Monday 30 December 2013

Glaucous Gull

This first-winter Glaucous Gull turned up yesterday on the grass strip between the road and shore immediately outside my house. This got covered in debris in the storm on Tuesday last week and the bird spends its time pecking through it. They are irregular visitors here from the arctic - breeding in Iceland, Svalbard and arctic Russia. Some winters we only get one or two (as this winter, so far) but in January 2012 there were an exceptional 25–30 present on the island.

Sunday 29 December 2013


The wintering Scaup flock spends most of its time somewhere out in the middle of the loch between Blackrock and Bowmore, but every so often some of them come close to shore, as here.

Friday 27 December 2013


Yesterday, the wind dropped to nothing, the sun came out, and here's a Chough enjoying life, as usual.

Wednesday 25 December 2013

Happy Christmas!

A Happy Christmas to our readers and many thanks for following us. We hope you enjoy what we offer you here about Islay's fabulous natural history, even though the flow of new posts has been somewhat intermittent of late.
This was the view from our house this morning shortly before 9.00 am. The gale to storm force winds of recent days have veered from S to W and so the sea outside looks almost calm when looking east, as here, whereas yesterday the waves were washing debris across the road in a number of places round the loch.
And if you want some natural history, spot the two gulls!

Tuesday 24 December 2013

New species for Islay

Last Saturday, a new species of mammal was seen on Islay.

It was all down to Mary Redman (leading the sleigh) who spent two years working with the Cairngorm herd and, now resident on Islay and working for the RSPB, had this inspired idea to bring a group of them, plus, of course, Father Christmas, to Islay, which meant carrying out some serious fund-raising. Every Christmas, several towns are visited like this across Britain, but rarely the islands. The stormy weather of the last week or two relented sufficiently to allow the six reindeer and their handlers to arrive and depart as arranged. The parade through Bowmore was attended by thousands (well, hundreds) of excited children and their parents.
Thank you, Mary.

(photo credit:

Tuesday 17 December 2013

Dead dolphin

Another dead cetacean was spotted this morning on the beach near Carnain, Loch Indaal, by Grant Carmichael who lives close by. He phoned SNH who phoned me. I was out goose counting round Loch Gorm at the time and was able to find it on my way back to Bowmore and do the necessary. This time it was a Common Dolphin, dead well before it washed up here. The winds have been strong and more or less southerly the last few days so it could have travelled some distance before coming into the loch. It isn't a very pretty sight, but here are the photos nonetheless as they show the salient features of this species with its well-toothed jaws in a longish beak, curved white side patches and a fairly small dorsal fin. It was just under 6 foot long (181 cm). I collected a sample of skin and blubber and am sending it off to the Scottish Marine Stranding Scheme where they will be able to test it for pollutants and also obtain the DNA to add to their databank and compare it with others of the same species.

Thursday 12 December 2013

Colin Bradshaw on Islay

Many thanks to Colin Bradshaw for these two fine bird photos taken during a short trip to Islay a couple of weeks ago.  Colin retired from the British Birds Rarities Committee in 2008 after a total of 19 years service, including 11 as chairman.

Greenland white-fronted goose


Wednesday 11 December 2013

Gorse in winter

The bright yellow flowers of gorse make one of the few splashes of colour here at the moment, and raises the question of why bloom in winter when there can't be many, if any, insects around to fertilise the flowers. The answer seems to be that, when there are no insects, the gorse is capable of self-fertilisation, which is a pretty good strategy for having a prolonged flowering season. I've also seen it suggested that this is a good time to gather the flowers to make gorse wine or cordial, as you won't have to spend time trying to remove the tiny flies and beetles seeking the nectar inside the flowers!

