Sunday 31 December 2023

Sunday 31st December

The last day of the year continued generally wet, grey and windy, with occasional brighter spells.

A little bit of bird news came in from various folk doing their last birding of 2023:

Mary-Ann Featherstone noted Goldcrests at Kildalton amongst her usual Great, Coal and Blue Tits.

Visitor Calum Scott confirmed "Old Faithful" the 2Y Glaucous Gull was still in situ at Uiskentuie - a good bird to start your year list tomorrow! Calum also saw 6 Scaup (sadly almost as many as we ever see here now) and a few Slavonian Grebes and Great Northern Divers off Bowmore.

Clive McKay did a short watch at Loch Gruinart in the early afternoon, finding, amongst other things 39 Shelducks, 410 Bar-tailed Godwits, 450+ Dunlins. 2 Greenshanks, and 3 Little Egrets.

Phil Edwards made more of a day of it and his detailed report follows:

"The forecast had been promising a nice day which we had planned to use to walk out to Killinallan Point.  Sadly, said forecast changed at the last minute to rain which we duly got.  Not to be deterred, we started the car outside the cottage at Smaull at 09.00 and a male Hen Harrier flushed from the adjacent ditch, so a great start.  In the next 20 minutes as we drove along past Ballinaby and Carnduncan we had a male Sparrowhawk, an immature male Kestrel, and a Buzzard, then a ringtail Hen Harrier.  Gruinart Flats was pretty empty so we headed up the east side of Loch Gruinart where there was a range of common waders and waterfowl at high tide including one Great Northern Diver and a male Goldeneye.  By Bun-an-uillt there were 119 Oystercatchers feeding in a field.  It was raining hard at Killinallan, so since we had obtained permission to drive through the locked gate, we continued all the way to Gortantaoid.  Although pretty bird-less (12 Rock Doves and 20 Common Gull being about the sum of it) it was still interesting to get to see a new place on Islay after all these years.  We headed back down the loch where a Little Egret flew by and there were two Grey Wagtails opposite Craigens Farm while I searched through the Barnacles unsuccessfully for the Red-breasted Goose.  Given the wind had dropped we headed to Blackrock via Uiskentuie where a female Barn Owl was present by the junction.  Ahead of black skies and rainbows, most of the waterfowl were very distant from Blackrock, but I managed c.200 Common Scoter, 70+ Eider, four pairs of Red-breasted Mergansers, seven Great Northern Diver, two Red-throated Diver, nine diver sp., and three Slavonian Grebes.  With the deluge upon us, we beat a hasty retreat with a second unsuccessful search for the RbG on the Flats. That just leaves me to wish all Islay birders and those who read the blog a very Happy New Year"

Thanks to everyone who has helped write this blog in my absences during 2023. Thanks too to all who have read and contributed records and photos to the blog and the associated birding WhatsApp in 2023. Your records are invaluable, are added to the database of the Argyll Bird Club and form a useful  base-line data set.

Here is a splendid final photo c/o Phil Edwards - a lovely bird to finish the year with...

Wishing everyone a Happy New Year and a bird-filled 2024 - Peter Roberts

Saturday 30 December 2023

Saturday 30th December

Today was definitely a "game of two halves" with regard to the weather. Strong winds from the east  with driving rain in the morning, followed by a reprieve with lighter winds and a dry, almost sunny afternoon.

Our visiting stalwart, Phil Edwards can tell us more:

"Slim pickings today.  On a completely vile morning with the forecast set even worse for the afternoon, I set out to look for the Red-breasted Goose on Gruinart Flats only to find that there were effectively no geese at all on Gruinart Flats!  So up the relatively sheltered east side of Loch Gruinart only to find the tide was in and there were no birds there either!  Completely thwarted, I headed for the relatively sheltered part of Loch Indaal and at Gartnatra managed to find 29 Bar-tailed Godwits, 23 Knot, 91 Oystercatcher, 53 Wigeon, and 16 Mallard.  Further round between the power station and the edge of Bowmore there were two male and one female Long-tailed Duck (one quite close in) with five pairs of Red-breasted Mergansers, 230+ Common Scoter, two Great Northern Divers, and a female Goldeneye.  On the way back to Smaull through increasing torrents of rain, there were six light-bellied Brent Geese at Traigh Cill and Rubha.  While we were eating lunch, the rain suddenly stopped, the wind dropped, and the sun came out!  So an impromptu trip to Sanaigmore ensued where we flushed a Snipe on the way to the beach where there were 17 Oystercatcher, 24 Ringed Plover, one Redshank, one female Common Scoter, one Great Northern Diver, two Rock Pipits and 32 Chough."

