Sunday 30 January 2022

Sunday 30th January

 A brief respite in the weather this morning before it began to get wetter and windier. This evening it is very windy and raining with the Storm Corrie on its way with 35 miles per hour winds gusting to 45 or 50 forecast. With this sort of weather to contend with it would seem that nobody has ventured out bird-watching, so nothing to report this evening.

Saturday 29 January 2022

Saturday 29th January

Yesterday George Jackson was on the ferry (good timing as they were all cancelled today and probably will be for a few days hence). He provides the unseasonal record of a single adult Gannet seen sitting on the water halfway through the crossing.

It is not surprising that there are few bird sightings today as Storm Malik hit hard overnight with gale force westerly winds, though comparatively little rain. It has been very windy all day and the forecast is for another storm called “Corrie” to arrive tomorrow and Monday with further gale and storm force winds.

Despite the forbidding weather Billy Stitchell provided this photo of a fine pair of Goldeneye on Lossit Loch and Mary Redman had a Barn Owl braving the elements at or Wemyss this evening.

Friday 28 January 2022

Friday 28 January


Yellowhammer, taken today (definitely, I double checked) by Billy Stitchell in the Ballygrant area. My dad over on the Isle of Kerrera had one in his garden the other day, first in years. We used to see them when I was a girl while we fed the hens, but they have all but disappeared!

Roger R. found the 3 lesser scaup at Loch Skerrols, Gary found an Iceland gull near Scarabus, while James H. counted 3 little egret on the floods at Loch Guinart.  Yesterday Mary-Ann counted 6 herons at Gruinart.

Driving through Portnahaven this morning, a sparrowhawk spooked the 200 starling around the bay.  Heading out the village, a ring-tailed hen harrier near the mast, with a second ring-tail at Carn, outside Port Charlotte.

Thursday 27 January 2022

Thursday 27 January

 An other day into 2022 apparently! Malcolm pointed out my photo of the lovely snowy Paps yesterday was apparently taken in 2020 - I did say I haven't been up that way in a while!  A photo fairly cheers up the blog, but I will try and keep them up-to-date from now on. 

Alison and Nick were out with a successful day, starting by finding the cackling goose at the head of Loch Indaal. Also spotted was a WTE 'doing its thing' scaring the geese, and the other end of the scale: a merlin.  East of Blackrock, an Iceland gull.  Onto Ardnave point a single WTE, a distant view of 2 golden eagles, 4 purple sandpiper at the point, 19 twite and a good show from 29 chough.

Thanks both of you!

Wednesday 26 January 2022

Wednesday 26 January

Thought it felt a bit colder today! Snow on the Paps of Jura, taken today by Duncan MacNeil on the FB page 'Images of Islay'.  I must take a drive up to see it, I don't think I've turned left at Bridgend since October.

Visitor Roger R. located both the cackling goose and the elusive red-breasted goose among the mobile flock 2000 or so barnacle geese at head of Loch Indaal. He also spotted an Iceland gull in the same area.

Alison and Nick braved the wet weather today on a visit to RSPB Loch Gruinart. From the south hide, 3 WTE 'loafing about'. They were lucky enough to see a young WTE attempt a wigeon, dropping it in the effort. Other highlights were one greenshank, both bar and black-tailed godwit, and 4 bullfinch in the woodland trail.

On my drive up to Port Charlotte from the car window I spotted 2 WTE over the woods at Wester Ellister, and a jack snipe in a lay-by near the farm at Octofad, spooked by my driving. Back on the croft above Currie Sands, a ring-tailed hen harrier hunting along the coastline.

Thank you for the contributions.

Tuesday 25 January 2022

Tuesday 25 January

 A little quiet on the birding front today, but it is Burns night and the 'neeps don't peel themselves! No "tim'rous beasties" spotted on my drive to Bowmore but the highlights from the car window: a ring-tailed hen harrier over Octofad on the Rhinns, a goldeneye drake just outside Bowmore, and 5 shelduck near Whin Park.

Nick and Alison Blinston sent in their sightings from their day on the Oa.  A sparrowhawk at Mid-Cragabus, 2 WTE near Lower Killeyan, a buzzard mobbed by ravens. At the feeders "more twite than you could shake a stick at" which is a far greater description than 'a lot'! Finally, 2 golden eagle along Glen Golach and a kestrel.  Thank you both.

Mary-Anne heard 2, possibly 3 tawny owls calling at Kildalton.

Monday 24 January 2022

Monday 24 January

Not too bad a day here today, the nice day enticing the local birders out from their cosy homes.

