Saturday, January 29, 2011

Raptor persecution debate hots up!!

Close on the heels of the recent disclosures has come two initiatives that point to the above subject being "kept alive" A question in the Scottish Parliament, raised by R.Gibson (SNP Party), asked for the Minister's response to a recent letter circulated by the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association, which suggested persecution incidents were reducing. The Minister confirmed the assertions had been examined, were a mixture of confirmed and unconfirmed statistics and that they didn't reflect the true situation.

After the damning evidence of persecution put on record within the last year this was clearly little more than a diversionary tactic to try and put some positive spin on the exposed position, in PR terms, that the sporting fraternity in Scotland find themselves in.

Following this the Daily Telegraph newspaper then revealed that Peter Peacock ( Member, Scottish Parliament ) intends to submit a new amendment for the forthcoming Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland ) Bill that, in effect, would allow the Government to licence sporting estates that persistently poison birds of prey.

Previously, at the drafting stage of the Bill, the idea of licensing any sporting estate to carry out its activities was mooted, but resisted. The latest initiative singles out estates which exhibit a recurrent approach to bird of prey persecution based on a variety evidence.

I suspect that , even if adopted, such action would be hard to implement and feel even I could itemise the elements around which the debate would circulate. However, what I feel the sporting fraternity are missing at the moment is that they are all being tarred by the same brush, that they, themselves, should be prepared to take "action" against the prevailing minority within their peer group that insist on carrying out persecution and that publicised incidents will continue to harden the public attitude. In other words, the issue is unlikely to go away!! Some attempt at action would generate respect, however grudging, from current critics and allow their sport to proceed without any criticism. Huffing and puffing on the sidelines is the preserve of grumpy old men with entrenched views, questionable credibility and little more than an expression of impotence of their no longer being mainstream and in a position to influence anything! If such is the case, the view of the majority will eventually prevail, via legislation, the reputation of the sport will be forever tarnished and additional suspicion as to whether persecution is widespread will continue, which is the widely held view at the moment, until such time that the basic opportunity to operate shoots will be withdrawn. The sport may have been spawned in Victorian times but its own attitudes now need to reflect the needs, requirements and values of this Millenia !!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Supplementary goose count. 26/1/2011

A fine day but with a cutting wind from the NW! Helped with a count on the Oa route , which had had to be cancelled before. Conditions were perfect, but numbers of Barnacle Geese were slightly lower than expected.

As usual on goose counts the opportunity to look for other birds is limited, so you've to accept what you come across as the best on offer! A temporary dump for scallop shells near Port Ellen had attracted around 200 Herring Gulls and 15 GBBG, but no white -winged gulls or even Red Kite! As an activity, the catches of scallops must be enormous, judged by the number of shells discarded at this site. The Oa provided fleeting views of a Peregrine, two flocks of Twite, one of 150 and the other of 300 birds, which also contained odd Reed Bunting, Linnet and Chaffinch. The large accumulations of recent times have obviously now reduced ,probably as the food resource has depleted. A flock of 60/70 Rock Doves at the Kinnabus site was also noteworthy.

As I returned home at dusk a single Woodcock made a determined flight out from the Ellister plantations to the open pasture nearby.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Raptor persecution finally put to flight?

The last couple of weeks has seen a plethora of information, exposure, accusations and denials associated with the now well aired subject of raptor persecution. It has to be said that Scottish Government initiatives are leading the way in many respects contrasted against its southern counterpart.

Looking at what has emerged, in chronological order, the first item of interest, and commented on by BBC News, was a map, commissioned by the Scottish Government, that showed the "hotspots" where confirmed cases of poisoning of birds of prey had occurred. This was based on official data gathered by the Scottish Agricultural Service (SASA ) for the period 2004-2008 and drew firm attention to places like Midlothian, the Borders, the Highlands and South Lanarkshire being the main areas where incidents had occurred. The Environment Minister, Michael Russell, described the depiction of such incidents as "appalling".

