Saturday, May 29, 2010

28th May,2010.

A reasonable day for weather but still plagued by light northerlies which, by and large, are destined to remain over the next few days.

Local birding produced precious little in reality! A singing Whinchat near the house has been there all week, and throughout the day, suggesting it hasn't yet secured a mate. Before being away Grasshopper Warblers had arrived, and were still arriving, but there is now no evidence or their presence. Discussions with a colleague had made him suspect the majority had actually passed through so quick was the transition.
Similar discussions with contacts suggests this spring has been very poor for skua passage. Monitoring on the Solway has produced few birds compared to other years and limited passage has been in evidence off the Outer Hebrides and certainly few birds have been noted off Islay. Two Corncrake are present almost within the centre of Portnahaven such that they are a talking point amongst local people, which is good. A full "all island" survey should be happening soon which will give an insight into their status this season. Hopefully we will see yet further increases and presence in new areas.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A shameful day for mankind!

Nothing special, or of particular note, despite many uncommon migrants being about in the UK overall. Our turn next? A quite cold northerly wind prevails and doesn't help matters. Local birds are busy feeding young and the adjacent moors are beginning, very gradually , to quieten.

Yesterday Birdlife International announced within its update if the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's ( IUCN ) Red List for Birds that the Alaotra Grebe should now be considered extinct. This species lived, and was confined to a tiny area in the east of Madagascar, where it was present on various lakes. Due to the introduction of carnivorous fish, and to nylon gill nets which fisherman used to catch them and which the grebes were often caught up in and drowned, the species has reduced rapidly in recent years. It is now FOREVER no longer a constituent member of our global biodiversity.

Besides the sadness and frustration one inevitably feels various other emotions arise too. Whilst we may be the highest evolved form of life on this planet, do we have a right to neglect other "constituents" such that they reach their final fate? Madagascar is renowned for its unique wildlife with various international organizations , studies and goodness knows what else based or operating there. Yes, it's a difficult environment and doubtless difficult challenges are present, but in this case we were dealing with a restricted area, several lakes and a population known to be very small. Perhaps the question ought to be asked why such irresponsible actions were allowed by the local fisherman at EVERY site and what was done to prevent such? Endless monitoring has its place, but surely there comes a time when the initiative needs to be grasped and inspired actions taken outside of the confines of air conditioned offices and prevaricating officialdom. Having said that my sentiments are also with the guys on the ground, who no doubt addressed the odds and difficulties, but were defeated in the end by minimal resources and the prevalent attitude amongst a large sector of mankind, including said officialdom despite agreements and the like, that wildlife and our natural environments are there for our use and abuse and not present as equal "partners" in our stewardship of this planet.

Not a day to be proud of in my opinion and, sadly, I suspect there will be more!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

24th May,2010.

As you might well imagine after being away a fortnight things like E-mails and correspondence, in addition to "domestic things", dominated the day. Whilst last week had its fair share of good migrants in the UK things seem to have "kicked off" over the weekend with a lot of very good birds being around, e.g Squacco Heron and White-winged Black Tern. Ah well, back to reality where, thankfully, over the past two weeks very litte appears to have got this far other than a Pectoral Sandpiper seen on one afternoon only.

Rare breeding birds seem to abound! Amongst various reports received Purple Herons in southern England are the most extreme newcomers. Hopefully they might yet follow the same pattern as did Little Egret previously!! Reflecting on many of the changes, both locally and in a more wider perspective, some species appear to be in better numbers, in new places and to be consolidating their situation. The results from the BTO Atlas will undoubtedly shed light on what has happened over the past few years and, I suspect, draw new distributions for many species. Iconic species, like White-tailed Eagle continue to thrive and extend their numbers gradually, benefit having been gained from the re-introduction programmes which have been conducted. By contrast, commoner species like Lesser Spotted Woodpecker appear to be at low ebb and attract less attention due, in part, to the greater difficulty of carrying out similar schemes. Again, but by pleasant contrast, the seemingly increased numbers of trans Saharan migrants like Cuckoo and Common Whitethroat, which appear to be in better numbers this year, are a welcome change given the increased knowledge we have about some of the drastic habitat changes in their wintering quarters. In a couple of weeks or so a good friend will be visiting , who also spends time in Gambia, West Africa, and who will no doubt have some commentary available on the continuing changes which are taking place there! As ever, the challenges outweigh the resources available!

Monday, May 24, 2010

23rd May,2010.

