Saturday 31 December 2022

Saturday 31st December

The last day of 2022 and the weather was a bit kinder. I'm writing the blog earlier tonight prior to celebrating Hogmanay, so may miss a few notes emailed in that I'll catch up with tomorrow. 

Phil Edwards faithfully reports thus: "A quiet day.  We had two Greenfinches by the ruined buildings across Gruinart Flats (our first on the island this trip) and 5 WTE on Loch Gruinart (one sub-adult caught a fish) with large (uncounted) numbers of waders on the rising tide – Golden Plover, Bar-tailed Godwits, Lapwing, Redshank, Dunlin, Oystercatchers, but only a few Curlew.  Then drove to the Oa which proved very disappointing with ne’er a Twite to be seen.  Best was a flock of 16 Rock Doves over the cliffs.  Coming back to Smaull at dusk, a Woodcock flew across the road at the junction of the B8017/B8018 (south of Carnduncan); and we flushed 18 Snipe along the track to Smaull in the dark."

Jonathan Farooqi, just arrived, "hit the jackpot" and sent in the following:

"I arrived on the island yesterday evening and thought I would share a few sightings from my first full day (today, 31 December)…Spent this morning making the most of the calm conditions on Loch Indaal. A female Surf Scoter with 17 Commons off Blackrock was the standout highlight (phonescoped record shot attached). Also 10+ Slavonian Grebes, 20+ Great Northern Divers, 9 Long-tailed Ducks and 4 Black Guillemots on Loch Indaal, as well as an Otter and 4 immature White-tailed Eagles.

2 Little Egrets, 8 Whooper Swans, 60 Pintail and a ringtail Hen Harrier were at Loch Gruinart this afternoon as well as two more Hen Harriers (a male and ringtail) at Ardnave. Finished the day at Bridgend where thousands of Barnacle Geese started arriving onto the mudflats from 16:20."

Many Thanks Jonathan - a great end to the year - and hopefully a great start to 2023 for Islay's birders if the Surf Scoter is still there tomorrow!

I'll finish the year with some further brilliant photos from Phil Edwards during his stay here this past week:

Thanks to everyone who has contributed in 2022 - Wishing you Good Birding in 2023

Friday 30 December 2022

Friday 30th December

Just one contribution today from Phil Edwards: "On a very windy and showery day we spent late morning in the hides at Gruinart.  Pick of the bunch were 74 Common Snipe on three adjacent islands near South Hide, with three more on another lagoon and then another 26 flying over – 103 in total which beats by far my previous highest count of 60 on the Somerset Levels.  Two WTE were present on the Loch but later an immature (one of these birds maybe?) passed close by the woods and landed near North Hide after we had vacated it.  A male and female Sparrowhawk were separately hunting around the woods and scrub.  Two Little Egrets were present, a ringtail Hen Harrier, 152 Lapwing, and the usual mix of ducks – but surprisingly not a single Pintail.  Amongst the Barnacle Geese feeding in front of North Hide, three were ringed – ETC, ETL (with a red colour-ring on its left leg), and  EVK.  On Gruinart Flats, a female Merlin flushed from the bushes near the road junction to Killinallan.  There was little on a gale-swept Loch Indaal although from Blackrock I managed six male Rb Mergansers, 7+ Common Scoters, a male Goldeneye and a single Slavonian Grebe.  Finished the day with another lovely Islay sunset on a spume-driven Machir Bay."

Thank Phil - that total of Snipe is probably an all-time record for Islay.


Thursday 29 December 2022

Thursday 29th December

Further blustery, very wet weather from the SW today.

James How had been out on his home patch at Gruinart this morning seeing 3 White-tailed Eagles, single Merlin and Gadwall plus no less than 3 Little Egrets (there may be a couple of previous records of this number of Little Egrets on Islay, but it is quite unusual)

Phil Edwards reports: “Made a trip across the island today in a mixture of sunshine and driving rain to Claggain Bay.  There were two Chough feeding on the track at Smaull; 16 Curlew, 15 Lapwing and uncounted Barnacle and White-fronted Geese on Gruinart Flats and two Pale-bellied Brents on the field just past the junction to Killinallan; a male Goldeneye on Loch Indaal near the Gaelic Centre; and 11 Ringed Plovers on the beach in Port Ellen Bay.  Three Great Northern Divers were in Lagavulin Bay, two of which were calling and displaying (composite photo attached) and a female Red-breasted Merganser was fishing.  There was a female Goldeneye and 1m 3f Red-breasted Mergansers on Loch an-t-Sailein; a flock of 26 Curlew, 26 Blackbirds (I haven’t seen that many together in years), and five Song Thrushes in a field at Kintour; and at Claggain Bay there were two Red-throated Divers, two Black-throated Divers, two Great Northern Divers,and four diver sp. (too far out to identify) … and an Otter!  Back to Smaull in the dark and we flushed five Snipe from the grass along the side of the track.  A nice day”.

