Monday, April 30, 2012

A day unworthy of comment! 29th April, 2012.


A dreadful day, raining from end to end, within which I only saw a few birds from the flat , somebody's burglar alarm went off for most of the day and my son updated me on what birds he was seeing from Central Park in New York. Who needs age to be a grumpy old man in such circumstances?

Blacktoft Sands Nature Reserve. 28th April, 2012.

An early start to get a problem sorted out with one of the car's wheels and then on to Blacktoft Sands RSPB Nature Reserve. Situated on the south side of the River Humber and adjacent to the Trent outfall it's always been a favourite of mine and somewhere to head for when opportunity allowed. Located amongst adjacent farmland it comprises a series of pools and extensive reed beds and, of course, is situated along a notable migration route too.

It has to be said, forcibly, that the weather was very pleasant, although an increasing north east wind brought a sharp edge to temperatures, a nice change after all that rain!! Blacktoft boasts various iconic species , chief amongst which is Bittern, so it was good to have a single bird fly past one of the hides, gain a little height, complete a U-turn and then go down in the reeds. A superb view!!  All the while squabbling Grey-lag Geese were a feature of the day, with calling and flights over the lagoons producing a background vibrancy that let no one forget it was Spring.

With a rising wind various hirundines whirled around over the various lagoons with, in the end , Swallow, House Martin and Sand Martin being seen as well as several Swifts. At intervals individual male and female Marsh Harriers wheeled about over the reed beds where, eventually several pairs will settle down to breed. To complement this collection of star birds several Avocets were present and clearly settling to breed on one lagoon from which their fluty calls could be heard long before one arrived, providing a marked contrast to the ill-tempered and raucous outpourings of the already incubating Black-headed Gulls. A single, utterly graceful adult Little Gull added its presence to all this activity, elegantly swooping to and fro and picking off food items from the water surface and occasionally giving a glimpse of its scarlet legs and dark underwing.

With water levels being high ( it's all that rain you know!! ) no waders were in evidence compared to other occasions but such provided an opportunity to look closely at the shrub and tree cover on the reserve and seek out any passerine migrants. A couple of Blackcaps valiantly produced snatches of song against a wind that was now quite strong at times and, nearby from areas of rough vegetation, two or three newly arrived Sedge Warblers had already staked out territories and were energetically announcing their presence.

All in all , a good day!  

A pretty wet drought, it has to be said!

After a day getting various things in order I left on the 26th to travel south. All worked out perfectly in the first few hours; the ferry journey was uneventful, the road journey unhindered. Of birds there was little in evidence which is not unsurprising when travelling along major routes.

I suppose it started raining once I got into Northern England!!  It kept on, got worse , visibility reduced and the whole scenario was pretty horrific, compounded by a discussion on the radio that the drought in southern England was likely to continue for some time  ( it was raining there as well ). Why are we forever burdened by the bloody conditions in southern England, a situation that is continually bolstered up by the biassed weather reports, by proportionality, on television and radio!!  Whilst I appreciate that heavy downpours are not going to replenish the aquifers overnight, and that more gentle rain over a prolonged period is required, some good surely must come out of the current situation!  The Water Authority official who offered the thought that the drought could last a couple more years needs to be somewhat more circumspect in my opinion. These long term forecasters are little better than soothsayers in the event and we would be better served by their silence!! I hate to think of the prospect, but we might just have a couple of very rainy years, what then, complaints about soddened land, crop failures and increased prices.

It kept raining all night and into the 27th, and there's more forecast. Oh, and I forgot to mention the 160 flood warnings that have gone out.

I don't actually mind the reportage about a continuing problem and what is needed to rectify the balance, but please stop belly-aching about the south of England and its problems. Last year it was the summer heat, now it's the drought, what next?  In the end I wonder how much of the grumbling stems from the public or is a result of media hype?  Most people seem to get on with life and accommodate the problems, but, as ever, then there's the minority............  mind you, I wish this rain would stop as it's not holiday weather at all!!! 

