Tuesday, August 31, 2010

31st August, 2010.

A long day on Jura undertaking survey work linked to the Sound Of Islay underwater turbine proposal. The day eventually turned out fine , with sun and fine weather, but the first couple of hours were an absolute nightmare due to the presence of MIDGES!. Indeed the worst "appearance" I've experienced in ten years. It was bad until the sun dried things out!

Thankfully, aside from the formal requirements, general bird appearances were excellent. A very high flying adult Red-throated Diver down the Sound was of interest, both "northern" and "southern" area Golden Eagle sightings, a single adult dark phase Arctic Skua which entered the Sound from the north, plagued some Common Gulls for a while, and then returned north and, for me, the nicest treat of all, a flock of 30+ Twite near at hand which included juveniles and adults, in all stages of plumage, was both a test and a delight!

30th August, 2010.

A day, in majority part, given over to arrangements relating to the forthcoming survey of Grey lag Geese I organize each year. Would you believe this year has seen "formative arrangements" being affected by a young lady being thrown from a horse and suffering a dislocated hip ( and even being flown off island for treatment ), problems re the avilability of 4WD transport, and someone needing to depart for a crucial meeting later on during the survey day in question. Who says we're into a tranquil life here!!!

Thankfully, all is now in place and the day will indicate how well we can locate the rather itinerant birds based on recent experience!!

On the southern Rinns there suddenly seemed to be a hiatus in the passge of Northern Wheatear, which have been an obvious presence in low numbers over recent days. Clear night skies perhaps suggests their passage through without the need to touch down.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Some hope amidst persistent raptor persecution.

Whilst it would be easy to be depressed about the seemingly never ending reports of raptors being persecuted in one way or another, sometimes rays of hope emerge. The latest annual report on the web site, Raptor Politics, contains a number of encouraging aspects that, hopefully, will provide a basis for continuing improvements into the future.

Much remains to be done but, for once, the fact that news is not all bad provides an element of hope.

26th August,2010.

A long day on Jura catching up on survey work in much improved conditions!

A somewhat routine day in many respects with only a few birds on the move, including odd Manx Shearwater and Kittiwake. A Red-throated Diver fed unsuspectingly close for a while, but the stars of the show were several Basking Sharks around for most of the day, of which more on Islay Wildlife later. Over the far hills on Islay a couple of adult Golden Eagles showed at intervals, both in flight and perched. At one point a male Hen Harrier persistently mobbed one of them , watched by a couple of Raven and a Common Buzzard, all of them wheeling and swooping in the sky such that it appeared more of a game than an aggressive encounter!

In the early evening a flock of about 40 Knot were huddled together asleep on the edge of Loch Indaal , sadly being moved towards the edge of disturbance by a birdwatcher intent on getting as close as tolerance would endure. And finally, to complete a fine day in all respects , a single Corncrake scuttled across the road near to Gearach immediately adjacent to where a bird had held territory earlier. They must now be moving towards the time of departure with a long exacting journey ahead!

25th August,2010.

An absolutely beautiful day with sunshine throughout and a joy to be outside!

Despite a full round of the usual coverage and sites little appeared to be on the move, although there was plenty of birds around. Several Northern Wheatear, including one close immature on the Rinns that looked like a "Greenland", a large , full bodied bird that stood out prominently on a fence line. Several flocks of Linnet and Twite are noticeable and periodic flights of local Buzzard low over patches of moor immediately causes a cloud of Meadow Pipits to rise, a convenient method of discovering numbers! Disturbance over Loch Indaal had forced waders far out to the shore margin, but , on Loch Gruinart, a fine selection could be seen. Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, a large flock of Dunlin ( but nothing accompanying them!), Redshank and around 25 Knot.

With bird activity low my attention turned to butterflies and dragonflies and, all in all, I had a super day with nothing extraordinary but bags of variety!

24th August, 2010.

A slightly mixed day!! Discussions relating to the Grey lag Goose survey next week surrounded the fact that they're not quite following the pattern of previous years in some respects. I suspect this year will prove to be hard work given their distribution and unpredictability.

Across to Jura to do some survey work overlooking the Sound, but the northerly wind rose in the afternoon making conditions unacceptable given I couldn't keep the optics stable!! The journey back on the ferry was a bit more robust than normal too but, typically, the conditions lessened after a few hours.

23rd August, 2010.

A series of belated entries after a few problems with Internet links!!