Eric Bignal our resident “Chough-man” who ringed the birds replied regarding the dead Choughs found by Phil yesterday: “I collected them today. They were both 2022 born birds one from Ardnave the other from Portnahaven”.

Some more lovely photos of Phil’s to finish off with………….

More to follow tomorrow!

Wednesday 28 December 2022

Wednesday 28th December

A fairly cold, wet and windy day, that didn't stop the hardier birders from getting out:

Phil Edwards says "Today the forecast said a dry morning so we went to Ardnave and saw quite a lot in the pouring rain!  The Loch had a pair of Tufted Duck, 7 Greylags, 5 Lapwing, and 8 Oystercatcher.  A round walk of the peninsula produced a single Twite, 9 Chough (plus two dead colour-ringed ones, found at 55.881202, -6.331313), a Greenshank, a Purple Sandpiper, 2 Snipe, 2 GND, 2 Shag, 2 Redshank, 9 Curlew, 16 Oystercatchers, 13 Ravens, 4 Reed Buntings plus uncounted Barnacle, White-fronted, and Greylag Geese.

There were 7 adult and 7 imm Whooper Swans by the hide on the RSPB Reserve but nothing else of particular note.  There was a ringtail Harrier east of Ballinaby and another around Smaull."

Steve Wignill had also braved the nasty weather and walked around at Ardnave to the Point and back. He found 5 Chough, plus 6 Goldeneye and a pair of Tufted Ducks on Ardnave Loch.

Martin Price saw the female Marsh Harrier again today, but over Loch Gorm rather than at Gruinart where it has often been noted.

The details of the dead choughs will be passed on to Eric Bignal who undoubtedly ringed them and will be able to tell us there life histories. They are more likely to be this year's young who haven't survived rather than victims of Avian Flu.

On a cheerier note here are some more of Phil's photos.


Tuesday 27 December 2022

Tuesday 27th December

Phil Edwards sent in his notes for today:  "Very quiet today. A trip to Portnahaven produced nothing of note but there were three Grey Seals in the harbour (photo attached). Coming back over the Rhinns, a male Hen Harrier showed briefly.  Lovely sunset at Saligo Bay after all the rain."

Phil also sent in a note from his first visit: "40 years ago today (27/12/82) we drove from Glenegedale to Cluanach where we had a male Black Grouse; across the Storakaig road to Bunnahabhain where we had 6 Black Grouse (1m 5f) in the woodland along the little road to the distillery, and 1 Red-throated and 1 Great Northern Diver on the sea; and back via Traigh an Luig where a Black-throated Diver was present.  Shame that the Black Grouse are a thing of the past."

A fascinating incite into past birding and what we've lost.

Steve Wignill had been over to Jura today and found a White-tailed Eagle there, plus a Hen Harrier back on Islay near the airport.

I'm including some of Phil's photos taken in the last few days - thanks so much for these. More great images tomorrow.................

Monday 26 December 2022

Monday 26th December

A late message for Christmas Day came from Steve & Lyn Rogers over at Port Ellen who report that the male Blackcap is still wintering in their garden and has now been joined by a female.

Today Steve Wignill was on the high road at Leorin and found a White-tailed Eagle and 2 Whooper Swans. Then on to The Oa where another White-tailed Eagle awaited. On the way at Cornabus was a neck-ringed Greenland White-fronted Goose CZC, which I think is one of the regular individuals that Malcolm reported on a week or so ago. Elsewhere Steve and his birding friend Pete Middleton notched up 4 Hen Harriers of different ages and sexes. 

Phil Edwards conatced me with corrections to my blog yesterday (which I'm doing remotely at the moment from Orkney, which is proving a bit tricky). Corrections are: 1) Phil returned to Islay after a 20-year break last year – and had so much fun that he came back again this year.  2) the goose photo posted had a collar on it and I missed off the fact that it had a neck collar CSK  3) Phil also saw a couple of Hen Harriers at Smaull – the highlight of his Christmas Day.

Today Phil reports: "We saw a Golden Eagle from the cottage at Smaull this morning.  Then a trip to Bunnahabhain produced a male Kestrel near Carnduncan; c1,800 Golden Plover, 200 Dunlin, 15 Lapwing and a Knot on the fields of Gruinart Flats; 2m1f Siskin (island tick for me) and a Coal Tit at the feeders at Islay Woollen Mill; and two Great Northern Divers in the snow at Bunnahabhain, 1 of which was calling".

Phil has also forwarded some great photos of some of the birds seen in the past couple of days which I'll be able to include in the next couple of blogs once I'm back on Islay (hopefully tomorrow, weather-permitting). 

