Monday, March 29, 2010

29th March,2010.

First of all I notice that there has now been in excess of 10,000 visits to the site from all parts of the world. May I thank everyone who has taken an interest in what I have offered and I shall try hard to repay your time during the next weeks and months. My intention was to provide something better than simply summarizing sightings of birds on Islay by adding extra information and personalized material. I'll keep on trying and, remember, I have three other Blogs ( see opposite ) which I fully intend "operating" to the same, or similar, level of output in the future.

Now, update time! Yesterday (Sunday) I did the repeat coach trip down to Glasgow and out to Dumbarton, setting the Beauly Firth behind and saying goodbye to my daughters for a few weeks. Snow still cloaked the higher slopes of the hills within the Cairngorms and Drumochter Pass, but was largely gone elsewhere.

Today I picked up the car and thoroughly enjoyed the drive northwards and westwards to the ferry terminal at Kennacraig. The hills to the east and north of Loch Lomond were covered in snow,which I suspect had fallen overnight according to the forecast. These, and the similarly covered high peaks surrounding Arrochar and the Rest and Be Thankful Pass, provided a thrilling backcloth to what felt increasingly to be an exciting return journey home after several weeks of difficulties with transport.

The ferry was delayed a lttle while due to a creel rope having entwined around a propellor, which was soon sorted out by a diver descending and freeing things up.
I was then particularly pleased to bump into a past colleague from RSPB, Roger Broad, who I've not seen for ages, which meant two hours passed very quickly! Even then, the journey had a further surprise in the form of Michal Sur, returning from the Seychelles after seven months to take up a further short term contract with RSPB. Never has a journey flown by so fast!

And so, after sorting out over the next couple of days all the inevitable bits and pieces associated with an absence of almost three weeks, I'm looking forward to getting out and about and making sense of what seems to be a late spring. Certainly groups of Barnacle and Greenland White-fronted Geese are still around and Grey-lag Geese appear widespread, in pairs, with the males taking up a very proprietorial position at the first hint of interference or disturbance. Back home!!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Good news and bad news.

Well, the good news is that the problems with my car have hopefully been resolved and I should be able to retrieve it shortly when I return to Islay. With car engines and control mechanisms being so finally attuned nowadays apparently some systems can "react" to the various additives that are, or aren't added to fuel. Nissan's had some trouble with this in 2009 with my vehicle's problems being attributed to the same source. What seems an attractive proposition in terms of fuel selection may not always turn out to be so!!

The bad news is that that I'm out of things with a sickness bug. Contact with children, and picking up something "doing the rounds",when you're used to the "sanitised surroundings " of Islay bathed, as it is with replenishing weather!,is almost an inevitability. What had plagued half the senior school where my daughters attend settled its remaining portion on me with the resulting maelstrom of internal upheaval , and its aftermath ,taking out the last two days. Now, girls, I know that men "do" the illness bit rather well, but this was really the wanting to meet your Maker scenario! So, no news of nature, birds either I'm afraid. From what I hear little of note has been found , or is around , on Islay, so I'm looking forward to getting back some time soon and getting into the fray!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

23 rd March,2010.

Soon after dawn the subdued song of a Chiffchaff came from the woodland opposite from exactly the same territory as a bird occupied last year! Lacking in volume and confidence it nonetheless announced the arrival of this migrant within the window of reasonable weather we've had over the past couple of days. Common species like Pied Wagtail and Linnet moved north and, at last, spring migration appears to be gaining momentum.

The local Buzzards put on an absolutely magnificent display above and around a shelter belt near to the house where I presume they intend to breed. Besides the usual display above the site they whirled around as if on the end of kite strings, sweeping back and forth in a series of sweeps.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

22nd March,2010.

The last two days have been disrupted by daughters being ill, so not too much to report. However, have still managed the local walks. A Tawny Owl calling out in the early ( day lit ) morning was a surprise, as were, finally, the appearance of Treecreeper and Long-tailed Tit locally, two of the latter visiting the feeders in late afternoon. A marauding female Sparrowhawk flashed through the garden and perched up for a while in the adjacent woodland. The cacophony of alarm calls from various species actually belied the quite large number of titmice, finches etc that are around in the immediate area.

I'm really intrigued by the situation surrounding Yellowhammers in the local area. They're quite common and appear to have survived the winter well. The habitat they're using is no different to that in many other places where they are now absent, although it obviously must be in some fundamental respect. The "core" habitats appear unchanged, as do the cropping practices, which stability may have much to do with their retention and success. A great pity to have lost elsewhere what is a really attractive species which, with several in song, add a welcome dimension to the local farm landscape. Not living cheek by jowl with them I'd never realised they commenced their breeding season this early, particularly this far north , given individuals can sometimes still be found in song in August.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

20th March,2010.

