Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Migrants at last!

A light westerly wind and pleasant conditions throughout, to the extent that I had my first " Islay" butterflies of the year, single Green-veined White and Small Tortoiseshell. This must be a prelude to summer, given we appear to have skipped Spring!!!

Following new birds for the year being seen last week on Jura ( White-tailed Eagle 185, Cuckoo 186 , Arctic Tern 187 and Tree Pipit 188 ), today saw a further boost occur!

An early seawatch in quite ideal conditions produced virtually nothing! Local to Portnahaven, it was obvious that there had been quite a fall of Northern Wheatear, about half of which were of the  "Greenland" form. This proved to be the case throughout most of the Rinns, but not further inland. Whimbrel too were both present and arriving, and various groups ranging from 7 to almost 30 being encountered. Willow Warblers had obviously arrived in good numbers too, with many in song , but others feeding more quietly. A single Chiffchaff sang nearby to Loch Skerrols as did a Sedge Warbler ( 2013,189 ) at Loch Gorm.

Early in the day only odd hirundines were encountered ( Swallow over Bowmore Harbour and at Springbank ), but later, several were seen down the whole of the Rinns with House Martins at Loch Tallant and near Crosshouses and a Sand Martin near Loch Gorm.  Both Pied and White Wagtails were noted at varying locations and  "new" Common Sandpipers ( 2013, 190 ) near Claddach feeding with some resplendent Turnstone. Two parties of Light bellied Brent Geese on Loch Indaal had moved on later in the day, but the single Pink-footed Goose is still with Grey-lag Geese near Loch Gorm. Of other geese there was no sign, with the remainder apparently having finally moved off northwards after a very late departure. Doubtless some small numbers of the unfit or unwilling will appear within the next few days!!

The Corncrakes (2013, 191 ) around Portnahaven continue to entertain , with one bird calling well into late morning. Finally, good views were obtained of one of the Lapland Buntings discovered yesterday near Rockside Farm. A fine male feeding amongst newly emerged barley, proving difficult to see at times and posing the question of how many such birds go undiscovered amidst such cover!!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Good sense shines through in the end!

I recently came across my, now dog-eared, copy of the classic book by Rachael Carson entitled "Silent Spring". A note inside its cover suggests I bought it in 1966!  I've actually commenced to read it again in view of the controversy and debate surrounding Neonicotinoid pesticides which is currently raging and the concerns that they are responsible for the drastic reduction in bee popoulations. At some point it would be interesting to draw parallels with the situation which applied way back in those early days of pesticide usage and to gauge whether, in the interim, we've learned any lessons from the varying crises which engulfed us at the time.


What is coming through already is the underlying message that, in any such situations, there should always be absolute certainty and solid proof available. Political expediency, vested financial interest, incomplete or divisive research are certainly not the factors which should be the determinants if problems are encountered.

And so what, until this very day, have we learnt from such sage advice and, with hindsight, the dreadful indictment visited upon our wildlife in those times of almost fifty years ago?  Well, precious little if we consider the political manoeuvring surrounding the current debate, particularly in the run up to the decision taken by the European Commission today. Thankfully a two year moratorium has been gained preventing the use of three particular pesticides, except in restricted circumstances. The UK Government  had actively opposed the ban with the current Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, clearly supporting the cause of the industrial producers. Such is hardly a surprise, as the current role of DEFRA appears to be to raise resistance to any initiative limiting economic development, despite its clear responsibilities to nurture natural habitats and wildlife. Given 90% of our crops are reliant on natural pollinators, the setting aside of the precautionary principle surely signals we have much to lose if we get it wrong. I wonder where out free market specialists would be then?  Long gone one imagines!

Hopefully the two year moratorium will allow more focussed research to occur, including a full examination of other causes which are held to be at fault.. Opinion is divided, without any doubt, but this is not an issue to be determined on the spin of a coin. Results suggesting the drastic recent declines in bees have not been caused by the Neonicotinoid pesticides would then clearly indicate their usage could be resumed, hopefully with accompanying monitoring in place. However, until that time, today's decision sets out a sound basis upon which the differences in the conclusions between laboratory and field trials can be better understood.  I did , however, chuckle to myself when I realised the end of that moratorium period almost coincided with date of our next UK General Election in 2015 and the immediate "responsibility"  the issue placed on the incoming Party!!

As an aside, it's interesting to look at the front cover of the above book and the dead Greenfinch depicted in the illustration. Recent times have seen disease decimate our Greenfinch populations. I heard a bird in full "wheezy" song last week on Jura, a sound I don't believe I heard at all on Islay or Jura last year.  It's a salutary reminder of the pivotal position our wildlife occupies and how great a  regard we should pay its members and the role they play as biological barometers, signalling effects within the environment that we might not fully understand, but towards which we ought to give due recognition !

RSPB........all things to all beasts!

Well, we finally have it!  A statement in Birds magazine from the RSPB's Chief Executive , Mike Clarke, on the future direction the Society is to take.

Most importantly, in my view, and simply dealt with today, is the fact that there is to be no name change as such. So let's set that time and resource wasting issue aside. Well done, RSPB !  Subsequently, if an issue does arise with Royal Patronage, then leave it to be dealt with by a few "grey suits".  The main aspect agreed on is that there is a pledge to retain birds at the heart of the Society's mission.

I'm also not fazed by the inter-dependency of wildlife view and the intention to gain the best for all forms of nature. To some great extent this has always been applied within RSPB reserves management. To promote such as the wide and sensible principle of the approach to be taken is, well, terribly sensible! After the odd less inspiring issue, the latest version of Birds magazine also seems to have got a better mix of articles and depth of subject treatment in perspective.

However, I do wonder if anything more lies behind the " However, a step change in public support is critical for the far reaching and fundamental reforms needed to tackle the threats."   Is this just a bland statement of realism or of the RSPB launching a membership drive?  If it's the latter, I would hope it would not be to the detriment of the many other conservation partners the Society works alongside given the harsh economic realities all are facing. In the public's eyes the RSPB's  newly declared  "brand" of  all nature being provided for could be a little confusing as to who does what!

By contrast, the appearance next month of the partnership report, " State of the Nation" in the UK, drawn together by over 20 scientific and wildlife organizations, suggests a healthy relationship operates between all concerned. It begs the question of whether such combined efforts can be encouraged even further. There is a compelling need to put pressure at the present time on a Government  whose attention to wildlife and environmental matters is woefully inadequate. In that context I would sincerely hope that the "the need for a re-invigorated movement for nature conservation"   can be achieved and then maintained. Nobody would deny that pressure for change and improvement needs to be harnessed to an extent never seen before. I, for one, would like to see a " Consolidation for Conservation "  movement apply across the UK, where all bodies concerned embrace certain common goals and campaign objectives. This would harness the combined energies and accompanying voices of the many people who already give much to conservation. Sadly, in these hard days of financial crisis, utter independence for the sake of it is wasteful and an expensive luxury.

