February 27, 2011 at 7:46 pm

Pied Billed Grebe

The severe weather of December on Islay delayed the flowering of the Snowdrops but this worked to my benefit as they were at their best during our last week there. After I had taken the still photo of the Snowdrops the scene was made even better when I was using my video camera as a Roebuck walked through them only twenty foot in front of me.

During our stay we have had the worst weather we have ever had during February on Islay with only one good day. Even in poor conditions we have watched Peregrine, Kestrel, Sea Eagle, Sparrowhawk, male Hen Harriers and a pair of Golden Eagles.

Although many of the small birds have left the island the highlights have been the sheer numbers of Crossbills. Many family parties were feeding on the cones and some of the males were scarlet in colour.

Stormy Weather

February 19, 2011 at 1:23 pm

Pied Billed Grebe

A wild week on Islay, with snow in the Rest And Be Thankful on the way up. An otter was fishing off Jura as we sailed up the sound.

Islay did not escape the severe weather in December and we have seen only one Stonechat and two Hen Harriers. There are no Snipe or Woodcock around and we have encountered only two flocks of Twite and Chaffinches, comprising of one hundred plus birds in each flock.

Along the West coast fourteen goats and four kids were feeding on the sea cliffs with wild waves in the background. The highlight has been watching a female Crossbill feeding her three young that had just left their nest. She would take a pine cone, work her way around it extracting the seeds, then fly over to one of the young to regurgitate the food to it. The young would flick its wings in excitement as it was being fed . This is the first time we have ever experienced this activity from a bird that must have laid its eggs in all the severe weather of last December. Perhaps this weather brought the cones to seed thus enabling the Crossbills to breed?

On Tour

February 12, 2011 at 8:27 pm

Pied Billed Grebe

This week has been my annual film tour of South West Scotland. I drove two hundred and forty miles to Stranraer and decided to note how many raptors I saw en route. It proved conclusively how the Buzzard is now our commonest bird of prey and how the last three severe Winters have had a devastating effect on the Kestrel. The totals were fourteen Buzzards, three Kestrels and two Sparrowhawks. I arrived in Stranraer to watch the Starlings wheeling over the pier as they flew to roost under the pier. Two Peregrines were fighting over one that they had captured.

At the Loch Ken Kite feeding station there were more than seventy KItes coming to the food put out for them. In the severe weather in December apparently there were as many as one hundred and forty present! I also visited the RSPB reserve at Mersehead to admire the Spitzbergen Barnacle Geese (see photo) and dozens of Pintails.

Prior to my film shows each evening there was much talk about the Big Garden Birdwatch and some of the birds seen during the hours count. One garden had more than two hundred House Sparrows, another had more than one hundred Bramblings, another had seventy plus Siskins and yet another had twenty four Yellow Hammers. What a difference to the gardens around Manchester.

In our garden this week there have been two Siskins, the first of the Winter and a record twenty one Collared Doves. The Willow Tit still appears occasionally.

Waxwings Still Around

February 5, 2011 at 9:04 pm

Pied Billed Grebe

It is good to know that around South Manchester there are still over five hundred Waxwings present in flocks of up to one hundred and sixty strong. Around Rochdale there are very few with one seen today on a drive to Hollingworth Lake.

After mentioning last week that there were very few Jack Snipe around it was a pleasant surprise on the 31st January to come across two only twenty feet apart on Hopwood. It had been -5°C overnight and these are the required conditions to bring Jack Snipe together in iron water ditches. As soon as the frost had gone the following day there were no Snipe to be found.

The Big Garden Birdwatch last weekend was undertaken in very mild conditions with very few finches present. We did, however, log 11 House sparrows, 2 Redwing, 4 Bullfinches, 1 Song Thrush, 9 Blackbirds, 6 Blue Tits, 1 Chaffinch, 6 Collared Doves, 1 Dunnock, 2 Goldfinches, 4 Great Tits, 2 Robins, 6 Starlings, 1 Woodpigeon and 1 Willow Tit during our one hour watch.