Saturday, December 31, 2011

A time for change!

Way back in late October I made a temporary halt to entries on this Blog as I was inundated with work, and other commitments, and needed to free up some time besides getting some computer problems sorted out.
The solution worked well and I'm currently within reach of being up to date   ( that is, well, almost! ).
Given my future plans in various birding and lobbying issues I'm changing the name of the Blog to better reflect that approach and to give it a bit of a facelift. It will provide a basis for wider coverage , both in the UK and abroad, as opposed to entries mostly being linked to Islay and Jura.  At least that's the plan.
Hopefully you'll enjoy  " A Birding Odyssey " and enjoy the direction that the journey takes! The new site reference is  so, hopefully, you'll bookmark the site and enjoy regular visits. In a couple of days I'll  essentially  be  "closing down" the Islay Birder site with all entries being on the new Blog above.

All best wishes to everyone and many thanks for reading Islay Birder over the years. May I take the opportunity of wishing you a HAPPY NEW YEAR and good birding in 2012 and beyond.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Quick update!

Hi everyone!  After some consideration on what might be the potentially negative implications I've taken a decision to close this site down, temporarily, until the end of 2011.  I'm overburdened at the moment with a whole variety of commitments and have decided to get all such "out of the way" to allow an unfettered entry into 2012. Whilst birding goes on I've simply not the time to write about it at present. It's sad in a way as there's plenty to write about with American Wigeon and Lesser Canada Geese present on the island and the usual array of "good" wintering species around. Something had to go, and rather than do a half hearted job I'm taking the risk of setting things aside for a couple of months and clearing up things before the onset of the New Year.

Bear with me and watch out for 1.1.2012!!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Throwing light on a couple of things! 27th September. 2011.

Out early with the dogs I was intrigued how quiet it was on the outward leg of the walk. An odd Robin "ticked" and the Yellowhammers remained in roost and consoled themselves with very quiet "chic" calls , as opposed to erupting as they normally do when we're slightly later. On the return leg, and with the first rays of sunlight appearing, all was different and calls and activity were as expected. Whilst we're used to the "dawn chorus" in the breeding season, when birds are declaring their territoriality at the onset of light, it seems outside of this period things may be a bit more relaxed and linked to increasing light intensity. Something to check on further.

Included in the upsurge of activity was a tit party from which came a couple of phrases of song of a Chiffchaff. Despite best efforts on my part it refused to show itself!

Later, in the evening, and whilst I was waiting to give my daughter a lift,I was fascinated by the behaviour of a Common Buzzard. It appeared out of a small plantation and commenced to slowly "hover" over a nearby stubble field, first at around 60 feet , and then at half that height. It changed location a few times. The interesting fact was that daylight was drawing to a close, cars on the nearby A9 were all using headlights and distant hedgerow lines with standard trees were all in silhouette. To all intents and purposes it was dark!! Casting my mind back I don't believe I've ever noticed crepuscular activity before by Buzzards. It looked like some great owl as it circled around and returned to cover over the car!!!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A bit of variety. 26th September,2011

Decided I'd have a trip out to Munlochy Bay and see what was in the offing. Unfortunately the bright sunlight wasn't too kind and the sheltered bay was bathed in bright light throwing everything into silhouette on the surface of the dappled waters. All very atmospheric and contextual, but not much good for viewing birds. I'll have to remember to visit in the afternoon or evening in future!! Small parties of Wigeon were flighting in to join numbers of birds already present, together with Mallard and Teal. A few Oystercatcher, Curlew and Redshank roosted and fed on the adjacent margins and odd Grey Herons stood patiently on vantage points.

I then moved on to Chanonry Point, although I didn't expect any particular movement to be occurring given the wind direction. A few Gannets circled around and then headed back out to the sea, odd Cormorant were in evidence, a Red-breasted Merganser and a couple of Razorbill were all that was on offer. Travelling back I noticed some good "accumulations " of Black-headed Gulls on stubble fields already being put to the plough, which perhaps accounts for the absence of birds the other day! Nowadays the turn around time associated with arable fields is so short in places where planting of spring crops can occur, contrasted against the stubble fields being left in situ on Islay where the practice is not followed. Such rapid usage of the land and the absence of stubble habitat for birds must have had a profound effect on various populations over the years, coupled with the use of much more efficient harvesting machinery and less grain spillage. The price of progress!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Slow progression into autumn. 25th September, 2011.

Circumstances dictate that the majority of time I'm "out" is within either woodland or open countryside at the moment. However, some time down on the nearby Firth showed few waterbirds about, the odd Grey Heron and an extraordinary absence of gull numbers. In fact it was pretty quiet all round!

The only real indicator of autumn at the moment appears to be the numbers of presumed "continental! Robins which are around. Early morning has calling birds seemingly everywhere, with few showing themselves. Presumably these are those within the initial phase of what will prove to be numbers of birds arriving to winter with us.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Autumn cometh! 23.9.2011.

According to my diary the 23rd September is the "official" date on which autumn commences. Up here near Inverness conditions are certainly quintessential from the point of view of weather.....some misty mornings, mellow, sunny with odd showers and breezy conditions aiding the commencement of leaf-fall. Some cereal fields have not yet been cut, but others are finished already, with straw bales now awaiting collection. As yet I've seen none of the usual wintering goose flocks in evidence, but I suspect their arrival is imminent. Many of the fields demand a second look, as with extremely short stemmed crop varieties being used nowadays it's difficult to determine whether odd fields are stubble or remain uncut. The days of "waving fields of corn" are now despatched to history it seems, but with the memory of those circumstances being depicted in some of the great landscape paintings of the past.

As might be expected finch numbers are evident with the calls of Chaffinch ever present, mostly from unseen birds, as autumn movements proceed coupled, contrastingly, with the absence now of the few hirundines which were present earlier in the week. The usual complement of hedgerow and woodland birds abound locally, including a nice flock of Yellowhammer, but the Tree Sparrows usually present in the immediate vicinity are obviously using a different area altogether as none are in evidence.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Enforced downtime!

On the mainland at the moment, but coming across little of particular interest from a birding point of view. Much involved in putting together ideas etc relating to a possible future "campaign" relating to birds of prey, which is proving more demanding than first thought! In the meantime, the reportage of persecution incidents carries on as ever before!

Amidst reports of reducing numbers of birds in the US of A, the disease affecting birds like Greenfinches in this country now being detected in Europe, increasing costs affecting the attendance of birders on the Scilly Isles, a sense of doom and gloom appears to surround the resource we all hold dear! Still, we could live in Greece.......

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Baird's Sandpiper relocated. 10.9.2011.

I'm now returned to Islay from "the south" and have commenced a week's birding on home turf with a visiting friend. The weather promises a fairly mixed bag of conditions with today being fine, except at the very outset, but with a stiff south east wind.

Whilst we did some seawatching in the morning , nothing particularly exceptional was happening, although the procession of Manx Shearwater, Fulmar, Gannet, a few Kittiwake and an odd Red-throated Diver provided interest. Four obvious "Greenland" Wheatear were near to Portnahaven ( as were two later at Gruinart ) but little else appeared on the Rinns.

After an initial scrutiny of Loch Indaal we moved to Loch Gruinart which was alive with waders! Several hundred Dunlin and Sanderling fed out on the exposed Flats together with lesser numbers of Redshank, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit and Ringed Plover. Out on the merse 16 Barnacle Geese were feeding and resting and we had a nice party of five Pintail feeding below us in a channel All in all we located at least five Greenshank, possibly seven, feeding along one of the longer lenses of water before we left to go back to Loch Indaal and catch the tide coverage in an optimum state (we didn't ).

Unfortunately the south esat wind had forced the tide well in to the upper parts of Loch Indaal and waders were all over the place. We set up close to one of the usually favoured roost positions where numbers of Dunlin and Ringed Plover were in evidence along with a couple of groups of Common Gull and Black-headed Gull. Suddenly a more interesting wader walked slowly across the sand and shingle, along with a Ringed Plover and Dunlin, and settled behind a line of detritus to gain a little shelter. Its slim shape, smaller size than Dunlin, and, most importantly, attenuated wings, indicated the Baird's Sandpiper, which had been around in this area a few days ago, was obviously still here!! Great stuff. Whilst we had reasonable views of it the blustery conditions weren't very kind and eventually all the waders moved off elsewhere and couldn't be located. A good start to the week!!

Friday, September 2, 2011

In the ornithological doldrums! 1.9.2011.

After the indication of the evening previous that an east wind might be rising , it was disappointing that it then died down overnight! I still followed my intended plan of going to Holme NWT Reserve in the hope that something had arrived in the scrub along its coastal boundary. In a word....nothing! To add insult to injury, whilst going through a fabulous wader roost on a spit off the coast I missed a Honey Buzzard overflying. Not a good omen.

The wader roost was good with large numbers of Knot and Bar=tailed Godwit, many in summer plumage ,or its remnants, in addition to Grey Plover, Turnstone, Ringed Plover, Curlew, a grewat assemblage. I then moved east along the coast, dipping into various sites but not coming across anything new. The numbers of Little Stint at Cley had increased and a couple of Spoonbill showed well. A seawatch , as before, produced very little with 5 Arctic Skua, all young birds close in to the coast, <15 Common Scoter west, an Arctic Tern .....and that was it for just over two hours of effort. The most encouraging thing was a rising easterly wind (F4+ ), which was promising. An even better end to a good week anyway?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Things seem static at the moment!! 31.8.2011.

