Welcome to this weeks Islay Nature report with a superb contibution from Jeremy about Islay's Red Deer, hence the picture, but I would like to start with a blogger called David, aka Reg the Birder. Dave is into birdwatching for some years now and he wrote an interesting report about his trip to Islay in May 2006, which turned out to be an event that changed his look on birding completely. He made his trip during the festival week and as you can read for yourself, touring the distilleries can be well combined with birdwatching. David: "Once we were on the ferry to Islay we had new and exciting sightings such as Black Guillemot, Manx Shearwater and Great Northern Diver. I don't think I had a life list at this point, but the names of all these weird and wonderful creatures were duly noted." A life list is a list of all the bird species birdwatchers have identified during their whole lifetime of serious birding. Another quote from Dave's blog: "After a priceless start to the day on Monday, surely it was going to be downhill all the way, but no. First up, we paid a visit to the Caol Ila distillery. Once at the distillery, we watched several Gannets at close hand, fishing along the stretch of water between Islay and Jura. On Thursday we were finally treated to excellent views of a Golden Eagle as it patrolled the area behind the Ardbeg distillery. Of an evening there would often be two or three people cooking in the kitchen, whilst the others were sea-watching from the comfort of the conservatory. We would often see divers, Eider, Gannets, Arctic Tern and Black Guillemots on these vigils. When we go back to Islay, which we intend to do in 2009, I'm certain that the birding may take precedence over the whisky. But only just!"
The Islay Birds blog: Ian Brooke had a busy week updating his blog almost daily. Tuesday: In between the squally showers today, Andy had 4 Slavonian Grebe in full summer plumage in Loch Indaal and also 30 Razorbill. On the weather forecast this evening, it was stated that here on Islay we had the strongest wind speed for the whole of Scotland today, with a speed of 57mph recorded at the Airport. Ian reports the first Swallow of the year at Kilchoman on Thursday, despite the continuous cold northerlies and on Saturday Ian spotted an Eagle being mobbed by two Peregrines. Continue reading.....This weeks Islay nature report by Jeremy Hastings from Islay Birding: After a wonderful and brilliant Monday where we were up in the wilderness watching a Sparrowhawk being seen off by White Wagtails and Buzzards hanging on easy thermals, Wheatears enjoying the warmth of a new spring and Chough searching the dry sand dunes, Tuesday arrived with rain in fact 2.5cm of in less than 24 hrs and then Wednesday came with a stillness. I was out on my bicycle training for Londres-Paris race later this summer yet still had time to watch 4 Great Northern Divers (maybe I am not riding hard enough!) and plenty of Ringed Plovers pairing up. Along Uiskentuie Strand I was accompanied by seven oystercatchers in echelon flying alongside me till they cut across to settled down in the grazed grassland. Fabulous. The following count on the 27/28 March were 44,730 Barnies and 6,941 Whitefronts.
Thursday was still too although by midday a south westerly had started to get up â€“ it soon subsided by mid afternoon. We had lovely views for an Otter feeding at Bruichladdich. A Swallow as seen late this week too although with these very cold Northerlies it may feel it has overshot the mark so early!
Spring time is not just for birds and Otters but for Red Deer too, for this is the time of year when the males will begin casting their antlers â€“ a time for new growth when the grass comes through thicker and they have survived the winter. Not all do, it is very harsh up here. Belonging to the group Artiodactyla which means they have even numbers of toes (also includes sheep, pigs and camels) part of the sub-order Ruminantia in which they digest vegetation in a pre- stomach - rumen. Having Antlers they are in the family of Cervidae and in Gaelic have several names depending on age and sex: male being Damh, older Aamle, Udlaiche; female Agh or Eildeag and young being Laogh or Mang. The males carry antlers and can be extremely heavy, these are made of true bone and develop from two lumps on the front on the skull called pedicles. They grow them from two years and will cast (shed them) from three years old. The Keepers that work on Islay have an extremely hard job making sure all 5000 deer are healthy; and they are the ones who decided for the sake of the herd which ones will be culled each year. The Red Deer are kept in an enormous cordon making sure that they do not get onto farmers fields if possible. (This is where they can do a huge amount of damage to the grass and therefore become in competition with livestock and the wild geese too!) So we have a 25 mile long fence keeping them on the hills. Of course, this fence is only as good as the last person who closed the gate. So, if you do venture up onto the hill ground beware of notices and make sure the gates are well closed and that people know where you are heading. It is very remote and difficult in these wild places.
Red Deer originated in forest lands but as man cleared the forests, centuries ago, they readjusted and spread into open country there are now thought to be somewhere between 250000 and 300000 head of Red Deer in the open lands of the Highlands in Scotland. Interestingly hinds (females) stay within a 2 square mile range whereas Stags have been found up to 20 miles from their mother groups. They will often form herd of the same sex. It is the time of new growth and birth so I will not write about the Rut â€“ an autumn activity. This comes later in the year â€“ obviously.
So the young are soon to be born and the males have sorted out their harems and soon depart to feeding grounds where their intake of food is highest between March and June. Having cast their antlers they need lots of energy to grow more in time for August and the start of the Rut! They will feed up to 24hrs a day spreading this between 6-10 bouts of grazing interspersed with time of rumination and resting. The females will be pregnant and by early July the 33 weeks of gestation come to an end with females heading off individually to give birth. After a week or so they return to the herd and will suckle well into late summer. Then the cull begins and the circle starts once more. This can not be ignored and venison (deer meat) has been a staple to the Highlands for thousands of years. Without the cull, as Red Deer have no predators, then the numbers will grow disproportionately and food will become in short supply. There are plenty of other issues regarding the management of Red Deer in which there is no time of space to discuss here. That being said the economic benefit of Stalking on Islay aids big and very useful to the longevity of the Estates that occupy large tracts of land on Islay. They are also great to photograph and watch!
To stay up to date on Jeremy's whereabouts during the week check out his blog at Islay Birding News