Wednesday 30 June 2010

House Sparrows

We are fortunate to still have a good population of House sparrows on Islay - the drop in numbers of this species on the mainland is very marked in a lot of areas. The reasons for this are not clear - but they might be linked to our recent love of B&Q - our houses are too well maintained and our gardens too well manicured to afford the Sparrows their idea habitats for living and breeding.

I guess the inference must therefore be that we humans are still suitably scruffy and unkempt here on Islay and the Sparrows still have plenty of good habitat. We put up a Sparrow nest box a few years back - and it has always been ignored which suggests plenty of good natural sites.

Sparrows do seem to be aggressive feeders however - they have taken over our nut cages completely - we started with a good mix of Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Siskins, tits etc, but the only bird that dares threaten the Sparrow hegemony these days is the odd Starling.

Hands-on Wildlife...

Or should that be Deadlife? We have a large selection of skulls on our touch-tables that are perfect for exploration by fingers of all sizes. Working out what skull belongs to which animal or bird can be quite a challenge

Tuesday 29 June 2010

Wildlife Tourism in Scotland is worth £65million and 2,760 jobs says Scottish Govt Report

New report reveals true value of wildlife tourism says Scottish Government

Visitors contribute £65 million a year to Scotland's economy

Wildlife tourism plays a vital part in Scotland's rural economy, pulling in millions of pounds and also creating many hundreds of job opportunities.

These findings were contained in a Scottish Government report - 'The Economic Impact of Wildlife Tourism in Scotland' - published online. The report found that wildlife tourism annually brings in a net economic impact of £65 million to Scotland's economy and creates the equivalent of 2,760 full time jobs.

The report also found that 1.12 million trips were made every year to or within Scotland with the main aim of viewing wildlife. This form of tourism appealed greatly to UK-based visitors and Scots themselves, accounting for 56 per cent of trips. And it was these UK visitors who generated 75 per cent of the income.

Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said: "Tourism is vital to Scotland's economic recovery. As one of Europe's leading year-round wildlife destinations with a world famous reputation for natural heritage, Scotland has a great deal to offer. Whether watching whales from a boat in the Minch, walking in the glens or viewing puffins and seals around Inchcolm Island, visitors clearly value Scotland's fascinating wildlife.

"Wildlife tourism is becoming increasingly popular, generating significant benefits for the economy and coastal communities. With this in mind, we need to ensure that we safeguard our marine environment for the future. Scotland's Marine Act offers enhanced protection for wildlife and will help deliver economic growth for key business sectors.

"Marine planning will ensure an appropriate balance between development, protection and recreation. Marine Protected Areas will help us safeguard the marine environment, including iconic species and habitats that tourists come to see."

Tourism Minister Jim Mather said: "This research confirms that wildlife tourism in particular is a growing sector - generating a net economic impact of around £65 million for our economy. Viewing wildlife is the main driver behind over one million trips to Scotland every year - and over half of those are made by UK tourists. This helps to support over 2,700 full time jobs.

"Our stunning seas and coasts support a wealth of wildlife and play a key role in attracting visitors at home and abroad. The public's increasing awareness and interest in our marine environment is being translated into tangible economic benefits - and we will ensure that this isn't at a cost to our natural environment.

"I congratulate everyone involved in delivering such an impressive achievement."

Lloyd Austin, Head of Conservation Policy at RSPB Scotland, said: "We warmly welcome the publication of this new research, which underlines the economic value of wildlife tourism in addition to its intrinsic value.

"Over 50 years since their return we have shown ospreys to hundreds of thousands of people who visit our Loch Garten reserve. This demonstrates why wildlife conservation and enhancement should be a core objective of government policy, not just for its own sake but as a contribution to Scotland's well-being and future prosperity.

"It also shows the importance of ensuring that damage to our most important and precious natural assets is not permitted, but avoided at any cost."

Susan Davies, director policy and advice at Scottish Natural Heritage, said: "It's very heartening, particularly in the International Year of Biodiversity, that the economic benefits of wildlife and scenery are being more widely recognised. This underlines the importance of our work with the tourism sector to ensure developments and activities are sustainable. It is equally important to ensure that people have ample opportunity and accessible information to help them enjoy Scotland's nature."