I've long promised myself a visit to Holkham Hall Park where I had the time to do a full circuit of the area, as opposed to a walk through the woods and along the lake. So this was the day, plus I considered the exercise would do some good. It was really enjoyable, with a selection of woodland birds and endless encounters with fallow Deer. One major attraction for me is simply walking within tracts of mature deciduous trees of varying species which is not something on offer back home.

Around the back of the Estate and back towards the house, the residence of the Earl of Leicester, and a fine example a building in Palladian style. I stopped here to sit and watch over the lake, which had the usual species for late summer. I'm not sure about the reference to wintering Barnacle Geese from the Arctic, but having said that then saw a Little Egret on the shore opposite. Ten years ago I suppose we'd have suspected the origin of that species to possibly have been a local collection!! Having taken all that in I suddenly found moving off was a problem and had to remain "fixed" for quite a while (damned backs!). It took a while, within which time I could have been suspected of being a sculpture within the Park ("Man in Prone Position" by Rodin!! ).

Eventually moving on, and encouraged by a probable Hawfinch overflying the area, I drove on to Cley again. Little appeared to have changed so I settled in for another seawatch. Over the three hours 4 Great Skua and 27 Arctic Skua went through east, an adult Red-throated Diver and 5 Common Scoter flew west and a couple of Whimbrel went east. The most bizarre sighting was seeing a rather bloated dead grey seal moving westwards in the current offshore. Atop it was a very determined G.B.B.G attempting to feed while the carcase rolled and moved with the tide. After half an hour it what still persisting with its quest as I lost it to view!

A more limited day! 30.8.2011.

Truth is over the last couple of weeks I've had trouble with my back. This was a bad one with my walking around slowly, very slowly. Not something I suffer from so no idea what the remedy is. For this morning, at least, I decided a good session of photography at Titchwell would be a sensible remedy.

It turned out to be a routine day with a Cetti's Warbler singing off the main track and waders everywhere. Having settled in the first thing that happened was that a Greater Flamingo flew in from the south and landed on one of the pools. Who's lost that one then? The waders were a bit skittish and moved around quite a lot. Best of all, for me , were the Curlew Sandpipers!

The morning progressed on with nothing new moving through but with other opportunities arising , particularly with the Ruff that were ranging over the whole freshwater marsh.

Eventually I made my way off site and parked up for quite a while at various vantage points , although to no avail. I then went to Cley again and did a seawatch, the lure of messages of Long-tailed Skuas further north being too much to ignore. Sadly, precious little was on the move although a Manx Shearwater flew west and odd Arctic and a couple of Great Skua moved east. As I returned along the edge of Arnold's Marsh several Bearded Tits appeared in the reed beds below the path and showed well for a short time. Of further interest was a young Black=tailed Godwit carrying leg flags about which I'll get the details of its movements in due course. A day that eventually turned out better than forecast!!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A mixed day. 29.8.2011.

A fine day but with a cool edge to the westerly wind, but thankfully , despite threatening clouds, no rain developed.

Called in to see a friend who works at the RSPB Titchwell Reserve and then commenced to gradually go around the reserve. I watched a Water Vole for ages as it fed immediately within the outer edge of a reed bed.....not something I see that often nowadays given the drastic reduction in its population. As I made my way down the path to the coast I caught a glimpse of a Muntjac making its way across the adjacent marsh in a series of leaps. Suddenly all hell let loose as a Curlew rose in its path, my feeling being that the animal had almost landed on the hapless bird, which took some time to circle around ,uttering its alarm call all the while.

Birds were much as before with perhaps wader numbers altering around. I managed to get a photograph of a Little Stint which conveniently landed nearby and was the first I'd seen this year.

A seawatch showed very few birds on the move, but a Great crested Grebe and a couple of Eider were off shore and then, somewhat surprisingly, a female Long-tailed Duck. A very early bird to return for winter , which I learned later has been around for about ten days already. At that point I learned that the Wryneck seen at Wells yesterday was still around so I made my way westwards. And so it was, present in a few bushes on the edge of the playing fields near the harbout. A very active and showy bird which showed all its plumage details off to good effect. At one point it sat in a nearby bush eyeing up the birdwatchers present before moving out into the open !

As the afternoon was pressing on I went through to the Cley reserve and called in at the reserve's cafe. A little later, and whilst browsing through the books on sale, I found myself standing next to Mike Peacock (RSPB Warden Oronsay) the next island to the north of Islay. Small world, but with the surprising twist that I'd not seen him for about four years despite being a "neighbour".

A seawatch on the rising tide saw a few Gannets on the move , Sandwich and Common Terns around generally and 13 Arctic Skua and a single Great Skua moving east before I called it a day at 1830 hours. Certainly one of contrasts and surprises!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A day at Titchwell. 28.8.2011

Given it was the Bank Holiday I decided to forgo the potential traffic and crowds and simply spend the whole day at Titchwell. The woods near the Centre had a couple of Chiffchaff, both singing intermittently, and a male Blackcap seemed to be associated with a mixed flock of Blue and Long-tailed Tits, but otherwise it was fairly quiet.

The real bonanza was on the fresh-water marsh with waders and duck in profusion. Curlew sandpiper, Little Stint, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin galore, Ringed Plover, Redshank, Lapwing, Oystercatcher all fed with determination, occasionally spooked by a returning female Marsh Harrier. Odd Herring Gull and many B,H,G loafed on one of the islands along with Mallard and Shoveler. As ever numbers of Grey lag Geese were present and restlessly moving around the site.

A long period seawatching produced very little other than a few Gannets, but I suspect conditions would have been much better a bit later on the rising tide. Mid afternoon the wind began to rise until a F5/6 blustery westerly was sweeping everywhere. Not the conditions to bring in drift migrants!!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Moving operating base! 27.8.2011

Following yesterday's deluge the morning was clear and bright , although rain clouds appeared and threatened all day. As intended I moved southwards to Norfolk, not terribly logical in some ways but linked to the availability of accommodation. The journey went well and I was there way before lunchtime to be met by sunny conditions.

I'd headed for Cley so that I could make my way back to Hunstanton, where I'm staying. The first bonus was a juvenile Red=backed Shrike at Walsey Hills showing extremely well and obviously hungry with its level of alertness and frequent feeding forays. A Marsh Harrier circled high above and headed off east and a Hobby flashed through eastwards too. Not a bad start.

On to the Centre to call in and see a friend ( Patrick ) and then spent virtually the rest of the day looking at the various scrapes. Eight Spoonbills slept throughout the whole period and, by contrast, a juvenile Red-necked Phalarope fed incessantly with its energy output never seeming to diminish. Waders were present in profusion with Dunlin, Curlew Sandpiper, Ruff, Little Stint, Knot, and Black-tailed Godwit all giving good views with an accompaniment of the calls of Sandwich Tern feeding off the nearby coast. Across the site numbers of Grey lag Geese fed along with Teal, Mallard, Shelduck and Wigeon. I never did get round all the hides but the forthcoming week awaits.

Stopping off at various points on my way westwards produced nothing extraordinary but I was delighted to see a covey of 12 Grey Partridge nearby to where I am staying. Nice end to the day.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Rather a wet experience. 26.8.2011

Before leaving for Norfolk tomorrow ( Saturday ) I'd promised myself a visit to Flamborough and Bempton on Yorkshire's east coast. The day commenced with rain and, sadly, got steadily worse.

Setting such conditions aside I decided to go direct to Flamborough and , hopefully, see the Greenish Warbler reported from Old Fall Wood. Well, it was raining as I got there, and raining far worse when I left three hours later, and it hadn't stopped raining in between.! I heard the bird twice, but never saw it, so ,all in all it was a complete failure of a day. The sum total of birds seen was Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Robin, Blue Tit, Blackbird, Kestrel, Linnet and Meadow Pipit......not a good outcome when linked to an absolute drenching!! Driving conditions back to base were absolutely horrendous and it was a relief to get to the end of the journey. Are we due for a Bank Holiday I ask myself? Incidentally, I'm unsure of what WiFi access I may have access to next week , so bear with me.

East coast again! 25.8.2011.

Looking at the weather, taking into account what had occurred elsewhere along the east coast of Britain, I judged that the rain overnight and early morning might have resulted in night passage migrants being grounded and so I went to Spurn again. I was wrong, as little of note was in evidence, although a Pied Flycatcher turned up around lunchtime. Compared to other places, Yorkshire has missed out in some respects as far as good passerines are concerned, but that's birding. A few Black Terns moving southwards over the sea were nice, but little else. Again, waders were worth looking at with Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit showing birds in partial summer plumage with, again, Grey Plover being seen in full resplendent breeding dress. By contrast all Sanderling I saw were in winter plumage!

Mid afternoon saw me move northwards to Hornsea to hopefully witness something I've never had the privilege of witnessing, the presence of massed numbers of Little Gulls on the Mere.This is something which only happens in late summer/early autumn, but numbers have reached a mind boggling 500 on occasions. Filling in the time before the "reputed hour" I managed to find the reported two Black-necked Grebe, and also four Red-crested Pochard and then settled in for the evening arrival. Little did I know that the site where the car park is situated closed at tea time, is gated off, so I had to leave a little prematurely. However, the guy in charge was extremely helpful and explained the best site from which they can be seen and counted. He also put me on to a resting out place that they use regardless of their feeding movements in the evening. And so I had brilliant views of seven juvenile birds and three adults on one of the yachting piers within the "marina part" of the Mere. Small beer compared to the 300/400 birds which can descend on the area in the evenings on some occasions, moving , presumably, from the areas offshore where they feed during the day. Their arrival can take place any time from 1600 to 2000 hours, all of which is somewhat unpredictable. After hanging on for a while, it seemed this day fell into the latter category, and so I left unrewarded with a desired phenomenon still a future diary entry.

Spurn Point. 24. 8.2011.