A direct journey northwards in rather hot weather, and with a few stretches with heavy traffic, thankfully saw me arrive on time for the ferry after a quick shop en route. A message to advise a Broad-billed Sandpiper had turned up at the Old Moor Reserve not far from Sheffield, and that No.1 son was setting off to see it, filled me with dark thoughts and the motivation to speed on home in the hope something similar was around... it wasn't!! Eventually arrived home around 2130 hours, picked up a pile of utterly irrelevant mail ( in the name of green conservation, can't we ban mail shots and advertising ... I don't need dresses etc in size 34!! ) downloaded too many E-mails and learned the coalition Government is to impose severe cuts with immediate effect. I thought I lived in paradise on Islay?

22nd May,2010.

With only a few hours before my needing to leave we set out early in the clear, but already warm air of the early morning to visit the Wyming/Redmires area again. The still conditions were ideal for us to enjoy the wall of birdsong arising from different habitats, predominant in which were several Mistle Thrushes at different locations. Grey Wagtail feeding young and Common Sandpiper were the most interesting birds seen and we returned home fairly soon thereafter to allow me to load up ready for departure. A really good week for birds, with many thanks to Matthew for acting as chauffeur and site guide, and to him and Rose for providing a base, hospitality and good company.

After routine goodbyes I left to visit friends near Barnsley ( why is this Mecca of culture and character not in spellchecker?) and spend the rest of the day catching up on news and gossip!!

21st May again, a forgotten adjunct!!

Following our return to Sheffield we sped up to the Redmiires/Ringinglow Moor area to have a last look for Montagu's Harrier, but again with no success! A local detour of slightly greater length than expected, took us into nearby Derbyshire and produced two Grey Partridge at the roadside and, shortly afterwards , a site at which a pair of Ring Ousel were feeding young! Great views were had of both adults flying with food to a group of gritstone blocks within which the nest was obviously located.

A fine end to a good day , or was that after the pint of Stones beer to offset the hot conditions of our endeavours!!

21st May,2010.

Early departure in what was warm conditions even from 0630 hours! Visited Hatfield Moors, which is an outlier of the Thorne Moors complex and part of the same National Nature Reserve. Peat extraction occurred here until not that many years ago when the whole area was purchased for the nation. What a magnificent job Natural England (formerly English Nature) have made of the site, and continue to do so! Another site about which there was much campaigning in the 1980's and, as with Thorne, a relief to see it now as a pristine reserve.

The exposed former peat extraction areas at the centre are often visited by feeding Hobbies, but none were about today. Flocks of around 50 Ringed Plover and Dunlin, and a single Turnstone, fed alongside the flooded areas and a single Common Tern and a Marsh Harrier overflew the site. A lady we met, who carried out census work on Adders, advised us we were unlikely to encounter any as it was already too hot, and so it was!!!

On an area nearby we located a pair of Woodlark, a species which maintains a small population in this part of South Yorkshire. And so then it was off to collect the car and drive back to Sheffield amidst ever increasing traffic in the late afternoon. I find it hard to get used to this aspect of urbanisation!!

20th May,2010.

Several hours spent in Wharncliffe Chase north of Sheffield, Yorkshire. The vast majority of the area is deciduous woodland , but an area of heathland is on the very top of the valley side. A good variety of typical species was seen , including Spotted Flycatcher and Nuthatch, and several Tree Pipits were singing from their perches on the very top of Birch trees on the heath. Blackaps are plentiful this year, as are Whitethroats in more scrubby open areas.

Following this we went to Wyming Brook woodlands, a delightful woodland SSSI west of the city where, again, we had a pleasing assemblage of expected species with the only absentee being Wood Warbler (that other people we met mentioned were in short supply this year). Wrens appear to have survived the winter quite well despite my learning of what must have been horrendous conditions locally. As a bonus we also had a few singing Goldcrest here and at Redmires.

We then had a further vigil near to Redmires in the hope of connecting with the male Montagu's Harrier, which is resident at the moment but appears to be ranging over a big area. Having called in yesterday, and learned later of our having missed it , the same happened today. That's birding!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

19th May,2010.

A thoroughly enjoyable first few hours of birdwatching before being fortified by an excellent breakfast. Anybody contemplating visiting Spurn, and requiring B and B accommodation, should consider Mr and Mrs Wells, West Mere Farm (01964 650258),on the outskirts of Kilnsea village, it's great!!