Quickly following this was the story by Rob Edwards in the Sunday Herald of 16th January, 2011, entitled "The Killing fields " and based on a leaked report, "A conservation framework for the Hen Harrier in the UK". The full text can be read by following the reference below:


A further article emerged the day after largely based on the same information. And again,


Now I don't propose to cherry pick main aspects from any of those items, but would encourage everyone to consult them. The point is aptly made by the various scientific authors that there is suitable habitat in Scotland capable of holding between 872-1157 pairs of Hen Harriers, but which are not present, that such areas appear, generally, to be maintained for grouse shooting and that there is a close coincidence between those general geographical "locations" and those outlined on the map referred to above. That there is obviously a concerted effort amongst certain private estates to follow a policy of non-tolerance of birds of prey is clearly a conclusion one must inevitably arrive at if set alongside reported incidents of persecution of which, regrettably, far too few result in successful prosecution.

Very shortly a further report is to appear that alleges 50 Golden Eagles per year are killed illegally, a figure much higher than previously thought. Given the current deliberations of the Scottish Government's Rural Affairs and Environment Committee in connection with the Wildlife and Natural Environment ( Scotland) Bill, all these revelations are timely, even if the "Harrier Report", due for publication on 16th December but delayed after landowner opposition based on their claim that they had only been given eight days in which to comment, has not yet emerged officially. Scottish Natural Heritage, who commissioned the report, have since admitted that they had mishandled the consultation procedures!! How many consultation exercises are they engaged in during any one year!!!

Whether these dreadful statistics will assist in the progression of the "vicarious liability" clause, about which I've posted previously, is difficult to say. Certainly this is a time to keep the subject alive and to confront the indignant protestations of the landowning fraternity. A comment made by Lord Johnstone ( Annandale Estate ) made me howl with laughter...." The proposed new offence of vicarious liability...risks alienating the very people capable of resolving the issue". Sorry, Lord Johnstone, the cavalry's arriving much too late given the habit's been in place since Victorian times and there's been endless indications previously relating to the problem.

Will all this cause any cessation of entrenched habits? I doubt it, and certainly not overnight but, gradually, a head of steam will build up whereby the increasingly vocal urban population, and their willingness to pronounce on countryside matters, will see the matter entirely differently. The possibility of them calling into question the legitimacy of pastimes whose operation runs parallel with illegality could be a powerful weapon in the demise of the countryside sports enthusiasts. Licences to operate shoots, "awarded" to estates with a proven record of responsible management, might be the best end of the whole process and a potential threat that lends weight to Lord Johnstone's belated lament that they should perhaps be prepared to clean up the activities of their peer group after all. However, such self regulation needs to emerge imminently and to be adhered to.

Recent questions raised about the absence of responses to the revelations made by Rob Edwards are not surprising in my view. I suspect discussions on damage limitation will be taking place now, and for a time yet. As a report, it could hardly be welcomed by the sporting lobby, nor could it be refuted and trivialised given evidence coming forward relating to actual incidents.
I think we can expect a collective response emerging at some point that reflects the reactions of those against whom the general thrust of the conclusions in the various reports is directed. Such is most certainly likely to emerge when the report is officially released by SNH or immediately previous to the Stage 3 debates on the WANE Bill. It might actually mean the alleged recalcitrant minority have been contacted , which would signify some success in itself. Whether sufficient self discipline might then emerge in future times to make persecution a thing of the past is unlikely. And that is why it must stop, and be made to stop, given it is exercised by a privileged minority who are cocking a snoot at the law and those of us who accept such in everyday life, without option and who draw enjoyment from seeing birds of prey within our landscapes.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Divers and Long-tails!

A rather grey day and somewhat calm until late afternoon when the wind rose. Out to the south west the sea was choppy, with a fog band repeatedly revealing or obscuring Ireland!

