Monday 8 December 2014

Shifting light and shadows at Gruinart and Loch Indaal

What a day to be out! I confess I was a little apprehensive about the impending storms when Richard and Hazel contacted me about a morning's birding this week and I strongly recommended we went today, rather than tomorrow. "This is our first view of Islay in the daylight," they enthused as we got into the car. That wasn't because Islay has been in complete darkness for days on end, but because they only arrived on last night's plane. From the moment I met them Richard  and Hazel were enthusing about Islay's beauty. It was a joy to share a day with this couple and hear their romantic story, share their enthusiasm for wildlife, and compare stories from north and south. I'd decided, given the weather, a drive along Loch Indaal would be best and then a visit to the hide at Gruinart. Despite the frequent hail showers, wind and cold we had a delightful day and saw lots of birds. I hope the day compared favourably with your day at Cowdenbeath, Richard!

Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Redshank, Herring Gull, Jackdaw, Brent Goose (light-bellied), Wigeon, Red-breasted Merganser, Curlew, Shelduck, Barnacle Goose, Starling, Whooper Swan, Black-headed Gull, Mallard, Rock Dove, Greylag Goose, White-fronted Goose (Greenland), Hooded Crow, Buzzard, Rook, Blue Tit, Lapwing, Meadow Pipit, Goldeneye (18 on Ardnave Loch), Mute Swan, Reed Bunting, Pintail, Shovelor, Golden Plover, Pheasant, Common Gull, Raven, Grey Heron, Pied Wagtail, Teal, Robin, Blackbird, Wren, Fieldfare, Mistle Thrush, Great Black-backed Gull, Cormorant

Roe Deer, Hare
Enjoying the relative warmth of the hide (aided by a hot drink and mince pie!)

Monday 20 October 2014

The Otter Story

One of my favourite things about welly walks is seeing people's reactions when we see something special. Some people are very reserved and somehow keep their excitement to themselves; others are simply beside themselves with excitement. Anyone that knows me knows I come into the latter category and so today was very special because Jeremy, Carol, Grace and Tom also came into that category when we saw the otter we'd been looking for all morning.

We'd seen signs of its presence in the form of its prints, very clearly defined in the sand. Then, walking back to the cars, Tom spotted it first (younger eyes having an advantage!) We spent the best part of an hour crawling on our bellies to get closer and sharing binoculars to watch it feed - and feed it surely did! And what teeth! Everyone was truly delighted to have such good views - including me. Ten years on Islay and the last thing I saw in the natural world is still always the best! A big thanks to you all for sharing this day with me. Oh, and I love learning new things. Today I learnt that Bran Coes Coch is Welsh for Chough (Red-legged Crow).

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Beinn Bheigier - "Wenn Engel reisen, lacht der Himmel"

I was so excited when a group of 4 friends from Germany asked if they could climb Beinn Bheigier today. Jan, Jurgen Sabrina and Robert come regularly to Islay and combine their love of walking with their love of whisky! "Wenn engel reisen, lacht der himmel," Sabrina quipped when we all commented on the beauty of the day. "It means we are all angels because the sun is shining," she explained. I rather liked that. It was the stillest of days for our traverse of Islay's highest ridge - so still in fact that the midges began to bother us. I never fail to gasp at the beauty of it all; it takes my breath away every time. What a beautiful island we live on! Apart from talking about whisky (a lot), Islay (a lot) and flora and fauna (a lot), we all enjoyed walking through bog (a lot) and heather (a lot). Jan particularly liked walking on Islay's soft carpet of moss. At both summits we enjoyed a surprise wee dram (courtesy of Robert) of Bruichladdich and Kilchoman.  During the day we compared the German language with English and particularly discussed the English language's difficult use of prepositions:

 I put it to them that we saw the biggest tick ever; 
they didn't put me down too much in my attempts at the German language; 
I'm glad they put up with all the bog; after all I had put across to them beforehand the difficult nature of the walk!
I hope I haven't put them off booking another Islay Welly Walk!

Thank you for a memorable day. See you next year!

BIRDS: Raven, Meadow Pipit
FLORA: Heather, Cross-leaved Heath, Bell Heather, Tormentil, Round-leaved Sundew, Thrift, Bog myrtle, Willow sp, Rowan, Oak, Fir Club Moss, Star Moss, Spaghnum Moss, Milkwort, Gorse, Juniper, Bilberry, Bog Asphodel, Cotton Grass, Crowberry, Bracken, Devil's-bit Scabious
LICHEN: Reindeer Moss
OTHER: Rabbit, Red Deer, Tick, Peacock Butterfly, moth sp, dragonfly sp, damselfly sp, Orb Weaver Spider, Common Frog, Grasshopper sp, Emperor Moth chrysalis, Fox Moth caterpillar, midge!

Common Frog

The Sound of Islay

Scary tick!

On top of the world!