Sunday 25 December 2022

Sunday 25th December

We've got birding visitors here for Christmas scouring the island and making the most of the limited daylight. Steve Wignill was around Loch Gruinart finding 20 Whooper Swans, 350 Lapwing, 100 Dunlin, 4,000 Golden Plover, a Greenshank, 20 Ringed Plover, the Marsh Harrier, a male Hen Harrier, single Little Egret, 2 White-tailed Eagles and 3 Brent Geese. He also noted a sickly Barnacle Goose, presumably afflicted with Avian Flu. It had a transmitter on its neck and a white ring on its right leg bearing letters EPB. I'm sure we can quickly work out where this unfortunate individual was ringed and its life history so far (not that it will have much of a life history to look forward to!).

Wishing all blog readers a very Happy Christmas.

(with thanks to Steve Stansfield from Bardsey Bird Obs for my "borrowing" this wonderful image - it is rare to find Choughs wearing any sort of headgear, let alone Christmas hats - well done Steve!)

Saturday 24 December 2022

Saturday 24th December

Birder Phil Edwards returned yesterday to Islay after a 20 year gap. He reports the following on his crossing from Kenacraig:

"There was a nice variety of birds in West Loch Tarbet (2 Red-th diver, 4 GND, a male Goldeneye, 6 pairs of Rb Merg, 2m 1f Eider etc.) but almost nothing on the crossing save 4 GND until south of Port Ellen when a few seabirds finally appeared – 1 Gannet, 1 Fulmar, 2 Kittiwakes, 1 Razorbill, 2 Guillemots, 2 Black Guillemots, and 9 Shag."

Today he says:

"Had a fairly gentle first day back on Islay.  On the way down the track at Smaull there were two Chough; five Fieldfare along the road near Ballinaby; six Redwing and two Reed Buntings near Carnduncan. An hour and three-quarters at South Hide at the RSPB reserve produced 12 ad and 8 imm Whooper Swans, 52+ Pintail, 3m 7f Shoveler, 10 snipe, a Buzzard and a Marsh Harrier which looks like a 2nd CY female given the golden feathers around the leading edge of the axillaries.  Photo attached taken through the rain. 

"We then moved on to the eastern shore of Loch Gruinart, largely in heavy rain.  Numbers are just what we saw and don’t include the large flocks of waders on and beyond the centre of the loch – visibility too bad to identify these:  Lapwing 40, Golden Plover c. 1,700, Curlew c. 20, Oystercatcher, c. 60 (inc. 39 in one field), Turnstone 7, Bar-tailed Godwit c. 30, Ringed Plover c. 5, Grey Plover c. 50, Dunlin c. 200, Redshank (just) 6, Greenshank 2, Goldeneye 2 f., Red-breasted Merganser 4 pairs, Grey Heron 1, Little Egret 1, WTE 1 ad carrying prey, and a ringtail Hen Harrier. "

Many Thanks Phil – and a very Marry Christmas to all Blog readers.

Friday 23 December 2022

Friday 23rd December

 Doing the blog early tonight with no reports coming in from the WhatsApp group or via email. 

Thursday 22 December 2022

Thursday 22nd December

 I don't know what the weather has been like on Islay today as I left on the 7am ferry.

Morven Laurie from Nature Scot kindly sent in the International Goose Count figures for Islay in the census carried out on the 20th and 21st December: 31,785 Barnacle Geese, 5,243 Greenland White-fronted Geese and 1,439 Greylag Geese.

Elsewhere today, Ed Burrell saw a Greenshank down at Cornabus (they are usually found on Loch Gruinart). While over on Jura, Louise Muir reports the lovely sound of lots of Great Northern Divers calling in Small Isles Bay.

Wednesday 21 December 2022

Wednesday 21st December

Another blustery, fairly wet day. 

James how had been out and kindly sent in the following seen while goose counting:

In the Gruinart area: Merlin, Marsh Harrier, 2 Hen Harrier, 3 White-tailed Eagles, 1 Sparrowhawk, 

At Carrabus: 1 Pink-footed Goose, 2 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, 1 Cackling Goose.

Very interesting that the Marsh Harrier is still with us and surviving the winter so far.

Tuesday 20 December 2022

Tuesday 20th December

A repeat of yesterday:

"Another wet and blustery day with strong winds, but quite mild. And another day with no bird news reported."

Monday 19 December 2022

Monday 19th December

Another wet and blustery day with strong winds, but quite mild. And another day with no bird news reported.

Sunday 18 December 2022

Sunday 18th December

 A much wetter day with strong SW winds caused ferry cancellations and nobody venturing out of doors to look at birds.

Saturday 17 December 2022

Saturday 17th December

The tenperature has become a little milder as promised by the weathermen. With it comes more cloud and drizzle at times with a light southerly breeze.

No bird news today, but Malcolm Ogilvie responded to the Barnacle Goose related blog of yesterday.

Regarding the ringed Barnacle Goose seen by Scott Maxwell at Lochwinnock: "The ring is a typical narrow band without engraved numbers or letters used by waterfowl keepers to mark their birds. Definitely not an Islay-ringed bird".

