Wednesday, September 29, 2010

27th September,2010.

What a contrast! Cold and grey with a stiff SE wind that cut through you at times.

Again on Jura, a little farther north than previously. More Northern Eider in evidence, a noticeable lack of Black Guillemot but otherwise quiet from the point of view of passage. The highlight was the presence of both adult White-tailed Eagles ( both wing tagged yellow ) and an immature bird. The sight of one sailing over the ferry terminal at Port Askaig must have impressed visitors and residents alike, but I wonder how many of the passengers on the afternoon ferry saw one of the adult birds perched in a relatively nearby tree on the shore that remained there and treated the whole scene with disdain?.

Mid afternoon saw a group of Bottle-nosed Dolphin appear around the ferry and then move down the Sound, details of which I'll set out later ( I realise I've an ever increasing a backlog of postings for the Islay Wildlife site !! Apologies. ).

Later a brief scan of Loch Indaal showed Wigeon numbers to have increased suddenly with almost three hundred feeding offshore along with a small flock of Scaup. Doubtless a lot of these have come in on the recent northerly winds which have now suddenly changed about yet again!

26th September, 2010.

As I left home the sun rose in a clear sky, strong and bright behind the dark silhouette of the eastern hills, and lit up the white horses at Ellister Farm turning them into shining steeds. By contrast the bowling green at Bridgend was a white square of frost, evidence of the clear night we'd had but both aspects holding portent for a nice day. And so it was!

Stationed in the Sound of Jura a small number of Chaffinch were obviously passing south along with two Lapland Bunting within the first couple of hours. The remaining part of the day was rather quiet, although a young, almost inquisitive Red-throated Diver kept things alive by approaching really close, feeding, resting and preening. It occurred to me that I might have been its first encounter with humanity ( no comments please, not even on post cards!) given that it was so confiding. Equally exciting were sightings of an adult White-tailed Eagle at various points along the Sound , including perched in a Scots Pine. The tremendous size of these birds takes some appreciation!! A couple of marauding Ravens were shrugged off and looked Jackdaw sized by comparison when flying alongside the bird, which simply ignored them.

Much of the day was spent in the company of an Otter , and then two, that eventually went to sleep, wrapped around one another, on one of the kelp beds just offshore, of which I'll write more later.

25th September,2010.

The day dawned bright but then turned somewhat grey, leaving a dark outline of Northern Ireland to the SW across a flat sea.

A few hours seawatching produced nothing remarkable but, nonetheless, given the conditions, it was enjoyable. Excellent visibility always brings raised expectations anyway!! Whilst Gannets and Manx Shearwater were moving through neither topped more than a couple of hundred birds. Surprisingly only one Fulmar was seen and hardly any auks and Kittiwakes. The patterns of movement appear to have changed dramatically in recent times. Of more interest was a single Arctic Skua flying north and a high Red-throated Diver, with a Whimbrel a little way along the coast. Numbers of the latter are much reduced here in autumn compared to spring passage. Several parties of Meadow Pipit came to land as if passing south offshore down the west coast of Islay.

At dusk a large group of geese raised expectations as they came down the glen, but then called and proved they were Grey lags and showed even better as they cut behind the house. Activity patterns of these too on the island are changing and bear some study.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

20th September, 2010.

Another day on Jura, this time in somewhat better weather!! Enroute a male Peregrine flashed through the assembled birds at the head of Loch Indaal and caused mayhem. A rather steady, if not monotonous, day with little on the move.

In the afternoon the White-tailed Eagle again put on a splendid performance circling over the Sound on a couple of occasions, with another bird high above at one point. It seems to be a mid-afternoon ritual for this individual, which can easily be identified as it's tagged. However, I wonder how many of the assembling ferry passengers then realised the bird perched in a large conifer adjacent to the Sound and surveyed their movements with an apparent absence of interest!


An early start to try and get a couple of WeBS counts completed on my way to Jura. Suffice to say the day was not kind throughout, with squalls of showers at intervals. A couple of 1st winter Sandwich Terns north of Bruichladdich were nice and quite a large group of Long-tailed Tits in trees above the Port Askaig Hotel of note too.

The day's survey work was somewhat routine with no highlights until a White-tailed Eagle flew within 50m. of me. I paced out the distance afterwards!! It was probably as surprised as I was, but recovered better!! It's a regular bird and, hopefully, the future will bring more views. Previously an immature Peregrine had remained on a vantage point for the best part of four hours, until disturbed by the passing of the CalMac ferry. Whilst it moved around little I suspect there was nothing that evaded its attention in the whole period given its regular head movements.

On the way home I stopped at the head of Loch Indaal given the high tide. Various waders were roosting and it was good to get close up views of Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, Sanderling, numbers of Ringed Plover and Dunlin. Later a party of four Greenshank rose from their feeding spot and departed with ringing cries. An odd Wheatear, several Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits and a few Rock Pipits fed on insects within the debris of the strand line.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

!8.9.2010. Harbingers of winter?

Apologies for the lapse in postings, which period has been given over to computer changes and the like. Whilst I've been out and about, and had some good birds too, an "historical" piece probably serves little useful purpose at this stage. Suffice to say the storms last week provided some memorable sightings of the sea in full fury!.

