Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Not quite used to it all! 23.7.2012.

Monday morning emerged fine, sunny and warm!! Distant visibility was a little obscured by haze, plus a blustery breeze was noticeable over open areas but, all in all, what a difference and certainly not the air temperatures met with very often on Islay!!  Anticipation of what to expect on the early morning walk was high and didn't disappoint.  The usual route was sufficiently enticing, embracing a passage alongside woodland, along an enclosed country lane and paths besides open farmland, some parts with cereal yet to be harvested, other areas already cropped, and always carrying the potential to provide a good list of common birds.

Odd Yellowhammers were still in song and a couple of Common Whitethroat continued to advertise their territories.  Bullfinch, Treecreeper , Tree Sparrow, parties of titmice, young Willow Warblers and various young thrush species all appeared  at various points coupled with individuals drawn from a wide list of expected species. All in all simply solid , routine birding, but nice and , above all else, warm!!  Positively Mediterranean compared to my usual experience arising from the eastern edge of the Atlantic seaboard !

Leaving the bad weather behind? 22.7.2012.

Seeing large arrows on TV weather maps when you intend travelling by ferry is never very encouraging!! Such was the scenario that was indicated for later on Sunday with the worry that the system might develop slightly earlier! Whilst it was grey and a bit breezy, the sea was little more than choppy first thing in the morning so the the imminent problem could be ignored. As we approached the mainland it became increasingly misty combined with low cloud. Some sectors of the sea journey are always more productive for birds than others , but today provided a fairly uniform picture with very little being in evidence, impaired still further by the poor visibility. A few auks, odd gulls , but that was it!

Birds then became low down on the day's agenda as poor weather locked in, news of a road closure due to an accident and, finally, to crown the conditions overall, it started raining , quite heavily at times, which continued all the way through to Inverness. Everything seemed to be in reverse as wind conditions deteriorated as the journey progressed. Just my luck, or so it seemed, to be caught in a front accompanying my journey direction,but there it was!! A further road accident and delay, and mist redolent of a November day all added to the monotony and absence of anything remotely associated with wildlife. Finally, arriving all of two hours later than anticipated, the wind had dropped, the rain stopped and the mist disappeared other than a layer over the northern hills.  Hopefully all was now left behind for the next few days at least?

A late walk out with the dogs through adjacent woods proved to be nice and fresh, mercifully midge free but necessarily quiet due to the hour. A relaxing end to a poor day, somewhat destroyed by further bad news that a good birding colleague on several past foreign trips had nigh on lost his sight. Life can be a cruel process at times!!  

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Perfect ending to a dismal day! 18.7.2012.

The day was wretched, almost from end to end. Rain, mist, persistent dampness even in clearer periods! All in all, a rank and dismal day! But never give up hope when it comes to natural history as there's always something around the corner that provides an uplift!

Today that event came in the form of a wholly unexpected  E-mail from Anne Reid of Dundee Naturalists reporting the finding of a couple of Forester moths on Islay! This species provokes a deal of interest as nowhere is it common nowadays, but, if you're lucky enough to encounter it, its spectacular colour shining in the sunlight is really something to behold.  A look at the recently published "Provisional Atlas of the UK's Larger Moths" ( Butterfly Conservation )  shows the map relating to the Forester (  Adscita statices  ) on Page 10  showing that it's widely distributed in England and Wales, but with far too many records relating to the pre-2000 period. Sadly agricultural intensification has meant that many colonies have been lost. In Scotland its distribution creeps in to the eastern part of the Solway and it is shown as being present in Argyll.

Now this is where things get interesting!!  Given its isolated presence this far north, and references to its occurrence on Jura, I've attempted to trace records within what is my Butterfly Conservation representative's " baliwick" of Islay, Jura and Colonsay.  Hard work for no return at the beginning, but then things began to change. A couple of records arose, with photographs, from Jura, but whose specific locations couldn't be determined. At least these indicated all was not lost.  Cold searching of areas on Jura have, so far, produced nothing, but I'm convinced they will.

More surprisingly then came a report from Islay in 2011, and another one in the same year not too far away from the same location. Now if you look at the above mentioned Atlas you'll notice no records have ever been reported from Islay itself so this was good news indeed. Further sessions of treading the sod on Jura have again not produced a thing this season ( it's only a matter of time and Jura is a big wilderness!! ). And then, the surprise E-mail!!

Anne Reid's sister, Janet , and her husband, Roger, had been on holiday to Islay and come across a couple of Forester moths, but not only that, they'd gained good photographs too, which they've kindly allowed me to reproduce. And would you believe it, their surname is Forster!!

Now amidst all this good news there is a further irony. All the Islay records so far have come from the Rinns on the western side of the island. Now guess where I live and which areas I repeatedly pass by when setting out to Jura, enjoying routine birdwatching, going for shopping and so on? Yes, you have it !!  But let's not labour the point, but take heart that,  at the appropriate time, there was a presence available to ensure the record wasn't lost!! I now have the specific locations and can commence to cold search in ever increasing circles to try and locate any other colonies. But, on this occasion , many thanks to Anne, Janet and Roger for your help. And should anybody reading this have hitherto undisclosed records lurking in notebooks, photographic files or whatever , please get in touch ( ) .  The search goes on and will do so for some time yet!!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Tuesday, 17th July, 2012.