Whilst we had nothing exceptional, views of Grey Plover and other waders in full summer plumage was a delight, and views of Barn Owl, Lesser Whitethroat and Little Tern and a variety of other common species were all obtained in tremendous weather...calm, sunny and warm! As nothing appeared to be on the move we returned to Welwick in the early afternoon and again walked out towards the main drain emptying the nearby low lying farmland into the Humber. As we walked along the retaining bank the Purple Heron suddenly lifted from around 50 m. away and leisurely flew over the adjacent field to another major drain beyond. We had absolutely excellent views and decided not to pursue the bird any further.

So ended what had proved to be a very productive and enjoyable mini-bird tour within know it's the best!!

18th May,2010

Away early with the first stop being the North Cave Reserve near to Junction 38 on the M62. Developed from former gravel workings this is a great site with lots of bird interest. Avocets breed, probably the first freshwater site at which it occurred, and a substantial artificial Sand Martin breeding "cliff" is present, both distinctive features besides it being a good site for migrant waders, gulls, terns etc. We then moved on and managed to see Red Kite at a breeding area, a single bird wheeling around in a clear blue sky.

A wetland area at Swinemoor held no passage waders so we pushed on to Tophill Low Reservoirs where an array of commoner duck species, Turtle Dove and the single Temminck's Stint were seen. The latter was a bit difficult to pin down initially but eventually provided good views. On to the coast at Flamborough where Gannets and auks were seen offshore in numbers given the area is a short distance from the huge seabird colonies on Bempton Cliffs to the north. Best of all was views of a Woodchat Shrike in an area to the south reached by a pleasant walk along the cliff top.

We then had a rather hot drive south to visit Welwick, near Patrington where we then made a somewhat frustrating examination of an extensive area of saltmarsh and various major drainage channels given our hope to see the Purple Heron which had been present over the last couple of days. Birds seen here included Little Egrets, Marsh Harriers,and a flock of over 100 Dark bellied Brent Geese. We were fortunate in seeing a group of Whimbrel leave the nearby Humber Estuary and fly off north eastwards, climbing steadily at a 45 degree angle, calling all the while, before they headed off overland at a height almost beyond vision.

Finally, we reached our destination, Spurn Peninsula, where we celebrated our successes and failures of the day over our meal at the local pub before retiring to our overnight accommodation at a local farm.

Monday, May 17, 2010

17th May, 2010.

Another early start, this time to visit the Thorne Moors area, known also as the Humberside Head Levels National Nature Reserve. Known to have had human activity associated with it since the Stone Age, to have been part of a vast hunting area administered by successive past Monarchs, it was latterly the site of peat extraction over a number of years against which much campaigning took place by the Nature Conservancy and RSPB. Eventually all was resolved and the site is now retained by the nation in posterity. A superb area for birds, botanical and entomological interests and a vast expanse and array of peat land, moorland, birch scrub and woodland and wetlands.

For us it produced singing Turtle Doves, Nightingale, Grasshopper, Reed, Sedge, Willow and Garden Warblers, Whitethroat, Blackap, and Chiffchaff in a veritable wall of sound throughout the morning. Marsh Harrier, Kestrel and Sparrowhawk all appeared together with Cuckoo and commoner species in what was a good morning's birding.

On to Blacktoft Sands Reserve on the Humber where endless Marsh Harriers put in an appearance and a few Avocet sat on nests within the nesting Black-headed Gulls. A few Yellow Wagtails occurred, again a species that has reduced dramatically in the UK in recent years, is nowadays a pleasure and relief to come across.
The evening saw us appraising what was currently around in the County, and plotting and planning how best we might put together our journeys, commencing with the next two days to be spent at Spurn coupled with the promise of SE winds.

16th May,2010.

An early start with a visit to see a couple of the urban breeding sites utilised by Peregrine, although we didn't see any of the birds. A slightly frivolous search for Mandarin Duck (Category C species) was rewarded by a flight view of a male moving towards a nearby river. An examination of a lengthy section of river eventually provided absolutely superb views of a male bird, well worth the effort!

We then moved on to the Potteric Carr Nature Reserve, near Doncaster, administered by the Yorkshire Naturalists Trust, an area worth a day visit at any time of year. Our reason for visiting was to see the Iberian Chiffchaff which has been "in residence" for a few days. The song of this species is so distinctive it can't be missed and took me back to previous occasions when I've encountered the species along the Spanish Pyrenees. We managed fleeting views and then moved on to general birding, which included "first" of the year Garden Warbler, displaying Kingfisher, Cetti's Warbler singing from what has been the first proven breeding location in Yorkshire and, for me, great close up views of a feeding Jay, a species I seldom see nowadays due to living on Islay.

