Saturday, December 16, 2006

Anser Birding trip Islay- Inner Hebrides 4-9 December 2006 (addtional report)

Islay part 2; all images by John Martin

I was unlucky to miss out on taking pictures of the two Richardson's Canada Geese due to poor light and aircraft disturbance but John Martin who was on the island at the same time did get some images and is kindly allowing me to put them on the site, thanks John. I have made no changes to them. The top two are of the Bowmore/Gartbreck Richardson's Canada Goose Branta canadensis hutchinsii and the bottom one is of the Gruinart flats parvipes/taverneri.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Anser Birding Islay- Inner Hebrides 4-9 December 2006 trip report.

Anser Birding Islay-Inner Hebrides 4-9 December 2006 trip report

Summary; Eight of us travelled from Gloucestershire on the 4th stopping off overnight at Carlisle Travelodge to break up the journey. The weather was horrendous driving up with heavy rain and strong winds but we arrived at Kennacraig Ferry terminal at 1200pm having had a relaxed if somewhat damp run up from England. The crossing was fine with no problems caused by the recent gales but seabirds were much in evidence. We stayed in Bowmore on shore of Loch Indaal for four nights with the main focus being the major goose flocks that winter here. We never had to go far to see and hear thousands of geese. A total of 104 species of bird were recorded from the ferry crossings and on the island with one special species included on the journey home. The geese were fabulous and as always harboured vagrant Canada Geese. To help to understand these birds better have a look at the link below and study the very helpful I did my best to try a few Islay Malt whiskies with Bob Radford if only to keep him company, the 1968 Bunnahabain (£10.50 a dram) was an experience but I enjoyed the 17 yr old Bowmore and Bruichladdich malts very much indeed. We managed to see 6 of the 8 distilleries.

5 December 2006 The journey out of West Loch Tarbert produced many Eider, 7 Black Guillemot, 9 Guillemot, 30 Razorbill, 1 Leach's Petrel (MJM only) 6 Kittiwake, 11 Great Northern Diver, 5 Red-throated Diver, 2 Slavonian Grebe and a male Hen Harrier on Jura as the boat pulled into port. We enjoyed our first views of Greenland White-fronted and Barnacle Geese as we drove across the island to Bowmore. Rafts of Scaup were also visible on Loch Indaal but the light was fading and we headed off to check in.

6 December 2006 A female Merlin was along the shore of Loch Indaal which is where we began the day. At least 20 Light-bellied Brent, 5000 Barnacle Geese, 2 Pink-footed Geese, 3 male and a female Long-tailed Duck, 20 Red-breasted Mergansers, common waders that included 2 Bar-tailed Godwit and 4 Knot, a Great Northern Diver, male Common Scoter, 3 Slavonian Grebe, 5 Rock Pipit and 700 Greater Scaup could be seen from a short strectch of shoreline. The sun was shining and the birding was excellent, a great way to begin a full day of birding. We carefully drove around the bay and lanes to Loch Gruinart enjoying outrageously close up views of the two common goose species along the way.

On RSPB Gruinart flats we discovered our first Canada Goose species, we reviewed the features carefully, it was larger than the accompanying Barnacle Geese and we thought it to be a Lesser Canada. This was confirmed by the RSPB sightings noticeboard in the visitor centre afterwards. On returning home I studied the bird further as I thought it to be dark and it showed a dark line on the underside of the chin in the field which divided the white chinstrap. This would be more indicative of Taverner's Canada but the two intergrade anyway. The staff there have had all winter to study it and would have seen it many times over but I found it all very interesting.

Lesser/Taverner's Canada Goose ? Branta canadensis parvipes/taverneri Images by M.J.McGill

We also logged 2 Chiffchaff, Chough, Reed Bunting, Grey Wagtail and 30+ Rock Dove as well as more common waders and wildfowl around Gruinart Bay. Roe and Red Deer were also seen. A sunny lunch stop with coffee outdoors at Bruichladdich produced a few surfing Light-bellied Brent (they turned into the waves to ride them), 5 Purple Sandpiper, 2 Ringed Plover, a Redshank, 1 Red-throated Diver, a Great Northern Diver and 15 Common Scoter. A Common Seal was also playing with kelp in the bay. Off Port Charlotte 4 Great Northern Diver and 100 Common Scoter were the highlights with a further small gathering of 1000 Barnacle Geese with 2 Light-bellied Brent in the fields.