Routine survey work 23rd and 24th April.

It was good to see the cows with calves around the house this morning and to anticipate the presence of lambs which are arriving at the present time. The shot below is taken through the kitchen window, which looks out directly onto the pasture concerned. It's always amusing to find a calf scratching its chin on the window sill and see its big eyes watching my presence!!

As I left on the 23rd virtually the first birds I encountered were two nominate Canada Geese. For the first few years after I came here in 1999 very few of these birds were in evidence, indeed , it was more customary to see one of the sub-species arriving with the influx of wintering geese than wandering birds from the mainland. This has now changed and a small pronounced passage occurs each spring, usually of single birds or pairs, but the occasional small party as well. I've also had birds flying through off SW Islay or north up the Sound of Islay. Whilst there is a sedentary population on Colonsay the majority of birds are usually seen when travelling north on the mainland, i.e. up through Oban.  I've also found birds in the summer on Jura so it may well be this could be a species we gain as a new breeder at some point.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Spring moving on a bit further!

An early session of seawatching before being locked into more formal tasks!
Species numbers were similar to yesterday with the exception of Auk numbers that were closer to 1200 birds moving north in the same time span ( 90 minutes ). In addition to these more routine movements a party of Wigeon , a Whimbrel and a flock of 35 Bar-tailed Godwits  moved north. The latter are regular migrants over the sea to and fro their breeding/wintering quarters but these birds seemed a bit early to be on the move , which is usually later in May.

I'm always intrigued by the movement of birds such as Gannet and Razorbill. I usually presume ( not a good trait in science! ) that the Gannets are returning to their major breeding colony on Ailsa Craig  and that they have been feeding further north. Similarly the auks are likely to be moving, at this time of year, to their more northerly breeding colonies, but all such is conjecture. Increasingly information suggests seabirds are having to move over greater distances in order to utilise productive feeding grounds and I guess, certainly in the middle of the breeding season, more care is needed nowadays than previously in presuming birds are simply involved in local movements. Currently, as numbers increase, suggestions as to where the observed Manx Shearwaters originate are on the back burner!!

Late today I was sent a reference to a recently published paper in the Journal of Ornithology based on a fifteen year study of  3127 prey items taken from 37 peregrine nests in the Basque area of Northern Spain. Part of the paper's title is " Are patagial  wing tags a potential predator attraction for harriers?"  In 2009 4 sets of Hen Harrier remains were found in  eyries along with 2 Montagu's Harrier remains , birds of which had been wing tagged. In 2010 a further eight tagged Montagu's Harriers were found. Further details are not available but the results and research are certainly of immense interest. Personally I would have chosen a slightly different title but the meaning may have been distorted in the translation from Spanish.  The accusation that patagial wing tags  negatively affect their hosts has been raised before and possibly this might start a reassessment of the matter.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Satisfying and varied!

Finally, a day that I could put to my own use and with the promise of good weather too!

I decided to complete a spell of seawatching first as I'd not had an opportunity for a good session for some time. The sea had a slight swell only, was back lit from the east, although the horizon was obscured by mist, and so viewing conditions were good, particularly as the wind was a light WSW. Auks were pouring north ( probably all Razorbill ) and a count had just under a thousand fly north in 90 minutes. Southward moving Manx Shearwater, Kittiwake and Gannet were all probably involved in feeding movements coupled with local Fulmar, Black Guillemot, Shag and Common Gulls presented a never ending tapestry of movement and sound. Two Whooper Swan, two Common Scoter and a Red-throated Diver all flew north, but nothing else , surprisingly, was on the move.

Outer Loch Indaal held several Red-throated Diver and Great Northern Diver and two probable, but distant,  Black-throated Diver along with at least 54 Common Scoter. Checking for terns off Bruichladdich I had a few waders , including three Purple Sandpiper, all of which were assuming summer plumage.

