Tuesday 30 November 2010

Bar-tailed Godwits and cow - Loch Indaal

I was wandering along the shoreline at the head of Loch Indaal this morning, with a view to trying a couple of shots of the cow having an unseasonal paddle, when this group of Barwits landed in front of me.  I only had a point and shoot, but it would have been rude not to take their photo.  Not sure what the cow made of it....

Sea Buckthorn

Several years ago, Donald Fletcher planted a hedge either side of the lane which runs from the main road just north of Keills past his farm at Persabus and on to Bunnahabhainn. The hedge has done well, protected as it is from grazing animals, and this year the Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) in the hedge has flowered and produced berries. Sea Buckthorn, normally a coastal plant, is dioecious, i.e. there are separate male and female plants, and you need some of each if you want to see the striking orange berries which the female bushes produce. For some reason, the berries don't seem very attractive to birds - perhaps they are very bitter, or perhaps they need a good frost to soften them. Despite the very large numbers of Redwings that have been on Islay this autumn, there are plenty of berries still present. Maybe they will be taken if this cold weather continues.
There are two old records (1950s) of Sea Buckthorn growing on Islay - both introduced because it is not a native species this far north in Britain. One is "beside a coastal burn at Killinallan" and the other "growing in a hedge at Bridgend". I am not aware of any recent records from either locality, or indeed elsewhere on the island. If anyone sees this plant anywhere on the island, please let us know by clicking on the "Species Record Forms" link at the top of this page and completing a Casual Records Form.

Loch Indaal

Snow on the Paps from Blackrock

The weather on Islay has been glorious this past couple of days.  The temperature has hardly risen above freezing and the ice on the puddles has not melted - but we have had lots of lovely crisp sunshine.  There is no snow lying at sea level - we have only been troubled by the odd flurry so far - and yet we have some rather splendid views of the white stuff on the higher ground.  This is a shot from Blackrock up at the head of Loch Indaal showing the Paps of Jura in the distance.

A scrum of Starlings

A scrum of Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) polished off most of half a loaf in no seconds flat on my lawn this morning.

Survey of 20 years of Cetacean strandings around Britain


This Minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) came ashore on the Ard peninsula near Port Ellen in Jasnuary 2008.  The definition of 'stranded' is a little vague.  The word implies that the animal was alive when it came ashore, but this is not always the case with cetaceans.  This Minke for example almost certainly died at sea before being washed ashore.  The word 'Stranded' seems to apply to any organisms that are found washed up on a beach - be it a whale, seal, fish or coconut.

Monday 29 November 2010

Winter at its best

A few days ago someone (Mark, I rather suspect) was grumbling about the snow in his flower pot (!) and feeling "blooming cold". I think he should count his blessings. Here are two views from my house today, the Paps of Jura with Uskentuie and Blackrock in the foreground, and Bowmore with the hills behind.
A Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) leaves its perch next to the road near Cattadale last week, showing some quite worn and damaged feathers.

Sunday 28 November 2010

December Film and Presentation of INHT Wildlife Photography Competition Winners

Gruinart scrape abandoned by avifauna

There was not a bird to be seen in front of the hide at Gruinart today.  The thousands of duck, geese, swans and waders that usually flock at the shallow lagoons to feed have all disappeared - because their watery world has turned to solid ice.

Feeding the Birds

Birds are inevitably more stressed when the weather is as cold as this - and our common garden species are easier to photograph, being very keen to find enough calories to see them through what promises to be another bitterly cold night.

Wildfowl Weather

Greylag and Brent geese with a drake Widgeon on the shoreline at Bruichladdich this morning.  We have been experiencing light snow showers all day, but it is not settling on the low ground.  It is cold however, with a stiff north-easterly breeze.

Snow reaches the Inner Hebrides...

Snow (Waterii freezius) in my flower pot. Last year was my first Islay winter, and much was made by those living here of how mild the winters were, coastal area, gulf stream, blah blah. Well last year was bloomin' cold, and this is shaping up no different. Ever feel like you've been cheated?

Saturday 27 November 2010

Wildlife Extra - UK Photo Competition

Winner - 'Three Deer Glade' - Fallow deer in Richmond Park by Mark Simms

Wildlife Extra - Wildlife Photography Competition winners

Greylag Goose (Anser anser)

The population of Greylag geese has increased very dramatically on the Scottish west coast islands in the recent past - and Islay is no exception.  The hunting season is September 1st to January 31st in Scotland - with an extension to February 20th when shooting 'below the high water mark'. 
Greylags are shot by the keepers on the estates and by farmers protecting their crops.  Small numbers of Barnacle geese are also shot as part of the Goose Management Scheme on Islay - but they are not allowed to be sold. 

This Greylag was on my doorstep when I returned home yesterday.  I took the breasts off, each of which weighed over a pound, and they are in the freezer.  We will probably cut them into very thin strips and flash fry them after marinading in Hoi Sin sauce with some garlic.  Served with boiled rice and stir-fried vegetables they will be absolutely delicious...