From around 1958 I spent an inordinate amount of time at Spurn. It was the location of my first "independent" holiday away from my family and I can still remember the shock horror of my parents when I announced I was going there one Christmas and New Year. The insensitivity of teenagers! Whilst I've been back on many occasions , today was a relaxed solo pilgrimage, full of nostalgia, and never designed to be anything less. I was enthralled throughout the whole day, which I spent alone, perhaps on occasions in the remembered company of long past friends, some of whom can no longer benefit from such indulgences.

A good walk up to the Canal Zone, down past the Tank Blocks, up the remnants of Big Hedge to the coast and back to the Blue Bell took all morning. There was little of especial note , but I enjoyed it all. Waders abounded, especially some Grey Plover in full summer plumage and a whole selection of other wading bird species. A couple of Yellow Wagtail on the scrape were nice to see, but little moved over the sea. The latter figures large in my memories, not just for "big" days of passage, but because the coastal profile has changed so much in my lifetime as a result of its activities with around 100m. of this coast, at least, being eroded away since the 1960's, scary stuff!!

A walk along Beacon Lane northwards yielded virtually nothing except a series of repetitious expectations of old as the odd Whitethroat or Blue Tit moved within the bushes. The warm weather was not only a welcome tonic ( almost tropical to me! ) but was good for a variety of butterfly species encountered along the sheltered double line of hawthorns. In retrospect, I'm pleased I didn't see anything special as I don't think the sheer deep, inner joy of reliving so much of value would have been the same had it been overtaken by the transient presence of some notable migrant. It was my selfish day and I enjoyed it to the full.

Hornsea Mere. 23.8.2011.

A nice afternoon, preceded by a busy morning of meetings, saw me travel over to Hornsea on the east coast of Yorkshire. My first duty was to take on the challenge of a "Whopper" breakfast at a local cafe, £5 worth of absolute value that saw me sustained for the rest of the day , all washed down with a pot of scalding hot tea!!

Hornsea Mere is vast, remains in private ownership although it used to be an RSPB reserve, under a form of licence, in past years. Its wintering duck populations are legendary, as are its rarities, and it's worth a visit at any time of year. I simply parked and took in the various sights on offer from duck and geese, to a variety of hirundines and a fly over Whimbrel. Nice relaxing birding at its best. Unfortunately the weather turned foul coinciding with a very convenient seawatching spot I'd found a bit further south down the coast. Nonetheless I had good views of feeding and passage Sandwich Terns off shore, a few Common Terns and odd Little Gulls. This episode proved to be the end of activities as the poor weather persisted and caused a premature "return to base". Ah well, a good day.

Blacktoft Sands Nature Reserve. 22.8.2011

After getting through some personal business I spent the whole day at the RSPB Blacktoft Sands Reserve on the south bank of the Humber. I'd transferred up to East Yorkshire on the Sunday evening and was now within striking distance of a few important sites in that part of the County.

Blacktoft is the largest intertidal reedbed in England and has saline lagoons too, which are quite a rare habitat in Europe. Plastered with different designations it demands extremely careful management which has ensured its key species have prospered over the years. Last year 12 pairs of Marsh Harrier nested there and produced 27 young. This year 12 pairs have been present and the outcome of their breeding efforts are eagerly awaited. Other species like Bearded Tit, Bittern, Avocet and up to eight warbler species can breed on the reserve. Other claims to fame include a list in excess of 300 moth species, 75 species of fly, the rare Marsh Sow -thistle and Harvest Mice, Water Voles and water Shrews. A great site!

At this time of year waders are flooding through in numbers and that was my main reason for visiting. Seven hides ensure you can work your way through the feeding birds in comfort. I wasn't disappointed as Redshank and Spotted Redshank fed side by side, Greenshank and Green Sandpipiers appeared tucked away on every pool and a couple of Wood Sandpiper were present for comparison with their near relatives. A couple of Water Rail probed furtively within the very edge of a reedbed showing off their striped flanks, a bonus arising from this time of year when water levels recede a little. Additional members of this wader extravaganza ranged from Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Common Snipe, Lapwing and lots of Ruff. Duck were here too with Mallard, Teal and Shoveler present , although as yet their usual plumages were still obscured by them being in eclipse. As I left several Tree Sparrows were present in the feeding area along with a selection of other passerines adding another pleasant dimension to a worthwhile visit.

British Birdwatching Fair

This year's Birdfair was held over the weekend of 19th-20th August at the usual venue at Rutland Water. It gets bigger every year and I defy anyone to do it justice nowadays in a single day's visit. For me, an equally enjoyable experience was being able to stay with friends, David and Amanda, near past familiar territory at Sandy. Present too were Steve and Sarah so the whole visit was a laugh from end to end! I even got to witness the winding up of the Abbotsley church clock which is done on a daily rotation basis by the community, as is checking on Michael Palin's Mother-in-law, a delightful lady in her nineties!! Good times.

I helped on a couple of stalls and thoroughly enjoyed the full three days. Meeting friends aplenty, foreign contacts from yesteryear , browsing endless stalls offering travel details to exotic places and trying desperately hard to be disciplined when looking at the many bookstalls present! Thankfully the weather was kind and no persistent rain or torrential downpours saw fit to turn the site into a quagmire. With seven large marquees to visit, the Art Marquee and all the networking I never managed to get to one lecture, for which I noticed there was at least two marquees this year!

For me it was an occasion of reflection, as I haven't been for about five years, but came away full of resolve to ensure I never miss in future. A necessary social topping up essential to placing focus on the rest of the year's birding activities.

Enter the Green Warrior. 18th August,2011.

Now I'll not bore you with the whole saga but my departure from Islay for a couple of weeks or so had been riven with some uncertainty and regret. Circumstances then conspired to persuade me that my thinking was right and I went ahead and changed my car!! Routine, easy you might think.....well yes, but it had been a faithful steed for around eight years and I was tremendously attached to it. We had been up mountain tracks, through bogs, very bad snowy conditions and the like, which always generates respect for a vehicle that successfully gets you there. But it was beginning to age and things were never going to be the same as the inevitable signs of such began to emerge. Above all else it was a 4X4!

This always presented me with some guilt given the environmental disclosures attached to such vehicles. So I thought hard! With diesel at £1.53 per litre on Islay, compared to much less on the mainland, and a halter of environmental guilt around my neck I decided to do the decent thing! I am now the proud owner of a 1.4 TDI Ford Fiesta whose carbon emissions are very low and whose Road Fund Licence costs £30 per year , as opposed to £269!! I've just done 301 miles on half a tank of diesel and have willingly joined the ranks of the Green Warriors!! In fact , I shall turn the complete hypocrite and condemn all those with Chelsea tractors, unless they really need one, which some do. I'm pleased with the change, although worried about coping with the abysmal road conditions on Islay at present, matched equally by the abysmal track record ( forgive the pun ) of the Local Authority, Argyll and Bute, in dealing with them. On the last disclosure, the distilleries on Islay contributed £145 million per annum in "tax" generated from whisky to the Exchequer, and yet little of this bonanza finds its way back to the island! There'll be places I can no longer get to, and odd things I never do again I suppose, and there'll be cleaning and polishing obligations, something you can get away with with a 4x4 unless you live in urbansville. So, raise the flag and take succour from the fact the air is cleaner and a blow has been smitten against climate change. Oh , and it's saved me a few pounds as well!!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A question of what lies ahead?

2011 hasn't been the best of years in some respects when it comes to enjoying the smooth progression of life!!! The last week or so has epitomised this with , in addition to frustrating problems associated with my PC, I've also ( again, I know ) had problems with the car. So, time to face up to reality.

Later today I shall be on the ferry to the mainland with the express intention of sorting out car problems!! Bear with me as entries on this Blog might be a little intermittent, but the situation can only improve. Beyond that I have "plans" that, if everything works out , will provide more than enough raw material for the Blog and lead to a resumption of being able to make daily entries. Watch this space!

Moths are dull.....don't you believe it!! Part two.

Following on from the piece I put out on the 20th July, this final invitation to "getting involved with moths" dwells on the enjoyment that can be derived from being involved in recording the various species. It's a natural step after becoming absorbed by moths and learning about them to then begin recording what you find. Given moth recording has not been as popular as, say , bird recording over the years there remains much to be done.

Submitting records of what you find, and where, is important as there are still many places where year round records of the likely species to be encountered are missing. Coupled with this are the records of migrant moths from the Continent and, more recently, evidence of some species colonising, or re-colonising, parts of the UK as the effects of climate change appear to arise.

At the end of 2010 a landmark publication emerged, the " Provisional Atlas of the UK's Larger Moths ". This was the result of years of recording and resulted in the first up to date maps in 30 years for 868 macro-moth species ( the maps for the Geometridae {over 300 species } were the first ever to be published ). See Butterfly Conservation's web site for how you can get your copy!

The records had been lodged in the database associated with the National Moth Recording Scheme (NMRS ) and the maps were produced from the 11.3 million records which were held within it. The NMRS was one of the initiatives within the Moths Count project run by Butterfly Conservation and the production of the Atlas after only four years was a remarkable milestone. The project will continue and the NMRS database extended still further over ensuing years ( hence the Atlas being described as "Provisional"). Since its publication a further 700,000 records have already been received giving an indication of the emerging interest in the subject and the hard work too of many, many volunteer recorders.

A further component of the Moths Count Project was to improve and extend the "presence" of Moth Recorders in each of the Vice Counties in the UK, which resulted in 34 new individuals being recruited to fill the gaps. The role of these individuals is to act as a focal point in a given area and for them to be the recipient of records generated locally, to encourage people further , promote the NMRS and so on.

