Monday, September 15, 2014

Migration between the islands.

One of the things which has intrigued me since moving to Scotland has been not only the sea passage past the west coast of Islay, which is both considerable and extremely interesting, but also the passage which takes place in the Sounds between islands , notably the Sound of Islay and the Sound of Jura.

Periodically I've stationed myself strategically at points overlooking the Sounds and been quite amazed at the amount of passage, and the variety of species, which are "on the move" between the islands. It's well worth more concerted attention, but sometimes it can be a little slow, tedious even , or even bordering on the non existent. Such was the situation today!!

A few Wigeon, a few auks and  a Red-breasted Merganser moving south ........ and that was it!!   It's not always been the case.  Terns, Kittiwakes, auks of various species, various waders,and Manx Shearwaters are all possible in a single season plus notable individual records. For me these have included Crossbill , Lapland Bunting, Little Auk, besides migrating duck, swans and geese, odd skuas,  raptors, hirundines, and Iceland and Glaucous Gulls, all of which provide an exciting mix of totally unexpected occurrences.  It's certainly something which deserves more attention, but can demand patience and the need to ignore particularly non-productive and depressing days!!!   A colleague had Great White Egret, but local Golden Eagle and White-tailed Eagle are always possible and raise the spirits. Try it!!

I had a great conversation with a visiting birder today who, on finding that I had an interest in the passage of Whimbrel, which can occur in Spring across Islay, regaled me with details of mixed flocks of Curlew and Whimbrel he'd had in recent days. Well, I have to say that the main passage of Whimbrel in autumn follows an easterly path past the UK, a total contra to Spring. Of course we can get the odd bird , but mixed flocks...   The Spring passage can also be moved westwards in times of strong easterly winds that sees Ireland receiving more birds.  More importantly ( I didn't tell him ) is that flocks of Curlew in autumn can include female birds ( longer bills than males ), male birds and also immature birds whose bills might still be even shorter and developing. Don't fall in to the short bill equals Whimbrel trap!!!  All fascinating stuff.  Take a look at the BTO Migration Atlas and end up wondering where the evening went as you move from species to species and embrace the wonderment of migration!!