Friday 26 November 2010

It was chuffin' cold today...

Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) up at Ardnave this afternoon. Ardnave is one of the best locations on Islay to see Chough, along with Kilchoman, though they can be found in smaller numbers at many locations around the island.

Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) at Cattadale

We have decided to put together some new photographic displays at the Centre for next year, using projections and various screens rather than the traditional wallboards.  I am going to try putting together one that shows Islay's mammals - hence I have been out trying to get some more shots of deer to add to our collection. 
Came across a group of Red hinds just north of the Cattadale river today, and did a John McNab-style stalk (for around 400 yards on my belly) to get up close enough for these shots.  Shame there were no stags with them - but I guess that will have to wait for another day...

Snow shower over Loch Indaal

Actually it was more like hail, but we will call it snow...  It was a dramatic day for weather here on Islay.

The hills behind Storakaig had a bit of a dusting

'Ornithological ethnic cleansing' as reported in 'The Shetland News'

National Wind Watch  Is an organisation that is opposed to the construction of large wind farms.

The following is an article that appeared in:
The Shetland News
At the presentations by Richard Birnie, Digger Jackson, and Peter Cosgrove on Wednesday 17 November organised by the Windfarm Supporters Group but paid for by Viking Energy, a question was addressed to the ornithology and habitat management experts.
This referred to the developer actively preventing birds entering their breeding areas before the breeding season began. They replied this would not be the case, at which point the following was quoted back to them.

“3.3.3. Deterrence Methods Where deterrence is considered to be a viable option at a particular construction site, measures will be put in place as required, to deter target species from settling so close to the site that they would be disturbed by activities there (generally within 300m). The most cost-effective technique to move birds further away from sites would be the installation of iridescent reflective tapes, a method which has been applied successfully elsewhere. Tapes will be stretched between posts, across the area of the relevant construction site. This area will then be monitored daily, to ensure that deterrence has been effective. If birds continue to visit the exclusion zone, additional tape or more conspicuous items such as revolving reflective discs will be installed.”

In other words Viking Energy will deter birds from their breeding areas prior to breeding. In this way they will technically avoid disturbing Schedule 1 breeding birds by displacing them from their traditional breeding areas.
What this means in terms of where these birds will go and how they will be monitored is anybody’s guess; it amounts to a form of ornithological ethnic cleansing.
These rare breeding bird populations will be irreparably disturbed. In my view it is questionable if this is legal; surely actively preventing birds returning to their traditional breeding grounds constitutes deliberate disturbance?
When this was read out the response was, “where are you getting that from?”
This sits in the Addendum – Volume 4 – Appendices – Site Environmental Management Plan – Technical Schedule – No 8. Apparently the ‘experts’ did not even know this method statement existed!
Planning board chairman Frank Robertson will be familiar with the strict conditions placed on the current renewable works on Foula, where no work is allowed in the hill during the bird-breeding season.
Similarly some years ago in Out Skerries when the turbine was erected for the hall I believe no work was allowed during the bird-breeding season. It seems these conditions do not apply when you want to industrialise the central mainland of Shetland!
If anyone is still labouring under the illusion that this wind farm can be built sympathetically within the landscape, and with no significant effect on this nationally important bird population – think again!
Billy Fox

Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust

The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust claims that it "is the leading UK charity conducting scientific research to enhance the British countryside for public benefit. For over 75 years we have been researching and developing game and wildlife management techniques. We provide training and advice to farmers, gamekeepers and land managers on how best to improve the biodiversity of the countryside."

The overall conclusions of Trust scientists are perhaps predictable in that they find that game bird management, the use of snares, predator control etc are of great benefit to biodiversity generally. 

One of the areas that the Trust is involved is with Black Grouse (Tetrao tetrix).

Black Grouse Project
Image:  Jari Peltomaki
The status of the Black grouse on Islay is precarious at best - indeed it may be extinct here.  It was a breeding bird in the recent past.  Any records of sightings would be much appreciated by the INHT and or the RSPB

Signal Crayfish in Glasgow

Herald Scotland

Image: The South Cumbria Rivers Trust

Thursday 25 November 2010

An empty landscape

One of the weird things about living on Islay, which applies to much of the west coast of Scotland, is how big a contrast there is with much of the rest of western Europe - because there are so few people living here.  The really weird thing is that it was not always thus.  While the vast majority of Europe, indeed the rest of the world, has seen dramatic rises in the human population over the past 150 years - the west coast of Scotland and the Hebrides have seen the opposite - a dramatic decline.

The census of 1851 (I think it was) put the population of Islay at over 15,000.  The census of 2001 put the population at 3,200.  An extraordinary transformation

But run a keen eye over the Islay landscape and you will soon find signs of populous times past.  Earlier today I found myself on top of Storakaig, the hillfarm that sits atop of the rise south of Knocklearach on the Mulindry road between Bridgend and Ballygrant.  The light was grey and the gentle, cutting breeze carried some sleet.  A curlew had flown from a boggy patch and I stopped to check to see if there were any deer. 