Next stop was the RSPB Old Moor Reserve where we had a couple of singing Lesser Whitethroat, Little Ringed Plover (as new birds for the year ) and a lot of other good sightings. A detour to look for Dotterel produced a Northern Wheatear but not our intended quarry! Following our dropping in at various wetland areas, of which there are many in South Yorkshire as a legacy of the mining industry and the accompanying subsidence in some areas, we returned home having had an extremely productive and enjoyable day!

15th May,2010.

Headed off at the first hint of dawn and drove around Edinburgh to east of Port Seaton on the southern bank of the Firth of Forth ,arriving around 0500 hours. My intention was to try and see the Surf Scoter which had been reported from that area, but such met with no success. I learned later that the bird had been reported farther west in the Inner Firth. Good numbers of Eider were around, ca.300 Common Scoter offshore and odd Red-breasted Merganser and Oystercatcher. Somewhat disappointed I pressed on to North Berwick on the outside off chance the Spotted Sandpiper had remained, but to no avail. Good views were had of a small party of Purple Sandpiper on the rocks off shore, whilst, in the background myriads of Gannets patrolled back and forth, or wheeled above the Bass Rock, the largest breeding colony in the world of this species.

Continued southwards to Sheffield and arrived at Matthew and Roses' in good time to watch the FA Cup Final!! Following an enjoyable, if not exciting, match Matthew and I went into areas in the nearby northern Peak District to visit a few favourite birding spots. Species like Swift, Pied Flycatcher, Stock Dove, Nuthatch, and displaying Short-eared Owls were seen and enjoyed. A rather full day was then celebrated with a Chinese meal followed by six hours of deep and welcome sleep.

14th May,2010.

A few routine duties in the morning before paying a hurried visit to the Black Isle in the late morning /early afternoon. Managed to see a very distant Red Kite, but very little was in Munlochy Bay and nothing was seen in nearby woodlands.

Left Kirkhill late afternoon and travelled down to Strathspey. The beech woodland near to Loch An Eilein held odd Wood Warbler, but things were quietening in the developing evening. A journey up Glen Feshie produced few birds, but tremendous views in the clear evening light were a compensation. Spent a little time at the southern end of the Insh
Marshes listening to the Snipe in territorial display but nothing else of interest emerged.

Headed off on the long journey south in the gradually descending darkness and had a few hours rest at the Kinross Motorway Services.

Friday, May 14, 2010

13th May,2010.

A fairly routine couple of days as far as weather goes, although a major change is that we have now light NW winds with an appreciable improvement in temperatures!

With the young dog recovered from his operation, No.2 daughter returning towards the end of the day from her camping in the Cairngorms in sub-zero conditions, things almost seemed back to normal until the dogs had the most tremendous stand-off with the dogs down the lane on the final walk out. Making me late , they actually did me a favour in that I then had a singing Grasshopper Warbler and a Corncrake called in the gathering darkness. The latter is possibly a passage bird (?) but I recollect at least one record from here previously. Nonetheless a worthwhile record for the area.

News has come of around 1000 Twite having been ringed/colour ringed in past months in Scotland with some indication, from recoveries, that they might constitute part of the population in the western part of the country. An appeal has been launched for any details to be forwarded to try and cast some light on the movements and distribution of what is an intriguing species. In the Pennines Twite always appeared , at least, to be a late breeder with a even a further brood being reared in some years. Whilst they are likely to be on territory now it will be fascinating to see if Islay carries any of the ringed individuals within its breeding birds.

Reports of a plethora of "good" spring migrants being at various places farther south of here, both in Scotland and England, conveniently links with my transfer of the car tomorrow in that direction for its final "sort out". Hey ho, here we go!!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

11th May,2010.

A weatherman would have described it as changeable! At 0700 hours it was calm and there was even a little warmth in the sun; at 1000 hours we were in the midst of snow flurries! Such continued all day, but with an improvement by evening.

A notable change since March when I was here, and which I forgot about yesterday, was the much increased presence of Greenfinch. This is a species which, on Islay, since the midst of last summer, has progressively visited my garden less and less, with other people making similar comments. Here, in March, there was the odd bird only but,now, the hedgerows have a reasonable complement of calling, territorial birds; an almost essential component of our countryside! Siskins are everywhere, calling and flying over the nearby woodlands.

The evening fell calm and, close to dusk, the air was filled with a "thrush chorus" of impressive dimensions, an absolute delight when, as at present, birding opportunities are a bit limited. Almost as if to register its wish not to be left out, an early calling Tawny Owl allowed its muted call to drift over the quietening landscape, an atmospheric scene only poetry could properly do justice to.

