Saturday, January 26, 2013

Spirits finally raised. 21.1.2013.

A mere 3-4 inches of snow thankfully ensured our plans remained intact as we headed across to the coast at Bacton.  A seawatch from a point opposite a now closed breakfast venue (!) produced Red-throated Divers offshore but nothing on the move, so we moved on northwards.  Sustained by a breakfast at Morrisons ( see the hopefully forthcoming and potentially best seller The Barnsley Boys Breakfast Book ) we then moved along the north coast with conditions certainly no worse.

Calling in at various sites our destination for the day was Titchwell RSPB  Reserve, although we paid a quick visit to the Choseley Barns site where we had a few Yellowhammers and a single Corn Bunting. Moving on to Titchwell the car park area provided a winter wonderland spectacle.

In the tangle of  bushes behind the Centre we had excellent views of a Chinese Water Deer that, despite its colour managed to "lose" itself very effectively. Within the same area, Chaffinch, Brambling, Greenfinch, Song Thrush, Blackbirds and endless Robins were confiding and feeding frantically. A single Jay seemed out of context and repeatedly called at us from an exposed tree.

Moving towards the sea a variety of duck and waders were on the various lagoons including Pintail, Gadwall, Shelduck, Spotted Redshank, Avocet, Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwit.  A flock of Barnacle Geese ( 60 ) posed a question as to origin as they fed adjacent to numbers of Dark-bellied Brent Geese. Eventually we reached the coast where an immense number of gulls was present all along the strand, mainly Herring and Black-headed Gull , but with Common and a single Mediterranean Gull. Various waders were noted including Grey Plover, Oystercatcher, Knot , Sanderling . Behind the dunes a flock of Skylark held a single male Lapland Bunting which provided excellent views, and within the nearby saltmarsh vegetation numbers of Meadow Pipit and Reed Bunting desperately foraged. Patient scrutinizing paid off as we eventually found one, possibly two Water Pipit. We decided to spend the last hour and a half watching the harrier roost within which time we also had Little Egret, heard both Cetti's Warbler and Water Rail and had some excellent close views of  feeding Bearded Tits before they went into roost. A small flock of 20+ Corn Bunting swiftly flew across the reed bed previous to their moving into roost.  Marsh Harriers had successively swept into view, circled over the main reed bed before dropping into roost together with a single ring tail Hen Harrier which took a little more time to decide on an acceptable location.  Finally, with the light beginning to fade, we made our way along the bank. On a section of open mud a couple of Common Snipe fed and were joined by a single Jack Snipe, which provided good views in silhouette showing its smaller size and shorter bill  before it settled and briefly afforded reasonable views as darkness descended. Moving back to the car park a single Muntjac deer stealthily crept across the path into deeper cover. Later, as we unloaded the car at our overnight accommodation in Cley a Tawny Owl called, providing a fitting end to what had been a successful day later celebrated by decidedly palatable Abbot Ale!

What's all this about climate change? 20.1.2013.

Up and out before dawn to arrive at Lynford Arboretum as early as possible. The light was just beginning to improve as we left the car park and headed down towards the lake, but not before two Common Crossbills had flown over our heads calling. A nice start!

Slowly we proceeded with birds appearing all the time, Goldcrest, Great, Blue and Marsh Tits, Treecreeper and Great Spotted Woodpecker, all seen amidst an almost fairy tale setting . Eventually we reached the lake and hung around hoping to see, or even hear, Hawfinch , but with no success.

The alders around the lake held a good flock of Siskin along with a few Lesser Redpoll and so we slowly retraced our steps back to the car park.

Striking off east we then visited Buckenham Marshes, but at the Cantley end, after being warned by the level crossing man that we'd probably get stuck as we didn't have 4WD!  Certainly the temperatures seemed lower as we went down to the edge of the huge marsh to look for Bean Geese. Whilst birds had been reported, our only sightings of geese related to a few Canadas with very little else being in evidence. Was this going to be one of those days where effort far surpassed any return, as it was beginning to feel that way!!