Now is the time to act and present a series of  "no nonsense expectations",  both to the public and Government alike,  in advance of the next General Election. The time of benign expressions of hope, muted criticism and indulging in endless polite exchanges has gone by. The UK's conservation movement needs to toughen up and to be seen to have bite and intent...........and I'm afraid that goes for RSPB too!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Hen Harriers and Citizen Science!!

Last week Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH ) and PAW ( Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime ) issued public details claimed to be an initiative assisting with the current illegal persecution of Hen Harriers. I have to say that rarely have I seen such drivel , even from a Government agency!

In an accompanying statement to the launch, Ron Mcdonald, Head of Policy and Advice ( SNH ) said " The 
public can be of great help by reporting sightings and helping us build up a picture of the reasons why these birds aren't doing as well as we would expect. Using sightings from the public, we can assess whether to use some of the new technology at our disposal such as satellite tagging or camera monitoring or even, where necessary, share information with the national Wildlife Crime Unit".

What unadulterated nonsense! So when do sightings of live birds offer reasons as to the poor productivity or disappearance of the species over swathes of Scotland?  And even armed with specific nest locations resulting in birds being ringed and sat tagged, how does this, in itself , assist if subsequently the bird disappears along with its device. What ill conceived, naive and shallow inferences to draw of a situation about which full details are known in terms of who is responsible for the decline. The Hen Harrier Conservation Framework, 2011 ( commissioned by SNH ) showed the main issue associated with the reduction of the species in Scotland as being illegal persecution. Such followed the national survey of the species in 2010 which determined 505 breeding pairs was present in Scotland, a 20% reduction against the 2004 figure.   But even allowing for officials having a bad day, surely the thought occurred to someone that it might be a good idea to contact the British Trust for Ornithology given all the fieldwork for the 2007-11 Bird Atlas has been completed and publication is imminent. A veritable treasure trove of data on a 10 km. basis , but backed up by specific information.........everything it would seem our erstwhile experts are seeking.

Completed according to scientific field methodologies, results assessed,  comparisons gleaned against previous Atlas results, summarized information drawn together;  the very substance of what is needed set against the reports of , "we believe we had a harrier when we were out on Sunday".  Such reports still require confirmation by competent fieldworkers, the very people who have provided returns over years either to Raptor Groups, national surveys or, indeed, the above Atlas project.

This is little more than politics in action!!  Complacency, the kicking of a challenging and embarrassing problem into the long grass in order to avoid the real issue of confronting the shooting estates and others who are responsible if recent prosecutions and incident reportage is to be the platform upon which opinion is formed.  No flexing of muscles here, simply a relaxation of effort !  This is a Government who seeks to hide behind the involvement of the public on an issue for which the information, and parameters surrounding such, have already been determined. The SRPPDG, SNH and the Government are all complicit in a cheap move containing no real, or intended (?),  commitment to conservation or Scotland's wildlife heritage, which is utterly disgraceful.   And might I also pose the question to the Minister responsible, Paul Wheelhouse?  Where is the value for money (VFM ) principle within this profligate waste of resources, even to the extent of the involvement of SNH officers and others on ideas with no demonstrable worth.  In twenty years of professional involvement in harrier conservation with RSPB ( and fifteen years on my own account since taking early retirement)  I don't think I've come across anything as poorly constructed and lamentably presented.  God forbid our wildlife's future should rest on such incomparable incompetence!

2012 Spurn Bird Observatory Report available!

If you were searching for an example of what to follow, if you were the aspiring Editor of any form of ornithological report, then the above would figure in the top few selected, indeed, recommended. The quality and sheer professionalism on display is First Class and all involved should be congratulated, particularly the editors Andy Roadhouse and Roy Taylor.

For anyone interested in birds in Yorkshire, or birding in Yorkshire, it's an essential read.  For anyone interested in visiting or staying at the observatory or near Spurn , then its an absolute must!  There is a host of supporting reviews and articles surrounding the routine annual reports, all presented with a level of detail, summaries and comparisons that contrive to present a dynamic picture of the migrant bird life  for which this site is famed. Accompanying vignettes and photographs enhance the report still further.

See www.spurnbirdobservatory.co.uk for more details on how you can get your copy, for recent reports, details of future activities and how you can support the Observatory further. Don't miss the opportunity!!!

Jane Dawson, Isle of Islay.

Sadly, Jane Dawson, died on the 12th April in a Glasgow Hospital.  Given that Jane had an interest in birds it was inevitable our paths would cross at some point. Having also lived for a while within the same village, Portnahaven, on Islay,  discussing wildlife matters outside the Post Office or calling in for a coffee was  not an infrequent routine.

Jane Dawson's life was a fascination to anyone interested in birds. Firstly, though, some background details!  She and Rod Dawson had married, farmed in Lincolnshire and set up a wildfowl collection. Rod Dawson was both farmer and conservationist and introduced Jane to birdwatching. In 1971 they moved to Islay , having bought the Easter Ellister Estate on the Rhinns. Both had a love of wildfowl, seaduck in particular, and had formed a friendship with Sir Peter Scott, founder of the Wildfowl Trust, artist, conservationist and son of the famed Scott of the Antarctic. He was to visit them on Islay from time to time and stories from that period carry a fascination in themselves.

Sadly Rod Dawson died from cancer in 1977 at the very early age of 34 years, leaving Jane with two young daughters and the task of continuing the farming enterprise at Easter Ellister. In 1984 she set up the Islay Natural History Trust in memory of her husband, a local facility that continues to this day ( see www.islaynaturalhistory.blogspot.uk ).  She had also continued with the wildfowl collection and became an accomplished aviculturalist,  having concentrated on the captive breeding of King Eider and Long-tailed Duck. Much of the work broke new ground, in terms of the methods employed, and left her with an extensive list of world wide contacts. Despite the tragedy of those times Jane drew together a book dealing with the period entitled " The Old Squaw". It covers a treasure trove of matters relating to Islay, the Estate and of wildfowl.

The title, I suspect, linked as much to her sense of humour as the name commonly afforded Long-tailed Ducks!!!  It's an absorbing and informative read and can only be recommended. I'm uncertain whether any copies are currently or easily available to purchase, but will make enquiries. If anyone is interested please contact me through the Blog .
In 2003 Jane Dawson suffered a stroke and, for a period, had to cope with the consequences.  By this time the wildfowl collection had reduced and she began to operate a Highland Pony Stud from Easter Ellister. Typically, this was overseen with intense interest and , unsurprisingly, was a success!