At the head of Loch Indaal there was much excitement with 5 WTE  seen by Nick Blinston. Dave P. also spotted one in the same area around the same time, difficult to be sure if it was from the same group.  Nick also spotted 2 scaup off Bowmore, then later at Loch Skerrols a pair of lesser scaup and a glaucous gull.  Gary noted a little egret flying from Loch Gruinart heading towards Uiskentui following the Grey River.

Dave D. reported a 1st winter male yellowhammer at the farm at Kintra.

On my drive back from Port Charlotte, a ring ouzel appeared in the bushes by Ellister.

Mark S. noted the carrion crow he's seen near Sanaig most of the winter appears to have paired up with a hooded crow.  Later he reported a tawny owl merrily hooting away at the woodland by Gruinart.

Over the weekend I notice the snowdrops out at Bridgend.  The otter sightings have been frequent along the Rhinns this past week with the locals seemingly being particularly visible and busy feeding on the shorelines of Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte, Port Wemyss and Currie Sands.

Sunday 23 January 2022

Sunday 23rd January

 A fairly grey, cold day - damp but not raining. Despite the weather the day got off to a good start (for me at least) when, whilst having my breakfast, I watched an immature Iceland Gull fly past in a southerly direction past Bruichladdich pier.

At the other end of the island David Dinsley saw a drake Goosander and heard a Kingfisher at Aros Bay near Kildalton, where he also noticed a likely Great spotted Woodpecker nest-hole in the woods there.

This afternoon Mark Shields and I wandered down the Rhinns and had a couple of prolonged views of a pair of White-tailed Eagles, still out and about towards dusk after 4.30pm.

Saturday 22 January 2022

Saturday 22nd January

The only bird news from this fairly dreich Saturday comes from David Wood who found 2 Iceland Gulls at Bridgend.

There were a couple of comments regarding the odd-looking goose photo from yesterday's blog. David Livingstone who sent in the photo gained further information from David Wood who commented: "This bird was up here a few days ago, and has been around Kintra/Cornabus for the last couple of winters. It’s a cross between a greylag and white farm goose, so is at least partially feral". Malcolm Ogilvie also confirmed much the same story: "It is living with normal coloured Greylags in fields close to the Port Ellen distillery pond. I saw it when counting there in December and again this month. It could be a partial albino, but could also contain domestic goose genes"

Other than that, Mark Shields saw a Ruby Tiger Moth caterpillar crossing the road at Gruinart and wondered if caterpillars of this species in January is a sign of the impending apocalypse or not, noting that "there’s certainly a lot of things starting to grow in my garden that wouldn’t usually in January"

Friday 21st January

Apologies for the delay in posting the Friday blog - but "better late than never":

David Livingstone had photographed this goose with White-fronts near Port Ellen on 20th. It looks like a partially albino Greylag to me – but do let us know your thoughts….


Yesterday Mark Shields reported “multiple White-tailed and Golden Eagles around Gruinart all day” Very timely appearances as a film crew are back at Gruinart shooting more eagle footage for an upcoming nature documentary.

He also noted on Ardnave Loch – 10 Whooper Swan, 2 Little Grebe, 7 Goldeneye, 6 Grey Heron, 3 Teal and 11 Mallard, while on the Loch Gruinart Floods there were  675 Teal, 226 Wigeon, 96 Pintail, 24 Shoveler, 33 Lapwing, 2 Heron and a Little Grebe.

Those figures are separate to the official WEBS count carried out over Loch Gruinart that produced 3 Grey Heron, 125 Shelduck, 132 Wigeon, 19 Mallard, 13 Red-breasted Merganser, 179 Oystercatcher, 336 Lapwing, 26 Knot, 247 Dunlin, 269 Bar-tailed Godwit, 122 Curlew 45 Redshank, 49 Turnstone, 255 Common Gull, 55 Herring Gull, 4 Great Black-backed Gull, 5 Black-tailed Godwits and 1 Little Egret.

Elsewhere, David Dinsley found a bright male Yellowhammer below Lower Cragabus on The Oa.


Thursday 20 January 2022

Thursday 20 January

It still comparably warm here, there is a green colour to the fields with signs of fresh grass. The geese will be in fine fettle on departure if this keeps up.  The scanner was on the Island this week for the first round of livestock scanning. A case of counting your chickens before they hatch, (or your lambs before lambing) and feeding them accordingly. I got a shock with 3 sets of triplets forecast in my modest flock of sheep! But Scan-man Ryan noted that most farms he has been to are up 10% compared to last years scanning. 30% in mine! A sure sign of good sheep condition, in turn reflecting the grass condition.  The geese on Spain might not have needed to detour so far for the mild weather! (see Mondays blog).