A seawatch first of all showed a few Gannet flying south, the first I've seen this month, and a bit of "auk activity". Around 60 flew north, probably all Razorbill, but farther round into the mouth of the loch ( Loch Indaal) there was even more activity with up to 150 birds tooing and froing from way out to the SE, i.e. a point well offshore to the SW of the Oa. Sometimes some of these movements are quite bewildering!

I then spent a full day doing BTO WeBS and Low Tide Counts around Loch Indaal. There was very little in the Outer Loch, as previously, but a fine winter plumage Black-throated Diver and a couple of Great Northerns provided some respite. Farther in, a few more Great Northerns were in evidence, but numbers are well below the expected norm. Again,in the Inner Loch, a handful of Red-throated Divers was present along with a few Slavonian Grebe. Long-tailed Duck were actually into double figures and several fine males splashed around and pursued the minority number of females that accompanied them. Similar activity occupied the Common Scoter flock of 40-50 birds , but despite watching their antics intently none of them showed any white patches in the wing that would have made them Velvet Scoter! The 45 or so Light-bellied Brent Geese remain, some of them again being within the flock of Greater Scaup that was getting a battering late afternoon in the wind backed waves of the Inner Loch.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Gulls galore!

Intended arrangements for the day were brought to an abrupt halt when I woke up to a thick fog, and one that persisted all day, albeit clearing for short periods in strange patterns. It appeared to envelope the whole island, including the northern part of the Sound of Jura. Evening finally saw it beginning to diminish.

A trip to the local village to post off survey forms included an examination of all the likely spots where the adult winter Little Gull had been seen yesterday. Sadly it seemed to have moved on, but various people who had seen it were clearly fascinated by this small bird, erratic flight and its "upside down" colouring ( pale above and darker underwings!). In any event the search enabled me to locate the 1st winter Glaucous Gull, the second individual we have had already this winter.

Later, on meeting a colleague associated with the Sound of Islay surveys, we saw the adult winter Iceland Gull whilst I was being shown one of the additional vantage points. Sadly. the visibility was poor and did little to show off this resplendent bird.

Earlier, a brief look at Loch Gruinart, (rather more of a peer given the conditions), revealed two Greenshank feeding with odd Redshank , all of which yelped their escape away into the fog!. Nearby a small flock ( 15+ ) of Linnet was a welcome addition to the very gradual increase in passerine numbers which appears to be taking place.

Friday, 21st January,2011.

A day spent on Jura in reasonable weather, although not as nice and bright as yesterday. Very light winds and "grey" light throughout provided enjoyable conditions.

Seabird presence has increased noticeably with Black Guillemots being more in evidence, one showing off its full summer plumage! Completing fixed point observations at regular intervals over several hours makes you appreciate the patterns which emerge in bird activity. Strong tidal currents, in either direction dependant on the cycle, transport birds within the Sound , only for them to fly back and repeat the process. You can actually see Eider and Shag going through this process at several points during the day! Another element which intrigues me is gull migration. At this time of year Common, Herring and GBBG numbers increase here and, soon, we can expect the first LBBG to commence their arrival. Very seldom are there any heavy movements, but doubtless the few birds seen here and there are actually on migration as we know it! Yesterday saw a small number of GBBG's move through north, and not necessarily within the Sound , but over open moorland too.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


A somewhat routine repeat of yesterday given I was counting on the same route! Lest this might be interpreted as a grumble, isn't. The survey is designed to be carried out over two days so a more accurate picture can be gained of the goose numbers concerned in any given sector. Research has shown that geese are very "loyal" to a given feeding area so that , give or take a few fields, they are present within the overall same locality. The slight complication at the moment is that we have a virtual full moon so that means geese are feeding out overnight and remaining on the saltmarsh resting up during the day. Our route included part of the Inner Loch on which we had in excess of 2500 Barnacle Geese, the majority of which appeared to be present in the late afternoon, following a day of relaxation in the ever warming sun!!

