around and calling plaintively as if wishing to be moving on. Quite a number are around generally besides the ones which have been seen moving through direct, including over the sea.

A check to see if diver numbers had improved produced the same situation as previously so further checks can be made later. Sometimes a particular day can catch a movement offshore, which coupled with views of newly arrived groups , is quite exciting despite it heralding the onset of winter!!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

16th October,2010.

Across on Jura on what was an absolutely glorious day. Calm conditions, sunshine and the azure blue waters of the Sound contrived to persuade me of the possibility of being somewhere else other than NW Scotland!!

Early morning saw a couple of Lapland Bunting flying south and providing a perfect rendition of their flight calls. Whilst the overall day was again rather quiet a flock of Ringed Plover and two Dunlin flying up the Sound, and then alighting close, were of interest. Their immediate action, on landing, was to freeze for quite a while in a fairly tight knit group, only after a few minutes moving around slightly. Most went to sleep for a period, followed by a period of preening before beginning to feed. A classic sign of migrants. Years ago I remember being way out on the sand flats around Ainsdale (Merseyside) attempting to read ring numbers on terns which were being brought towards us on an incoming tide. A fierce thunderstorm arose ( not the best predicament to be in sitting on a tubular framed chair holding your tripod!! ) with the usual lightning and accompanying bangs, besides the rain! A large group ( 40-50 ) of Sanderling appeared and formed a very close packed group nearby, remaining motionless throughout the storm. as soon as it ceased they became active and moved off. Almost a reaction to a new environment until things became more familiar.

Calling at Inner Loch Indaal on the way home it was obvious a further large arrival of geese had taken place with 5000/6000 Barnacle Geese being present interspersed with a wide variety of other species. Many of the geese were asleep which suggested they'd not been there all that long. All until an idiot with a camper van rehearsed the inaugural presentation of the Car Door Closing Cacophony followed by a walk out on to the Merse. Suffice to say the air was alive with disturbed birds, a very impressive spectacle I have to admit, but bringing to a compelling close the counts I'd embarked on!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

15th October,2010.

A day necessarily given over to other work, read admin and domestic!!, but with a couple of intervals out and about. I'd expected diver numbers to be gradually increasing in Outer Loch Indaal but an examination in the morning proved otherwise. Incorporating this again at the weekend will probably be worthwhile.

A few parties of Barnacle Geese sped high northwards, calling all the while, evidence of them having overshot their intended arrival point at either Loch Gruinart or Loch Indaal. Their ability to adjust in this way is quite remarkable and makes our own minimal efforts in this regard seem more than a bit paltry unless bolstered by the usage of a GPS!!

14th October, 2010. Here at last!!

A wonderfully calm day with flat water and grey conditions of visibility!

A day on Jura which opened with the view of a White-tailed Eagle looming over the Port Askaig ferry terminal as it made its way down the coast. Despite being out for several hours afterwards I never saw it again, although a Golden Eagle sat, sentinel like, for a long time on an exposed crag on the Islay side of the Sound.

Despite the supportive conditions little was on the move, as previously. Sightings relieving the tedium included Hen Harrier, Sparrowhawk and close views of a Harrier jet (!), but few seabirds were in evidence.

Returning to Islay much later the few Barnacle Geese which had arrived yesterday had been supplemented by many more. At least 1500 were at the head of Loch Indaal, with small parties joining them at intervals and other groups peeling away and flying northwards across to Loch Gruinart. A flock of 21 Whooper Swans exchanged muted bugling calls, a sound I think is particularly evocative of this time of year when they're passing through. One carried a yellow leg ring which, as they gradually moved towards me, I'd visions of being able to read. Suddenly the volume and intensity increased and, as one, they rose and flew off SSW, doubtless on their way to an habitual wintering area in Ireland or on the Solway Firth.

Many of the geese were resting, often an immediate prerogative after an exhausting flight. Others busied themselves preening and simply taking time out, with others it would seem in the sheer nature of things ,moving around and calling out all the while, which made for a very dynamic throng. Their arrival like this is almost a spiritual event each year and with our landscape until next spring never being bereft now of their calls and presence. The Grey lag Geese, which have been utilising the merse over the past few weeks, appeared to accept this major intrusion and the whole area was one of pleasant confusion!! Amidst all this, a flock of over 50 Pink-footed Geese rested quietly on an exposed sandbar, presumably before contemplating the next leg of their journey further south.

13th October,2010.

Another change in the weather with a somewhat grey day and cooler too, although admittedly fine.

On the south Rinns things were very quiet as if the few newly arrived passerines of yesterday had taken advantage of the good weather and moved on. No further thrushes had arrived and the sea was again very quiet. The winds are changing into the north which heralds the arrival of some geese at least, particularly with birds having been recorded off Lewis .

