Friday, April 23, 2010

22nd April,2010.

Routine seawatch showed most recent candidates,i.e. Red-throated Diver and Whimbrel, to be on the move again but nothing else of note. I get the impression that there are more Eider around the bays on the southern Rinns than in the last couple of years so hopefully the breeding season will be more productive than of late when very few ducklings survived. The juxta-presence of large gulls ( G.B.B.G. and Herring Gull) is an inconvenient feature of the nearby offshore islands!!

Until Tuesday next I am shutting down this site so await the various entries then on which to catch up on what has been happening.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

21st April,2010.

A much improved day with lots of sunshine and feeling really warm in sheltered areas but with a cutting northerly wind.

a good part of the day was spent on "new ground" at a couple of locations, which is always something I enjoy. A few more Swallows are now around and a new Cuckoo had selected a territory from which it poured out its call through the late morning and part of the afternoon. Best of all was witnessing the "random arrival" of an immature Golden Eagle into an area, which brought about the immediate arrival of an adult from nearby on what was undoubtedly a mission to check things out, after which it descended in a steep path back towards its territory. Excellent views were had of both in a wonderful clear blue sky, magical stuff!! Later a female Merlin had an exchange with one of the local Hooded Crows on the moor opposite home.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

20th April,2010.

The strong north wind had disrupted the Jura ferry and intended plans for the day had to be set aside. Doubtless the wind had also persuaded both passage Light-bellied Brent Geese and Whimbrel to take time out on Loch Indaal as opposed to battling their way northwards. A group of Whimbrel lifted from Loch Indaal and valiantly strove to make headway northwards before being swept back to the tideline.

A visit to various woodlands suggested little had arrived that was new , although Willow Warblers are now here in strength. It was good to see a pair of Long-tailed Tit and Bullfinch . but disappointing not to record Goldcrest in previously favoured areas, which suggests the winter has taken its toll. Wren numbers appear to be around 50% "down" compared to 2009 figures, but a repeat visit in slightly better weather conditions might yet see an improvement.

Loch Skerrols carried a good group of Shelduck which presumably had left the windswept merse and sandflats for this more protected haven. Many of them breed in secluded spots around the coverts hereabouts and birds can often be seen moving to and fro between Loch Indaal and this inland area. Loch Gruinart appeared to have nothing new, although I was surprised at the numbers of Barnacle Geese and Greenland White-fronted Geese both here and in other places, doubtless being held up now by the northerly winds. Later two or three flocks of "Northern" Golden Plover were seen and scrutinized for any accompanying Dotterel , but unsuccessfully!! A busy feeding group of "alba" wagtails comprised four Pied and 12 "White" showing passage to have increased, many of our local Pieds being on territory now.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

!9th April,2010.

Some years ago birders visiting Strathspey, and then venturing a little further north, christened the (Upper) valley of the Findhorn "Raptor Alley". Such came back to me yesterday morning travelling the Lossit -Kilchiaran road from home with Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, an absolutely stunning male Merlin perched on a gate post and Golden Eagle and Short-eared Owl earlier. What a place! Despite having undertaken a lot of monitoring of Merlins over the years , ringed birds etc this will be the "stereotype memory" I shall always carry with me from now on. It really was a beautiful bird, and so confiding!

Quite a slice of the day was spent in Bowmore and then , later, in the southern part of Islay. Grey lag Goose pairs seem to be everywhere, and unless they move on somewhere, we are surely going to see the population burgeoning. I recollect saying this last year, which only then happened in part; what I don't recollect is seeing this many birds, this widespread, in springtime!!

Monday, April 19, 2010

18th April,2010.

Having learned that skuas had been seen on passage past the Outer Hebrides I spent time seawatching over several hours, including testing a new observation site. Figures were derived from the first two hours with "searching for quality" occupying the rest of the time, the point being that it's difficult to count birds of different species, moving in various directions whilst systematically scanning aereas!!