Monday 9 December 2013

Dead Pilot Whale

A very, very dead Long-finned Pilot Whale was washed up on the beach near Uiskentuie Farm in the last 24 hours. It wasn't there yesterday morning, and I only discovered it this afternoon because I was driving past and saw a local council worker with digger and trailer ready to take it to the council waste disposal site. It had clearly died a considerable time ago as bones were showing and the belly was split completely open. I will spare you a sight of that, and so have appended this photograph of just its head, with the characteristic bulging forehead and stubby teeth in both jaws. I'm not sure when the last one was found on an Islay beach, but this is the species which gets reported every so often for the mass strandings of live animals. Fortunately, we've never had such an occurrence. The last one was in September 2012 near Anstruther, Fife, when 22 animals came ashore and died.

Sunday 8 December 2013

Putting on the beef

The nearest beast found me more interesting than its food, but none of the others.

Sunday 1 December 2013

Sleeping geese

During the last full moon, there were several clear nights and the Barnacles were out feeding in the fields. They then spend the daytime snoozing on the mudflats at Bridgend and at Loch Gruinart. It makes them quite easy to count, though one has to take care not to count their reflections, too!

Thursday 28 November 2013

The Paps of Jura

The three Paps, from left to right, Beinn Chaolais, Beinn an Oir and Beinn Shiantaidh. From most of Islay, only two of them are properly visible, Beinn an Oir, the tallest of the three, being hidden behind Beinn Chaolais.

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Red Deer on Jura

Two snapped last Friday - a glorious sunny day,.

Tuesday 19 November 2013

December Moth in November, again!

Three years ago, almost to the day, I caught my first December Moth. This week, I caught my second. I have yet to catch a November Moth, but live in hopes. However, it is probably now too late in the year as the November Moth mainly flies in September and October, whereas the December Moth flies from about October to January. Perhaps they need renaming!

Sunday 17 November 2013

Wildlife Explorer of the Year 2013

A broken PC and wet weather has meant no postings from me for a while, but I was determined to get this on the blog as it is so well-deserved (and overdue!)  Congratulations to Ellen Bielinski of Dumfries-shire who is this year's Wildlife Explorer of the year. Here she is sporting her new T-shirt. To earn this place, Ellen completed many taxing quizzes at the Visitor Centre this summer. Her name was put into a draw with the others who took part and she was the fortunate winner. Well done to all who entered - and a special well done to Ellen!

Saturday 16 November 2013

Islay from the air

With apologies for the long silence here, posting will now resume, though quite how frequently will have to be seen.
I've always been fascinated by looking down on Islay from above, and here are a couple of photographs taken on a recent flight showing part of the Machrie Golf Course and the airport. The conservationist in me wonders what was destroyed when that area of dunes was turned into a golf course back in 1891. On the other hand, there are still plenty of unmanaged areas full of wild flowers and butterflies in the summer, while the Barnacle Geese like the mown areas in the winter!
The airport clearly shows its original layout of three intersecting runways as constructed in the early years of the Second World War, but only the main (1,545 metres) north-west to south-east runway (across the picture from left to right) and part (635 metres) of the approximately east-west runway are now in use.

Wednesday 30 October 2013

Loch Gruinart

A wonderful walk a couple of weeks ago on the western shores of Loch Gruinart in bright sunshine with lots of geese and the grand finale was an otter running up the sand towards me!

Monday 28 October 2013

Dr Steve Percival ringing Barnacle geese at RSPB Loch Gruinart

Barnacle geese in the cannon net awaiting ringing and release.

Geese queuing up to be measured

Dr Steve Percival placing a ring around a leg....

Suitably labelled - away we go....
120 Barnacle geese were captured this morning on the RSPB nature reserve up at Loch Gruinart. using a cannon net. The geese feed and roost in huge flocks and it is possible, but by no means easy, to lure them within range of the net by baiting the ground with corn.

Once caught, various measurements are taken, and three rings placed on the legs. One is a red 'locality ring' which can easily be seen with binoculars and shows that the bird was caught in a particular location (it might be a red ring for Gruinart, but a blue ring for Bowmore for example). There is also a white 'Darvic Ring' which can be read, with luck and skill, while using a telescope, and then there is the standard metal BTO ring which can only be read by recapturing the bird, or finding it dead. So each bird captured is eventually released adorned with a fair amount of leg ornament.