Nothing to report on the bird front today, luckily I saved some sightings in from Peters last contribution with his birding group on Monday:

"My birding group had a very productive last day that they all thoroughly enjoyed, starting with an Otter just outside the Port Charlotte Hotel where they are staying. We first went to Bolsa Track outside Port Charlotte where we got a brief glimpse of Red Grouse plus a young male Hen Harrier and a pair of reed Buntings. At Portnahaven we counted 190 Grey Seals and 25 Ringed Plovers on the offshore islands and some good Red Deer stags along the way. Up at Loch Gorm there are still 3 Pochard - now on their own as most of the accompanying Tufties have disappeared. Machir Bay produced the first distant Choughs and a flock of 35 Ringed Plovers. By the time we got to the Viewing Platform overlooking the S. hide in the afternoon it was glorious sunshine that stayed with us for the remainder of the day. Nothing unusual from the platform, but masses of the expected geese and ducks looking fine in the sunlight. Up at Ardnave we connected properly with the Choughs - the flock of 40 or so giving some fine fly-by and feeding views in bright sunshine. Turning our attention to the mouth of Loch Gruinart we scoped a couple of sub-adult White-tailedEagles that eventually flew over and spooked the masses of Barnies on the flats. A 3rd bird joined them, then a 4th from the direction of Ardnave Point. During this excitement one of the group spotted a Golden Eagle perched up, first on the dunes then briefly on a fence-line and in flight, giving some very reasonable views of a bird they'll not be seeing back home in the SE of England."

Wednesday 19 January 2022

Tuesday 18 & Wednesday 19 January

Sorry folks, skipped yesterday due to a failed internet connection. Not to worry, all is back today and I have these stunning images to share with you from Morag Stirling who stumbled across these WTEs on the Big Strand today.

Breathtaking photos, I'm sure you'll all agree.

Yesterday Lauren had 3 little egrets in front of the South Hide, plus 2 male bullfinches on the Woodland Trail.  Later while she was digging nettles to create early corncrake cover, she was entertained by 2 WTE harassing the barnacle geese.   Gary, meanwhile, spotted 2 WTE at one of the regular haunts: the old wreck at the top of Loch Indaal.  Also a kestrel around the wood below Coullabus.

Today was a little quieter with the strong winds but Lauren still located a treecreeper in the woods despite the weather.  While at Claddach I saw a hen harrier in the wind along the coastal edges.

Morven over at Nature Scot sent through this months International Goose Count figures:

"The count was done on the 11th and 12th of January with figures of 35,196 barnacles, 6801 white-fronts and 1424 greylags."

Thanks to everyone contributing today.

Monday 17 January 2022

Monday 17 January

 A gift of sunshine and (relatively) warm weather today. Together with the snowdrop shoots appearing, you'd almost think it was spring...almost. Its only 3 weeks into 2022, best not get ahead of myself.

Easing myself back into the blog today with a bit of cut-and-paste from Steve Percival with some interesting information about a wandering Barnacle goose...

I think this could be called a clever goose. I think if I found myself in Spain for winter I might have stayed put too!

"NBH – Ecotone tag deployed in October 2020 on Islay. We obtained full winter movements across Islay. The spring migration track (for departure April 2021) was more patchy as the battery was fairly low before departure. However, we have a full migration track for the autumn migration (after a nice summer charging up). This bird never staged in Iceland, instead it appeared to be blown off course and missed Islay in the autumn. Instead it is currently in Spain. A track in December appeared to show the bird attempting a flight back towards Islay before returning to Spain where it appear to have remained according to its last GPS fix. "

I think this could be called a clever goose. I think if I found myself in Spain for winter I might have stayed put too!

Sunday 16 January 2022

Sunday 16th January

A bright and breezy day for the most part. Little egret and whooper swans at the Gruinart South Hide, and good light for ring-reading, with barnacles ringed in Sligo, Inishkea and Durness amongst the now very well-dispersed and scattered flocks.

Peter continued his stubbornly photo-free Magical Mystery Tour, fearlessly crossing the Laggan to South Islay. He and his group started at The Oa, walking to the American Monument and were rewarded with 3 WTE (1 adult and 2 sub-ad) performing some aerial displays, before they saw 2 golden eagles. Back at the car park, they had fantastic views of 30+ twite all around the bird feeders. In the afternoon they went up to Claggain Bay and saw 6 GND and a male bullfinch. A good day.

Other nice news coming through the grapevine was that one of the two WTE chicks from the first Islay breeding attempt (since they naturally recolonised here) in 2010 has been confirmed as the breeding male at a site in Eastern Scotland. The parents of this bird were both tagged on Mull in 2006, nicely showing how that population has grown and spread over the years. Thanks to all involved for that information. 