 Regarding Barnacle goose numbers at Mersehead and the Solway: "the 42,000 was the total population on the Solway a year ago. The population was believed to have fallen to 28,000 by the end of last winter because of avian flu. Following a very good breeding season, the total number on the Solway this autumn is about 34,000".

Friday 16 December 2022

Friday 16th December

A further deterioration in the weather today - grey and raining with stronger winds. So, not surprising that there are no bird notes sent in to the blog. However, Scott Maxwell emailed with the following query and sighting:

"Not sure if this is a Barnacle Goose from Islay.  It has a small green ring on right leg only. Seen near RSPB  Lochwinnoch in Renfrewshire last Sunday. Sorry for poor quality photos - digi-scoped from distance to avoid disturbing  the geese. Any ideas?"

Further Barnacle Goose related news came from John Miles down in Dumfries & Galloway who emailed regarding Avian flu to say "Yes,  Ok down here at the moment but from a max of 42,000 there are now 20,000 according to staff at RSPB Mersehead last week!!"

Thursday 15 December 2022

Thursday 15th December

A bit of a thaw from the frost today, but with it came greyer skies and drizzle at times. 

There is more utterly depressing news about our poor Barnacle Geese. Apparently NatureScot found 59 dead and 42 sick birds in the Bridgend roost yesterday. But the Solway Barnacles (all the way from Svalbard), that got so badly hit with avian flu last year, are so far, not being hit by it this winter - that at least is good news.

On a happier note James How reports that the Marsh Harrier is still with us and also a Little Egret remaining and braving the cold.

There was a lovely display from a family of three Otters here at Port Charlotte this morning - the two young animals spending a lot of time in play in the water.

Wednesday 14 December 2022

Wednesday 14th December

 Another fine, frosty, sunny and dry day here. 

Not much to report other than a sighting of a Greenland White-fronted Goose by Ed Burrell at Leorin which he had ringed on the mainland at Tayinloan in March 2017 and who is now happily spending at least part of each winter on Islay - in the same area between Balaclava and Glenegedale.

Tuesday 13 December 2022

Tuesday 13th December

 Weather today a bit milder, damper, breezier and cloudier!

Continuing on from yesterday’s blog about avian flu, Mark Shields reports a definite increase in dead and dying Barnacle Geese at Gruinart since the tail end of last week. Also, a dead Whooper Swan was found on the reserve this morning, which is now being tested by Nature Scot.

However, amidst the gloom, there are still live birds out there and a good one found by Mark a couple of days ago. He read a neck collar on a Greenland White-fronted Goose as J7P and has just received the details back from researcher Tony Fox, who was clearly delighted! He replied: “this is brilliant, such a treat. It was not seen last year, but this is one of the last GWFG caught in Greenland, from summer 2008, so a really special favourite and a real survivor!" Well, lets pray it remains a survivor having managed well for the past 14+ years. Mark comments that these days all the other GWFG that are colour-marked that he knows of are ringed in Scotland/Ireland/Iceland far more recently.

Today’s bird news comes c/o James How.

At Loch Gruinart: 2 Little Egrets, 7 White-tailed Eagles, 1 Merlin.

At Ardnave: 1 Merlin, 4 Purple Sandpipers. 1 Greenshank, 3 Grey Plover.

Finally, David Livingstone kindly sent in this photo of 3 White-tailed Eagles perched up at Bridgend today.

 Many thanks to everyone for their contributions.

Monday 12 December 2022

Monday 12th December

A change in the weather today with slightly stronger winds from the south bringing cloud and intermittent rain. But it doesn’t seem quite that bad given the exceptional freezing, snowy conditions that are plaguing much of the rest of the UK to the south and north of us at the moment (it was close to -16 in Braemar!).

Talking of plagues, the only bird news today is all rather disturbing. Mary Redman reported at least 18 dead Barnacle Geese plus a few dead gulls on the beach between Uiskentuie and the Kilchoman road. NatureScot were in attendance and presumably will have taken samples to confirm Avian Flu in due course. James How also reports further dead Barnacle Geese on Loch Gruinart.

It is all very sad and worrying, in that there is precious little any of us can do about it and the goose flocks are going to be with us and potentially exposed and vulnerable to this horrible disease for several more months yet.

Sunday 11 December 2022

Sunday 11th December

 Cool, frosty but sunny, almost windless conditions again with a wonderful clarity and flat calm seas. I took a walk to the American Monument on The Oa in the afternoon where the coastline of Kintyre, Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland and Donegal in the Republic stood out clearly. A lovely walk but very quiet for birds - just a Raven chasing a male Kestrel around the cliffs. I think it must have been equally quiet for other birders today as there are no other reports in this evening.

Saturday 10 December 2022

Saturday 10th December

Cold, bright, dry, light winds from the north and mostly sunny again today, with a good frost overnight causing me to scrape ice off the windscreen this morning and the gritting lorries to be doing their thing this evening.