Several farms had Chaffinch flocks around their stack yards numbering between 100 and 150 birds, but containing nothing else. And at last, in three places, I heard partial song from Wrens, whose numbers appear a bit low at present to say the least. Stonechat too is a bird that appears to have been hit by the recent poor weather. I wonder whether the extent to which poor weather in early winter is actually worse than that which appears in , say, mid February. In December the nights are very long and available foraging time is very limited , at least in February the day has extended by an hour or two which might make a big difference in terms of survival, particularly if it coincides with the worst of the winter.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

International Goose Count 18/1/2011

A quite reasonable day with some sunshine , a few showers, but basically acceptable!!

The first of two days of the International Goose Count aimed at establishing the current situation vis a vis the Greenland White-fronted Goose about which I have posted much in the past. A sub-species about which there is much concern such that it is treated, in many ways, as a fully fledged species in its own right. Pressures and changes on its breeding grounds are leading to continuing concerns as to its future numbers etc so that , within its wintering areas, particular surveys are given over to establishing numbers present. Certainly recent years have seen continuing declines and it would be good news indeed to see a rise in numbers , however small. The summated totals from today , and tomorrow , will reveal the picture in due course.

With such an intensive survey little time is available to take in other observations. However one, in particular, stands out! Towards the end of the day we were in the very north east of Islay, towards Bunnahabhain, and looked out routinely for the adult Iceland Gull that is present in the area. I managed to pick out the bird , with other gulls , around a fishing boat moving south down the Sound towards Port Askaig, but then lost it. Imagine my surprise when my companion said " Is this it" ? There it was sitting on the gunwhale of the small fishing boat, like some seasoned mariner, hitching a lift to Port Askaig where, doubtless, it would take advantage of the discarded spoils from the days catch! It's obviously learned a few short cuts in its repeated returns over the past few years given it first turned up as a first winter bird!!!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Seek and ye shall find! 17.1.2011.

Birding part of the day around other "domestic" commitments. After the windy weather of late things had settled down and eventually it turned out to be a very pleasant sunny day.

Circumstances proved perfect to catch up with the local Greenland White-fronted goose flock which I've been repeatedly trying to get close to recently. Luck then provided an easy opportunity to read the collar details on the bird that I saw a couple of weeks ago and suspected was still around. Thankfully I can report J3H is alive and well and using favourite fields close by to where I first found it in early October, 2008. See the posting on 9/10/2008 for full details. Remarkable to think that , even since that date, the bird has completed four more trips either returning to West Greenland or to here. An adult male when caught on 16 July ,2008 it must have completed trips previously as well!!

Had an opportunity to look at Outer Loch Indaal but really very little. Great Northern Diver numbers were extremely low and few other birds were in the mouth of the loch. Called at the RSPB Gruinart office for some survey returns and had an opportunity to have a brief look at the reserve. Some nice Pintail, Shoveler, and Wigeon plus various parties of Teal. small birds very much seem to be at a premium at the moment.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland ) Bill.

The 12th January might yet go down as an important date when it comes to Government action on raptor persecution. On Wednesday the Scottish Parliament's Rural Affairs and Environment Committee supported Stage 2 of the WANE Bill and the clause on vicarious liability it contains. Somewhat predictably John Scott, MSP, was the only voice of dissension, whose objections were robustly described by Roseanna Cunningham ( Minister for the Environment and Climate Change ) as "nonsense". Amendments will now proceed to Stage 3 and, if the Bill is finally adopted it will mean that landowners will be held responsible for activities on their holdings and could be liable for prosecution. The continuing levels of persecution make the possibility of self regulation by shooting interests a complete joke as there is clearly no intention on the part of a certain proportion of landowners to pay any heed to such requests. Sadly they also, collectively, bring into disrepute those landowners and keepers who do make positive conservation efforts and work within the framework of the law.

The debate can actually be viewed on

Coupled with all this is the assurance now made by Scottish Natural Heritage that the Hen Harrier Conservation Framework Report will be published before the Scottish Parliament has completed its considerations of the WANE Bill. Rumours suggest that the report contains utterly damming evidence relating to the levels of raptor persecution and akin activities.