Jane Dawson was a woman of firm and forthright opinions, the ground beneath which might change a little from time to time, but, on one subject, she remained adamant in her condemnation of its very existence! Following her stroke she was prescribed a  course of statins from which she suffered a series of painful side effects. This led to her arriving at a very precise view of their validity and usefulness, the perfidy of those who created them , promoted them , researched them and, in particular, prescribed them!!  Naively I once ventured into this subject area and was left in no doubt that my very faculties were in serious decline should I venture to consider using the medication!!!  All such was accompanied by mischievous laughter and it will be for occasions of that sort that she'll be sorely missed.

For other information, photographs etc may I refer you to www.janeislay.co.uk

"Pinning down" the skuas. As at 24th April, 2013.

At various points since I last wrote a Blog ( on 13th April, apologies! ) I've completed some seawatching sessions with the single objective of checking the situation here on Islay for passage skuas, set against that enjoyed on the Solway Firth.

As early as the 15th April three skua species ( not Long-tailed ) were noted coming into the eastern end of the Solway Firth and then leaving overland with the apparent intention of taking a "short cut" to the North Sea. At other intervals since then, small numbers of Great and Pomarine Skuas have been recorded there, including a party of eight Pomarine Skuas on the 18th.  Birds tend to link to the incoming tide , which suggest they are out there in the southern confines of the Irish Sea and then move into the Firth itself.  I find all this utterly fascinating. Of course, passage over land masses by skuas is not unknown, indeed even Switzerland has some skua records within its files!!!

But what of early passage skuas from Islay? I suspect weather plays a great part in their occurrences, but attempts so far to determine whether there is a regular passage at this time of year suggest such not to be the case. Certainly birds appear here in early - mid May, but from what breeding population is anyone's guess. Strong westerlies forcing birds into the Irish Sea, from which a proportion filter north is a safe guess as to routes being taken, in other words birds are there by default rather than design. Certainly observations made here produce nothing to match, in parallel, the passage being witnessed through the Solway Firth.  Birds could be missed, of course, and visibility clearly has a  major part to play. The situation in autumn appears to be different as birds filter southwards through the islands and are easily seen. By contrast, the well documented passage of Pomarine and Long-tailed Skuas in Spring off the Outer Hebrides suggests a majority of those birds pass west of Ireland  and then "cut across" towards the north west mainland of Scotland. In the meantime, the occurrence of a few skuas here would bring as much enjoyment as witnessing a sustained passage!!

It has also to be said that the sessions weren't a waste of time in a birding context, as passage Grey lag Geese, Light -bellied Brent Geese, Red-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver were all noted as well as those true conveyors of Spring, Whimbrel, whose tinkling calls expressing relief at reaching land or announcing a presence to others of their species,  are a seasonal joy from which I always draw delight each and every year. In addition, the ever varied parade of more local sea birds from Fulmars, Shags and Kittiwakes, to the daily processions of Gannets ensure a reliable backdrop. One morning produced a passage of over 2000 Auks in 90 minutes as long strings of birds , mainly Razorbills, winged their way to more northerly breeding areas.   I'm minded to mention that this Spring has not been for the faint hearted as far as seawatching is concerned. Crouched in some hollow ( what a luxury!!! ), close to the sea, in a withering cold wind caused a few doubts to be cast on its enjoyment rating!!!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Passage gathering momentum. 13.4.2013.

Dawn broke dull and cloudy and with a light south easterly wind. The sea was flat , but with a slight swell and viewing conditions were good for seawatching.  As previously, lines of southward moving Gannets were a permanent feature throughout the couple of hours applied and, similarly, northward moving lines of Auks provided the opposing effect! A few Kittiwakes and Manx Shearwater went through south, as did two Sandwich Tern ( 2013, 181 ). Later calls of this species were heard, without the birds being seen , and I suspect the same individuals were involved. A nice "collection" of  10/12 Black Guillemot remained on an area of upwelling water between two islands, prompting thoughts of them having deliberately selected the conditions given perfectly calm areas were nearby!!

Further round the promontory, three male Northern Wheatears fed together and a party of five male Blackbirds was present suggesting an overnight arrival of both. Moving north up the Rinns,  another Northern Wheatear was present, a Red-breasted Merganser male flew out of Loch Indaal and a loose flock of Common Scoter repeatedly broke up, not in display, but to fly increasing distances towards the mouth of Loch Indaal as if feeling some imperative to commence migration! For me, this time of year is always exciting in a variety of respects, and today was no exception, with the first "showing" at a couple of locations of new lambs. Predictable, anticipated but , nonetheless, tangible evidence of seasonal renewal and continuity!

At the head of Loch Indaal a mixed collection of geese , waders and gulls had concentrated, although the total number involved was quite small. Checking through them, I suddenly realised the group of resting birds was Whimbrel ( 2013,182 ), all the Curlew being nearby feeding out in shallow water. A little later, as if  some signal had passed between them , they rose in unison, uttering their wonderful tinkling call, and climbed in height before heading off north east. What a great sight!  Bon voyage.

I decided to check on two raptor locations and, stoically, over the next couple of hours checked for presence or otherwise, but without any success!!! By now overcast conditions had moved in and an increasing feeling of  "dampness"  hung in the air. I decided to return home, but not before checking a mixed flock of Barnacle, Grey-lag and Greenland White-fronted Geese at Kilchiaran, nine of the latter carrying prominent orange neck collars and white leg rings. Unfortunately they were out of range to ensure I could read the numbers on the collars,  but I strongly suspect them to be some of the birds that were successfully caught earlier at Ballinaby , near Loch Gorm and fitted with these aids to identification.  I'll be back!!

As if on cue, within ten minutes of reaching home the rain had started and the wind is now moaning and whistling in the background.  No surprise then that numbers of geese are still around. They appear to have an uncanny ability to identify the most appropriate time to leave on the first northward "leg" of their migration to Iceland. Usually this is preceded by them congregating in numbers at the north end of the island, which has not yet happened,  following which, as soon as suitable conditions arise they move off en masse other than for a few stragglers, the infirm or the unwilling! More reliable than some weather forecasts.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Harbingers of Spring. 12.4.2013.

Yesterday and the first half of today were taken up by matters relating to birds, but more involved with discussion and written plans than actual direct observation. Such is the demand price of conservation!!

Following that things eased off a little such that I grabbed a few reflective moments to stare out of the window. And guess what, in full view was a female Ring Ousel, (2013,180 ) probably the most unlikely candidate one could imagine as a "garden tick".

Unfortunately a telephone call intervened, and whilst the bird was still there on my return , it suddenly flicked away and was gone. A great bird and a nice surprise.

Later, returning from the village a Chiffchaff flicked in similar fashion along the road and perched up on the edge of a ditch. Another bit of evidence that , whilst slow, spring passage is happening. In reality it's probably not all that behind its normal sequence, but each year people appear to have expectations to the contrary, fuelled by commentary about climate change, and disregarding absolutely the more direct influence that weather systems affecting areas further south and North Africa can bring to bear.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Hen Harriers......the next steps?