The Scottish Government commissioned research was carried out by Bournemouth University to discover the economic impact of wildlife tourism for Scotland. It assessed the impact across three sectors: land, coast and sea. The full report can be found here:


Research Findings:

Wildlife tourism involves visitors, be they overnight tourists or day visitors, making a trip for which the primary purpose is to view, study and/or enjoy wildlife (animals, plants and other organisms) on land or at sea/lake. This includes visitors who take a wildlife watching holiday or who make a specific trip to a wildlife visitor attraction such as a wildlife park or wildlife visitor centre. It also includes visitors who make a trip to the countryside, coast or sea to view wildlife. This report does not include consumptive wildlife tourism i.e. hunting, shooting and fishing.

The study found that a total of £276 million is spent by tourists making the 1.12 million trips each year. Spending by wildlife visitors brings about increases in income in Scotland and extra jobs both within the wildlife industry, in hotels and other accommodation sectors, in other visitor attractions, and through a variety of supply-chain linkages.

The gross economic impact of tourism reflects income and employment generated by visitor spending through the tourism sectors and in the supply chains of these sectors. It also includes income and employment that is generated because incomes in the tourism sectors and their supply chains lead to further additional spending.

Net economic impact takes into account two other factors, additionally and displacement. Additionally considers how much of the wildlife tourism spending would not have been spent in Scotland if viewing wildlife was not an option for visitors. It removes, for example, spending by visitors who would have made a visit to some other type of attraction in Scotland. Displacement takes into account constraints in the provision of services that mean that, for example, some wildlife tourists use bed spaces that would otherwise have filled by other tourists; and some of the jobs generated by wildlife tourism involve a worker who has moved from gainful employment elsewhere.

After considering these factors, the net economic impact of wildlife tourism in Scotland is found to be £65 million, with around 2,760 jobs in existence because of the activities of wildlife tourism in Scotland.

Green Tiger Beetle

There are about 20,000 different kinds of beetles in Britain of which I know very few. However, this one is distinctive enough and is, I think, the only bright green one with yellow spots. Look for it crawling over sandy or stony ground. It's about 12-15 mm long and can vary from pale to dark green. If this photo isn't quite in focus then put this down to the fact that the beetle was moving and so was I!


Swallows fledge at Lorgba

Our brood of swallows have emerged into the wider world from behind their ceiling insulation and are checking out the neighbourhood on swift aerial forays before returning back to base for a quick refuelling stop.. This shot was actually taken in 2008 - but you will get the idea....


Monday 28 June 2010


More from the photos Chris and Harold Burslem left with us last week; here we have a Redshank and a Snipe, both perched on the same post, from the look of it, obviously a comfy spot!

Oyster plant

More interesting stuff from Gordon Yates's recent trip up to Islay - here's a rare Islay flower, the Oyster plant. These are found around Portnahaven (Gordon took this at Claddach) and apparently this year they are doing well.

More moths

A reasonable catch last night of nearly 50 moths of 19 species. Three that I hadn't caught before were Light Emerald, Dusky Brocade and Double Square-spot.

Sunday 27 June 2010

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)

This is an entirely gratuitous picture of a Foxglove

Lesser Spearwort (Ranunculus flammula scoticus)

This buttercup was in a gravelly ditch by the High Road. I am going to suggest it is the Scottish subspecies of Lesser Spearwort - the leaves are very thin - almost without a blade.

Saturday 26 June 2010

Burnet Rose (Rosa pimpinellifolia)

This is in a hedge on the low road out of Bowmore. I think it is a Burnet rose because the spines are straight and there are hairs on the stem - but I am - as ever - prepared to be corrected!!


Friday 25 June 2010

Wildcats in Port Charlotte...

Last night was the INHT's first ever film night, and we were very pleased to see a good crowd of around 40 turn out on a lovely sunny evening. The film was Last of the Scottish Wildcats, a documentary charting the declining population of this beautiful but deadly predator, and the challenges it faces. Fewer than 400 are thought to remain in the wild, and extinction could be as near as 10 years away. Many thanks to everybody who came, we hope you enjoyed it and hope to be able to offer more films later in the year.