On to the coast at Great Yarmouth and a convenient car park where we could grab a bite to eat and watch Mediterranean Gulls in the process. This area provides such a great opportunity to see this species in different plumages and at close range too. Whilst watching out over the sea we had a 1st winter Little Gull moving along the coast in an ever freshening easterly wind. We later learnt that there had been other sightings along the coast of this species. It seemed our luck was turning at last!

On to the Haddiscoe area just inland to look for Rough-legged Buzzard and other birds from the various vantage points overlooking a vast swathe of grazing marsh. We cast around generally for a short while without much success and then "took up position" at Haddiscoe Bridge. I'd never been here before and can now understand the advice that , periodically, you can return to the car for respite!!. Easily the coldest place in Britain ( well , it felt like that! )  although the view is certainly impressive. Endless scanning produced no sign of  any buzzard species, but a Marsh Harrier and a hunting Barn Owl was some consolation. We moved to the other side of the bridge in a strong wind, darkening sky and plummeting temperatures!! It would not have been a surprise to see Sir Ranulph Fiennes trudging up the other side towards us such was the exposure on the top section!!!  Certainly the current and popular topic of increasing global temperatures appeared to have utterly ignored this part of the world!!  Bleak wasn't in it and it was nigh impossible to sustain any focussed attention over the marsh, particularly as it now started to snow!! And so we staged a tactical retreat to Acle and its Travelodge amidst more sustained snowfall that promised a possible challenge for the day beyond!

Eastward Ho! 19.1.2013.

Well, I suppose caution was the cornerstone of success, but we made Rutland Water early morning given the conditions hadn't worsened. It was good to be the first people onto parts of the Reserve and provided a real sense of exploration. Some water areas were frozen over , but others had good concentrations of waterbirds which provided great views ( Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Goldeneye, Goosander, Mute Swan and Great Crested Grebe.)  Odd Heron and Cormorant appeared to be stoically sitting out the conditions, but numbers of Coot were as active as ever. Whilst sitting in one of the hides we had the most superb views of Water Rail picking around and out in the open. It remained for ages and, given the conditions, we took care not to disturb it.  Excellent views were had of a  Red Fox hunting along  the edge of one of the lagoons, its progress marked by periodic "eruptions" of duck. As we returned on our first "leg"  ( there are 31 hides at Rutland! ) we had good views of a Kingfisher along a dyke, and various passerines began to be more in evidence.

Calling in to the Centre, a chat with Tim Appleton ( Manager of the Rutland Water Reserve complex) provided information on where Smew had been seen, so we trudged off in the other direction this time with conditions cold , but pleasant. Sightings of Bullfinch, various thrushes, and Common Snipe added to the ever-growing list before we arrived at the appropriate viewing point after what might best be described as an invigorating walk!!  Here many more duck were on show, including a male Smew. The majority were "packed" across the other side of the water body and undoubtedly included the female birds which had been reported.  And so the time arrived to depart and end what had been an absolutely delightful visit to a great area.

Now for the Fens. Now it has to be said, we didn't go off the beaten track and so we encountered no difficulties at all!!  To boot, we had great views of Whooper and Bewick Swans, saw a couple of large flocks of Skylark (400+ ) , several Kestrels and odd passerine species.  Our intention to visit Lakenheath RSPB Reserve and walk out to the watchpoint for Common Crane had to be abandoned as time was slipping away, so we went to the Santon Downham area instead. Strangely quiet, silent even in many respects , so the day ended on a subdued note, although our success at having reached our various venues far exceeded any disappointment.  

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Change is in the air and on the ground! 18.12013.

Whilst no more snow had fallen it was very cold! The situation underfoot and on side roads was a bit iffy and the visibility was poor at best. In the screening woodland around the Travelodge Redwings and Blackbirds silently, and rather desperately, foraged for food which suggested the poor conditions were already begining to take effect. Having already altered or abandoned various intended plans I was left with a fairly easy day where I could respond to what were obviously going to be changing conditions.