Recent discussions with various friends in England who are keen on raptors tend to relay the same sense of despondency as far as Hen Harriers are concerned. Whilst birds were noted in certain areas over the winter this has not yet resulted in that wonderful indicator of intent , a skydancing male !!  Admittedly this Spring has been very cold, with prey species like Meadow Pipit returning late too, so we may be running behind schedule as it were. Certainly as things stand at the moment it would seem the hills are not alive with the sight of displaying harriers!!!

The undoubted co-operative "clear out" of Hen Harriers in recent times, as evidenced by the loss of sat-tagged birds associated with DEFRA's  Hen Harrier Recovery Programme, has secured an outcome long dreamed of by many within the shooting fraternity, namely to rid the uplands of a species towards which their  prejudice knows no bounds. Regrettably it would seem one of these avian "Bermuda Triangle " areas is located within my home county and it is most certainly to Yorkshire's shame that activities of this kind have occurred within its boundaries. Some have apparently boasted locally of their contribution to such activities!  They should be acutely aware that their role within such a catalogue of failed standards arising from flawed attitudes will serve no ultimate beneficial purpose, indeed the shooting fraternity has been even more isolated within its anachronistic stance as a consequence.

Strange that,  following years of outpoured clamour relating to the need to rid the hills of such a scourge, no comments of relief , agreement or even celebration of the current circumstances has come from those whose almost uncontrollable rage was so often expressed in the past. Unsurprising in an obvious context, but utter silence is as tacit an indicator of agreement as are the efforts of a cheerleader. Methinks they protest too little!

But this is not the end I tell myself. I have no doubt that right will eventually triumph as more enlightened attitudes emerge.The recent initiative in Denmark to consider shooting in a completely different context, which might yet see it abandoned, is an indication of how things change and a reminder that pendulums can swing in an opposing direction to that preferred at times!

However, we need to use positively this current period, however more tempting the pursuit of recriminations might be. Personally I am not against shooting, but I am against raptor persecution and will always remain so. This is why I have raised the E-petition relating to the need for regulation of upland grouse moors and gamekeepers. Please sign it if you agree with the sentiments it expresses.

Licencing of upland grouse moors and gamekeepers.

However, we need to secure a timely solution to the problem without it spilling over and creating an all out battle, the lines of which will be in place for decades. The situation is bad enough as it is!  Raptor persecution must be stamped out as its continuation will result in the absolute vilification of the shooting fraternity from which other far reaching potential problems or initiatives might arise. Whilst our concerns are, quite rightly, with the English breeding population of Hen Harriers, for which improvements must be gained, we must also be aware that the absolute cessation of grouse shooting, if such was called for, would inject a major dilemma into what is already a fraught situation. That is why I favour walked up, as opposed to driven grouse shooting. We need, therefore, to be careful of the arguments with which we're presented.  Upland moors play host to a lot of other wildlife, which would certainly not assume sufficient central priority if shoots were caused to be abandoned. What might be the future of those areas we need to remind ourselves?  Every effort needs to be put behind securing a solution, not a costly compromise, but a genuine solution serving the needs of all our natural heritage first and "other interests" second. Endless attempts have occurred already, with no real success, but that should not deter any of us from continuing to try.

There is an immediate issue, however, that must be addressed. We are now within a pivotal period when the odd pair of Hen Harriers might just return to an area and commence to breed. Anyone destroying or disturbing these lone colonists would, if caught, have the book thrown at them and present conservationists with a PR gift!  Even a "failed" prosecution would still provide strong headlines and add to polarised argument that has the  potential to misfire and isolate the shooting fraternity still further. The benefits to be gained by that community would be minimal and such should be recognised. However, the extension to the period of  argument might be immense and affect the future potential for bringing a conclusion to the ongoing issue.

In the event of a breeding attempt conservationists would no doubt pledge endless hours towards ensuring its success. But what sort of real success do we achieve if the possible outcome is for such birds reared to be slaughtered within the confines of a winter roost a couple of months later ? Yes, of course, we need to protect such breeding birds , but we need to reach out for a lasting solution too. Easier said than done, but a positive start is to sign the above petition and offer a willingness to support other initiatives aimed at securing a solution to what is a national disgrace and one that places us in no better a position than those involved in liming activities in Cyprus or in the slaughter of migrating raptors in Sicily. In a conservation context there was never a time when your help was more crucially needed.   Blog about it, Tweet about it, promote it on Facebook and twist a few arms in the cause....please!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Some birds on the move! 7.4.2013.

A rather cloudy start, still cold, but with no frost.  An early seawatch over a relatively "flat" sea was spoilt to some extent by a distant bank of mist, which embraced any passing birds and made counting untenable. Eventually it retreated as a weak sun did its job but, by then, passage was limited.

Incessant streams of auks northwards, returning to their breeding haunts, mainly of 30-50 birds and mostly Razorbills where it was possible to identify them, accounted for several hundred on the move by the end. Likewise a continuous parade of adult Gannets southwards in small parties, doubtless returning to Ailsa Craig (?) from  feeding in areas further north. Fulmars plied back and forth, with periodic attendance at their nearby island colony just off the coast. Of most interest was a small passage of Manx Shearwater ( 2013,178 ) which, in the end, reached almost 60 birds. It seems rather early to be getting this many birds, as I've always thought the return of the earliest birds to UK waters was around now. Will delve further!

Moving off I was interested to come across several groups or small flocks of geese in the southern part of the Rinns, some mixed Barnacle, Grey lag and Whitefronts,  but also separate parties of Greenland White-fronted Geese. I remember Blogging last year of having heard these birds on the move one night and wondered , given their wariness, whether these birds too might have been new arrivals. By now, those in residence over the winter tend to be more confident and tolerant of vehicles etc. Confirming a feature which is becoming ever more common in recent Springs, a pair of nominate Canada Geese were in the area as well.

Journeying northwards up the Rinns the various pastures looked dull and "tired", uniformly cropped down and not yet showing any real signs Spring. Several larger flocks of Barnacle Geese were scrutinized, but contained no exciting "finds". By now numbers of these geese have begun to exploit what might best be described as sub-optimal choices as far as feeding areas are concerned.

Inner Loch Indaal was, in the main , an expanse of gleaming mud and sand but, toward Black Rock several Great Northern Divers were in evidence.

A whole variety of areas were then visited and produced a good array of birds...Fieldfare, Mistle Thrush, Grey Wagtail, (2013, 179 )  Peregrine, Raven, and displaying Buzzard before I moved on to more pressing matters!  Standing out on an area of open hill , there was no doubt that Spring had arrived with nearby bubbling Curlew, Skylarks aloft on song and noisy Oystercatchers calling from somewhere down near the coast. Whether temperatures suggested otherwise it seemed the birds had taken a decision to move on with things regardless.......

