Friday, February 26, 2010

What a crazy world we're living in!!

It never fails to amaze me that we live in a world of extremes. As fast as one piece of positive news emerges, another absolute negative then appears!

News came this week that a new site for Long-whiskered Owlet had been found in South America. This was a species only first found in 1976 and one that had not been seen since 2007 at all. Then, within a research area at La Esperanza in Peru a bird was located. A salutary reminder that our knowledge in that area of the world can be extremely poor at best and something which should act as a cautionary note in the face of the continuing onslaught against the rain forest and other habitats in that continent.

A more uplifting announcement involved the British Trust for Ornithology's bird record database receiving its 100 millionth record this week (pride of place being of a Coal Tit in South Wales). A very positive basis upon which practice and policy can be viewed! The collection of survey data first commenced in 1933 and has progressed through a wide variety of topics since that time. Recently with the advent of BirdTrack,in 2004, the ability to collect bird sightings from people of all abilities has come into its own. Such records help to monitor the movements and distribution of birds across the whole of Britain and Ireland.

On both a negative and sad note details have emerged of an illegal consignment of 1000 African Grey Parrots being confiscated in Cameroon, West Africa en route to Kuwait and Bahrain. The species is classed as Near Threatened in the 2009 IUCN Red List ( for details on International Trade in Wildlife Specimens see my post on this Blog for 27th December, 2009.). This threatened status results from the knowledge of it being heavily persecuted for trapping for the world bird trade , an activity that is rife in this area given this is the third seizure in the last three years.

And finally, if you are convinced spring is never to arrive, this week had reports of Hoopoe in SW England, Bitterns having been booming at the London Wetland Centre ( WWT )since January and a Willow Warbler in song on the periphery of this latter site.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A diversionary delight!

Given my self-imposed detention still continues, but with the awaited delivery of car components imminent ( the tracking code says so!! ), I've been able to turn my attention to one of the newest facilities available on BuBo Listing. You'll notice details of my World List and Western Palaearctic List have appeared opposite, both figures of which will automatically update as I commit entries to the database. Wow!

Sadly, as mentioned previously, I lost all my databooks prior to 2002 so I've commenced a second "Birding Life". It's great and provides a great justification for visiting areas again and reliving events! Admittedly, after launching into the "challenge" somewhat after 2002, the reality now lies in rather a lot of data which needs to be dutifully entered, but even this has a real deja vu element to it with many a pause and wistful gaze at the computer screen. So as "data entry duties" proceed so will the totals notch up on the BuBo widget!! Watch this space, but with quite a number of foreign trips completed, there's a long way to go. Better still, take a look at the BuBo site the link's opposite, and have a go!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Winter continuing to tighten its grip?

Whilst I'm sure many people would suggest we are "through the worst" of the winter that view, I suspect, is a reaction to lengthening days and the extremes of weather not being as severe. I further suspect wildlife might have a different view!. With temperatures still plummeting at night, daytime not much better and with a presumed ever diminishing supply of food, conditions continue to be very challenging indeed. I got the distinct impression today that local birds were "feeling it". Their behaviour at the garden feeders was noticeably more frantic, with no time being wasted and territorial behaviour being largely set aside. The Brambling appeared yet again for a period with some Chaffinches, all of whom must have another feeding site they rely on.

At various intervals this winter I've been surprised at the number of Song Thrushes which have been present. A party of eight (8) this morning contained a couple of darker and duller brown/grey birds that , presumably, were residents from farther north ( hebridensis ). They never visit for food but remain out in the juncus ridden pasture nearby.

By contrast the brighter parts of the day saw much increased activity by local Ravens with some fine periods of "parallel flying" which would have been the envy of any RAF air display team! In an otherwise quiet and cold landscape their "kruk, kruk" calls carried distinctively, a reminder perhaps that spring is just around the corner but needs to flex its muscles a little!!!.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Venezuelan sites still threatened.

Some time ago I put out a series of postings relating to various sites in Venezuela that I'd had the privilege of visiting, but which were now being threatened by agricultural intensification. Whilst they comprise huge ( and I mean huge! ) "ranching" sites, the pockets of habitat, both wetlands and woodlands, were absolutely amazing for their wildlife. Whilst birding in South America, in my opinion, is always going to be a culture shock set against the UK, given the absolute array of species which is present, I can honestly say that trip was one of the best I've experienced.

