Saturday, January 30, 2010
A little later the now "local" Gyr Falcon was found, in the same general location on McKenzie Island off Portnahaven, but in the lee of a rock outcrop giving some shelter from the northerly wind. A lone Chough was seen north of the village, normally a regular feature but, in fact, the first I've seen there this year. And finally, in the late afternoon, and at home, the single female Brambling put in a very brief appearance, and never even fed before heading off back towards the conifer blocks opposite.
To counteract all this drama I also attempted to scrutinize the draft Biodiversity Plan produced for my local authority ( Argyll and Bute Council )by consultants. As with any policy document the formal language, paragraphs, and performance tables giving details of progress, are hardly digestible fodder the general public will feel disposed toward readily accepting and such needs to be altered accordingly, or have a public summary document produced. In many senses I feel much sympathy with Local Authorities, who are often charged with particular duties, but haven't a snowball in hells chance of really "delivering", as sufficient funds and staffing are never made available unto the task!! Nonetheless, they deserve support, although not within the timescale they've chosen, as such is unrealistic and , in a personal context, can't be met!! Research re the status of particular species needs to be undertaken, and fed back, and perhaps this is where a telling contribution can best be made.
It is known that around 170 bird species migrate through Malta. Many arrive tired, attempt to replenish their energy reserves and then move on to their more northern breeding grounds. Given it's on a major migratory pathway many raptors attempt to overfly the island , but are blasted from the skies by "hunters", as are birds resting up in woodland areas and elsewhere.
In 2004 Malta was allowed to join the European Community whose Birds Directive prohibits spring shooting. They have attempted to open the spring hunting season in every year since, but were prevented from doing so in 2008 and 2009 through interim measures brought in by the European Court of Justice. Even then Malta was found to be in breach of certain conditions. The Government is again considering a "limited spring hunting season". Such is not in its gift as far as I am concerned, confirms its arrogance and lack of willingness to abide by EU legislation and, therefore, invites counter measures to be brought in until such time as it adheres to the due requirements.
The amount of money and effort which has already gone into dealing with this ignorant, stupid Government is beyond belief and could have easily funded many conservation initiatives on the island several times over. Such, in time, would lead to a more buoyant tourism base. It is my belief that the EU now needs to get tough and issue a final "ultimatum", instead of continuing to pursue a policy of persuasion.
- all grant monies to the Maltese Government should be suspended
- no further applications for support should be allowed
- fines relating to the non-adherence to the EU Birds Directive should be levied
- continuing membership of the EU should placed in jeopardy
At a personal level we too can apply "sanctions " of our own. If you're considering having a holiday in Malta......don't! Indeed write to holiday companies and urge them to withdraw their interests in the island until such time as matters tangibly improve. Above all, sign the petition, for which details are given below. Whilst you may not live in Europe, we still need your support ( as the title suggests " Birdlife International" is a global community ! ).
In recent times Birdlife Malta staff have suffered intimidation, criminal damage, arson attacks and violence. A Birdlife Ranger has been shot at and injured twice! We need to demonstrate our support for the work they are doing and, at the very least, indicate our condemnation of the Maltese Government's actions. In all twenty years of being involved with the RSPB I never ever expected to come out of a crucial meeting, where emotions had run high and public feeling was divided, and find my car had been set on fire!! It begs the question whether the Maltese Government have control of the situation or whether a majority of its members have a vested interest in the issue.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
My interest stemmed from consideration of the potential effects of the various works going on within and around Inner Loch Indaal , i.e. dredging and sewage disposal improvements. I managed to find the copy of a paper I'd photocopied previous to coming here in 1999 ( it just shows you should never throw anything away! ), which made interesting reading. It was written by D.G.Salmon and dealt with the numbers and distribution of Scaup in Britain and Ireland. As a species it favours shallow, sheltered bays and feeds on ragworms, round worms and blue mussels. On Islay it had been shown previously to have been attracted by spent barley disposed of from one of the distilleries. A study by Len Campbell on the reduction in numbers in the Firth of Forth linked this with the introduction of improved sewage treatment processes and one can perhaps see a parallel with the situation here, not just for Scaup but Goldeneye too.
Of particular interest were the figures quoted for Scaup on Islay during the period 1965-66 to 1980-81.