Some of Islay's Butterflies

We were fortunate to have a visit from Chris and Harold Burslem at the field centre in Port Charlotte yesterday, they very kindly gave us some terrific photos from their trip so far. We'll spread them out over the next few days, but here's a couple of lovely Islay butterflies, a Common Blue and a Marsh Fritillary. The Marsh Fritillary in particular is a real Islay speciality. Scarce on the mainland, it is quite widespread on Islay, the Gruinart/Ardnave area is a good place to spot them.

Crane Fly (Tipula Maxima)

The crane fly, Britain's largest flying insect, is the chap responsible for the grubs called leatherjackets that chew through the root systems of countless plants, and in turn provide food for an awful lot of starlings and rooks.

Thursday 24 June 2010

Wind Farm

Important Wind Farm social impact study announced

Last of the Scottish Wildcats - Tonight at INHT

We are showing a DVD this evening at the Field Centre in Port Charlotte. This is the independent production 'Last of the Scottish Wildcats' by Coffeefilms.

It starts at 7.30 (ish) and admission is free. We hope to see you there.

The Budget and its effects

The impression that we have been living through a period of 'phoney war' with regard to the UK's financial difficulties has intesified since the budget announcements when George Osbourne suggested that government departments outside the protected spheres of health and international development would see cuts of up to 25%. The Scotsman this morning is saying that some departments could see cuts of 33%, and singles out DEFRA for particular attention.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is the Westminster government's department responsible for environment protection, food production and standards, agriculture, fisheries and rural communities in the United Kingdom.

Its key partners include the Environment Agency and the Forestry Commission.

Severe cuts to DEFRA are not likely to be good news for rural areas such as Islay.

Wednesday 23 June 2010

Black Slug (Arion ater)

The hermaphrodite black slug has a pneumostome, which is a hole on its side through which it breathes. They are not very handsome. Hedgehogs will eat them, but lots of things will not.


Yesterday I went a walk with my parents at Sanaigmore. We walked north towards Ardnave, although we didn't get very far as there was just so much to stop and admire en route. Like Malcolm, we saw many dragonflies and noted how they all went crazy as soon as the sun came out and, whenever the sun disappeared behind a cloud, so did the dragonflies! They, like us, need the vitamin D for energy.

It was a great walk and we were thrilled to see the Marsh Fritillary at last, though looking quite worn at the end of its flight period. We also saw large numbers of Small Heath and Common Blue, a Dark Green Fritillary and mum spotted the first Meadow Browns of the year.

Just as I announced that this was ideal territory for adders and my mum went 'oooh!' (not in a good way!), my dad cried out (in a whisper) 'There's one!' and we watched as it slithered away to safety in the heather. It had gone before I had chance to take a photo and before mum had a chance to see it at all, although, wearing only sandals, she wasn't too bothered about missing it!

It was mum that spotted the otter later on. It just took a peep at us before the Oystercatcher, the reliable sentinel, announced our arrival and it was gone forever. They must be able to hold their breath for ages as, despite watching for ages, we didn't see it again.

The area is awash with yellow at the moment and this is the Biting Stonecrop (Sedum acre), also known as Wall-Pepper from its peppery-tasting yellowish-green leaves. Superstition claims that, if planted on the roof of a house, the Biting Stonecrop will ward off a thunderstorm and, like many plants, it was considered an excellent medicine in days gone by.

I was also delighted to see the beautiful, delicate Burnet Rose.



4am bruichladdich

Lesser Black Back Gull at Shorefield

This bird first visited the garden in 2005 - and has returned every year since. He (or she) has become almost tame - standing on the wall just two metres from our door waiting to be fed.
George and Megan

Lily Loch

We were out for a walk near Port Askaig and came across the aptly named Lily Loch large areas of which were covered by water lilies
George and Megan


Out walking yesterday, I saw both of the two kinds of large dragonfly which occur on Islay, the Golden-ringed and the Common Aeshna. The former has a handy habit, for would-be photographers, of patrolling a territory and, within that, tending to land in more or less the same places each time it passes them - so in theory you just have to stand and wait. We have several species of the smaller darters and damselflies, but if you see something 55-65 mm (2 or more inches) long, then it will one of these two - until something new turns up!