In a wider context, and in my view, it seems a great pity that the awaited report from Natural England on its harrier research over the last ten years can't be hastened on and made public. To see the sad picture raptor persecution presents in modern times, both in England and Scotland, would lend tremendous weight to the overall case for concerted action to be introduced and maintained in the UK as a whole. Given the cutbacks one hears have been applied to Natural England, as part of the austerity measures, I sincerely hope the revelations aren't to be gently set aside for fear of upsetting Tory interests within the ruling coalition and incurring further wrath!!! A few well directed letters to Liberal MP's might not go amiss at an appropriate time.

"And finally", ( another take from Jeff Randall Live.....I do like that programme!). Did you know the US was suffering from a BEDBUGS problem. Way back in September the US Government declared the bedbug invasion was reaching epidemic proportions!! However literal that might be you have to give it to the Americans!! There's even a Bedbug web site where you can view reports relating to hotels all over the States.....see for some biting remarks.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

13th January,2011.

A very dull start to the day ensured dawn was somewhat protracted at best. In keeping with the weather birding unfortunately followed a similar pattern despite effort!

If I'm very honest I saw nothing today that was remarkable, or different to that recorded over the last few days, except a single Mistle Thrush, which was new for the year!! The day provided an opportunity to call in and retrieve survey forms from various people so nothing was lost. Predicted opportunities to complete Low Tide Counts ( BTO ) over Inner Loch Indaal have been partially frustrated due to tidal levels not turning out as schedules had suggested!! Clearly sufficient time remains to get one, or even two sessions in before the month end by keeping an eye open for the patterns of inundation occurring in the inner part of the loch.

Auks and petrels.

Somewhat murky day, but a degree or so warmer which meant black ice and such had receded as a threat!

Goose counting once more with some numbers again apparent , but not necessarily in traditional places. A further look for the collared bird as I returned home at the end of the afternoon was unsuccessful......patience!

Odd Fulmars were around at Kilchoman cliffs, 26-30 at Kilchiaran and at least 28 at Claddach Bay, with ten pairs noted at each of the latter sites, serenely sitting out on the cliffs as if spring was upon us. These periodic visits in winter are quite intriguing and suggests they congregate at their traditional haunts to "touch base" for a while after being farther out at sea. Other birds were offshore too, as were odd Razorbill flying north and a single Puffin. We don't enjoy all that many Puffin sightings off this coast , but occasional birds are picked up dead around this time of year, usually as part of the Beached Bird Survey organized by RSPB, confirming that odd ones are around.

Other sightings included a flock of about 120 Rock Doves ( one of 160 had been present on the Oa recently ) and a male Merlin chasing Rock Pipits along the shore of Loch Indaal.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Goose numbers back on track!

A pleasant day eventually, but marred by stories of the effects of "black ice" here and there. A comment on my level of alertness in the mornings being that I drove through the "worst" area without noticing anything!!

A few minutes after departure from home the sight of a hunting Barn Owl at 0830 hours was both pleasing and intriguing. Very rarely do our Barn Owls appear in daylight at either end of the day, particularly compared to other parts of the UK, e.g. Norfolk in winter, where they can sometimes be seen for a significant part of the day in certain areas and attract photographers on that basis. Nonetheless , a welcome sight!

Goose counting all day. Numbers now seem to be "normal" and a flock of 1000 Barnacle Geese in flight and 1700 feeding nearby indicated a return to more usual levels!! As we were counting a "hard core goose route" few other bird sightings of much interest arose, despite looking !!

Intriguing raptor!! Monday,10th january, 2011.

Having consulted three weather forecasts I was unsure what to expect they were so different!! In the event the morning was quite pleasant, but the afternoon became quite murky with some light drizzle at times.

The first birds of the day were three Fieldfares near home that were obviously migrants. resting up a little they then left high to the north east. A bit early for return passage I would have thought!! Soon after a couple of Chough moved from their nearby territory over to some favoured feeding area in the east.

