Islay Nature Report 46 - Cold and Grey

Welcome to this weeks nature and wildlife report nr 46 by Jeremy Hastings, Islay's five star wilderness guide.

It certainly has been the arrival of winter and arrive it did. The wind turned to the north, bitter and lazy (does not go around, but through one). The full moon at the end of last week traditionally would sign the winter and everything changed: fields lost their brightness, geese grazed ever harder, waders gathered on the shore at the Merse then headed south, Purple sandpipers at Bruichladdich were visible and Divers too. The trees have lost all their leaves and now stand scratching at a wild sky.

The weather has a vast impact on life here at this time of year. Planes and ferries are not guaranteed to arrive or depart. Birds struggle to find food and beasts have to be fed by farmers. Geese are all over the place finding new grazing and the man who puts up the goose streamers - long pieces of tape on hazel wands that blow in the wind (to keep the geese off newly planted fields) is very busy too! Continue reading.....The strong and cold air has cleared everything - cover is thin are far between. There is a positiveness to this state of affairs. If one is prepared to don a good coat, waterproof boots (the ground is soaking wet) and a warm hat too then one can wander around in search for raptors and wee birds. Better still - we use the landrover to access these wild places as a mobile hide. Even then, one needs to be well wrapped up. Snow Buntings are around as are Twite an Linnet and plenty of Fieldfare and Redwing too. The Waxwings in Bowmore have still been seen hanging around certain gardens at the top of the village. We have been very lucky seeing divers on Indaal and Long Tailed Ducks too. If luck in on one's side and he weather has cleared giving way to striking icy blue skies a Golden Eagle maybe on the wing, or a Hen Harrier hawking the field margins or even more exciting low and rocket like over the moss or moor a Merlin may be spotted - if it is slate blue and wee it will be a male the females are brown and slightly larger. For those who are not sure or need reminding it is a small hawk - one of the smallest in fact, with long, pointed wings and a long, barred (banded) tail. Like a mini peregrine but with a faint moustache/tear drop marking on it's face. On it's belly and chest it has brown streaking. A very attractive bird altogether. Especially if one is lucky enough to spot one it a scope. For those of you who like direct and accurate facts here are a few! size: 24-30 cm (9-12 in), wingspan: 53-68 cm (21-27 in) and weight: 160-240 g (5.65-8.47 ounces)

Description and language is interesting and the name for it in french is Faucon émerillon which mean swivell falcon - presumably because it can twist and turn extremely quickly - often times it is viewed like this chasing wee birds across open heather and mossland. They breed in Scotland on the ground surrounded by good cover and finding them is incredibly difficult. In the Americas they use old Corvid nests. Gordon Yates has some magnificent footage of both males and females and on the nest too. Both male and female feeding the young. Till next week!

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 winter weather merlin

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