Sad news that the Dumfries and Galloway E-mail network has been closed due to the exchange of personal criticism and silly actions by a minority. What's new!! As a provider of details from an area on the Scottish mainland farther south than Islay it's a great shame and thanks must be extended to all those who repeatedly tried to keep it "alive". Many useful comparisons arose relating to passage birds, winter movements and so on. It raises the question why some people feel it necessary to pursue personal objectives and vendettas and divert attention away from what is the primary purpose , an enjoyment and study of birds and other wildlife by us all. Hopefully it might yet arise in some renewed guise!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

10th May,2010.

A rather cold start to the day with a brisk northerly wind and temperatures not much above freezing. Bird song even appeared to be somewhat suppressed ,or at least lacking the vibrancy accompanying a fine, warm morning!!

Gone are the Pink-footed Geese and Whooper Swans and, as on Islay, the landscape seems quiet and restful without them. In the space of time since I was here before (6weeks ago) common species like Blackbird, Song Thrush, Robin and Dunnock have found time for breeding and are now actively feeding young. Summer migrants in the form of Willow Warbler, Whitethroat, and the odd Blackap are present nearby, in full song, and clearly eager to begin a similar process for themselves. As ever the presence of Yellowhammer is obvious with male birds' "chicking" calls at intervals along the nearby hedgerows in what is a local stronghold, holding memories of early days elsewhere from where such species have now regrettably disappeared.

Monday, May 10, 2010

9th May,2010.

Away from Islay for a period so, given the virtual absence of resident active birders on the island, people away etc , hope there's plenty of folk around to record what will inevitably be a rush of migrants once these northerly winds cease, although the season marches on! Last year it was commenting on successive easterlies, this year northerlies seem to have taken over!!!

A smooth ferry crossing with the usual array of seabirds, but nothing spectacular. The drive northwards up the west coast and then up the Great Glen was tremendous,the views spiritually uplifting and a joy to behold. With a high cloud base the peaks were fully revealed to dramatic effect in the sunshine. Some lenses of snow remain in sheltered areas or high corries but the "open" slopes were either in shadow, providing a dark, almost malevolent, contrast with their neighbours, many of which were blessed by the sunlight and visible many miles away. Birds, as ever, on a very mobile journey of this sort, were few in number, but odd Grasshopper Warbler reeling away, even in the afternoon, were doubtless recent migrants announcing their arrival, with their efforts being supplemented by the songs of countless Willow Warblers in all the glens.

A report from a colleague on Tiree of a recently arrived Little Egret there could provide the answer to where the long-staying bird on Islay has ended up. It appeared to move in mid-April so it might be the same bird, but we'll never know!!!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

8th May,2010.

Out early to complete a few tasks and while things were quiet. For once the whole of the Northern Island coast was picked out in a purple-grey relief set in stark contrast to a quiet azure sea. Over the past couple of days Whitethroat and Cuckoo numbers appear to have received a boost with birds being in a few "new" places. Sedge Warbler numbers also appear to have been supplemented with birds being in a variety of small roadside sites.

A ploughed field near Ballinaby and the wider adjacent areas provided a quintessential experience of spring. The air was full of Sklark song and calling Lapwing, Linnets, another birds whose numbers have increased over recent days, fed alongside Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagatil and around thirty "greenland" Wheatear. These birds were noticeably doused with more colour than our resident birds and noticeably bigger too.

A recent major and sudden change is that Grey lag Geese are no longer obvious, indeed, numbers of birds would be hard to find! I doubt they've gone elsewhere so we must now await the outcome. Polls and opinions appear to be somewhat skewed picking up on the figures we've been bombarded with over the past three weeks!! However, an "ornithological Exit Poll" would seem to suggest we're in for a huge increase in turn out!!!

6th May, 2010.

Well the whole morning was wreathed in excitement, not I might add in anticipation of the Election, change, rebirth and all that , but by the possibility of Choughs finally taking up residence in one of the nest boxes in the barn!!

Frantic calling in the early morning showed a couple of birds to be whizzing around the house, with one periodically going into the entrance in the gable end. This went on all morning and was quite absorbing ( and , in a strange way, exhausting ). Later I had a conversation with James How ( RSPB ) who advised this can happen, sometimes they can nest quite late and wished me luck. Whether or not these were failed adults ,or a new, young pair exploring sites ( my preferred option!! ) I've no idea , but it all completely messed up my day. Suffice to say all the frantic activity was about as decisive as the Election itself as they've not been back so "rebirth and change" appear unlikely in this very local constituency!!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

5th May,2010.