Finally, I was walking the Sorn at Bridgend recently, wondering when the usual winter kingfisher would turn up. Lo and behold, Malcolm reported that Niall Colthart had a kingfisher today on the Kintour river where it flows into Aros Bay, right down in the SE corner. An unusual sighting for those parts, possibly only the 3rd record.

Mary's back tomorrow (hooray!). Thanks to all the above for their sightings and to all of you for reading. 

Saturday 15 January 2022

Saturday 15th January

My washing was on the line for 6 hours today and was exactly as wet when I took it in as when I'd put it out. It was that kind of day. 

Peter and his gang were out and about again. 6 long-tailed ducks, 2 slav grebes and a black-throated diver were at Blackrock. A dipper was at the Woollen Mill and they had their first hen harrier of the trip (a male) at Finlaggan. Looking across the Sound of Jura at Bunnahabhain they had c10 great northern divers and 6 tysties, in a variety of plumage stages from winter to breeding. Finally, they had a 1st year glaucous gull on the beach between Bruichladdich and Uiskentuie. The bill was pale with a black tip, so definitely wasn't Colin's possible hybrid from earlier this week.

George Jackson had 2 black-throated divers at Port Ban, with a smart male red-breasted merganser and an otter not far away. It could have been one of the 4 otters that Gary saw in front of Bruichladdich distillery this morning. Finally, Colin Bushell managed to squeeze in a last couple of sightings before he left. A pink-foot was with a group of barnacles just outside Bowmore and an Iceland gull and 34 brents were seen from the lay-by just south of Bridgend. 

Thanks to all for your sightings. 

Friday 14 January 2022

Friday 14th January

Here we go with our daily game of Bird Bingo. Eyes down for a full house.

Peter and his group of birders all the way from Sandwich Bay Observatory in Kent had a steady first day of their tour, starting on the east shore of Loch Gruinart with 3 WTE, 2 little egrets, a greenshank and great views of an otter on the loch itself. Lauren had probably the same otter strolling around on the mud flats at low tide. In the afternoon Peter et al were at Loch Skerrols, looking at what is now 2 lesser scaup (a female and a 1Y male) and an "ever-dwindling" array of wildfowl. Around Blackrock, they had 12 PB brents, a few common scoter, red-throated and great northern divers and plenty of red-breasted merganser. The water was too rough for picking out long-tailed ducks or slav grebes. 

Lauren also had a WTE at Gruinart before her hen harrier roost survey in the NW Rhinns produced a good total of 7 birds, 4 grey males and 3 ringtails. 5 of the birds were very active at the roost, chasing off a passing buzzard and giving a great show. 

Colin was back up at Gruinart trying his luck for the cackling goose again, but no joy, sadly. He did have 81 pintail on the floods. Colin put yesterday's funny seagull on Twitter, and told us "the few responses that came back all favoured a hybrid with glaucous gull, although as Chris Batty of RBA said, it's uncertain that anyone has ever proved that parentage. Chris sent this link for reference"

While I'm sharing links, RSPB on Islay are recruiting a new Community Information and Tourism Officer, so if you or anyone you know fancy 7.5 months being surrounded by this kind of wildlife, then have a look at this link. The closing date is Sunday.

A couple more of Phil Edwards' pictures from December to finish. Many thanks to him and all the contributors today. 

Thursday 13 January 2022

Thursday 13th January

A quiet day today. Mary had 5 whoopers flying low over Portnahaven, with one of her pals seeing a WTE just outside the village this morning. 

Colin Bushell had a WTE at Laphroaig, then spent the afternoon in search of a cackling goose. He didn't find one, but had 28 PB brents and 2 WTE at Blackrock, and then up at Gruinart had 14 whoopers, a (ringtail) hen harrier and a fieldfare with 7 mistle thrushes. Colin wins Bird of The Day for the below unusual gull on the flats at Loch Gruinart, which seems to be getting votes as a leucistic great black-back, though any further thoughts would be welcome. 

That's all, folks. 2022's first bird tour group has arrived on Islay, so should be a longer read tomorrow.  

Wednesday 12 January 2022

Wednesday 12th January

We're flying through January already and the daylight is starting to stretch out. Snowdrops are poking their heads up and the nettles are growing, at least. 

International goose count days for January were today and yesterday, so we should have some numbers for you soon. Shona-Isla made a rare trip to the Rhinns and saw a pair of chough and 70 lapwing down at Lossit, and a peregrine at Kilchiaran. Mary had 2 WTE on the football pitch at Portnahaven, presumably waiting for children to eat, and 2 otters at Currie Sands, doing the whole "leave nothing but footprints" responsible tourism thing.

