Friday, January 22, 2016

Winter feeding frenzy.

For well over a week the weather conditions have truly reflected the harsh grip of winter. Low temperatures throughout, combined with short days,  has ensured the number of birds visiting this particular garden feeding station has been high.  The location is west of Inverness, Scotland  with a gradual emergence of higher hills inland , but with agricultural land and accompanying woodlands adjacent to the Beauly and Moray Firths stretching out from the house,  the area has a rich diversity of habitat and bird life.  However, a walk through any local woodland area at the height of winter shows it to be peculiarly quiet in many respects and many such areas must see their normal "residents" flooding out to take advantage of  food provided in the gardens of nearby villages.  Despite the weather conditions improving enormously today ( 22 nd ) good numbers of birds are about and still feeding frantically.

During the series of somewhat poor, past days a wide variety of species has been in evidence, as is shown below ( with the maximum number present at any one time being quoted ).

Blackbird  9
Mistle Thrush  1
Robin  7
Starling  10
Dunnock  6
House Sparrow  8
Tree Sparrow  12
Chaffinch  ca.15
Greenfinch  1
Bullfinch  2
Goldfinch  3
Yellowhammer  7
Siskin  4
Lesser Redpoll  5
Great Tit   6
Blue Tit  7
Coal Tit  8
Great Spotted Woodpecker  1  ( certainly two individuals involved )
Jackdaw  3
Carrion Crow  1

Not a bad haul and a mixture that has provided a never ending tapestry of fascination in what , otherwise, might have been rather dull days. More serious points arise of course. The extent to which garden feeding stations support our bird communities over periods of harsh weather must not be overlooked. It seems fairly obvious that birds "travel" to discovered sources of food and the sudden curtailment of these sources can obviously cause difficulties. Indeed watching various birds approach the garden from the nearby woodland in the morning was proof positive of their preferred "origin" and overnight roosting areas too. Continuity is the key and will repay you many times over with the variety and numbers in attendance improving through time. The simple activity of providing food for "your " birds ( everybody begins to think like that ) is therapeutic, satisfying and can actually add much to what we know about birds.  Please take a look at the BTO website and the details about Garden Birds Surveys to discover what you can contribute through your observations on birds in your own garden.

Simple facts that I've concluded during the last few days

  • Bullfinches are only ever present immediately after dawn
  • Blackbirds are both the first and last feeders to be present
  • Tree Sparrows exploit only the farthest feeders from the house
OK, not rocket science,  but facts that possibly deserve further exploration. I suspect that the improving weather conditions might actually see a reduction in birds after a couple of days as they exploit more convenient resources, but maybe not. Perhaps that's the next topic to explore ?

Highland winter highlights.

Past days has seen the "highlands" gripped by winter with daytime temperatures hovering around freezing and nighttime figures much lower. Calm conditions, unrelenting temperatures and snow have provided the sort of magical scenes people always wish happened at Christmas, but ones that can bring their own series of problems.  Thankfully road conditions have been reasonable, icy but not blocked by snow other than in the extreme.

Suddenly conditions have changed overnight. The snow has gone , the temperatures are up and, after a series of dull, grey days, a hint of sunshine in a blue sky. Odd Primroses are peeping through, accompanied by an occasional burst of song from a Robin, molehills are being revealed and, very gradually , the countryside appears to be coming back to life.

Morning and evening flights of Pink-footed Geese move between the feeding grounds on inland stubble and the roosting sites on the nearby Beauly Firth.  A few days ago the far reaching calls of Whooper Swans could be heard  somewhere down close to the Firth itself  but the birds appear to have moved more recently.  As dawn broke today on improving conditions three Common Buzzards called repeatedly from nearby woodland as if in celebration!

The report of the Aurora Borealis possibly being on display one night prompted a late night walk that, sadly was more dominated by the moon that anything else. However, the calm, quiet, pristine stillness of a "highland" night was an experience in itself  that, surprisingly, was never punctuated by a calling owl or an animal's alarm call.

Whilst the next few days promise to be somewhat mild the future might yet see a reversion to what has gone before or even worse!  Who knows?