The feeding behaviour patterns, population structure and breeding success of these Barnacle geese is of increasing interest to Islay's farmers, who are compensated by the Scottish Government for the very significant damage they do to grazing on the island which would otherwise be available to livestock. The existence of the flocks also means that farmers delay the seeding of the barley fields that are 'growing for Bruichladdich'. In recent years, in common with all areas of public expenditure, the budget available for this compensation has been cut. Some of islay's farmers are now calling for a cull to reduce the numbers.

The cannon netting is co-ordinated by Dr Steve Percival who, with his wife Tracey, has been coming to Islay to study the flocks of wintering geese for many years.

Barnacle geese - Gruinart

Taken from the 'New Hide' on the reserve.

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Slime mould or frog spawn?

In February 2011, we posted a photograph like the one here and debated whether it was a slime mould or some abandoned frog spawn. Three patches like the one shown here were a few feet apart on a path through a field at Foreland a couple of days ago. A close look shows not just the patches of white jelly but also clumps of tiny black spheres. Had this been early spring, I would have again suggested frog spawn from a frog that had come to grief or had, for some reason, had to lay its spawn out of water. But this is October and so not frog spawning time. For once, the internet doesn't seem to be a lot of help with some saying this kind of thing, including with the tiny black spheres, is a slime mould, called star rot, and others saying, regardless of date, that it is frog spawn. What does anyone think?

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Feathered Thorn

On 16th October 2010, I caught this attractive moth in my garden, and it turned out to be only the fourth record for Islay. This morning (16th October 2013), I found I had caught another - Islay's fifth record. It is one of the late flying moths, from mid-September to early December. Some moth names are difficult to understand, but this one is easier as it has feathered antennae (difficult to see in the photograph), while hawthorn and blackthorn are among its larval foodplants. The circle in the photograph is the base of the plastic tube into which I put the moth to take its picture. It is 40mm across (or just over an inch and a half), so it is quite a large insect.

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Barnacle geese at Gruinart yesterday.  An informal count last Friday notched up 36,040 - with just 474 Whitefronts so far...

Monday 14 October 2013

More photos from the wild west side

Dung Cap Fungus
Fox Moth caterpillar
Metellina segmentata (Stretch Orb Weaver)
Violet Ground Beetle (eating a worm!)

Galeruca taneceti - a type of leaf beetle - they were everywhere!
A yellow fungus

Tuesday 8 October 2013

A walk on the wild side

A great walk with lots of things to look at - both little and large, both manmade and natural, both old and young.

Young - Marsh Fritillary caterpillars

Old - ancient Gneiss rock

Small - Ruby Tiger Moth caterpillar

Large (to a caterpillar!) - Stonechat

Manmade - dun near Port Froige

Natural - natural arch near Port Froige

Tuesday 1 October 2013


The sun rises over Islay's eastern hills at 7.30 am this morning (Oct 1st).

Tuesday 24 September 2013

The mackerel are in

Colossal shoals of herring fry, known locally as "shielachan" have come into Loch Indaal following the big blooms of plankton and in their turn are  are being chased by shoals of mackerel and saithe (locally called puchie).  The shielachan are being driven up onto the beaches and getting trapped in the rock pools.

Bob Paget has seen it all before - and knows exactly how to cook the shielachan.

One scoop of an INHT net caught enough of the little fish to feed a dozen people. on Sunday. And Monday too.  We dipped them in egg. rolled them in flour and deep fried them in rapeseed oil for about five minutes.  Delicious.

Lots of people gathered on the beach in Port Charlotte to share in the bounty from the sea.

The mackerel were very easy to see and to catch - they were shoaling right next to the shore and could easily be seen.