Moving on towards  Loch Gorm a single Cuckoo called from somewhere across towards Gruinart and a Swallow flew through northwards. The loch held a few Tufted Duck,4 Goldeneye and Mallard and several groups of Grey lag Geese that again appear to exceed the total present last spring.A single adult Iceland Gull showed well in contrast to Common, Herring and GBBG's nearby.As if to confirm that spring was now well on its way 12 Willow Warbler were in song in the bushes along the path skirting part of the loch, but little else!

Despite calling in at several other sites no other migrants were in evidence so challenging days yet remain!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Merlin magic, but without the hat and wand!

After a routine day, with no surprises except glorious weather, I settled down to complete an article I'm writing about raptor persecution. Crouched over a laptop and staring out into the yard beyond my lounge window I was amazed to see a female Merlin fly past in virtual slow motion......just outside.  A moment of chaos and then a careful look outside, but nothing on show!

So, with binoculars in hand I went outside, only to have the Merlin swoop past me within a couple of metres, turn rapidly, sweep past and disappear over the wall between the house and the barn. Just as quickly it returned, swept over the yard and up and over the house , its ability to make "tight turns" nothing short of impressive. I then made a move to get around the house, only to almost step on a hapless Meadow Pipit which appeared from beneath the car which, doubtless, was the quarry in which the raptor had an interest! The pipit flew off , obviously unharmed, and I gained a distant glimpse of the Merlin tearing over the adjacent open grass moor toward the hill beyond. It all made up for an otherwise dull day!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Bolivia anyone?

BirdLife Bolivia  ( Asociaion Armonia )has just published a major report on the country's avifauna  ( State of Bird Conservation in Bolivia ).

To many , Bolivia will be a bit of an unknown when it comes to birds, although I suspect trips have been more regularly available from the U.S.A. than from the UK. Whilst it's a land-locked country it plays host to 1422 bird species and is the sixth most bird rich country in the world. For example, it has 12 macaw species alone!

As elsewhere human influences on the environment abound, which places very real pressure on some bird species, indeed a developing risk of extinction. The alteration of forest habitat into pasture or farmland is by far the most serious threat, but even the illegal trafficking of wild birds can be included in the list of activities which have potential effects, chief amongst whose targets is the Blue-throated Macaw population.

All such challenges are set out in what might prove to be a ground breaking approach in the design of such reports whose style is deliberately set out to appeal to all, from interested civilians and school children, to government officials, scientists and conservationists, to business managers and both national and international policy makers. A tour de force aimed at elevating the significance of the country's bird life in global terms!  Having seen some tour reports I guess the country will increasingly become a venue to be savoured at the very least!!

The shame that is Cyprus!

By pure chance this morning I happened on a report put out by BirdLife International last autumn. Dated October, 2011 it details the disgusting increase in catching songbirds last autumn in Cyprus and the apparent lack of any meaningful action by the Authorities to limit the activities of those responsible.

Between 1st September and 9th October field work by BirdLife noted over 866,000 birds had been slaughtered!

Such activities, using lime sticks and mist nets, have occurred previously and the problem is not new. The "catch" is then used in the preparation of  delicacies  sold in restaurants named ambelopoulia.  Action has been taken to draw this to the attention of the Cypriot Authorities, but it would seem such protestations have largely fallen on deaf ears.

Instead of petitions and the like, is it not time that such ridiculous behaviour becomes the focus of attention, routinely, not exceptionally, of the relevant Directorate in the European Commission given that Cyprus has been a member of the EU since 2004?   I seem to remember lobbying on this subject previously when it was announced that some of the trapping had even taken place within the boundaries of the UK garrison on Cyprus. Given the state of the Cypriot ( and Greek ) economy now is the time to put real pressure on the authorities with meaningful threats involved in order to bring about a cessation to the practice. Hand waving and voluble presentations aren't enough!  Actions by the authorities, noted by all , would serve to be a lesson and indicate commitment to the problem which , hitherto, appears to be somewhat lacklustre at best.  One hopes that, in the light of the above report, some improvements have been gained in the intervening months. It would be nice to think so!

