Thursday, March 31, 2011

Changing weather. 30.3.2011

In marked contrast to yesterday today was misty, colder and wet at times with a forecast of worse to come overnight and into tomorrow! Certainly not a day to encourage any wintering geese to vacate their wintering quarters! Later in the day a "window" of fairly pleasant weather emerged as a period of respite between fronts!

Covering the whole southern sector of the island the day was more one of simply locating and counting the geese as little was to be gained otherwise. Whilst there seems to be a lot of Grey lag Goose pairs generally, there was also a number of groups of birds present in various places. The extent to which these might be birds from elsewhere is a matter for conjecture, if not I suggest our local breeding population is set to make a quantum leap in numbers! Certainly the numbers of birds remaining with us through the winter has been noticeable. It will be interesting to examine the counts and compare any trends which are beginning to emerge over, say, the past three winter periods.

Routine goose count. 29.3.2011.

The first of what will probably be the final four days of goose counting this winter, two of them being next week. The geese seem to be a little restless and certainly some of the Barnacle Geese appear to be forming "packs" prior to departure but, generally, everything seemed to be as normal. The Greenland White-fronted Geese at this time of year always look absolutely stunning and it's certainly the best time to see them at their most pristine, the splendid weather of the day helping in this respect.

Covering a large chunk of the northern part of the island we didn't actually see much else of particular note. A few Northern Wheatear were on some of the open ,higher pastures as their numbers very gradually build. As I returned home the small party of Light-bellied Brent Geese fed at the head of Loch Indaal, very often these being some of the very last to leave in May, when we can also get birds "calling in" following them having already completed part of their journey from further south in Ireland.

Divers galore! 28.3.2011

From SW Islay the coast of Northern Ireland showed as a dark silhouette across a milky grey sea carrying some mist in the distance. Despite this the visibility was remarkably good, with no wind and a calm sea that allowed birds to be picked up much further out than normal.

Over a couple of hours the most significant movement was of Auks, predominantly Razorbill where they could be identified, flying north in long lines with a final total being between 550/600. Gannets were also on the move with small groups totalling around 250, mainly moving north in leisurely fashion on what was presumed to be feeding movements. Black Guillemots were much in evidence with displaying birds buzzing about and an estimated 30+ being involved. Far out offshore a skein of 24 Grey lag Geese made their way northwards, doubtless on their return journey to their breeding grounds in Iceland.

Following this, and given little systematic coverage is often given to the whole of Loch Indaal ( it's big and takes several hours!! ), I spent most of the day covering the Outer Loch and then the Inner Loch areas. My main interest was with diver numbers given the conditions were perfect for counting.

I wasn't disappointed as Great Northern Divers appeared to be everywhere , particularly in the most central area. In all I had 101, many of which were like the above in plumage which, to some extent made them look a bit scruffy. Others still remained in full winter plumage which I suspect are sometimes considered by some to be Black throated Divers given they appear so well "demarcated" in their markings!! In addition to these 25 Red-throated Divers were present, one party of which were all asleep suggesting they were new arrivals and resting after a long journey. Of similar interest was a total of about 190 Common Scoter spread out over quite a distance in the central loch.

Later in the Inner Loch 4 Long-tailed Duck and 4 Greater Scaup were found, possibly the final remnants of our wintering birds. Despite a search no Slavonian Grebe were found but, as with a precise count for divers, the area is vast and individuals can easily be overlooked!

A quick visit to RSPB Gruinart Reserve showed some splendid Wigeon, Pintail, Shoveler,and Teal to be present , a couple of Gadwall and Red breasted Merganser and a single Moorhen ( not the most common species on Islay!! ). High overhead a party of 15 Sand Martin and a single House Martin circled over the pools. All in all a very satisfying day!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

And talking of Whooper Swans! 26.3. 2011.

A day on Jura, albeit rather quiet in many respects. The weather in the first part of the day was glorious, even to the extent of "caps off" for a couple of hours! An essential turning point in any spring in my case! Numbers of birds in the Sound have somewhat reduced, other than Shag, but the variety of species has improved as species move north or return to their breeding haunts.

There was little wind and the overall atmosphere was tranquil most of the day. Set against this was a high flying party of 14 Whooper Swans moving north against a blue sky peppered with light cloud. Their effortless and soundless progression, other than the musical, but low, bugling calls of seemingly reassurance and encouragement they exchanged, was almost ethereal as their equal spaced line moved north. A fine sight and the type of experience of migration I have never ever found other than uplifting!