A day in the south of Islay at various spots. Port Ellen Bay produced little except a few Red-breasted merganser and Goldeneye, all of which were in display at some time or another. The nearby Kilnaughton woods were somewhat quiet but calling Great Tit and Blue Tit lent further strength to the fact that the birds , at least, felt there was an improvement in the weather. A Treecreeper , possibly two , were also noted, as were a pair of Collared Dove in active display!

A visit to the Oa Reserve showed the flock of Twite at Kinnabus to still be at least 900!!! At one point, 700 birds were on the track alongside the "fodder crop" deliberately put in place and a further 200 on nearby wires. What a sight!! Odd Bramblings were amongst them and a small number of Chaffinch. A fine male harrier swept through and caused some understandable confusion!!

Now, as Jeff Randall says on the Sky channel financial programme , " You heard it here first, folks ". In mid December, 2010 I had a distant,large falcon in the Sound of Islay, which was moving away from me, was decidedly large and powerful and light in colour. That was about the extent of a very distant fleeting glimpse!! Similarly views of a bird occurred on the Oa that month, but with no more detail. Now two residents on the Oa have reported separate sightings, the best of which included detail that "it looked like a large white Peregrine". Keep your eyes open!! It can't be the Gyr from last year as, sadly, that individual was eventually found dead so we may have another one in residence ( although that can mean using most of the island as a territory!! ).

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sunday, 9th January, 2011.

After a rather rough night, with the waste bin being thrown across the full extent of the yard, the day itself turned out to be rather pleasant, but with the wind rising again in the evening. However, one more day towards spring and the afternoons are already stretching noticeably!!

An attempt to try and get close to the local Greenland White-fronted Goose flocks met with no success so the collared bird must, at least for the present time, remain somewhat of an enigma. A call into Loch Skerrols saw a good assembly of waterfowl and swans. At least five Coot were still present, possibly part of a movement that saw eight birds on Tiree recently, indeed the same birds might be involved. With about 60 swans ( Mute and Whooper ) dip feeding into the loch , each individual bird had its attendant group of Wigeon, ever circling the larger bird to pick at food morsels disturbed from the bottom. The scene resembled a never ending ballet as birds swirled around in greater or smaller circles of frantic activity. The Coot were as much a part of this as the ducks, but also indulged in their own comic attempts at "diving", an action that I find akin to trying to get a balloon to stay under water!!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A day of several parts!

Dawning was cold , even icy in places, but as I wound northwards along the Rinns circumstances got no worse. Then, a little before reaching Port Askaig, it snowed, and conditions were poor only to reverse completely with blue skies and sunshine developing. Later the former conditions returned and the wind rose........a fairly typical winter's day!!!

Survey conditions over the Sound were generally good for a few hours. Activity levels of Black Guillemots were both apparent and new, and, strangely, several parties of Rock Dove moved northwards. A local shoot disturbed several Woodpigeon and, eventually, 10-15 perched up in nearby woodland, a good figure for Islay in winter. Odd Red-breasted Merganser were around, a Great Northern Diver at intervals in addition to more normal species, but best of all were two Little Auk in typical winter plumage that flew south with extremely rapid wing beats!

Daylight was falling as I returned home, but Inner Loch Indaal looked bleak and forlorn and not exactly holding an excess of birds. With Low Tide Counts imminent, time will tell!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Typical winter's day!

After four days of intensive academic work the opportunity to count geese today was both potentially restorative and exciting in its appeal!! The day itself proved to be a bit of a surprise with low temperatures and a fresh covering of snow. As I travelled north up the Rinns a Merlin tried vainly to catch one of several Redwings and various geese arriving on their "feeding fields" looked as bewildered as I felt about the weather!