I was saddened to learn that only seven nests of Hen Harrier had been successful in England this year with a total of 23 young raised. Regrettably at least five other nests had failed, whose success would have otherwise boosted the number of young produced significantly. Whilst there is always the possibility of other odd pairs going unrecorded, or undeclared, the population is still perilously low. Initiatives aimed at eliminating the persecution that still goes on are not receiving the breakthrough they deserve and the "battle" against prejudice and self serving interest will still need to go on despite it being 2010. Thankfully the population in Scotland is higher and more productive but there are still incidents of wanton destruction which, to their credit, the Scottish Government has condemned and pledged to change.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

12th October,2010.

Early morning saw conditions redolent of India or SE Asia with mist hanging over the landscape whilst the sun gradually bathed the overall background. A fine day resulted, but with more cloud than yesterday and cooler temperatures.

Thrushes had obviously been on the move overnight as a Blackbird was near the house, the first since last winter, and Redwing in the adjacent rough pasture. The Chiffchaff was still present in the early morning, but appeared to have left by evening. More generally things seemed to be rather quiet with nothing of interest being found. The anticipated arrival of wintering geese drags on, which I suspect is more impatience on my part rather than delay on theirs!!

The sea was virtually flat calm. As I've mentioned before, the absence of wind and the quietness it brings always creates a rather surreal atmosphere , particularly when the sea is quiet too. The lack of wave noise, even the lack of waves advancing up the beach, is strange and makes the whole view and experience appear as if strangely "frozen". As a consequence little was moving over the sea. A few Kittiwakes and also, notably , a few Common Gull given it's sometimes difficult to separate local birds from those on the move.

News from colleagues of "exotic" arrivals elsewhere, particularly County Durham!!!, provides the motivation to get out there keep and keep looking and recording!!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

11th October,2010.

After virtually no passerines being around locally during the last few days whilst we were experiencing repeated stormy conditions, the clear night and calm conditions of the emerging day saw Meadow Pipits, Starlings, Reed Buntings and a couple of Robins around the house. A little later a fine, erect "Greenland" Wheatear showed locally and a Sparrowhawk moved through in a determined fashion! Suddenly the finch flocks have really reduced as have the widely spread numbers of "alba" wagtails.

Whilst on Jura for the rest of the day the ambient conditions were tremendous with the waters of the Sound more Mediterranean in colour than might be expected and the surrounding landscapes shown off to best effect in the wonderful sunlit conditions. Little was on the move as it happens, the passage Gannets of a couple of weeks ago reduced to one individual, a nice flock of adult Kittiwakes and odd Razorbill being the only other notable contenders until an adult Black-throated Diver flew south down the Sound. Nor was it busy with boat traffic! An accident with the ferry last Friday has damaged the linkspan ( the mobile"jetty" allowing you to drive on or off the ferry boat) therefore none of the regular large ferries will be in evidence for a while.

Evening at home saw the appearance of a juvenile ChiffChaff, flycatching in the garden, sadly it had a damaged leg and I doubt has much of a future even if it makes its winter quarters.

Monday, October 11, 2010

10th October, 2010.

Finally a much better day with bright sunshine ( too bright at times! ) throughout, although the easterly wind still remained blustery and quite strong.

The main WeBS count date for the month which meant most of my day was spent around Inner Loch Indaal. Sun glare and wave action made counting difficult at times and inevitably some species would be under recorded, e.g Slavonian Grebe, of which I only saw two. Equally some expected species that are usually further off shore, like Common Scoter, weren't recorded at all due to visibility. Two flocks of Greater Scaup were in evidence, being tossed up and down in the inshore waters. Conversely the good light directed at the exposed sand and mud areas helped enormously when picking out can't have everything!!

A good variety of species was around with good numbers of Red-breasted Merganser, Wigeon, Grey lag Goose notably in evidence. Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit, Turnstone, Redshank, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Curlew and Oystercatcher were all present and a good selection of duck. An absolutely magnificent Great Northern Diver, still in summer plumage, remained offshore at Blackrock and a number of Red-throated Divers were noted too.

Of almost 60 Light-bellied Brent Geese distributed in various feeding parties over the Flats at least six carried coloured leg rings. Whilst the colours could easily be seen the accompanying numbers or letters they carried were obscure because of distance so will have to try and catch them on a rising tide, hope they're still around and come closer!!

Friday, October 8, 2010

8th October, 2010.

A more routine but busy day providing evidence that many of the Light-bellied Brent Geese have moved on, as was expected. Duck numbers continue to improve and the major WeBS count on Sunday should be of interest!. Otherwise what I saw was as much as yesterday. The brisk, but warmer, SE winds continue much to the chagrin of the sea watcher!!!

