Friday, July 30, 2010

30th July,2010.

Not the best of days with rain and mist until late afternoon, or as the Postie put it, when it's too late to do anything!!

Capitalized on the opportunity by getting a lot of survey results in order, dispatched or summarized. I also spent some time reading Ian Newton's most recent book, "Bird Migration", a new addition to the New Naturalist Series. It is absolutely brilliant and a joy to read! Its style and content are presented in such a clear and unambiguous way that it is a book you can actually sit down and read, as opposed to laboriously work through. Whilst Professor Newton's work on raptors, and particularly the Sparrowhawk, is well known, along with books on population limitation in birds and speciation and biogeography in birds, this volume, coupled with that he wrote on the migration ecology of birds, will always assume favourite position on my shelves. All I can say is, don't leave it too late to get a copy because undoubtedly it will be a sell out!!

29th July,2010.

Rather unsettled weather but, nonetheless, fine enough to be out!

Involved in set location observations on Jura overlooking the Sound of Islay for the whole day. Very little on the move although two fast moving groups of Oystercatcher were obviously migrating southwards along the Sound. That they navigate between the various islands off Scotland's west coast is fascinating in itself, particularly when the weather conditions are reasonable and not overly influencing. A couple of Common Sandpiper and, later, on Islay, a large mixed group of Ringed Plover, adult and young Dunlin and a Turnstone showed waders to be on the move in earnest.

The sight of Gannets, both in parties passing along the Sound and odd birds wheeling high against the steep southern hillsides on Islay is always a pleasant surprise set against the more normal assumption of them being associated with the open sea. Evidence of the determined efforts of birds came with the sight of an adult Guillemot and a young juvenile swimming all the way down the Sound towards the comparative extensive waters off the southern tips of Islay and Jura. Our own lives are so cossetted by comparison, except for the poor people caught up in conflicts, or affected by famine, who necessarily have to undertake "migrations".

In the early evening a flock of 250/260 Grey lag Geese on Gruinart Flats signalled the gradual emergence of the numbers which we can now expect to build throughout August.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Things on the move!

A rather mixed day , not for weather, but getting various things done. It resulted in a later than anticipated birding session around Loch Indaal and the southern part of the Rinns.

Northern Wheatears in different places on the Rinns suggested migrant birds. Willow Warblers are still in evidence as are mixed parties of Lesser Redpoll and Linnet. Mixed flocks of Herring Gull, LBBG, Common Gull and even the odd Black-headed Gull range recently cut silage fields, the vast majority, if not all, being adults.

Few birds were in the Outer Loch except odd gulls and a couple of parties of Gannet. The Inner Loch is beginning to take on some modest transformation with 60/70 Bar-tailed Godwits, a "tight" flock of Redshank that were undoubtedly on the move and increasing Oystercatcher numbers. Curlew and Ringed Plover were also present at various places but in no concentration. Surprisingly the godwits held no birds in summer plumage but already looked as they will do over the next several months!

A moulting flock of Red-breasted Merganser were offshore and a mixed flock of 15+ Common Scoter, which were more of a surprise. Dark hulks of moulting Eiders occupy favourite spots, an utter contrast to the pristine immaculate colours exhibited eventually by adult male birds! Odd Arctic Tern were still around but the vast majority appear to have gone. These , and Common and Black-headed Gulls too, sadly don't enjoy a great breeding success here most years and one wonders whether marauding Otters, Polecat Ferrets or even odd Mink ,( despite efforts to remove the latter), are responsible. Human disturbance in some areas doesn't help either!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Three aspects of bird movements!

I've mentioned before that House Sparrows have a very disjunct distribution in some places on Islay, with thriving populations at various "centres" and notable absences at suitable locations between these. Previously House Sparrows were so common in many places in Britain that they were largely ignored to some extent. Nowadays their numbers are reduced and they enjoy equal status, as far as an interest in the activities and so on, as many other species.