I took the shot above because it tells a rather sad little story of those forgotten folk, people who must have struggled, not to make a living, but simply to survive in this forlorn place.  You can just see the turf covered wall, which must have been built at some considerable cost, running up the right hand side of the picture - it actually forks towards the top of the run - but I could not get the right hand fork into the shot.  The wall would have been an attempt to protect the 'in-bye' land, (which would have been used for crops such as hay and oats and potatoes) from the 'out-bye', which was used for grazing - the wall being to keep the beasts out at the key times of year. 
To the left of the wall is the flattened ground, once doubtless cultivated, but now abandoned, even by modern machinery.  You can just make out the clumps of  juncus (rushes) that are the sure sign of abandoned land on Islay - or land where the maintenance of the field drains has broken down creating bogs.

In the distance to the far left you can see the maintained modern fields, which is all the land that modern farming considers it worthwhile maintaining.  Where there would have been dozens working to eke a living from this bleak place now all it will receive is the odd visit from a man driving a monster tractor. 

The descendants of the folk who built that wall will now be in Glasgow, or Newfoundland, or Australia.  They are unlikely to be living in Ballygrant.

Mink deVille

SNH and Western Isles council dispute mink claims

picture  www.essexbiodiversity.org.uk/

Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints...

I think these are Brown Rat (Rattus norvegicus) tracks, though as usual I'm not 100% sure and happy to be corrected...

I always preferred No More Heroes to Rattus Norvegicus...

Biodiversity in Europe: policy scope must be widened for effective conservation

"Europe is still far from meeting its 2010 target and we risk missing future targets unless we change the way we are managing our environment. The European Environment Agency’s new biodiversity report based on SEBI 2010 indicators assesses the state of biodiversity in Europe and makes recommendations for improving policy effectiveness."

Sunrise in Port Charlotte this morning

Its Snow Joke For Birds - RSPB

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Islay Birds - 1,000th posting

Nice one Ian...

Islay Birds

Kilchiaran earlier this evening

A couple of snaps taken down at Kilchiaran earlier this evening.  I had gone over hoping to get some shots of deer around the Gearach or at Octomore, but the place was crawling with men dressed in combat trousers and carrying guns.  Unsurprisingly I didnae see a thing, so I headed down to the beach as the light was disappearing.  The top shot was taken by resting the wee Canon point and shoot on a stone in the middle of the burn, and then using a very long exposure with a delayed shutter.  For the second shot the camera was resting on a rock at the side of the beach, on manual, with a delayed shutter and the aperture set at minimum, which in the case of the SX200IS is f8.  The exposure time was 8 seconds...

Don't run in the corridor...

Here's one of the fields at RSPB Loch Gruinart. Usually it's got several hundred geese on it, but they don't care much for human company and flew off as your humble correspondent was flailing around in the ditches. Don't ask. Anyway, some of the better grazing on the island is to be found here, and the geese get it pretty much all to themselves, as the livestock is moved indoors in late autumn. The area to the right of the picture that looks a bit like Terry Waite's allotment circa 1989 is a corncrake corridor - deliberately planted with nettles and other quick growing vegetation to provide plenty of cover for Islay's visiting corncrakes. There were 82 calling males recorded on the island in 2010, more or less the same as the previous year.

Roe deer at Shorefield

Woodlands on Argyll Islands get financial boost

Land owners and managers working to expand and enhance native woodlands on the Argyll Islands have been offered a financial boost to help them plant more trees.

Available through the Rural Priorities element of the Scotland Rural Development Programme (administered by Forestry Commission Scotland), an additional 10% will be added to grant support for woodland creation in the Argyll Islands Native Woodland Partnership (AINWP) area.
Syd House, for the Commission in Perth and Argyll, said: “Maintaining and expanding the woodlands on the islands is important for opening up a whole range of economic, social and biodiversity benefits. Woodlands can sustain employment; produce food, timber and the woodfuel that can help reduce costs for farms and homes; as well as helping boost recreation and eco-tourism.
“This extra financial support - which is available now - will help the island economies to develop their local woodlands and help communities and businesses to tap into the wide range of economic and biodiversity benefits that appropriately located woodlands offer.
“The additional funding will help to meet the costs of initial planting, fencing, gates and the establishment work that will help new woodlands to get established and to thrive.”
The AINWP aims to improve the management of the internationally important but threatened woodlands across Coll, Gigha, Iona, Islay, Jura, Mull and Tiree, all of which are havens for rare and protected species.
A number of organisations have worked together to develop the increase in grant support including the AINWP, facilitated by the Mull and Iona Community Trust (MICT) which was funded by the Argyll LEADER programme, SNH and Forestry Commission Scotland.

For more information in relation to the additional 10% funding available for woodland creation on the Argyll Islands contact the Perth and Argyll Conservancy Office on 01738 442 830 or email PANDA.cons@forestry.gsi.gov.uk

More information can also be found at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/farmingrural/SRDP/RuralPriorities/

Wildlife Performance Art

Flamingos in Formation