Friday, April 5, 2013

Technology, data, bird protection and Hen Harriers

Last evening I watched a BBC2 Horizon programme entitled The Age of Big Data. Now I'm no IT specialist, or number cruncher, so I suppose it's easy to be sceptical about initiatives that seem so embedded in possibility as opposed to actuality. BUT.....!   My attention was drawn, in particular, to the policing approaches being taken in Los Angeles and my thoughts strayed towards what might be adopted in the cause of Hen Harrier protection.

Now, as we all know, DEFRA has operated its ill-fated Hen Harrier Recovery Programme with no success whatsoever. However, rather than be negative and dismissive of the project, let's simply accept that it didn't work in the way intended or produce the results hoped for. Whilst I accept the current intransigence by that Government Department at making available the results of the tagging programme are irritating at best, at least I would hope their current position includes a willingness to review the weaknesses arising from the programme and to embrace more positive initiatives. Whilst it is claimed incidents have been reported to the Police, no prosecution of any individuals who might have been responsible for the persecution of tagged birds has arisen. In that context the project has been an abysmal failure and at no little cost. As far as the tax payer is concerned the Value For Money concept has been either thrown out of the window or swept under the carpet!!

However, imagine for a moment that, instead of the transmitter messages being accessed or downloaded by a researcher, the same data had been permanently streamed to a central police unit. The cessation of any locational data could have triggered an immediate message to the local Police Force concerned ( based on the GPS element ) and immediate investigations implemented ( far more quickly than a single departmental researcher covering the whole of England could manage!! ). You might say that it acted as a burglar alarm, but in reverse!! Such an approach might take a bit of "battling through" the inevitable bureaucracy, but surely such ideas might hold some promise of results contrasted against what one assumes is precious little at the moment. If we are to be serious about ridding the UK of raptor persecution then some "out of the box" thinking needs to be undertaken and the inevitable caution, obfuscation and leaning towards compromise by Civil Servants and their Masters set aside. The current exercise has cost a lot of money and yet little apparent concern is in evidence about the inefficacy of the whole concept. I'm neither in favour of my money being squandered or that funds are similarly squandered in the cause of conservation when more positive results might emerge. Is it not time the Department and the Minister responsible, Richard Benyon, made a clean breast of the facts surrounding the project and injected some transparency into the whole subject area? We're aware that there is some form of  "Working Group" in place but what is intended in the face of the English breeding population of Hen Harriers having been decimated.  I, amongst many, would like to know!

When considering such issues, I'm minded of a Malaysian proverb!

Where there's a will, there are thousands of ruses,
Where there is none, a thousand excuses.

It would be easy to imagine such a mantra being the basis of the beginning of any Cabinet or Departmental meeting  ( Education would, of course, recite it in Latin at Michael Gove's insistence ).  Naughty, but true ?

Return of the wanderer. 4.4.2013.

Having returned to Islay early morning saw bright, sunny weather in place, although the temperatures are still pretty low. Nonetheless, this is a sufficient precursor of Spring as far as birds are concerned and local Lapwings tumbled over the grass moor above the house, whilst Curlews provided a bubbling background of song.  A Common Snipe provided its repetitive call to the chorus and various Meadow Pipits, which have arrived during my absence, added their songs and parachute displays to the outpouring of territorial joy. Sadly the Choughs, who seemed so interested in occupancy in the outbuildings, have moved elsewhere, much to the relief of the Common Starlings who have now sole usage of the access arrangements. A Song Thrush added its notes to the chorus as a couple of Fieldfares flew over the adjacent moor, their journey "home" doubtless frustrated in part by the persistent easterlies which seem to have presided for so long.

Later a Pied Wagtail uttered its hesitant little song before flying over to inspect the woodpile where there has been a nest in each of the past six years Surely the same birds can't be involved?  These nesting attempts have enjoyed little success over the years and the nocturnal prowlings of Feral Cats, Brown Rats and even Otters can't be discounted as being responsible. A pity really as they're nice birds to have around.

Basking Shark tagging project continues!.

News emerged yesterday that the tagging project initiated previously by  Scottish Natural Heritage  and the University of Exeter is to be continued. Rather than repeat much of what I said before may I suggest you take a look at the entry I put out previously  (Basking Shark Tagging Project  14.8.2012 ) as it contains useful links and a magnificent photograph of a Basking Shark showing to good effect how large they are!!

The project is to continue in 2013 with the intention of tagging 29 more individuals. Eight were tagged previously and had an inbuilt facility to show their locations on-line  You can elect to receive details of their journeys and the full links etc are given in the piece referred to above. It's both fascinating and amazing at the same time. Two individuals tagged off Scotland moved as far south this winter as the Canaries and west of Portugal, quite sensible too!!  Other tags are designed to "fall off" this Spring and will provide a variety of additional  data including the depth of water these individuals have moved into on different occasions. Should you come across one of these devices please contact SNH on 0300 244 9360. They are likely to be found washed up somewhere along our coastline and their return earns a reward for the lucky finder. An incentive that should keep small boys engaged all their summer holidays I should think! Seriously, given that the devices, which are only 15-18 cm long, contain data gathered throughout the past year, which the study team hasn't yet accessed in any way, their importance cannot be emphasised too highly!!

So, there you are, another year of immediate access to cutting edge research provided on line, linked to  creatures many people would love to see. Nonetheless, this is a second best opportunity to have a direct  insight into their lives and in the comfort of your own home too. Compelling stuff!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Home grounds in two respects! 30.3.2013.

Saturday morning saw us off yet again, this time relatively locally. In fact this visit was to an area, which has close family connections, ( see 13.3.2012 " Northward Ho...at least for me ) , and which has been the site for both Matthew and myself of much of our respective early birding.  Worsborough Reservoir and Rockley evokes so many memories of people, birds and other wildlife, starting with when my father first took me out and showed me areas he used to visit, that any return visit nowadays carries an overwhelming aura of nostalgia. Sadly, due to the partisan affiliation by the Barnsley Council with angling interests, some of the past conservation interest has been damaged, although perhaps not irrevocably if good sense could still prevail. The reedbed on the main reservoir has been decimated, angling "stations" predominate and the tern rafts have disappeared. On the plus side the circular footpath around the reservoir "complex" is well maintained and allows those interested to interact at close quarters with a variety of habitats.

