Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Wild,wild weather!!

Whilst I have to say that living on an island like Islay makes you somewhat immune to the drastic changes and extremes of  accompanying weather for the area. However, occasionally more noticeable events occur or are predicted. We're in the middle of one at the moment, although I don't believe it's going to be "extreme" in the more accepted sense.

I suppose it's easy to be cynical towards some of the more "simple", but nonetheless genuine, comments that arise in the media whenever extreme events occur. For some people who have usually avoided the "pleasure" of high winds, lashing rain, high seas and general disruption it may well be a very significant occurrence in their lives and one they don't want to see repeated either!  By contrast, it's a bit of a " you puts up with what you get" situation for us in many senses given island life regularly includes wild weather. However, I must, somewhat mischievously, repeat the  television report  I heard yesterday of someone ringing in to say his refuse bins had been blown across the yard. Well as a wild weather "indicator" I'm afraid that's way down on the scale of severity given I've had to retrieve bins from across an adjacent field on more than one occasion. Currently they're tucked away in the barn and have been for several days!

On a serious note I've just checked my barometer and it's reading 940 millibars, which is actually the end of the scale on the device. I'm told the lowest ever recorded pressure reading in the UK is 923 so we're not far away from that position. In 13/14 years of being here I recollect only two or three really fierce storms, i.e. wind speeds in excess of 110 mph. They're not a nice experience as damage to property etc is a given; they're actually quite scary too as the accompanying noise is horrific as very high winds have a roaring sound and, if your power supply is still retained, the volume control on the TV or radio usually needs hiking up. Doing anything outside is usually out of the question and a thought must be given in those circumstances to farmers needing to deal with stock and to the various emergency services whose personnel have to turn out to rectify matters. Thankfully, floods aren't the problem experienced in many other areas, although unbelievable quantities of water can descend upon us!!  It's the waters we're surrounded by that can so easily generate problems, which is precisely what is happening at present with the two earliest ferries today having been cancelled. It's rather traditional for Islay to see family get-togethers at Christmas/ New Year, a situation which can be severely affected by events such as those now affecting the Hebrides/ Western Isles. It has to be said that, in my opinion, Caledonian Macbrayne ferries do their damnedest to "deliver" in such difficult circumstances and if cancellations occur then they reflect the severity of the circumstances involved!!

As for wildlife then I have to say that I'm just about to put the kettle on and then rely on the delights contained within the latest BirdWatch magazine.  A review of Christmas arrangements and accompanying opportunities can be taken later when all the excitement dies down!!

Despite the best efforts of the weather may I wish everyone a very happy Christmas and New Year and enjoyable birding during 2014.

Greenland White-fronted Goose census.

Last week ( 17th-18th ) saw the completion of the International Census of Greenland White-fronted Geese in which Islay plays a prominent part given its significant wintering population.  Such counts are completed at three distinct points over each winter, supplemented, on Islay, by the counts arising from within the formal counts regularly undertaken as part of the monitoring of geese associated with the subsidy system for farmers.

As has been said before the Greenland White-fronted Goose is actually a sub-species, but because of its distinct breeding distribution and wintering areas is treated as if it were a full species. Recent years has seen  growing concerns about its numbers which have reduced dramatically. For this reason its numbers are monitored over the whole of its regular wintering areas to gain an insight into its current status as clearly attempting to monitor the population in Greenland itself is nigh on impossible.

To achieve this on Islay the island is split into six distinct sectors and counted over each of two consecutive days recognizing that birds may be missed due to a variety of circumstances. The average figure is then used in the various summaries drawn together, although with keen attention being paid to the constituent totals for each individual day.  Last week that figure was 5869, which was remarkably "close" to the figure derived from the November counts, 5888.  Comparison of the figures associated with the individual days for each sector can show some changes as birds move around a little of their own volition or are disturbed and move onto ground in another of the designated sectors. Whilst it would be easy to conclude the totals are derived from a few large flocks within each sector such is certainly not the case and the totals very often arise from the accumulation of sightings of endless smaller groups. It makes for a long couple of days involving the exploration of all known favoured sites and other sheltered nooks and crannies, particularly if the weather is a bit iffy and the birds seek shelter which they're very adept at identifying.

At the same time all numbers of Barnacle Geese encountered are also logged on the recording sheets. Last week saw 36,244 birds "in residence", contrasted against the 46,931 birds logged in November suggesting perhaps that some birds had moved on.  One pleasing aspect this winter has been to note that there is a significant presence of young birds within the Greenland White-front flocks which is a very welcome sight. Previously the general rule was to note that, whilst Barnacle Goose numbers were increasing, those of Greenland White-fronts were moving in the other direction!! In that sense it seems, temporarily or otherwise, a corner may have been turned, which justifies the basis upon which the census work rests. Good news!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Catch up!

It's five weeks since I had an opportunity to contribute to my Blog due, in the main, to work, but also to my being away on the mainland. Besides work associated with goose monitoring, diversionary feeding studies and studies of Barnacle Goose roost sites in that period, I've been involved in a round of various meetings and discussions linked to conservation issues which , at the time , were absorbing and informative but which I didn't realise were taking as much time as they did!! Added to that has been a period spent in Inverness with my daughter, Katherine, previous to getting back here. Within that time, a freak gale occurred, we had snow, lost power and heating and, generally, had more than a few adventures, including my being yanked off my feet by the dogs and taking a hard tumble and, on another occasion, being pulled by them along an icy road as if on a sled. All absorbing stuff best enjoyed by later reflection!!

Having returned to Islay I've just realised how much has happened, or is happening, on the conservation front, mainly at Government level with funding proposals linked to farming being imminent, with important public statements being made recently relating to raptor persecution and a plethora of other issues arising too.

So, much to catch up on. The International Greenland White-fronted Goose counts are this week, although it looks as if the weather is unlikely to be "kind" with strong winds for several days. Ferries were disrupted yesterday  and I suspect conditions might be a bit challenging later too! Still, it is December and, perhaps more importantly, only a few days yet before we're past the worst and the days begin to gradually lengthen!