The maps themselves will fill a variety of purposes. They provide a current indication of where individual species can be found, i.e. their national distribution. The requisite map for the Small Ranunculus shows it to be widely distributed but, within the dots where presence has been determined, there are gaps indicating the species has not yet been recorded. It may be absent, of course, or simply, as yet , evaded the efforts of those involved in recording in that area. Such "white areas" on a map can, in effect, act as an indication of where future recording efforts might be targeted.

By the same token, some of the maps show a very restricted distribution for certain species given, in turn , the restricted availability of the specialised habitat upon which they rely. Such maps and records are important in guiding conservation efforts aimed at protecting these very specific sites that continue to hold unique examples of our biodiversity. Eventually, of course, the maps can be used in a comparative context where an historical analysis is applied aimed at establishing where the range of a species has retracted or, indeed, enjoyed some expansion. Loss of habitat will inevitably be linked to the former, but the colonisation of specific niches by "new" species will not just indicate the timing and extent of their spread but perhaps introduce new conservation priorities dependent on their status and the availability of their chosen "home".

So, obviously many challenges lie ahead. The more people become involved, the quicker we will more fully understand a whole variety of questions raised in the past and be better equipped to address the inevitable conservation tasks which develop within our dynamic world. It is something which can take you to far flung places, or become an increasingly absorbing feature of your local environment. It is a fascinating hobby and gives a lot of pleasure so....take the plunge!!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

First "sign in " with Grey lag Geese.

It didn't start off that way, but a young Grey lag Goose walking along the road above the house, which leads across a section of grass moor, suggested I perhaps ought to check on the overall situation as far as emerging numbers were concerned. The young bird flew off strongly incidentally, goodness knows what the story was behind that situation!!

So I visited a variety of areas in NW Islay and counted the Grey lag Geese on show. As yet they don't seem to have joined up together and formed the composite flocks which have been a feature of years previously. Having said that , birds are mobile and parties flying across Loch Indaal, southwards down Loch Gruinart and across the wide vicinity of Loch Gorm proved that to be the case. Totals in the Loch Gorm/Gruinart area were in accord with recent observations and, otherwise, all over, parties appeared to be very much hefted to their usual area be that at Ellister, Claddach or around Loch Gorm. Strangely enough, at least today, none appeared to be utilising the saltmarsh flats at Bridgend.

The most interesting observations otherwise were a Greenshank heard at Loch Gruinart and a couple of immature Wigeon on a lens of water on the otherwise rather lushly vegetated pools at the RSPB Gruinart Reserve.

A reasonable day spoiled! 6.8.2011.

Calm conditions early morning persuaded me to have a walk out locally first , and then go seawatching, leaving later in the day to develop its own plan. The sea was almost calm, a sullen band of grey extending to a misty horizon. All intentions worked well, with eventual activity taking in most of Loch Indaal too. Sitting at the head of Loch Indaal in the early afternoon it was obvious a big storm was coming in with "blot out" visibility from the south. No sooner had I decided to return home than a pretty vicious cyclonic storm opened up with large rain droplets and volumes of water pouring down. Headlights on and caution reigned through some quickly developing floods on the main road. Horrendous..........and a few miles further on , it was dry!! Ah well!

Both pairs of Swallows in the barn now have flying young, so the vicinity of the house is a permanent maelstrom of activity! First thing over 40 Meadow Pipits were on the telephone wires to the house, which suggests they've had a good season. warbler movement has suddenly stepped up with several Willow Warbler and Whitethroat noted.

Seawatching was rewarding, but not exceptional, with numbers of Gannet and Manx Shearwater in evidence, a few 10's of Kittiwake but little else in numbers. Both Arctic and Great Skuas went through, as did a party of Dunlin, two Whimbrel and a Red-throated Diver. Most revealing was the absence of local terns who must have cleared out after breeding. Oh, and embarrassingly folks, I had a single Basking Shark offshore of the new spot I was trying out. It would happen , wouldn't it!!

A gradual progression northwards along Loch Indaal saw very little of note in the Outer Loch other than a juv Red-throated Diver. Further in moulting Red-breasted Mergansers again showed numbers lower than in previous years , which appears to be an ongoing trend. A good selection of waders was present with several parties of adult Dunlin present, ringed Plover, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit and a single , almost pristine , Sanderling in full summer plumage. A handful of Arctic Tern, several young Black-headed Gulls ( for once ) , a couple of Sand Martin and several Pied Wagtails feeding around a pool completed the picture before the rains came!!

On the way back, on higher ground and in the lee of "the storm", a brief view of a Wheatear showed a large, very bright, robust bird that immediately brought a reaction of " Greenland", but such would seem to be very early?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Basking Sharks not much in evidence!

I have recently finished reading the first book written by Gavin Maxwell, in 1952, " Harpoon at a Venture". It relates to his ill-fated attempts to set up a sharkfishing enterprise in the late 1940's based on Soay, off the southern coast of the Isle of Skye, Scotland. These endeavours came to an end in 1949, but his connection with the Highlands and its wildlife remained long after, out of which his association with Otters began and culminated in the seminal work, "Ring of Bright Water" that sold 2 million copies in the 1960's and 70's.

This is not a review of the book, whose contents relating to the killing and processing of Basking Sharks I found particularly unappealing at times. Such content must necessarily now be viewed from a perspective sixty years on and the fact that, following such times, attitudes to wildlife have since changed dramatically, not least because of the efforts of Maxwell himself in later years. Within the book there is much that can be judged extremely useful if comparisons are made to current times and the status of Basking Sharks.

When first I came to Islay in the late 1990's sightings of Basking Sharks were extremely rare. Last year (2010) was perhaps the best in recent yeras and similar experiences arose from places like Tiree and Coll too. Local feedback suggests they were seen reguarly a few decades ago, particularly off SW Islay. Whether their population then declined in the final few decades of the last millenium, or that they were simply elsewhere, who knows, but certainly 2010 saw their regular appearance around Islay and Jura and the sightings being commented on by many. Now, 2011 appears to be a somewhat fallow year again. Various people have commented on the absence of records from previously favoured haunts, so we are left with a bit of a mystery. Doubtless someone will pop up now and announce they saw individuals on particular dates but, generally speaking, I think it can be taken as being a quiet year!

Acknowledgement must be given to the photographer, R.Pickering , and to Morvern Summers ( Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust ) for permission to use this image.

Up to around 2008 only single specimens were recorded locally, but then instances of two , and even three together, were reported. In 2010 up to six were seen together and more reports than ever arose. Maxwell mentions a shoal of 80+ and relates how such might roam over many miles of sea. Of interest are his comments relating to the seasons of occurrence and regularity. They never started seeking them out until the last week in April and ended their catching season in mid-September, both dates close to the limits of occurrences arising here.

That this huge leviathan of the oceans has brought enjoyment to many is in no doubt. That they will ever again be viewed as a pest by virtue of their breaking through herring nets is also in doubt given new sensitivities directed towards wildlife and the relative demise of herring stocks too!! That Maxwell saw commercial and economic opportunities in their slaughter is without question. That he also debated with himself the question of pain associated with such activities is provided in an exposition of what pain can encompass, is revealing of the man who later became a leading conservationist.

All in all a fascinating read and a book raising many of the self same questions that we often pose about the species today. On this basis I would urge that you access the web site of the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust ( ) to glean up to date information about this species and its presence in Scottish waters. Various trips offshore are now arranged in west Scotland to allow sightings of a variety of marine wildlife and an endless array of excellent photographs are available on many cetacean species and other animals on the website.. May I again express my thanks to Morvern Summers ( HWDT ) for the assistance given and urge everyone who might have records of Basking Sharks and cetaceans to submit them via the website ( but look at it anyway!!).

Finally, may I offer my thanks to Ian Turner ( Librarian, Islay ) who initially brought my attention to the book , provided comment on occurrences in past years and who has been responsible for the reportage of many of the records from SW Islay, often from the close vantage point of his own fishing boat!!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Announcement !!!!

I've just had a run of bad days as far as computer facilities are concerned. OK, it happens to all of us , but perhaps not to the extent that you consider replacing all your hardware!! But, persistence, or a Yorkshireman's reticence towards monetary outlay ( a very solid trait ), suddenly saw all systems restored. Whilst I've tweaked, reloaded, amended systems and spent countless hours "investigating" the problem, the ultimate frustration is that, suddenly, the whole system came right. And I've no damned idea what was the cause in the first place.

So, not a lot of "field action" as a result but, hopefully, all that is now history. Over the last few days, including long nights, the most apparent aspect has been the obvious movement through of warblers locally. Sedge, Willow, Grasshopper and Common Whitethroat have all been encountered, plus Northern Wheatear, Whinchat and House Martin also obviously moving southwards. Autumn migration is clearly in action.

So, hopefully succeeding days will now proceed without interruption and various pieces I've drafted can now see the light of day. A question! In the mornings do you switch on your computer around the same time as your kettle, or is your cyber time more compartmentalised!! I'm utterly amazed at how much I've been fazed by the lack of availability of computer facilities, an admission I suspect many of us would admit to in this techno age!! Think about it!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Can "strategic visions" be of any use?


This 14 page document aims to promote Natural England's vision for an upland environment in just under 50 years time! It expresses ambitions for change, which contain a series of preferences all of us would find laudable. Doubtless it will be criticized by some who miss the point of its strategic emphasis and its deliberate omission of detailed policies on key matters affecting the uplands like raptor persecution, planning issues and land management. As a summary document it does its stuff, but can we accept any of it other than being the sincere expression of a "wish list scenario"?