 After a failed venture to see male Smew ( I later learned it had moved! ) and a couple of mini-adventures in "virgin car parks" at local reservoirs, I completed a few domestic tasks and then went to visit a couple of friends. This was always going to be a non-birding day, but conditions then suggested such circumstances might extend further than today!! Full of tea and trepidation I moved southwards to Sheffield, where snow began to fall in earnest but appeared to be making the travel situation no worse. Matthew and I decided to go for it and headed southwards down the A1, only to encounter a major diversion due to an accident which added at least an hour to our journey time. Conditions around Melton Mowbray were rough and deteriorating and it was with decided relief that we reached our Travelodge.  Lessons learned......many and several!!

Calm before the storm? 17.1.2013.

Dawn had not yet broken when I left home to travel to the ferry terminal. As I moved down off high ground a lone Woodcock fled its nightime feeding area and moved east to the conifer plantations in which it would spend the day. Later, as I wound my way northwards up the Rinns, a large Red Deer stag nonchalantly wandered out from a field gate in the half light  causing more than a little apprehension!!  They're more a nuisance at dawn than at night when they tend just to stare at you from the fields and all you see is "bright eyes"!  Their nightly movements from dense cover onto convenient farmland grazing is a regular feature and something to be vigilant about.

The sea looked grey and forbidding, with the early part of the voyage a little lumpy, although the final part was quite calm and even the sun broke through. The journey across Argyll was picture post card quality with the landscape bathed in weak sun and the snow capped uplands providing a backcloth to it all. Despite all the recent wintry weather Moles ( which we don't have on Islay ) had obviously been active with long lines of "hills"  along various stretches of the roadside verges.

The journey up the latter part of the Rest and Be Thankful Pass saw a brilliant wall of light appear between a couple of high interlocking spurs. It was bright and extensive and of sheer Hollywood quality, almost raising an expectation of some magical figure like Merlin suddenly emerging with stick in hand!!  Soon, with the potentially worst part of the journey completed, although with no snow and the landslide threat seemingly under control little disruption was likely anyway, all that remained was to address the long motorway  haul southwards down to West Yorkshire. Despite all the warnings I finally arrived safely to be greeted by a couple of inches of snow and freezing conditions.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Highland Wildlife 15.1.2013.

I particularly enjoyed the BBC's Winterwatch last evening based at the Aigas Field Centre in the Highlands of Scotland, west of Inverness. The views of the Beavers and Pine Martens were absolutely stupendous and underscore the extent to which views of some of our wildlife can only be gained by specialized means. The footage of the Pine Marten capturing its prey was remarkable!

At the beginning there was a shot of a log cabin located at the far side of the loch, which immediately brought back many treasured memories. My two youngest daughters lived on the Aigas Estate for several years when my ex-wife worked at the Centre for Sir John Lister-Kaye. Due to the generosity of Sir John and Lady Lucy I stayed on the Estate quite regularly when visiting the girls, either in one of the comfortable log cabins used to accommodate attendees on the tours and educational courses run by Aigas or in the equally comfortable large log cabin alongside the loch. Such was a real experience given it was located immediately alongside the loch itself, with its surrounding woodland and with the hills rising in the background. Utterly idyllic and imbued with  absolute tranquility!  What's more  an actual view of the loch could be had whilst lying in bed (!) in the main bedroom which, on one occasion, provided a glimpse of a visiting Osprey hunting across the loch's surface in the emerging morning light. Tremendous!

The Aigas Centre can be followed on Facebook and via its website Aigas Field Centre where you can find details of the wildlife, nature and history tours on offer each season. If you've never been to the Highlands and want to have an introduction to what will prove to be an unforgettable experience, then you could do no better than consider one of the tours on offer. With fabulous wildlife on the doorstep and all the Highland "specialities" within reach via the day tours it's certainly a consideration any potential visitor should consider.

But , of course, unless I've misunderstood matters completely, we're to be treated to further visits by the programme. Compulsory viewing!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Is the Hen Harrier pendulum beginning to swing?

