Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Support needed for Greenland White-fronted Goose.

Here on Islay we witness each winter the presence of large numbers of geese from the Arctic. Predominantly these are Barnacle Geese, but lesser numbers of Greenland White-fronted Geese are present as well. There are acknowledged conflicts with the farming process, but the Scottish Government has acknowledged this situation and subsidy mechanisms are in place. Arguments sometimes reign over the extent of these and the Governments representative body, Scottish Natural Heritage, has been at the centre of such discussions and initiatives for many years. Clearly the challenge is one of balance in all respects, but currently the problem is made all the more difficult by seemingly increasing numbers of Barnacle Geese set against repeated reductions of Greenland White-fronted Geese!!

Many of you will know that the Greenland White-fronted Goose is actually a subspecies, but has been afforded  protective status within a variety of legislation due to its distinctiveness. Breeding in Greenland, separated from the "main" population of White-fronted Geese distributed across Russia, it winters in Scotland and Ireland with a small population in Wales. Over the fourteen years I have been on Islay the numbers have reduced very noticeably and similar concerns are being expressed from elsewhere too. As yet it's not entirely clear precisely why the population is reducing, which makes the task of tackling the decline so much harder. Nonetheless, various efforts have and are still being made to try and improve this situation, including initiatives on Islay, of which more in due course. Studies have shown that the birds are extremely sensitive to hunting pressure and shooting of birds is banned virtually everywhere, except in Wales!!

Wales plays host each winter to a small population centred on the Dyfi estuary. Whilst there is a voluntary ban on shooting by local wildfowlers, in theory at least it is still feasible to shoot birds in Wales and, of course, any voluntary undertaking is not enshrined in law.  Given the current concerns for the species and conservation efforts being implemented virtually everywhere else where the birds winter, it seems bizarre in the extreme that this situation should exist in Wales given it could be rectified so simply through Government process.

The Wales Ornithological Society has long drawn attention to this anomaly but now more direct action is being taken. A petition has been raised on the Welsh Assembly calling for the position to be regularised
Greenland White-fronted Goose petition


If I simply say that Wales is the only place where this bird is not protected within its range the scenario becomes even more of a nonsense.  Whilst I'm sure the Welsh Assembly has not set out to isolate the birds in question, the current situation does question why, in a devolved structure, there is not some element of "joined up thinking". But let's not go there and, instead, concentrate on putting right what is a simple element that requires action, little effort and at the very least demonstrates everyone is on side when it comes to protecting these magnificent birds.  My only personal apology ( on what is concerning a particular favourite of mine ) is that I can't for the life of me find a suitable photograph to accompany this!!  A call for an update to my file system I suspect.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Autumn glory!

Other than a few showers late morning it was a glorious day with a blue sky and cloud and sunny too. In a few secluded spots even insect swarms were on the wing!

Most of the morning was spent seawatching from a couple of locations. Although not a great deal was on the move, other than parties of auks and mostly distant ones at that, it was good to be out without getting soaked. A few Black Guillemots in winter plumage whirred about inshore and possibly the most unexpected species was a high flying Grey Heron moving south!

Given the wind was light, and water surface conditions on Outer Loch Indaal  fairly calm, I decided to do a routine survey of the outer loch "basin". Other than divers  ( Great Northern 11, Black-throated 2, Red-throated 10 ) not a lot was apparent, possibly a consequence of the poor recent weather having driven them into the Inner Loch.  This was the next stop but, by early afternoon, the glare reflecting off the water surface made counting impossible. Such was both tantalising and frustrating as various species could be picked out in isolation ( Long tailed Duck, Slavonian Grebe, Greater Scaup, Eider and Red-breasted Merganser ). Candidates for another occasion.

Large numbers of Barnacle Geese fed on open pastures nearby and occasionally rose in panic and confusion from some unknown cause.

Needing to go north I eventually went through to Bunnahabhain from where the view of the Paps of Jura across the Sound of Islay was tremendous. Despite weather warnings of snow for other areas of Scotland the Paps were as yet unadorned ( unless it had melted off early ! )

A period spent watching out over the Sound of Islay produced nothing other than a Great Northern Diver and then absolutely stunning views of a large dog Otter coming out onto a small island with prey. I suspected this to be a large crab, which the Otter had some difficulty in controlling, but which eventually succumbed within which time another Otter swam towards shore in the bay immediately to the north.  The dog Otter was the largest I've ever seen on  Islay with a very noticeable prominent head.

Eventually I set off on my return journey , only to encounter a Red Deer stag at close quarters!

                                               He knew I was there, but not quite where!! 

Unfortunately conditions overseeing Inner Loch Indaal were no better than previously with the glare from the now waning sunlight being quite strong. The tide was almost at its fullest extent, and quite a high one at that, which meant that the water was well into the inner saltmarsh areas. Surface feeding duck explored creeks normally relatively dry and groups of waders perched atop isolated islands of saltmarsh vegetation.

After simply watching the activities of birds moving around and a flock of 104 Greater Scaup, within whose ranks were a few Slavonian Grebes, mirrored a little farther out by a tight flock of almost 60 Eiders, the day was beginning to draw to a close. The light and colours were an ever changing tapestry of light and intense colour as I made my way homeward down the Rinns. A good day!