Gannets were moving,with in excess of 250 north and around 120 south, all adults and presumably on feeding movements. Auks were also on the move with parties exceeding 300 moving north and singles and pairs returning south, again to feeding grounds presumed , from reports , to be off SW Islay. Local Fulmar, i.e.presumed Islay birds , fed offshore but appeared not to be moving elsewhere contrasted against a small passage of Red-throated Diver northwards. Kittiwakes were of interest with birds on the move in both directions, again considered to be relatively local birds moving to and from feeding areas. Manx Shearwater numbers continue to increase with virtually equal numbers north and south. Later an offshore feeding area was watched for quite a time with 40-50 birds present all of which gradually moved east as the food source moved along the surface.An odd Shelduck went north , as did a Greenshank, a Ringed Plover and a couple of Whimbrel.The spring upsurge in Goldfinch numbers continues with birds moving through and small numbers continually "dropping into" the garden during the day.

Despite all the effort, no skuas were seen, which puts an interesting focus on their springtime movements. Some birds do come past Islay northwards out of the Irish Sea and some appear to move east along Islay's south coast; some enter the Solway Firth, gain height and head off overland. Possibly the Outer Hebrides birds have circumvented the west coast of Ireland altogether and then swung NNE? A fascinating picture that proves there is still much we don't really know in detail about some bird movements.

As can be read on the Islay Wildlife site, one of the integrated objectives of the day was for any observations on cetaceans but, despite a favourable flat sea, none were recorded.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

16th April,2010.

Up before dawn to witness the possibility of an enhanced sunrise brought about by the effects of the volcanic dust emanating from the eruption in Iceland. Well, it was all rather inauspicious and disappointing I'm afraid and possibly my enthusiasm was way in front of the potential effect!!

Much of the day was spent organizing matters associated with the BTO Atlas either at home or at the RSPB's office at Gruinart. In some senses little seemed to have changed with no new falls of migrants apparent. At Gruinart around 40 Sand Martin fed above the pools, a fine pair of Red-breasted Merganser was present and some newly arrived Black-tailed Godwit in tremendous summer plumage were present. Appreciable numbers of Barnacle Geese still remain around at least both Gruinart and Ronnachmore,although the southern Rinns was devoid of birds suggesting their movement away.

On Loch Indaal noticeable numbers of Great Northern Divers were about , but no concentrations as before. A flock of Red-breasted Merganser south of Traig an Luing provided entertainment as they cavorted around in the waters close to the shore.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Wednesday,14th April,2010.

A morning spent "fiddling about" with computer programmes ( and to little avail if I'm honest!) in an attempt to improve the record shots of the Ring-necked Duck, but distance frustrated the whole process, even with enhancement. Hopefully the bird will come closer at some point,as did the magnificent drake occurring at Loch Kinnabus on the Oa a couple or so years ago. At least a sufficient shot finally emerged to support the record claim!!

After a slightly grey start the day again developed into another nice sunny one , with the mid afternoon temperatures being quite warm. Another female Merlin on the southern Rinns flew northwards along the coast convincing me again that these birds are possibly Icelandic migrants. The BTO " Atlas of Wintering Birds" (1996) shows a presence on the Uists, less so on Lewis, but these might also be Icelandic birds in part!! At some point it would be useful to check into the winter situation relating to the breeding population of the Outer Hebrides, based on any returns of ringed birds, and whether they are thought to move out completely. At RSPB Gruinart Reserve the lone male Gadwall has now been joined by a further pair and the first Black tailed Godwit flew over. Tremendous views were had of the Lesser Canada Goose feeding amongst the Barnacle Geese on the Flats, which allowed me to get some good notes together on diagnostic features. A small flock of Sand Martin buzzed around the pools where Shoveler numbers appear to be holding up but from which the Pintail presence appears to have reduced.