There's no doubt that this issue will not go away, and neither should it. Other than some self-serving shooting interests the vast majority of people are abhorred by the current situation, particularly that the English Hen Harrier breeding population has been reduced to a single pair, when there is more than enough upland habitat to support 300 pairs. Over the years the doggedness of the RSPB in confronting the issue of raptor persecution is something to be admired. Endless meetings, reports, campaigns, research and educational initiatives have seen no major inroads being made into the problem, and, incidentally, at no little cost. The sheer arrogance of a widely distributed number of shooting estates, if one simply looks at the incidents which have been reported, and their willingness to break the law beggars belief. Last year there was 200 incidents of persecution or destruction reported and 100 incidents of poisoning ( per RSPB ). However, have those responsible gone a step too far in their unrelenting persecution of various raptors, but Hen Harrier in particular?

BASC ( British Association for Shooting and Conservation ) has roundly condemned such persecution and we now have Adrian Blackmore ( Moorland Director, Countryside Alliance ) openly admitting in a radio broadcast that such persecution has been carried out by gamekeepers.  By contrast, it's not that long ago that such responses would have encompassed flat denials relating to who was responsible or,indeed, assertions that some group of  "persons unknown" was causing the problem. That the attitudes of the public are hardening towards such outrage is in no doubt and that ACTION is going to be called for appears likely.  Now such calls for action can very often be precipitous and move in unanticipated, even drastic, directions. Given the occasional calls for shooting to be banned outright or, more specifically, for driven shooting to be banned, it is hardly surprising that some back-peddling is apparent. A recent article in The Scotsman by Alastair Robertson pays some recognition to such calls for change, whereas in times past they would have been dismissed as arrant nonsense. I would suggest such changes might be difficult to bring about and take time , but realistic they most certainly are and to be ignored at peril. It seems to me that no other time to raise a major campaign has been more appropriate than now. Those responsible may not yet be on the back foot , but they have most certainly taken a step too far and are vulnerable!!

That there has been a concerted campaign aimed at eradicating Hen Harriers is in no doubt given the dramatic drop in numbers. I'd even hasten to suggest that, if a survey of Scottish numbers was taken at present then the oft quoted, " Oh, but there are 600 pairs in Scotland ", as much as a palliative as anything, would be seen to be wanting. Sadly there is every likelihood that birds moving southwards for the winter will have been affected as much as those few in England itself.  That deliberate actions at traditional roosting sites has occurred is again  likely to have featured in some sort of general approach. Saddest of all is the fact that such actions are likely to have stemmed from a collective, as opposed to random effort, and attests to the lengths to which those involved are likely to go and the level of clandestine planning involved.  Whilst I have no evidence for all of this, repeated comments from birding friends and colleagues who are active "in the field" are sufficient to point to the strategy undertaken. That a sufficiently significant proportion of the shooting fraternity are willing to operate in this way, against the law, indicates the level to which they consider an outcome can, and should, only be on their terms. Wrong I'm afraid! Whilst the actions will continue to be condemned generally, it is the arrogance employed and the presumption that those who object will, in some way, offer up their subservience that are the very ingredients that will fire up the opposition.

It seems to me that those who would wish to dominate a situation need to do so subtly and without any negative influences being in evidence. With a growing body of incidents, repeated prosecutions and those responsible being undeniably linked to the sport, if not the geographical areas involved, the tide of opposition and demand for change is growing.  It would be ironic to suggest that those involved are as vulnerable as the species they set out to eliminate, but it seems the tide may be turning in their direction!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Waterfowl counts 12.1.2013.

The day broke rather dark and forbidding, but given there was only a light easterly breeze I thought I'd start things off with a seawatch.  Fulmars, Shags  and Herring Gulls moved offshore and a fine adult Great Northern Diver was in Claddach Bay. Auks were on the move south, with almost a hundred passing in an hour way off shore and , likely as not, all Razorbill.  Other than that two Common Scoter males flew south and provided the high point to the exercise.

A count of Outer Loch Indaal showed Great Northern Divers in small numbers, a flock (25 ) of Common Scoter and the usual presence of Herring Gull and Shag, but also odd Cormorants. The easterly breeze here made counting at a distance less productive, but the general impression was of little being around. The large inland loch inland on the northern Rinns, Loch Gorm, held little. A few Mallard, Tufted Duck and Goldeneye and varying numbers of Grey Lag Geese moving on and off from nearby feeding grounds. Surprisingly the  lochans nearby held no Teal and I wonder whether our recent wet weather has provided small flooded areas which they're finding attractive as feeding areas?  Throughout this time I'd been scrutinising the large goose flocks that I'd come across in the hope of  "connecting"  with one of the "Canadas" which are around, or even the Red-breasted Goose, which I'm beginning to suspect may have left. Ah well, the winter is yet young and there's the end of the year too!!