The maxima for the period 65/66 to 60/70 was 680, that for 70-71 to 74/75 was 1500, for 75/76 to 79/80 1300 and for 80/81 to 84-85 1200. I suppose the counts from, say, the last three years or so showing around 900 birds present are slightly reassuring given the fluctuations apparent within the above figures. However,this winter's figures might give cause for concern and suggest a closer look is taken both at the numbers and the distribution of birds in the future. Sadly with the remorseless march of progress and the incremental raising of environmental standards there is probably little we can do to influence matters!!
Spent time , fruitlessly, attempting to get flight shots of the Iceland Gull to be available within the debate on it having features of "Kumliens". Certainly I don't believe there are two birds in that NE part of Islay and, as with the Gyr, the bird seems to disappear for periods out into the Sound.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
As ever Jura presented a mixture of being forbidding and inviting at the same time, wild, majestic and, north of Craighouse, largely devoid of people!! George Orwell wrote his famous book "Nineteen Eighty-Four" whilst in temporary residence in a cottage way up towards the north of the island. A place in which to let the imagination soar and as able to provide solitude today as it was then , other than for passing walkers intent on listening to the phenomenon of the Corrieveckan "whirlpool" offshore of the north coast and a couple of residents at the very tip of the island. Yesterday neither walkers nor any sinister men from the Thought Police were in sight!!
As we waited for the return ferry three Whooper Swans flew rapidly north at height , with eight having been seen earlier in the day north of Newton on Islay. Were these returning birds after their previous enforced move due to bad weather? We had sufficient time to gain a fleeting glimpse of the Iceland Gull at Bunnahabhain, but the light was fading and we could add nothing to the debate which has emerged relating to it possibly showing features of "kumlien's " .
Monday, January 25, 2010
The two abiding observations of note over the two days was of an aerial battle between a Peregrine and two Buzzards and a female Brambling turning up at home.. Increasing numbers of Chaffinches have been visiting the feeders too and , pleasingly, up to 10 Reed Bunting , one male in resplendent breeding plumage already. A party of thrushes turned out to be a single Redwing and 8 Song Thrush, with two of the latter looking decidedly dull, grey-brown specimens ( hebridensis? ).
Friday, January 22, 2010
A discussion with Andy Schofield ( RSPB Warden on the Oa ) , and whilst he was on an outbound ferry, revealed that two visitors to the Oa earlier in the week had seen a very large, white falcon sitting on a fence post, which they had identified as Gyr, but which had very few and small spots on the mantle and wings. Such would certainly not apply to this bird and, therefore, the intriguing , but unlikely possibility remains, that there might be two birds on the island !!
Despite searches for the original bird at lunchtime it wasn't located but was certainly around the same general area, but a little further north, towards dusk. Reasonable confirmation it's likely to be present over the weekend for anyone visiting and wishing to look for it.
A lunchtime seawatch showed a Gannet moving south and several Fulmar active in Lossit Bay and off Claddach Bay. The Gannet is very early as I don't normally expect to pick up the first birds until early February.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Tomorrow looks better! Living in such circumstances makes you very philosophical about many things! On good days you get out and "do", without regard to inside things, on bad days you catch up on what you've set aside!
A query from a good friend in South Wales about the Gyr ( I could do with some Israeli weather , Dave), and a suggestion to compare it against the Gower bird that was present earlier prompts the following information. I suspect this bird has been present on Islay since before Christmas. Some volunteers at the RSPB Reserve at Gruinart had a bird in the north of the island in December they strongly felt may have been Gyr at that time , but it then disappeared( not unusual given the distances they can traverse ). My colleague, Andy Schofield, on the Oa Reserve thought he had a glimpse of a bird in early January. This appears to have been "translated" into it being on the Oa at the end of last week and immediately moving across to Portnahaven, but not according to Andy! So the bird may have been on the north or west of Islay for around a month, but moving around too. Given the weather that's now locked in , it's likely it will be holed up somewhere and sitting out the conditions. It's a fairly distinctive looking bird and, hopefully, it will stick around so more people can see it. Following such poor weather conditions it's always a good time to get out and look for raptors, as they'll have doubtless struggled to feed easily and then take advantage of any good conditions which emerge.