I have to admit to having omitted two reports,and of the same species too, over the last few days. On the 11th a single Whimbrel fed in fields neat Portnahaven and, on the 13th, a lone bird flew NNE over the Rinns. The precursors to what will no doubt be the noticeable passage of good numbers of birds quite soon.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tuesday,13th April,2010.

A rather exciting day in many respects, although the weather was cooler and less sunny than of late. A fog bank out at sea early on restricted observations slightly , but cleared later leaving a grey but crisp day.

Gannets and auks in low numbers beat there way off shore and a few Manx Shearwater and Kittiwake were in evidence. A few Red-throated Divers flew north and were a prelude to later. As is customary at this time of year two or three parties of Goldfinch sped through northwards and a couple of Grey Heron rested out on one of the islands. Three Canada Geese were off Portnahaven, having been around for a couple of days,and in open conflict with the now territorial Grey lag Geese!! The southern Rinns appear to be largely devoid of Barnacle Geese with only 24 noted.

Outer Loch Indaal was utterly calm and allowed a good look to be taken at the various birds that were dotted around. The majority were Great Northern Divers, a few Common Scoter and noticeably very few auks contrasted to a couple of days ago. Much later in the day a loose "flock" of Great Northern Divers was found in the Inner Loch, and also one of Red-throated Diver, again a feature of this time of year and a phenomenon that can lead to some quite high counts if sea conditions permit.
Whilst preoccupied with counting birds in the morning a female Merlin had perched nearby quite happily but sped off northwards up the loch as soon as I moved!

A few Swallow and Sand Martin, odd Northern Wheatear, a mixed flock of wagtails and pipits on open grazing at the head of the loch, probably increased numbers of Eider, a distant Cuckoo and a fine flock of Turnstone which swept in, all signified migration was moving up a gear. Even at the head of the loch Great Northern Divers were easily seen offshore.

And then , as I was settling down to lunch and a coffee, a call from James How advised a Ring-necked Duck had been reported from Ardnave Loch. Not strictly within my personal recording area, but a necessary imperative to have a look at!! What a fine male bird too, showing off its bill markings to good effect, its grey sides and peaked head. At the onset it was asleep for quite a time, which may have suggested recent arrival, but later was active alongside the Tufted Duck and Goldeneye at the site.The bird was distant and efforts to capture a photograph resulted in an image sufficient to prove its identity but little else ( despite struggling with editing facilities this morning!!). Whilst there, a flock of 70 + Bar-tailed Godwit swept in from the west and on to Loch Gruinart and a suspected Lapland Bunting flew over, called, diverted everyone from the task of viewing the duck, but continued on northwards. Other records have occurred in Scotland apparently in the last few days. Quite a large pack of Barnacle Geese were across from Ardnave Loch and James How made the point that birds seem to "filter " up there from elsewhere on the island and progressively move off north on their long flight to Iceland and then on to Greenland. Perhaps this explained the apparent absence of birds on the southern Rinns.

More time alongside Loch Indaal didn't produce anything else that was new, but the final bonus of the day was discovering a new (to me) Golden Eagle vantage point with the bird remaining perched in situ for around 20 minutes. Near home a party of migrant Whooper Swans shared a loch with 22 Grey lag Geese. A fine end to a very productive day!!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Quite a good day!

With the weather predicted to be fine plans were made to "exploit the day" to the full, and so it proved!

A seawatch actually produced very little with a 100+ Gannet S, and a few auks north , but not much else. "Alba" wagtail, Linnet and Goldfinch all moved through in penny numbers.

I decided to try and take a thorough look at the whole "recording area" to assess the status of the birds present, better to be able to comment on the records, rather than simply reporting, randomly, on their presence here and there, which has little relevance. Easier said than done given the eventual heat haze and the tide being at low ebb for much of the period!! However a reasonable grasp of what was around revealed itself.

Geese appeared to be less well widespread, but 2500+ in two areas on the flats near Bridgend and numbers at Gruinart, showed a high presence still. Grey lag Geese appear to be much reduced, as no flocks were encountered, but pairs are absolutely everywhere! Some of the Light-bellied Brent Geese may have gone , as only a couple of parties were encountered, but they were actually being disturbed by various activities around the loch.