Finally, some time has emerged to commence "Blogging" again after a hectic period dominated by visits to the mainland, a virus ( affecting me, not my computer! ), family visit, setting up an office, and routine business taking up much more time than it ought to have done!!  Having gained the light and departed the tunnel hopefully things are back to normal!!

Taking advantage of the calm conditions I covered Outer Loch Indaal in the morning before the rain and mist descended on us all!  I'm interested in the use made of the area at different times of year and, at other times, it being almost devoid of birds. At no time is it ever heaving with birdlife but has an interesting assemblage overall nonetheless. At this time of year it's very quiet with a few auks ( Razorbill and Guillemot ) in evidence, odd Eider but not much else compared with the Inner Loch.  Auk numbers will increase as adults bring their young into quieter waters to feed , even numbers of Manx Shearwater can be seen occasionally feeding in the wider mouth of the loch's entrance. Gannets explore both lochs, but never assemble in the numbers that can be seen off the coast at Port Weymss or Frenchman's Rocks where ,clearly, fish shoals become concentrated. Later numbers of Great Northern Diver and Black-throated Diver can be found in groups in the Outer Loch , presumably having arrived from farther north and then taking time out to rest and feed before dispersing. Whilst birds are seen on migration in both autumn and spring, they are usually singles or in low numbers. Closely assembled groups perhaps suggest that they also move at night, as do geese and swans, and the perils this embraces with the current upsurge of wind turbines being located out at sea. Concerns such as this are obviously difficult to study, and also potentially enormously expensive, which, I suspect, is a core element attached to so many modern developments nowadays besides the time aspects involved. Various duck species also congregate temporarily so that the outer loch becomes an area to witness various species that are possibly all on passage, as opposed to the the inner parts of it and all of the Inner Loch itself which plays host to a variety of wintering species as well as carrying a breeding population of our commoner residents. To witness all this happening requires a regular scrutiny of the outer loch being undertaken, which might be intended but which the weather succeeds in frustrating on may occasions as viewing conditions become difficult. And so, an ever changing tapestry that makes birdwatching the absorbing activity it will doubtless always be!!

Locally Willow Warblers are now "on the move" , although only as occasional birds. Stonechat appears to have had a successful season so numbers may now be moving back to the level previous to them being decimated by the winter a couple of years ago. Odd Whinchats are also moving through and some of the recent fine evenings, when the sun has bathed the landscape in golden light , has seen a whole variety of feeding passerines on display. As well as the above species Meadow Pipit, which also seems to have done well, Skylark, Goldfinch, Lesser Redpoll and Reed Bunting have been a delight and in numbers which attest to their success. Less so with the Swallows at home, who appear to have given up after a period of bad weather when their youngsters starved in the nest and the attempt was abandoned. The adults are still around, returning each evening to roost in the barn, but are largely absent during the day.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Not the best two days!

I really see feel sorry for visitors when the mist and rain locks in on Islay. Perhaps anticipated in ,say, November, but in July it feels utterly alien. Such it is not and once "established" appears to move away in its own time!  It's true to say that I haven't seen  (literally) very much over the past two days as the local landscape beyond 100m., with a few whirling periods of exception, has been obscured. Sadly the  Swallows in the barn have failed, no doubt due to their hard working parents not finding enough food for ever demanding youngsters, who were quite well feathered too.
Information gratefully received from Malcolm Ogilvie advised that there were 18 active Peregrine eyries in 1991, which had reduced in number to 12 in 2002.  I would suspect this figure has reduced further, although not as drastically, and it would perhaps seem sensible next season to try and carry out a survey. It's intriguing if they have reduced as  (a) we're hardly short of sites, even beyond those used traditionally and (b)  with our ever buoyant population of Rock Doves ( plus waders , Pheasant, Teal  etc ) the food availability is good even in winter.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

In transition one might say! 2.7.2012.

Off well before 0600 hours to get the early ferry, now leaving from Port Ellen given the development work has been completed. It's almost at the farthest point from here around to the south east, but the journey is much improved by the road upgradings which have finally been completed!  Sadly the journey and crossing was spoilt with  light rain combined with mist, but periodically improved.
I was a little surprised to hear both Song Thrush and Willow Warbler in full song on the mainland possibly signalling repeated breeding attempts by both. The local pair of Mute Swans resident around Tarbert Harbour are obviously going for the "Most Photographed Avian Family of the Year" award as they and there six cygnets strategically placed themselves next to the adjacent car park, studiously ignoring cars and walkers  alike.
The return ferry journey in the evening progressed over a metal grey sea stretching , unrelieved, in all directions until lost in ill defined horizons shrouded in mist. Very little was in evidence except for a few auks and the opportunity to record any passing cetaceans across a reasonable sea surface went unrealised.

Routine, but enjoyable day ! 1.7.2012.

