Rare visitor on Islay's Coast

Severe winter south west gales lashing the west coast of Islay brought in a scarce passage migrant - an adult Grey Phalarope. The solitary bird in winter plumage was spotted by Teresa Morris, herself a visitor from Cumbria, on the shores of Loch Indaal near Uiskentuie Farm. The Grey Phalarope is a small wader, approximately 20cm in length, that breeds in Arctic Greenland and Iceland on coastal wet tundra. They winter off the coasts of West Africa and South America. Migration is well out to sea but winter storms such as those at the end of December 2006, can blow them onto the west coast of Scotland. Grey Phalaropes frequently accompany whales and surface shoals of fish, alighting on the backs of whales in search of parasites. In summer they feed on a wide range of invertebrates mainly from the water surface. On migration they feed on crustaceans, molluscs, insects, and vegetable matter.

Story and picture published with kind permission from The Ileach

A week of birding on Islay

Tony Wilmot recalls a big week on Islay. Published on the Islay Weblog with kind permission from the Ileach

The solitary sandwich tern had been working hard for some time when it suddenly dropped like a stone and emerged dripping yet triumphant with a small silver fish. Almost immediately a large herring gull was after it and, despite some impressive aerial gymnastics, the tern gave up, dropped the fish and went in search of another. We were watching from the quayside at Kennacraig, a party of twenty heading for a walking, birding and malt whisky appreciation October week on the Hebridean Isle of Islay. The happy group was an eclectic mix of variable vintage and birding abilities, ranging from the very capable to the extremely incapable. Islay is a wild, atmospheric place that defies the raw power of the north Atlantic. The wind blows here - big time. Next land point west is probably Cape Cod. It can be tough guy birding when it starts, but the wind blows in the birds. The sheer numbers on Islay from October are incredible. Geese by the thousand tumble in from the North, smoke trails of starlings harassed by merlin battle across the Rhinns os Islay and redwing stream in from the east. Islay is the land of the Lords of the Isles, of peaty expanse, brooding stormy skies and dancing northern lights. The birders amongst us were aiming for a hundred species during the week but a challenge was quickly laid down by one of the ladies on a Field Studies Council group who boldly predicted 105. Competition!

First Geese arriving on Islay

Every year from October to May thousands of Geese migrate from Canada and Greenland to Scotland and Ireland. During the wintertime big populations can be found in Northern Ireland and Islay. The BBC has a television show with Bill Oddie where they follow the Geese migrating southward. On the website from the BBC you can watch live where the Geese are at this very moment. To make this visible they have satellite tagged the Geese during their stay in Northern Ireland during the wintertime.

According to reports the first Geese are arriving on Islay as we speak. Not in great numbers yet but the first Geese are spotted by Jeremy Hastings from Islay birding. Jeremy also has a news section where he writes on an almost daily basis about the Geese arriving from the north and other interesting bird reports. Islay holds 70 percent of the world's Greenland barnacle geese and 40 percent of the Greenland white-fronted goose population - 37,000 and 13,000 respectively.

The Chough on Islay

The chough, a rare type of crow found only in a few areas of Scotland, is to be added to the list of species given special protection in the area around Loch Gruinart on Islay. In late February, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) began formal consultations with local farmers and land managers on the Scottish Executive’s proposals to add chough to the list of species protected by the Gruinart Flats Special Protection Area (SPA).