My worries surround the almost naive assumptions which are made, as opposed to the nature of the objectives themselves. Fifty years ahead, really! Perhaps we ought to turn the clock back 50 years and take heed of the changes which have occurred in that period and whether any of us can afford the luxury of crystal ball gazing. In very general terms the 1960's followed on the heels of the 1954 Protection of Birds Act, the creation of the Nature Conservancy and the National Parks legislation, but little else of a similar nature. Set this against the plethora of changes since then , much of which has been beneficial , but all in some way has had an effect on our environment. Designations, regulation guidelines, European influence and other strategic outpourings which now appear to be the norm. The next fifty years will be no different and doubtless many measures will emerge that serve to frustrate the optimum visions of the present.

Consider some of the negatives of the last fifty years! First amongst equals must be the actions of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Policies, urged on by subsidies, which saw immense and irrevocable change to our landscapes, particularly from the retention of our natural heritage. Think also of afforestation, supported by Government and doubtless proceeding in the face of opposition from the Nature Conservancy Council....but it happened! I'm sure there are many other examples but, simply put, a period of 50 years can embrace such far reaching changes emanating from political initiatives that a vision extending that far ahead can carry little credibility in my opinion. Such thinking has its value though, as I point out later. In this instance I hesitate to cast Natural England in the role of a fortune teller crouched over a crystal ball, but the image keeps springing to mind!

Having made that somewhat flippant remark there is, nonetheless, a serious aspect to trying to perceive what is the optimum situation which might be achieved through the positive application of sustainable management practices and planned approaches. In my view the element that frustrates this process, utterly, is the absence of stability. All such visions can only be created based on "an all things being equal" basis and, therefore, one must question their potential usefulness in the face of undoubted change. Life no longer appears to have the stability and tranquillity of yesteryear. Global events and change, political will and, even , "electorate whimsy" can all play a part in altering , even reversing, well intended goals, besides apparent major physical influences like climate change.

However there is a place for such "blue sky thinking" in our culture. It represents what might be termed "the best" for everyone and , in that context, should not be diminished nor rejected. What we really need to pursue is the element of stability within our national framework when it comes to environmental matters, as opposed to a never ending changing of goal posts, reduction of budgets, and a generally held view that anything " environmental" is second best and first to go!! This is not a suggestion for our fossilising our environment, but one to award the subject area the respectability and recognition it deserves. With an ever increasing town-based population that particular public needs to better understand the needs and challenges of the environment, not feel confident it knows already ( the Countryside Alliance would have a view on this I suspect! ). But similarly, political parties need to robustly embrace such principles such that they form a basis of action be they in Government or Opposition. When will there be a general acceptance that the quality of our environment is key to most other elements affecting our lives? When will we afford it the investment it deserves, as opposed to treating it as a never to be depleted bank account from which we can draw reserves. Of course there are positive things happening, and such will continue to happen via an increasing raft of sustainable practices. But is it enough? In many respects it's "wing and a prayer management" despite the positive initiatives. Exercises, such as outlined in the above document do, therefore, have value, not in the specifics , but in being a salutary reminder we need "joined up thinking" , a holistic approach for everything, along the lines advocated for the uplands.

A title to the document simply expressing the hope, " A Vision For Our Future Uplands" would probably have been more easily understood. But whatever the shortcomings, the vision acts as a reminder that, if we continue to inflict upon our environment a status of low priority this is the wonderful diversity and quality we will lose and it will be our children who will be the biggest losers of all.

However, even with all this well researched advice, is our natural heritage any more secure than it was previously? Given the many recent improvements it might seem churlish and pessimistic , even defeatist, to suggest otherwise. Sadly environmental quality is the one subject area upon which I have diminished optimism. Parallel to any positives, the seemingly endless reports on "loss of this", "reduced that" , "need for protection" and so on suggest it appears it might be little more than an indulgence we award ourselves when visualising the future. Currently , in the absence of any real allegiance to our natural environment by successive Governments, the matter is in our hands and we need to act accordingly to ensure environment and wildlife matters are endlessly to the fore.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Moths are dull........don't you believe it!! (Part one ).

For many people the beauty of moths is something they miss out on. Encounters are limited to the odd individual which gains access to the house , and that's it!

Well, there's certainly more to them than that , which I suspect most people would appreciate should they see some of the more attractive, iconic individuals. Subtle colours, intricate patterns, even intriguing shapes are all exhibited by some of the species we have in the UK. Admittedly some of them are best left to the enthusiasts, as their more subdued colours and patterns dictate more than a little knowledge is needed before determining what species they might be.

As we all know , the majority of moths are nocturnal and, therefore we need a suitable trap into which we can entice them. A variety exist, and without getting technical, they comprise two main types.

This type runs off mains electricity, or can be powered by a generator, and is obviously best suited to being run near to home , a field centre or somewhere similar. Inside can be seen a "supply" of egg boxes under which the moths can seek out some secure nook and cranny.

This type, an Actinic lamp, is far more portable as it is powered by a car battery ( or rechargeable caravan battery in this case ). It means trapping can take place in more out of the way places and provides much more flexibility. In each case the moths can be examined and identified in the morning and then released. An ideal opportunity to involve children.

All the following species have been caught on Islay and are pretty widespread, but not necessarily universal, in their distribution within the UK. To get a real impression of them , click on each photograph to get a full screen view and better appreciate the tremendous colours, the shapes or the patterning.

The first, an Elephant Hawk Moth, shows off some really subtle colours, followed by a Garden Tiger Moth illustrating the intensity of contrasting colours and pattern designs which can arise and, finally, a Puss Moth, showing off an intricate web of lines in the patterning on its wings.

Admittedly these are examples of some of our larger sized moths that show off their features to best effect, they by no means eclipse the beauty of many of the smaller individuals. So, if any of this grabs your imagination, keep an eye open for one of the public events run at your local Country Park or Nature Reserve or take a look at the Butterfly Conservation web site which gives details of events being held by their local groups.

In the second part I'll outline some of the fascinating results which have been accomplished and that have emerged from the moth recording schemes which have been operating in the past few years.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Different ends of the spectrum!!

News has emerged that the Maltese court system has imposed prison sentences of two years and one year respectively on two hunters who, in May of this year, targetted their efforts on White Storks. In addition fines of $9000 and $5000 were imposed on the two men and their hunting licences revoked.

All this, contrasted against the situation which held until recently, is a well received shock! Remember all the fuss about birds being shot, petitions to the European Parliament, arguments about shooting seasons and the like and even initiatives to dis-suade tourists to visit the island. Suddenly all appears to have changed, and quite drastically too. How permanent such a shift might be is anybody's guess, but the precedent has now been set and we should offer our congratulations on a courageous move to put an end to the senseless slaughter which has gone before.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

What is it about this obsession with birds?

A rather mixed week wherein tourist type duties were to the fore and much emphasis on computer outpourings (concentrated on in the hours pre elevenses , which are certainly not the territory of teenage ladies)!! Good in a way as it provides an opportunity to get work done, but not the greatest atmosphere for birding! Never mind, it's a great time when my daughters are here.

I did , however, think my powers of persuasion were improving with promises of a good ramble in "les espaces nostalgique" being well received, within which time, I admit, I stood a good chance of seeing the Rose-coloured Starling that's present. God forbid, it rained overnight, and during the day, and I'd left the wellington boots outside as well, upright, which became full of water. Young ladies and wet wellingtons are not a marriage made in heaven, even when the weather improves!! I've seen at least two Rose-coloured Starlings on Islay and endless ones abroad, including a colony of 10,000 + in Kazakhstan. So why the concern?

Why do we get so obsessed with these damned things called birds? Answers on a post card, the most interesting of which will be from wives and girlfriends!! But, enter, the lady lister!! No longer is it the much maligned male who abandons domestic duties to flee for some avian imperative! I suppose the ladies will claim all the "dom " stuff is sorted beforehand, against which the only (poor) excuse is that we're ill equipped for multi tasking!!

It does seem to take us lot over though! And how many times have those spontaneous mantras echoed through households across the land, " Oh , for goodness sake, go on and see your damned bird, and stop going on about it!!". True or not true?

The thing is, I've still not seen this Rose-coloured Starling!!!!!!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Grasping the nettle at last......but with gloves on!!

Recent days has seen the promotion of different initiatives variously aimed at improving biodiversity in the Scottish landscape and the Peak District National Park in England and generally providing a framework within which "conflicts between different interests can be resolved". So far so good one could say and, in fact, I'm actually impressed because something, finally, is happening to confront the deplorable situation relating to raptor persecution.

In Scotland the "Wildlife Estates Scotland Initiative", WES for short, has been launched. It's actually been around since late 2010 when it was hurriedly cobbled together by furious landowners in a knee jerk reaction to the possibility of licensing being proposed for Scottish shooting estates. The scheme is intended to show they can be both trustworthy and effective acting under the banner of self-regulation and that biodiversity, the rural Scottish economy, habitat management practices and the usual raft of positive outcomes will result. The initiative has gained the support of the Environment Minister, MSP Stewart Stevenson and we are told that over 200 estates and farms have already signed up, although the list of participants is not yet available. All very laudable stuff, particularly when linked to an objective buried within their declared list of standards that all aspects of wildlife legislation will be upheld. The overriding intention would seem to be to provide " a framework within which new initiatives designed to resolve conflicts between different interests and species, can operate".

Well done, chaps, we'll see how it goes. BUT it's hoped that perhaps you might actually mention raptor persecution from time to time, even have a declared policy on it so members of the public are left in no doubt as to your position. Oblique references to intended good behaviour aren't enough I'm afraid. Grasp the nettle and stand up for a squeaky clean operation throughout Scotland that also does deliver biodiversity and improves landscape quality and economic benefits at the same time. May I ask that your organization condemns the actions of those who step across the line and break any aspect of wildlife law, so that we all then know you really mean business. And what of those who we know have committed such crimes, is there a policy wherein they are debarred membership or is a conversion process to be offered? A real grasping of the nettle!