They don't breed around this property but very gradually records appear to be increasing. Yesterday was no exception with two juveniles and an adult male being seen for a brief period. In the normal sense this might have been considered to have been part of some juvenile dispersal activity, but the presence of the adult suggested a more involved movement.

At the moment Willow Warbler movements are in full swing. Doubtless the recent foul weather has not assisted and held things up to some degree. After what appeared to be a quiet period in the late morning, I was surprised to see numbers of warblers, 13in fact, feeding in my "thistle garden", a wave of activity that then passed leaving only a couple of birds behind. I hadn't seen many others earlier when out locally and it seemed a wave of movement was happening down the valley. Migrating birds tend to move overnight, rest and then feed up voraciously before tackling another stage. Does this suggest birds dispersing from local populations very gradually move out from their natal areas until filled with the urge to move on? Despite searching south of the house later nothing could be seen of them.

A colleague advises that a young Eagle Owl he ringed in 2007 has recently been recovered in Scotland. A journey of approximately 190 miles northwards and one that will doubtless set conjecture circulating once again on this species. Whilst a rather different sort of journey, what's the distance between the Low Countries and our East Coast or the even more "convenient" English Channel crossing!!!!

Monday, July 26, 2010

The New Enlightenment?

Students of history will be familiar with "The Enlightenment", a period in the 18th Century when reason was advocated as the primary source for legitimacy and authority.

Being fogbound for the last three days has caused me to contemplate a few questions relating to our current core values in the UK with respect to its wildlife and whether we're making progress or even holding the line of good reason. Recent results from the RSPB outlining the number of raptor persecution incidents in 2009, coupled with reportage of increases in 2010, even at this stage of the year, can only generate pessimism. Raptor persecution is one of the most prominent "thorny problems" of the modern age. In tropical areas big cats, rampaging elephants in crops and other species have often been the focus of mans' retaliatory revenge where personal safety or economic security has been involved. Outside of this the gratuitous killing of wildlife for pleasure has been much reduced nowadays, but persecution based on prejudice, often in pursuance of self interest, still remains. Such is the case in the UK where certain avian raptors are seen to jeopardise the production of game birds, vast numbers of which are simply destined to provide pleasure for a minority of shooting enthusiasts.

Introduce into the equation the fact that vast tracts of countryside, aka shooting estates, are owned , or leased, by those wealthy enough to afford such investments to support their leisure activities. The development of these occurred , of course, in Victorian times when the "social" habit of shooting emerged. It is within these recent years that the systematic decimation of raptors has occurred as a consequence of such activities and been both widespread and commonplace and, in my view, a national disgrace. I do wonder whether the ownership of an estate, or its equivalent, generates a feeling of " doing as one pleases in one's own backyard", but that is no justification to ignore the law of the land. With the concomitant educational facilities enjoyed by the majority of such owners they, above many, should be acutely aware of the requirements of the law and the upholding of the "common good" as an element of their much avowed embracing of social responsibility.

Such estates are not as vast or contiguous as previously with the inexorable advance of urban and other developments. Some of the more prestigious , and rarer, birds of prey are closely associated with such areas with increasingly fewer alternative options. The burden of responsibility to maintain such populations, as representative of the UK's rich natural heritage, therefore begins to increase rather than diminish.

Now we begin to move towards the nub of the problem! What should be the position of the landowners with shooting interests who find themselves playing host, on their land, to raptors whose presence is claimed to run counter to their interests? A partial reliance on young game birds, supported artificially, whose destiny is to be the quarry for a minority exercising a vicarious pleasure, i.e. shooting them, lacks the integrity of two main tenets connected with "The Enlightenment", that of being associated with rationality and science. Commercial self interest and an abject rejection of the common interest appear to rise to the fore! Such overt pursuit of self interest, whilst cocking a snoot at the laws of the land, perhaps indicate a deeper and more worrying aspect of where they see themselves within our wider society.