News that the revised Risk Assessment relating to the Eagle Owl, viewed as an alien species by the UK Government, will be thoroughly considered by the Minister concerned, all aspects evaluated and no hurried decisions taken, is to be welcomed. Good sense at last!

Arctic Tern... a bird of this species re trapped on the Farne Islands this summer had been ringed there originally, as a chick, in 1980!! No mean feat of an achievement in itself for a bird! However, remember that this species winters in the waters of the Antarctic so it is estimated that it has travelled close to a million miles in its lifetime already!! Humbling thought isn't it, and the two I saw yesterday immediately earned more than respect and support in terms of what was in front of them! Stop off on the eastern coast of Brazil for heavens sake!!!

44,000 miles per year under your own steam and we're being asked to reduce our car usage in the cause of global warming. Worth reflecting on as co-inhabitants of this planet!

Time has allowed me to commence using the other Blogs again that I (imperfectly) maintain, take a look , with more to come on a regular basis! Links above.

A day of Light -bellied Brent Geese.

A necessary change of schedule led to my not being on Jura, produced a slightly disjointed day but, in the end, a very successful one. The wind was still pretty robust at times with the early sea showing high white-capped waves until it reduced in late morning , only to rise again later.

A sea watch showed various birds to be on the move. Several parties of Light-bellied Brent Geese went through south, as did Golden Plover. Good numbers of Auks were also finally on the move, a few Manx Shearwater, a steady stream of Kittiwakes and Gannets, a couple of late Arctic Tern and singletons of Red-throated and Great Northern Diver. Suddenly passage subsided over the sea so I turned to completing WeBS counts for the BTO , the national monthly survey of waterfowl numbers and other "water" birds.

Whilst counting Outer Loch Indaal, upon which there was only a few Red-throated and Great Northern Divers, a flock of around 70 Golden Plover swept through south at high speed and a flock of circa.50 Light-bellied Brent Geese vacated southwards. The variety of waterfowl on various lochs was high ( I never made it to Inner Loch Indaal which would have doubtless boosted things still further!!). Tufted Duck numbers had again risen at Loch Gorm to reach well over a hundred, good numbers of Mallard were present and the first three Goldeneye of the year. Whilst present there , Wigeon and Teal were difficult to count precisely due to them feeding and resting under the bank away from the ever rising south south easterly wind!! A journey past Loch Gruinart showed good numbers of Light-bellied Brent Geese there too, so a significant movement had obviously taken place over the last 24 hours with most of the birds making for their major wintering quarters in Ireland. The RSPB WeBS count will shed light on the numbers they'd received. It's not unusual for this sort of "stopping off" behaviour to occur in either spring or autumn, very often in response to prevailing weather conditions. It will be interesting to see whether the year on modest increases we've enjoyed on Islay continue to our small wintering population.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Eagle Owls......again!

On a day when the weather spoilt the first half and a decision to be inside dominated the second, the Eagle Owl issue suddenly emerged moving at full bore!!

Some rumour that Government authorities had already decided to do ahead and implement a proposed action for a cull of the above species, referred to in a recent Risk Assessment associated with alien species, brought proponents of its retention in the UK to its defence and an absolute avalanche of activity arose directed at any and every formal institution having some association with the process and debate. For full details do go to the Raptor Politics website.

Given there is now a clear cut statement from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds's Director of Conservation as to its public position on the matter ( it doesn't agree with a cull and feel there are more important aspects to address ) and a declaration from the senior Civil Servant involved that no decision had been taken, and that the matter will be looked at thoroughly, possibly means that the whole issue will now be looked at rationally and within a reasonable framework. All this seems strange given my understanding some couple of weeks ago that the decision had been arrived smoke without fire one feels!!!

It is felt by many that, under the EU Birds Directive, the young of species naturally present within the overall EU area that are reared freely in the wild are,therefore , protected under the aegis of that provision. My advice, in discussion with colleagues, is that this needs to be tested and a definitive interpretation obtained, not from any UK institution, but from Brussels. Should that be positive it should mean that the influence of the EU can be brought to bear on any UK Government proposal that runs counter to the interpretation. UK policy advisers are basing their case on all birds within the UK being derived from captive stock, which is not a proven fact. Others, like myself, believe it is possible some Eagle Owls, admittedly a small number , might be derived from Continental populations, particularly given the species is undergoing a gradual range expansion.

Given the estimated population ( by some ) is said to be only 95 birds within the UK, the concern appears ill founded particularly as it appears to rest on some as yet never revealed film footage of an Eagle Owl supposedly predating a Hen Harrier nest. Given the resounding success of the latter species this season in the Forest of Bowland, the only real English stronghold and an area where Eagle Owls are known to be present , the whole analysis seems to be muddled and prejudiced. Most breeding Hen Harriers are in Scotland and one wonders the extent to which the Scottish Parliament are party to such deliberations!!