A full circuit of the reservoir and then entry around the flooded woodland to its rear showed little activity. Then, suddenly, a small form alighted on a tree.   Our quarry, a  Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (2013,177) quietly making its way up the underside of a branch and giving brilliant views at that, with a flash of red from its crown showing the bird to be a male. Not always an easy species to pin down , these views were a bonus indeed. A weak call from nearby, suggesting a female might also be present, coincided with the bird moving to a nearby tree. On landing, it opened its wings, showing the whole succession of markings and , at the same time, quivered them slightly which we took to indicate display. A few moments later it was gone, after giving a memorable and privileged view into its behaviour that certainly I had never seen before. Magic! Soon afterwards a pair of Goldcrest above our heads were equally as pleasing in some respects , but perhaps not quite as unique.

On to an area near Wortley where a couple of Mistle Thrush sang lustily in the cold air and titmice called from within the wood. A walk alongside the river, crunching through the stubborn layer of snow still present, didn't provide the anticipated views of Dipper or Grey Wagtail which will have to await a further visit.

After a late breakfast, a second and totally different aspect of the day locked in!  Barnsley was playing Sheffield Wednesday at the latter's home ground nearby to where Matthew and Rose live. A local Derby with mounting passions clearly in evidence. The police were in evidence from before midday, road diversions  in force and spectators arriving three hours before kick off!! Our approach was much more civilized in that we met with Matthew's friends and kin Barnsley supporters in a pub and then arrived closer to the action starting. It's a long time since I attended a game at this level. The noise is phenomenal, with no chance of hearing announcements! Chanting abuse at the opposition's supporters is of paramount importance and I did wonder how much of the match some had missed!!  I did enjoy the drama, the match and the sheer passion coming through the whole episode, which, sadly, Barnsley lost about which no comment will be made!!!  A great afternoon in so many different aspects. On our departure the Police presence was greater and quietly more resolute than I've seen at some similar key occasions within other countries, try the Urban Police in Venezuela for example ( not gentlemen to be grimaced at !! ) and, thankfully, all remained calm. The only argument I saw was between two Barnsley supporters.........   I wouldn't have missed it, when's the next fixture?

Homeward bound, with detours! 29.3.2013.

Off early in good weather, but with it still carrying a noticeable chill.  A necessary, short detour into a suburb of Taunton finally produced the species which had eluded both of us all winter. Yes, we finally caught up with Waxwing (2013,174) !!!  This group of around fifty was still sitting in a large shrub within an enclosed and sheltered garden. The sunlight gleamed and shone through their crests, making them almost iridescent. A great sight! As we had much to complete in the day, and locals departing for work clearly wondered what we were staring at over their fences, we set off on the  next leg of our return journey.

This time we managed to find the  RSPB Ham Wall Reserve and Shapwick Heath NNR Reserve without too much difficulty. It was both cloudier and colder now, but fine.  As we walked into the RSPB Ham Wall Reserve, with a Bittern booming in the background and a Kingfisher shooting off down one of the drainage channels, Cetti's Warblers sang, Water Rails called,  but otherwise spring seemed suddenly to have lost its warmth again as we moved along the main path, in fact some thin ice still persisted over one of the nearby lagoons. A look through a good selection of duck was suddenly supplemented by a view of a  flying Bittern emerging from the reeds and, then, just as quickly, disappearing.  Moving further along the track we joined  a small group of people and  waited patiently until, suddenly, a fast moving shape moved along a channel amidst the reeds, called, but then managed to become obscured again. Again, just as quickly, it emerged and remained in open water for a few minutes.  Pied-billed grebe ( 2013,175).....what a gem.  Every feature clear, its sculpted, chunky outline in full profile and the heavy, thick pied bill in clear view.  Worth the wait and the chill!!

Walking in the opposite direction we entered the Shapwick Heath Reserve along the main footpath. Matthew walked quite a distance further than myself but, in essence, we saw virtually the same species,  which included a couple of Marsh Harriers, Sparrowhawk, Little Egret, a variety of duck, but little else! Still a reserve to which I would return to repeatedly.

Following up on reports we moved to the nearby Catcott Lows Wetland Reserve, which is administered by the Somerset Wildlife Trust. It's an absolute gem, with two hides from which close views of duck and waders can be gained. One to be visited in future without a doubt! In addition to the Wigeon , Mallard, Teal and Mute Swans present we could see in the distance a tantalising number of white birds, all of which, at least  seven of them, proved to be Little Egrets !! And then a larger, dark legged, curly necked individual rose in flight proving to be the Great White Egret (2013,176 ) we had come to see. Having sat semi-frozen for quite a time this was the signal to set off home in earnest, which we did, managing to reach Sheffield in the late afternoon. The snow hadn't gone entirely in several places and certainly conditions were no worse, but no better, than in the extreme south!  So ended a productive, albeit chilly, birding trip which had provided equally as many unique and worthwhile experiences as that in 2012.

As a sequel to our arctic jaunt we went to a family and friends party in the evening to celebrate Rose's Mum's birthday (Happy Birthday, Jane! )  at an Indian restaurant.  Equilibrium, body temperature and general well being is now in balance!

Winterers and migrants mixed. 28.3.2013.

An early start to call, first of all, at a small reserve in Devon, Hackney Marshes, where a Firecrest had been in residence. Whilst the weather generally suggested some improvement it was still extremely cold, although some weak sunshine appeared. Common species were both in evidence and responding to the "spring" conditions with birds giving forth to song. The reserve is a small area of flooded woodland and open grassland with a stream flowing through so a good variety of habitats presented themselves within which a good network of paths was present.  The Firecrest never appeared or called, but fine views were obtained of a perched male Sparrowhawk  and calling Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Water Rail were noted. A Raven overflew the site and Long-tailed Tits were active along with a couple of Chiffchaffs.

Next was an obligatory call at a new (?) Morrison's Supermarket for breakfast before continuing on to a creek area near Plymouth where we tracked down the Lesser Yellowlegs (2013,170). It was low tide and several Common Redshank and two Greenshank were present, as well as the above bird. Graceful, less robust and with longer legs it remained within the area when all the other "shanks" had moved off.

Next we moved on to Siblyback Reservoir on Bodmin Moor, reached along some  narrow lanes confined by traditional hedged dykes. A pleasant, large expanse of water with an accompanying circular footpath. We had a few Sand Martin across its centre, and over thirty flew through later, and a single Swallow (2013,171) flew nearby as we walked to one of the large bays. Here, along with Great Crested Grebe, Teal and Tufted Ducks, we found the absolutely resplendent male Lesser Scaup (2013,172). It gave tremendous views of its peaked head, distinctly vermiculated back and its comparatively small size before flying off across the reservoir showing the whiter wing bar on the secondaries only, with that across the primaries being more of a dirty grey/white.  By now the emerging warmth of the sun could actually be felt and we had a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly in flight!  Walking in the other direction we had equally brilliant views of the Red-necked Grebe (2013,173) which was present. Now entering transitional plumage, its sharp bill showed a bright yellow base but otherwise it looked somewhat scruffy! Colour was beginning to emerge on the neck, but the " band " lying across the neck still had some definition when seen well through a telescope. A nice bird. The extent to which Chiffchaffs were widely spread and noticeable emerged from the questions posed, in passing, by two lady walkers, who reported their presence in bushes across the other side of the reservoir following our just having counted 5/6 in small bushes on our side of the inlet.
They're everywhere ( Chiffchaffs that is! ).

