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.