There is very little bird news to tell you about today:

Val Peacock had a bunch of 8 Bullfinches on bushes up by Gearach yesterday - quite a sizeable group for Islay.

Today on a walk up beyond Killinallan I passed the now usual  gathering of White-tailed Eagles - just 5 together at the top of loch Indaal when I went by. I also passed a freshly dead Barnacle Goose on the shoreline (and another sick looking bird close to Killinallan). By the time I returned just an hour or so later, the fresh corpse had been reduced to a pile of feathers and a few bones. I presume that a WTE had been past and devoured it. I just hope it doesn't catch you know what from its meal ...........................

There were plenty of waders in Loch Gruinart including a group of 5 Greenshanks.

I'm told that a group of eagles is called "a convocation of eagles" or "a congress of eagles". But which species of eagle that refers to and why a convocation or congress I don't know. I feel we can do better than that, so if anyone has a suggestion for what these large gatherings of White-tailed Eagles that we are seeing on Islay should be called, do let the blog know. 

Finally, I was sad to see a very fresh road kill Otter just outside Bruichladdich this evening. A gorgeous animal cut down in its prime. If anyone knows of organisations or individuals that may need it for any study or research it should be retrievable.

Friday 9 December 2022

Friday 9th December

 Continuing cold, with reports of below freezing temperatures overnight. Dry and calm again, but more clouds in the sky.

Lauren Stewart kindly sent in the WeBS highlights for Loch Gruinart from today:


38 Snipe , 91 Pintail, 822 Teal, 1 Black-taiIed Godwit,  2 Gadwall, 587 Golden Plover, 29 Whooper Swan, 477 Dunlin, 27 Knot, 209 Sanderling, 69 Redshank, 3 Greenshank, 2 Little Egrets, 1 Marsh Harrier, 11 White-tailed Eagles, (Plus Ringed Plover, Turnstone, Curlew, Wigeon, Lapwing, Goldeneye and Red-breasted Merganser).

That is an interesting mix of birds - our longest-staying Marsh Harrier still with us from the summer, lingering Black-tailed Godwit and a couple of Little Egrets (when are they going to settle down and start breeding?), masses of waders and that "flock" of eagles!

Elsewhere David Dinsley reports further sightings of a Merlin on The Oa.


Thursday 8 December 2022

Thursday 8th December

 Another gorgeous clear, crisp day.

All the bird news is about White-tailed Eagles today. James How first counted 7 at Gruinart this morning, quickly correcting his count to 8. David Dinsley chipped in with 3 more on The Oa. That made 11. By 2pm James was reporting a dozen perched up at Gruinart, making at least 15 present. There was no mention of ages of these birds. Are they all immatures wandering in from other parts of Argyll for a goose-fest?

The only other bird news for the day is from Steve & Lyn Rogers who have a male Blackcap feeding in their garden. Presumably by this late date an overwintering bird?

All I can contribute for the day is a count of 35 Ringed Plovers on Machir Bay.

Wednesday 7 December 2022

Wednesday 7th December

A calm, dry start turned into rain showers and a lot greyer skies with a warning of cold weather coming soon.

As hoped, Malcom Ogilvie has reported back on the colour-ringed Greenland White-fronts for us: “All four of CSZ, CZK, CZT and CZY were caught at Ballinaby in winter 2019-20 and seen around Loch Gorm in each of the subsequent winters.

 CZC and CZF were both caught at Cornabus in winter 2019-20 and have been seen in that area each winter since. Both have also been seen in Iceland on migration.”

Another day with few observations: 

James how counted 4 White-tailed Eagles up at Gruinart. He also found a Jack Snipe there. Down at Upper Killeyan on The Oa David Dinsley had a Peregrine and another couple of White-tailed Eagles in the air talon-grappling.

Down at Port Charlotte I saw an Otter and a couple of Great Northern Divers close in to the village. 


Tuesday 6 December 2022

Tuesday 6th December

A glorious dry, cold, calm, bright and sunny day. Despite that, nobody seems to have got out birding today.

Regular visitors Steve Lister & Ken Reeves departed yesterday (Monday 5th) and sent in this note:

“On the way to our ferry at Port Ellen we saw two immature WT Eagles on the shore at Bridgend at around o835 and then a ringtail Hen Harrier flew east past the ferry terminal at about 0950.

During our stay we saw six collared GWF Geese. CSZ, CZK, CZT and CZY were together west of Loch Gorm on the 1st, and CZC and CZF were together at Cornabus opposite the entrance to Kilnaughton House on the 2nd. Tony Fox has already sent us excellent feedback on all of these, plus a list of nine others that have been seen on Islay so far this winter.

We searched for ringed Barnacle Geese but the wariness of the flocks and the length of grass they were feeding in meant we only managed one ring-read, 6PS. One of us had a brief view of what looked like the Cackling Goose at Leorin along the high road to Port Ellen on the 2nd but the large flock was disturbed by a passing motorbike and we could not refind it.”