On the other hand, if you're contemplating a holiday to Cyprus, consider somewhere else. I'm sure in the current economic climate there are endless other places to consider where more civilised practices are in place!!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Meet the neighbours!

After two days of routine survey work I got back and was looking forward to the very final part of one of the Premier League football matches ( Manchester United v. Aston Villa ) when all hell let loose outside the house, thankfully viewable from the lounge. As I'd intended to download  material  from my camera to the laptop it was conveniently close at hand to capture several pictures of a frequent visit by "the neighbours".

There was five in all and the activity and racket served to cause my missing the very end of the game and knocking over a supposedly well-earned glass of Chardonnay!!! Several birds are coloured ringed and I can pass on the shots to the researcher concerned as sightings aren't always as convenient as this!!

First thing this morning one of my other regular " neighbours" was captured, this time from the kitchen window.

Common Buzzards are seen frequently close to home, but this one often sits on the nearby pylon and , from the changing inclination of its head, is fully aware of my movements in the house. As I was leaving a surprise visitor was a single Collared Dove sitting out on a fence post that then moved a little further on and commenced to call before moving off north.  Whilst we do have breeding birds on Islay this incidence of  single birds appearing where I live in spring has occurred in each of the four past years. Such movements within the Hebrides were outlined in a paper written by Brian Rabbits in 1999 and are clearly a continuing feature. This was the first species that was colonising Britain  ( Little Ringed Plover had already happened ) that I remember, as was my first sighting in Easington Churchyard, Holderness.  Such memories are nice but carry too much proof of, err, "advancement"......time for that replacement glass of Chardonnay!!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Overnight evacuation!

At some point during the night I awakened and could hear Greenland White-fronted Geese passing over the house. Not a lot, but enough to be heard. The relevance of this is that we don't have a roost at the SW tip of Islay where I live, but small numbers (reduced this winter ) regularly  feed hereabouts, but usually move off to roost. Moving birds at night could be "feeders", given it was partial moonlight,  but are more likely to be real "movers" at this time of year!!  I elected for the latter and concluded they were very probably from the wintering population in Ireland that were hedge hopping over Islay on their way north. And so to bed as the Bard said! ( at least I hope it was him!).

Next on the evacuation agenda as I travelled north up Loch Indaal to complete some observations on eagles was the chappie below.

Given it was so calm I couldn't make out the drooped flag of our overnight visitor clearly making haste on an 0630 hours reveille sailing!! Only a single gun, so no real threat it has to be said ( click the picture for a better look!! ). Nothing more than an overnight berth in this case, but it perhaps should turn our thoughts to other far flung island communities who have witnessed such "appearances" in the past!!

On to Jura, where a few hours of observation confirmed the eagles under observation were certainly still in residence with the "old man" circling around at one stage and indulging in a series of five shallow dives over the territory. Terrific stuff.'s all show ladies, don't be fooled. Victims of our body chemistry!!

Of equal interest was a single ( nominate ) Canada Goose flying north up the Sound, an adult Glaucous Gull floating past southwards, and evading being photographed ,and some nice views of Hen Harrier and Red-throated Diver whilst on the island.  The northward migration of gulls has noticeably reduced and precious little appeared to be on the move compared to recent times, even Black Guillemot numbers had gone down.

At the end of the afternoon I travelled to the RSPB Loch Gruinart Reserve....the light's better in late afternoon /evening!! Well I suppose the only  descriptions that might apply would be " Gone , but not forgotten " or " Now you see them, now you don't".  What had been an accumulation of at least 9000/10,000 Barnacle Geese in the overall area in the last couple of days was much reduced. Whilst obviously some remained , a guess being at 10 %. , the majority appeared to have just left!!!   Obviously an overnight evacuation of some significance, which begs the question of how the birds actually determine the precise time to set off. For some time I've wondered whether improving barometric pressure can be sensed by birds and that, based on this, they then take a decision to set off in what is clearly supportive high pressure conditions. Well, it has merit , although last autumn I understand birds, in this case Greenland White-fronted Geese, were actually caught out when coming south and affected by storms en route, which led to losses. So it may be a bit of a non-starter as a permanent hypothesis!! The much lower counts of the latter sub-species over the winter  has led to increasing concerns about its future, so conditions en route,as well as breeding success previously, can obviously have a meaningful effect on particular populations. But that we could influence things beneficially..........

