Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Some reflections on Islay raptor populations.

Yesterday was absolutely filthy in the sense that it rained throughout most of it and, contrasted against recent times, it wasn't very warm either. So, it was a day to catch up with paperwork and other tasks. Thankfully, the tedium of the afternoon was broken up by a visit from Gordon and Pauline Yates, who hail from Lancashire, but who have been coming to Islay for at least the last thirty years. Many in Northern England will already know of them from the films they make that are shown at a wide variety of venues. If I simply say that Gordon has a passion for Hen Harriers equal to mine, you'll immediately understand the common bonds that are present and the basis of our conversations.

I was pleased in a rather perverse way yesterday to hear that Gordon too felt that the harrier numbers were down on Islay. I'm firmly convinced that the widespread persecution on the mainland over the past two years or so has led to a reduction here. Various territories are vacant and filmed pairs show the adults previously present have now been "replaced" by younger birds. The Gruinart area, monitored closely on an annual basis  by RSPB, has also seen a reductions in the number of pairs present set against the usual  level. Whilst the proud claim of having 40+ pairs of harriers on Islay has oft been quoted, the mindless persecution elsewhere has obviously taken its toll along with losses noted in other parts of the mainland.

We both agreed that Golden Eagle numbers appear to be holding firm on Islay and Jura and that White-tailed Eagles continue to do well in NW Scotland. By contrast we both felt that the Peregrine population on Islay appears to have reduced in recent years, the reasons for which are perplexing at best. With the very buoyant population of Rock Doves present, persecution not being a problem and breeding sites being unaffected, the factors involved are somewhat of a concern.  Common Buzzards have certainly increased over the last decade, but the rapid increase noted previously now appears to have slowed, either temporarily or more permanently.

Our discussions ranged far and wide and then centred on a subject I know is dear to Pauline's heart and that she'd soundly clout me for for setting out here!  For many years Pauline, supported by Gordon as necessary, has trained guide dogs for the blind, an involvement from which she has only recently withdrawn. Over the years she has been involved in the training of 31 guide dogs.  What an absolutely wonderful contribution to make, to bring freedom and independence to other fellow humans in need of such support.  I reflected later, and felt genuinely and suitably humbled!  Raving on about rare birds pursued and seen is firmly put in its place set against such selfless contributions on behalf of others.   Well done Pauline.

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