A field on the edge of the real moor near Port Charlotte, which had been cut for silage, had a single Short-eared Owl quartering over it early in the morning. Whilst the young are being fed the birds were very obvious within the territory but clearly the youngsters have fledged as this is the first sighting of any of them for ages. Indeed, there's the likely possibility some of the birds have dispersed already.

Waders are filtering through but no big numbers have yet appeared despite being due imminently!! Odd Northern Wheatear clearly indicate passage is happening.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

20th August,2010.

It's always a comfort to have a fresh breeze when out surveying birds in the Highlands as it keeps the midges at bay!! The latter part of this week, thankfully, has been no exception. Out on the hill, monitoring success from any late breeding raptors was an exciting challenge, but generated no results, other than a family of Kestrel hunting together and sightings of other individual key species.

The journey back to Islay saw an obliging Red Kite near Fort Augustus, but little else. It was a relief to learn the ferry was operating, given the weather conditions farther north immediately south of the Outer Hebrides, where a rapidly advancing low pressure system was causing mayhem. Surprisingly there was little evidence of poor conditions, other than a slight swell.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

18th August,2010.

Little of note here with virtually nothing on the move. Weather mixed but,equally, with some reasonable periods too.

The results from a scientific study released yesterday may throw a little light on why the Greenfinch population on Islay has virtually disappeared within the last two years. Since 2005 a newly emergent infectious disease has absolutely devastated Greenfinch populations in some parts of England and , to some extent, Chaffinches too. It's important to know that this is where the research took place which suggests it could be elsewhere.

It's called trichomonosis ( which I actually thought I'd heard of before! ) and apparently caused the Greenfinch population to reduce by 33% within a year. Most birds die in the summer and autumn months. Outbreaks of the disease continue to occur each year, which lends little hope for any resurgent recovery.

Given that our population has reduced so drastically this may have been the cause, particularly as I suspect some of our Islay population must move south in the winter. Last winter's severe weather probably caused birds to move widely and come into contact with other populations, different feeding stations and so on. Such concentrations of birds at feeders where disease can so easily be transferred begs diligence from all those associated with feeding birds in an attempt to limit effects.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The silent lane!

Compared to previous times the nearby lane is silent and almost bereft of birds. The odd forlorn call of Willow Warbler, a titmice party and a flock of 40 Woodpigeon, sitting on wires above a cornfield and periodically descending into a rain sculpted amphitheatre, were all there was to be seen.

The nearby Beauly Firth was similarly quiet, poised to play host not too far in the distant future to both wintering geese and swans.

Monday, August 16, 2010

15th August,2010.

An early start for the ferry enlightened by the sighting of a single immature or female Merlin not that far from home. Whilst this could easily have been an early migrant the last three summers have seen the odd sightings of birds, which raises hope a pair might just be in residence. Despite looking nothing more has emerged ( but it is rather a large area to search and it's not the easiest species to discover from cold searching!).

A glorious day, warm, calm and tourist filled, but a fine day to be in the Highlands and for visitors to see it at its best!!

Incidentally, may I suggest to our Oriental "Comments" contributors that they find a way of submitting their comments in English as I'm afraid we're gaining no benefit from the repeated diligence of your submissions. Thank you.

14th August,2010.

A walk down the track very early morning showed odd Whinchat, Northern Wheatear and Willow Warbler to be around suggesting they'd taken benefit from the relative clear conditions overnight.

A little later, on the coast, the flat, grey silent sea, coupled with no wind, produced an almost surreal effect, as if being viewed on a canvas, from an environment so usually fused with dynamism and sound. Gannet and Manx Shearwater were moving past, but only a couple of Kittiwake and a few auks despite the calm conditions. A single Bonxie appeared far out, but never really showed to advantage.

Outer Loch Indaal held a small number of Guillemot, an odd Razorbill and a few Common Scoter. More encouraging was a pair of Red-throated Diver with their youngster, which they'd obviously brought down from a hill lochan breeding site somewhere. The Inner Loch was somewhat bereft of birds in the sense of it being a period of low tides with the shoreline interface being at a distance away, further compounded by heat haze!

The day really had been designed to complete BTO WeBS counts (waterbird counts) for which several waters were covered, but nothing exceptional seen. Grey lag Geese numbers were present at different sites with no large concentration noted except for around 700 at Gruinart. Apart from that the day was given over to warbler sightings with numbers of Willow Warbler and Common Whitethroat still around and an odd Sedge Warbler and even a passage Chiffchaff being in evidence.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

13th August,2010.

