We left later than usual (10am) and did only 7km walk because I had a migraine! I haven't had one for years. So we walked along Moss Lane to Tabley Church, then Swain's Walk (c4 Tree Sparrow on the dump), past the cemetery where a funeral was taking place - now they've relaxed the rules there must have been 30 people there (though keeping social distancing) and c15 cars parked along the road. Then left onto Green Lane to Moss Lane where we spent some time with one of the ponds next to Corner Cottage. We swopped our Treecreeper nest in Rostherne to a Long-tailed Tit! Both birds were actively bringing small prey items. You can see in the photo with the nest in the middle, and on the right side one of the birds waiting to fly in to feed the chicks. You can't see the entrance to the nest which is on the left and facing away, but you can make out, on the left of the photo, the hole in the brambles where the birds always fly out of the nest. Brilliant!!!! My migraine had completely disappeared at that point J
Cheers.... Sheila and Sheila
Peter Dawson's done a big route today!
Peter Dawson's done a big route today!
Islay and Birding - Part 3
Loch Gruinart RSPB Reserve
I may be somewhat biased here but to me the birding haven, just about anywhere aside from Lesvos bit let's not get me started there.! The Loch Gruinart Reserve is 1600ha and a working farm, but, farmed for wildlife. The Conservation and Farm staff work together to maintain the habitat for all the different species. Let's start at the Visitor Centre, where current sightings information should be available and there are toilets but little by way of refreshment. In fact, that is something to remember as there are not too many places to eat and drink around about the island. The VC has a raised platform area overlooking the ‘Flats'. You can see clearly defined fields boundaries and plenty of ditches, this is prime geese grazing land and is managed for them. The objective is 10cm of high quality grass for the geese on arrival in October. There is a regular reseeding program to maintain the quality. After the geese leave in April there is a long recovery period before they return again in October, the fields look scalped by then. On arrival in the Autumn the many of the Barnacle Geese congregate together on these fields and feed up, gradually as they deplete the food they will disperse around. There are two main roost sites in Islay for Barnacle geese, Loch Gruinart mudflats at the head of Loch Gruinart and the mudflats at the head of Loch Indaal. In October at arrival time it was not uncommon, in my day, for there to be upwards of 20,000 on the reserve and we counted them every day. With a larger team counting them across the whole island monthly. It was a magical experience to see them arriving and flying in small groups, family, up Loch Gruinart after their long flight from Greenland. Remember that Solway Barnacle Geese summer in Svalbard. Along with the Barnacles there are Greenland White-fronts, but they have different feeding habits and can be found in the rougher areas and vegetation, again in family groups. Now I believe there are approaching 50000 geese but the GWF have dropped in numbers, sadly licences have been issued for shooting of Barnies by SNH! I am not going to go into the politics here. I cannot correlate the fact that farmers want to shoot the geese and also be paid compensation for additional feed to replace the grass. With this number of geese there are, sometimes, rarities such as Snow, Red-Breasted Goose and some of the small races (cackling) Canada Geese. I will never tire or forget the sight of the geese on arrival, hearing them at night and the way they rise when disturbed. Counting was great, even in the depths of winter and bad weather, sat in a Land Rover with the window open and scope on a window clamp. People ask how do you count that many birds, well you have a system and it was incredible that 2 or 3 people counting would get roughly the same. The payoff for counting was what else you would see, Merlin, Peregrine, Hen Harrier, Raven, many waders, waterfowl, passerines, Brown Hares t, Otter the list goes on. Speaking to my good friend Jack, the Manager for the whole area, there are now WTE in Islay. When we lived there, they were rare vagrants. Apparently, they hunt the geese. I have never seen a raptor kill a goose but one of my colleagues was lucky enough to witness a Peregrine hit and kill one, of course far too big to carry but fed where it had killed. We often came across bird carcasses and easy to tell if a raptor kills with the notched breastbone. There are 2 hides on the reserve now and both warrant a good long visit. It depends when but great wildfowl can be seen, in Spring including Garganey. Waders abound on the mudflats at the head on Loch Gruinart and this is where the geese roost at night. From our house we could hear them all night. The reserve is also managed for waders, Lapwing (good flock in winter), Redshank and Snipe to name 3. The mudflats will have an excellent variety and there are many places to overlook and watch.