As the years have progressed fewer and fewer of these collared birds are evident as natural mortality takes its toll. The costs and logistics of mounting expeditions to their breeding grounds are colossal but, given their current status and the concerns this generates, further studies clearly need to be mounted to determine the contributory problems and effects and, most importantly, what might then be done to improve the situation.
Whilst the weather was in sharp contrast to yesterday, a rather more normal winter's day, count conditions were favourable. A couple of Pink-footed Geese was present with Barnacle Geese and Grey lag Geese near Gartmain as were a pair of Light-bellied Brent Geese in a large gathering of Barnacle Geese at Springbank. Otherwise little else was noted.
Birding on the way home saw a surprise encounter with the Little Egret at the head of Loch Indaal. Whilst I was stationary, its sudden appearance 30m. away caught both of us by surprise( they've actually quite a fierce gaze! ). Eventually it moved even closer and fed within 20m with no apparent concern . Tremendous.
As mentioned yesterday this weekend had been designated for the second census of the winter for Light-bellied Brent Geese, for the monthly BTO waterfowl counts , but also for the International Census of Whooper and Bewick's Swans. We rarely get any of the latter anyway, and almost qualified as having the same status for Whooper as only two could be found. Normally there are a few remaining with us through the winter, but the severe weather appears to have encouraged them to leave!
Initially I'd checked the site where the Gyr had been seen , but without success, although it was seen later. I managed to complete a survey of Outer Loch Indaal, mainly for divers, but an increasing southerly wind saw conditions deteriorate and it will be necessary to repeat it. Up to that point I'd had 20 great northern diver and a small flock of Common Scoter. At a couple of places on the Rinns numbers of Redwing, Fieldfare and Starling were noticeable, their appearance certainly being a feature of recent days.
The Inner loch was also being affected by tidal swell , but a reasonable array of birds was to be seen. I actually got the impression bird numbers were increasing after apparent "lows" of the last few days. The Greater Scaup flock showed better numbers than yesterday but it appears to be "down" by almost 50% compared to the last few years. Recent days have seen quite high tides and some waders like Bar-tailed Godwit may be commuting between Loch Indaal and Gruinart, as quite a lag in tide times occurs. A visit to Loch Gruinart also produced a good selection of waders including two Greenshank with another mixed flock of Redwing and Fieldfare on adjacent fields and a good flock of Linnet.
Another good day, but with the weather eventually deteriorating and heavy showers coming in during the evening.
Saturday, January 16, 2010
So, guess what, on one of the islands off Portnahaven there the bird was, being harassed by two Hooded Crows!! Scoped from a long distance away, I chased round to the village and moved opposite to where the birds were. Tremendous sight ! The bird was perched on a protruding rock , but being mobbed regularly and flew around a couple of times. Powerful, languid motion but with the contained menace of an efficient predator. I managed to contact Keith Betton and colleague, who are here on holiday, and they then saw the bird and even got a photograph ( a copy will appear later ). Super stuff. At distance the bird looked white but, on closer examination, the back was pale whitish-grey, which might suggest an Icelandic bird, although I'd always presumed them to be darker.
The remainder of the day was, inevitably, an anticlimax. A "circuit of Loch Indaal to count the Light -bellied Brent Geese, for which the second winter census occurs this weekend , and a couple of WeBS counts ( B.T.O. wildfowl and wader counts ) saw most of the day absorbed when linked to a couple of personal things I'd to attend to. Duck and wader numbers are most certainly reduced but there is still a good variety to be seen. A couple of waters I visited were still frozen in part indicating how solid they must have been earlier.
Even the sea showed some life. A few auks, mainly Razorbill, went south and Fulmars were both on two local colonies and at sea, although not much else other than low numbers of Common and Herring Gull.
Finally, a journey home with, hopefully, the car now having no further problems and a smile from ear to ear. Not a bad day!
Friday, January 15, 2010
Notorious for going unrecorded for days on end, it seems worth everyone's while keeping an eye open to gain confirmation of the bird and absolutely anywhere on Islay too.
Birds are still visiting the garden and feeding voraciously at the feeders. It's good to see numbers of Reed Buntings amongst them. A journey northwards up the Rinns saw the large Barnacle Goose flock still coming over to the west coast and even exploring new fields. Farther on good numbers of Greenland White-fronted Geese and Grey lag Geese were feeding where ,until recently, a single Whooper Swan had been present.