Colin Bushell had a decent count of 55 common scoter on Loch Indaal, along with 28 eiders, with GND, goldeneye and red-breasted mergansers also present. Returning to Loch Skerrols, he had at least 1 lesser scaup (a drake) with a possible female too far away in the fading light to be sure of. 8 redwing, 3 wigeon, a handful of tufties and 40+ teal were his other counts. 

Lauren had a group of 35 white-fronts at Carnduncan on Tuesday, an amazing 9 of which had collars. After sending the details through, the most interesting history was orange V3C, which was caught and ringed at Loch Ken, Dumfries and Galloway in the winter of 2008/9. It was present there in the winter of 2009/10, and then on Islay every year since 2010/11, also being seen in S Iceland autumn 2010 and 2016.

Thanks to all the above for your sightings. 

Tuesday 11 January 2022

Tuesday 11th January

Not a bad day’s weather for January, with light winds, virtually no rain and mostly quite sunny with pleasant temperatures.

Mark Shields was at Smaull this afternoon and saw a Carrion Crow.

Colin & Angie Bushell clearly enjoyed the better weather with some good sightings: “A very pleasant day today. Started by watching over Loch Indaal from The Battery at Bowmore: a Slavonian Grebe, 8 Great Northern Diver, 3 Red-throated Diver, 36 Common Scoter, 22 Eider, 2 Long-tailed Duck, 4 Goldeneye and 6 Red-breasted Mergansers for starters. Rounding the bay from Bowmore to Bridgend, we stopped to check some Barnacle Geese below the Islay Gaelic Centre and found the Iceland Gull.

A Peregrine greeted us at Machir Bay where there were 8 Twite on the beach and a ringtail Hen Harrier quartering the bank below the church. 3 Pochard** were among the Tufties and a couple of Goldeneye on Loch Gorm on the way back for lunch.

 This afternoon we headed back to Gruinart and the RSPB reserve. We failed to find any small vagrant Canada Geese, but there were 2 White-tailed Eagles on the flats, our second ringtail Hen Harrier of the day over the reserve and 3 Black-tailed Godwits from the hide. A Peregrine over the car near Lyrabus was the final bird of another fine day on Islay”. 

** Pochard are quite scarce on Islay and Argyll generally and (presumably) these same birds have been with the Tufted Ducks on Loch Gorm since late October.

Monday 10 January 2022

Monday 10th January

 A dull, dreary, dreich sort of day. Light winds, grey skies, fairly dry in the morning but drizzle at times increasing during some of the afternoon.

Visitor Colin Bushell sounded fairly defeated by the weather in his report: "Not much to report today. Did see 16 Twite at the car park at the Oa, but the highlight for me was a male Hen Harrier over the old B8016 as we headed back to Bowmore. Otherwise the weather just beat us really."

Other brief reports today were from RSPB Gruinart staff. Lauren saw a Cackling or small Canada Goose at Gruinart and Mark had a Little Egret close to the Visitor Centre.

James How sent in this fascinating bit of news: "I saw a young White-tailed Eagle on the mud at Loch Gruinart on the 22nd December. I noticed it was ringed and managed a couple of photos on the phone through the scope (see photos below). The ring was G4/21 and attached to an eagle fledged in 2021 from Highland region somewhere in the Rannoch Moor area."

I'd need to check with those who have better knowledge of the movements of White-tailed Eagles in Scotland, but it may well be the first proven wandering of a Highland-bred bird to Islay?

Sunday 9 January 2022

Sunday 9th January

Full burns and ditches everywhere after more overnight rain, as 2022 continues its wet start. The Sorn at Bridgend was very high. It stayed grey and wet this morning, clearing up to a nice afternoon. Visitor Colin Bushell got over to Loch Skerrols and saw 3 lesser scaup, 2 female and 1 2CY male.

Lauren was down at Blackrock taking advantage of the calm waters on Loch Indaal to spot 8 long-tailed ducks, 9 red breasted mergansers, 3 great northern divers, 2 red throated divers, 1 slav grebe and 8 common scoter, with shags and eiders also present.

The mixed plover flock was still on the Gruinart flats, today being watched by a merlin perched on a post. 3 whoopers were on the floods at the North Hide.

A couple more lovely shots from the Phil Edwards back catalogue to finish. Enjoy, as when we run out I'll have to start drawing things with my crayons.

Saturday 8 January 2022

Barnacle goose rings - why bother?!

 A (very!) few people have asked us about the rings on legs of barnacle geese and why some people spend so much time looking at them, so here’s an attempt at a summary of why, what and how.

