Friday, April 29, 2011

29th April, 2011.

Some form of resurrection you might say!! Apologies for the last couple of weeks, but I've had little to tell in a regular context, as I've been stricken down by a virus. Thankfully whilst the girls were here things were OK and, thankfully again, they've escaped picking up on its effects.

After taking them back to Inverness I did manage a couple of intensive days in the Strathspey area, watched Capercaillie at the Loch Garten lek organized by the RSPB, similarly watched Black Grouse in display and, after some considerable effort, managed to locate a couple of Scottish Crossbill. Following that weekend things weren't as successful, although I managed to complete the necessary work spells on Jura that were allocated to me. Whilst not wishing to revert to the vernacular I must simply say that, until now, I've felt absolutely ........ shattered, even when doing nothing!! Not good news when strong easterlies in evidence!

So, back to business.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Return to normality 10.4.2011.

The day dawned bright and fine in total contrast to what had gone before. The early morning walk provided an uplifting comparison to yesterday with both dogs appearing to be in a more enthusiastic mood. Whilst it was clear and calm, even slightly warmer, the snow atop the hill summits to the north attested to the fact that winter was not left far behind, nor may have withdrawn its final effects even!

Yellowhammers sang and "twicked", Tree Sparrows called, as did a couple of Bullfinches and a Great Spotted Woodpecker, all species that , on Islay, are only met with occasionally. Great, Blue and Coal Tits called from the woodland or hedgerow, and, most encouragingly of all, several Greenfinch whose numbers generally now seem to be depressed. A little later one of the Red Kites, which are settling nearby, flew languidly across an open field near to the house and , as we left, a Goldcrest sang from a conifer close to the garden. This in itself seemed such a positive portent following the understandable concerns over their status after the crippling winter. It reminded me that I'd also had several Wrens singing out from the nearby woodland edges that morning and that perhaps we should be optimistic that the situation wasn't perhaps as bad as feared.

As ever the journey was necessarily drawn out, but the sun shone, the sea passage was fine and we eventually reached home on Islay as the final vestiges of light were lost. On the adjoining moor Lapwing and Curlew called and a Common Snipe drummed and called from the bog opposite. a wilderness welcome!

I now understand retail therapy! 9.4.2011.

I have to confess my mood matched the conditions of the day. Outside it was thickish mist blanketing everything and providing a calm silence over the landscape that was ethereal in its overall effect ( well I did say I felt evil!).

Very little called, never mind sang, as I took the dogs out for an early morning walk that was chilly and strangely disorientating. They didn't seem to notice, but I wonder what effect the veneer of visible dampness has on the scent left by "passing mammal traffic" and the like.

All this persisted until lunchtime, hardly lifted even then and returned threateningly in the evening. So, what to do when feeling foul, no birds, no visibility etc ? Retail therapy, the final descent into desperation. I went and bought a new telly , better to watch nature programmes and football!! Did it make me feel better? Not really when revisiting the cost, but that's an inbuilt problem Yorkshire-men have to bear. All I actually seemed to have seen in the day was a couple of skeins of Pink-footed Geese winging their way eastwards over the Forth calling all the while as they appeared and disappeared in the mist.

And so home to feed dogs, daughters , fish and then get increasingly frustrated at reading an instruction booklet for the new television using the rules of Swahili grammar and couched in a language not yet hitherto revealed to mortals!

Highland journey 8.4.2011.

Spent the day travelling through to Inverness and fighting off the best efforts of some virus infection, which left me feeling somewhat close to evil! However, the journey was uplifting in many respects , although it was largely misty and the grandeur of the Highlands was never apparent.

I have to confess the only observation that drew me out of my focussed and moronic concentration on the road was seeing the "Snow Goose" at Craobh Haven that a couple of winter's ago was being acclaimed as genuine and then was cast into the relegation league at a later date. On this occasion, presuming it to be the same bird, it was the sole occupant of the "usual" field, its accompanying consorts of Grey lag and Canada Geese from past times being elsewhere!

The weather was intriguing in one aspect. At various places, but particularly noticeable over Loch Linnhe on the approach to Fort William, the mist hung in huge,long blocks over the centre of the loch, although nowhere did it extend over the road running in parallel along its length. The mist banks had almost vertical sides and gave a reasonable impression of being the next best thing to large ice floes residing in the centre of the loch waters concerned. Fascinating!

Six pack of goose species. 5.4.2011.

Mixed day as far as weather was concerned but, generally, the penultimate goose count wasn't too dreadful. Allocated the Laggan and Glen route, which is a bit protracted, but which carried fewer geese than normal, so not quite as intensive as in mid-winter.

In some senses it proved to be an interesting day with two separate "hutchinsii" Canada Geese, three separate Pink-footed Geese plus the usual Barnacle, Greenland White-fronted and Grey lag Geese throughout. A few Light-bellied Brent Geese on the way home brought the day total to six , which is not bad for a day tally. Some years ago I did manage seven different species in the day when we had single Snow Goose and Red-breasted Goose on the island , but it was hard work and I couldn't find the single "Canada" on that occasion that was here. Islay can seem a big place at times!.

A remnant flock of ca. 150 Rock Dove was at Gartbreck and a couple of places had 60+, which is in stark contrast to the pairs which are around at other locations. A few Wheatear noted, but little else. Noticeable was the amount of land under the plough that, presumably , will be put down to barley destined for the local distilleries given current transport costs or even for the open market given the soaring prices of grain. Whatever the intention, stubble fields are good news as far as Islay's birds are concerned as they are generally left overwinter and play host to Skylark and other passerines unless the weather really closes in.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Still no real breakthrough! 3.4.2011.

An early sea watch showed all the usual species evident but with some Kittiwakes moving south and a single Manx Shearwater flying north. The wind was a fresh F5 south westerly on the coast, and cold, and its efforts sang in the roadside telephone wires. Sadly no surprises emerged so I moved northwards up the Rinns.

An examination of Loch Indaal showed some Great Northern Divers to be present, but the conditions weren't really conducive to counting. Various areas were visited but nothing out of the ordinary arose. It was nice, finally, to find three locations where Stonechat was present, hopefully representing a better winter survival than first feared. A good flock of Twite, with some Linnet included too, provided a bit of sport with Lapland in mind, but to no avail.

Some large packs of geese in the northern part of the island lent weight to their preparing to move at some point in ensuing days. The "washed out" individual reported at various intervals was present at Sunderland along with many of its more normally plumaged relatives!

Gruinart had its usual assortment of duck but nothing new, so I eventually returned home to find the Wheatear still present outside the kitchen window. Well done, mate, I could quite have savoured an African winter holiday myself, but not achieved through self transportation!!

Surprisingly quiet day! 2.4.2011.

After a period of poor weather it dawned surprisingly bright and clear and relatively calm. capitalising on the opportunity I spent a day completing some observations on the Sound of Islay. Little did I realise how quiet it would be! I'd presumed the much improved weather conditions would initiate some migration, but no, virtually nothing. The Sound itself was also strangely devoid of birds in some senses, but a distant Golden Eagle and a count of seven, possibly eight, soaring Buzzards made up for things.

A Wheatear, seen from the house in the early evening atop a much used rock used persistently in a couple of past seasons, suggested the local male had returned! Perhaps not.