Given the emergent concerns about the UK's financial predicament one imagines both George Osborne and Danny Alexander might be interested in both the proposed costs which might be involved and evaluate the relative value of such from their respective geographical loci!!

To be continued......undoubtedly.

30th September,2010.

A reasonable day which, given the Northern Parula on Tiree, prompted me to have a long flog around isolated bits of cover on the southern Rinns to just see if our luck was in too. Such an activity is one birders indulge in regularly, mostly without a major reward, and so it was!!! We must be eternal optimists but, of course, there's always more than sufficient evidence from elsewhere in the country to where something has occurred to convince most people it could be their turn next!!! In Islay's case our "contribution" of an American Redstart in 1982 and the Brown-headed Cowbird in 1988 are woven in to a silently repeated mantra each autumn that this, again, could be our year. Islay is a big island in many respects, compared to some others, and also has a lot of cover, virtually no active birders and what could be a slavishly covered local patch month in month out might never produce a return. Oh to own a headland with just a few bushes, only a few! And so as I paid homage to the local American Redstart site, I also reflected that we're also exceptionally lucky to have the array of good resident species we enjoy and the regular influx each summer and winter of a wide variety of other species, not really much to grumble about in reality.

One thing that was apparent today though was that a lot of the recent abundant accumulations of Goldfinch, Lesser Redpoll, Linnet, Twite and Meadow Pipit appear to have moved on. Certainly there are still some parties about , but not to the same extent. Starling flocks and an apparent "second wave" of alba wagtails are now around on the Rinns. The usual influx of Robins has begun, with doubtless more to come, and an odd increase in Blackbirds here and there. As I write this, on the morning of the 1st, the rain is lashing down and the wind beating at the house, just the sort of conditions to bring in an unfortunate migrant!!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

27th September,2010.

What a contrast! Cold and grey with a stiff SE wind that cut through you at times.

Again on Jura, a little farther north than previously. More Northern Eider in evidence, a noticeable lack of Black Guillemot but otherwise quiet from the point of view of passage. The highlight was the presence of both adult White-tailed Eagles ( both wing tagged yellow ) and an immature bird. The sight of one sailing over the ferry terminal at Port Askaig must have impressed visitors and residents alike, but I wonder how many of the passengers on the afternoon ferry saw one of the adult birds perched in a relatively nearby tree on the shore that remained there and treated the whole scene with disdain?.

Mid afternoon saw a group of Bottle-nosed Dolphin appear around the ferry and then move down the Sound, details of which I'll set out later ( I realise I've an ever increasing a backlog of postings for the Islay Wildlife site !! Apologies. ).

Later a brief scan of Loch Indaal showed Wigeon numbers to have increased suddenly with almost three hundred feeding offshore along with a small flock of Scaup. Doubtless a lot of these have come in on the recent northerly winds which have now suddenly changed about yet again!

26th September, 2010.

As I left home the sun rose in a clear sky, strong and bright behind the dark silhouette of the eastern hills, and lit up the white horses at Ellister Farm turning them into shining steeds. By contrast the bowling green at Bridgend was a white square of frost, evidence of the clear night we'd had but both aspects holding portent for a nice day. And so it was!

Stationed in the Sound of Jura a small number of Chaffinch were obviously passing south along with two Lapland Bunting within the first couple of hours. The remaining part of the day was rather quiet, although a young, almost inquisitive Red-throated Diver kept things alive by approaching really close, feeding, resting and preening. It occurred to me that I might have been its first encounter with humanity ( no comments please, not even on post cards!) given that it was so confiding. Equally exciting were sightings of an adult White-tailed Eagle at various points along the Sound , including perched in a Scots Pine. The tremendous size of these birds takes some appreciation!! A couple of marauding Ravens were shrugged off and looked Jackdaw sized by comparison when flying alongside the bird, which simply ignored them.

Much of the day was spent in the company of an Otter , and then two, that eventually went to sleep, wrapped around one another, on one of the kelp beds just offshore, of which I'll write more later.

25th September,2010.

The day dawned bright but then turned somewhat grey, leaving a dark outline of Northern Ireland to the SW across a flat sea.

A few hours seawatching produced nothing remarkable but, nonetheless, given the conditions, it was enjoyable. Excellent visibility always brings raised expectations anyway!! Whilst Gannets and Manx Shearwater were moving through neither topped more than a couple of hundred birds. Surprisingly only one Fulmar was seen and hardly any auks and Kittiwakes. The patterns of movement appear to have changed dramatically in recent times. Of more interest was a single Arctic Skua flying north and a high Red-throated Diver, with a Whimbrel a little way along the coast. Numbers of the latter are much reduced here in autumn compared to spring passage. Several parties of Meadow Pipit came to land as if passing south offshore down the west coast of Islay.