Geese are caught by setting cannon nets near pre-baited locations. A plastic coded ring is placed around the leg and the bird is weighed, measured and released, entirely unharmed. Most ringing of the Greenland barnacle goose population takes place in their wintering grounds of western Scotland and Ireland. Although barnacle geese are flightless for a period after breeding, the remote locations they inhabit in Greenland prevents much summer ringing. The rapidly growing Iceland population is different. They are more accessible and can be corralled and ringed at their breeding sites, a far easier process, and probably a higher percentage of the Iceland population is ringed as a result.  

Recording re-sightings of these birds gives detail on age, migration route and dates, wintering locations and some insight into behaviour - it’s great to be able to identify family groups or pairs, sometimes seeing the same birds habitually feeding in the same field year after year – and birds that have come from or will go to other parts of Scotland and Ireland. It really serves to underline the importance of Islay as a hub for much of the Greenland barnacle goose population and how mobile these wintering populations are, depending on weather, grazing availability and who knows what other factors.

The majority of the ringed barnacle geese on Islay were caught and ringed under licence by Steve Percival, who has been ringing on Islay for many years now. Steve gave us some more information…

“With regard to interesting histories, these range from birds coming back to the same few fields on the reserve year after year after year (LBL was probably the best example of this, seen every year for 25 years since it was ringed, with virtually every sighting on the RSPB Loch Gruinart reserve), through to more mobile individuals (such as the family that are currently hanging out in northern Spain). Other more distant recoveries included VUP, a well-twitched bird that went to New York (first seen in a car park in the Bronx), one shot in Ontario, and a pair that headed down to Cornwall for a brief trip before returning to Islay.”

…plus a few helpful pictures to illustrate 

 Most of the two letter darvics have a line between the characters, running continuously around the ring. The ring in this instance is Blue C A. There are currently blue, yellow, orange and white coloured rings in use. Blue, yellow and orange rings mean the bird was ringed in Iceland. The white rings are most common and are also used in Iceland but most will be from ringing schemes in Scotland and Ireland. 


 The vast majority of ringed birds will have a metal ring on the opposite leg. These rings can only be read if the bird is re-caught or found dead. Many of them will also have a coloured band or bands, though these are more fragile and tend to drop off with age. Recording this extra information can help to confirm ring identity. These birds would be identified as white YVS plus green and white YYB plus green.  

 The characters are printed multiple times around the ring. What could look like FRI on first sight is really EBL, currently the oldest known barnacle goose on Islay.

Speaking about the benefits of the data gained from all this activity, Steve said “We’ve also been able to confirm the very low exchange of birds between the Greenland and the Svalbard populations. The main value of the ringing, though, is in providing data on the survival and movements rates of the population as a whole, in terms of how many make it from one year to the next and how this has varied through time (actually survival has been remarkably stable until the introduction of the recent Islay goose scheme where survival unsurprisingly has dropped substantially). We’re still working on determining the effects of the scheme on movement rates away from Islay. Early results from the ringing in relation to Iceland seems to be showing that most of the birds breeding there are from wintering sites away from Islay.”

The Islay goose scheme that Steve refers to is run by NatureScot, who are combining compensatory payments to farmers with an active cull of barnacle geese by licensed marksmen working on Islay through the winter. NatureScot are seeking to reduce the amount of birds wintering on Islay to around 27,000. Information gained through ring re-sightings is likely to prove important in understanding the intended and unintended consequences of the Islay scheme. 

So, for interest, here are some of the details of the codes used by the various barnacle goose ringing schemes that are most likely to be seen here on Islay


2 characters on blue, white, yellow or orange rings. All have a line between the characters

Svalbard (not common here)

3 characters on an orange ring


3 characters on a white ring, mostly with 2 letters then a number. Malin ends 3 or 6, Sligo ends 9 and Inishkea (Mayo) have 3 characters starting I or 9 also with multiple coloured spiral rings


3 characters on a white ring with 3 letters or starting with a number, EXCEPT 4-- (Orkney, Durness or Oronsay), 3-- (Durness) and S-- (Tiree/Durness)

And this is just barnacle geese, there are also Greenland white-front, pale-bellied brent and greylag geese ringing schemes.

Some of these ringing schemes can be found and contacted via the excellent website, or alternatively ring sightings can be sent to us at and they will be forwarded on.

If there’s any mistakes in the above, that’s our fault. Please email us and we will be happy to correct. This isn’t intended to be gospel, it’s intended to raise awareness and encourage involvement. Many thanks to Steve Percival for his information and help.

Saturday 8th January

Hello birdfans. George Jackson had a red-throated diver close in at Port Ban today, in between the filthy showers. Mary-Ann heard a couple of chough at the Big Strand, and our own Mary had a WTE at Claddach loch, 2 ravens at the beach, 20-odd curlew in a field just outside Portnahaven and 22 turnstone at Currie Sands yesterday. 