It is impossible to talk about Islay without mentioning Corncrake. The numbers on the island were very low, 7, when I was there but increased to c.40. These numbers are always based on calling males, the only way you can survey them. I have 2 real memories of bird surveys, in all the ones I did, which are Corncrake and Hen Harrier. As I have said previously the survey period is 00:00 - 04:00 and listen for calling males. It is really magical doing this as the sounds of the night can be fantastic, even when a Roe Deer ‘barking' makes you jump. Hen Harriers on the other hand were an early morning job from dawn to 08:00. There can be nothing in bird behaviour to better a male Hen Harrier skydancing, or, a food pass after the young have hatched. But back to Crex Crex an enormous amount of habitat creation was undertaken and in a manner the opposite to home gardening by creating rough pockets, particularly nettle beds, for the birds i.e. dense cover but with room between. Historically it would have been hayfields and the species thrived on crofts, sadly as farming has become more intensive crofts have declined enormously as has farming methods. This wasn't a random approach as the RSPB Scientists were heavily involved and advising. It was successful as the numbers show. The biggest challenge for birds like this though is the journey undertake from Central/Southern Africa. I read an article but cannot remember where it was about the numbers being trapped in nets en route, probably British Birds, so sad and was very upsetting to see the images.
The hides are on the road to Ardnave and well worth a visit as they overlook and are set in the flooded field area. This is completely manmade and involved building bunds with sluices and allowing to fill then controlling the water levels. Simple but so effective. A really good example nearer home is Mersehead in Dumfries and Galloway, this was open farmland but by adopting this method is now an outstanding wetland area of that reserve. It was the vision of Jack, who is now in Islay and a good friend the late Mike Peacock. Now onwards towards Ardnave on the righthand side is Kildalton chapel which also has a Celtic cross worth looking at and wonderful views across the head of Loch Gruinart.
Ardnave is a small Loch not much more than a Lochan. Wildfowl and Whooper Swans will be here in season. There is a very large sand dune area, farmed for wildlife and some different species, good numbers of Twite will be around, in winter flocks of Snow Buntings can be found but the best is the flock of Chough, a real favourite area as grazed by cattle and sheep with the result waste for inverts. Over the dunes the head of Loch Gruinart will have seals and could have divers. You have to retrace your steps the VC and at the junction turn left. But a word of warning this reserve is a working farm so beware of farm vehicles and beasts, don't leave gates open and if it says no access then please abide by it. There are regular guided walks on the reserve and well worth going on. Back to the tour, drive across the flats but if goose time stop by all means but don't get out or you will have them up! As you pass Loch Gruinart House on the left the fields just after held my best Islay twitch, a Stone Curlew! The fence posts across the flats can be excellent at night for Barn Owl. There is a road to the left that follows Loch Gruinart right to the head and can be very productive. There is a locked gate at Killinallan, you can park here and go for a walk, waders on the sands but the open moorland is wonderful for raptors and heavily populated by Red Deer.
Now back to the road at Loch Indaal and left towards Bridgend again worth using one of the pull offs to look at the mudflats, especially at Stinky Bay, especially good for Shelduck and their creche at the end of the breeding season. There are woodlands at Bridgend and towards Port Askaig where you can walk and get the expected species.
Turning left at Bridgend, shop and pub here, towards Port Askaig now. After about a mile there is a road on the left up to Loch Skerrols, park up and have a walk. This was the place for Pochard but will also have other waterfowl.
I am reaching the end now but cannot miss Finlaggan, the historic home of the Lord of the Isles. There are walks and a small museum and I'd really recommend a visit. The Loch can be good for ducks and more recently, I believe WTE. It is a constantly evolving location as more archaeological work is undertaken, there was a Time Team form there.
The penultimate location I'll mention is Bunnahabhain. The road to Bunnahabhain is on the left between Ballygrant and Port Askaig. There should be Red Deer along the road and at the end you can park and overlook the Sound of Jura and the Isle of Jura which exceptional views of the Papas of Jura. This area is a hotspot for Otters and Tystie. There used to be Arctic Skua across the sound but that is old now. Jura has a very dense population of Red Deer, more than Islay.
Lastly Port Askaig. Very little here apart from small harbour and lifeboat, a shop, the hotel and ferry complex. From here the short journey can be taken to Jura should you have time.
I have really only scratched the surface of the birding in Islay, there are many more opportunities. To me, as I've said, mid October onwards is outstanding, but all Autumn are the best for meHaving said that the whole period from October to April is good and Spring of course brings in the migrants, but the winter visitors will have departed. . If I never returned, which I will, I'll never forget the sight of geese flying up the loch s they arrive from Greenland. Of course, you are at the mercy of the weather at all times as the ferry will be cancelled in really bad winds, that is relatively infrequent as it is the lifeline of the island. I have only 2 regrets 1) we left and 2) it was pre digital photography!
Thanks Phil your adventures have been most entertaining.
I've put a new webpage on 10X50.com that will contain links to copies of these emails, so they're saved for posterity. Future historians won't believe it!