Islay Nature Report 45 - Long Tailed Duck

Welcome to this weeks Islay Nature and Wildlife report. The format of the Nature Report has changed somewhat and from now on the report will be solely written by Jeremy Hastings, apart from the weeks that he is not able to.

This weeks Islay nature report, nr 45, by Jeremy Hastings, the Islay Wilderness Guide: Well what a week! The continuous storm was quite something blowing steady till thursday. It started in the south and slowly headed west with Tuesday night at gale force 8 to 9! Trees are now naked and birds cling on to anything they can, I watched barnacle geese at the start of the week heading from Laggan roost to Port Charlotte and ending up flying towards Craigfad - two kilometers south! Waves were breaking over Shore Street in port Charlotte. Luckily these are empty in the Winter save one or two so the folks will not be too washed out. No wonder we have to whitewash the houses yearly!

As the wind blew itself out so the weather turned and we were back on flat calm by Wednesday. Superb for birding and the clients I had with me - who had been a couple of times before fancied exploring Loch Indaal. We started at the ICCI - the Gaelic Centre. As we set up I heard the calling of the Whooper swan, seven of them arrived. We watched in awe and they settled down with other Whoopers calling to them and they returned the call. Then, after only ten minutes they took off heading southerly down the Loch. Just arriving and then gone. We held our breath amazed at witness them and their migration in action. It was the start of an amazing day. We saw all three species for diver, Red Throat - with their supercilious , nose-in-the-air, attitude, the Black Throated; 's' shaped neck and white 'thigh' marking which shows just above the water line, and the Great Northern Diver - nuclear submarine like - sitting dark and purposeful on the flat calm sea. We even spotted a couple in a remnant of summer plumage. Continue reading.....The most delightful of all were the Long Tailed Ducks, seven in all. Four males and three females. Adults are mainly white underneath, though, interestingly the rest of the plumage goes through a diverse and crazy moulting process. The male is easily identified having a long tail that often looks split, hence Long tailed Duck! The dark grey bill has an orangey/ pink band. In winter, when I think it looks it's best the male has a dark patch on a mainly white topped/grey faced head and neck. It's body is generally white and therefore, like the Eider, it really stands out. In the summertime they are much darker and browny. The young/juveniles look like adult females in autumn plumage, often they are lighter and have less distinct markings. They breed in the tundra, far north amid marshes and wee pools and also along sea shores too. In some areas, namely northern North America they can also be found breeding alongside large lakes. Nesting is always on the ground near water, built with local vegetation and lined with down. the really amazing thing is that they are in alot of the northern world extremely common and if you visit the Baltic States you will see literally hundreds on the sea along the coast and from the regular ferries linking these countries. I remember being amazed at the huge flocks when sailing into Helsinki from Sweden late autumn. They are a diving duck and favour mussels and other shellfish. Not, again, unlike the Eider, that is why we can see them in loch Indaal.

Islay's Jane Dawson of Ellister who used to breed wildfowl wrote a book called 'Oldsquaw' which was the original North American English for these birds and now the name Long tailed Duck has taken over. It probably comes form their oddly sounding yodelling call that they make that may have reminded some folks of the First Nation People 'Squaw' when they were calling their menfolk, although it the the male that are the most vociferous in this case! Other reports this week have been of Waxwings in Bowmore...the cold weather in the east driving them westward looking for food, and so must I as supper is soon to be on the table and another week draws to a close!

Other relevant Islay Wildlife and Birding Information Resources:
- Jeremy's News Blog
- Previous Islay nature reports By Jeremy Hastings
- Islay Seasonwatch by Teresa Morris
- Islay Birds blog by Ian Brook
- Islay Birder blog by John Armitage

Tag: birding nature duck weather

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