Tuesday 30 April 2013

Brent Geese on the move

The last couple of days have seen a flock of Brent Geese (76 on 28th and 87 on 29th) feeding on green algae in front of Gortan School, just along the road from Bruichladdich. Peter Roberts managed to read five colour rings the first day, and I added a couple more the next day.
The photograph shows one with a 3 engraved on a blue ring, while another has an X on a blue ring. The other leg of both birds also carried a ring, and with this information, we have now been told where they were originally ringed.
Blue 3 was caught at Sandyford, just outside Dublin, Ireland, on 2nd February 2012. It was last seen in the Dublin area on 8th April 2012 and turned up again on 8th October. It stayed there throughout this last winter, being last seen on 24th April, just four days before it was seen here on Islay.
Blue X was caught in Co. Wicklow, Ireland, south of Dublin, on 8th February 2012. It paid a quick visit to Dublin in February and then was back on the Wicklow coast until 22nd April 2012. It was seen at Dublin on 22nd November 2012 and either there or Wicklow until 3rd March.
We've had colour-ringed Brent, which winter in Ireland, passing through here in past springs. It always surprises me that these birds, which are setting off on a journey of 4000–5000 km (c.2500–3000 miles) to breed on islands in the Canadian Arctic, should stop after covering no more than the first 250 km (175 miles)! 

Sunday 28 April 2013

A small plant with a very long name

I don't know what this small, close-to-the-ground spring-flowering plant has done to deserve its names, but as if its vernacular name, Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage, wasn't enough, its scientific name is Chrysosplenium oppositifolium. It has a close relative, Alternate-leaved Golden Saxifrage Chrysosplenium alternifolium, which is less widespread and hasn't (yet) been found on Islay or any other of the Inner Hebrides. However, it is found in north Argyll and at two localities on Kintyre, and it often grows in damp woodlands together with its relative, so it might be here. You can rely on the names if you want to know how to tell the two species apart!

Sunday 21 April 2013

Beinn a' Chaolais with Walk Islay

We couldn't have asked for better weather. I was so excited about the prospect of finally getting up my second Pap - and this time it was cloud, precipitation and wind free - the exact opposite of my last experience. Yippee!! What a great day (except for my vertigo going up the scree). We saw Mountain Hare still in its white plumage, Short-eared Owl, Dung Beetle and Raven, and of course fantastic views. Thanks to Donald Ewen Darroch for taking us up there!

Mountain Hare (poor photo)

View north-east towards Beinn an Oir and Beinn Shiantaidh from summit of Beinn a' Chaolais

View south-east from summit of Beinn a' Chaolais

Saturday 20 April 2013

Friday 19 April 2013

Beinn Bheigier (2)

No, I've not been up a second time (phew!), but these are two more photos from that trip. I love going up high for many reasons, but I always look forward to seeing this delightful little moss (which has the appearance of a tiny conifer). Naturally I use any excuse to include a photo of my favourite lichen as well! Again, you could be forgiven for mistaking it for a flower, it is so red.

Fir Club moss - Huperzia selago

Cladonia bellidiflora

Monday 15 April 2013

Adder Skin

In all my walks on Islay I had never found a shed adder skin and I'd said as much to Lorna and James on our Beinn Bheigier walk. Two days later five of us were walking from Gortantoid to Finlaggan and what was the first thing we discovered? A recently shed adder skin. I was beside myself with excitement. It was still moist and so able to fit without breaking into a tupperware box. Hardly able to wait until we got home (a weary 7 miles later!) we retrieved the now brittle skin and did some research. Here's what we found out:

Male adders emerge first from the hibernacula (place of hibernation) about March. They're pretty docile, basking in the sun when possible. In April they shed their skin and the male then goes looking for females, sniffing them out! The female sheds its skin about a month later than the male. The average adult male adder grows to 65 cm. This skin measured 64 cm.


The adder skin as we found it.