 Some people are intrigued by the navigational abilities of birds, but this ability to determine precisely when long migrations happen is intriguing....daylight length?, other reasons?...who knows?.  Whatever the trigger, my thoughts are with the birds now battling northwards in calm or turbulent conditions and my thoughts are with, already,  your autumn return. It will soon be so silent without you!!!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Geese preparing to depart. 11.4.2012.

With a forecast that looked good I prepared the day for both formal and less formal birding activities.  Given that odd skuas have already gone through the Solway Firth in the last few days I decided to have the first couple of hours after dawn seawatching.  A steady swell, which occasionally hit the shore with its full weight reminiscent of distant gunfire, provided good viewing conditions, but little was in evidence. A few Manx Shearwater south accompanied the ever present strings of Gannet and Razorbill moving in either direction and a Red-throated Diver made its determined way north. Heavy rain clouds then moved in from the north west and were an intermittent feature of  the next few hours, within which time I completed the more formal survey work of the day. In transit I managed a brief look at Loch Indaal,  but had nothing special other than a handful of Slavonian Grebe, all in summer plumage, and various Great Northern Divers in a complete mixture of garb.

The afternoon was glorious, with soaring temperatures, which brought out several Small Tortoiseshell and  Green-veined White butterflies and I managed to spend a little time at the RSPB Loch Gruinart Reserve until early evening. The whole surrounding area was littered with geese , predominantly Barnacle Geese, massing up before their departure to Iceland and thence on to Greenland.  Feeding geese, sleeping geese, preening geese with, occasionally, large numbers of them "spooking" and flying around excitedly as a prelude to their imminent departure. Gruinart is their main arrival point on Islay in autumn and clearly many of them , not all, treat it as some form of departure terminal as well, the only difference to late October being in the massed ranks being more preoccupied feeding and, thereby, quieter than the rowdy time surrounding their arrival with us.

Concern is being expressed that they may not be in the best condition possible given the state of the ground and poor grazing conditions after a poor winter. Concern too that their imminent departure might also be a bonus given lambing for many is just about to commence and some spring bite would be appreciated!!

The reserve lagoons were alive with Redshank and Lapwing, although duck numbers are gradually reducing. Nonetheless some nice Pintail, Wigeon, Shoveler and Teal were on display, besides several Grey Herons, 3 Whooper Swan , a Greenshank and a very elusive Little Stint. Perhaps its this time of year that the reserve can be seen at its most dynamic and , therefore, well worth a visit. With a new hide to boot it's certainly not a place to miss, the whole area aptly overseen by its Trail Guide giving you background information.

And so a day, which had started off pretty horrid and caused me to doubt the large bright suns displayed on the Met Office widget, had done a complete and welcome U-turn.!!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Is this a strange season already?

I suppose this refers to UK readers only given it's a comment about this breeding season, or, indeed,  the seemingly ragged arrival of our summer migrants! Tim Appleton's Facebook entries from Rutland Water are almost providing an hourly change of appearances for various birds.....erggh!   I also keep reading about Whinchat, Whitethroat, Reed Warbler, Common Sandpiper and , even, Cuckoo being seen farther south in England, but of even our commoner visitors here on Islay things seem to be very slow. A "burst" of Chiffchaff and Wheatear sightings and odd Willow Warbler in the last few days, plus a single House Martin, more or less completes the agenda.  Not particularly surprising, I tell myself , as things always seem to filter through a little bit slower up in this part of the world and, of course, we've still got northerly winds at times.  ( Doubtless I shall learn that a variety of birds have been seen this very day............).