Whilst Friday's weather was a bit extreme with very blustery winds, with everything keeping its head down in fear of being caught up and swept away; that of today (Saturday ) is very pleasant. Despite this welcoming change little appears to have altered, at least superficially. The finch flock seems to have dispersed and far fewer Siskins are around, evidence of some movement in activity, but no other major changes or occurrences have taken place. Finally, at least two Wrens were seen, both skulking around so it seems we need to wait awhile before the woodland echoes to their explosive song. As the darkness of the evening deepened the local Tawny Owl struck up, its wavering tones carrying far and wide across the now becalmed landscape.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

17th March,2010.

Viewed from day to day I suppose there is an actual ,perceptible improvement in bird numbers and bird activity. Siskin are suddenly more obvious and prolific, Skylark is in song, a lone Goldcrest sang in a nearby woodland, a fortunate survivor of the winter or a returning resident (?), and Song Thrush are in full bore at various places. One sang virtually incessantly from dawn until midday immediately outside the house and made me ponder on the energy demands of such highly charged behaviour. In the evening a single Blackbird gave forth its song, the mellow notes redolent of what we will be so accustomed to over the next two-three months.

Skeins of Pink-footed Geese still overfly the house as they move from,or between, local feeding grounds. And as a fitting adventure to any day I can attest to the difficulty and excitement of separating four, largely black dogs that choose to have a fight when meeting up with a neighbour on the same walking duty along the nearby very dark lane!!

Monday, March 15, 2010

14th March,2010.

Despite the commoner passerine species being in song up here, some species are still in small flocks as well ( Chaffinch, Yellowhammer, Lesser Redpoll). It may well be that some species are "returning" after moving away previously due to the bad weather. Whilst snow at lower levels has now gone the higher hills around us still carry an appreciable amount so we're not there yet!!

Replenishing the feeders immediately attracted many Chaffinch and Yellowhammer and, at different times, both male and female Great Spotted Woodpecker. On the final walk out of the day with the dogs around midnight, a Barn Owl gave a couple of "screeeech" calls nearby, splitting what had otherwise been a landscape clothed in silence!!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

12th March,2010.

A pleasant enough day but rather dull. Bird song continues to gather in intensity and a Great Spotted Woodpecker spent the morning drumming in the woodland nearby to the house. The passerine flock in the stubble field adjacent to the house was a repeated focus but produced nothing new. A small party of Lesser Redpoll picked around in rough ground along the boundary of the garden. Suddenly a male Common Redpoll ( Mealy Redpoll )appeared, its greyer, more contrasting plumage and whiter wing bar standing out against the browner tones of its relative.

Down on the Firth Whooper Swans and large parties of Grey lag Geese repeatedley rise and fly around calling as if preparing for their imminent northward flights. A recent message from a contact in Iceland advises that both species are begining to arrive from their wintering quarters, perhaps even from here in Scotland. Their winter has not been that severe in the south of the "island" with even odd Blackcaps being present.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

11th March,2010.

Cold,cloudy with some rain and sleet late in the afternoon and yet some things appear farther advanced than in the supposed milder west!! Despite snow still being on the tops of the surrounding hills spring actually seemed to be in full swing except for the appearance of flowers. Whilst where I am ( west of Inverness and near Beauly ) is within a varied landscape bordering the Beauly Firth, the amount of birdsong in the woods and general countryside was both staggering and uplifting this morning. Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush, Robin, Chaffinch, and even an early Yellowhammer were all in good heart and the calls of Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Greenfinch and Tree Sparrow all rang out from the adjacent woodland and hedgerows. I'm afraid all birding rested on aural confirmations given such was being challenged by my ineffective handling skills of two collies being walked!! I was rather relieved the area is very quiet and my inadequate efforts weren't being witnessed! The youngest, at eight months, could be an apt contender for the World's Strongest Dog competition given his pulling ability that was certainly better than that of his supposed human "controller".

Over late morning and into the afternoon I had the pleasure of being visited by David Spivack and his wife, Amanda. David and I worked together for many years at the RSPB ( he still does ) and an appreciable amount of coffee was drunk and stories exchanged!! Good times!

On the move! !0th March, 2010.

In transit for most of the day! Down to the village for before 0800 hours to get a bus to the ferry, which got to the mainland at 1210 hours and linked with a bus to Glasgow, from where I then got a bus to Inverness, arriving a little after 2000hours. Pretty good after covering the width and an appreciable length of Scotland.

As ever on some journeys a "bus community" rapidly formed on the Glasgow to Perth leg of the trip. Scottish and Yorshire humour came to the fore with an hilarious conversation surrounding the potential for reusable coffins. Absolutely uproarious and lending itself to "green" objectives too!! As can be imagined little wildlife was, or could , be noted from a fast moving bus, but it was noticeable how much snow there was between Stirling and Perth and how sterile the landscape looked, caught as it was still in the grip of wintry conditions.

