An Islay Winter

February 21, 2010 at 3:13 am

Loch Ballygrant

We have just spent a week on our favourite Hebridean island of Islay with incredible Winter weather and four inches of snow on one day. It was an unique experience to walk around the lochs and woodlands with everywhere covered in deep snow and coated in frost

There have been good sightings of Hen Harriers, Merlin, Peregrine, Kestrels and of course the thousand of geese trying to feed in the snow covered fields. Good flocks of Golden Plover, Lapwings and Bullfinches have been seen. Yes, Bullfinches in a flock is almost unique but on one day we watched parties of four, ten and fifteen feeding together in the snow covered heather. They appeared to be eating the seeds deep inside the heather, something I have never witnessed before.

This year with the severe frost in January we arrived on Islay with the snowdrops in Bridgend woods at their very best. As usual it was a breathtaking carpet of white and on more than one occasion was covered in snow!

Two fantastic days were spent on Jura looking for Otters. On one of these days we followed an Otter for four hours. During this time it rested only thirty minutes and fished for three and a half hours with a success rate of one item of prey per minute. Conditions were perfect and some good video was obtained of it fishing, eating prey and sleeping. It is always a great challenge looking for Otters and the following day what was probably the same creature failed to give us any film!!

Who Killed Cock Robin?

February 14, 2010 at 4:48 am

Sparrow Hawk

Yes this male Sparrow Hawk had his second Robin of the Winter in the garden this week. I know he has to live but I wish he would go somewhere else!

Last week I have been on my annual film show tour of South West Scotland with the best weather I have ever had for this tour in more than twenty years. The Kites at Loch Ken continue to increase annually with more than sixty coming to the feeding station each day. The number of young reared last year was apparently twice that of the year before and on that basis the prospects for the future look very good.

During my travel around South West Scotland I enjoyed watching a flock of one hundred and sixty Scaup at Stranraer, a Hen Harrier and Crossbills at Mossdale and on the last evening the spectacle of a million Starlings going to roost at Gretna Green.

Signs of Spring

February 8, 2010 at 2:21 am

Long Eared Owl

Severe frost early in the week but now somewhat milder as I made a first visit to some of the moorland plantations. In one a single Long Eared Owl was found but only thirty foot away from it a pair were together and apparently ready for the breeding season ahead.

Whilst there are still Jack Snipe and Woodcock about there is now a steady passage of Skylarks returning towards the hills and perhaps they know that Winter has finished? We shall have to wait and see.

There has been some movements of Pink Footed Geese in recent days with skeins of up to two hundred generally moving in a North west direction.

In the garden a party of nine Long Tailed Tits fed briefly so these have survived the severe weather of the last six weeks and will pair off to breed in a little over four weeks time.

Survival Time For Herons

February 1, 2010 at 8:48 am


There is still no let up in the severe weather with keen frosts on most nights this week and I wonder how many Herons will be left to breed next month when the season starts.

With the continued Winter weather both Woodcock and Jack Snipe are still around trying to find somewhere to feed that is not frozen. On Hopwood a Green Woodpecker was watched twice on the 31st trying to find ants in the ground. A Buzzard was also present.

In the garden both female and male Sparrowhawks have been present during the week, the male catching prey and devouring it on the 30th. However, neither were present for the National bird count on the 31st which was highlighted with the presence of twenty seven House Sparrows and two pairs of Bullfinches.

On the 30th at Ogden we watched a Little Owl sunbathing in the afternoon sunshine on the best day of the week.