Good views of Golden Eagle, its head and nape glinting in the sun as it wheeled around and of several Great Northern Divers in various stages of transitional plumage all served to provide an enjoyable day.

Departure of winter visitors.

Whilst the whole morning and early afternoon were taken up with an appointment I had an opportunity to have a general look around on my way home. I sometimes think that our reportage of birds is a little unsystematic in several senses , particularly that associated with the departure of our migrants and more local winter visitors. For example, the excellent concentration of Whooper Swans on Loch Skerrols this winter is now reduced to two birds only, with the vast majority having commenced their journeys north to their breeding grounds as sightings of passage birds over the past ten days or so has shown. The numbers of Wigeon that were similarly congregated on the loch have also diminished almost to nil, as has most of the numbers of this species which remained faithful to Loch Indaal.

The Common Coot which have been present during the winter also appear to have departed. It's a fascinating species with many of our wintering birds emanating from North west Europe and substantially swelling our mainly sedentary population of breeding birds. Ringing records have assisted in interpreting what Coots are up to, but they are not the easiest bird to catch and their movements all appear to happen at night, so sightings of birds "on the move" are virtually non existent.

Weather of late has been beneficial to night migrants with clear skies and light winds, some of which have been southerly thereby assisting both northward departing migrants and those arriving from the south. A party of Northern Wheatear near Machir Bay had obviously just arrived, although no others appeared evident on the Rinns.

Thursday, 24th March, 2011. The muti-various effects of weather!!

A day that didn't turn out as intended due to a strange "banded" weather system which affected the island! Setting out with the intention of travelling to Jura I discovered the ferry wasn't running due to the fog which absolutely filled the Sound of Islay. On the journey various parts of the island were similarly affected, but not to the same extent. So, after waiting for over two hours I ditched the proposition and retraced my steps, only to find that the central part of Islay was bathed in glorious sunshine!!

Taking advantage of the opportunity I went into various woodland blocks simply to see what the situation is with various common species following the vagaries of the winter. At this stage, and I should emphasize that given it was late morning and song and activity were beginning to wane a little, I should say that the Wren population appears to be reduced by 60-70%, no Goldcrests or Long-tailed Tits were recorded but, by contrast, both Blue and Great Tits appeared in unusually good numbers! This situation could improve and I'll be doing a repeat of the self same survey in late April and in May, so a better idea of the situation will be gained then.

Meadow Pipit and Pied Wagtail numbers appear late in terms of their usual numbers arriving at this time of year. Whilst it's speculation , I suspect they were forced south much farther south than in mild winters due to the general distribution of the bad weather and could be faced with a slightly longer than normal return migration. As yet Stonechat numbers still appear to be very much depressed and one wonders the extent to which they may have been badly affected by the bad winter.

As a final commentary on the weather my eventual journey home saw rolling banks of mist in the southern part of Loch Indaal, sunshine bathing parts of the southern Rinns but thick fog offshore! Ah well1.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A final vigil...18th March,2011.

A severe overnight frost was soon cleared by the sun leaving a bright and glorious, albeit cold, day.Visibility was excellent and we used the opportunity to visit the Clatteringshaws Loch area again to scan for Black Grouse. Clearly it was not meant to be but the magnificence of the area was brought out to the fullest extent by the wonderful sunlight. Having moved on we were compensated by views of Golden Eagle a little later, not always a species you can automatically anticipate even by dint of deliberate and prolonged effort.

We then journeyed on to the Wigtown Peninsula. We soon discovered the Wigtown Harbour Reserve, an absolute gem of a site with extensive views over an area of merse with its braided drainage channels and of a pool immediately adjacent to a hide. Both Barnacle and Pink-footed Geese were feeding fairly close by on the merse until a Peregrine spooked them and they moved farther away.On the pool a good variety of waterbirds was present including Shoveler, Pintail, Wigeon, Mallard, Teal, Goldeneye, Moorhen and Little Grebe. All were close and the site would be a veritable treasure trove for any beginner to birdwatching!

From there we moved south to Garlieston, a picturesque, quiet harbour and village which belies its bustling history as a key port for the hinterland. Key too as the area in the Second World war where the Mulberry Harbour structures were assembled previous to the Normandy landings. The whole penninsula has a Heritage Trail the primary site of which is St. Ninian's Cave , the site of the first Christian settlement in Scotland in 397 AD.