Cutting across to Loch Gruinart I couldn't help spending time on the eastern side overlooking various large tracts of shallow water in which numerous Wigeon were feeding , along with Mallard and Red-breasted Merganser. All were giving tremendous views in improved light. Waders too were in profusion. Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Redshank and a single Greenshank all showed to good effect. A nice end to the afternoon!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Where are we to with Hen Harriers?

Since the depressing news that only one pair of Hen Harriers had successfully bred in England in 2012 and that the sat-tagged Hen Harrier nicknamed "Bowland Betty" had been shot in the Yorkshire Dales little else of significance appears to have emerged.

The withdrawal of the RSPB from the Environment Council's discussions on potential solutions addressing raptor persecution, and Hen Harriers in particular, came as no surprise given the debate had dragged on endlessly. Whether or not the "Working Group" now convened by DEFRA will result in anything new remains to be seen. Certainly the somewhat tarnished image of the Ministry, when it comes to its public contributions on matters relating to raptor persecution, can be improved upon. However, we must remind ourselves that the monitoring of sat-tagged harriers under its aegis still goes on with the results now promised for release in 2014. Such provides an opportunity for few good questions in advance of the General Election in 2015!!

I re-read recently the emotive remarks put out by Jude Lane ( RSPB ) following the demise of Bowland Betty, remarks that I can very easily identify with. Whilst I have no doubts on the dismay felt last year by current RSPB staff I was transported back to the situation in Bowland in the early-mid 1980's when an endless succession of mindless persecution incidents occurred in the area. In 1985 seven nesting attempts produced one young only! That was the lowest point in the whole of the period  ( 1979-99 ) in which I had an association with the area. But look at the statistics for that period and later. Between 1988 and 2005 247 young were produced, proving it is possible to turn things around.  But also be aware that the early 1980's to 2005 saw 244 nests monitored with many of these being destroyed or the adult birds "disappearing", so it wasn't all plain sailing by any means ( read the summary on this Blog dated 1st May,2012 entitled  " Hen Harriers in Bowland.....a lament". )

However, forget for a moment the waste involved and simply dwell on two long ago some of those incidents occurred and , therefore, that the situation has changed little throughout. Certainly the success we achieved from the late eighties improved things enormously, but the problem of interference and persecution has never abated. Indeed , it would seem in recent times a more concerted effort has been made to deliberately destroy both harriers and other raptors.

Is there any room for optimism one might ask?  Well one chink of light certainly appeared in the Shooting Times edition of 19th December with a letter from BASC soundly condemning harrier persecution. An initiative, now in the public domain, from within the shooting fraternity itself, which is a start. OK, much remains to be done but it is a start. Whilst the "half empty glass" brigade will doubtless moan, shout "hypocrisy"  and generally remain  as inactive as ever, this problem has existed for a very long time and will not go away overnight despite their protestations.  Again, as a further small token of evidence, an item on the Scottish Regional news today reported on the search for more young gamekeepers, alluded to the poor reputation of the industry at present, but drew attention to better  "academic" training and emphasis on the current day requirements of the law. Progress made slowly?

As I've said on many occasions before the continuing ability of a proportion of grouse moor owners and others within the shooting fraternity to conveniently ignore the law is deliberate, arrogant in the extreme and one towards which, unfortunately, the Establishment appears content to turn a blind eye. All such needs to be roundly condemned and our energies directed towards achieving control measures gained through legislation. In the absence of co-operation  then it seems the intransigent constituents of the shooting fraternity, whatever their social status, must be prepared to suffer the consequences.