Well, I'm completing this in the early evening given the whole day has been a waste of time. From soon after dawn the southern part of the Rinns where I live has been enveloped in mist. Now I'm sure there'll be many who will link the conditions to the volcanic dust cloud which has moved south over Scotland, closed the airports and so on, but all I will say is that it was forecast beforehand on various weather sites!!!

A male Whinchat that alighted on the garden wall mid-afternoon looked as bewildered by the weather as I was seeing it!! A couple of pairs of local Northern Wheatears spasmodically have a fall out, which provided some occasional entertainment!! Otherwise I've been busy entering things on to Mapmate or on similar computer duties!! Noticeably local Raven, Buzzard and Hen Harrier have "gone very quiet", which always confirms they are immersed in the early stages of nesting, somewhat later in the Raven's case. Early morning glimpses of the odd bird belies their presence. but very little follows and you certainly don't hear much calling!!

4th May,2010.

Locally a Grasshopper Warbler had arrived and stoically announced its presence in the early light of dawn. Later a Common Crane was seen arriving into fields near Coul Farm in the NW of the island and produced the inevitable panic to get there before it left. Leave it did an hour or so later, and without being seen too, whilst we were all scanning around for other things!!

At least two groups of "Greenland" Wheatear were seen ( 5 and 9 ) although I also felt our Northern Wheatear numbers had increased on the Rinns. The numbers of "Northern" Golden Plovers are also dwindling around Ballinaby with only ten or so seen hunched down in the furrows of a favoured ploughed field. "White" Wagtails are still to be seen but numbers are possibly past their peak already.

3rd May, 2010.

A nice day , with plenty of sun, but cold due to the northerly wind.

A flock of 63 Light bellied Brent Geese at the head of Loch Indaal in the early morning held one ringed bird ( yellow above another ring) that tantalisingly went into a lens of water and stood still!! Eventually I'd to leave without the confirmation!

After some routine survey work I spent time within the Ballygrant Woods, which was warmer and also a great pleasure given the spring flowers in evidence. Good numbers of Willow Warbler were present, Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Lesser Redpoll. Equal satisfaction arose from the presence of several singing Wrens on territory, good numbers of Great Tit ( less so of Blue Tit as in Bridgend Woods ) and three singing Goldcrest. The male Ring-necked Duck was still present along with a few Tufted Duck.

Visits to other sites produced nothing new, a situation over which the continuing northerly winds must be exerting some influence.

Whimbrel migration.

This is the first in what might best be described as a "mini series" of occasional summaries relating to bird migration, or similar subjects, here on Islay.

Each spring we witness Whimbrel migrating through northwards and both their presence and ringing cries herald the emerging new season. Numbers differ, based on the influence of weather, observers , the sheer good luck of being in the right place when a group sweeps through or alongside a field where they taking time out to feed and rest.

Actual migration past Frenchman's Rocks, SW Islay is minimal contrasted against the numbers that are recorded around Loch Indaal and in the NW of the island. These birds are, I believe, exclusively associated with the Iceland and Faeroe's population, although it's feasible that some of the birds could cut across the Great Glen , at height, heading for Scandinavia. Remember too that we do have a small breeding population in the UK mainly centred on the Shetland Islands. The majority of birds in flight over Islay tend to be moving north or NW, either over our land mass or along the coast. The first birds come through in mid April and passage continues to mid May, but with stragglers outside of those dates. Groups often number around 20 , but flocks in excess of 60 are not uncommon.

Some years ago, when associated with the Wintersett Ringing Station in West Yorkshire, spring birds were invariably singles or in low numbers and most often passed to the N or NE. Later knowledge emerged of a roost at a reservoir in west Bowland, North Lancashire, of birds on Morecambe Bay and of a favoured feeding area on farmland near to the Bleasdale Estate. Invariably any of these latter birds seen leaving flew off to the north east suggesting they were part of the Scandinavian or Russian populations. Birds are recorded on the Solway Firth which suggests passage up the Irish Sea northwards towards Islay. At this stage they've probably completed two thirds of their long migration from their wintering quarters predominantly in West Africa.

Ferns et al (1979) counted spring migrating Whimbrel and, at that time , there were notable concentrations associated with sites around the Severn Estuary. A peak spring passage count showed ca. 2500 birds to be involved, with a notable single site where birds concentrated being the Somerset Levels. This phenomenon now appears to have ceased. Interestingly birds caught on the Severn Estuary in spring had fat reserves sufficient for them to make a direct flight to Iceland, which suggests many birds might simply pass over Islay. Work in Ireland has seen huge roosting concentrations on occasion, i.e. 1000+, and substantial numbers passing through northwards, again presumed from the Iceland population. In other years only small numbers are seen which suggests the route taken is quite narrow rather than being across a broad front. In the last two years, when we had more easterly winds in spring, fewer birds passed through suggesting they were being displaced westwards over to Ireland. Strangely enough, in all these western areas passage in autumn is much lower and flock sizes smaller.