Thanks Phil for your notes and accompanying photos from your day's endeavours.

The only other reports on today's WhatsApp concerned Otters. Shona-Isla had seen one today at Kilnaughton, prompting Malcolm O. to note that he had been seeing a family (mother + two large cubs) in the sea in front of his house in Bruichladdich, while I saw one at Port Charlotte yesterday fishing close inshore in a very choppy sea.

Friday 29 December 2023

Friday 29th December

The weather was a little kinder today - lighter winds, less rain and even patches of blue sky.

Phil Edwards was enjoying the slight reprieve from the gales and rain, supplying this account and some more of his photos to brighten the blog:

"Well what might not pass muster as a nice day under normal circumstances certainly did in the current run of torrid weather.  Light north-easterlies and sunny spells had us head to Jura.  A moderately quick scan through countless thousands (15K+?) of Barnacle Geese on Gruinart Flats on the way failed to reveal the Red-breasted Goose.  There were two Black Guillemots by the Feolin Ferry, and shortly after landing on Jura there was an Otter feeding not too far out in the Sound of Islay; worth the ferry fare alone.  Craighouse Bay had two Great Northern Divers close in by the jetty and half-a-dozen Red-breasted Mergansers, some males of which were displaying.  The rest of Jura was quiet with no raptors other than some Buzzards and two Sparrowhawks but we did spend about an hour at Tramiag Bay having lunch in the sun while watching another Otter fishing.  A gentle, yet lovely day"

Elsewhere on the island Mary-Ann Featherstone saw a wintering male Blackcap at her garden bird table over at Kildalton and Clive McKay saw a pair of Long-tailed Ducks off Kilnave on Loch Gruinart - not a usual site for the species.

Thursday 28 December 2023

Thursday 28th December

Yet another almost entirely foul day's weather - rain, cloud and mainly miserable with a few short dry spells to give you hope. The one difference being that the driving rain came from a more easterly direction today.

Phil Edwards sums it up:

"Well just when you thought the weather couldn’t possibly get any worse … but as you say, when on holiday needs must.  So the forecast showed the east coast to be the most sheltered today so we headed for Bunnahabhain via the centre of the island, but pickings were predictably thin.  A male Hen Harrier, a Grey Heron, and a Sparrowhawk were around Gruinart Flats.  When you could see more than 50m from the shore at Uiskentuie, a male Goldeneye was the only bird visible on Loch Indaal.  The Storakaig road produced a flock of c. 120 Rooks and c. 70 Jackdaws in a field near Cluanach, a flock of 150+ Chaffinches in a stubble field (the largest flock I have seen on Islay since c.700 at Coullabus on New Year’s Eve 1984), and a male Hen Harrier over the moorland.  Bunnahabhain was indeed sheltered but went from sunny with nice views of the Paps  to zero visibility and hail to back again at least twice within an hour.  Two Black Guillemots and two GNDs were the pick of a limited crop"

The post-Christmas desire for exercise got me out on a fairly fruitless mission to Cornabus, The Oa and Port Ellen. On the way, the standard adult White-tailed Eagle was seen sat out damp and forlorn on the little islands at the top of loch Indaal. At Port Ellen we met with visiting birder Calum Scott and saw an immature Glaucous Gull in a large flock of gulls in the bay by the Port Ellen distillery, which Calum had seen previously at Claggain Bay. This was a different bird to the currently resident bird at Uiskentuie. 

Wednesday 27 December 2023

Wednesday 27th December

A truly foul day! We thought the weather of the past week was bad at times, but today surpassed all worst expectations with winds from the east, cold and at times torrential rain and flooding.