I sincerely hope it works, as I've long suggested that there needs to be action "from within". Time will tell!

Southwards to the Peak National Park and we see an initiative aimed at improving the status of certain birds of prey ( Merlin, Peregrine and Short-eared Owl ). The whole is overseen by a group comprising the National Park, the Moorland Association, RSPB and the National Trust. Now it's more than ten years ago since the area was within my "Regional RSPB bailiwick", but in the twenty years previous to that immense effort had been put into maintaining the Northern Goshawk population within the Peak and fighting (usually) rearguard actions relating to Hen Harriers. While I would again wish the scheme well, I'm genuinely,utterly perplexed that no commitment has been issued towards the above species. Northern Goshawk has all but been wiped out in the Peak and a number of high profile cases relating to its persecution have occurred over the years, so why no mention? A declared intention to include Hen Harrier in the efforts to be made would have also seemed logical, rather than give an undertaking that it will be dealt with in a similar initiative intended for the SW Peak. Whilst odd breeding attempts have centred on that area what is the justification in only considering that part of the Park? There's endless hectares of suitable habitat for the species in the Peak, so why not have a Park-wide policy to try and improve things? The declared intention to have a " more harmonious future" smacks of politics and nettles to me!!

Finally may I draw your attention to a new blog, " Standing up for Nature", being issued by Mark Avery. Until recently Mark had been the Director of Conservation ,RSPB , but he has decided to go independent, with recent outpourings suggesting this could be a good thing! He's a good bloke for whom I've a great deal of admiration, mainly because he speaks his mind ( he could even be a Yorkshireman, we'll perhaps offer Honorary status!! ). In a recent Blog entry he criticises Simon Jenkins, Chairman of the National Trust and labels him a raptor hater based on comments made within his writings, where he describes raptors as "avian terrorists". Notwithstanding the fact that the National Trust has declared policies linked to wildlife management associated with its landholdings, such expressed opinions from the Chairman of a membership based organisation are surely ill conceived in many ways. Fabric of England , and all that, of which our natural heritage is as important a constituent member as is the built heritage and what it contains! But then be aware that , on one of their properties in the Peak Park, a gamekeeper of the National Trust's tenant, ( himself a Purdey Award winner ), was prosecuted successfully on several counts for offences associated with wildlife legislation. Read, digest and consider! If the Chairman publicly condemns certain elements of our natural heritage, it's hardly a good example to others!

Much to consider and "patrol" it would seem within coming months!!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Cambodian Green Tourism prospers.

Anybody who has followed this Blog will have seen references I've made from time to time about Cambodia. The country made a big impression on me and has some iconic bird species that many birders would like to see. News has just emerged of a new website giving details of the facilities and tours associated with Tmatboey village, which provides the base from which you can venture out and see both Giant and White-shouldered Ibis. It's a tremendous place, the food is out of this world, and the people friendly, helpful and never to be forgotten. They deserve success. Read more on the site and certainly consider the possibility of a trip.

As I write this I'm looking northwards on to a dark night sky in the hope of seeing some indication of the Aurora borealis strutting its stuff across the heavens. The alert service issued an E-mail today suggesting an "Amber alert status" might be anticipated. It's now 2345 hours and there is still a faint red band of light settled on the horizon to the west , above which is a lighter band of blue sky before it then grades into a midnight blue covering. To the south a very hazy moon is not yet making great strides on the illumination front but may yet confuse the situation! I'm beginning to suspect it's time for bed as opposed to another dram!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A different day----no birds!

Away early to get the first ferry to the mainland to pick up my youngest daughters and bring them across to Islay after they'd attended the T-in-the-Park music festival. Spent the whole outward voyage talking to a colleague about the Tour de France and conservation matters, so much so that I never had an opportunity to explore "the new ferry". I have to say, pretty splendiferous!!

Ever onward I then went through to Crianlarich and effected a perfect pick up , dead on time with the arrangements. As you might imagine T-in-the -Park figured in our return conversations discussing groups I'd never really heard of , even given my fastidious preparation by watching TV coverage of the renowned Glastonbury Festival ( actually I really enjoyed it! ). A speedy return ensured I could complete a supermarket shop ( always a "must" if you're off island ) and then we all returned on "the new ferry". It is rather fine , lots of steel, reflective surfaces, ultra modern everything!! The only criticism I would have is about the seats ....none are really comfortable! Sorry, but it's true. A bit of a dis appointment set against everything else which is pretty mega!

And so the day ended with the only recollection of anything avian of interest being a Jay fleeing a stretch of woodland between Inverary and Tomatin.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Slight changes afoot? 9.7.2011.

Out early and had the "reward" of coming across three different male Hen Harriers hunting over separate and previously known breeding areas , which was quite encouraging as the season so far has been far from uplifting. Hopefully they've all got good broods!

A migration watch over the Sound of Islay showed a definite movement north (?) of adult Common Gulls ( no southward moving birds at all! ) and a couple of small parties of immature Eider moving through. Contrasted against personal studies looking at movements off the west coast of Islay these movements are really intriguing, maybe little more than local , but somehow I don't think so given the Common Scoter which went through recently. Some birds do seem to use the Sound as a short cut through to feeding areas in the more open waters to the SE of Islay between us and the mainland, others appear to use it as a direct migration route ( Common Scoter, Grey-lag Goose, Arctic Terns , Kittiwake). Friend and colleague , James Wolstencroft, completed various studies off mainland Argyll coast a few years ago and had very little moving in what is the Sound of Jura and yet the remaining member of the questioning triumvirate interested in this subject, Andy Schofield, had Arctic Skuas moving east along the south coast of Islay in spring that were obviously going to move northwards through the Sound of Jura. If you're confused at this point, then I recommend a peep at a map ( the Sounds in question are either side of Jura ). Certainly few, if any, Arctic Skuas move through the Sound of Islay in any season and the once thriving colonies on Jura are now a thing of the past. So more work needed I think!

The new ferry, Finlaggan, appears to be back in service after a couple of failures since its inauguration, its more rapid appearance up the Sound disturbing a Red-throated Diver , which I'd not located previously so a bit of a win-win situation!!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Mixed situation with warblers! 7.7.2011

Yesterday I had the first young Common Whitethroat of the season in the garden, a species which usually appears to move through a bit later and certainly after the appearance of young Willow Warblers , of which I've seen none as yet. Then today I had a Blackap singing its heart out and a rather more reluctant Sedge Warbler uttering a minimal set of notes! Certainly a strange season , both in the dates on which birds first arrived and then what has happened since. Whilst a crop of young birds of various species seemed evident a couple of weeks ago, activity has significantly quietened in recent days.

Today perhaps epitomised the season so far.......somewhat mixed. I was seriously drenched by 1100 hours , although the afternoon proved to be more pleasant! Things generally are still a little quiet with no real evidence of birds on the move. However, having said that, the young Wheatears that were so obvious previously appear to have left.

My best sighting of the day was of a Golden Eagle, stoically sitting it out atop a trig point in the midst of a storm ( I could barely see it) which, at the end of it all, put on a show of shaking off all the excess moisture worthy of a disco exhibition presentation!!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Disaster in Ethiopia. 5/7/2011.

Ethiopia is a phenomenal country for birds, but also for varying cultures and presents opportunities where we in the West can be confronted with something very different in a whole manner of respects.

Recent reports of the impending disaster about to engulf parts of that country , Kenya, Sudan , Djibouti and Uganda raise real feelings of concern within me given I've had the privilege of visiting several of the areas. In 2008 I visited southern Ethiopia and doubtless touched on some of the areas now affected by the drought, wherein no rain has fallen in two years! Even then we were dismayed to find we had to spend a significant amount of time one morning hunting down water in one of the villages we had stayed in. A realisation of how close to the cutting edge of survival one was approaching!! In one area to witness that people were collecting waste water from elsewhere in order to survive was a more than a bit of a leveller! To also realise, elsewhere, that the camel and cattle herders had driven their beasts a considerable way simply to water them was another hard learned lesson. Now the situation is far worse and animals are actually dying due to a lack of water, animals that are the lifeline for so many communities. Nobody ever mentions the harsh surroundings such husbandry is usually carried out in. Anybody conversant with a trip to such habitats will be familiar with the thornbush landscape, harsh, and relatively unproductive such that nobody ought to be attempting to derive a living from such an unrelenting landscape. But people are eking a living out for themselves and their families!!

In an utterly selfish way I have to admit I saw some particularly brilliant birds in those surroundings.........Ruspoli's Turaco, Streseman's Bushcrow, White-tailed Swallow etc and many others. That's all very well from my currently comfortable surroundings considering entering such a list on Bird Base. But what of Ethiopia? Well, should you wish to contribute to the various appeals that are ongoing, I can only encourage you to do so. It seems to me that one aspect that is important, after all the concern has died down, and that is that interest in the area doesn't die away. Very seldom do we see reports that say circumstances are back to normal. When it's sensible to do so , consider a trip to Ethiopia , it's a tremendous place and you'll be helping various people from guides, to drivers, accommodation providers, cooks, shopkeepers and so on. I met a family who oversaw an eagle owl site, ensured its protection and relied on contributions from birders to maintain their family. Touching, yes it is, but it's the reality of how things operate outside of many structured economies. Go there!!

A few international perspectives! 5.7.2011

In what I suspect may end up being more than a couple of Blog entries today, it's relevant perhaps to commence with comments associated with the wider canvas!!