Part of the day spent organising the annual Grey lag Goose census at the end of this month or in early September. Numbers are already beginning to build and there has been a count of 1195 already at the RSPB Gruinart Reserve. As I predicted numbers would increase last year, and didn't particularly, I'll hold my counsel at the moment, although I'm well prepared for change!!

A couple of conversations with colleagues agreed nothing notable occurring as far as movement is concerned, but that a number of recent days having seen warblers and chats on the move. The Oa has seen a few raptors ( Sparrowhawk, Buzzard and Hen Harrier ) move through , very often moving towards the highest point before towering and peeling off south or south westwards. The Rinns peninsula doesn't seem to experience such raptor passage, which may be a continuation of birds moving from the mainland of Scotland, through east and south east Jura, then SSW along the southern coast of Islay culminating in the Oa. On a different subject, the satellite tracking of seabirds is set, I believe, to reveal some really challenging facts when it comes to the feeding movements of various species and the distances involved. Studies of migration have been to the fore for many years but new horizons are now opening up which I think will shock our previously held perceptions. Not least will be the distances some species are now having to travel to gain food given .it would seem, the ever depleting stocks of fish.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Raptor persecution continues unabated!

Within the last few days a series of incidents have been reported on or reports issued by official bodies on the ever increasing level of raptor persecution.

Red Kites in Northumberland have suffered with two adults being found dead near Stocksfield and a further pair, a few weeks previously near Hexham. The first pair had delighted many visitors to a nearby viewing point and had been "adopted" by the local schools. Whilst no results are forthcoming the carcases have been submitted for forensic analysis. An element I always feel is under promoted in all this refers to the actual presence of poisons in the open countryside and the potential this holds for even more tragic circumstances!!

On the Black Isle near Inverness the discovery of at least ten dead young birds close to fledging in a small number of nests was disturbing news. It was suspected all had died from the results of rodenticide poisoning. Many of the latter products can be bought quite openly and legally but it is their indiscriminate use in the open countryside which then causes the problem. Whilst rats are a problem around many farms and elsewhere in the countryside, and quite rightly should be controlled, carcasses can be utilised by Red Kites, who are carrion feeders, and fed to their young. The RSPB has produced a leaflet on the responsible control of rodent infestations which obviously addresses the point of trying to overcome and minimize such tragic accidents by informed choices.

And as if this wasn't enough the latest report from the Scottish Government's body, Science Advice to Scottish Agriculture, summarizes, for 2009, 166 reported incidents. Of theses 36 were categorized as "abuse" and 61% of these involved birds ( Buzzard 22, Golden Eagle2, White-tailed Eagle 1, Tawny Owl 1 and Red Kite 4 ). The struggle still goes on!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

7th August,2010.

A rather grey day, with a northerly wind at the onset, then opened up a little from mid- morning and was quite sunny and warm later, although the wind became somewhat blustery.

Sea movement went little beyond the predictable with Manx Shearwater numbers south over the first three hours ,but then all was very quiet. Outer Loch Indaal too was virtually "empty" , other than a Red-throated Diver, with no parent auks with young or feeding Kittiwakes. Waders are now moving through with a group of 17 Turnstone still showing most of their handsome summer plumage, collective numbers of Ringed Plover in excess of 50, almost 80 Dunlin and around 90 Bar-tailed Godwit. Oystercatcher are the most numerous with at least 200 around the innermost part of the loch. Curlew are widespread, low in numbers and, in the main I suspect, feeding off in areas nearby.

Odd Willow Warbler still popping up in various places and a few Northern Wheatear in evidence. A Cormorant disturbed from Loch Gearach rose high, and circled repeatedly, before heading off SW. Quite a lot of species appear to have had a good breeding season which, for some resident birds like Stonechat, will have been a saving grace set against the undoubted ravages of the winter. Very little appeared to be at Gruinart , although silage operations were in full swing and most of the area a hive of activity. A party of Chough "played" around the house and barn in the evening, seemingly swooping and diving for no other reason other than enjoyment. At close hand their calls can only be described as "very penetrating"!!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

First amongst equals!

Well, three days on from being behind a computer and I'm beginning to feel restless!!! Seeing the results of one's efforts in data input, being able to summarize, manipulate , extract previously unseen connections and so on, is eventually extremely satisfying, but not at this stage!! Not hearing of anything on Islay is also a worry. Does that mean nothing of interest is around, that people aren't looking, looking but not finding or simply are behind computers too!!