Gruinart today had 2 WTE, a grey wagtail, 3 bullfinch, 3 stonechat and 800ish golden plover mixed in with 100ish of their lapwing pals on the flats. 

A couple of pictures from Phil Edwards' December visit to finish, for no other reason than I'm short of sightings and we all need a bit more beauty in our lives. 

Friday 7 January 2022

Friday 7th January

 A better day’s weather: still quite cold, but with longer sunny periods interspersed with showers of rain and sleet.

The only bird news today comes from Gary Turnbull of 3 Purple Sandpipers at Bruichladdich – they’ve been much less regularly seen there this winter.

James How sent in the following interesting insight into one aspect of last year’s weather:

“I have added up the 2021 rainfall from my rain gauge. 1234mm makes it the driest year since 2013. I also always look at the rainfall for the spring period April – May. 3 of the 4 driest springs since 1999 have been the last three years - 2019, 2020 and 2021.”

Thursday 6 January 2022

Thursday 6th January

 A foul day of wind and rain. Unsurprisingly, there were no notifications of birds seen, everyone very sensibly staying in and keeping dry. 

Wednesday 5 January 2022

Wednesday 5th January

A brighter day – lighter winds and only occasional light rain-showers between sunshine, but still quite cool at about 6C.

James How saw the 1Y Iceland Gull at Blackrock – that area south towards Bruichladdich seems to be its favourite patch.

I saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker in woodland around Loch Skerrols. The loch itself had much lower numbers of wildfowl present and nothing of note was seen in fairly poor light.

Looking ahead to spring, I’ve made some bird nest-boxes out of spare timber (some with round holes for tits, others open-fronted for robins). They are going free to good homes, so do let me know via the blog or WhatsApp (or by phone if you have my number) if you’d like any.

(Peter Roberts) 

Tuesday 4 January 2022

Tuesday 4th January

A cold day with strong northerly winds bringing flurries of rain, sleet and even a little icy snow at times.

Needless to say, with weather like that there were very few observations to report today. I believe all our visiting birdwatchers have now departed. Phil Edwards final report came as he drove towards the ferry this morning:

“Managed to get off the island on the day’s first ferry. Last sightings for your blog:

 We flushed a flock of 7 Snipe and then 1 Jack Snipe from the pastures along the track down from Smaull.  Then had another Jack Snipe in the headlights on the road (B8017) just after the turning from the road around Loch Gorm (B8018) towards the RSPB reserve.”

Phil also provides us with a last shot of the Otter seen at Bruichladdich yesterday.

Some of our resident birders did brave the elements.

On the Oa: Ed Burrell watched a couple of White-tailed Eagles take a goose, which attracted a 3rd, immature eagle in to see if they might share. David Dinsley found a Glaucous Gull amongst the regular gull flock.

Another Glaucous Gull and an Iceland Gull were found by Gary Turnbull at Gartbreck rubbish dump near Bowmore

Monday 3 January 2022

Monday 3rd January

 A colder, blustery day today with rain showers, sometimes quite heavy for much of the day, though brighter in the afternoon. Moderate to strong northerly winds caused a bit of ferry disruption - but no more than operational difficulties on the ferries from the loss of ship's crew due to Covid .

Polly Mather noted a gathering of 4 White-tailed Eagles at the top of Loch Indaal this morning and Mark Shields reports a "small" Canada Goose at Lyrabus and a total of 123 Curlew at Loch Gruinart.


A bit more bird and wildlife news for today from Phil Edwards:

"Well today is officially our last day (but with the ferry cancellations due to Covid and weather we may well still be here tomorrow) and Islay produced one of those golden days.  We started with an imm White-tailed Eagle from the cottage window at Smaull, followed by 2 Chough, a Rock Dove and c. 500 Barnacle Geese.  A female Merlin was near the road north of Sunderland Farm on our way to northern Loch Indaal to search for the elusive Iceland Gull.  Never did run into it.  We had 36 Eider (23m 13f) off of Traigh an Luig plus 12 Red-breasted Merganser, 1 Red-throated Diver, 1 Great Northern Diver and c. 20 Turnstones.  Then at Bruichladdich birding went out of the window as we spent over an hour with two delightful Otters playing in the water and on the rocks and feeding on several fish.  When they left (1,500 photos later (3 fairly nice ones attached)) swimming out into the loch, a third came by but briefly; and then we had 2 Purple Sandpipers, a Turnstone and four Ringed Plovers on the rocks (photo) and 2 Rock Pipits.  Onto Blackrock, still looking for the elusive gull, there were 3m & 1 f Common Scoter, 1m Long-tailed Duck, 1 Guillemot, 1 Red-throated Diver, 1 Great Northern Diver and many Red-breasted Merganser.  At Traigh Cill an Rubha I made a full count – 28 pale-bellied Brents, 24 Shelduck, 186 Teal, 182 Wigeon, 87 Mallard, 22 Oystercatcher, 6 Ringed Plover, 91 Lapwing, 54 Curlew, 4 Bar-tailed Godwits, 12 Dunlin, 101 Common Gull, 21 Black-headed Gull, and 1 Herring Gull.  Giving up on the Iceland gull, we headed to Loch Skerrols in an abortive attempt at the female American wigeon – but the only ducks present were 14 Tufted … and 2m &1f Lesser Scaup.