That these individuals are prepared to continue to persecute birds of prey is self evident. This is the equivalent of the Church of England desecrating artifacts beloved and revered by the public or the National Gallery administrators deciding, unilaterally, to destroy part of our national artistic heritage!! Sadly the reactive efforts of RSPB and Natural England in attempting to confront such persecution will, collectively, achieve little other than scratch the surface. Their efforts are to be applauded but will not bring about the sea change desired.

We are, after all, talking of "the Establishment" and the alteration of attitudes residing in large houses behind high walls and rhododendron bushes!! Change must be through sustained pressure applied through the political process and an equally sustained revelation of detail in the media. We perhaps need to consider whether we are talking of an arrogant, self-focused minority who are prepared to flaunt the law, and implicate others such as their staff, or more general ingrained attitudes of superiority associated with privilege and status that are felt to justify self belief and the unmitigated pursuit of pleasure regardless of the common interests of the majority.

Sadly an examination of the quality "county and country" periodicals does little to generate any likelihood of change. The endless round of social gatherings reported on, including, of course, shooting weekends, grind on with annual regularity. Perhaps in the fullness of time, as with the good ladies of Didsbury who campaigned against the use of egret plumes in the millinery trade, and whose endeavours eventually brought into being the RSPB, an element of enlightenment might appear within the ranks of those involved. Doubtless I shall have to try and get this Blog onto the essential reading lists of the private girls' school circuit!!!

That change is required is obvious as the situation cannot be allowed to continue. Little confidence can be expected from a Tory Government whose members, at least in part, or their relatives, arise from the same culture. Approaches to Liberal Democrat members might, however, exploit an opportunity to at least get the subject aired within coalition discussions! In this arena the recent alliance and declarations from both the Scottish and Irish governments towards tackling poisoning incidents involving Golden Eagles is to be welcomed.( See reportage on the Raptor Politics website).

As has been said many times before this is not the time to abdicate responsibility to someone else. There is strength in personal action and a high numerical volume of expressed discontent and , with increasing regularity, this is what must happen. The subject must be elevated to one of nuisance value with the constituent authorities, such that action taken is less costly than dealing with the plethora of complaints and pleas for action from the electorate. A letter to individual MP's from each of the 25-30,000 attendees at the forthcoming BirdFair at Rutland Water would be a good start and, possibly, be a good initiative which could be overseen by the RSPB who could give guidance on content. Similarly an approach from that organization to its Patron, Her Majesty the Queen, might at least ensure the topic was raised in the cloistered social gatherings following the commencement of the grouse shooting season on the 12th August, 2010.

On many previous occasions Her Royal Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, has demonstrated her acute sensitivity to the mood of the general public and no harm could be done in raising the matter as a general issue of concern linked to the quite lawful activity of shooting which some members of the Royal family are known to support. After all the RSPB has a million members, a notable body of opinion if ever!!

And so to a new Enlightenment with, as previously in the 18th Century, a robust questioning of traditional institutions, customs and morals?

Why not!!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

24th July,2010.

Well, given visibility from the house is around 75m , and has been so all afternoon, I thought I may as well concede and enter an early posting!! The day dawned fine and clear , which continued until late morning when the mist and rain moved in!!

A seawatch showed good numbers of Manx Shearwater and Gannet moving south, strings of auks moving north and south, mainly Razorbill, a few Kittiwake and Black Guillemot around and local Fulmar and Shag feeding in the waters off Portnahaven. A few adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls moved through south, as did a pale phase Arctic Skua, and single Oystercatcher and Curlew. A lone Common Swift moved offshore into the southerly breeze. I suppose one might infer that autumn movements have now begun, although modestly, but underscored by the fact that many of the local breeding gulls have now moved away from their cliff haunts and the cries of Arctic Terns are suddenly much diminished. The weather then decided to close in and spoil things!!