It is interesting that, just as Malcolm Ogilvie predicted, CZK was indeed seen with CSZ – I wonder where CSK is? Perhaps Malcolm can let us know – and any of the details of the other GWF Geese rings read by Steve & Ken?

Thanks to Steve & Ken for all their records during their stay.

Monday 5 December 2022

Monday 5th December

 Another dry, bright and cool sunny day here. 

The only bird news comes from David Dinsley on The Oa who found a male Brambling and a Mistle Thrush at Upper Killeyan.

Sunday 4 December 2022

Sunday 4th December

A bright, sunny, dry and cool day with winds now coming from a more northerly direction.

Malcolm Ogilvie has supplied details of the ringed White-fronted Goose seen yesterday: “This bird was ringed on Islay at Ballinaby in winter 2019/20. It was seen around Carnduncan on several occasions in winters 2020/21 and 2021/22, always with CSK and CSZ which were caught with it, so please look out for these two birds as well. I don't think either of those two had a transmitter collar, but note that those collars also have letters on them.

Graeme Ruthven had some good birding on his last day here. He reports:I found a Cackling Goose in the Barnacle flock bathing and roosting at the head of Loch Indaal this morning. (Photo attached). Also today I had close encounters with 2 adult Golden Eagles at the roadside at Kilnaughton Bay, 1 was perched on the dry stone wall beside the road then flew off to fly above the hill with the other bird. I also had 2 ringtail Hen Harriers - one at Ardnave and the other near the RSPB centre at Loch Gruinart and 2 Great Northern Divers at Lagavulin and Loch a Chnuic. I am leaving Islay tomorrow morning it has been excellent and I will be back.”

Meanwhile, George Jackson reports from his bird feeders at Coultorsay:
Filled up all the feeders yesterday. In response, today, up to 25 Rooks and Jackdaws causing havoc, especially round the fat balls. A good scattering of the expected Chaffinches and Goldfinches, then about 100 Starlings settled on wires to join the queue but didn’t come down”.

Mark Shields had seen the Pale-bellied Brents at Carnain again today, the flock now at 44 birds.


Saturday 3 December 2022

Saturday 3rd December

A grey and drizzly start, brightening up later. Still cool with an easterly wind from a high pressure system over Europe.

Visitor Graeme Ruthven, birding here for the weekend kindly sent in some of his sightings:

On Loch Indaal were 27 Brent Geese (possibly some of the same 35 seen there by Mark Shields this morning?), single Slavonian Grebe and Long Tailed Duck with 2 Scaup at Bowmore. Later, on The Rhinns apart from lots of Blackbirds, Redwings and Fieldares there was a small group of Greenland White-fronts including 2 with Collars: 1 was CZK and the other could have been a transmitter. (If anyone knows the origin of CZK, do let us know). On Loch Gruinart Graeme had no less than 6 White Tailed Eagles (3 immatures on the reserve, 2 adults soaring above the hills to the west of the Loch and landing on top of one of them, then the final adult at Ardnave shortly after.. Also seen was an immature Golden Eagle on the hills to the east of Loch Gruinart. Also 1 Greenshank heard, 3 Little Egrets (2 on the pools and 1 South of the road near Loch Gruinart House), plus a flock of Chough at Ardnave.

Steve Lister saw another WTE over Loch Skerrols where 2 Long-tailed Ducks still linger along with a Lesser Redpoll nearby.

Friday 2 December 2022

Friday 2nd December

A dry, fairly mild and calm day. Steve Lister, a regular visitor to Islay is back with us and sent in a few records from his day’s birding. Off Bowmore he found 4 Long-tailed Ducks and 3 Slavonian Grebes, 10 Great Northern and 2 Red-throated Divers plus 2 Scaup. Later he was down on The Oa and was delighted to come across the huge flock of 500 Twite at Kinnabus.

Elsewhere, Mary-Ann Featherstone had 3 Great Northern Divers, 2 WTE and an Otter on her home territory at Cnoc Bay. Steve & Lyn Rogers over at Port Ellen// Kilnaughton found a couple of Golden Eagles, and singles of Great Northern and Red-throated Divers in the bay. David Dinsley continued his run of many sightings of Merlin with another seen near the airport.

Yesterday, Mary Redman sent in a couple of “spot the WTE” photos, which I share with you tonight. This is the easy one - which of the three is it and what are the other species involved?


This one is a bit more tricky - pity Mary doesn't have a telephoto lens!

Finally, David Wood sent us his link to the very worthwhile and informative book we mentioned yesterday. Take a look…………

‘Into the red’ book link

Limited edition Twite print from the book with 20% going to BTO/RBBP -

Thursday 1 December 2022

Thursday 1st December

Thanks to Mark for the impromptu stand-in last night.