Of summer migrants, two Swallow flew north along Loch Indaal, as did a single Northern Wheatear and Willow Warblers were present in several areas, the highest numbers being noted at Loch Gorm with at least five singing birds. LBBG ( a summer visitor here) are now well distributed, as are Pied Wagtails. The Outer Loch (Indaal) showed slightly increased numbers of Great Northern Divers (29) , but there was the likelihood of more as counting was made difficult by the sun dappled water ( we really shouldn't complain!! ) Numbers of Guillemot and a few Razorbill dotted the outer waters,and odd Red-throated Diver and a couple of Kittiwake were present. A good flock of Common Scoter was strung out in the boundary waters of the inner and outer loch at Laggan. The inner loch carried a variety of birds, again a couple of Great Northern Diver and Red-throated Diver, a single Slavonian Grebe in absolutely resplendent plumage, the remnants of the Greater Scaup flock, a few more Common Scoter and several Goldeneye. Shelduck and Red-breasted Merganser were much absorbed in courtship display compared to most of the Eider that were sitting out the day onshore! Waders were difficult! A flock of 70+ Bar-tailed Godwit, some Knot, Redshank, Oystercatcher and Curlew all fed out on the flats , but were difficult to count. Whilst a few Turnsone and Ringed Plover were obvious the larger numbers of these species , accompanied by Sanderling and Dunlin , are not yet in the numbers we enjoy later when these smaller High Arctic breeders move through.

The Gruinart Reserve rang to the sounds of Redshank and provided good views of Shoveler, Pintail, Wigeon, Teal and the lone Gadwall and also a Greenshank and the now regular Little Egret. A battle of "presence" was taking place between a Mute Swan and two Whooper Swans, but otherwise all was a fairly ordered afternoon!!

A good day against which it will be possible to set and compare any changes within the promised period of continuing good weather!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

9th April, 2010.

An extremely busy day in several respects trying to incorporate different tasks and integrate some birding as well. It appeared that there had been a small arrival of Northern Wheatear on the southern Rinns in the early morning but birds soon dispersed more widely or moved on. A seawatch produced very little in actuality, which was disappointing.

A necessary journey to Bowmore ( the island's "metropolis" !! ) allowed a look to be taken over Inner Loch Indaal. There were some fine Eider and Red-breasted Merganser on show, but duck generally were a little scarce and I suspect the good weather will also now encourage any lingering winterers to move on. Wader numbers were also low, but a number of Bar-tailed Godwit showed well, none, as yet, showing any signs of summer plumage.

Over the last three days or so numbers of "alba" wagtails have finally become noticeable. The obvious presence of Song Thrushes and Blackbirds everywhere, so noticeable in early March, has now ended with only our usual breeding birds in evidence. Meadow Pipit are now around in better numbers and the lower hill land generally has taken on more life. At the very end of the day a fine Barn Owl near Cladville surveyed intently a ditch from a convenient fence post, doubtless alerted to the presence of potential prey!

Friday, April 9, 2010

8th April,2010.

Involved in the penultimate goose count of the season on the Kilmeny route, which I've not done for quite a while so it was quite interesting to return. There was quite an appreciable number of geese still around which, in some senses is perhaps not too surprising given the period of northerly winds we had recently. Very often Barnacle Geese seem to "pack up" immediately before departure and also become noticeably active and excited ( if such can be applied to birds! ). In our sector no such large gatherings were in evidence, although there was quite a number of well distributed groups, still voraciously feeding and doubtless putting on body fat before departure.

In one of the farm stack yards 26 Yellowhammers were present, including a high proportion of males. My thoughts returned to the situation I'd encountered when up near Inverness ,now almost a month or so ago, where birds there were on territory, a situation I still find intriguing.