May I say thanks to all at the blog – it’s been really helpful on this visit.  We’ll try not to leave it another 16 years before we come back."

Many Thanks to Phil for his wonderful photos (the last of which are shown below) and masses of bird records over his stay on Islay. While he has been on Islay he has been delighted to have his first book published. Congratulations. It is titled "At The Very End Of The Road" and may be of interest to those of us who enjoy nature-writing. It is published by the Scottish publisher Whittles Publishing.  An excerpt can be found at and copies are available from . 

Sunday 2 January 2022

Sunday 2nd January

A slightly cooler day with the SW winds increasing in the afternoon when a few quite heavy rain showers set in and continued into the evening. 

Visiting birder Phil Edwards took advantage of the relative calm early morning with a trip to South Hide at RSPB Gruinart. He supplys us with this interesting account and further great photos:

On the way had a Raven at Smaull, Barnacles, Greylags and White-fronts (photo) at Ballinaby with 51 Lapwings (63 yesterday), and a male Hen Harrier hunting over the fields/moors below Carnduncan.  At South Hide we were treated to an immature White-tailed Eagle <100m from the hide (photo) which later became 2 (sub-) adults and 2 immature a little further away.  The adults brought an Oystercatcher*** in and after much calling and displaying (photo) left it for the two immature birds to devour – whole episode lasted over an hour.  Wonderful.  Also 41 Pintail (photo), 2 Little Egrets, and distantly some 600 Golden Plover, 400 Lapwing and 300 Dunlin.  Then a quick diversion to Ardnave Loch to take advantage of the nice light to try and get photos of Chough (absent) – but 12 Whooper Swans (different from yesterday with two all brown juveniles, 2 muddy-headed immatures and 8 ads) plus 3m 1f Goldeneye.  Then on the way back to Smaull, we had a ringtail Hen Harrier over the fields at Ballinaby.  An Islay morning at its best.

*** - It is always interesting and of value to know what the White-tailed Eagles are eating!

There are just a few additional notes from some of the resident birders today:

George Jackson writes: “Hi there and Happy New Year. This morning (11.30ish) there were about 70 White-fronts in the field north of the road at Uiskentuie. Then at Loch Skerrols a dozen Mute Swans (no Whoopers), small numbers of ‘expected’ ducks and a single female American Wigeon. The boggy area at Crosshouse produced 12 Snipe. Not a huge day’s tally but didn’t want everything straight away - there’s another 364 days left this year!

Note: The American Wigeon is a new rarity into Skerrols (the earlier one this winter was a male), so well worth going to take a look at.

Gary Turnbull was also out this morning and noted a White-tailed Eagle perched on the grassy and rocky islets at the top of Loch Indaal, with a “very large” Peregrine chasing Teal nearby.

Mary-Ann Featherstone had a flock of 50 mixed thrushes at Avonvogie on the glen Road – mostly Redwings, but also Song Thrushes and 2 or more Mistle Thrushes.

I saw what is presumably the same 1W Iceland Gull along the coast just north of Bruichladdich this afternoon.

(Peter Roberts)

Saturday 1 January 2022

Saturday 1st January 2022

Here we are - the start of a new year. Only one contribution to the blog today suggests some late night merry-making last night. Hopefully everyone had a good Hogmanay. The weather was no excuse not to get out - just a bit blowy and showery at times,

Phil Edwards sent in the following: "We went to Ardnave in the gale this morning.  A Mistle Thrush at Ballinaby on the way; 12 Whooper Swans (11 adults and 1 juvenile) plus a Little Grebe on the loch.  Then a lovely walk at Ardnave where I finally caught up with Purple Sandpipers (photos below).  Also 1 Great Northern Diver, 1 Red-throated Diver, 9 Turnstone, 9 Ringed Plover, and a flock of c. 50 Chough to round things off." So that puts the official bird count for Islay at 9 species so far for the year!

Shona-Isla had seen a group 0f 24 dolphins off Singing Sands yesterday.