At dusk a large group of geese raised expectations as they came down the glen, but then called and proved they were Grey lags and showed even better as they cut behind the house. Activity patterns of these too on the island are changing and bear some study.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

20th September, 2010.

Another day on Jura, this time in somewhat better weather!! Enroute a male Peregrine flashed through the assembled birds at the head of Loch Indaal and caused mayhem. A rather steady, if not monotonous, day with little on the move.

In the afternoon the White-tailed Eagle again put on a splendid performance circling over the Sound on a couple of occasions, with another bird high above at one point. It seems to be a mid-afternoon ritual for this individual, which can easily be identified as it's tagged. However, I wonder how many of the assembling ferry passengers then realised the bird perched in a large conifer adjacent to the Sound and surveyed their movements with an apparent absence of interest!


An early start to try and get a couple of WeBS counts completed on my way to Jura. Suffice to say the day was not kind throughout, with squalls of showers at intervals. A couple of 1st winter Sandwich Terns north of Bruichladdich were nice and quite a large group of Long-tailed Tits in trees above the Port Askaig Hotel of note too.

The day's survey work was somewhat routine with no highlights until a White-tailed Eagle flew within 50m. of me. I paced out the distance afterwards!! It was probably as surprised as I was, but recovered better!! It's a regular bird and, hopefully, the future will bring more views. Previously an immature Peregrine had remained on a vantage point for the best part of four hours, until disturbed by the passing of the CalMac ferry. Whilst it moved around little I suspect there was nothing that evaded its attention in the whole period given its regular head movements.

On the way home I stopped at the head of Loch Indaal given the high tide. Various waders were roosting and it was good to get close up views of Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, Sanderling, numbers of Ringed Plover and Dunlin. Later a party of four Greenshank rose from their feeding spot and departed with ringing cries. An odd Wheatear, several Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits and a few Rock Pipits fed on insects within the debris of the strand line.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

!8.9.2010. Harbingers of winter?

Apologies for the lapse in postings, which period has been given over to computer changes and the like. Whilst I've been out and about, and had some good birds too, an "historical" piece probably serves little useful purpose at this stage. Suffice to say the storms last week provided some memorable sightings of the sea in full fury!.

After a seawatch in the morning, which had Arctic and Great Skua moving, plenty of Manx Shearwater , but still no Sooty Shearwater, I moved up the Rinns with the intention of giving full coverage to the area and gaining a "contextual feel" of what was happening after the storms as opposed to relying on unrelated observations. Suffice to say there are a lot of birds about and I never got to better part of Inner Loch Indaal!

In Outer Loch Indaal a tight group of 32 adult Kittiwakes huddled together with the occasional bird peeling off and flying out of the loch. A Great Northern Diver , in full summer plumage , was a magnificent sight followed, later, by an individual in winter plumage and an immature bird at a more intermediate stage. A few Red-throated Divers included a pair with a well grown youngster nearby, again in a state of transitional plumage. A few Common Scoter, Eider and auks completed the picture.

In waters north of Bruichladdich two Slavonian Grebe showed well, again in plumage which poses questions about their moulting stages. Lunch was accompanied by a mixed assemblage of waders ( Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Turnstone, Redshank, Oystercatcher and Curlew ) with several Red-breasted Mergansers in the waters beyond. A circuit to complete WeBS counts at Loch Gorm and nearby waters produced increasing numbers of Mallard, Teal and Tufted Duck and a single Little Grebe. Whilst often on the move , in excess of 800 Grey lag Geese were on Loch Gorm or on adjacent moorland.

En route to Gruinart a single Lapland Bunting was in a stubble field at Ballinaby with some notable groups of Linnet in that area too. Loch Gruinart was an absolute gift wrapped situation for any birder. Waders abounded, but not before a group of Pink-footed Geese had been seen with further Grey-lag Geese around as well. A lone Peregrine sat out on a knoll on the very edge of the saltmarsh, causing a nearby flock of 400 Starling to be restless. With the absolute bonanza of waders on offer few worries should have arisen and, in fact , the bird remained in situ for almost two hours! Where to start? Knot, Grey Plover, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Curlew , Oystercatcher, Redshank, Bar-tailed Godwit and, finally, the American Golden Plover proved its presence still nearby to where it had been previously! An absorbing afternoon that was rapidly turning into evening!! Given a good accumulation of gulls ( mainly Common and Black-headed, but some Herring Gulls too ) a look through produced nothing special brought to us by the recent poor weather!

And finally, nearby to the house , a fine male "Greenland" Wheatear, still in resplendent plumage and one of the brightest birds I've seen in a while! A good day , but with a number of reminders we're not too far from winter.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A cameo of birdlife! 3.9.2010.

Another pleasant sunny day, although with a SE breeze. Following the survey of Grey lag Geese, and with all results now in, I can finally say with some confidence that we have seen the increase which was anticipated. But more later!!