The extent to which the RSPB, as the most obvious conservation organization to "front-up" yet another campaign, is obviously a decision which must be left to the organization itself. Perhaps the task of confronting the Establishment is a step farther and a time commitment that it would wish to defer given its involvements with the problem on a wide variety of fronts already. Clearly new and sustained action is required set against the commitments by several bodies pursued previously. I'm certainly no longer content with the situation and, along with others, continue to kick around an array of options which could be followed. If nothing else the subject and problem must be kept under the noses of the general public, MP's and others and all relevant public Ministries and full support given to the efforts of our conservation agencies. Beyond that, and certainly the continuing content of discussions with colleagues is, " What else can be done".

Watch this space, indeed, sign up as a "Follower" to the Blog as more is likely to emerge in the not too distant future!!

Yet another settled day! 9.1.2013.

A slightly darker morning at the onset, which, in my journey up the Rinns, saw various sightings of Red Deer out on open land previous to them seeking out the shelter of various conifer woodlands in which to spend the day. The day again proved to be fine, relatively calm , even "mild"  for this time of year.

Again goose counting provided the main focus for the day, but a prolonged sighting of a Golden Eagle on the NW coast was more than welcome.  A couple of feeding flocks of Oystercatcher and Curlew on coastal grassland, a nice collection of gulls, Light-bellied Brent Geese, Dunlin and Oystercatcher alongside Loch Indaal and a couple of flocks of Chaffinch around farm stockyards provided variety.

Whilst we enjoyed the sunlight throughout most of the day, a gradual fall in temperature was an indication that conditions might be changing slightly. As an apt reminder of seasonality a few Snowdrops were noted out in flower.

And finally, reasonable weather! 8.1.2013.

After several days of poor weather, coinciding with my daughters being with me, their departure immediately saw the onset of an improvement in conditions, which obviously we can't grumble about , but which so often, unfortunately, seems to be the case!

As I travelled northwards up the Rinns just after dawn, the high sky was lit up by the sun emerging below the extensive blanket of cloud and lighting the underside of each "billow" with a crimson tinge. Shortly afterwards a whole succession of skeins of geese came westwards across Loch Indaal adding a remarkable dynamic set against the backdrop of the sky. It was all over in minutes, but provided one of those memorable moments that excite and impress.

Goose counting throughout the day held no surprises, other than being able to be out and about in pleasant weather! Small birds appear to be in short supply, which would also include winter thrushes, although Starling flocks appear more numerous than in recent weeks. Sightings of Sparrowhawk , Mistle Thrush and two flocks of Hooded Crow ( 35 and 12 ) added interest to the day but our main "reward" was in gaining some tremendous views of the various Barnacle and Greenland White-fronted Geese we encountered.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Is this pessimism or impatience?

Immediately previous to Christmas and up until the New Year I indulged in what I would call relaxed birding, a few surveys , but nothing terribly organized. Repeatedly it seemed "things were very quiet"! Now it's always difficult to explain that up here, given the various and convenient iconic birds that are present. How can things be "quiet" when there are species Golden Eagles, Barnacle and Greenland White-fronted Geese and three species of divers to be seen.?  OK, so it's necessary to think of the comment as referring to numbers, but also variety too in some respects.

Over Christmas and more recently I had the opportunity to talk to various people about birds when , invariably, the same subject cropped up. Have we reached a critical point where bird numbers have actually gone down so far that the situation is beginning to be apparent generally, as opposed to more locally or in the very noticeable absence of a particular species from the nearby woodland or whatever. Have we now reached a situation where there are noticeably fewer birds in ALL the regular habitats we visit?

Now it would be easy for me to say, Yes, and do the old boy bit by saying, "I can remember when...", but I think it's more relevant to try and refer the question to more recent times and within the memories of a bigger majority!  I know we keep being told that the populations of certain species have declined, some drastically so , even to the point of disappearing from traditional local spots. but are we going to be faced with searching out , say, Song Thrush in as determined a way as ,say, a Turtle Dove?  Perhaps not quite yet, but it feels a bit that way. I was dismayed to hear a comment from a friend who lives in an idyllic part of England say that, when it comes to birds, the area is like a green desert!