Whilst we're in the middle of the 2010 passage period at present I've already records of almost 400 birds (399!! ) passing through and doubtless the actual total already is much higher. An interesting local phenomenon providing an absorbing subject each spring!!

Saturday, May 1, 2010


A little over a year ago Bob Scott died at the early age of 70 years. To many the name was synonymous with the "ornithological establishment", to many others it signified much,much more! Whilst Bob was the member of many a committee, he was also a field man, a birders birder, who in his time had added four new species to the British List, worked at the Natural History Museum in London,, been Warden of the Dungeness Bird Observatory and the RSPB Reserve and, latterly, worked as Reserves Manager at RSPB HQ for several years before his retirement.

He had a ceaseless passion for birds, his lectures were legendary, his tours abroad fully patronised, his humour and infectious enthusiasm incapable of being surpassed, but there were even further dimensions, often less well known, associated with his contributions to bird conservation. Work in Italy, Ghana, Rwanda, Burundi, Bulgaria and India signified the need for all of us to have wider horizons when it came to bird conservation. The detailed and moving tribute to Bob ,written by Dick Newell in the July,2009 edition of British Birds, reveals much more about an outstanding man, a birder and conservationist. This was a man who was very much|"one of our own" and someone whom I feel privileged to have known as a work colleague over many years.

HOWEVER here now is an opportunity to underline that unfortunate loss by contributing to an appeal, or completing a quiz too with the incentive of winning one of the substantial prizes. The proceeds will be directed to two things dear to Bob's heart......Africa and migrant birds. In recent times it has become increasingly apparent that worrying changes are taking place within the wintering areas of our summer visitors and that these are contributing to their declines. All funds raised will be used on initiatives aimed at addressing these changes and declines.

To take part in the quiz, or just donate, please visit

If you wish to obtain a paper copy of the quiz, please send a 9" x 6" stamped addressed envelope to Bob Scott Appeal, FREEPOST PLUS RLSE-XAJX-UYRY,
BIRDLIFE INTERNATIONAL,Wellbrook Court, Girton, Cambridge,CB3 0NA.

A donation of £5 is suggested, but please do not send cash. Cheques should be made out to BirdLife International( Bob Scott Appeal). The closing date for the quiz is 30th September, 2010 and the prize winners and answers to the quiz will be detailed on the BirdGuides web site above.

Now, the prizes!!

A Sunbird holiday for one to Gambia.
A pair of 8x20 Swarovski Binoculars.
BirdGuides gifts valued at £500.
Photo of Simon Kings of two cheetahs entitled "The Brothers".

This appeal, organized by Ann Scott, has received help from the BTO, BirdGuides, BirdLife International, RSPB and the World Land Trust. When Ann contacted me recently she said, in her inimitable modest way, if we could get 1000 to participate that would be £5000 for birds!

In my view if we can't get substantially more than 1000 donations we will have failed the man and the cause!! Before 2009 Bob's knowledge, humour, support and comradeship was lavishly gifted on all with whom he had contact. It's up to us now to offer a tribute to what had been a ceaseless and selfless contribution to birds.
Let's do it!! Thank you.

30th April,2010.

After the inevitable couple of days attending to paperwork and domestic duties the opportunity arrived to have a good look at the recording area after an absence of a week. The first obvious impression was of the number of Swallow and linnet that had arrived during the period. Goldfinches are continuing to go through, the overall numbers of which must be quite high.

A nominal hour's seawatching saw plenty of activity ( Gannet, Manx Shearwater, Kittiwake, Fulmar, Shag, and auks ) but nothing outside of the usual constituents "presence" due, in part, to a fog bank out to sea. A flock of 12 Whimbrel flew over Loch Indaal, a further nine was at Loch Gorm and, later,a flock of forty + flew north over Outer loch Indaal suggesting the now fine and calm conditions was encouraging passage. Sedge Warblers were at several sites ,but not yet present at all the small locations normally occupied and several places had two or three Northern Wheatears, which from their plumage and size were not "Greenland" race birds.Two single House Martins showed them too to be arriving and the odd Cuckoo appeared at a couple of places.