But other comments have been made about Hen Harriers  not yet being back on traditional moors further south, which is hopefully pre-emptive and simply an event influenced by the weather as opposed to anything more sinister ( see the article on the Raptor Politics site ). Certainly things suddenly appear to have come to a stop as far as some local Buzzards are concerned up here. After lots of activity you might construe, from their behaviour , that it was early in the season. Is it our personal expectations and anticipation of events that is a little too enthusiastic or are real influences and changes at play?  In reality, has anyone ever looked at whether there is a stereotyped spring!  Of course not,  as we all know each year brings with it variety and a consequent change in "patterns". We learn of generally earlier arrival dates, laying dates and , in another biological sphere, flowering dates too. The all too often culprit in the frame that is blamed nowadays is climate change ,of which I'm a willing proponent. But is it triggering all these effects, or is it a convenient "hanger" on which any departure from the norm, which may, in itself, be part of some periodic display of the extremes within which such behaviour exists, is viewed and decided upon. That changes in our weather have occurred , and are still occurring, I have no doubt. That climate change, as a phenomenon, is fact, I'm also sure about.  But can all such changes  be thrown into the same amalgam and the common denominator accused of all responsibility?    If such is the case , then I think we have a real cause to worry in terms of time scale given the rapidity of current departures to the norm on a seasonal basis. Warnings thus far work to a slightly more elongated timescale, but my feeling is we seem to be seeing "new" changes at every turn.

I read with some interest today of the forthcoming survey, this season , of Ring Ousel in the UK.  Its overall population has reduced over the past decade or so and we don't know why.  It's breeding habitat appears to be the same, but have subtle changes in grazing regimes begun to alter things?  Its wintering habitat similarly appears intact, but have hitherto unidentified changes begun to affect its food supply?  Time and again cases like this crop up, and, sadly, usually involve the observed demise of the species involved. Such would seem to embrace rapid change and decline and , perhaps, an even worse acceleration of change than is being commonly predicted.

Records and recording. 9.4.2012.

A day of several parts (just like the weather turned out to be ) due to differing commitments, but it turned out to cater for both active and "passive" birding in the end.

Some time ago I decided I would attempt to maintain the Mother of all bird recording systems, both as something of interest and as an investment for future, when trips etc can be pored over and enjoyed anew. Whilst all of us have kept diaries or logbooks of one kind or another, and with varying success (me!), I decided I'd put some real effort this time into linking such a record into both printed and computer facilities too. I guess some people do this already and, doubtless, there are all sorts of combinations at play out there. Believe me, they are to be much respected!

Thankfully I'm a fairly neat writer so I can usually cheat and compile a logbook whilst out in the field and add in all the summarised detail at the end of the day, plus personal bits and pieces. The trick is to ensure I don't lose it and to keep it dry!  Dog eared is allowed.

Out of sheer enjoyment I also mark up a copy of Clement's World List ( "The Clements CheckList of the Birds of the World",  Sixth Edition, Christopher Helm, London, 2007 ) merely so I can browse through the seemingly endless pages of bird names and see what I've seen and where. It's also a good spur to deciding where to go next. I started this around ten years ago, as a lot of my records from earlier years had been destroyed,  so it gave me the excuse for beginning all over again.  I link that now by entering lists for World , UK, other countries  and the calendar year into BUBO  ( )  which conveniently tallies up totals and presents your details in "league table " format.  It's fun and I can recommend it to everyone as it can be used by those overseas as well as in the UK. The more participants, the better it will be.

Finally I put my records (now ) into Bird Base / Bird Area produced by SBSP as there are many useful facilities within its make up that allow you, for example, to determine what, of the species you haven't seen, will occur within a given area you're visiting. There's more than a bit of catch up to indulge in on this one but, again, it should be fun. Once started I've found the easiest way is to enter the records regularly , which takes no time at all.