An interesting situation arises when considering Islay.  Regular visitors are adamant in saying there are fewer birds about than, say, ten years ago. Set that against my having been here thirteen years now and confidently saying that, by and large, little has changed. Habitats are intact, even particular and favourite sites are still present and unchanged. There's stubble fields in winter and an increasing trend for island farms to grow "local" barley for the distilleries may even have boosted the total area available. So we are less likely to see reductions in some senses compared to other places. An oasis with fewer influences of change. But is that true?  Looking at our wintering Greater Scaup flock on Loch Indaal then it's plain that the numbers, particularly over recent winters , have reduced substantially. But within those times we've had several waste water improvement schemes take place and new regulations no longer permit the direct offloading of effluents from distilleries into the loch ( lucky Scaup! ).  Accumulative effects that doubtless have had a quite far reaching influence on the feeding ecology of the loch and made it less attractive than previously, But, of course, not necessarily caused an absolute loss of birds, which could simply have moved elsewhere. So we've to be a bit careful how we interpret events.

By contrast, what has happened to Grey Wagtail?  Largely a resident but increasingly being seen far less than previously and with numbers of migrant birds being fewer in number too. What of Linnet and of Meadow Pipit?  Are changes simply reflections of different seasons or something else? I've thought for the last couple of seasons that breeding numbers of these have been noticeably down. Many of both species move off for the winter, but Linnet flocks have been a feature of most winters until more recently when they've been notable by a virtual absence. The list could go on and on, but I do wonder whether, even here, things have finally begun to bite. It's an interesting exercise to apply to the area you know best and to realistically appraise whether it's more difficult to see particular species than ever it was before. Weather, food availability, poor breeding seasons all affect such assessments and I suppose it's easy to get alarmed at what is no more than a temporary change. I've always felt cocooned to some great extent due to living here and  being at a distance from the major influences of change. But have those changes elsewhere even begun to have an influence on this oasis?  Much will be revealed by the results within the much anticipated new BTO Bird Atlas but, in the meantime, I hope it's me who's simply being impatient (not an unknown quirk I'm told by some!! ). 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Almost a false start!

Happy New Year to everyone!

The rain showers and blustery winds had persisted overnight.  I spent the first half hour wandering around in the vicinity of the house intent on seeing, hopefully, a few common species that could act as a suitable start up for a year list. I saw or heard nothing!! Neither were any sheep or cattle in view, giving an all too convincing impression of being in some alien landscape. Oh dear!

Fortified by the first dose of man-food in 2013 ( bacon roll ) the next move was to set off for the day and hope for better luck! The coast restored some faith in predicted and anticipated results. The WSW wind was
encouraging movement with Fulmars zipping by and quite a few parties of distant auks passing southwards too. The wind whined and whistled in the telephone wires as Herring and GBBG's were swept around offshore and Shags stoically took on the conditions to get to feeding areas. Little else was in evidence, although a nearby stream outlet saw several Rock Pipits, Stonechat and Starlings feeding within the detritus in the sheltered conditions of the coastal outpouring.

Moving north I completed a count of Outer Loch Indaal, although the conditions weren't perfect. Noticeably both Common and Herring Gulls were moving into the loch in a steady stream, albeit in low numbers. Given the gradual increase in numbers of gulls at this time of year it might be entirely possible these birds were actually arriving or taking time out within a much longer journey north.  12+ Great Northern Divers and 2 Red-throated Divers, 10 Common Scoter and odd Eider were present, but given the conditions there might well have been more.

I then cut away from the loch and took a look at a variety and succession of different "mini habitats".  Whilst I had a small number of "new" species, nothing was of real significance or in any numbers. I moved down to the RSPB Loch Gruinart Reserve, where I'd arranged to meet up with Catherine and Graham Whitby, who are regular visitors from Dorset. It was great to see them again and put the world to rights. Sadly the main "lagoon" at the reserve is still inundated due to some problem with the sluice and, therefore, the number of birds present was low. Nonetheless two Buzzards, a female Hen Harrier and two Peregrines that repeatedly overflew the area made sure the duck present were put in a state of "Red alert" and afforded good views. As we left at dusk the Barnacle Geese that had been feeding nearby were arriving into roost in a continuous series of small skeins. A brilliant ending to what had suggested might be a rather poor day!