May I recommend to all readers an organisation, TRAFFIC, centred on Britain, but with various national constituent members ( see ). Trade in wildlife , and its eradication, is its mission and I'm amazed nowadays how much effort is emerging in other countries and the amount of international co-operation taking place.

A series of newsletters recently highlighted both success and disappointment! In India a reported 12% increase in Tiger numbers has occurred, with a country total now being considered as 1706. Encouraging I accept , but nonetheless look at some of the areas India plays host to and possibly what the total ought to be . A travesty and damning judgement on past activities but, nonetheless a very positive sign and a tribute to all the effort being made on the species behalf.

Perhaps less encouraging was a report on Alexandrine Parrots in India and activities that appear to be impacting on their population. There are 12 parrot species in India but the Alexandrine is a popular constituent of the pet market trade. Seizure reports suggest overseas trade is occurring and that such activities are now beginning to affect the overall population numbers.

A report that I found somewhat bizarre due to its apparent lack of logic!! In Asia the demand for rhino horn products is resulting in a poaching spree in southern Africa with 333 killed in South Africa alone in 2010. Time magazine then, apparently, discovered an initiative in China aimed at a captive breeding process that would have fed the market and, one hopefully, assumes led to poaching being a thing of the past. Such has been vehemently denied by Chinese authorities and a whole plethora of parallel issues have emerged. Personally I feel a captive breeding programme aimed at eliminating the cruelty and population reduction of wild animals is to be encouraged. Surely , rhino horn is rhino horn if you believe in that sort of thing!! I well remember a few years ago my Chief Executive ( RSPB ) making a presentation at an international conference on animal trade issues by saying that if we could solve the problem of the male ego, and its need for artificial stimulus, many of our conservation problems would be improved!! She was that type of cookie!! But think about it, hunting, trophies, potency... it's all in there!

But what about this! A U.A.E. guy arrested at Bangkok airport had 4 Leopard cubs, a bear cub, a gibbon and a marmoset in his luggage. My thoughts extend to the Customs officials!!

Finally, something that needs fairly drastic action. Go on to the Humane Society International's web site and support the following if you feel you can. Very shortly ( a matter of days ) the 63rd International Whaling Commission meeting will take place. There is a proposal that a whale sanctuary be recognised in the South Atlantic where, obviously , no whaling activities would take place. Such an area is adjacent to Caribbean waters where many people enjoy their holidays and many take whale watching trips. And yet four nations ( St.Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, St.Vincent and the Grenadines and St.Lucia ) vote against whale protection proposals year after year after year. By contrast one of their near neighbours , Dominican Republic, has been a leading light in such initiatives. Clearly politics are at play, but politics which must be exposed so that better protection can be afforded these magnificent animals that are a part of our international fauna and, therefore, a responsibility of all nations.

Many of these organizations ask little of us other than our support for petitions and, if you can afford it, some modest contribution to their activities. My fix on this is to simply , and gently , remind everyone that, the next time you go abroad to somewhere exotic, the reason you can enjoy the sight of something equally appealing is because of the efforts that have gone before. I know from being in bird protection most of my life, such efforts are demanding, generally go unrecognised, can be very rewarding, but do deserve support.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Is Aberdeenshire set to be labelled the U.K's "killing fields" ?

News has emerged that the young female Hen Harrier ringed ( FP 67025) in Glen Tanar on 29.6.2010, and fitted with a satellite tag ( 51894 ), has suddenly and mysteriously disappeared after returning to her natal area, and other adjacent upland areas, and being tracked for several days ( see ). Such are the circumstances that Roy Dennis ( Highland Foundation for Wildlife ), who is central to the research, has reported the matter to the local police and asked for it to be investigated.

Having a life-long passion for harriers the bird had given me a lot of personal pleasure when following the results of her travels via the above web site. From a pure research point of view the details of her activities, daily distances travelled etc , broke new ground, details which now are no longer to be available. Sadly her brother, also marked and equipped with a satellite tag, similarly disappeared!

As is usual the reportage of such incidents immediately generates suspicion of persecution activities and the intolerance of shooting estates towards raptor species , all of which has been repeatedly tabulated and published by bodies such as the Scottish Government , the RSPB and by a plethora of incident and court case reports in the media. I am sure some people would argue this conclusion is terribly circumstantial and subjective, but it's worth taking a look at the background information.

The web site, Raptor Persecution Scotland, in an article issued on the 5th March, 2010 under the title "Named Estates" presents details of the individual estates on which incidents have been reported( alleged persecution incidents, wildlife crime incidents or other alleged criminal activities ) or estates that employ staff who have a conviction for work related offences, details of which have appeared in the public domain.

It must be said that Aberdeenshire figures prominently within what, sadly, is a very extensive list!! To bolster this up the web site contains details of an endless series of incidents of one kind or another, of which the details relating to the above will no doubt be added in the fullness of time. I'm very much a believer in the old adage, "What goes round, comes round" and am becoming firmly convinced that the persistent, arrogant, flouting of the law by sporting estates will result in them taking a step too far and generating such negative PR that there will be a public demand for extensive restrictions on shooting itself.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Half way through the year!! 1st July,2011.

Whilst it's still a bit early for much to be happening I had a lengthy, largely unproductive spell of seawatching during the first part of the day in what was very nice weather. The dark, hazy backdrop of Ireland provided a useful screen against which to pick out birds moving over a lumpy sea.

Endless strings of Gannets plied north and south, a stream, albeit in low numbers, of Manx Shearwaters moved south, with lesser numbers of Kittiwake, Fulmar , Shag and Razorbill. A single Puffin flew south raising the vexed question of whether odd pairs are present on Islay. Of more note was the incessant movement of Arctic Terns from a couple of colonies on the islets off the southern tip of the Rinns. This species generally seems to be more in evidence this year, although nowhere in big numbers, but certainly noticeable at various sites around the island. As the sun lifted young Shags stood out on rocks and activity levels generally increased!

This breeding season seems to have had a confusing edge to say the least. Very young Lapwing chicks yesterday suggested retimed breeding locally but, despite the dreadful weather at odd times, certain species appear to have done well. Wheatear young are now very obvious but Swallows seem to have faltered and House Martins simply disappeared!!

For people interested in Chough a fascinating paper is presented within the June edition of British Wildlife ( "Supplementary feeding of sub-adult Choughs" by Caitlin and Eric Bignal. British Wildlife Vol.22, No5. June 2011 ). Based on work carried out on Islay the paper describes efforts to provide food for sub-adult Choughs at critical periods, i.e. during periods of poor weather or when food sources are thought to be low, following a realisation that survival rates of the birds had decreased significantly. In 2009 and 2010 44 nests were monitored which, overall , produced 143 young. These were duly marked using unique combinations of plastic rings which allowed them to be discretely monitored. From these the only known survivors are the 28 birds which regularly fed on the mealworms provided, a situation against which the alternative doesn't bear thinking about!! Over the years Eric and members of his family have spent an enormous amount of time monitoring this species from which the outcome of this particular work seems a fitting accolade.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Disaster in Africa averted? 26.6.2011

Whilst national governments in Africa are often criticised for inappropriate actions of various kinds, some positive recognition needs to be given to the Tanzanian Government for turning down a road proposal that would have bisected the Serengeti National Park. The proposal would have seen the construction of a tarmac road across the park the use of which, one imagines, would have interfered greatly with renowned natural rhythms and mass movements of the animals across the area. And all in the cause of convenience to tourism! I feel strongly that we should resist all such attempts to turn world value wilderness areas into places little better than theme parks. Well done Tanzania!

I have to admit that I have increasing reservations about the level of expectations visitors have relating to access to "natural areas", even in this country, demands that all too often are met with in the cause of facility provision, insurance considerations and income generation. Will there be a time when we've ruined everything? Well, perhaps not directly through facility provision, as a whole raft of major land use issues and resource extraction demands will ensure that happens! However with an increasing proportion of countryside users being town dwellers there needs to be some effective exchange of information, both at home and abroad, about the real needs of the natural environment that we all require to subscribe to. OK, some would say it happens already, if so then it's not enough! None of this is new, of course, but sadly repeated stories of habitat losses, near extinctions, pollution incidents and the like mean that, increasingly, we're moving towards a "common denominator" situation where the wonderful diversification present on this planet, constituent parts of which are dependent on specialist habitat types, will eventually disappear and we'll be left with the familiar only. Like the Tanzanian Government we too need to take the necessary , and repeated, steps to ensure respect for our environment is paramount in our approaches.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Squeaky clean birding. 25.6.2011

The weather forecast suggested conditions were likely to be less than optimum for some "formal" survey work I had planned so I fell back on Plan B and, as one might have guessed, the weather became better as time went on!!

Pursuing my continuing hunch of locating an elusive species on Islay I spent the very early morning ( up to 0800 hours ) tramping around suitable woodlands attempting to locate any crow's nests and, thereby, the outside possibility of hearing the squeaky "begging calls" from young Long-eared Owls. Well, whilst the phenomenon of such calling hungry owls might be a feature of this time of year, the survey "method" is not to be recommended. Better to let sheer serendipity, , good luck, coincidence, or whatever, take over!! The nearest I got was disturbing a couple of bewildered Hooded Crows, no mean feat in itself, and witnessing the crashing exit of what was undoubtedly Red Deer within the conifer woodland blocks I explored.