Mid-afternoon a sole Grey Heron flew south, very high and down the whole length of the valley, until lost to sight, presumably on its way to Ireland which, in the improved conditions, was plainly visible.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Since immediately before Christmas I'd been receiving reports of Woodcock and Common Snipe from various friends visiting Islay, and seeing many birds myself along road verges and in ditches. A couple of farmers had commented similarly and mentioned not having seen so many previously. It seems likely that lesser numbers of Jack Snipe were also amongst these too from various reports. The relative improvement in the weather has probably been a reprieve for these, and other species of wader, with the ground now being accessible in more places and the upper part of the Merse being free of ice. Whilst it's likely that all these species are with us in numbers in "normal" winters the desperate quest for food in the last three weeks brought them into ever closer proximity.
The Eagle Owl saga continues! News of the imminent publication of a paper presenting results of isotope analysis on an Eagle Owl picked up as a road casualty in Thetford Forest suggest the bird was from a clade of Continental origin. Similarly a paper published by Aebischer, giving results from young Eagle Owls bred in Switzerland and fitted with satellite tags , suggest they disperse over much greater distances than previously thought , including over Alpine passes if necessary. Both will obviously add further dimensions to the existing debate.
More worryingly was the discovery yesterday that the Risk Assessment relating to Eagle Owl , as a component species in the revised Schedule 9 becoming applicable in April, is out for public consultation, the closing date for which is the 6th February, 2010. Transparent Government such may be , but a better indication of when such documents are being held up to the light would be a major step forward!! A major concern is a comment "containment/control is an option and is likely to be most effective if carried out in the early stages of the establishment phase".
Having said that there is some recognition that there is a degree of public interest and that various aspects relating to its presence and status have not yet received proper consideration so such might just operate as a stay of execution in the short term!!
Monday, January 11, 2010
There is much within the legislation that is sensible associated with , for example, the prevention of invasive plant species within watercourses, or the further introduction of non-native crayfish which have already been found to have decimated our own stocks in certain areas and so on.
When it comes to the Eagle Owl I support the intention aimed at limiting any releases to the wild, but feel there are a number of other issues the Government's agencies need to address rather than feel the job of work is finished. To this extent its inclusion in Schedule 9 might muddy the water as opposed to providing an all embracing , once and for all solution! The whole question of the status of the species within the UK needs future examination and an unequivocal statement issued as to its position within our avifauna.
Image supplied by T.Pickford. Photographed in Czech Republic.
Undoubtedly some Eagle Owls have been released to the wild and some have escaped captivity. It is known that the species has bred freely and raised young in Britain in recent years too. Now whilst I feel we don't want to see endless birds released willy-nilly into the wild , to include the bird on Schedule 9 amongst a list of other aliens begins to confuse what could be
a different situation at the present time. In my opinion there are sufficient facts relating to a gradual westwards extension across Western Europe to suggest we be very careful about what label we do attach to the species!!
Birds can easily be seen in Iberia but now, much farther north , there is emerging evidence of breeding pairs in the Low Countries and of a persistent colonisation of the Baltic islands. So why not the odd migrant to Britain? Some sceptics pronounce the bird to be large and sedentary with a probable predilection against flying over a large body of water, i.e. the North Sea. Well , other raptors do it, as do Long-eared Owls, a selection of photographs of which can be seen on the North Sea Bird Club web site. Indeed it may well be the case that, as a species, it doesn't like the idea of flying over the sea and, therefore, its westward extension comes to an abrupt stop. That presumption, at this very point in time, appears non-proven and somewhat convenient! We can't prove immigration has not occurred, nor what would be the aftermath if a sufficiency were in Britain and part of the operating fabric of our countryside. Would they be a disastrous threat?
The web page the RSPB displays on the subject is, in my view, a fair assessment of the position despite the organization having concerns on the subject. A declaration that, if it were to arrive naturally, then they would welcome it as part of the avifauna, is firm and ad vocative and provides the clarity needed. Similarly their suggestion ( to Government ) that an impact assessment be completed of what is currently an increasing population again would provide a basis upon which better predictions could be made whatever happened in future years. The difficulty at the moment is that the offspring produced may be from escaped birds, but there is no way of knowing. Simply designating them as such is irresponsible in my view and ignores the demands of the situation, difficult though these may be.