Doubtless whilst I'm away the weather will alter dramatically and, hopefully, at the same time, the persistent problems with my car will be resolved by the specialists to whom it is shortly to be transferred!! Normality can resume in all respects!

9th March,2010.

After attending to a few domestic matters out birding in glorious weather yet again.

A mixed flock of Fieldfare and Redwing above Cladville gave every impression of being on the move by their agitated behaviour. They were the only ones of the day, with Blackbird and Song Thrush numbers beginning to reduce as well.

Diver numbers in Outer Loch Indaal appeared much the same and few appeared in the Inner Loch. A good selection of wildfowl and waders was present, but in already reducing numbers , and views were distant due to low tide.

Took a look at Loch Gruinart, but tide conditions were similar and most interest appeared to be on the pools of the RSPB Reserve. Shoveler and Pintail were in good numbers and dazzling plumage and a single male Gadwall skulked behind an island of reed. The Little Egret looks in fine condition and shows little after effects from having withstood the vagaries of the harsh winter. Redshank were frantically moving around but Lapwing, Curlew, and a couple of Greenshank were feeding more sedately.
A rather pleasant day to be out, generally providing good views of birds, many of which were in their finest condition.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

8th March, 2010.

Coverage of the local area didn't come up with anything special, although all such things are relative. To a visitor, Hen harrier, Chough, Barnacle and Greenland White-fronted Geese would probably constitute some sort of "Red letter day" set against what was normally present on their home patch.

This set me musing on how thorough we are sometimes , as birdwatchers , and what must be missed by our repeated visits to favourite spots, convenient look-outs, lay bys and such like. So much is connected with our (car ) mobility nowadays, despite callings to be "green", that our real knowledge of bird distribution is skewed. The forthcoming BTO Atlas results ( in three/four years time ) will have cast a critical eye on precisely where our birds reside, or the areas they utilise in winter, by having surveyed at tetrad level ( 2 x 2 km.). Whilst major changes will doubtless appear, along with some worries and disappointments to consider, some pleasant surprises are also likely to emerge. Such was the case when, after tramping across an area I visit only rarely, I found a party of four Stonechat, including a magnificent male. A far flung corner which brought not just enjoyment , but relief that here was a group of birds vulnerable to winter weather that had made it through. Great!

Monday, March 8, 2010

7th March,2010.

I spent an appreciable amount of time today simply watching a single female Merlin. The day was bright, warm and clear but still held no surprises as far as bird numbers were concerned. The bird spent well over two hours "sitting out" on rocks distributed over a moderately sized grass moor. It abruptly changed perches several times , presumably in response to perceived disturbance, and I concluded it had probably fed very early and was taking time out or it was a northwards bound migrant having a rest. What really impressed me was its level of vigilance!! I suspect every moment associated with that wide area was picked up by the bird, whose head was turning in various directions throughout the whole time. More interestingly, it turned its attention skywards on many occasions. Very little was on the move as far as I could detect but, earlier , I'd picked up a short call from Skylark and wondered if the passage of single birds was continuing at height and not really discernible due , in part, to the glare. Eventually it suddenly whipped away and flew off to the north. A fascinating interlude!

We hear so many bad news stories it seems to me, to raise every one's hopes for the future, it's worthwhile reporting on something positive now and again. A couple of decades ago Baikal Teal numbers globally were declining and the world population was estimated at 75,000. Since then it has increased rapidly, such that the population is now over a million birds. The Republic of Korea has virtually all the wintering birds and work in 2009 saw 1,063,280 being counted there!! It is thought the change has come about by a decline in hunting and the availability of an increase in reclaimed land ( although I suspect the odd negative aspect might surround that story!!).

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sat. 6th March....a period of hiatus?

A very pleasant,warm day with virtually no wind. Odd hardy Curlew and Lapwing are still atop the nearby grass moor, but the vast majority of others are feeding, along with Oystercatcher and Starling flocks on much lower ground.

Both local Chough and Golden Eagles were evident within territories, as was a single Grey Wagtail. Compared even to yesterday, around 250 + Grey lag Geese were in the very southern Rinns, mostly in a couple of large flocks. The sea was very quiet with no Fulmar or auks in evidence,and few birds around the coast. Whilst a lot of our snow has gone Northern Ireland could just be glimpsed to the SW with some of its highest hills still clothed in white.

At this point it would have been easy to conclude that we were within one of those quiet,stable periods where there appears to be little turnover amongst our bird populations. Such may have been the case , but I was then pleasantly surprised mid-afternoon when a flock of 25-30 Meadow Pipits appeared near home. After an absence within the worst of the winter weather, and only the odd bird since, this signalled a real arrival of spring! They came up the glen, perched on overhead wires for a while and then swept down to feed. Soon the imperative to move on further gripped them yet again and, with a few quiet calls, they all arose and headed off north. An encouraging reinforcement that things are happening and are poised to move up a gear shortly!!!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Friday, 5th March,2010.