Evidence the season was already advancing came in the form of young Lapwing chicks being frantically escorted across a road by a parent and two broods of Mallard at Gruinart. A count of Grey lag Geese in the Loch Gorm area showed at least 60 to be around, many of which were pairs, a fact that possibly heralds yet a further increase in the population.

At Gruinart a fine array of birds of different species was on offer. A group of at least 12 Black-tailed Godwits added to a party of five seen previously near Loch Gorm. A male Garganey, a female Goldeneye and a pair of both Tufted Duck and Red-breasted Merganser added variety to the Mallard, Teal, Shoveler, Wigeon and Gadwall present, but the Pintail now appear to have departed. Of interest was a small group of Greenland White-fronted Geese which was later supplemented by a further flock of around forty . A similar "appearance" was made by around 50 Barnacle Geese that may have come from somewhere local or being passage birds. With some of these species having left around three weeks ago it's a matter of conjecture whether these late birds will benefit from arriving in better weather in the Artic or lose out if the short season within which they have to complete their breeding activities prematurely closes in. As ever wader activity was at its frenetic best around the whole site with Lapwing, Redshank and Curlew in evidence. A single Greenshank, feeding quietly, was doubtless a migrant stoking up before the next leg of its journey.

Back at Loch Indaal at least two Arctic Terns was present, the remnant flock of around 50 Greater Scaup bobbed around offshore and various Great Northern Divers were dotted around. Such was a drastic contrast between a species that had already travelled thousands of miles from its wintering quarters in the southern hemisphere ( the terns ) and those which had not yet set off on their journeys northwards.

25th-27th April, 2010 inclusive.

A late decision to visit some areas farther north saw a rather miserable and cold journey on the 25th. As elsewhere, and at home, the full onslaught of the arrival of spring migrants hasn't yet occurred this far north , other than with a few obvious exceptions. My goal to have an intensive couple of days seeing birds like Capercaillie, Black Grouse, Osprey and Scottish Crossbill was fully realised , but only after a lot of hard work. I confess I wimped out of a trek in the high hills to see Ptarmigan given the amount of snow cover and , in all honesty, insufficient time. Crested Tits seem to be in short supply, or is it just that time of year (?), but several Scottish crossbill parties were seen.

A thoroughly enjoyable sojourn with memorable highlights being a Capercaillie male and two attendant females seen well, a female Capercaillie seen "gritting" at a roadside , which then flew to a nearby Scots Pine tree showing its wonderful tail and rump patterns off to full effect, a very robust and active lek of Black Grouse and a pair of Red-throated Diver in full summer plumage and full display only forty metres away. I'd come across them by pure accident and, by similar coincidence, they never saw me either! My condition, after crouching in the undergrowth for twenty minutes , was not dis-similar to that of the many London Marathon runners who would have been finishing their battle with discomfort around the same time!!

All too soon it was time to return home after a very pleasant, if somewhat tiring, couple of days. The extent to which the winter weather had extracted its toll in this part of Scotland was extremely evident in the number of snapped off trees and branches which had succumbed under the weight of snow. With temperatures having plummeted to minus 16 degrees this latter winter had been the worst within the last twenty years according to local people and photographs graphically illustrated the conditions. Set against all that the presence of a few Goldcrest and Wren, and relative abundant numbers of titmice ( other than Crested!! ) paid testament to the resilience of some of our wildlife.

24th April,2010.

A day devoted to moths , not birds.My reason for being in the Perth area was to attend the Scottish Moth Recorders Conference organized by Butterfly Conservation. An absorbing and rewarding day about which further details can be seen on the Islay Wildlife Blog site shortly.

Whilst not seeing terribly much of it in reality, the day appeared fine and bright and provided the opportunity to hear a Chiffchaff singing lustily within the grounds surrounding the Scottish Natural Heritage Centre at Battleby where the proceedings were held.

23rd April, 2010.

An early ferry to the mainland in good weather , which then turned foul with rain across the east of Scotland. My intention was to visit the north bank of the Firth of Forth, haven to many wintering wildfowl. Whilst the visit was a short one I wasn't disappointed. Velvet Scoter were present in good numbers, showing off their white wing panels when in flight, and a single Slavonian Grebe in full summer plumage sailed past. Several small groups of Long-tailed Duck were present , the plumages of both sexes contrasting markedly with their appearance at the height of winter. I actually prefer the full winter plumage of both sexes, particularly that of the males. Compared to these the small number of birds we get on Islay seem to move off quite early each spring compared to these. A few Sandwich Terns were around and a small flock of Sand Martin fed low along the strand boundary.

Later, as I arrived in Perth, the weather improved but was still cool after the weather front had moved through.