Close up of eyes and mouth

The skin measured 64 cm

Detail of skin

Looking through the hand lens when the skin was still fresh

Saturday 13 April 2013

Jane Dawson

Jane Dawson, who founded the Islay Natural History Trust in 1984, in memory of her husband, Rod, died last night after a brief illness. Rod and Jane, who farmed in Lincolnshire, came to Islay in 1971 when Rod, a farmer and conservationist, purchased the Ellister Estate so that not only could they outwinter their cattle here but there was ample room for the growing captive wildfowl collection which they had established on their farm. Rod died six years later of a particularly aggressive form of cancer. He was just 34 years old. Jane stayed on at Easter Ellister and persuaded her trustees that the tenant farmers, crofters and householders could buy their properties on generous terms. She continued and developed the wildfowl collection and became a leading aviculturist, breeding such difficult species as King Eider and Long-tailed Duck. In recent years, she established a very well-regarded Highland Pony stud. We send our condolencies to her daughters, Heather and Lucy.

Thursday 11 April 2013

Common Gulls - Coull Farm

Andrew Jones of Coull drilling malting barley on Ballinaby fields.

Wednesday 10 April 2013

'Welcome to Islay' evenings in the Laddieshop at Bruichladdich Distillery.

We are pleased to be able to able to announce another series of six monthly 'Welcome to Islay' evenings courtesy of Bruichladdich Distillery.  The first will be held on April 15th to co-incide with Walkislay Week and will feature an array of local talent including pipers, highland dancers, singers and local musicians.  There will also be lots of information about the natural history of the island from both the Islay Natural History Trust and the RSPB. 
We are once again indebted to Bruichladdich Distillery for their support of these events - and look forward to seeing you there!.

Monday 8 April 2013

Mark French ploughing the Minister's Field - Rockside Farm

Mackerel Sky - Rockside farm

Drilling barley at Rockside

Mark French ploughing at Rockside Farm

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Oil tanker Keewhit at Bruichladdich Pier last week

We have had a month of cold dry weather with an easterly airstream giving good visibility.  The ground is very dry for the time of year and there is little water in the burns.

Highland Bullocks from Octomore - Lighthouse Field, Port Charlotte

They are being fed a supplementary diet of draff mixed with silage and barley straw as the cold weather has badly retarded growth of just about everything....

Ploughing at Octomore Farm

John MacPherson and his new friends yesterday...

Sunday 7 April 2013

Beinn Bheigier

For a very brief moment I was the tallest person on Islay on Thursday - and then my son stood next to me on the summit of Beinn Bheigier. What a joy it was to have him there with us. Lorna usually accompanies me, but James' presence made it even more special. It was James that spotted the White-tailed Eagle rising up from just in front of us with wings that seemed to go on forever and James who managed to get closest to the Red Deer. I was thrilled when Lorna exclaimed, "Marsh Fritillary caterpillars!" and we watched these tiny, but growing creatures emerging from hibernation to bask in the afternoon sun. What a wonderful day! I shall remember it always.
Becky (text) Lorna (photos)


White-tailed Eagle

Marsh Fritillary caterpillars 


James and the Red Deer


Larch buds

Spring is very slowly arriving - there was no frost last night for the first time for several nights. Larch trees are coming into bud as these two images show.

Friday 5 April 2013

Loch Càm and Loch Drolsay

These are seldom visited lochs in the centre of the island. The sunshine had enticed my first butterfly of 2013 out to bask. A little tattered after its hibernation it still seemed to be enjoying the sun's warm rays. A fantastic walk.

Peacock Butterfly

Pied Wagtail and Reed Bunting at Loch Càm

Standing Stone on Beinn Chàm

Red Deer (44 of them actually) on Carn nan Gillean

Loch Leathann

Old shielings near Loch Drolsay

Loch Drolsay

Spider - lots of them around

As you can see, the recent spell of dry weather has made walking a lot easier!

