Following our earlier census a fortnight ago not really working out too successfully given the vast majority of barley fields had not been cut, but a lot of silage had, leading to birds being mobile and distributed widely, I proposed we moved our efforts on a little. Bingo ! The main fields in the most favoured areas had been cut at the very end of last week and concentrations of Grey lag Geese emerged immediately.
As each year goes by the habits of the Grey lag Geese accumulating at this time of year appear to change. Some time ago a regular annual concentration could be found at the head of Loch Indaal, feeding elsewhere but loafing out on the merse itself for long periods. Similarly birds concentrated at Loch Gruinart moved off at intervals to feed nearby, then rest and bathe on Loch Gorm, only to return to roost at Gruinart. This year birds "flooded in " to Gruinart immediately after the silage was cut and then promptly moved off and took up residence around Loch Gorm giving a nearby uncut barley field a battering. A large concentration also hung around in a couple of the bays at the head of Loch Indaal, but regularly spilled over into a nearby barley field with similar negative results. Loch Gorm and Loch Indaal now seem to be the favoured roosts of choice, but I've no doubt this will change.
Last year, because the birds had been affected by shooting under licence carried out before the 31st August, the efficacy of monitoring and counting was questionable in my opinion when we counted birds immediately afterwards. Shooting had stopped , by agreement, but the birds were dispersed, difficult and immensely mobile. This year, with little shooting being in evidence, the birds were more relaxed, much easier to locate and to count although , at times, birds could be seen moving off northwards to areas that I never identified. Work still to be done!!
Whilst I've yet to receive all the results, it does seem likely that the total recorded this year has increased set against the 2014 total of 2200.. Not an immense increase, but noticeable. Such has been endorsed to some extent by counts of juveniles carried out by Malcolm Ogilvie and the confirmation that the birds appear to have had a good breeding season in 2015. I'll write more on all this later when more details are available and certain aspects have been checked out. At this point I reflect on the fact that, in 1999 when I moved to Islay, very few breeding pairs were in evidence, no autumn accumulation was in evidence either, but then rapidly emerged as an annual event and the wintering population was often only a little in excess of one hundred!!! How things can change.
As I drove past Gruinart in gathering darkness I was reminded of what we will witness as a major change very shortly!! In fact very shortly indeed!! Three Barnacle Geese stood in the centre of the Flats looking somewhat forlorn, having arrived within the last couple of days. As I write this many thousands of their cohorts will be poised to wing their way southwards and be with us in a couple of weeks time when the situation will transform from one of a few birds in isolation to utter confusion and cacophany with the possibility of 35,000 or so arriving for the winter. How things can change!