Sadly, it would seem, the Llanos sites are still being threatened. News that Hato El Cedral has had appreciably sized areas turned into rice paddies and maize fields is disconcerting at best. That any of the remaining areas supporting wildlife will remain in the long term must be in doubt, which is very sad indeed. Sadly the Venezuelan administration appear to pay little heed to more positive overtures pointing out the unique aspects of such places. The sequestration of these areas, from private into government ownership, heralds a change from a land management "style" that has persisted for a very long time indeed. That a compromise solution of partial agricultural intensification under the aegis of the original owners couldn't have been a way forward is disappointing, but perhaps better reflects the policies that are nowadays being applied in the country!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A more than pertinent reminder!

I've just been watching a programme in the Natural World series which appeared on the Eden Channel of Sky Television entitled " White Falcon, White Wolf", which was excellent and which I can recommend absolutely. Filmed on Ellesmere Island at the northern tip of Canadian Territory it follows the fortunes of a pair of Gyr Falcons and a Wolf pack. Unbelievable close-ups, flight shots , activity shots...... the lot, wildlife filming par excellence!! Other "stars" include Snowy Owls, Arctic Foxes, Musk Ox and Arctic Skua.

With the recent saga here on Islay relating to the Gyr the film provided some useful reference material relating to plumage details, size comparisons and the like. The nest site was magnificent and, based on studies of prey bones at the rear of the ledge,has apparently been in use for several hundred years! On Ellesmere Island the breeding cycle is closely synchronized to the appearance of young Arctic Hares; elsewhere Gyrs can rely heavily on sea birds. This caused me to consider the sad condition the Islay bird was finally discovered in and reflect on the fact that, just around the corner of the island it frequented was a breeding cliff used by Fulmar and only 100m or so away. At regular intervals birds have been returning there since Christmas and would have been easy prey, if desired, as would the local Herring and Common Gulls. We will now obviously never know the reason why such a magnificent predator met its demise, but the sight of it scattering local Rock Doves around the village as it moved through and the excitement of confirming that the white sentinel atop McKenzie Island was again the bird in question will long remain as a memory.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

BUBO Listing.

Do you keep a list of birds you've seen? Locally,nationally,internationally perhaps? In recent times I do, and quite unashamedly too, but for my own enjoyment and reference as opposed to it being in any way competitive. Living where I do it would be impossible to be competitive anyway ( I've yet to see some of the most common birds in the UK this year given they don't occur on the island! ).

Sadly I lost most of my previous (lifetime ) records previous to 2001! Any lists I'd kept had been a bit of a half-hearted affair anyway and weren't computerised. Following that time I was determined that such a loss wouldn't happen again and a suitable means of "storage" would be found. And so , I commenced on a full blown Ornithological Renaissance and am enjoying every minute of it!. I have to admit that, in addition to the facilities described below, I also use Bird Base to record daily excursions etc, which can incorporate more detail.

Along this road of self declared discipline I found BUBO!! Not a stray owl, nor a holiday company , but a listing facility (, but also see the direct link opposite under Links to Other Organizations). Created and maintained by Andy Musgrove and Mike Prince it provides the facility to create, store ,compare and print off as many lists as you wish to maintain, and much,much more. You can commit records to more than one list as you're entering items, see who's seen what and how many species in a given year, retain your old Annual Lists...... They've thought of everything and it's tremendous fun. The more information you commit, the more you can enjoy a good trawl through a list for, say,2008, or check whether you saw a particular species when visiting Borneo!! They deserve a lot of credit from all of us in the birding world who use the site and I'm quite candid in saying that my own usage of the site has brought a lot of enjoyment. New features are forever appearing and doubtless the site will ( and should ) go from strength to strength.

So, whether you ( like me )also have a copy of Clements' book and dutifully "tick the boxes", try this too. Take a look at the site, register, have a browse and then pitch in! You'll not regret it. Sure, there are some very active people who see an enormous amount of species, but there are many,many more who can only operate within the limits of the time they have available. A site for everyone, try it!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Gyr Falcon carcass found!

After what has been a period of enjoyment for many it's now sad to report that the carcass of a Gyr Falcon was today found along one of Islay's beaches. What remains of the bird can be seen in the image above kindly provided by Malcolm Ogilvie.

Despite what is presumed to be this bird seen feeding last Tuesday morning on the Oa by Andy Schofield its overall condition was described as emaciated. A sad ending for a very fine creature! The fact now remains as to whether there has ever been two birds present on the island as I raised previously. A hunt is now on to track down the various photographs which various people have been fortunate enough to obtain. If anyone reading this is in a position to assist then, please, do get in touch. Thanks.