Such being the case I feel like a rant to raise my spirits!!

{At this point my concentration has lapsed, and my spirits risen, on receiving the welcome news that my daughter, Rachael, has passed her Maths exam. Well done,number two daughter!! }

Re-introductions, now there's a thing. We've all recently learned of the decision by Natural England to abandon its idea of reintroducing White-tailed Eagles into East Anglia based on Government cutbacks. For once, thank goodness for accountants and politicians. Following on from that is the £1.5 million scheme ( if intentions and quoted figures are to be believed ) of the RSPB's Common Crane re-introduction scheme at the Somerset Levels. For many years a very small population of these birds occurred and managed to thrive in East Anglia. Nowadays they breed in slightly increased numbers there and at other places too, an extension which has occurred naturally without the expense of labour intensive re-introduction schemes. Alongside this I'm minded ,therefore, to consider what motivates the decision making behind such proposals when, in times of economic severity, significant expenditure of this sort is being considered. To what end and to what real purpose one might ask?

In the light of recent annual, sometimes dismal, status reports on our "commoner" bird species, whose fortunes appear to be in continuing decline, particularly those associated with farmland, ought we not to be trying first to reverse the situation of species like Corn Bunting, Yellowhammer,Grey Partridge and, in woodlands Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and others? Even ubiquitous species like Starling and House Sparrow are seemingly not immune from the relentless pressure!! The series, "The State of the UK's Birds", produced annually by the RSPB, the BTO and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, has occasional references to stability but, overall , makes depressing reading. Notice as well that I have not included migrant species and so we can't fall back on the problems in wintering grounds or similar. Efforts put the way of the Tree Sparrow, through feeding stations and nest box schemes, and targeted efforts at Cirl Bunting too, have shown some success and at a fraction of the cost of the above proposal. I'm bound to ask why some (all?) of the current re-introduction schemes involve large, iconic species. I sincerely hope it's not an equivalent to the latest feature being promoted at a theme park with the concomitant intention of raising visitor numbers and revenue! In that context , when decisions have been made to end the re-introduction of Red Kites by RSPB, do we see the Forestry Commission entering the fray with a proposal to do just that in Cumbria? Perhaps the difference is that this is public money!!!

I would be the first to congratulate the RSPB and others at the success of the Red Kite scheme, and take enjoyment from improved opportunities to see these magnificent birds but, at a time, when repeated statements are made on the seemingly endless reductions in our commoner birds, ought not that latter situation to be the absolute priority? Ought we not to concentrate on improving the lot of our time honoured "residents" with the resources available, particularly in times of financial strictures? And ought not a much higher profile be taken in combating the absolute disgrace that is raptor persecution within the UK, or are further resources to be squandered in a succession of reports, hand wringing statements and the like on the continuing demise of Hen Harriers?

Or is all this modernism a reaction to the need for "exposure", "market share" and "promotional opportunities" and that it is these aspects which are actually driving the policies, as opposed to conservation need? I'm sure a plea of clemency would arise from our conservation bodies with them saying that they are trying to advance on several fronts by purchasing reserves, giving out advice on habitat management and so on, of which re-introductions are but one element, and that is perhaps understandable. But not acceptable in my view! I think an increasing body of opinion is beginning to emerge that suggests the time has come to set aside all current expensive, attractive diversions and treat our resident bird species as "First amongst equals" and leave our higher aspirations to later!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

1st August,2010.

A quite fine day with a freshening westerly wind for a change!

Small numbers of Northern Wheatear and Willow Warbler showed migration to be happening. Weather conditions for seawatching looked potentially rewarding but, in the end, were disappointing. Good numbers of Manx Shearwater were on the move southwards, but this had much reduced after the first three hours. All the other "usual" species present but not moving in other than penny numbers. A few adult LBBG went through, odd Oystercatcher and a single Whimbrel but otherwise it was hard work!!

Of recent days what appears to be the only youngster produced from the local Buzzard's nest has taken to either sitting out on a rock 30m. from the house or on top of a telegraph pole nearby. Nothing wrong with that you might say, except......
Young Buzzards have the most penetrating, plaintive, irritating begging/contact call imaginable which, when it starts up at 0500 hours in the morning outside the bedroom window , is definitely not appreciated!! Revenge came when it landed on the telephone wire, which commenced to swing as if it was a tightrope (!), whereupon the call remained but was laced with obvious panic as the bird threshed its wings wildly whilst it tried to keep its balance !!! Never a dull moment.