Wednesday 3 April 2013

Sperm Whale in Oban Bay - Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust Press Release

Photo: Chris Jackson - Chalice Charters, Oban

Oban Bay sperm whale may be sick or confused – boats users asked to stay away
Following sightings of a sperm whale in Oban Bay over the past two days, the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT) is concerned that the animal may be sick or confused – and is urging boat users to stay away from the whale in order to avoid causing it needless distress.
The charity first received reports of the sperm whale – the largest predator on the planet – in Oban Bay early on Saturday (30 March) morning.
Olivia Harries, HWDT Biodiversity Officer, said: “This is a spectacular animal but we are urging boat users to stay away from the whale wherever possible so as not to cause it distress.”
While it’s exciting to see an animal of this size so close to shore, sperm whales usually inhabit very deep waters – so we are concerned that the sperm whale may be sick. Cetaceans have a tendency to come closer to shore when ill and can eventually strand.  However, this individual may simply be confused and if so it will hopefully navigate to deeper waters eventually.”
The Coastguard has issued a warning to all boats warning them of a large, live whale in the bay and advised that they proceed with caution. 
Chalice Charters, based in Oban, managed to take some impressive images of the sperm whale, showing the animal’s characteristic tail fluke as it dives.  Chris Jackson, of Chalice Charters, says of the sighting: “We watched while the whale ranged north/south in the harbour keeping to deeper water - the maximum depth here is only about 40m. The ferries did proceed with caution and there was little boat traffic about.  At first I thought it was a humpback whale, but it certainly is a sperm whale - the first I've ever seen so very exciting.”
Sightings of sperm whales are rare in the Hebrides but not unheard of, the last reported sighting to HWDT was a group of five individuals in the Sound of Raasay in February.  Despite reports being rare, the UK still has the highest number of sperm whale sightings in Northern Europe.
Sperm whales are the largest predator on the planet, with males reaching lengths of 18 metres.  They are found globally, although it is thought that only males frequent sub-polar regions. They famously dive to incredible depths to hunt a variety prey, including the giant squid.
HWDT contacted the British Marine Divers Rescue (BDMLR) to advise them of the whale’s presence.  BDMLR are the organisation concerned with assisting stranded marine mammals round the UK coast and are on standby in case the whale comes ashore.  Stephen Marsh, of BDMLR, comments “We are really concerned that this whale is in an area where there is a lot of boat traffic and is  very close to the shore at some times.  However it has been seen logging, or resting at the surface and so is currently quite relaxed.  As it is diving for up to 30 minutes at a time it doesn’t seem to be compromised other than being in the wrong place. Ideally it will head south to open water of its own accord so we would ask any boats that do have to work in the area to try and stay north of the animal”.
HWDT is dedicated to enhancing knowledge and understanding of Scotland’s whales, dolphins and porpoises and the Hebridean marine environment through education, research and working within local communities as a basis for the lasting conservation of species and habitats. For more details call 01688 302620 or visit www.hwdt.org.
The charity asks members of the public that encounter a whale, dolphin or porpoise –collectively known as cetaceans – to report sightings to HWDT through its website (www.hwdt.org).
By reporting sightings, the public will be directly contributing to a better understanding of the local marine environment.  If people manage to take an image of cetaceans, we would be very grateful they could forward these to our Sightings Officer at sightings@hwdt.org.  Images can be used in Photo Identification studies – allowing our researchers to track the moments of individuals, collectively adding to the understanding of the different species, both locally and internationally,” said Olivia Harries.

Established in 1994, HWDT is a registered charity that has pioneered practical, locally-based education and monitoring programmes on cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) in the Hebrides.

HWDT conducts long-term monitoring of cetacean distribution, abundance and habitat use; educates people about the marine environment, with a focus on cetaceans; and works with local communities to ensure long-term sustainability of the marine environment. The charity is based in Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, where it has its main education and research offices, a visitors centre and shop.

Gulls following the plough at Rockside Farm this afternoon.

Mark French was ploughing the Minister's Field prior to planting barley for Bruichladdich.

Circular walk up Giùr-bheinn

With Lorna back for the Easter holidays and the advent of spring, I managed to persuade her to accompany me on my reconnaissance trip up Giùr-bheinn, ready for Walk Islay. There's still not much flora around, but this yellow Coltsfoot stood out all the more for the lack of any contenders. There was a dearth of birdlife too, but what we did see was worth it - Golden Eagle patrolling its territory.

Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)

Giùr-bheinn from the north-east