But if you're here on holiday you make the best of a bad job - so I pass the narrative over to the intrepid Phil Edwards:

"On a seriously foul day, we eventually decided to venture out in early afternoon, but only as far as the South Hide at Gruinart.  There were about 1,500 Barnacles on the fields at Smaull (the first we have seen here this trip) and another 500 or so were on the fields at Ballinaby along with c.800 Greenland Whitefronts, c.30 Fieldfare and c. 20 Redwing, and a Buzzard.  On the approach to the Hide we had an immature WTE glide over the Loch and Flats and later an adult do the same in the opposite direction which made the outing worthwhile.  Both landed out-of-sight on various banks.  Otherwise there were lots of Pintail and Teal, a few Shoveler and Mallard, 10 ad and 6 imm Whooper Swans, two Little Egrets, c. 40 Lapwing, 6 GWFs and a Moorhen.  Just as we left in yet another downpour, c.32 Chough flew over calling and heading north.  The poor light and heavy rain made photography virtually impossible.".

I did try to get out, and went up to Ardnave but the intense rain meant I saw 12 Whooper Swans on the loch and never got out of the car - truly horrible weather!

Fiona McGillivray saw a Barn Owl out hunting at 10 this morning at Portnahaven - in this weather I imagine many species are finding feeding and shelter tricky?

Tuesday 26 December 2023

Tuesday 26th December - Boxing Day

A fine change in the weather to bright, mostly dry, with calm and sunny conditions. This allowed the traditional sight of local folk getting out for a leg-stretch after eating too much yesterday - which is exactly what I did. First call was Machir Bay where a flock of 35 Ringed Plovers cavorted on the beach with numerous dog and toddler walkers. We then went on to Gruinart spending much of the rest of the day diligently searching amongst umpteen thousand Barnacle Geese for the Red-breasted Goose seen there yesterday (reported too late for yesterday's blog). We didn't find the goose, but it was a delight to be out in the sunshine amidst the usual Barnie spectacle. We finished at Blackrock ticking off a few Long-tailed Ducks and Slavonian Grebes on a flat calm loch Indaal.

Phil Edwards had been out too and sent in some omre lovely photos and this report:

"Today the weather relented and we walked around Ardnave enjoying the views that make Islay so special.  On Ardnave Loch were 6 ad and 8 imm Whooper Swans (yet when we returned 5 hours later there were 12 ad and 3 imm so clearly they move around a bit) plus seven male and one female Goldeneye and two Golden Eagles overhead.  A walk along the beach on the east side of Ardnave, around the Point and back along the west produced 11 Great Northern Divers, 2m 1f Red-breasted Mergansers, 1m 1 imm m and 5f Eiders, 1 Greenshank (east), 11 Purple Sandpipers, 113 Sanderling (photo count), 19 Bar-tailed Godwit (all last three on west coast), 22 Curlew, 14 Oystercatcher, 10 Turnstone, 4 Ringed Plover, 3 Redshank, 1 Golden Eagle, 2 Buzzard, c.20 Shag, 16 Cormorant (roosting on Nave Island), c.30 Common Gull, 1 GBBG, a few Herring Gulls, 2 Rock Pipits, 14 Meadow Pipits, 1 Raven, 6 Rock Dove, 7 Reed Bunting, c.10 Chaffinch, 2 Song Thrush, 1 Blackbird, 1 Dunnock, c.100 Starling.  There were 2 Chough on the beach by the old fish-farm, 2 by Ardnave Farm, and then a flock of 44 over the car park as we arrived back with a flock of 32 Twite also there to cap things off.  Great day!!"

Monday 25 December 2023

Monday 25th December - Christmas Day

Slightly better weather again today - lighter winds, but still grey and rainy at times between sunny spells.

Phil Edwards was out birding and reported thus: "despite the dire forecast, we forayed into the wilds of Islay in search of birds … but sadly found very little. We drove from Smaull to Loch Indaal via Sunderland Farm where the highlight of the day was a flock of c. 50 Skylarks (haven’t seen so many in one place in years) feeding in a stubble field along with c. 50 Chaffinches, 30 Fieldfare, 10 Redwing and two Buzzards.  Then, outside of Loch Gorm House we stumbled upon five Turnstone, three Rock Pipits, six Oystercatchers and a Pied Wagtail.  We then drove the Rhinns anti-clockwise but chanced upon only a Kestrel (pretty much the first time we have missed hen harrier here) but there were 24 Teal,14 Wigeon, and a pair of Mallard on Loch Conailbhe.  A couple of Grey Seals were in Portnahaven Harbour but by then the increasing frequency and intensity of the showers forced us home – and anyway we needed to go and start Christmas lunch – but there were c. 60 Fieldfares and c.60 Redwings at Ballinaby on the way back".