There are those , of course, who will delight in the lack of recognition afforded to the species, and for whom its relegation to "alien status" will provide an opportunity to call for its control, or worse! At the present time I feel , quite sincerely, that we should be willing to be open minded and make every attempt to determine what the true situation might be. Difficult, of course it is, and demanding of imaginative ways of tackling a very challenging problem, but attempting to achieve this through "labelling" will never give us the truth and will be used by some to distort the situation. If, in the fullness of time, the population reaches a plateau, and then diminishes, we can accept the current provisions to be adequate and reflect the correct perspectives of the situation. In the meantime it seems to me that we should be open to a possible changing process and set prejudice and self interest aside so as to witness, properly, what could be a natural phenomenon ( running in parallel to what has been a similar "domestic" phenomenon in recent times ).
Discussions with colleagues have raised various points , almost legal points , about which I haven't yet reached clarity in my own mind due, mainly,to a lack of precise knowledge on my part. Given Eagle Owl is a resident , "accepted " species in Continental Europe it is obviously, and its young, afforded protective status under the European Birds Directive . As we are part of the European Union presumably the young produced in this country from parents whose derivation is presumed at the moment, not documented or proven, could be ( should be? ) afforded the same protection. Such would mean it being accepted into our avifauna? Heigh ho , that should get the "grey suits" in a state of flux!!!
Whether it's indicative of the weather having any effects already, or not, I'm conscious that I've not seen as many Wrens or Stonechats around compared to normal. Of interest were two skeins of Barnacle Geese that came north over the southern coast, flying very high, and gave the impression of coming over from Ireland.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
Birdwise the changes didn't result in any immediate alteration in feeding areas so the "birdscene" was much as yesterday. Looking at Loch Indaal from afar, so as not to cause any undue disturbance, nothing really new was apparent.
Later , in a quest to locate a suspected new Hen Harrier roost, I managed to get a bird on dusk in transit to wherever is actually being used, a small step further, and so can move the vantage point half a mile or so!
Friday, January 8, 2010
I think I can honestly say that I have seen more Common Snipe today than in all the ten years that I've been here, and mostly in unexpected and unlikely locations. Birds flying south along Loch Indaal, in roadside ditches ( again), feeding openly on a football pitch and just appearing periodically, even opposite the house, suggested they were finding the conditions difficult and casting around for feeding areas. Similarly, a Woodcock flying south over open fields mid-afternoon was a little unexpected. Whilst thrushes were again a feature, a party of Twite frantically moving across a field looking for an unfrozen feeding area reinforced how desperate small birds were finding the circumstances.
An opportunity to overlook Outer Loch Indaal in the late afternoon showed a good array of all three diver species ( Great Northern, Black- throated and Red-throated) , which , hopefully, I shall have an opportunity to count this weekend. Black Guillemots in both transitional and all winter plumage were also dotted around and the odd party of Common Scoter.
In the fading rays of the sun a male Hen Harrier slowly hunted over a local rush-ridden field suggesting that the day's hunting had not been terribly successful up to that point! A species at the top of the food chain with seriously weakened, albeit few in number of prey individuals available, underscored how tough the situation must be.
Thursday, January 7, 2010
I was surprised at the number of Lapwing present on various pastures, possibly in higher numbers than a few days ago. As ever Rooks, Hooded Crows, Jackdaws and Common Gulls keep an attentive presence around any foddering out areas, or where there has been some muck spreading. Whilst it is difficult to be certain, the number of Blackbirds appears to have increased and there was a couple of areas where numbers of Redwing and Starlings were feeding, along with lesser numbers of Fieldfare. All possible evidence of birds moving around in search of food.
A male Sparrowhawk failed in an attempt to catch prey at Carrabus but doubtless, given the conditions, some weakening candidate will become available.
And finally.....a Collared Dove in Bowmore in song and display flight. Ardour in the arbour, as it were!