Swallows at Lorgba

A few years ago we had cause to replace the door to the sort of shed area beneath the steps that lead up to our front door at Lorgba. Swallows had nested in the interior and had been accommodated by our leaving the door open during the summer months, but this was not exactly the perfect arrangement for various reasons. So when the time came for a new door we had one made that left a gap at the top - a sort of swallow access hatch - and that has done the trick quite nicely.
Our pair were late arriving this year, and then even later in building a nest, but they have eventually done so, albeit not in their usual place. They have shifted the nest site from behind the cold water pipe above the door to behind some dodgy old ceiling insulation - which is much more difficult to photograph. The adults sit on the wall at the top of the steps, which is handy for shots however (although this one is from a few years back). No sign of any youngsters yet this year, but the activity rate is high, as are our hopes....

Tuesday 22 June 2010

Owl update...

The picture above is taken from the INHT Barn Owl Webcam

On the right is the female owl, the giant ball of fluff on the left is her one chick for this summer. In front of them, the 3 remaining infertile eggs from this brood are clearly visible. The single chick hatched about 2 weeks ago, so should be fledging sometime around the end of July. It has a good supply of food, and as it is uncontested, is growing very rapidly.

More moths

The interest of moth-trapping and discovering what species occur on Islay is made even more pleasurable by the delightful names which some of them are called. Here are True Lover's Knot, Map-winged Swift and Heart and Dart.


Ferry Journey

It was a perfect evening for the crossing and we left Kennacraig on the 18.00 departure in virtually flat calm with only a few patches of breeze to ruffle small sections of a mostly glassy sea. Visibiliity was excellent but it was actually quite quiet with just the usual groups of Guillemots with a few Razorbills to keep the scattered Kittiwakes and Gannets company. I saw two small groups of manx shearwaters. There were a few terns and a total of five porpoises were spotted, mostly very distant with only one really close to the boat. Sadly no larter cetaceans or Basking sharks.
There were a lot of Lions mane jellyfish (Cyenea capillata). These are the big brown jobs with enormously long trailing tentacles that deliver a sting akin to a nettle. Being stung by these tentacles as they whip around the haulers is an occupational hazard for creel fishermen as I remember well. Bad news if you get one in the eye, but the sting subsides after about half an hour and they dont do lasting damage.
There were plenty of red deer in evidence on the hills of both Islay and Jura as we steamed up the Sound towards Port Askaig and there were numbers of (presumably) Common seals hauled out on the shore of Am Fraoch Eilean.

Picture of jellyfish from Wikipedia

Monday 21 June 2010

Osprey at Kennacraig

Am on the ferry watching an osprey hunting along the shore at Kennacraig
Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Bottle-nosed Dolphins

Jane Dawson spotted a pod of three Bottle-nosed Dolphins travelling up Loch Indaal yesterday, starting from Wester Ellister. That's good news as we haven't had many reported sightings yet this year.


Saturday 19 June 2010

A couple more aerial photos

Here are Bridgend and Beinn Bheigeir.

The area of Bridgend Woods closest to the shore, around the head of the loch, was first planted in the 1850s, to give shelter, to provide sport (Woodcock and Roe Deer) and as an amenity - hence the carriage rides running through the woods, out to and beyond the Wool Mill. All that woodland is part of a designed landscape recognised as such by Historic Scotland. The plantations to the west (Winter Covert) and around Loch Skerrols came later. In the foreground is Loch Tallant, with its extensive reedbed running to the right of the water, while above it is Tallant Wood, a very nice piece of woodland in which oak trees predominate.

Beinn Bheigeir is Islay's highest hill (460 m). The highest point is on the left-hand ridge, but the broader right-hand ridge is nearly as high (456 m). Nearly 20 years ago, I found a pair of Ring Ousels breeding in the scree slopes of this hill (the first breeding record for Islay). A few more pairs were found later on adjacent hills. It was good to learn from the RAF Ornithological Society who visited this area in 2009 specifically to look for Ring Ousels, that they were still there.

For those new to blogs, if you click on a photograph you will get a much larger image. Well worth doing with these aerial shots.


Lunar Thorn moth - new to Islay!

Also in my catch last night was a moth I hadn't caught before. It was about 22 mm (just under an inch) in wingspan. It turns out, after some checking, that it has never been recorded from Islay before. It is quite widespread on the mainland, and there is a 50-year-old record from Colonsay, but no-one has previously reported it here. It can be separated from the Early Thorn, for which there are several Islay records, both by the very scalloped edges to the wings and because at rest it holds its wings in a steep 'V' as shown in one of the photos. The Early Thorn closes its wings completely when at rest.