Thanks t Phil for today's photos...............

I too ventured out this morning - just up to the RSPB hides at Gruinart. We too, saw nothing out of the ordinary, but there were impressive numbers of Lapwing and Golden Plover in their many hundreds, plus plenty of the usual wildfowl including 14 Whooper Swans. 3 Black-tailed Godwits popped in amongst the small flocks of Curlew and Hen Harrier and Buzzard were in evidence.

Sunday 24 December 2023

Sunday 24th December - Christmas Eve

Continuing strong westerly winds, but perhaps not quite as much rain as forecast, made for another day of adverse weather. That, combined with impending festivities tomorrow, meant only our Christmas visiting birder Phil once again braved the elements. His report:

Well, a forecast day of horizontal rain turned into one of horizontal rain and horizontal sun giving some lovely light. I drove from Smaull to Claggain Bay via Gruinart Flats, Uiskentuie, Port Ellen, and the south coast bays.


Highlights were three male and one ring-tail Hen Harriers, males at Ballinaby, Erasaid, and the Airport; ring-tail at Carnain. A; first winter Golden Eagle also at Erasaid; 200 Lapwing, 600 Golden Plover, 200 Dunlin, countless thousands of Barnacle Geese, and 100+ Common Gulls on Gruinart Flats.; The second winter Glaucous Gull at Uiskentuie (finally caught up with it having missed it multiple times last Xmas);  32 Ringed Plover and 11 Greylag Geese on Port Ellen Beach; 3 Great Northern Divers in three southern bays, plus two more and a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers plus c. 10 Kittiwakes at Claggain Bay.


Happy Christmas to all,



Thanks Phil for keeping the blog going - and for the lovely selection of today's photos below.

Wishing all readers a very good Christmas with lots of great birding

Saturday 23 December 2023

Saturday 23rd December

No great change in the weather: rain, wind and cloud all day, but the ferries still operated - bravo!

Our intrepid visitor Phil sends in the following:

Despite venturing out in horizontal rain today, there is little to report.  A flock of c. 30 Common Scoter were far out on Loch Indaal from Bruichladdich where a Red-breasted Merganser was having a bad hair day in the wind closer inshore.  Forty-five minutes peering through the rain from the South Hide at RSPB Gruinart produced 19 Whooper Swans (many immature), some 500+ Lapwing; 20+ Golden Plover; 20+ Redshank; 50+ Pintail; uncounted Wigeon and Teal; and a single Little Egret.


I wonder if tomorrow might be better.


Happy Christmas,

Friday 22 December 2023

Friday 22nd December

Still wet and windy, but perhaps not quite as dire as previous forecasts and miraculously Calmac are still running ferries. Today's ferry brought over a regular Christmas visiting birder Phil Edwards. He reported a not too bumpy crossing with a few birds along the way -  "two male Common Scoter, a Fulmar, four Kittiwakes, one Great Northern Diver, and a Shag that decided to use the ferry for shelter while flying the same route (see photo below).  The Sound of Islay produced two Black Guillemots, nine Great Northern Divers and nine pairs of Eider".

"Driving across the island from Port Askaig to Smaull at dusk, we had a Golden Eagle over the hill on the little road just south of Lagstoban (poor photo taken in fading light)".

Other than that, there are multiple reports of Barn Owls today. Mary Redman saw singles at Portnahaven at 2pm, and another near Bowmore at 4pm. Sam Turnbull had a third at Finlaggan.

Thursday 21 December 2023

Thursday 21st December

Happy "shortest day of the year". Well I'm happy because each day now is a little closer to summer and losing that feeling of wanting to hibernate.

Having said yesterday that "nobody in their right mind" would be out birding in the weather we are currently experiencing, I had a note from Morven at NatureScot to say that they and RSPB did exactly that over the previous two days (19-20 December). They were out doing one of the all-important International goose counts covering the whole of Islay, and are clearly not "out of their minds" - just more dedicated than myself.

Morven notes that the count was: Barnacle Goose 27,413; Greenland White-fronted Goose 4,714; and Greylag Goose 1,263. Thanks to Morven and the team for their efforts in what continues to be fairly awful weather. This morning's Shipping Forecast indicated at least gale force winds at times in all shipping areas and coastal waters, including winds up to severe storm 11 in Shetland.