Whilst the day did improve, with some sunny periods, it remained cold. The eventual summarized figures will show the true position, but I had a distinct impression the numbers of geese overall had increased, particularly those of Grey lag Geese, in which I've a personal interest. The last couple of winters has seen around 600 remain with us on Islay, but I suspect that, currently, rather more are present. At one point I located a Greenland White-fronted Goose carrying a numbered collar. Such individuals have reduced over the years and only a few "new" birds have been similarly marked .......renewed effort will be made to identify this one and the extremely useful information it will generate. Even at a superficial level an appreciation of the number of miles such geese have covered, moving to and fro from Greenland, is mind blowing!! Hopefully, more information will follow!!

Finally , after returning home, I went down to the Post Office in the local village and was overjoyed with the following sight!!

It does rather look as if Northern Ireland is on fire (!) but , as a picture possibly entitled " A tea time visit to the Post Office" it captured the end of what had been a very enjoyable day.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Miscellaneous jottings! 2.1.2011.

In reality what I saw to day, as far as species were concerned, was a repeat of yesterday , with even the odd species missing! However, a few observations lent weight to the thought that things are still happening and changing.

As always occurs at the beginning of the year, Common Gull numbers begin to increase quite markedly, as do those of Herring Gull. Fields where mucking out has occurred had noticeable assemblages of gulls,along with Rooks and Jackdaws and Starlings. At several points along the southern Rinns parties of Grey lag Geese were present, including two flocks of around a hundred. In the past few days I've had an occasional distant group of high flying,unidentified geese moving north across from the house suggesting the possibility that birds were moving back after vacating the island in the bad weather. Whilst the forthcoming counts will prove the point I still have a feeling that, overall, numbers of Barnacle Geese in particular are reduced, despite odd larger groupings being in evidence.

Sadly the Greater Scaup flock numbers appears to be at a low ebb with a little less than 400 hundred present. However, as the flock sometimes splits up and is difficult to locate, there may still be room for optimism. Numbers have gradually gone down over successive recent winters with, from memory, the flock reaching 860/900 last winter. It's always worth going through the flock as other species sometimes accompany them, notably Slavonian Grebe ( and rarer species, remember last January!! ). I was intrigued to see successive little groups of Light-bellied Brent Geese join them way out on the Inner Loch , but to immediately be working their way through the confines of the flock and repeatedly "chivvying" birds in their way. I've always thought our Brents were a rather placid species!

A single sighting of a Greenfinch at home brought as much joy and excitement as any other species given I can't remember when last I recorded one. Disease has decimated their ranks and certainly it is no longer the common species it was, both here on Islay and elsewhere too.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Dawn of a new year!

HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone!

Bright lifts the light of dawn,
And kindles in the breast of all,
Hope that what lies ahead
Is better than before

Airigh Sgallaidh, Jan. 2011.

The day proved fine, but cold in the NNE wind, and cloud soon moved in. A trawl around the coast showed little over the sea, but the 2nd calendar year Glaucous Gull was eventually located, seemingly enjoying dive bombing a couple of Hooded Crows nearby! Odd Curlew and a flock of 35 Lapwing suggested the first half of winter, at least, was over and birds were moving back already. Such can be a bit of a see-saw process if bad weather returns!

Outer Loch Indaal held very little and, overall,even adding in birds within the Inner Loch , numbers of Great Northern and Red-throated Divers were low. Slowly moving north around the loch, which was to take the whole day, but provide some good birding, the variety of birds soon mounted.....Common Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, Eider, Goldeneye, Long-tailed Duck, Wigeon, Greater Scaup, Pintail, Mallard, Teal, Shelduck, Slavonian Grebe, Mute Swan and the various goose species, including Light-bellied Brent. Waders also were much evidence with Oystercatcher,
Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Grey Plover, Knot, Purple Sandpiper, Ringed Plover, and Dunlin.

As I finally returned home, calling in at a small loch usually devoid of birds, proved to be a surprise, with Whooper Swan, good numbers of Mallard and Teal and a fine showing of Common Gull. Nearby a mixed feeding flock of titmice held Blue and Coal Tits , but also a party of Long-tailed Tit, all of which had obviously survived the rigours of the recent severe weather. All in all, a good day!!