On a happier note, the female Brambling has again put in sporadic appearances over the past couple of days at the garden feeders and numbers of Chaffinches have risen quite noticeably. By contrast, and since mid autumn last year, Greenfinches have been noticeable only by their absence!

International bird conservation.

This week brought the news that the final proceeds of £263,000 from last year's British Birdwatching Fair had again been donated to the BirdLife International Preventing Extinctions Programme. This is the final donation of a three year commitment by the organizers which, in total, will have reached £754,000 and provided support to a diverse series of programmes across the globe. It also marks a 21 year history of the Fair within which time a mind boggling £2.5 million pounds has been raised for global bird conservation. To Martin and Tim, well done indeed!!

By comparison,confirmed news that another Red Kite has been poisoned in Dumfries, SW Scotland. A bird found west of Dumfries on the 8th January has been analysed and found to be the target of local persecution. The carcase had even had the identification marking tags removed from the wings, which very much confirms the intent behind the action. This is the 15th bird to be found poisoned in the overall area and points to a very deliberate policy of non-acceptance of the birds arising from the otherwise successful release scheme. Given the birds are active scavengers, as opposed to "hunters", the incident smacks of uneducated prejudice of the worst kind!

And finally, for any Chinese readers, may I wish you all the best for the Chinese Spring festival and a Happy New Year!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Passerine roosting behaviour.

Recent days has seen a small roost of Reed Buntings build up in basically the only suitable bush in the garden. It's set in the SW corner and so is essentially protected on three sides by the house,the porch and the garden wall.Most importantly its location catches the very last rays of the setting sun. It's also conveniently sited near the feeders around which the birds appear to be spending most of their days recently.

Given our good,virtually calm weather of late the birds spend time sitting out on top of the bush between bouts of feeding. Within the last hour of sunlight they appear to reduce feeding activity and sit out on the very top of the bush to gain the full benefit of the rays of the weakening sun. With the last rays no longer in evidence, and with darkness descending, they then move into the depths of the bush to roost. Similar activity has also be shown by both Blackbirds and Song Thrushes with them "sitting out" on the garden wall before they too find a suitable roosting spot.

Previous to Christmas a number of " walk up" shoots were held over the grass moors surrounding the house. Based on the shots heard they had rather a lean time of it with the moor being almost bereft of birds. Over the past few days Pheasants have now begun to call again at intervals and the moor is gradually coming back to life with the local Ravens and Hooded Crows openly scavenging around, but with the real upsurge in activity and presence of other birds yet to happen.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The S.N.H. Sisterhood Rules, O.K.!!

I suppose the following is more a reflection on how lucky anyone is to live on Islay with the support that is automatically made available from neighbours, friends and residents. Given I'm rather stranded at the moment, due to awaiting a replacement part from the mainland for the car, I rang in to the Scottish Natural Heritage ( SNH) office to say that circumstances still hadn't changed and that I wouldn't be available for goose counting activities. Somehow this information had already gotten there, I was advised that "the problem" had been discussed and that "arrangements" had been made to transfer to me any shopping I required via the Rinns Goose Counting team next day if I could now let them have a list !!! It worked like a dream, shelves and fridge were replenished and computer work continued virtually unabated. Many thanks girls, particularly Margaret, and to the delivery team ( Malcolm and Becky ).

Added to this must also be the support I'd already received with groceries and medication "pick -up " last week from Stuart, advice I've received from two lots of engineers about the car and the offer of the loan of a car from my landlord. Believe you me , folks, it makes it feel very special to live here, be very much out in the sticks, but have the support to overcome the isolation if something untoward happens.

Thanks also to everyone who passed on comments relating to this Blog site. I'm now intending to have a good think, given I've time on my hands, and to consider improvements for the future.

Of the Gyr Falcon saga there now appears to have been a bit of a hiatus with the last sighting I'm aware of being on Tuesday morning on the Oa. Will update as opportunity allows!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Gyr Falcon mystery as at 9.2.2010.

Two "major" updates of importance. My ability to add bird information to the Blog is impaired at the moment as I'm without transport due to some involved fault on the car !! Don't ask!!

Secondly, a report late last night from the Oa ( Andy Schofield ) confirmed he'd seen the "Portnahaven" bird there yesterday ( after I'd transferred the photograph shown on this site), but that this was not the bird depicted in the photograph of a white Gyr taken on the Oa by visitors, which I'd made reference to before. At the moment a hunt is on to try and get a copy of this . Watch this space!!

An Appeal!! If there is anyone reading this who has been on Islay recently and managed to get photographs of a Gyr , could you please send on copies please? Contact information is on the Blog, full reference will be made to your help and please advise how I might get back to you. Many thanks.

