Friday, December 24, 2010

Only two days to normality!! 24/12/2010.

The "normality" is not an attempt to cancel Christmas, but to rejoice in the appearance of Boxing Day when, we are told, the weather will improve!! I was going to label the top picture, in the words of the song,

"It's a new day, it's a new dawn......and I'm feeling good!!"

Well the dark clouds to the left of the picture then moved south and we got some more snow, not a lot, but a reminder things aren't yet over. Whilst the road is still bad, it is all rather picturesque, as the general picture of the house shows. For some, water availability is now beginning to be a problem, given the succession of low night temperatures have really begun to bite and the usually reliable supplies "off the hill" are now freezing up!

Due to last minute changes in arrangements, work, and various other matters, I'm now going to "sign off" until the New Year. May I wish everyone all best wishes for Christmas and 2011 and thank the various people, who have been in touch by E-mail, for their kind wishes and encouraging remarks about the Blog . What was it they used to say on TV, "Service will be resumed as soon as possible", in this case 1/01/11

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Roosting survey already producing results!

Two/three inches of fresh snow overnight was a bit of a surprise! It came in from the south ( Northern Ireland ) and didn't affect areas a few miles north of here. However, with it falling on frozen hard packed snow from previously, road conditions were treacherous and I only saw two vehicles all day ( a gritting lorry and out stoical "postie", who seems to overcome things whatever, even by delivering the mail at 2000 hours!). My landlord and neighbour called and advised he and his wife were considering using the big tractor to get over to the main road in order to attend the school play in which their daughter was appearing. She had been "evacuated" previously to ensure her involvement!

Birdwise things were quiet here, in terms of numbers, but hectic as far as feeding was concerned. I was interested to read that even the usually aggressive Robin has commenced to be more tolerant of its bretheren ( now there's a Christmas word! ) with up to six being seen at one bird table in Cheshire. The news has obviously not reached the "turf possessive" individual that inhabits this garden who is intolerant of everything!

Similarly, the newly launched BTO ( British Trust for Ornithology) survey of roosting habits of birds in gardens is already producing some surprising results. Wrens are noted as "piling into nest boxes", roosting pouches and even old House Martin nests in order to stay warm and survive the harsh overnight conditions. Records already available show that 26% are roosting in groups of 5-9 and, in Devon, 30-34 roosted together in one nest box.

I was amazed to learn that Blue Tits usually roost alone (63% of records from nest boxes are of individuals ),as do Great Tits. This did surprise me, particularly as one can see parties of titmice collectively moving to roost at this time of year, sometimes having a variety of constituent species within the flocks too. That they all then split up is fascinating. Perhaps they don't always, as I'm sure I've seen some reference to Long-tailed Tits roosting together. It would certainly make sense, as the ability of such such small birds to survive extreme conditions must be very precariously balanced, even to the extent of being on a day to day basis. On this front even House Sparrows appear to have adopted the " you know it makes sense " approach with 42% of records showing 4 , or more, are roosting together.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

20th December,2010. Do we really want a white Christmas?

Well, I finally got out and even made it over to Jura! The day was silent, bright and very cold, but with seven layers on, fairly tolerable. Whilst the quietness of a snow filled landscape is therapeutic in some ways, driving on largely untreated roads sets aside any benefit!

As I went northwards alongside Loch Indaal in the fresh light of dawn a few groups of geese could be seen out on the water and were probably all Greenland White-fronted Geese. In all other circumstances this would have been a perfect day for counting the loch as it was so calm! An odd Slavonian Grebe, some Wigeon and a forlorn looking group of Light-bellied Brent Geese lent quality and variety but birds seemed to be in much reduced numbers based on brief impression. On Jura things were also very quiet, the only evidence of passage being 3 Mute Swans winging their way southwards. Various Herons were in evidence along the Sound of Islay shoreline, with a total slightly in excess of normal, suggesting that inland haunts were frozen up and forcing them elsewhere. Odd Great Northern Diver appeared along with the ever present Shags but, all in all, the day was exceedingly dull despite the magnificent clear skies and sunlight ( no warmth, just sunlight!! ).

Returning at dusk occasional Snipe and Woodcock lifted from roadside ditches suggesting that they too were feeling the pinch. Remarkable by their absence were any parties, large or small, of Barnacle Geese and a call later from Malcolm Ogilvie explored the same theme. If they have packed together there must be some very large flocks around, but where? Time will tell!

On the question of white Christmases I'm already erring towards that wonderful line uttered by the Sheriff of Nottingham in the film Robin Hood, " And Christmas is cancelled", well at least the snowy bit! All this brought on by E-mailed Christmas wishes and a scene from a friend on Aldabra......some islands have all the luck!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Good sense eventually prevails for raptors!

Given the weather, or more precisely, the road conditions, I've elected to stay put and catch up on a few tasks! As some will notice ,this is the second post of the day, the previous one referring to yesterday ( Friday 17th ).Recent times have also allowed me to put out posts on my other Blogs, so take a look at those too!!