Garlieston's ornithological claim to fame is its wintering Greenshank of which we found two, although numbers can be higher. Of equal interest were 21 Light -bellied Brent Geese and 14 Gadwall (8 M 6F ). The latter don't appear to be that common on the Solway although, strangely enough, we found a further two birds on a pool next to the B7063. This whole area seems likely to lack any intensive coverage by birders due to its inherent geography, but it has a variety of habitats and, I suspect, plays host to a wide variety of birds. It is extensive, but certainly warrants patient examination as its coast carries breeding seabirds and open views of Luce Bay too. A caravan park at Burrows Head would provide a suitable base for a "get away from it all" holiday and doubtless repay the attention by providing some really enjoyable birdwatching.

Surf Scoter finally reeled in!

Our initial plans to spend a couple of days on the Firth of Forth had fallen through but were saved by Matthew's insistence that we should have a day out there from our base in Dumfries-shire. What you need to know is that this has been a species that has eluded me many times, despite targeted visits, and that I so much wanted to see. Over the years different birds have been involved, but the added attraction to this individual is that it is an adult male. Do I need to say more?

So we left in mist and rain, which gradually diminished and was replaced by much brighter, dry, but cold, weather, albeit it with perfect viewing conditions. We finally arrived at Lower Largo, Fife and had a preliminary look at what the Firth might offer whilst we had breakfast. A few Velvet Scoter and odd Slavonian Grebe offered a flavour to what lay beyond so we transferred around to Ruddon's Point. After a preliminary look a walk to the Point showed various groups of Velvet Scoter to be present and showing well. Shortly afterwards the single male Surf Scoter showed itself within one of the groups, an absolute dream of a bird. The white patches on the nape and forehead gleamed in the bright sunlight and the distinctively shaped bill and its colours showed to full effect. What a bird, and one worth waiting for, even to the extent of the various disappointing visits made in previous times!! { Matthew's reward is that (he says) I will now no longer grumble about my previous misfortune, but, in reality, its my thanks for his being willing to act as chauffeur. It could have been a very silent journey back had we not seen it!! }. We also had some great views of Long-tailed Duck, Slavonian Grebes and Velvet Scoters, a species that never fails to please! As we left the site a couple of Grey Partridge lifted from some rough grassland, a species met up with all too infrequently nowadays!

A quick journey around to the Eden Estuary provided views of the wintering Black-tailed Godwit flock, a couple of individuals of which showed almost full breeding plumage. As we viewed the estuary, overflying aircraft from nearby RAF Leuchars provided a fine display of formation flying. Little did we know at that point that a decision was being reached by various governments relating to Libya that might actually see such aircraft in combat in the near future. A sobering thought set against the enjoyment of our trip.

Vain search for Black Grouse!

An early start, frustrated in part by fog until around 0800 hours, led to a very enjoyable day despite our not seeing everything we'd hoped for. Within the Galloway Forest Park is the Raiders Road, a ten mile drive though the forest for which there is a charge, but which is closed between November and April. Prompted by details within the guide I mentioned we elected to walk along the road and look for Black Grouse within a couple of areas that have been cleared in recent times.. The road takes you into the quiet wilderness of Galloway and is an absolute joy to be within providing , as it does, all the quintessential elements of solitude, scenery , the sights and smells of the forest and the pleasure of its wildlife. Whilst we didn't see any Black Grouse, nor many of the other specialities either, the walk was a real tonic and good sightings of Common Crossbill added to it all.

On to Loch Ryan at Stranraer amidst glorious sunshine and a host of good birds. Most noticeable was the numbers of Red-throated Diver, with various groups in a differing array of plumages being present. Added to these were Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Greater Scaup, Pintail, Eider, Red-breasted Merganser and Shelduck, various common waders, both Black Guillemot and Common Guillemot, a small flock of Light-bellied Brent Geese, Slavonian Grebes as well as a fantastic collection of gull species. Whilst we dutifully went through the latter the recently reported Mediterranean Gull, Iceland Gull and Yellow legged Gull eluded us!! At the Wig a good flock of Twite was still present along with odd Linnet.

Our final "move" was to the West Freugh area to watch for roosting Hen Harrier. This roost is much reduced in its numbers of birds compared to past years but, nonetheless, it produced an absolutely stunning female bird, which delighted us by passing within around 30-40 metres of our vantage point. Select stuff added to by a fly past male Peregrine! A solid day.