Applicable yesterday in Scotland, a shooting ban was announced by the Scottish Government Environment Minister, Roseanna Cunningham, which ostensibly applies for 14 days, but which is reviewed after a seven day period. The mechanism is based on advice received from Scottish Natural Heritage, with the Government then bringing in a ban under Section 2 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, all this usually happening after a seven day period of voluntary restraint advocated by the non-governmental shooting organizations. The "device" first came into being in 1983 and it's now thirteen years since it was last used, a good indicator of how severe our current weather conditions are. It seems likely that a similar ban will be applied in England and Wales too.
Equally important is the question of disturbance, as geese , ducks and waders doing " aerial circuits" over a wintering site are using up vital levels of energy reserves, which could then literally be the difference between survival or succumbing to what are now beginning to be very low temperatures indeed. In this context birdwatchers , dog walkers, joggers, all can try and avoid obvious concentrations of birds just attempting to sit out the conditions!
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Whilst the mainland roads weren't good we got there in the end! Sadly the second leg of the journey , for Yvonne and the girls back to Kirkhill, Inverness, was nightmarish with blizzards coming in from the east and a much longer journey than normal. At least it was " mission accomplished" despite the trauma.
Of birds , there was little to be seen. All of the inland lochs appeared to be frozen over, and little seemed to be on the move. Forlorn little parties of Mallard and Wigeon were strung along the loch edge south of Lochgilphead, together with a few Oystercatcher, Curlew and Redshank, and much seems to have vacated the area altogether. The forecast for the next few days doesn't appear too good but we will simply have to see, and cope!
Monday, January 4, 2010
Managed to oversee Inner Loch Indaal for a period....an absolute bonanza! Duck and waders were spread out and utilising any and every feeding niche they could exploit. Shelduck, Mallard, Greater Scaup, Pintail, Wigeon, Goldeneye, Eider, Common Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser plus Curlew , Redshank, Ringed Plover, Dunlin and Oystercatcher. Add to this a never ending succession of changing numbers of Barnacle Geese, some Grey lag Geese and Light-bellied Brent Geese and odd Slavonian Grebe and the picture was complete despite the intervention of sleet showers and variable visibility. A lovely start to a New Year's birding however short in duration.
Elsewhere, as often happens after the turn of the year anyway, geese were tucked into all sorts of new and odd feeding "corners", particularly Greenland White-fronted Geese. I'm surprised that there has been no mention of the Bar-headed Goose recently which was afforded such notoriety last winter. Still here , possibly with "son of", and I think well ensconced with the feral farm yard lot he's now associated with! I suspect it may have been picked up by either Barnacle or Greenland White-fronted Geese in Ireland, when they had skipped across early on in the passage period or due to bad weather, given it's known there's a few "loose" individuals there!
The day ended with No 2 daughter skating on Loch Finlaggan, me scalding my hand doing the final meal of "the visit" and the weather appearing "iffy" in the face of our intention to take on Islay and the mainland tomorrow! What's new?
Sunday, January 3, 2010
Herons too were often victims, which we were reminded of as we watched a single bird languidly cross a fozen landscape towards Loch Indaal in the manner of an avian metronome, doubtless leaving behind favourite , now frozen, inland feeding areas for the open sea loch.
Given it's New Year I suppose a "times they are a changing" entry doesn't go amiss. Not that long ago a welcome sighting from a winter visit to Norfolk would have been one , or more, Little Egrets. Previous to that a sighting anywhere would have been a "red letter day" and demanding of a description to the local Bird Recorder. Such has been the successful incursion into the UK that ,now, they are breeding to the south and present in places like Argyll and Dumfries and Galloway in winter, a far cry from their Mediterranean haunts of yesteryear.
Saturday, January 2, 2010
As the song goes " It's a new day, it's a new dawn" and, yes, it's a NEW YEAR, albeit a cold one for the first couple of hours. This was the opening of 2010 at home, a frost ridden landscape bathed largely in silence. For a while the Chough on the small sign at the entrance was the only evidence of birdlife!! The assortment of passerines about locally is low, although they seem to spend an equal amount of time searching out "natural" food, despite the conditions, as opposed to relying on the feeders.
At dusk various skeins of Barnacle Geese streamed overhead , with their barking, grumbling dialogue of calls, as they made their way for another night's feeding on farm pastures to the north .