The first day of a new month with a grey and uninspiring start. Mary-Ann Featherstone reports a couple of Tawny Owls over at Kildalton, while Hen Harriers get multiple notifications – 2 at Kilchoman, 1 at Loch Gorm and others at Machir Bay and Port Ellen, where one of the several WTEs on the island was noted. Mary Redman saw a couple more down at Frenchman’s Rocks. Other notables were 6 Woodcock along the road at Port Charlotte, a Pink-footed Goose and 21 Whooper Swans west of Loch Gorm. Machir Bay held a few Chough plus 60 Curlews and 40 Twite.

Talking of Twite…………………. This is perhaps one of David Wood’s favourite birds? He was involved last week down on the RSPB Oa reserve ringing another 85 Twite. They are fitted with a BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) metal ring and with a 2 letter/number coded ring (as on the photo below by Phil Catton). Although small (the birds and their rings!), they are readable with a good view through a scope, so please keep an eye out and report any sightings to David or via this blog. Over 400 Oa wintering Twite have been ringed in the last few years and currently 570 Twite are in a flock on The Oa feeding on the specially planted bird crop. (This planting and the feeders at the Oa car park make seeing this sometimes elusive, but under-rated/understated bird, a lot easier).

 David also mentions that Twite on The Oa featured in a new BTO ‘Into the Red’ bird book on species becoming increasingly uncommon and going on to the “Red List”. The text is by Indy Kiemel Greene, who writes about Twite-watching on The Oa, accompanied by some great artwork by David. Profits go to the BTO and RBBP (Rare Breeding Birds Panel), so a very worthy Christmas gift if you need inspiration for something different and special.

Wednesday 30th November

Sadly Peter doesn't love the birds enough to blog for more than 3 days in a row, so here we go with a late one. 

Double D gets BOTD with a snow bunting on Port Ellen beach. Mary had her first look at lapwings at Claddach this winter, with 45 there. Margaret had 2 golden eagles at Kilchoman. 

At Gruinart, noticeably more whooper swans the past couple of days, with a peak count of 53 at the South Hide. A WTE also present. Small numbers of dead and/or dying barnacle geese continue to be found around the reserve each day. 

pic c/o Neil McMahon

Thanks to all the above. 

Tuesday 29 November 2022

Tuesday 29th November

 Another dry, but cooler and cloudier day.

Apart from a lovely close-up Great Northern Diver in the bay at Port Charlotte, the only birds reported today were 17 Whooper Swans landing on Loch Gorm this morning.

Monday 28 November 2022

Monday 28th November

A much nicer day with bright sunny conditions, clear skies and light winds.

It was Andrew Chick's last day on Islay and he reports thus:

"managed 91 species in 5 days with today’s highlights being Great Northern Diver at Port Ellen, 2 adult White-tailed Eagles on the B8016, ringtail Hen Harrier at Loch Gorm and 15 Twite on the beach at Machir. Love the island!"

He also shared a couple of great photos:

George Jackson was out this morning at Loch Skerrols: "Near Loch Skerrols this morning: a group of about 20 Redwing in the trees; then by the loch there were a half dozen Siskins feeding on Alder cones. Numerous Blackbirds in the woodland - I counted 20 in the small area I was walking through. Later, about 10.00 am, driving down the High Road there were at least 40 Fieldfares on a stubble field on east side of the road"

Sunday 27 November 2022

Sunday 27th November

 A drier, sunnier day, with brisk southerly winds.

Visitor Andrew Chick emailed to give us an account of his day birding today - a good comprehensive list with some interesting species:

"Spent the whole day between Loch Gruinart RSPB and Ardnave. 70 species seen, but struggling with Golden Eagle.

Today’s list included: Greylag Goose, 2 Brent Geese, c1000 Greenland Greater White-fronted Geese, 1000’s Barnacle Geese, Mute Swan, c15 Whooper Swan, Shelduck, Shoveler, Gadwall, Wigeon, Mallard, Oystercatcher, 1 Grey Plover, 800 European Golden Plover, c450 Northern Lapwing, Ringed Godwit, 6 Black-tailed Godwit, 3 Sanderling, 60 Dunlin, 2 Common Snipe, Redshank, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, 9 Cormorant, 3 Grey Heron, 1 Little Egret, 1 Marsh Harrier (female), 2 Sparrowhawk (male and female), 3 White-tailed Eagle (All adults), 2 Common Buzzard, 1 Kestrel, Magpie, 14 Red-billed Chough (At Ardnave), Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Hooded Crow, Common Raven, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Goldcrest, Wren, Starling, Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush, Redwing, Blackbird, Fieldfare, Robin, Dunnock, Pied Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Chaffinch, Linnet, Goldfinch, Reed Bunting."

I took a look at Loch Skerrols this afternoon which was surprisingly duck-free! Just a Goldeneye and 7 Tufties - but, unusually, there were 3 Long-tailed Ducks present. They are not often seen on freshwater lochs on Islay and I wonder whether these are just roosting or loafing there but feeding out on Loch Indaal?