Thursday 28 August 2014

Welly Walk at Ardnave

A group of 9 of us set off for the circular walk at Ardnave on Monday. Although rather late in the season we did see quite a number of wild flowers and enjoyed watching the Chough probing in the sand and the Arctic Terns gracefully dancing at the tide's edge with the hitherto tantalizing Nave Island as a backdrop. It was with great satisfaction that Paul observed that he must be one of the few people around that can say he set foot on Nave Island before he set foot on the dunes at Ardnave! Quite a few Lion's Mane jellyfish had been washed ashore, along with the much more diminutive By-the-Wind Sailors, an ocean dwelling species that is found in warmer coastal waters. Below is information from Marlin:

Velella velella is a pelagic colonial hydroid. The float, which is an oval disc, is deep blue in colour and can be up to 10 cm in length. Short tentacles hang down into the water from the float. A thin semicircular fin is set diagonally along the float acting as a sail. This sail gives the animal both its scientific (i.e. from velum, a sail) and its common name, 'by-the-wind-sailor'. The direction of the sail along the float determines which way Velella velella will travel. If the sail runs north-west to south-east along the float it will drift left of the wind direction, if the sail runs south-west to north-east it will drift right of the wind direction. Velella velella feeds on pelagic organisms, including young fish, caught by stinging cells on its tentacles. The sea slug Fiona pinnata , sunfish Mola mola and violet snail Janthina janthina prey upon Velella velella.

Arctic Tern, Grey Heron, Mute Swan and cygnets, Sand Martin, Swallow, Chough, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Linnet, Stonechat, Meadow Pipit, Shag

Pineapple Mayweed, Water Mint, Common Scurvy Grass, Redshank, Grass of Parnassus, Harebell, Common Storksbill, Thrift, Creeping Thistle, Marsh Thistle, Spear Thistle, Forget-me-not, Red Bartsia, Red Clover, Eyebright, Ragged Robin, Devil's-bit Scabious, Polypody, Bog Myrtle

Rabbit, Grey Seal


Grass of Parnassus

Lion's Mane Jellyfish

Polypody with spores

Water Mint
(All photos by Paul Dexter)

Friday 15 August 2014

Islay Welly Walks at Islay Show

We had great fun painting faces and giving away key rings at the Islay Show - as well as talking about Islay and our walks and meeting other folk who like walking! Thanks to all who stopped by to chat and to those who helped set up the stall - and a big thank you to Islay Baptist Church for the loan of the gazebo!

Cameron's venomous snake

Great wellies - and how we all felt at the end of the day!

Wednesday 13 August 2014

Welly walk to Kilnaughton

This was both a welly walk and the opportunity to gain two gridsquares for my mission to photograph every Isaly gridsquare! It was also, of course, an almost unavoidable bracken slog, but we saw some beautiful rocky coastal scenery en route.


Beautiful heather

Port an Eas

Small Tortoiseshell

Vanda at Port an Eas

Tuesday 5 August 2014

Beachcombing at Sanaigmore

We set off on a glorious Monday afternoon on a beachcombing mission. We managed to find four things on our 'Eye-spy' sheets (Pied Wagtail, Ringed Plover, Mussel, Mermaids' Purses) and a whole host of other stuff too and learnt about what things should NOT be found on the beach. One of the most exciting finds was a small piece of flint which a young explorer found - not a common sight on our Islay beaches. We also learnt a lot about wild flowers, thanks to the inquisitiveness of our three regular visitors (Phil, Sandy and Carol from London). Just for them (and anyone else who is interested!) I am going to repeat the information about some of the flowers we saw on our walk. It certainly paid off taking my new book on the walk and thanks everyone for making it such an enjoyable exploration!

Oystercatcher, Swallow, Meadow Pipit, Wheatear, Ringed Plover, Raven

Eyebright, Red Bartsia, Monkey Flower, Wild Thyme, Spear Thistle, Creeping Thistle, Sandwort, Autumn Gentian, Common Centaury, Thrift (died back), Silverweed, Bird's-foot Trefoil, Self-heal, Water Forget-me-not, Lady's Bedstraw, Red Clover, Pineapple Mayweed, Yellow Rattle, Harebell, Common Sorrel, Redshank

Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis) - Euphrasia comes from the Greek for 'delight'. From the 14th Century onwards, because it resembles a bloodshot eye, the juice or distilled water was drfopped into the eye to improve eyesight. Drinking tea made from it was thought to aid mental clarity and enable one to detect those telling lies!

Redshank - The blotches on the leaves were thought to be drops of Christ's blood from the cross and as a result in parts of Ireland it was known as bloodweed and used to stop bleeding.

Autumn Gentian (Gentianella amarella) - The Latin name derives form its discoverer, Gentius, the pirate king of Illyria 180-167 BC, who was defeated and imprisoned by the Romans. It also goes by the name Dead Man's Mittens in Shetland, from its resemblance to fingernails protruding form the ground!

Grayling (possibly), Small Tortoiseshell, Meadow Brown, Shieldbug sp, Meadow Grasshopper

Mussel shell, Shore Crab shell, Piecrust Crab shell, Dogfish eggcase, Skate eggcase, Flint, limpets, rib bone, other bones! part of al obster claw, Purple Topshell