On a day when not much seemed to have changed, or be happening at all, I mused over the current situation to be seen here at the moment as far as bird numbers are concerned. Many species seem to have had a successful breeding season (with the exception of waders about which I've little first hand evidence). The numbers of common species like Linnet, Twite, Goldfinch, Lesser Redpoll,Siskin, Meadow Pipit and Skylark are really noticeable with field margins and hederows alive with birds. Flocks of Common Starling scour the newly cut fields and corvids, particularly Jackdaw , appear to have enjoyed a productive season. The numbers of Willow Warbler have now diminished, but their presence whilst on passage recently suggested they too had experienced a good season which, by implication , one imagines likewise for other similar species like Common Whitethroat and Sedge Warbler.This might equally apply to Northern Wheatear too. A simple pleasure can be taken from the number of House Sparrows now evident. We have a buoyant population, contrasted against many places on the mainland , and whirring flocks of birds exploding from hedgerows close to many of our villages is a sight I remind myself I've not seen in many recent years!!!

Whilst titmice, and even Goldcrest and Stonechat, appear to have recovered from the ravages of last winter I'm still not coming across the numbers of Wrens I might expect to see at this stage, which is strange. How our "flagship" species like Chough and Corncrake have fared is not yet known, but a species I continue to worry about is Arctic Tern, whose recent fortunes in successive breeding seasons appears poor.

Whilst many of these impressions are subjective, and local of course, they reflect a picture of a local countryside with a greater mosaic of variety and less intensity of use than many areas of the mainland. As a salvation, long may it continue!!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

In pursuit of the Grey lag! 1.9.2010

A long hard day covering a large proportion of the island in order to count Grey lag Geese. Thankfully the RSPB was able to cover the Gruinart Reserve area and Ardnave.

The weather was kind and conditions calm, which helps sometimes as you can hear birds calling way before you see them! With some results still to be sent in the job now remains that sees all the figures put together and any anomalies ruled out. Thankfully two major "centres", where birds were present, were counted at the same time which , thankfully, avoided any thoughts of duplication!! The final report will go to Scottish Natural Heritage and assist with future considerations of how best the management of the large numbers of geese we play host to on Islay in winter can best proceed in future years. I reminded myself that, at the very end of this month ( is it that close? ), the first few of our wintering geese will begin to filter in and, increasingly then, swell the numbers present overall.

Whilst I didn't really have much opportunity to look for other things a delight , whilst eating lunch at Loch Skerrols, was to have a Goldcrest no more than a metre away in an adjacent bush. With its pale surround, the eye looks really large at close quarters! A small flock of Wigeon on Loch Indaal provided, along with increasing numbers of waders ,an increasing indication of autumn descending upon us.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

31st August, 2010.

A long day on Jura undertaking survey work linked to the Sound Of Islay underwater turbine proposal. The day eventually turned out fine , with sun and fine weather, but the first couple of hours were an absolute nightmare due to the presence of MIDGES!. Indeed the worst "appearance" I've experienced in ten years. It was bad until the sun dried things out!

Thankfully, aside from the formal requirements, general bird appearances were excellent. A very high flying adult Red-throated Diver down the Sound was of interest, both "northern" and "southern" area Golden Eagle sightings, a single adult dark phase Arctic Skua which entered the Sound from the north, plagued some Common Gulls for a while, and then returned north and, for me, the nicest treat of all, a flock of 30+ Twite near at hand which included juveniles and adults, in all stages of plumage, was both a test and a delight!

30th August, 2010.

A day, in majority part, given over to arrangements relating to the forthcoming survey of Grey lag Geese I organize each year. Would you believe this year has seen "formative arrangements" being affected by a young lady being thrown from a horse and suffering a dislocated hip ( and even being flown off island for treatment ), problems re the avilability of 4WD transport, and someone needing to depart for a crucial meeting later on during the survey day in question. Who says we're into a tranquil life here!!!

Thankfully, all is now in place and the day will indicate how well we can locate the rather itinerant birds based on recent experience!!

On the southern Rinns there suddenly seemed to be a hiatus in the passge of Northern Wheatear, which have been an obvious presence in low numbers over recent days. Clear night skies perhaps suggests their passage through without the need to touch down.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Some hope amidst persistent raptor persecution.

Whilst it would be easy to be depressed about the seemingly never ending reports of raptors being persecuted in one way or another, sometimes rays of hope emerge. The latest annual report on the web site, Raptor Politics, contains a number of encouraging aspects that, hopefully, will provide a basis for continuing improvements into the future.

Much remains to be done but, for once, the fact that news is not all bad provides an element of hope.

26th August,2010.

A long day on Jura catching up on survey work in much improved conditions!