Monday, January 11, 2016

Spurn Visitor Centre........the penultimate chapter?

Due to being engrossed in "domestic things" at present I'm a bit out of sync with the timing of all this I'm afraid.  Anyway, shortly before Christmas the planning application was submitted by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust relating to the proposed Visitor Centre at Spurn. The details didn't appear until the New Year but can be viewed on the East Riding of Yorkshire web site  ( details below ). As I understand it the closing date for comments or objections is 3rd February, but may now have been extended until the 11th February, a fact that probably needs checking.

  From a quick inspection of the information available the application appears not to have departed from the declared intentions of the Trust in any major way, but be aware that there are over thirty documents/maps to examine !  Like many people I would have dearly hoped that the clear problems the Trust has to face in managing the site since the tidal breach could somehow have been resolved by a varied "package" of initiatives that didn't involve the construction of a large visitor centre.  Whilst I'm content that the various alternatives suggested were given due consideration the Trust has stuck to its initial preferences which have resulted in the above application. The matter is now down to the Planning Officer concerned to determine whether the matter should be allowed to proceed. Objections can be submitted, but remember that, at this stage, all such objections should be of a "material nature" not simply registrations of dissent against the idea. Advice on what is considered to be "material" is usually available via the local planning department's web site or by direct contact. Clearly, in circumstances like this, local residents have a much greater variety of circumstances upon which they might object due to potential effects on local facilities, property etc.

The Spurn Bird Observatory Trust Committee has advised its supporters that they intend to object.

Dear Friends

As you may be aware the YWT have now submitted their planning application to the ERYCC to build a new visitors centre in triangle field. This is despite the committee lobbying on your behalf over the last 12 months to to try and convince the Trust to change the location. Sadly this was not possible so as previously advised to you in December 2014 we as Spurn Bird Observatory Trust Ltd committee are left with no choice but to strongly object to the application.

Over 80% of our members voted in favour of this action so it is our intention to use the services of a professional organisation that specialises in this work to give us the best possible chance of success. Can I kindly encourage you to visit the link below to obtain further information about the plans and make a formal objection yourself if you consider it appropriate.

The planning details are as below together with a link to the ERYCC website.

15/03947/PLF | Erection of a new Visitor Centre, construction of new car park and associated landscaping work and erection of a 23.0m high radar shipping scanner for Associated British Ports | Land South East Of The Dovecote Spurn Road Kilnsea East Riding Of Yorkshire HU12 0UH

Time is very limited with this application so can I kindly encourage you to visit the link site as soon as possible.

Kind Regards


Rob Adams - Chairman and Treasurer of Spurn Bird Observatory Trust Ltd at 0700 hours on 11th January the above link is not working correctly in the sense that you access the  East Riding of Yorkshire's web site, but are told the server is down and to try later.  Try this link for a more direct  entry Visitor Centre application
 All you need to do is to enter  Visitor Centre, Kilnsea in the box and you'll be directed to the various details.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

10 years on!

Whilst rummaging around for some information yesterday I discovered that I've been at this house for ten of the sixteen years I've been on Islay.  I shall be sorry to leave in Spring, but new challenges and opportunities present themselves and I guess the best approach is to engage everything new with a spirit of enthusiasm. If the future provides as much satisfaction as the immediate past then I shall be both extremely pleased and grateful.

Living in splendid isolation brings with it a lot of benefits if you're interested in wildlife. Here these have included close encounters with species like Chough, Hen Harrier, and Golden Eagle which can be regular to the extent you might see any one of those more frequently than your neighbour!  It also puts a particular emphasis on what you see at migration times as even a small garden with two ( that's 2 only ) bushes, can provide a magnet for migrants. In a sense too there's a great reinforcement of season as some aspects repeat themselves with uncanny precision. However, some of the "garden birds"  I've recorded have been surprising to say the least.   Black Redstart, Waxwing, Lapland Bunting ( on the wires alongside the house ) and Ring Ousel were all a little unexpected.