Friday, February 5, 2010

3/4th February,2010.

A couple of rather miserable days with rain showers , or rain, at not infrequent intervals throughout! Managed to put some time in on computer work, including some much needed sorting out of records/data from previous trips abroad.

Well, given the absence of comments, it looks as if what appears on the Blog is acceptable! I hope so, but will still intend to inject a few improvements! Due to some other commitments it's unlikely I shall be able to get any birding in until early next week or make entries to the Blog. Apologies to those who visit the site in the meantime.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Woodland wonderland! 2/02/2010.

Initial plans to be on Jura had suddenly to be altered so I decided to adopt the same objectives for the day, i.e. visiting various woodlands, but direct them at Islay! It turned out to be a good "second best" decision as the day emerged glorious with a warming sun for a while that injected vitality into everything.

Amidst the decaying leaves of last year the signs of emergent spring was present in the form of Snowdrops, more of which will doubtless carpet the woodland floor shortly. Blackbirds and Song Thrushes seemed to be everywhere and we seem to have retained a high wintering population. By contrast few Robins or Wrens were evident, but most titmice were noticeably active and Great Tit and Coal Tit in occasional song. A Dipper and a Chaffinch both tried a few ,as yet, slightly discordant phrases but, surprisingly, all thrush species remained silent. Goldcrest, Long-tailed Tit and Treecreeper were absent, possibly victims of the harsh weather experienced previously. All in all it was encouraging to see and hear so much activity, a mere prelude, of course, to what will be on offer a little later.

Monday, February 1, 2010

!st February...a veritable bonanza!

First of all, don't forget to visit the Sunday, 31st January entry and " Have Your Say"!

A mixed day with a few showers and rather cold conditions, but tolerable. Little was moving over the sea, Fulmars were around their colony ledges and the Gyr Falcon showed atop McKenzie Island until it appeared to be disturbed by a grazing Roe Deer! Farther north along the Rinns a large pack of Barnacle Geese held a single leucistic bird looking very washed out and "stand alone".The Outer Loch had a few Great Northern Divers , but little else of note.

Moving to oversee the Inner Loch from a favourite park-up point I experienced one of those purple patches so typical of birdwatching. Whether it was serendipity , the state of the tide or what, everything appeared to be laid out in a fairly restricted area and giving good views. A good count of Long-tailed Duck (15 ), numbers of Slavonian Grebe ( 21-28 ) , all three diver species, numbers of Red-breasted Merganser , Eider, Wigeon, Common Scoter and Greater Scaup, all presented a feast of viewing in relatively calm conditions and good " grey " light conditions . Within an hour all had changed, birds had dispersed and waves were advancing on the shore, however, in the time previously, the gently lapping waves below accompanied by the "Ah-oooh" calls of Eider, set against the snow shot hills beyond, was birdwatching par excellence.

Later good views were had of a male Hen Harrier wheeling over a traditional breeding moor. And to finish the day, something I'd not seen to the same extent before, 41 Hooded Crows hanging around on telephone wires previous to entering a local roost.

Have your say!!

Having got the weather forecast wrong, settled behind the PC and got embroiled in a variety of things, it was mid-afternoon before I got out!! The reward was nothing of importance , although the female Brambling is still visiting the garden from time to time.

I decided to use the opportunity to raise a few questions about this Blog, which I've done on an occasion before. I sincerely believe that personal Blogs ( as opposed to commercial sites promoting a service ) should serve some positive functions and not simply be a product of the rantings of their authors. They should be informative, educational and include variety , all of which is eventually reflected in the number of visits they receive. There should be an avoidance of repetition, ( how many Blogs could you actually write in advance ! ), and an avoidance, where possible, of the same old ,tired themes and mode of presentation that leads to a pedestrian outpouring that can be scan read and largely ignored. We have to remind ourselves that "subscribers" are now worldwide and obscure references and pursuing themes with too much local or subjective interest is gobbledygook to a far flung readership. Oh, and then there's style, even the ability to write in English which also comes into it.

So, comments please! I know I've failed on the provision of photographs on a regular basis, so a "Can do better" on that one. There must be many other things that can be added ,explored, comments that other people can read about and improve their own Blogs. I enjoy running a Blog as a product of the activity I love most of all and enjoy sharing with people.....birding! But I'm sure content etc can be taken to even further limits. Now it's your turn, particularly people in far flung places, or potential visitors to this wonderful island, or other Bloggers willing to give advice..........HAVE YOUR SAY!!