Yesterday again saw the weather being maintained providing, in particular, some good viewing conditions over Outer Loch Indaal. Whilst bird presence was low, the views of Great Northern Divers showed birds to be in a variety of plumages. Most were still in winter, but some were beginning to show their summer colours and patterns , another indication of the season's progression.

Quite separated, and smaller, groups of both Barnacle Geese and Greenland White-fronted Geese were at several points on the Rinns, the latter looking absolutely resplendent. Grey-lag Geese appeared in many spots, some in small parties, others in pairs and in areas well away from the more open feeding areas of previously. This was a pattern which emerged last spring, and despite my thoughts to the contrary, didn't result in a plethora of widely spread local breeding pairs, which suggested birds had moved elsewhere. One small loch carried a good flock of Teal, a veritable bundle of excitement and raw energy with their calls echoing far and wide.

Locally, birds visiting the garden have suddenly gone down in numbers suggesting their being able to find sufficient food elsewhere. Both male and female Hen Harriers , and Sparrowhawk, were seen hunting at various points of the day , which perhaps suggested the availability of prey was a bit low as yet, thus demanding greater effort.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Thursday---- a hint of what's in store?

A moderate frost clothing the landscape at dawn didn't deter the first bubbling and displaying Curlew over the adjacent grass moor. A single Skylark offered a very subdued, half hearted song and a couple of Lapwings again went through their display. Later, and on lower ground near the coast, 60/70 Lapwings were all feeding together on improved land, obviously not yet tempted away from a better prospect.

The day was glorious with the warmth of the sun actually discernible for what I think is the first time in the year! Buzzards were in display,gulls could be heard from the adjacent coastline and it felt that we are at least moving very gradually towards spring! A local male Hen Harrier , again hunting over the open moor , then suddenly went through the crowns of the trees in a nearby conifer plantation using a very languid flight, a technique I've never seen before.

The sea was very quiet other than for a few auks speeding south,local Shag and a few Fulmar patrolling back and forth, doubtless birds from the local colony within which 30+ pairs or individuals were present on the ledges. Several groups of Grey lag Geese ( 24,29,6,5 )were in fields along the coast but little else.

In conversation with friends from Orkney here on holiday I discovered that their wintering population of Grey lag Geese now numbers around 80,000, with 70,000 of these thought to hail from Iceland. Figures that make our "mildly increasing" population pale into insignificance by comparison.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Diet of a Golden Eagle.

By contrast to yesterday the day remained fine but with a frost at the commencement. Again the display flight and calls of Lapwing could be heard at first light, but soon petered out to silence. A single Meadow Pipit appeared locally, doubtless the first of many that will be returning to the adjacent moorlands fairly soon. A male Hen Harrier came up the track and leisurely swung over the fence, not 30m. from the back door of the house, its mien fierce and intent.

My neighbouring landlord arrived mid morning with a white sack that indicated some form of surprise! Apparently he had seen one of the local Golden Eagles flying out towards the open moor carrying quite a substantial item, which it then dropped. On retrieving it it proved to be the carcass of a Common Buzzard. The bird was very fresh and all indications were that it had been preyed upon by the eagle. Whilst Golden Eagles are known to take sheep and deer carrion in winter there is also a substantial list of bird species which they are known to have killed, one of which is Common Buzzard. In that fascinating book, "The Golden Eagle" by Jeff Watson ( Poyser,1997 ), various bird species known to have been preyed upon by eagles are listed, which include Manx Shearwater and Bullfinch!! With the demise of the local Rabbits due to disease, the large warren within the territory of these eagles, much relied upon for food, is no longer the convenience it was. Given the harsh conditions experienced in recent weeks the extent to which alternative food sources will have been explored is entirely possible, including this latest menu entry!!

A day of two parts!

Yesterday (Monday) dawned bright and seemed to suggest things were finally improving. On a nearby area of flat moor a Lapwing gave a few snatches of its display flight and calls, Common Gulls wheeled above the foddering out area for the cattle and, generally, the whole place suddenly felt more alive. Strangely absent, as yet, were any Skylark or Meadow Pipit, all of which cleared out completely at the onset of the worst weather. A couple of pairs of Grey lag Geese winged their way across the moor, as if moving to or from a favoured area, and "the" local Starling was on its usual song post, adding a variety of species to any list through its well rehearsed mimicry. Despite setbacks with a computer programme installation, the day held promise!

And then came the snow and sleet, converting the landscape into a drab backcloth once again and bringing a stunned silence everywhere. Not quite as forecast, but given it's March its likely tenure will thankfully not be for very long. So car repairs were put aside and the equally frustrating task of trying to solve the logical were confronted again.