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.

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