Now comes the admission! Why have I decided to lay all this out on the Blog?  Well, in a strategy as complicated as any contained within the "cunning plans" in Black Adder, I figured that,  if I made all this public, it would be the best way of sustaining its completion. Mega logic! All I need now is for someone to ask the obvious question in a years time and I can then either smugly confirm I'm up to date , or publicly declare that the whole thing fell into disarray ( that's one to avoid surely).

Birding locally in the afternoon showed the Fiedfare flock still hanging on, although the odd Redwings appear to have left. Local Wheatears appear not to be in the usual numbers yet, but Meadow Pipits are more numerous than last year. Later I set off to complete another vigil trying to find Long-eared Owl , which I remain convinced is present on Islay but overlooked.   I wasn't successful!!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Eagle Owl issues revisited!

Checking through various sources for information yesterday I came across the YouTube film below
(  )

The Notorious Eagle Owl

The title smacks of sensationalism and partisan opinion but, in its defence, the story is presented by a proponent and opponent of the issue  involved. Tony Warburton ( World Owl Trust ) presents an enthusiastic case on its behalf,  Tim Melling (RSPB ) similarly provides a case for its removal. Both are honest appraisals of declared positions, both of whom I would steadfastly defend  in their opinions and rights of expression.  However, there are odd sequences in the film that I feel are a bit "iffy" and detract from what , otherwise, would have been a very neutral assessment. Sadly the film was issued over a year ago (31.3.2011 ), but I must have missed it.

My concerns are that, all too often nowadays, we seek to promote our respective cases from a point of convenience and, on occasions, lose sight of the necessity to maintain a line of logic throughout our various arguments. Tony Warburton unashamedly and passionately defends the presence of the bird on the grounds of its magnificence and contribution to our avifauna and on the likelihood of its "natural" invasion from N. Europe via Shetland and Orkney into Scotland. I don't agree with this as my own feelings are that the birds have come over the North Sea from the Low Countries given its westwards extension in mainland Europe. I don't agree with Tim Melling either in that his assertion is that the North Sea presents a barrier that will deter the species. In a general defence I'd simply say that Short-eared Owls, Long-eared Owls and Rough-legged Buzzards all manage to "bridge" the North Sea to winter with us in the UK when necessary. However, all these are assertions, convenient assertions, and nothing more.

The RSPB's case rests on there being no evidence of the bird's residence in the UK within the last 10,000 years and that the presence of the birds is built on escapes from those in captivity, of which there are an appreciable number. Such an assertion is attractive , but not proved in any way. Equally, their concerns are that introducing a major predator at the top of the food chain is a threat to other native wildlife. Well, RSPB, much as I love you,  may I remind you of the support you provided towards the Natural England proposal to introduce White-tailed Eagles into East Anglia with all the potential threats that idea posed to iconic species on various reserves in that area! One could also harness the same argument in terms of the investment by the RSPB towards other major raptors in the UK.  I welcome all that, but let's be consistent.  Oh, and there's also the question of the Northern Goshawk and its provenance in the UK.  Let's be careful folks, and honest with ourselves.

So, is this opposition real concern or a matter of convenience?  One might easily surmise it might be the latter given the RSPB's quoted instances in the film of Eagle Owl predation on Hen Harrier in the Forest of Bowland, the only remaining regular stronghold of the latter species in England. Such predation has been hotly debated, if not rebutted completely by some, and the veracity of such claims must , therefore, be set aside until extremely clear evidence is made publicly available.  Such opposition is also somewhat emotive! What about the possibility of Eagle Owl presence in areas where Hen Harriers are absent and likely to remain so? C'mon, let's be up front and honest , folks, and keep things in perspective! Setting aside this one location where the two species currently co-exist, what about other areas where the main prey species is present  ( Rabbits )?.  Not the most revered of neighbours by some farmer hosts , it must be said. So might the attitude be different , one asks?

But from the outside , looking in, one could even become convinced politics might be at play given the film's images. The portrayal of Red Grouse amidst the snow, accompanying the RSPB commentary and mention of species preyed upon by Eagle Owls, might even be interpreted as a sop towards upland land managers, whose opposition to Eagle Owls has not entirely been mute nor disguised. No mention of the extent to which Eagle Owl preys upon Red Grouse is made incidentally. Such attempts at compromise, intended or otherwise, are likely to be ignored by the majority of those who appear to consider generally that all raptors should be eliminated.