But there were many other surprises too..........Common and Lesser Redpoll, Spotted Flycatcher, Cuckoo, a real mixture of warblers ( Common Whitethroat, Blackap, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Sedge Warbler ), Siskins aplenty, Brambling  and on two occasions only Blue Tit.  Clearly somewhere providing shelter and food is a magnet and is sought out by a tired migrant, be it a Collared Dove or Sparrowhawk, just as assiduously as any of the above mentioned warblers.  Finding a single male House Sparrow  ( one record only! ) chirping away inside  the barn was a surprise as was lying in bed at dawn and hearing ( and seeing after a scramble ) both Whooper Swan and Pink-footed Geese passing over southward. Overall, in the ten years I've had 84 different species recorded from the house and, whilst there's no water body in sight, the coast is only a kilometre away in one direction and Loch Indaal three or four kilometres in the other, so lots of potential around.

Breeding birds have been a joy with regular Starling (great mimics of seabird calls! ), Dunnock , and Swallow around and birds like Meadow Pipit, Reed Bunting, Pheasant  in the immediate vicinity and odd occurrences of Grasshopper Warbler, Whinchat, and Corncrake nearby, besides the predictable thrushes, Chaffinch and Coal Tits in the nearby conifer woodlands.  More particular pleasure was derived from the threatened colonisation by Chough ( in provided nest boxes not used for twenty years since installation) , only for a Third World War to develop with a pair of Barn Owls that both won the conflict and provided me with a summer of absolute delight. Birdwatching in the grand style from an easy chair in the lounge watching their departure each evening as they set out hunting and then diligently returning each twenty minutes or so to feed their young.    I shall miss them!

There's lots more to be told of course. The overflying wintering geese, migrating waders, the croak of resident Ravens, and the wonderful bubbling calls of Curlew and displaying Lapwing in Spring.  I shall miss it all very badly and will be saddened at leaving behind such joyous, unconditional experiences........all such were provided without demand  or requirement. Other things will take their place, of course, things that I've missed whilst being here too, but I shall most definitely look back on my time in the wilderness with a deep fondness, regret at times I'm sure , but. most of all, with a feeling of privilege.

Friday, January 1, 2016

So, here it is, happy birding, it's only just begun!!

Dawn broke with grey skies and a cold south east wind; an all encompassing silence pervaded the landscape until a Raven croaked overhead and claimed its place as the first species for 2016. The nearby coast seemed at least worth a cursory inspection, but, as suspected, produced very little. Around 20 Fulmar already occupied the usual stretch of breeding cliff, a few Shag fed offshore but the moderate swell and boiling sea didn't help observation. A sheltered bay played host to a good party of Rock Pipit,a Grey Wagtail and a large flock of Starling working through the accumulated debris thrown high on the now elevated strand line. Moving to Outer Loch Indaal an immature Gannet was taking advantage of the calmer conditions between Islay and Orsay, but little else showed other than wheeling Herring and Common Gulls.

Moving north on the western side of the loch, odd Great Northern Diver were in evidence, Eider, a  few Wigeon, at least 28 Light bellied Brent Geese and, by now , the ubiquitous Shags. Eventually I got to the head of the loch  but both visibility and viewing conditions were deteriorating. The first of New Year's Day strollers were braving the elements causing odd wader flocks along the strand to be restless, a situation that got worse with a couple of squalls moving through.  Sitting it out produced nothing other than a few Common Scoter and venturing out produced my first soaking of the day!!!

With visibility reducing due to mist rolling in and what appeared to be persistent rain developing I decided to head for home. A rather dark male Hen Harrier was near to Port Charlotte and very distinctive. With the rain abating a little I stopped at Loch Conailbhe and was surprised to find around 30/40 Grey lag Geese, Tufted Duck , Wigeon and at least 12 Whooper Swan on what is a very sheltered loch in some respects but one that rarely has much to offer. A bonus on what now was a day with little prospect. Arriving home the south east wind rose further, with it now whining and whistling in the windows. Initially, tomorrow's forecast looked half reasonable but as successive TV forecasts emerge it rather looks as if it could be a bit of a disaster with high winds and rain.  What's new from this winter!!  But, hey, there's 365 days still remaining for the Year List   ( Leap Year remember ! ).