In recent times the Altamont Pass area, California, USA has been the focus of much acrimonious debate and action due to the extensive number of wind turbines present there and the effects these were having on local and migrant raptor populations. A 2004 State study showed that between 880-1330 were being killed there annually!!

The major wind energy producer (NextEra Energy Resources) has now agreed , as part of a legal settlement, to replace 2400 wind turbines within four years and pay $2.5million that can be used in a variety of ways to reduce raptor deaths and enhance breeding habitat.

The knub of the issue is that there will be much larger turbines ( that produce more energy ), but such will be fewer in number and ,thereby, reduce the number of blades that raptors might collide with. Not a complete solution but, clearly, a major improvement over the previous situation. Understandably this outcome is being hailed as a landmark agreement and one which other participants in the industry may well take as a benchmark. Were that many of the ageing turbines in the Tarifa area, SW Spain had been subject to change and replacement years ago given they are strung out as a "barrier" across one of the most important raptor migration points in southern Europe!! Having said that, some inroads have been made into the problem, but with an increasing area of turbines appearing as well, so progress is a confusing mixture!!

The blast of winter descends!

Whilst there were some quite pleasant interludes throughout the day, successive flurries and squalls had given 3/4" of snow by mid-evening that, in a modest fashion, had even drifted up a little due to the northerly wind ( like up the back door!! ).

Birds around home were in short supply with singles of Robin, Blackbird and Song Thrush ( a hebridensis) visiting for food. In one of the better periods I made a "migration watch", that I believed might produce birds hurriedly moving out in front of the weather, but it produced nothing, not even the odd Redwing. As is usually the case the only other birds noticed were Ravens and even they were circling around clearly looking for food.

Friday, December 17, 2010

New BTO survey launched.

The BTO ( British Trust for Ornithology ) has launched a new survey in the last few days which aims to extend our knowledge of where birds roost in winter, the extent to which they utilise nestboxes and whether they do so communally.

Plummeting temperatures provide an extensive hazard to birds when they are required to withstand a night that can extend to almost 16 hours in duration at the very height of winter. With feeding conditions very often also being at their most extreme the need to obtain sufficient food to withstand such prolonged stress is of paramount importance. For many species visiting our gardens this aspect is overcome by the generous provision of varying food types we make available, which an extensive number of species avidly exploit, but also heavily rely on. That they might also rely on the convenient presence of nestboxes sited in the same garden, or nearby, is at the heart of the new enquiry. If this is something you are able to help with may I suggest you take a look at the details on the BTO website

As I look out on a landscape currently covered in snow, with successive flurries moving through backed by a stiff, cold northerly wind, the prospect of spending a night out in such conditions is less than enticing!! Doubtless even a nestbox would appear a most attractive " des-res" in the circumstances ..........

Thursday, December 16, 2010

15th December....second day of goose census.

Almost predictably the day proved to be somewhat grey and cloudy compared to previously! With rain leading to snow being forecast, there was an imperative to ensure the day was completed previous to any such conditions moving in. They didn't but it did become decidedly murky late in the afternoon.

The same route was covered and, indeed, the results from both days are compared to try and arrive at precise results. Compared to yesterday this was an extremely good day for birds!! A magnificent parvipes Canada Goose feeding with Greenland White-fronted Geese, two Golden Eagle soaring together over the Oa, 500+ Twite nearby to the RSPB office on the Oa within the fodder fields introduced by the warden, Andy Schofield, which have proved to be so successful this autumn providing habitat for a plethora of passerine species. Linnet, Chaffinch, Reed Bunting and the above Twite provided an ever restless "cloud" of birds rising and settling from the cover of the field. Later a magnificent Red Kite circling over dispersed woodland nearby to Ardbeg was a nice surprise. Our final "reward" was a classic winter adult Great Northern Diver in Claggain Bay, although, at that point, visibility was beginning to fall quite rapidly.

International Goose Count. 14th December,2010.

Today was earmarked as the first of two days given over for a census organized by Scottish Natural Heritage within the goose monitoring scheme on Islay to monitor the wintering population of Greenland White-fronted Geese in their traditional haunts. Ostensibly not much different in its operation on Islay to a normal goose count, as it provides an opportunity to count all geese encountered, excepting that it's relevance is of paramount importance given the population of Greenland White-fronted Geese appears to be in decline. The need to monitor such on a frequent basis is crucial at the present time!

The day was glorious, in fact too glorious! The winter sun was in evidence for the whole day, but given its low position visibility was sometimes impaired, rather than enhanced. It's not a phenomenon we suffer from too frequently! Where its meagre warmth never reached, icy conditions still persisted, so it was an interesting day as far as progression too! However the Oa route, which includes the whole southern coast sector, was displayed at its best. Whilst the day produced nothing special, except for a Merlin speeding low across the landscape like an Exocet missile, good views, in excellent light, of various groups of geese was a real tonic.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

11th December,2010.