Wednesday 20 December 2023

Tuesday 19th & Wednesday 20th December

The predicted awful weather has been with us for the last two days - and looks like it might be here to stay for a few days more. Understandably, ferries are delayed and cancelled and messing up travel plans for anyone trying to come over to Islay or leave for Christmas. Westerly winds gusting up to 40-60 miles per hour accompanied by lots of rain are predicted until Christmas Eve, then possibly a lull on Christmas Day - but all too late for travel and ferries.

All the above is of course a preamble to say there is no bird news - nobody in their right mind is going out in this................

Monday 18 December 2023

Sunday 17th & Monday 18th December

Two more days of quite unpleasant wet weather, though the winds were not quite as strong as predicted. However, the forecast for the days leading up to and including Christmas Day look dire with strong westerly winds, gale force at times..............."tidings of comfort and joy"

Yesterday James How braved the elements and popped his head outside at Gruinart seeing a couple of White-tailed Eagles, a Merlin and an Otter.

Today Gary passed by the usual two White-tailed Eagles perched out on the rocky islet at the top of Loch Indaal near Bridgend. He also noted 100 Lapwings spooked by a Peregrine.

Down at Imeraval near Port Ellen, Steve & Lyn Rogers saw 10 Whooper Swans flying over.

Saturday 16 December 2023

Saturday 16th December

 A grey, breezy day with showers, but not as dreadful as the forecast predicted with near gale force winds.

However, the only bird news coming in was from Gary Turnbull who saw the regular Glaucous Gull at Uiskentuie and from Ed Burrell who had caught and ringed his 50th Woodcock last night at Cornabus.

Friday 15 December 2023

Thursday 14th & Friday 15th December

Horrible weather with no birds sighted yesterday. Weather not that much better today, but some birds to tell you about:

Apart from my observations of a pair of adult Golden Eagles low over Uiskentuie where I finally connected with the immature Glaucous Gull, the RSPB had been out hard at work on Loch Gruinart doing their BTO WeBS count, Annie Rudd kindly sent in these very comprehensive results:



TEAL 1,242, 






CURLEW 201, 






SHAG 1, 

WIGEON 314, 


DUNLIN 556, 



KNOT 12, 








 SNIPE 8, 








Particularly noteworthy is the high count of Pintail and the Bar-tailed Godwit tally is the highest ever recorded.

Wednesday 13 December 2023

Wednesday 13th December

A fine, sunny, dry, calm and clear day. Gary Turnbull found a/the Brambling with Chaffinches and Reed Buntings up near Mulreesh where the cattle are being fed. He also noted the regular couple of White-tailed Eagles sat out at Bridgend flats.

Ed Burrell re-sighted the American Wigeon at Cornabus, while David Dinsley was up at the RSPB Visitor Centre at Gruinart and had brief looks at a Waxwing.

With the sea on Loch Indaal being like a millpond and the sun shining, I did a count of some of the birds out there from Blackrock down towards Nerabus in the early afternoon. Results were: Great Northern Diver - 30, Red-throated Diver - 48, Black-throated Diver - 1, Black Guillemot - 8, Slavonian Grebe - 26, Eider - 191, Red-breasted Merganser - 41, Common Scoter - 205, Goldeneye - 6 and Long-tailed Duck 34.

Tuesday 12 December 2023

Tuesday 12th December

After yesterday's pleasant weather it was back to rain showers and cloud today.

The only bird news comes from Steve & Lyn Rogers over at Kilnaughton who had a wintering male Blackcap on their bird feeder.

Some of us were looking to the future this afternoon, planting nettles into a decent-sized patch on the RSPB Gruinart reserve as early cover for Corncrakes - lets hope it works and the birds appreciate it when they arrive in spring.

Monday 11 December 2023

Sunday 10th & Monday 11th December

A further day of grisly weather on Sunday was followed by a fairly pleasant day of calm, bright, dry and sunny, if cold, weather on Monday inspiring a few birders to get out and find something to pop onto tonight's blog!