A somewhat routine day in many respects with only a few birds on the move, including odd Manx Shearwater and Kittiwake. A Red-throated Diver fed unsuspectingly close for a while, but the stars of the show were several Basking Sharks around for most of the day, of which more on Islay Wildlife later. Over the far hills on Islay a couple of adult Golden Eagles showed at intervals, both in flight and perched. At one point a male Hen Harrier persistently mobbed one of them , watched by a couple of Raven and a Common Buzzard, all of them wheeling and swooping in the sky such that it appeared more of a game than an aggressive encounter!

In the early evening a flock of about 40 Knot were huddled together asleep on the edge of Loch Indaal , sadly being moved towards the edge of disturbance by a birdwatcher intent on getting as close as tolerance would endure. And finally, to complete a fine day in all respects , a single Corncrake scuttled across the road near to Gearach immediately adjacent to where a bird had held territory earlier. They must now be moving towards the time of departure with a long exacting journey ahead!

25th August,2010.

An absolutely beautiful day with sunshine throughout and a joy to be outside!

Despite a full round of the usual coverage and sites little appeared to be on the move, although there was plenty of birds around. Several Northern Wheatear, including one close immature on the Rinns that looked like a "Greenland", a large , full bodied bird that stood out prominently on a fence line. Several flocks of Linnet and Twite are noticeable and periodic flights of local Buzzard low over patches of moor immediately causes a cloud of Meadow Pipits to rise, a convenient method of discovering numbers! Disturbance over Loch Indaal had forced waders far out to the shore margin, but , on Loch Gruinart, a fine selection could be seen. Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, a large flock of Dunlin ( but nothing accompanying them!), Redshank and around 25 Knot.

With bird activity low my attention turned to butterflies and dragonflies and, all in all, I had a super day with nothing extraordinary but bags of variety!

24th August, 2010.

A slightly mixed day!! Discussions relating to the Grey lag Goose survey next week surrounded the fact that they're not quite following the pattern of previous years in some respects. I suspect this year will prove to be hard work given their distribution and unpredictability.

Across to Jura to do some survey work overlooking the Sound, but the northerly wind rose in the afternoon making conditions unacceptable given I couldn't keep the optics stable!! The journey back on the ferry was a bit more robust than normal too but, typically, the conditions lessened after a few hours.

23rd August, 2010.

A series of belated entries after a few problems with Internet links!!

A field on the edge of the real moor near Port Charlotte, which had been cut for silage, had a single Short-eared Owl quartering over it early in the morning. Whilst the young are being fed the birds were very obvious within the territory but clearly the youngsters have fledged as this is the first sighting of any of them for ages. Indeed, there's the likely possibility some of the birds have dispersed already.

Waders are filtering through but no big numbers have yet appeared despite being due imminently!! Odd Northern Wheatear clearly indicate passage is happening.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

20th August,2010.

It's always a comfort to have a fresh breeze when out surveying birds in the Highlands as it keeps the midges at bay!! The latter part of this week, thankfully, has been no exception. Out on the hill, monitoring success from any late breeding raptors was an exciting challenge, but generated no results, other than a family of Kestrel hunting together and sightings of other individual key species.

The journey back to Islay saw an obliging Red Kite near Fort Augustus, but little else. It was a relief to learn the ferry was operating, given the weather conditions farther north immediately south of the Outer Hebrides, where a rapidly advancing low pressure system was causing mayhem. Surprisingly there was little evidence of poor conditions, other than a slight swell.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

18th August,2010.

Little of note here with virtually nothing on the move. Weather mixed but,equally, with some reasonable periods too.

The results from a scientific study released yesterday may throw a little light on why the Greenfinch population on Islay has virtually disappeared within the last two years. Since 2005 a newly emergent infectious disease has absolutely devastated Greenfinch populations in some parts of England and , to some extent, Chaffinches too. It's important to know that this is where the research took place which suggests it could be elsewhere.

It's called trichomonosis ( which I actually thought I'd heard of before! ) and apparently caused the Greenfinch population to reduce by 33% within a year. Most birds die in the summer and autumn months. Outbreaks of the disease continue to occur each year, which lends little hope for any resurgent recovery.

Given that our population has reduced so drastically this may have been the cause, particularly as I suspect some of our Islay population must move south in the winter. Last winter's severe weather probably caused birds to move widely and come into contact with other populations, different feeding stations and so on. Such concentrations of birds at feeders where disease can so easily be transferred begs diligence from all those associated with feeding birds in an attempt to limit effects.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The silent lane!

Compared to previous times the nearby lane is silent and almost bereft of birds. The odd forlorn call of Willow Warbler, a titmice party and a flock of 40 Woodpigeon, sitting on wires above a cornfield and periodically descending into a rain sculpted amphitheatre, were all there was to be seen.