For those still in bed at 0600 hours (!) the Radio 4 Open Country programme dealt with the newly opened, refurbished bird observatory on Fair Isle off north east Scotland. Evocative sounds and reports from a wonderful place can still be caught up with on Thursday afternoon's repeat by the less energetic!!( or on the iPlayer facility, oh yes, the old boy's going technical these days!! ). I still harbour my long held ambition to spend a whole extended autumn there, rather than a couple of weeks, and emulate holidays of yesteryear when I used to spend idyllic days at Spurn Bird Observatory in Yorkshire.

23rd July,2010.

A day spent meandering around locally generating breeding confirmations, or improving on existing categories, for the BTO Atlas. A reported Short-eared Owl, which would have been new for the immediate area,couldn't be re-located and was maybe an early moving bird anyway.

Feeding parties of young birds are almost like children anywhere at the moment with some remarkable "friendships" being in evidence. Watching some young, pale Goldfinch feeding in low vegetation I was surprised to see a couple of young Willow Warblers emerge, a Northern Wheatear, two Meadow Pipits and , then, a Skylark, which tried hard to perch on a swaying bracken frond several times!!! All appeared to be moving around the site in unison in a joyful scatter of movement and colour. Both male and female Hen Harrier quartering much used feeding areas suggested they still may have dependent youngsters. Hooded Crows have clearly bred very locally with pristine youngsters hanging around in a group, whose menace wouldn't have looked out of place in a shopping mall!!

Friday, July 23, 2010

22nd July, 2010.

A much better,sunny day with a light northerly wind. The sea was rather quiet with a few Manx Shearwater south, Gannets and auks "tooing and froing" from feeding grounds, low numbers of Kittiwakes returning north and local Shag and Fulmar in evidence.

Outer Loch Indaal was serene and virtually empty of birds with only a few Common Gull around. Inner Loch Indaal contained its now accumulating Oystercatcher, Curlew and a few Lapwing and Redshank but was much disturbed by people walking over the exposed golden sands. Loch Gruinart displayed similar interest, but also held three Greenshank. Asleep at first, they then became extraordinarily active and fed voraciously, suggesting they may have been migrants.

Locally Pied Wagtail,Skylark and Meadow Pipit appear to have had a good season with 30+ of the latter on wires near home, which is good for this date. Northern Wheatears largely appear to have moved off , although some are still on the Rinns and an odd bird was at the head of Loch Indaal. A few juvenile Stonechat were in evidence at odd locations, doubtless a result of the reasonable summer and contradicting the pessimism expressed about their status in earlier times. Linnet, Siskin, Lesser Redpoll and Twite are also apparent, which is pleasing. So, probably a good breeding season which, hopefully, some of the more scientific assessments will confirm in due course!!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

21st July, 2010.

Two successive days sorting out survey arrangements and paperwork for the forthcoming winter! The fact that,on the 21st, it rained all day was a convenient coincidence. WeBS Counts ( waterfowl )over a wide variety of waters on Islay and Jura, and Low Tide Counts concentrated on Loch Indaal, are now all thankfully in place with some extra help being offered too. With all the "interruptions" of late I've a deal of work to do on BTO Atlas administration etc, which is the next subject area to receive attention. The final days for breeding season survey work remain, until the end of July, providing an opportunity to gather in positive evidence of successful breeding for some late summer visitors. Commencing November, 2010, until the following July, will be the final year of the Atlas. Previous to its commencement a long hard look will need to be taken at what remains to be covered , enhanced or supplemented in terms of records , breeding status and so on.

Hopefully there'll now be a break in the weather which will provide an opportunity to do some proper birding!

Monday, July 19, 2010

19th July, 2010.

Back home, saturated with E-mails, correspondence and all the other routine encumbrances of modern day life, the last couple of days have been sacrificed to serving at the alter of necessary normality!!