15th March, 2011.

A calm day, but with a front moving through ever so slowly ensuring that the rain just kept falling! Eventually, with the day drawing to a close , it finally cleared up!

As it was we had to travel across to Gretna Green where Rose was meeting up with a friend and travelling back to South Yorks, albeit in pretty miserable weather. This left "the boys" to birdwatch in all available daylight hours, indulge in "man food", which left the cottage smelling like the Orient, and watch football each evening!! Well, something approaching that!!

Leaving Gretna Matthew and I decided to look at the various sites from which skuas are observed in spring. These birds move westwards into the Solway, and can be observed where the channel is at its narrowest previous to them then gaining height before making the overland crossing north eastwards and on towards their Arctic breeding grounds. Thus we visited Seafield and Newbie both of which we resolved to return to during May some year. In varying numbers, and differing each year too, the whole array of skua species can be encountered here, namely Pomarine, Great, Arctic and, most enticingly, Long-tailed!!! Further visits to Powfoot and to Caerlaverock NNR produced a few sightings but the conditions were pretty dire.

Raptors in full splendour! 14.3.2011.

A glorious day, but cold with an occasional rather cutting breeze!

Our first port of call was Loch Ken again where we could spend more time than previously. The visit yielded up a few Greenland White-fronted Geese, Willow Tit, Nuthatch and several Red Kite as specialities which can be met up with in that area. From the hide Black-headed Gulls were already in possession of their territories on the islands provided and the penetrating calls of Teal and their frantic pursuits were ever present as a background. Titmice, a few winter thrushes and the emergent song of several of our own resident passerines provided a backdrop to a pleasant walk added to by the drumming of a couple of Great Spotted Woodpeckers.

A deliberate "time out" within Laurieston Forest, casting our eyes skyward, produced several Buzzards and a couple of Red Kite in a clear blue sky together with a single male Goshawk for a short period. A real reward to perseverance! Around us several Common Crossbill fed and the calls of Siskins were ever present. We moved location a couple of times, but gained little improvement against our initial efforts. A single Magpie on the very edge of the forest together with a lone Red Grouse on the moors above Gatehouse of Fleet added further variety to the day. The former species is not that common on the Solway and, at the end of the week, I felt its present status is little different to that of twenty years ago!!

Time spent around and within the Cairnsmore of Fleet N.N.R was a real pleasure. The weather was magnificent and abundant frog spawn in various pools around the Field Centre pain further testimony to "Spring". The above Centre is well worth a visit with some modern and impactive displays. The forest by now was becoming quiet but Jay, Common Crossbill and Siskin were noted and, on the nearby open upland areas, Skylarks sang and doubtless newly returned Meadow pipit and Pied Wagtails were busily feeding.

Onward to an all time favourite area, that around Murray's Monument in the Galloway Forest Park.
Patience was finally rewarded with both Peregrine and Golden Eagle being seen within the sweeping vistas available from this vantage point. Another very fulfilling day!

13th March, 2011.

And, yes, the weather was dry at last! Grey, rather cold but calm and with conditions improving throughout the day such that we finally had a little sun in the late afternoon.

First spell out from Kirkgunzeon was to the Carsethorn/Southerness areas. A bit of a favourite of mine given that, years ago, it had proved possible to rent a cottage a couple of times or so at Carsethorn and which had a huge picture window looking out on the estuary. Little had changed and we had a fine array of duck and waders which included a single Whimbrel, odd ones of which winter in the area. An ever changing tabloid of Wigeon, Pintail, Shelduck, Red-breasted Merganser and a few Greater Scaup entertained us with a supporting cast of Oystercatcher, Curlew, Knot, Redshank, Dunlin and Turnstone being found. A backdrop to all was the presence of a few groups of Barnacle Geese, a party of Pink-footed Geese and a couple of overflying Canada Geese.

Southerness Point produced some offshore Great crested Grebe, a Black-throated Diver and a fine female Merlin sitting out on some rocks. Various passerines locally included some handsome male Greenfinches which were quite a treat given their spasmodic appearance at home in recent months. Following this we did a "round Robin" visit to the Mersehead, Kippford and Rockcliffe areas and a convoluted journey around various woodland blocks before returning for a late breakfast!