The nearby Beauly Firth was similarly quiet, poised to play host not too far in the distant future to both wintering geese and swans.

Monday, August 16, 2010

15th August,2010.

An early start for the ferry enlightened by the sighting of a single immature or female Merlin not that far from home. Whilst this could easily have been an early migrant the last three summers have seen the odd sightings of birds, which raises hope a pair might just be in residence. Despite looking nothing more has emerged ( but it is rather a large area to search and it's not the easiest species to discover from cold searching!).

A glorious day, warm, calm and tourist filled, but a fine day to be in the Highlands and for visitors to see it at its best!!

Incidentally, may I suggest to our Oriental "Comments" contributors that they find a way of submitting their comments in English as I'm afraid we're gaining no benefit from the repeated diligence of your submissions. Thank you.

14th August,2010.

A walk down the track very early morning showed odd Whinchat, Northern Wheatear and Willow Warbler to be around suggesting they'd taken benefit from the relative clear conditions overnight.

A little later, on the coast, the flat, grey silent sea, coupled with no wind, produced an almost surreal effect, as if being viewed on a canvas, from an environment so usually fused with dynamism and sound. Gannet and Manx Shearwater were moving past, but only a couple of Kittiwake and a few auks despite the calm conditions. A single Bonxie appeared far out, but never really showed to advantage.

Outer Loch Indaal held a small number of Guillemot, an odd Razorbill and a few Common Scoter. More encouraging was a pair of Red-throated Diver with their youngster, which they'd obviously brought down from a hill lochan breeding site somewhere. The Inner Loch was somewhat bereft of birds in the sense of it being a period of low tides with the shoreline interface being at a distance away, further compounded by heat haze!

The day really had been designed to complete BTO WeBS counts (waterbird counts) for which several waters were covered, but nothing exceptional seen. Grey lag Geese numbers were present at different sites with no large concentration noted except for around 700 at Gruinart. Apart from that the day was given over to warbler sightings with numbers of Willow Warbler and Common Whitethroat still around and an odd Sedge Warbler and even a passage Chiffchaff being in evidence.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

13th August,2010.

Part of the day spent organising the annual Grey lag Goose census at the end of this month or in early September. Numbers are already beginning to build and there has been a count of 1195 already at the RSPB Gruinart Reserve. As I predicted numbers would increase last year, and didn't particularly, I'll hold my counsel at the moment, although I'm well prepared for change!!

A couple of conversations with colleagues agreed nothing notable occurring as far as movement is concerned, but that a number of recent days having seen warblers and chats on the move. The Oa has seen a few raptors ( Sparrowhawk, Buzzard and Hen Harrier ) move through , very often moving towards the highest point before towering and peeling off south or south westwards. The Rinns peninsula doesn't seem to experience such raptor passage, which may be a continuation of birds moving from the mainland of Scotland, through east and south east Jura, then SSW along the southern coast of Islay culminating in the Oa. On a different subject, the satellite tracking of seabirds is set, I believe, to reveal some really challenging facts when it comes to the feeding movements of various species and the distances involved. Studies of migration have been to the fore for many years but new horizons are now opening up which I think will shock our previously held perceptions. Not least will be the distances some species are now having to travel to gain food given .it would seem, the ever depleting stocks of fish.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Raptor persecution continues unabated!

Within the last few days a series of incidents have been reported on or reports issued by official bodies on the ever increasing level of raptor persecution.

Red Kites in Northumberland have suffered with two adults being found dead near Stocksfield and a further pair, a few weeks previously near Hexham. The first pair had delighted many visitors to a nearby viewing point and had been "adopted" by the local schools. Whilst no results are forthcoming the carcases have been submitted for forensic analysis. An element I always feel is under promoted in all this refers to the actual presence of poisons in the open countryside and the potential this holds for even more tragic circumstances!!

On the Black Isle near Inverness the discovery of at least ten dead young birds close to fledging in a small number of nests was disturbing news. It was suspected all had died from the results of rodenticide poisoning. Many of the latter products can be bought quite openly and legally but it is their indiscriminate use in the open countryside which then causes the problem. Whilst rats are a problem around many farms and elsewhere in the countryside, and quite rightly should be controlled, carcasses can be utilised by Red Kites, who are carrion feeders, and fed to their young. The RSPB has produced a leaflet on the responsible control of rodent infestations which obviously addresses the point of trying to overcome and minimize such tragic accidents by informed choices.

And as if this wasn't enough the latest report from the Scottish Government's body, Science Advice to Scottish Agriculture, summarizes, for 2009, 166 reported incidents. Of theses 36 were categorized as "abuse" and 61% of these involved birds ( Buzzard 22, Golden Eagle2, White-tailed Eagle 1, Tawny Owl 1 and Red Kite 4 ). The struggle still goes on!