Given it was dark when I left home I saw little other than the odd Woodcock rising from roadside verges and a brief glimpse of an owl, in silhouette, that was possibly Short-eared Owl. The remaining part of the day was spent on Jura. Compared to recent days it was potentially balmy, but the stiff northerly breeze put paid to that and the Sound showed a strong tidal flow to the south throughout the day.

In birding terms there was little to excite, although good views of an immature Red-throated Diver in transitional plumage was interesting and, almost as a final gesture of goodwill to the day, a Sea Eagle moved from Islay to Jura as I waited for the ferry in late afternoon. Of equal interest was seeing a CalMac ferry boat enter Port Askaig given the linkspan has now been repaired. Whether or not this was the first occasion since the ill-fated collision that caused the problem a few weeks ago or not, the task was undertaken with extreme caution reminiscent of a learner driver reversing around a corner for the first time!!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sad news on several fronts!

News has been released that the elderly birdwatcher who went missing on Sunday last, when weather conditions were somewhat extreme, has been found dead in Yardley Wood, Northamptonshire. Full details have not yet been released by the Police but his unfortunate death is a reminder to us all that our hobby is not without its risks when we explore new areas, go far off the beaten track and so on, particularly abroad. A sad episode in any event.

Similar sad news has come from Northern Ireland where a young Golden Eagle, born on the Outer Hebrides this year and transferred to the official release project, has been found poisoned. Additionally news of two poisoned Buzzards in Strathspey has also emerged. In both these instances the poison carbofuran was used. The latter news comes in the immediate wake of the Stage 1 presentation and debate on the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland ) Bill which addresses this amongst other problems. The subject of raptor persecution was commented on by John Scott, MSP, who declared that Scottish Tories didn't accept there was a problem and that it was "part real, part imaginary". Given he's a member of the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee, which has led the way in bringing this draft legislation forward, received endless details on raptor persecution incidents in Scotland, his remarks are crass in the extreme and have simply rendered the situation down to what is little more than Party Politics.

A venture out into the wide and wonderful yesterday was rewarded, locally, with a 2nd winter Glaucous Gull after a tip off from a colleague. It may have been around a few days but is very mobile. Few birds are around in numbers and the anticipation, but not reality, of coming across small parties of species like Reed Bunting, Linnet, Stonechat and Meadow Pipit suggest some of these may have moved out. With such hostile circumstances of weather so widely applicable over the UK this in itself becomes a problem and lays heavy value on the provision of food at garden "feeding stations", from which we then get the added enjoyment of seeing various species at close hand.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

8th December,2010. Cheery news from BTO..

It seemed too good to be true! A return from the mainland without having picked up some bug or another, and not the sort in hedgerows either!! So, several days on and I've just thrown off some spurious flu infection that I thought I'd sort out in a couple of days. Clearly a different strain to that provided for by the seasonal jab!! Trouble is, I've survey work to get stuck into and some serious rescheduling is now required.

But amongst all this angst and frustration some news has emerged that is heartening and bodes well for the future. At its Annual Conference last weekend at Swanwick, Derbyshire the British Trust for Ornithology announced to the hardy individuals who had fought snow, road closures and the like that it was to re-brand! A new logo and fresh website were revealed as part of the process, as well as redefined objectives. Take a look at and get a flavour of what is in store. There is a video of Andy Clement's presentation which fully explains the reasons behind this updating of the organization's image and approaches for the future.

The logo grows on you more you consider it. I'll not spoil the effect, but I have to confess I always thought the Gannet logo was a little "flat". Whilst it represented the organization it conveyed little about what was involved other than some connection with birds. Its replacement is a great improvement in my view. The web site is much clearer than previously with all the expected links, but with topical information centrally placed. Again, take a look, get the flavour of the change and, most of all, if your association with BTO in the past has been marginal consider yourself being part of the revised approach. It makes sense, it's a great organization!!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

2nd December,2010.

Well, finally back on Islay after a two stage journey of return. Farther west one travelled the easier it became and now it's just cold , with no snow in evidence. Remarkably the journey back was relatively devoid of birds. There was a strange stillness to the Great Glen, almost as if one was in a frozen vacuum!

A quick visit to the harbour in Oban showed the returned Ring-billed Gull nowhere to be seen, which is par for the course when you've scant time available!!! Whilst I did have a look for the Snow Goose , present with Grey lag Geese farther down the coast,it too was absent but apparently it has now been "downgraded" and declared an escape, although the criteria for its avid acceptance previously and its recent relegation aren't at all clear!

There appears to be little news for Islay, which is probably more a product of reduced coverage than actuality. I suspect some birds will have moved out altogether, as elsewhere, due to the very cold conditions or be relying on the food made available at feeding stations. A BTO Press Release states that, in many parts of Scotland, birds have piled into gardens including species like Fieldfares.

At least the forecast for this part of the UK suggests slightly warmer conditions are in the offing........