Despite the RSPB's suggestion that Eagle Owls in the UK ought to be caught and placed in captivity the Environment Minister, Richard Benyon, decided the overall case for action was flawed and that no intervention was justified, although monitoring in future seasons would be undertaken. The barely disguised disappointment in the RSPB's comments in the aftermath on the quality of monitoring required is , perhaps, a little unnecessary and churlish. Personally, I still remain confused about the position the RSPB actually occupies! Towards the end of the above debate the opinions of Dr. Mark Avery ( then Director of Conservation , RSPB, now independent conservation campaigner ) appeared to concur with the position adopted by the Minister. So where does that leave us?

However, one major aspect emerges in my opinion. Should a marked bird from the Continent be recovered in the UK I feel it incumbent on the Government Ministry and the BOURC ( British Ornithologists Union Records Committee ) to accept the evidence without hesitation and accept with good grace that the species be "elevated" into being an accepted part of our avifauna and provided with the necessary protection under our wildlife laws.

In the meantime, which is currently, I feel the subject ought to left to the authorities involved so that a well formulated and well researched programme can be completed and then revealed.  Not one just based on opinion , but on a position based on fact, which includes an appraisal of the current European situation. Unfortunately some individuals and groups would still seek to continue to "dramatise" the situation and reveal general site details of some individual birds or pairs, no doubt seeking self aggrandisement in the process. That such actions certainly don't help the species, nor qualify as "protection",  is to be condemned given their obvious link to self promotion!  Whatever the timing , it needs to be accepted that the next time the subject arises the outcome of the review will not be decided on clamour but on facts!!

More importantly, the priority subject area at present is the problem of general raptor persecution, whatever the methods employed, to ensure the various laws relating to protection are being upheld. No compromises, no diversion, no egos and no inconsistencies! Old time conservation campaigning in action, clearly defined, openly explained and with robust promotion.

Having resolved that problem, and only then, diversions such as the Eagle Owl can then be properly addressed. Sadly, at the moment , not a lot on either subject is apparent!.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Paying the penalty !

Spent some time in the hills in the north east of Islay looking at various areas, having the occasional sighting of typical birds of that type of habitat, but nothing exceptional.  Meadow Pipits are now in reasonable numbers and additional birds seem to be arriving too in each of the last few days.

During this time I was oblivious to the fact that a couple of serious hill fires had broken out in the NW part of the island. All fire appliances were deployed and , by the evening, major inroads had apparently been made into the problem. Knowing one of the areas concerned, the worst affected, the big problem is one of access and the local firemen would doubtless have had a very challenging situation on their hands.  This is the downside of periods of  warm and dry weather when the vegetation becomes really dry and even the smallest   fire, particularly backed by a brisk wind, can end up as a major problem. Thankfully key species like Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl have probably not yet begun their actual breeding activities beyond taking up their territories. Other birds such as Northern Wheatear, which are usually present in the area,  have not yet even arrived in numbers so the situation could be much worse.  Thoughts too must be given to our island volunteer firemen crews who are drawn from the community, train and make themselves available for incidents of this sort. Incidents are dealt with in addition to their own commitments and work and their selfless contributions are to be much applauded.


Much a continuation of yesterday in many respects with variation being provided in the form of a female Goosander moving north  and a single adult Kittiwake flying south on the 29th, but little else. At least the routine monitoring work was worthwhile , which was both a relief and a bonus! A further benefit to the Thursday evening was meeting up with "the trio" on their final part of their Islay trip and discovering they had enjoyed every minute of it. A nice end to an episode which might not be repeated for a while in the future!

In a personal sense the second day also delivered in that I had views of a White-tailed Eagle on my journey home, but otherwise the incoming NW winds appear to have brought the early arrival of migrants to a halt.