We returned to Exminster Marshes where bird numbers, particularly duck, appeared to have reduced since yesterday. Nothing new was encountered and  we returned well satisfied at the end of the day!

Full on and in your face! 27.3,2013

An early start on a fine but witheringly cold morning!  Down to Exminster Marshes to look around, which produced a selection of common species, but failed to deliver the Black Redstart of late yesterday. It was then I discovered, after one of my habitual conversations with one of the Parish's lady dog walkers, that we were in the wrong place. Precise instructions were received and we went, somewhat ashamedly, to the opposite end of the lane where the bird, a Rose-coloured Starling ( 2013, 163 ) was soon located sitting in an apple tree. It disappeared completely for a while before emerging, perching out and then flying off!

Off to Bowling Green Marsh where a pleasant walk along the lane produced Chiffchaff, but little else. There was very little out on the marsh itself either; odd Teal, Mallard, Wigeon, Moorhen, and Curlew until a couple of male Northern Wheatear (2013,164 ) were located. Around to Dart Farm ( conservation at its most twee in my book! )  where a few Wigeon lurked along the lens of open water.

It was at this point that thoughts of breakfast began to arise!  A couple of enquiries produced nothing and then, due to some unfortunate navigation ( me! ), we appeared to be in the middle of nowhere. We decided to get our visit "southwards" out of the way and pick up  something en route. This proved to be a roadside cafe which came in at a more than creditable score of 7!!

Broadsands was arctic!  How can a British holiday destination be so cold I thought? The wind cut through clothing, thoroughly chilled your face and ensured any standing about was folly, and that view was from a well educated standpoint of both of us being brought up on the eastern flank of the Pennines!  Nonetheless we ventured out and looked at a winter feeding station on the edge of the car park. Nothing! Muck spreading was happening over an adjacent field and first thoughts were that there was too much activity going on ,but a particular patch showed a few birds present.  A "White" Wagtail, Northern Wheatear and two Black Redstarts (2013,165) gave good views and even two Common Buzzards searched the same ground. The sea, backed by the fresh wind, provided nothing so we turned back to the feeding station where Robin, Dunnock, several Chaffinches and two male Cirl Bunting (2013,166) were now present. One of the buntings sang briefly and showed really well, a fitting return for what had been a gruelling episode of birding!
A call to Dawlish, in marginally improving weather, saw us attempt some seawatching.  A few Common Scoter, Shag and Brent Geese  were all that was on offer so we decided to go back to the Exeter area.

Neither of us had seen Waxwing yet this winter, so a report of up to 51 birds being along Buddle Lane saw modern technology brought into play and our completing five return "sweeps" along the entire road. Any curtain twitching Neighbourhood Watch stalwart would have been firmly convinced that, at the very least, our repeated journeys would result in a robbery attempt at a local shop, but all we were doing was looking for birds, Your Honour!  We didn't see any, but our systematic "sweeps" did confirm something we'd commented on throughout the day. There had obviously been a very large arrival of Chiffchaff in SW England as they were everywhere!  Three in a small tree next to a traffic light, several birds feeding in shrubbery within a light industrial estate, birds flitting across roads and, obviously, birds encountered in the various more "open" areas we'd visited.  Wherever you looked, birds were present, feeding voraciously and without calling! With hindsight, I suspect I saw more Chiffchaffs throughout the day than in the last ten years.

Returning to Exminster Marshes we then had a great period of birding through the late afternoon.  A Sand Martin (2013, 167) went through north, a Little Ringed Plover (2013, 168) was located within a larger group of Ringed Plover and a couple of Spoonbill could be seen across the marsh. We met up with a family from Wales and had a really enjoyable spell of time together. The lady was a keen birder and had done a sterling job locating a male Garganey (2013,169) at the far side of the marsh. It transpired that she works for RSPB as an Education Officer, so we put various things right on conservation too. My gaffe of the afternoon was advising we'd met a birder called Dave out in Israel, who I thought came from their home area. Did they know Dave?  ( Only Welsh people will appreciate this mistake!!   He installed kitchens I remembered........Dave the Kitchen, make yourself known at the Newport Reserve please, if only to save my embarrassment! ).  And so the afternoon moved on  amidst conversation, laughter and good birding. We located a Long-tailed Duck out on the estuary, heard a couple of Water Rail, saw Red-breasted Mergansers and a flock of Black-tailed Godwit  out over the Exe and watched various waders coming in to roost as the tide flowed in behind us. A nice mixed group of Dunlin, Redshank and Grey Plover gathered in front of us and Curlew numbers began to assemble further out into the marsh. As previously, Chiffchaffs could still be seen flitting about within nearby scrub, or moving between clumps of flooded vegetation, not one of them giving out a typical call!  Finally the afternoon drew to a close with the temperature moving further downwards!

Our adventures of the day didn't cease until the evening. Having taken on the appalling one way system in Exeter, whilst looking for something to eat, we discovered by chance a Chinese takeaway/snack bar establishment. All the menus were in Chinese characters.  A waitress explained, somewhat haltingly, that they only served traditional Chinese food and our attempts at describing what would be perfectly acceptable to us met with no success and  probably wasn't understood. We were intrigued, particularly as the place was empty!  Is there such a large Chinese community in Exeter to ensure the success of such an individual enterprise?  To seek out authenticity, and be defeated by it, was a bit disappointing!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

And so it begins! 26.3.2013.

Central Sheffield at 0400 hours showed  4" of snow had fallen and large flakes were giving an impression of a delayed Christmas!  Nonetheless, sticking to our agreed plan , we left at 0430 hours and progressed southwards on a clear motorway.  Oxfordshire soon appeared in the morning light and displayed a succession of Red Kites  ( 2013, 156 ) wheeling above various roadside woodlands and fields.( Note that I've started the "system" of indicating the total of birds seen in the current year whenever a new "year bird" is observed, i.e. 2013, .... ). We had now left the snow behind and spirits, anticipation and competitive aspirations began to rise!

Eastleigh Country Park was reached around precisely the same time as last year and, after a quick boost of calories and caffeine, our search of the area began.  Despite being near a main road, the town, the airport, and a railway station this area is quite good and produced a good variety of  common birds besides our quarry, 4 Hawfinch ( 2013, 157 ) of which we got quite good views , both in flight and of perched birds. A good start!