Later a pair of Goosander was seen on a small loch, a situation encountered each spring, but never including anything but low numbers of birds. Given the expanse of Islay and Jura it would be entirely possible for the odd pair to breed and never be encountered or, again, it may be a well developed pattern of birds returning elsewhere. As I returned home a flock of Whooper Swan (16 ) on Inner Loch Indaal was at rest after completing an initial "leg" of their journey back northwards. Duck numbers have now plummeted on the loch and it will be interesting to see what the impending count produces.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

7th April,2010.

A slightly cold westerly wind , but bright and sunny and, where sheltered , quite warm. The recent improvement in temperature has seen an absolute outburst of daffodils in gardens and along verges giving real colour to the landscape!

A morning sighting was extremely fortunate in its timing....that of a Buzzard with an Adder in its talons transporting it across to a nearby plantation. The Adder writhed and twisted in time honoured fashion, but the bird held on to its prize.

Most of the day on Jura along the Sound. A single Swallow winged its way north and,by contrast, news came that the Light-bellied Brent Geese near " Green Island" have been there all winter, in likelihood a new wintering area if "adopted" in future. The fact that 27 birds have remained there suggests the area to be suitable, particularly given the conditions encountered over the winter. Whether due to context , or proximity, I always find Jura very rewarding for birding despite numbers and variety being lower than ,say, the area around Loch Indaal.

Monday, April 5, 2010

4th April,2010.

A really pleasant day with lots of sunshine and with light winds.

For me a day of two halves as I decided I must get various arrangements in hand relating to the BTO Atlas Survey. The penultimate breeding season survey commenced on the 1st April and I suspect time will now literally fly by before the final date at the end of July in 2011. As it is the coverage of Islay and Jura is not that bad following the sterling efforts of several visitors and a temporary contract worker on Jura for a week. Many thanks to every one's efforts, which have gone a long way to supplement the dedicated work of the very few residents here who are involved. Many thanks indeed. By contrast Colonsay has received almost total coverage from the combined efforts of RSPB staff and David Jardine. Well done, but a relief too!

I used the afternoon to check out some key sites/species locally, although not much else appeared to be on offer. A group of Northern Wheatear, all males, suggested a small "fall" had taken place previously but no others were seen elsewhere. A Great Northern Diver off the coast appeared not to have a vestige of fresh plumage and was a stark reminder winter has not yet turned its back on us completely!!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

3rd April,2010.

A rather slack,grey sea above which the sighing wind could be heard, a situation which is strange, if you live near the coast, and are used to the restless energy of the sea and its more noisy interaction with the coast.

A migration watch had almost 700 Auks move north, probably all Razorbill. With a few moving north the majority of Gannet flew south today with almost a hundred involved in total. Two individual Manx Shearwater went south, possibly the first of the year but difficult to say with my not being here.Odd birds had recently been seen off the Solway. Odd L.B.B.G., Black-headed Gull,a Red-throated Diver and a couple of Ringed Plover beat their way northwards as did a few Eider.

Meadow Pipits, in small numbers and singletons, went through north. Still quite low numbers are "on the hill" so they're several days behind their normal arrival time, although with suitable weather doubtless this will rectify itself quickly. More obviously absent in numbers are "alba" wagtails of which we usually have quite a pronounced early passage. The "usual" passage of Goldfinch now seems to be underway and birds were noted later in the garden.

The local Black Guillemots were at their best with around 20 in total whirring back and forth above the sea surface like so many clockwork toys! Later a female Merlin sat on a fence line near the coast, one of several birds reported recently. I wonder the extent to which these are returning Icelandic birds as opposed to Scottish ones?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

2nd April,2010.

With the weather much improved it was a day to be out taking full advantage of the circumstances!

The sea was rather calm given the brisk northerly wind. A few groups of auks moved through and adult Gannets beat their way northwards too in an endless stream , albeit in low numbers. A few of the local Fulmar were huddled around the corner from the usual breeding cliff face, but others were out at sea. Oystercatcher, Redshank and odd Curlew were around the coast and around thirty Common Gull were congregated in what is a usual breeding site, but ,otherwise, things were quiet off the south west of the island.