All that aside it's fairly obvious from the brief and periodic peering through the window I've afforded myself that the warbler migration is now underway. As I mentioned last year, being located in an isolated position with an absence of habitat, other than grass moor and distant forestry, it's very easy to determine bird species out of their usual preferred locations. Willow Warbler juveniles and Common Whitethroats now seem to be making their way from their summer natal areas and periodically feeding in the somewhat overgrown, but productive, natural vegetation of my garden "patch". Set against my own AA Relay assisted journeys of recent times I wish them well!

A whole plethora of issues and happenings appear to have arisen in the last fortnight, more associated with conservation, and I'll be dealing with these on the "Conservation Concerns Blog" in the next couple of days ( link above ).

15th July,2010.

With the car retrieved, time spent with the girls and the odd foray out, life seems to have slipped back into some semblance of normality!! Sadly the weather has been less co-operative with rain , mist and more rain.

An afternoon spent on the Black Isle was thoroughly enjoyable followed by an evening with me helping with survey work on some hill land to the west. The Black-throated Divers appear to have moved, although a pair of what I suspected were Red-throated Divers slipped rapidly onto a distant loch just before 2100 hours after returning from the sea. Little else was apparent during a full evening to dusk, but a major compensation was being "perched" very high in the hills and witnessing the gradual and ever changing character of the landscape as the sun's rays lost power and focus. The sun dappled slopes of some distant hills moved through from being distinct in all their features, to losing their source of light and transforming through a succession of colours ranging from mauve, to grey ,to black and then into silhouette. At one point , some distant wind turbines picked up the last rays of the sun and stood out in stark contrast to their dark surroundings. Spiritual stuff and the diet for a variety of mental considerations about our very position within such a grandiose canvas. The reality of crossing a moor in the dusk sodden with recent rain brought flights of fancy to an end! Talking of diet, and certainly more down to earth, the fish and chip shop in Muir of Ord can be thoroughly recommended! Oh, perfect day.

Monday, July 12, 2010

12th July, 2010.

An early entry summarising a few enjoyable days with the girls and the dogs! Local walks, as previously, are always good value given the amount of woodland cover and varied habitat. Odd species are still singing, albeit in not as sustained a way or as vibrant as earlier in the season. Local Blackap and Whitethroat still offer up the odd phrase and Skylark and Yellowhammer both were in full song a couple of days ago. Local Siskin, Goldfinch, titmice, and thrushes are all in evidence around the garden and a Great Spotted Woodpecker calls in on occasion. Good views of a female Sparrowhawk gliding into the adjacent woodland tightly grasping some prey in its talons suggested breeding.

The good news is the car is ready for collection tomorrow and we successfully managed to bath two unco-operative sheepdogs, both with a wriggle factor of A+++++++!! They look divine but refuse to acknowledge it!!

8th July, 2010.

Early discussions with the garage unearthed the fact that they had already identified the problem via computer diagnostics. It may well be that the previous problems had all been affected by this fault too, as had been suspected, but not proved. Anyway the Master Air Flow Meter is contaminated, the requisite replacement ordered and this should hopefully be the last chapter in this unfortunate saga! After this episode the word "car" is banned from usage!!

A magnificent Red Kite floating over the back garden (!) raised the spirits sufficiently for me to commence a little bit of forward planning in the hope of being mobile after the weekend.

7th July, 2010.

Transfer day from Newcastle to Inverness by the AA! it was done in two stages, the first to Glasgow and the second then through to Inverness. In reality , it actually wasn't bad as we left before 1000 hours and arrived around 1745 hours with a couple of stops en route. Full marks to the AA for a truly efficient service!

The car was dropped off at a Nissan agent and we picked up a taxi to Kirkhill with the minimum of delay. Seamless!

Not really a bird day at all though despite all the good countryside we passed through. The girls survived and I managed to cope with, first , a broad Geordie accent and then a switch to an equally broad Glaswegian one ( did they understand a Yorkshireman I ask? ). All in all not a bad day.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

4th-6th July, 2010.