Next on to Warblington, Hampshire! Now this involved walking around an extensive graveyard and adjacent open fields, the result from which was ...nothing. The variety of general birdlife was good, but of our target bird , no sign. Following another footpath past the rather handsome church, we came across a suitable looking area, confirmed by what I often rely on as a source of information in such circumstances, an obvious "lady of the Parish "  walking her dog. We were informed lots of people had been to see " it" and lined up along this very footpath ( such intelligence can be hurtful, frustrating and downright annoying when the damned thing can't be seen, but there you go ). So we persevered! And then the bird suddenly appeared overhead, descended into the wet pasture and commenced to feed. A Glossy Ibis ( 2013, 158 ) in full glory giving extended and wonderful views. Full marks to the Warblington's dog walkers I say. In between we'd also found a Chiffchaff ( 2013, 159 ) frantically feeding in bushes and on open ground alongside a ditch

Following some sterling navigational work by Matthew we negotiated motorways, complicated roundabouts and obscure entrances ( at least for strangers ) to allow us entry to Farlington Marshes, Hampshire. First impressions suggested a great site and so it proved to be.  In addition to a good variety of duck species,  Spoonbill, Little Egret and Marsh Harrier were present along with good numbers of Dark breasted Brent Geese. The easterly wind was absolutely painfully cold at this point and aided little any scrutiny of the ever mobile goose flock. However, persistence paid off and the Red-breasted Goose (2013, 160 ) was finally found within the confines on one of the Brent Goose flocks and, for a while, provided quite good views.

We then moved on to the New Forest. Visits to a favourite area produced nothing, so we moved on to our second priority.  Time for a "pit stop"  before we set off  along one of the main footpaths. Our coverage of this area finally produced brief views of Dartford Warbler ( 2013, 161 ), and very good views of Woodlark (2013, 162 ). We discovered these birds were in pairs, feeding within cover and giving out contact calls, but providing little evidence otherwise of their presence.  Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and Buzzard were also seen.

And so ended the first day of  "the adventure"!!  Productive, successful and fulfilling in a variety of respects!

Southward bound! 25.3.2013.

Setting aside the fact that the intended plans and birding for the last three days had been summarily lost, it was now time to concentrate on what lay in front. Leaving Dumfries around 0900 hours the first few miles showed that it was drifting snow that had caused the main problems. On one side of the road 4-5 foot drifts were in evidence, but with the other side being virtually devoid of  snow. For those who know the area, Gretna to Penrith held little or no evidence of snow, so the deluge had clearly been local in nature and effect.

All main roads were now clear, although I avoided the A66!  West Yorkshire seemed to have caught its fair share and the overnight forecast wasn't too promising either! Having reached Matthew and Rose's at Sheffield both safely and comfortably, some plotting and planning ensued, although at no point did we anticipate a miraculous turn around in weather resulting in conditions similar to last year when temperatures reached 21C.

Whilst travelling on motorways shouldn't involve  "pursuits" other than concentrating on driving, I get increasingly worried that less and less wildlife can be observed whilst in transit. Even gull numbers seem down compared to previously! I know the weather has been poor , but I seem to have seen nothing since commencing my journey in mainland Argyll other than a few corvids and gulls amidst the endless cosmetic agricultural landscape of Northern England. Where are the tumbling Lapwings of yesteryear...........

What a difference a day makes! 22.3.2013 and beyond.

How do you describe a morning when your intended plans and hopes are dashed and little change appears likely, at least in the short term. A strong easterly wind, sweeping light snow over all before it amidst poor visibility, continued all day!  Having said that, the depth of snow locally didn't  particularly increase, but reports from other people arriving suggested drifts were becoming a problem in some areas. Television reports confirmed this, and promised little improvement either!

Clearly nothing was going to be achieved and I began to be relieved that I'd a booking in place for a couple more nights!

The day following  ( 23.3.2013 ) I set off early, given the snow had stopped falling, with the intention of travelling westwards to Carlingwark Loch and the Threave area and testing the feasibility of travelling through to Stranraer and Loch Ryan on the final day of my stay. How naive can you be I asked myself later!  I did manage to get through to Castle Douglas, but accumulated snow and drifts suggested things were getting worse the further west I travelled. It was nigh on impossible to park anywhere safely and the upshot, after a frustrating attempt to bird around Carlingwark Loch, was a decision to visit Tesco's store, get some supplies,   return to Dumfries and "dig in" for the rest of today and tomorrow. The possibility of "digging out"  wasn't something to be contemplated at this stage!!!  And so a period of self-imposed "imprisonment" ensued over the 23rd and 24th March relieved by ham sandwiches, cheese and ham pasties, library books and television!!

As I arrived back at  the Travelodge on the 23rd a lady and her daughter had just returned from "somewhere towards Stranraer ", where they'd been marooned in their car all night. They'd finally made it eastwards that morning behind another large vehicle after the road had been partially cleared.  Looks like Surf Scoter is off the ornithological menu!!!  Reports from Islay of disrupted ferries, electricity supplies and telephone facilities being down suggest current circumstances are to be appreciated. Quite a nice cheese and ham pasty actually!!

Calm before the storm. 21.3.2013.

Having decided some time ago to complete a repeat of the trip to SW England Matthew and I undertook last year, I also looked towards adding on a few days birding in mainland Scotland before the onset of the trip. Initially I'd decided to have a couple of days in Fife and then a further couple of days on the Solway. As departure day approached the weather forecasts looked pretty grim in the east so I grouped all the days together and resolved to stay in Dumfries for four nights to avoid the worst of the predicted snow. How little I knew !!  But first, the trip outwards.

Despite the impending weather forecast, the day proved fine, with even a little sun, although the easterly wind was bitter. The voyage and most of the journey was uneventful, but the latter part began to gather more interest. Obviously lambing had started quite early in some places and some well grown individuals were on show. Reaching Dumfries and Galloway my personal favourite breed of cattle ( Belted Galloway ) began to appear, a colour combination that always reminds me of Liquorice Allsorts !!

Further on my eyes turned westwards towards the Forest of Ae and prompted returning memories of a "training event"  many years ago organized by RSPB that centred down on forestry techniques and dwelt on differing practices in different areas.  Of particular interest was something a small group of us was shown by Ronnie Rose, a senior forester in one independent forestry area where a series of innovative planting approaches was being taken. Having an ongoing interest in Long-eared Owls,  it was fascinating also to be shown the usage of shallow metal baskets that acted as a base for a nest and to learn of their success, even to the extent of having three fledged young staring down at us from nearby trees!  Given much debate, at that time, revolving around the sterility of  mono-cultured plantations, this, and other ideas, were most certainly  absorbing initiatives.  To revisit such areas, as well as many other locations enjoyed on winter family holidays over several years, proved to be the task I addressed throughout the evening. And was the Surf Scoter still on Loch Ryan I asked.........