A few flocks of 250/350 Barnacle Geese were present along the Rinns and rather more at Gruinart, but Greenland White-fronted Geese numbers appeared low. Both the Outer and Inner Loch Indaal areas held Great Northern and Red-throated Divers, but the spring upsurge in numbers appears not yet to have happened. Many of the duck in the loch have departed but a few still remain, the Greater Scaup flock being much depleted. At Gruinart there were some fine pairs of Pintail on show, Teal paired but still vocal and "busy", and resplendent Northern Shoveler and Wigeon. The lone Gadwall male and the now regular Little Egret were also present. With the latter having remained , and survived , the winter here, it will be interesting to see whether it moves or, simply, hangs on throughout the coming summer.

Counting waders, or even seeing them easily, on Loch Indaal was frustrated due to heat haze ( no I'm not lying!! ) so the task was set aside for later. With a Northern Wheatear at home yesterday I anticipated seeing others, but never did, so obviously many birds have been held back. As I eventually drove back twenty + Light -bellied Brent Geese were feeding at the lochside north of Bruichladdich, a species that is often one of the last to depart northwards.

As I came over the open grazing moor above home a couple of Curlew pairs were in evidence and a rather dark female Hen Harrier was out hunting, a striking bird in contrast to her paler counterpart further to the south. The Lapwings appear to have temporarily abandoned the area given the snow cover and the absence of their calls , display and presence gave a rather empty feel to the area.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Back to the future? (31.3.2010).

With no electricity the void of time available for reflection makes one arrive at the conclusion that we're pretty vulnerable in many respects nowadays , whether we think otherwise or not! With more snow outside (the Rinns seemed to have got the worst of it) I was thankful to have the facility of an open fire , however much that temporarily increased my carbon footprint. Combined with the trusty camping stove , things were quite tolerable! In fact, I was moved to remember having seen meals for anything from six to ten people cooked on two stoves like this in Africa and Asia, and of several dishes too. Who says we've not evolved beyond the limits of our previous abilities!

Not surprisingly few passerines appeared in evidence , but more activity was noted in larger species. Two Hooded Crows in the garden and a male Hen Harrier sweeping along the outer wall, doubtless hoping to surprise some hapless bird sheltering below its protection.

Quite a marked passage of G.B.B.Gulls sailed northwards up the glen using the benefit of the northerly wind. Eventually around 30 had passed with a few Herring Gull and a single LBBG too. The latter employ precisely the same technique in autumn when migrating south, although usually they're more confined to the coastal "rim", with very few moving directly over the sea. The updraft of air where the sea meets the coast must be sufficient to give them continuing lift, until they reach a more open area where flight is necessary but demanding a greater output of energy.

Finally, virtually twelve hours after its loss the electricity supply returned, a tribute to the Scottish Hydro team who had had to work in such poor conditions. Many thanks guys! Across its whole area reportage suggested 15,000 people had lost power, providing a real challenge to the Company and its engineers.

As the day moved on the snow gradually receded and revealed the vegetation below. Let's hope this " winter aberration" was little more than the April Fool playing a joke and that we now actually move forward to normality! I, for one, will be pleased to set the first three months aside after the various problems which have arisen, but that's life!!!

30th March,2010.

With things to sort out, and little time for actual birding, I'd at least hoped to wake up to the bubbling calls of Curlew, Lapwings in display and Skylarks filling the wide sky canvas with song. No such luck! The moor was covered in snow and a keen northerly wind continued to sweep horizontal sleet across the landscape for most of the day, with the wind increasing in force as the day went on! Filthy weather with Raven and Hooded Crow patrolling the moor providing a similar picture to six or seven weeks ago!

And then we lost the electricity supply around 2100 hours so it was time to call it a day, a poor day!