In fact I was inspired by Val Peacock to venture out to the South Hide at Gruinart by 7am to experience the pre-dawn sounds and watch the sun come up and the birds start their day. It was cold and I came away glad that I wasn't a bird having to sit out there all night. It was also surprisingly noisy, with the Barnacle Geese never seeming to take a rest - at least not all together at the same time. As dawn came we could see 14 Whooper Swans and a Little Egret on the floods with quite a lot of Barnacle Geese scattered there feeding before they went off to better feeding areas with the daylight. The first raptors on the scene as light came were 2-3 Buzzards, with a White-tailed Eagle following later.

Gary Turnbull was out this morning around Finlaggan and Ballygrant. He found a party of 8 Bullfinches at Achnaclach Woods plus a single Brambling with Chaffinches  then two more Bramblings with about 100 Chaffinches at a cattle-feeding point on the Mulreesh road near Finlaggan. On the loch itself were 17 Mallard, 33 Teal and 20 Tufted Ducks. He also clocked 3 different Golden Eagles up that way.

With such calm conditions, I took a quick look on loch Indaal from Blackrock this afternoon, but the light was already fading. However, there were 36 Brent Geese on the shoreline and out in the loch 10 Great Northern Divers, and 107 Common Scoter. Further up the loch I could see a couple of adult White-tailed Eagles sat on their favourite little island. Up near Uikentuie the foreshore held a mixed flock of c.45 Dunlin and 35 Ringed Plovers with 5-10 Turnstone. All along the upper shoreline were Chaffinches - 150+ feeding on weed seeds.

Saturday 9 December 2023

Friday 8th & Saturday 9th December

 Two days of dreadful weather - wet and windy - with no observations of note.

Thursday 7 December 2023

Thursday 7th December

Another unpleasant day, starting grey, wet and windy and finishing not much better.

No bird news, but a request from RSPB's Louise Muir for some volunteers to help plant Corncrake cover on the RSPB's Loch Gruinart reserve next week. Lets hope that the weather has improved by then..........

Wednesday 6 December 2023

Wednesday 6th December

 A distinct change in the weather for the worse today. Showers, windy, cold and uninviting to be outside - and nobody was!

I noted 43 Whooper Swans at the top of loch Indaal this morning on my way to Bowmore - they seemed to be happy to be wintering there this year, which is slightly different as most pass through without stopping this long.

Tuesday 5 December 2023

Monday 4th & Tuesday 5th December

Two further days of cold, but fine weather. Today in particular was a wonderful winter's day with bright blue skies, calm conditions and a nip in the air. That hasn't encouraged many folk to get out and go birding, though our local stalwart Mary Redman reported a White-tailed Eagle at Claddach this morning and a male Hen Harrier at Port Wemyss.

David Wood had been busy last week when Jamie Dunning, who is doing a long-term study of Twite came back to Islay for his annual winter attempt to catch and ring some of our birds. David notes that "we colour ringed 67 Twite last week at Kinnabus. These are all metal over colour ring on left leg and 2 colours on the other leg – hopefully more noticeable than the previous 2 letter/number codes. If people could keep an eye out for these around Islay and beyond as time passes that would be great, although most are still hanging around at The Oa at present". So if you see any marked birds, please let David or the Blog know.

David also commented: "We only have a flock of about 80 birds this year (at The Oa) and we ringed virtually all of them. Jamie had a big flock near Machir Bay on the stubbles, so worth keeping an eye out there if you are that way".

There is also a request for help with an upcoming BTO survey of winter gulls.  David is in need of help with carrying out the counts. He notes: "They are random samples of coastline which I’m currently trying to get BTO to change to make them a bit more doable and to include the heads of Loch Indaal and Loch Gruinart. If anyone can offer some support for this survey and go out and count a few gulls this winter it would be much appreciated".


Sunday 3 December 2023

Saturday 2nd & Sunday 3rd December

Another couple of days of bright, sunny, but cold, frosty weather on Islay with nobody venturing out birding. There is a sprinkle of snow on the top of the Paps on Jura, but nothing like the snow being experienced elsewhere in UK. Armin Grewe sent in this picture of what the wintering geese in Cumbria are having to deal with at the moment - aren't our Barnies lucky to be here and not there!

Friday 1 December 2023

Friday 1st December

Colder today, with frost and dark clouds that looked potentially snow-laden, but producing just occasional light rain showers. Not a great start to the month, with nobody venturing out  to go birding.