After a seawatch in the morning, which had Arctic and Great Skua moving, plenty of Manx Shearwater , but still no Sooty Shearwater, I moved up the Rinns with the intention of giving full coverage to the area and gaining a "contextual feel" of what was happening after the storms as opposed to relying on unrelated observations. Suffice to say there are a lot of birds about and I never got to better part of Inner Loch Indaal!

In Outer Loch Indaal a tight group of 32 adult Kittiwakes huddled together with the occasional bird peeling off and flying out of the loch. A Great Northern Diver , in full summer plumage , was a magnificent sight followed, later, by an individual in winter plumage and an immature bird at a more intermediate stage. A few Red-throated Divers included a pair with a well grown youngster nearby, again in a state of transitional plumage. A few Common Scoter, Eider and auks completed the picture.

In waters north of Bruichladdich two Slavonian Grebe showed well, again in plumage which poses questions about their moulting stages. Lunch was accompanied by a mixed assemblage of waders ( Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Turnstone, Redshank, Oystercatcher and Curlew ) with several Red-breasted Mergansers in the waters beyond. A circuit to complete WeBS counts at Loch Gorm and nearby waters produced increasing numbers of Mallard, Teal and Tufted Duck and a single Little Grebe. Whilst often on the move , in excess of 800 Grey lag Geese were on Loch Gorm or on adjacent moorland.

En route to Gruinart a single Lapland Bunting was in a stubble field at Ballinaby with some notable groups of Linnet in that area too. Loch Gruinart was an absolute gift wrapped situation for any birder. Waders abounded, but not before a group of Pink-footed Geese had been seen with further Grey-lag Geese around as well. A lone Peregrine sat out on a knoll on the very edge of the saltmarsh, causing a nearby flock of 400 Starling to be restless. With the absolute bonanza of waders on offer few worries should have arisen and, in fact , the bird remained in situ for almost two hours! Where to start? Knot, Grey Plover, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Curlew , Oystercatcher, Redshank, Bar-tailed Godwit and, finally, the American Golden Plover proved its presence still nearby to where it had been previously! An absorbing afternoon that was rapidly turning into evening!! Given a good accumulation of gulls ( mainly Common and Black-headed, but some Herring Gulls too ) a look through produced nothing special brought to us by the recent poor weather!

And finally, nearby to the house , a fine male "Greenland" Wheatear, still in resplendent plumage and one of the brightest birds I've seen in a while! A good day , but with a number of reminders we're not too far from winter.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A cameo of birdlife! 3.9.2010.

Another pleasant sunny day, although with a SE breeze. Following the survey of Grey lag Geese, and with all results now in, I can finally say with some confidence that we have seen the increase which was anticipated. But more later!!

On a day when not much seemed to have changed, or be happening at all, I mused over the current situation to be seen here at the moment as far as bird numbers are concerned. Many species seem to have had a successful breeding season (with the exception of waders about which I've little first hand evidence). The numbers of common species like Linnet, Twite, Goldfinch, Lesser Redpoll,Siskin, Meadow Pipit and Skylark are really noticeable with field margins and hederows alive with birds. Flocks of Common Starling scour the newly cut fields and corvids, particularly Jackdaw , appear to have enjoyed a productive season. The numbers of Willow Warbler have now diminished, but their presence whilst on passage recently suggested they too had experienced a good season which, by implication , one imagines likewise for other similar species like Common Whitethroat and Sedge Warbler.This might equally apply to Northern Wheatear too. A simple pleasure can be taken from the number of House Sparrows now evident. We have a buoyant population, contrasted against many places on the mainland , and whirring flocks of birds exploding from hedgerows close to many of our villages is a sight I remind myself I've not seen in many recent years!!!

Whilst titmice, and even Goldcrest and Stonechat, appear to have recovered from the ravages of last winter I'm still not coming across the numbers of Wrens I might expect to see at this stage, which is strange. How our "flagship" species like Chough and Corncrake have fared is not yet known, but a species I continue to worry about is Arctic Tern, whose recent fortunes in successive breeding seasons appears poor.

Whilst many of these impressions are subjective, and local of course, they reflect a picture of a local countryside with a greater mosaic of variety and less intensity of use than many areas of the mainland. As a salvation, long may it continue!!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

In pursuit of the Grey lag! 1.9.2010

A long hard day covering a large proportion of the island in order to count Grey lag Geese. Thankfully the RSPB was able to cover the Gruinart Reserve area and Ardnave.

The weather was kind and conditions calm, which helps sometimes as you can hear birds calling way before you see them! With some results still to be sent in the job now remains that sees all the figures put together and any anomalies ruled out. Thankfully two major "centres", where birds were present, were counted at the same time which , thankfully, avoided any thoughts of duplication!! The final report will go to Scottish Natural Heritage and assist with future considerations of how best the management of the large numbers of geese we play host to on Islay in winter can best proceed in future years. I reminded myself that, at the very end of this month ( is it that close? ), the first few of our wintering geese will begin to filter in and, increasingly then, swell the numbers present overall.

Whilst I didn't really have much opportunity to look for other things a delight , whilst eating lunch at Loch Skerrols, was to have a Goldcrest no more than a metre away in an adjacent bush. With its pale surround, the eye looks really large at close quarters! A small flock of Wigeon on Loch Indaal provided, along with increasing numbers of waders ,an increasing indication of autumn descending upon us.