Exploring various areas along the coast was enjoyable in itself, but yielded nothing of particular significance. Whilst lacking any data, I sense a reduction in Peregrine pairs over the last few years on Islay, as successive areas/territories where you might expect to come across the odd regular pair now have nothing. Perhaps something that bears looking at?
As might be expected at this time of year birds seen moving over the sea  comprised the "usual suspects" with no exceptional numbers being involved. This will change fairly soon as feeding movements are more apparent, followed not too far ahead , with birds beginning to move off south. The season marches on, although, in reality, there's a number of weeks before things really commence to get serious!! Nonetheless , some high Arctic waders will be on the move already and are worth keeping an eye out for.

Locally, some young birds are in evidence ( Northern Wheatear, Stonechat, Mistle Thrush, Reed Bunting ) and much activity from Skylarks and Meadow Pipit suggest it may have been a reasonable season. The resident Starlings have already moved off and doubtless will be scouring the increasing number of fields from which silage has been cut. Singing Sedge Warbler and pairs of Goldfinch and Lesser Redpoll locally confirm breeding activity is still proceeding apace. The next few days will no doubt see the appearance of the first young Willow Warblers and Common Whitethroats as they begin to disperse in time honoured fashion. Single pairs of both Lapwing and Curlew on the hill continue to be fiercely protective of unseen young, presumably the late products of failed breeding attempts earlier.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Hen Harriers again, I'm afraid!

Well, after all the rumours , enquiries and , even, despondency, it seems that Hen Harriers may have bred successfully in England this season. Indeed, the rumour still persists that another nesting attempt was made , but , as yet no details have emerged. I say "may" above as I'm intrigued why such an event has not been officially confirmed or celebrated following the situation earlier in the year when it seemed all was lost.
Where is Natural England in all this?  We are led to believe that the above nest saw five young being raised  to fledging stage,  previous to which one assumes they would be fitted with satellite transmitters as a continuation of Natural England's Hen Harrier Recovery Programme. Why is the concerned public being left out of the loop? After all the previous fuss one would at least have expected some form of press statement.  Or would this constitute a "red rag to a bull " utterance to the shooting fraternity which DEFRA, as Natural England's Ministry, appears so keen to protect. I for one feel such matters to be important in conservation terms and am dumbfounded the Government ( that Greenest Government ever remember ) and its advisory body appear to feel otherwise. It might possibly relate to the fact that the shooting fraternity, according to one spokesman, seemed hurt by the fact that the word "extinct" was being used and that such extreme language was uncalled for. Well perhaps the extreme language included in the " nudge nudge" conversations held by that fraternity about "the harrier problem" ought possibly to have been less explicit and then we wouldn't have been in the desperate situation now being experienced currently with the species having being  " dramatically reduced by indiscriminate persecution".  Now then, feel better?

And where too is the RSPB in all this?  After a couple of broadsides, letters to papers or similar, things have gone quiet again.  Nothing has happened in the Forest of Bowland this season and the forlorn female   ( 74843), after searching across half of England and Scotland for a mate, has returned to the Yorkshire Dales, a season of potential lost and wasted.  I hear increasing criticisms that the Society has " lost focus", is too broad based and is becoming less successful in its mission. All such is nonsense of course, as a close examination of its contributions across a wide front would prove. And let's not forget that conservation comes in far more guises than previously and is also demanding of a much higher level of response and input than ever it was. However, even I feel that more profile should be assumed on key issues and that, on particular "fronts", of which the harrier issue is one, the Society could maintain a clearer, regular and more publicly sustained position from which we can draw comfort! Action is all and I think we can presume those who's actions we condemn are not sitting quietly in the bylines. I think we all realise what the cost of  "the harrier problem" must be, but don't ever abandon the cause!

Clearly now is the time to commence sorting out what is to happen in the future. Undoubtedly, given the apparent sentiments of the Tory influence within  Government towards land owners, and the shooting fraternity in particular, such will not be an easy task.  However, in this time of transparency, the Big Society and other similar nebulous commitments that only appear to work in part, may I put forward a suggestion? As part of the Natural England Hen Harrier Recovery Programme might we, the taxpayer in all this , request a bit more profile is given to the problem and that Natural England makes clear what it is doing, what it intends doing and what its objectives and milestones ACTUALLY  are. As a further suggestion might it be an idea for Natural England to operate a web site similar to that involved in the Raptor Track project in the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland.  The movements of various species fitted with transmitters were made available on maps and some interpretative commentary given to each ( see  Raptor Tracking Project.)  This sort of facility must be operated by the research worker involved and , therefore, the details could be readily made available to all. Why not?

A whole selection of birds are involved in the Raptor Tracking project, or in the case of Hen Harriers, were involved, as they seem to surprisingly disappear after a while. Surely it's not beyond the wit of man and DEFRA  to come forward with something about which there is so much concern. Or would it perhaps pin point too clearly the undoubted "black holes" of  reduction, and ownership of course, that would cast an all too precise picture on what has happened and will continue to happen until the Government stands up to its responsibilities and vilifies those within its natural supporters who are responsible.