So I retired for a cooked breakfast (mega!) and a self-imposed "team talk" about the need for focus, directed attempts and such like. So, out I went for a few more hours but...nothing!! Perhaps said youngsters don't call within the day, and only in the evening, when they get really hungry? They're there, I'm convinced of it, but proving it is a different matter. However, as an illustration of owl enthusiasm, recent work in Turkey has resulted in the location of Brown Fish Owls to which some very regulated visits are now allowed ( see BirdFinders UK for details....this must be worth 5% Vaughan! ). Look at the Collins Field Guide for what is a very exciting status assessment. Always a species I've wanted to see , I've every intention of joining one of the trips in 2012 to experience what is an utterly iconic species within the family.

One aspect of interest is that I've recently come across locally three pairs of adult Stonechats chasing around and acting as if spring had just emerged. But no young from early breeding attempts in evidence. Does this suggest early breeding attempts have failed and that they're settling down for a second attempt? The encouraging element is that they are actually there, in residence and were not cleared out by the ferocious weather of last winter!!!

Disappointing outcome! 24/6/2011

For once a day simply devoted to birding!! An early look at the sea off Portnahaven showed repeated groups of Gannets plying back and forth and a few Manx Shearwater moving south offshore. The sea was quite calm and, despite a slightly hazy view across the azure waters to Northern Ireland, various features such as cut silage fields and white cottages could be picked out clearly. All this provided an opportunity to appreciate the extent to which Gannets move back and forth within the whole divide and the numbers which must be involved!!

Given the calm conditions an opportunity presented itself to count birds in the outer reaches of Loch Indaal. Predictably bird numbers were low, although odd Razorbill and Guillemot were feeding in the entrance to the loch. Further in, off Bruichladdich , a single Red-throated Diver fed offshore and 17 Arctic Terns were out over the loch or present on the exposed rocks north of the village. Good numbers of Common Gull are around at present, some breeding, but others gathered in groups.

A look over several lochs, and corresponding WeBS counts, produced little of significance except a reminder that Grey lag Geese and their growing broods are beginning to be in increasing evidence. It's that time of year again!! Following a call to see friends I continued around Loch Indaal , but things were very quiet.

Regrettably the Ring-necked Duck reported yesterday from Ballygrant Loch couldn't be located. Time was taken to carefully scrutinize a distant group of Tufted Duck, but without any luck. Most are now moving into eclipse and one sleeping individual raised hopes for a while, but to no avail. Whilst several of the male birds were beginning to show differential colouring to their "side panels", all had crests, were the wrong shape, and sadly exhibited a black tip to their bills as opposed to any white band either there or at the base!! As some form of slight compensation a Bullfinch called repeatedly nearby and a male Yellowhammer was seen later along the lane back to the village.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Sounds of summer. 23/6/2011

Routine day mopping up on some survey work in what was extremely pleasant weather. More young birds are now begining to appear which allows for "solid" confirmations on breeding for the BTO Atlas.Despite some periods of bad weather, where one might have expected ground nesting birds to be washed out in places, some waders seem to have done alright if their agitated behaviour is anything to go by. Odd birds are still in song , but the prevailing sounds are of young birds uttering somewhat feeble contact calls or their parents going ballistic at some element of disturbance!!

Good news on the discovery of the breeding grounds of White-faced Plover in Southern China. A tribute to diligence and good hunches! This should now provide a discrete opportunity at last to sort out the taxonomy of a bird which may yet be a species in its own right as opposed to a very distinctive relative of Kentish Plover.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Early bonuses to a dismal day.

Basically the first part of the day was OK, the second half less so with showers and misty conditions in some places. Out and about early in the north east of Islay and on Jura I suspect I took benefit from the best part of the day.

The Sound of Islay showed a pair of feeding Red-throated Diver feeding, placidly, close to the shore and showing off their subtle summer plumage to good effect. Later a party of seven male Common Scoter flew south suggesting summer was already on the wane and some bird movements in place. However, an earlier observation of a Cuckoo being pursued by a Meadow Pipit confirmed that this early migrant hadn't yet departed and suggested we are on the cusp of such movements. With the weather moving in, some prolonged views of an adult male Golden Eagle sitting , somewhat disconsolately, close to its eyrie as things deteriorated, still showed its golden head standing out clearly within the dim conditions.

News that the EU are possibly considering cuts to the UK funding that supports farmland natural habitat diversification is worrying, given the obvious major conversion to a more monoculture approach in the last thirty years or so , which has seen a concomitant parallel reduction in farmland bird populations in a wide context. The various subsidised schemes have been successful and seen some notable successes in the improvement of hitherto reduced bird populations such as Grey Partridge and Skylark. I felt that the view of the National Farmers Union in recognising we should best attempt to achieve balance between food production and such measures was,at least , encouraging !! Such considerations perhaps reflect other major changes that might yet arise given the emergent and repeated crises surrounding the European "Single Currency" sparked by the national problems being experienced in Greece and elsewhere !! Whilst we might like to think otherwise, conservation is obviously not inured to such influences, what ever we'd like to apply!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Late hunting by Hen Harrier. 15.6.2011

Other than a single male Whinchat locally the day produced little that was of much significance despite a few hours involved in fieldwork. The weather was kind and will doubtless help those broods of youngsters coming through.

The most interesting observation arose at the very end of the day! As I said a few days ago, it gets light very early in the morning here at this time of year, pre 0400 hours, and, correspondingly is light in the late evening as well. Last evening was no exception, despite it being rather cloudy. Preparing for bed around 2200 hours, I looked out of the bedroom window and was a little surprised to see the "local" male Hen Harrier hunting out over the open grass moor opposite the house. He is a very distinctive pale, ghost of a bird and always catches attention.

Two or three things sprang to mind as I'd seen the bird hunting early on in the day and then, again, in the early evening. Contrary to the conclusion I'd come to previously, it seems likely the pair have bred successfully and are now beginning to feed young, which is good news. The other thought was "What on earth could the bird actually catch at that time"? Despite it still being light enough to see outside the level of general bird activity reduces quite significantly. Species like Meadow Pipit and Skylark have "given up" by then so , one imagines, effort was being put into surprising them out of roost, when they'd probably be slower off the mark too. And of course, I suppose there's always the possibility of coming across some young Pheasant or Snipe. Strangely enough it's almost as if an invisible boundary exists eastwards, perpendicular to the house, creating a line which the bird never crosses as , immediately beyond this "border", and on slightly higher ground, pairs of Lapwing and Curlew breed. At this time of year any incursion onto "Curlew ground" results in the most horrendous fuss and draws attention to the offender, usually Hooded Crows!! I guess the bird gets full marks for effort!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Is the shooting fraternity losing the plot? 14.6.2011

Reading through a variety of reported incidents on raptor persecution, and meeting up a couple of nights ago with two friends who made a critical contribution to Hen Harrier protection in the 1980's and 1990's, has caused me to reflect further on the situation we currently find ourselves in as far as raptors are concerned.

I know I bang on about raptor persecution! My contributions to various web sites and my own Blog have probably provided little that was absolutely new, or brought about change, other than keeping up a consistent condemnation of those responsible, but I suddenly feel optimistic.

It stems from the fact that the subject is remaining alive, gaining continuing media support and exposure and that the "defensive remonstrations" from the shooting fraternity are doing little other than make them look foolish. Surely they can do better?
First amongst equals is Alex Hogg, Chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association. I actually have some sympathy with his position, but not his views. How can somebody maintain that "its unfair to accuse gamekeepers of wildlife crime"! when it has been reported by the BBC, when it recently reported on the successful prosecution, on seven charges , of a keeper in Derbyshire, England, that he was the 100th gamekeeper to be convicted of crimes against birds of prey. In the light of such disclosure it's approaching the time when Nero might usefully hand over his fiddle to the SGA!

Would it not be better to acknowledge there is an unwilling minority of gamekeepers who are prepared to continue, deliberately and illegally, to persecute birds of prey. Forging an active "partnership of principles" between the SGA and the conservation lobby, however loose, would lend credibility to their position and publicly affirm that organization's wish to see persecution end ( otherwise do they ? ). To skirt around the subject, and attempt to deny obvious connections, when keepers employed within the shooting industry are being successfully prosecuted, is naive in the extreme. The public will undoubtedly absorb such ambiguity and come to a view that all shooting enterprises are "iffy". Is that really what the SGA and legitimate shooting enterprises want? I doubt it!

Town dwelling residents increasingly feel that they can legitimately offer opinion on the countryside from which they gain a recreational "return", either at weekends on when on holiday. It's not too much of a quantum leap for the great British public to then turn its opposition towards institutions and management practices which they find unacceptable in terms of their effects on the natural heritage. The next step is an outright condemnation of shooting. Remember foxhunting ......

That is not an outcome to consider and encourage, as the recent statements of Natural England on the value of our uplands outline,in terms of the unique aspects of the habitat and the biodiversity it supports. Much valued habitat is maintained by upland and lowland estates in all parts of the UK and it is difficult to determine who would maintain and manage such areas in the absence of shooting interests. However, rather than feeling comfortable with the implications of the previous observations, it is important to eliminate the elements of estate practices which the public find unacceptable in order to avoid the possibility of outright opposition and condemnation emanating from their interest.

I often conclude the shooting lobby is a victim of its own arrogance which, potentially, could be its undoing. Stop being blinkered, for Heaven's sake, take stock of the elements present upon a much wider canvas or, otherwise, pay the price. General opinion is not (yet) against shooting
per se, but against actions which arise from within its management practices, i.e. raptor persecution and persistent assertions from within the industry that it's nothing to do with them. Some positive and transparent attempt to clean up such practices and put things right, as opposed to continually appearing to be in denial, would assist enormously. At present, even an unconnected bystander would interpret the stance as being somewhat vacuous.

Having said all that I have little confidence that the protestations and denials will alter, a situation which actually does provide me with optimism.