As its foodplants are a wide range of common broadleaved trees and shrubs, there's no obvious reason for it not being here. What its appearance really confirms is that Islay's moths have been very little studied over the years, though that situation is slowly improving.


Poplar Hawkmoth

I caught this beauty last night in the garden. They are probably the commonest hawkmoth on Islay, with Elephant running it a close second.


Friday 18 June 2010

Beinn Uraraidh

Last Tuesday morning, when Becky was preparing herself for the long slog up to the summit of this hill, I had a look at it the easy way, from the air, as the 'plane flew past it in good weather and I had my camera with me, and had made sure I was in one of the few seats on the plane with a good view - not obstructed by engine or wing. So here are two views of the hill, both from the south-west, showing the bare rock of the summit, and of adjacent hills. The large loch in the foreground of the lower photo is called Loch Beinn Uraraidh. I only got back this morning and have a few more aerial photos I may post in a day or two.
The following is history rather than natural history. The aircraft wreckage which Becky mentions is of a Bristol Beaufighter. A squadron of them was based at the airport during the second world war. Two of them crashed within minutes of each other on 12th September 1943. Both were engaged on night training flights. One crashed very close to the airport almost immediately followed by the one Becky saw, the pilot of which it is thought may have been distracted by the first crash and failed to clear the rising ground to the east of the airport. Sadly, there were no survivors.

Thursday 17 June 2010

Six-Spot Burnet Moth

A couple of visitors to the Centre on Tuesday reported seeing a Six-Spot Burnet Moth down at Claddach, near Portnahaven. Today we received this photo from Gordon Yates, of the same species perched on a rare Meadow Thistle. These moths fly from June - August, so hopefully we'll get plenty more sightings before the summer is out.

Tuesday 15 June 2010

Thrift on Beinn Uraraidh

What a wonderful walk past lots of peat cuttings, fishermen, lochans and plane wreckage to the summit of this beautiful mountain. OK, so it's not as beautiful (in my view) as the unnamed mountain south-west of Beinn Uraraidh, but there are fantastic views from up here.

As well as the usual Tormentil, Lousewort, Milkwort, Heather and Cotton Grass found in this terrain, I was very surprised to see patches of Thrift growing up here. Perhaps blown up from the east coast of the island?


Lazy summer afternoons...

The two most frequently asked questions here at the Natural History Centre are

i) How do I work this coffee machine?
ii) Where can I see an otter?

There are no simple answers to either question, both involve a lot of patience, and a fair bit of luck. For those of you who are yet to see an otter here, here's proof that they are about, courtesy of another great picture sent in by visiting INHT member and wildlife photographer Gordon Yates. Thanks Gordon!


Monday 14 June 2010

Moon Jellyfish (Aurelia aurita)

It's jellyfish swarming time and when I walked down to the beach just by the Centre this morning, there were a few specimens washed up, one in particular looked very beautiful and worthy of a photo.

I have to confess I don't know much about jellyfish, but Malcolm identified it for me and here's what I subsequently found out:

1) Moon jellyfish is one of the aurelia genus, of which there are more than ten, very closely related species.
2) Moon jellyfish is also called Common or Saucer Jellyfish.
3) Although they can sting small swimming animals, their tiny harpoon like sting is not powerful enough to pierce a human's skin - hurray! (although I wouldn't go testing this just to prove me wrong!)
4) They mainly feed on plankton.
5) They are not great swimmers and are largely at the mercy of tides and currents, which is why we sometimes get stranded jellyfish.
6) Jellyfish swarms occur unintentionally and are due to good (plankton) feeding conditions resulting in lots of baby fellyfish being born at the same time and drifting around together almost totally at the mercy of tides, currents and the wind.
7) The moon jellyfish is identified by its four horseshoe-shaped rings (called gonads) which are visible through its bell.

For more info, visit


Saturday 12 June 2010

Barn owl chick (or chicks?)

The accompanying screengrab, taken a few minutes ago at 1.31 pm, certainly shows 1 chick, but does it show 3 eggs or 2 eggs and another, tiny, chick. I'm not sure!