An afternoon outing took in various lochs ( primarily Milton, Auchenreoch and Carlingwark ) where we had a good variety of duck. Goldeneye winter in good numbers here, but Tufted Duck, Wigeon, Teal, Goosander, a single Pochard were all present along with Whooper and Mute Swans and Grey lag Geese. At Carlingwark Loch at Castle Douglas the chilly afternoon welcomed three Sand Martin as evidence that spring was actually on its way! A later visit to Loch Ken produced nothing new, but brought closure on what had been an immensely enjoyable and rewarding day!

12th March,2011.

As promised a series of somewhat belated postings giving the details of a week spent on the Solway Firth. In many respects it was a "memory lane" holiday given the number of winter breaks spent there in past years. There have been changes admittedly, but birdwatching facilities are much better than ever with a whole succession of new reserves in place.

May I mention the recent appearance of an absolutely stunning guide to the area. Published by the Buckingham Press "The Solway", written by John Miles, details the best birdwatching sites on both sides of the Solway Firth and is an indispensable aid to making a visit to the area. The details are concise and directions and likely sightings are precise and realistic. It enhanced the week and led to visits to areas I'd never encountered before when, somewhat immodestly, I thought I knew the best sites!!

The departure, nor the journey southwards, was encouraging with snow falling as I left home at 0530 hours to catch the early ferry. This mainly continued as sleet all the way to Dumfries, other than the Rest and Be Thankful Pass, near Arrochar, which was being kept open by a snow plough tooing and froing up and down each side! Given the conditions birds were virtually absent and, after meeting up with Matthew and Rose, we concentrated on getting all the necessary unpacking, shopping and such like out of the way in the hope the weather would improve.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Friday, 11th March, 2011.

Just a brief second post!!

Always a good idea to switch back to normal text after utilising italics. Apologies!

Not sure whether I shall have WiFi facilities from tomorrow. Watch this space or pick up on a week of reports after the 19th!!

Second day of goose census..

After a wind disrupted, as opposed to violent , night the weather began to calm down throughout the morning, although one or two squalls were in evidence. It meant the second day of the International census of Greenland white-fronted Geese could proceed as planned, and so it did.

In contrast to yesterday, Barnacal Geese were more in evidence in our sector, even to the extent of containing two "hutchinsii" Canada Geese as well as a bonus. Greenland White-fronts were much as yesterday, with one notable concentration contrasted to many small groups. Again, by contrast, Grey lag Geese appeared to have dispersed more widely and , frustratingly, heads appeared too often from the depths of juncus
A single Skylark was of note and Meadow Pipits, whose arrival back usually begins in the first week in March and are eagerly awaited, have yet to make their mark. Doubtless they were forced much farther south than normal, due to the bad weather, and have enjoyed a winter sojourn in near Mediterranean climes! Goldfinches are beginning to dribble through and Chaffinches are more in evidence as well.

Best of the day was watching two Golden Eagles in display. However, the situation was confused somewhat by discovering one of the birds was an immature, in fact a bird from last year showing a prominent white tail base and pronounced black terminal band. Knowing the history of this site this information has both promise for success, eventually, and for failure. Intriguing!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

International Goose Census.

The past two days, and nights, have been a bit of a nightmare with sleet squalls coming through and wind gusts up to 70mph. Cold, wet and noisy! Today reneged slightly, very slightly! As I write this early post, evening sunshine bathes the landscape, but one that, a few minutes ago, was covered by a coating of hailstones that disappeared as quickly as they were laid down. The seas off SW Islay are unbelievable in their ferocity with, consequently, ferry services being affected from the mainland. The heights of some of the advancing tidal waves are impressive and odd seabirds on the move appear as mere miniatures set against a gigantic wall of water.

Nevertheless , today, despite the conditions, was the first day of the Greenland White-fronted Goose census. As I've explained before a very close eye is kept on this sub-species, which breeds in Greenland and winters in Ireland and western Scotland. Its numbers have declined in recent years and, therefore, its population is monitored via winter counts. Whilst Barnacle Geese appeared to have sought out more sheltered areas today, the GWF's were still using their preferred and "traditional" feeding areas. Little else was noted in the circumstances, the most interesting was watching a group of Common Gulls hovering and swirling over a coastal inlet and pattering on the water's surface, where the tide was being forced in under considerable pressure and stirring up material on the strand line, as well as bringing in new material.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Spring slowly emerging!