Saturday 26 November 2022

Saturday 26th November

Another blustery, windy, wettish, westerly day, so few observations again. Dave Protherough saw 7 Whooper Swans battling south in the strong winds at Cornabus this morning. Steve & Lyn Rogers had a White-tailed Eagle fly over their house at Port Ellen where they also saw 25 Ringed Plover on the beach. Up at Kilchoman Margaret Brooke got her fix of daily raptors with a Peregrine and 2 Golden Eagles this afternoon.

Friday 25th November

Not much in the way of reports, just Mary's WTE at Port Wemyss and Mary-Ann's 3 woodcock at Seal bay. 

In goose news, Malcolm was in touch to try and answer Peter's questions about low white-front numbers yesterday. He writes "I've now had news from Tony Fox in Denmark, who monitors Greenland Whitefronts throughout their range, and he tells me that (a) it seems to have been a *very* poor breeding season with low numbers of young and (b) somewhat surprisingly there still seem to be many more birds than usual at this date still in Iceland, where they, too, have been experiencing the warm southerlies that we had until very recently. So, two of your guesses were correct, and, while we can expect more to arrive here, the final total will very likely be down on last winter's 6-7000."

This fits with reports I was reading the other day of very low numbers of Bewick's swan in the UK at the minute, also thought to be related to exceptionally warm conditions in the Arctic this autumn. Thanks to all the above.

pic c/o Neil McMahon

Thursday 24 November 2022

Thursday 24th November

A blustery, windy day with apparently nobody out there braving the elements looking for birds. However, the official International Goose Counts took place on Islay during the preceding two days and Morven Laurie kindly sent in the results:

 There were 34,782 Barnacle Geese, 3,578 Greenland White-fronted Geese and 1,622 Greylag Geese. This compares with the International Count a year ago (November 2021) of 37,202 Barnacle Geese and 6,956 Greenland White-fronted Geese. Both species are below last year's total; the White-fronted Geese nearly 50% down which seems quite extreme. Does anyone know why? Is it avian flu, a disastrous breeding season, the birds haven't all arrived yet - or wintering somewhere else?

Wednesday 23 November 2022

Wednesday 23rd November

Rain overnight gave way to a drier, but windy morning becoming quite sunny by the afternoon.

James How reported from Gruinart a good selection of raptors: 4 White-tailed Eagles, at least 3 Hen Harriers and single Golden Eagle and Marsh Harrier. The Marsh Harrier (assuming it to be the same individual that has been present since late summer) is just about the longest-staying of its species on Islay. A guest at the Port Charlotte Hotel showed Gary T. this photo of the bird in question taken today.

Tuesday 22nd November

Ian Lycett (and his Dad) were living the dream in the sunshine getting outrageously cute otter pictures...

...and seeing 4 imm and 1 adult WTE, 2 hen and 1 marsh harriers, presumably around Gruinart. They also had 4 pink-feet at Craigens and 10 slav grebes and a couple of LTD off of Blackrock. Thanks to them both. 

Dave Wood gets BOTD with a goosander on Loch Kinnabus. That's all. It's a good day for fans of retrospective weather reports, as Peter, your leader, has returned from holidays raring to get blogging again. Back to him tomorrow.

Tuesday 22 November 2022

Monday 21st November

Dead barnies continue to be found around Loch Gruinart - the usual plea for all dead wild bird reports to DEFRA on 03459 33 55 77. Don't touch sick, injured or dead birds. 

Our only sightings from today are ominous in this context. 3 WTE chasing geese at Cornabus (Ed) and 4 doing the same at Gruinart (James).

pic c/o David Livingstone

Monday 21 November 2022

Sunday 20th November

2 little egrets at Gruinart with a barn owl out and about in the evening. Lucy had 3 WTE on Gruinart Flats, Polly Mather had 2 more at the head of Loch Indaal. 

Steve Rogers had a single pink foot in with the greylags near Kilnaughton, with a cormorant flying over. 

Down that way, Ed also had a water rail at Cornabus. 

Mark and Alison had the last day of their trip, and sound like they will be back sometime. They reported "This morning on the way to Machir beach we had a ringtail Hen Harrier near Gruinart and an adult male Loch Gorm. Ali spotted an almost full adult Golden Eagle agle sat on a mound near the road southeast of the Loch, it soon took off to hunt along a low ridge- superb🙂. Not to be outdone, a pair of adult WT Eagle were throwing their weight around on the Loch. 

Machir had 3 Chough, we heard more of them up at Sanaigmore where another male Hen Harrier put on a show (sadly back home of the edge of the North York Moors they remain very scarce for well publicised reasons, we haven't seen an adult male there for many years).

We finished up at Gruinart at dusk, hoping to see Otter and just as we were about to leave one appeared in front of the southern hide- mission accomplished"

Great pic of the Port Ellen bay dolphins from the other day from David Livingstone

Thanks very much to him and everyone else for the contributions.

Lastly, Dave Wood from The Oa has written a piece on twite for the rspb website here