Back at Loch Gruinart we added more common species of birds like Mistle Thrush, Fieldfare, Little Grebe, 20 Golden Plover and Moorhen. A further search of the Barnacle Goose flocks revealed the wintering Richardson's Canada Goose from the Ardnave road. This small, neat creature was a real bonus and showed well to all before taking flight when a light aircraft flew over. The sound of so many geese taking flight is very memorable, it was great to look for this bird among the Barnies reminding me of searching for Lesser White-fronted Geese among the European White-fronts at WWT Slimbridge.

7 December 2006 At dawn we headed to the rubbish tip at Gartbreck and discovered a hunting Barn Owl along the way. This bird performed well whilst looking for it's last meal of the night. As the light levels increased a couple of first-winter Iceland Gulls were seen on the tip. While everyone was watching the gulls I was drawn back to the geese where a search of another huge flock of Barnacle Geese and Greenland White-fronted Geese gave me another Richardson's Canada. After studying it's markings it was generally agreed that it was a different bird to the Gruinart bird. What another great start to the day.

At Bowmore Pier we watched both types of Guillemot, Shag, Red-throated and Great Northern Diver, a Common Scoter, Slavonian Grebe, Red-breated Mergansers, Eiders and a close female Long-tailed Duck. Hot soup and coffee at the local cafe was most welcome after this particular session. A drive to Port Ellen and resulting seaseach gave us our closest views of Red-throated Diver yet plus a couple of Razorbill and another Great Northern Diver. We checked Loch Kinnabus for diving duck but only 6 Tufted Duck were present, however the Greenland White-fronted Goose flock here was very memorable due to the scenery and a male Merlin sat atop a post for us to study at leisure. A check of Loch Skerrols was unproductive except for more wonderful geese. Whilst scoping geese along the lanes a Landover pulled up with two young ladies who told us of a recent White-tailed Eagle sighting at Ardnave/ Killinallan, we headed straight to the latter site but the weather was so bad we gave up. We spent the rest of the afternoon at Gruinart until dark birding from the hide.

Loch Indaal and the Bowmore distillery with Barnacle Geese roosting in the foreground. M.J.McGill

8 December 2006 We retuned to Killinallan to search for the reported White-tailed Eagle. A flock of 130 Twite, 3 Chough, 3 Buzzard, 50 Rock Dove and a female Hen Harrier were all seen well but a distant eagle was more likely to be a Golden. A party of 10 Sanderling fed on the beach. We had coffee at Loch Gruinart RSPB and searched unsucessfully from the hide for Otter and Green-winged Teal for 30 minutes whilst Graham collected some shots of geese. Thanks to all of the group for their co-operation in his short photo expedition which made him so happy. A few saw a male Hen Harrier from this spot. Back to Bruichladdich for lunch where 31 Purple Sandpiper were now feeding but a power cut meant no coffee. Cheese from the Isle of Mull with Arran oatcakes were a pleasant distraction but we still managed to keep on birding. A drive along the edge of Loch Gorm was led by a male Hen Harrier and a flock of c35 Whooper Swans and duck fed in shallows. Bob saw a Golden Eagle as we drove up the hill. A hunting Merlin chased a Skylark over Kilchoman Church but a Jackdaw intervened and the show ended. Continuing around the loch another Merlin and a female Hen Harrier hunted, thousands more geese fed and flew over. We drove out to Ardnave Point and counted over 20 Chough, 150 Twite and a flock of Pied Wagtails. Only six Tufted Duck were present on Ardnave Loch. John Martin who was also on the island phoned with news of the Richardson's Canada in the fields where we saw the first individual.

9 December 2006 We arrived at the ferry in blustery conditions and had great views of Red-throated Diver, Black Guillemot and Rock Pipit from the boat. A quiet start to the crossing changed into non-stop action on entering West Loch Tarbert. 41 Great-Northern, 7 Black-throated and 22 Red-throated Diver, 3 Slavonian Grebe, Red-breasted Mergansers, Eiders, 1 Gannet, Kittiwakes, the three auk species and a few other commoner species.

We detoured via Callander on the way home and saw the magnificent male Barrow's Goldeneye in the company of 5 Common Goldeneye on the flooded river Eas Gobhain. They were all swimming strongly against the torrent and coped easily whilst feeding underwater.

Islay rainbow over Killinallan, we saw many each day sometimes doubles and always very vivid. A great trip with so many memorable images, if you have not guessed so far I like geese.

An additional report will be added to the trip report page to supplement this one and complete the Canada Goose story as of 16/12/06.