A day spent "mopping up" on some survey work whilst conditions were suitable. A rather grey day with distant mist and a lumpy sea. Nonetheless it enabled the completion of some WeBS counts not finished previously in less favourable conditions.

The sea was rather quiet with a slow but steady stream of adult Gannets moving south. Other than local birds ( Fulmar, Shag and Eider ) little else was apparent. Outer Loch Indaal appeared devoid of birds but, here, visibility was not the best! Certainly the numbers of Great Northern Diver are low at present.

Loch Gorm held small numbers of Tufted Duck, a group of male Pochard, a Red-throated Diver in summer plumage and four Whooper Swan besides a couple of groups of Herring Gull and a LBBG. Nearby a couple of flocks of Lapwing were feeding on disturbed land with odd birds on territory and in display a little farther on. Sadly Loch Gruinart produced no pleasant surprises but the pair of Gadwall were still present. On Loch Indaal a fine assemblage of waders was in evidence, if a little distant, foremost amongst which were good numbers of Bar-tailed Godwit. Tide conditions weren't the best, but certainly two Slavonian Grebe, Common Scoter,and at least three Great Northern Divers were present in addition to various common duck species. At least today the Greater Scaup flock appeared to have done one of its disappearing acts! Noticeable was the increase in LBBG, both here and in amongst gull flocks on land recently or actively under plough. Very much a "summer migrant" for us their appearance is a welcome reminder of better conditions to come!

A trip round to Gartbreck showed the large collection of Rock Dove feeding on an under-sown stubble field to have reduced substantially from the 330 I counted last week to the 150 present today. Other smaller accumulations indicate the island population is in a very healthy state!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Wildlife and Natural Environment ( Scotland ) Bill.

Spent some time going through the above, which was passed by the Scottish Parliament last week. While it has already received some criticism it is a step forward in several respects and Roseanna Cunningham and Peter Peacock are to be congratulated on their efforts and determination. The section relating to vicarious liability has been retained, but the proposal associated with "estate licensing" has been dropped. In reality I never thought the latter was a runner , although the germ of what is needed in the future is there should raptor persecution continue unabated.

In a sense Estate owners have walked into a trap of their own making by agreeing to self-regulation and providing an assurance things will improve. If such pledges don't see an improvement in the methods and approaches taken by some of their constituent members they then do lay themselves open to some form of direct regulation and doubtless there will be some substantial clamour to follow that route! However, I believe self regulation from within the peer group should be given an opportunity to at least test the basis of sincerity and responsibility they are "signing up " against. It does amuse me that, collectively, they are signing up to an initiative that promises they'll be good chaps in future and opt in to upholding the law. Can historic guilt be an offence!!! Apologies for the levity, m'lud!

In reality all this has come at a good time. With the most recent survey results for Hen Harrier having registered a significant reduction in the Scottish population, any legislation which provides improved hope for a species under threat is to be welcomed!

Also spent time getting the other three Blogs functioning properly....see the links opposite.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Divers to the fore! 5.3.2011.

Back to normal after a few recent "technical hitches". After the promise of good weather the outcome was rather disappointing with mist and light rain at various intervals throughout the day. Not the best day to be standing out on Jura for several hours doing survey work, but there you go!!

Not an exceptional or active day by any means but sightings of Red-throated, Black-throated and Great Northern Divers ( seen below ) in the Sound of Islay lifted the spirits somewhat.

Two other sightings were noteworthy. Last winter (2010) I discovered some Light-bellied Brent Geese in a secluded location on Jura. There was no further opportunity to check the outcome at the end of last season, or earlier in 2010/2011 for that matter, but I was pleasantly surprised to see 20/25 today at the same location. Whether they are actually there all winter, or move in from elsewhere in spring, is open to examination. Certainly the "Islay birds" seem to have reduced in number in recent times! Another item to add to the checking out list!

The other sighting involved a Golden Eagle on the Islay side of the Sound. Circling over a dark hillside, its general shape and colour were lost in the gloom and darkness, but its "golden head" continued to show quite prominently! Later it sat hunched atop a crag for some time until it was lost in a wave of descending mist.

On the way home I called in at Loch Skerrols where numbers of Whooper and Mute Swans are still present along with numbers of Wigeon, Goldeneye, Teal, a male Shoveler and three of the long staying Coot. At the head of Loch Indaal a pair of Long-tailed Duck in breeding plumage showed well.