A really enjoyable few days, with all the girls together and my realising anyone of them could qualify as the Guinness Book of Records "Shopping Champion". Shop 'til you drop took on a whole new meaning!

In the midst of all this of course the shootings were happening in Northumberland, with the incident of the policeman shot in his car occurring quite close to where we were located. Undeterred we all enjoyed our time with Ashley and Dan, the meals out, the sightseeing and it produced a particular nostalgia for me based on my time spent in Newcastle many years ago. A fabulous place which has lost none of its attraction.

Amidst all this I sorted out arrangements re the car and the transfer back north with the AA ( Automobile Association).

Mention must be made of the Kittiwakes which now nest on the Tyne Bridge and even on the window ledges of some of the large office buildings nearby. I recollect they weren't as far into town previously and confined, then, to ledges around a factory building further down the river out towards the coast. Now their ringing calls vie with traffic noise and all the familiar sounds of an inner city location! The evening was spent with a celebratory Italian "creation" , cooked by me, and eaten with a view of the sun going down behind the hallowed outline of St. James's Park across the river!

3rd July, 2010.

The morning was spent helping out with some survey work in an area off to the north west. With showers and low cloud coming through from the south west the morning wasn't exactly hooching with activity but a Red Kite was a bonus and a pair of Black-throated Diver were on a nearby loch, always nice birds to encounter in their splendid summer plumage.

The afternoon saw us driving down to Newcastle to stay with my eldest daughter. An uneventful journey until the return of the self same problems as encountered previously with the car. The final few miles across town were a nightmare! Let no one say city drivers can't be tolerant of a car with obvious problems. I suspect they may have been avoiding us in reality, but the effect was the same and we managed to get to the flat unscathed after surging and fading our way across roundabouts, from traffic lights etc. I resolved to push the problem aside, enjoy our break and return to it later, thankful that it hadn't arisen earlier.

2nd July, 2010.

Transferring to the mainland to pick up the girls before travelling south. Spent the whole voyage on deck to no real benefit as precious little on view in somewhat grey and blustery conditions.. Close to the Argyll mainland a few Razorbill, Guillemot and Gannet were in evidence but little else.

The journey northwards along the Agyll coast was as attractive as ever, as was the journey up through the Great Glen. Passing through in late afternoon - early evening traffic density was pretty low as no doubt most tourists had reached their destinations for the day. Few, if any, caravans or coaches were in evidence and I managed to complete the overall journey in record time!

Friday, July 2, 2010

1st July,2010.

The high winds and rain occurring overnight and into the morning dashed my initial intentions of completing further survey work. True to form the weather finally improved when it was too late to take much advantage from it!!

Further north silage fields had been cut and gathered and local Choughs were taking full benefit from scouring the newly exposed areas for food. In all 20 birds were counted spread over a couple of flocks which ties in well with previous counts. Soon numbers of LBBG, Herring Gull and Common Gulls will be searching the fields on the same mission!

Driving past the Loch Gruinart Reserve I was absorbed by a "hovering" Buzzard that was very gradually and clumsily descending until it was only 4m. from the car and 2m from the ground. The wings could be heard quite distinctly as they swept back and forth and it almost seemed likely the bird would fall from the sky!! With it's legs extended it dropped a little lower , but obviously a little too far , as suddenly a Corncrake erupted out of the grass below it and flew a short distance away. Obviously the Buzzard had seen it creeping about in the grass and had a few thoughts of its own on the subject!! Shortly afterwards a female Sparrowhawk swept across the Flats, the first I've seen in a while given they're never very obvious at this time of year whilst they're breeding.

Pied Wagtails appear to have had a good breeding season and are around in many places. Linnet, Lesser Redpoll and Goldfinch are already forming feeding parties and several were seen in the Port Charlotte area.