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Fishing from an Otter’s Toilet

There are times when a bloke feels he needs a holiday somewhere warm and sunny like down here behind the Kariba Dam wall —

To think that I fished for Tiger fish down here in the gorge below the dam almost fifty years ago – and water skied in the 173 miles long by 48 miles wide holding area above the dam back then. When I went looking for a photo to use in this post I found reports that the dam wall is in danger of collapse due to the plunge pool where the white water lands eroding and under-cutting the integrity of the whole wall.

All that water stored up behind has got to go somewhere and it is reckoned that 3.5 million souls could or would perish in the floodpath – I almost wish I hadn’t gone looking for that photo. The biggest danger to life back then were from rocks falling from the tunnel roofs as we constructed the North Bank Power Station after the dam had filled – from crocodiles while fishing from the bank in the gorge below and from the most dangerous wild animal in the whole of Africa – the flotillas of hippo in the still waters of Lake Kariba. The clear waters allow you to see the hippos ‘running’ at speed along the lake floor and their favourite food is the fibreglass boat.

Changed days – there is talk of a barrage complete with tidal powered turbines being placed here at home in Cuan Sound where I fished in the rain this afternoon. Judging by the amount of water that rushes through here at the ebb and flow of the tides there should be enough current to drive the things and give enough power to boil my kettle.

Well I enjoyed being out there in the fresh air – just as well for it won’t be fish for tea although I’m told the mackerel and occasional sea bream are running. The only thing I saw move in the water besides the kelp swaying in the currents was a lively seal which popped up next to me and gave me the eye for a while before the ebbing tide swept it onwards.

I won’t blame the seal altogether for today’s lack of fish – it was most likely down to my motley collection of tackle. I picked up my reggae beach bag in Jamaica several years ago and it now carries my growing collection of line spools – hooks – lures and other nameless things that don’t get chucked away until the smell becomes too much for the faint-hearted —

Back in the day when I fished in the Zambezi I carried a two piece twelve foot beachcaster everywhere I went.- it would hardly be worth the trouble getting it through security at airports now – changed days indeed. My lightweight 5 piece spinning rod which I came across in a tackle shop in Dumfries may not lob a lump of lead very far but it is much easier to live with.

Nope – I could blame my tools but I won’t – it was more than likely the local otter group that had beat me to it —

Judging by the many otter ‘poo’ piles I encountered not very far from the water’s edge as I trudged forlornly up the bank fishless on my way home they were a darn sight better at catching fish than I am —

They were all over the bank – some tidy —

and some just squirted out any old how —

Thanks to the seal and shitty otters frightening the Cuan Sound fish, I had more success at Kariba hunting Tiger Fish —

and that’s not me holding the thing – I’ve got more respect for my fingers than to put them anywhere near those teeth 🙂

 

 
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Posted by on July 15, 2017 in Isle of Luing, out and about, Wildlife

 

Tatties Galore at Bardrishaig

I expected the roe deer to be a nuisance in the garden in wintertime when food was short in the wild but our local population appear to have become domesticated and are regular visitors to our garden even now in mid-summer. They have trimmed our young Braeburn apple and Damson trees already and appear to be working towards our new – Pear – Plum – Cherry and  Bramley’s.

Now with the wet season here any thoughts that our redundant snake-like water hose lurking in the shrubbery would give them food for thought has joined the pile of wishful thinking.

I should have left the orange glow Daleks around them – they may have been unsightly but they worked a treat while they were there.

The Tenderstem Broccoli patch barely slowed the roe deer down – it was gone in a night – decimated.

They have yet to show a taste for gooseberries but I have it on good authority that the birds are watching these fellas and unless I net them they will be nabbed by our feathered friends as soon as they ripen —

They may be sweet and tastybut these few brave berries won’t go far – so it’s just as well we planted some spuds.

They are growing great guns with the Marris Bard in the forefront —

The King Edwards aren’t far behind and we still have drills of Kerr’s Pinks plus another three potato varieties showing good growth —

The deer will need to be hungry before they make a dent in these fellas and unless someone introduces wild boar to the island —

we should be eating tatties from our own garden till Christmas at least 🙂

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2017 in Gardening, Isle of Luing, Wildlife

 

Seamus – the wonder-kitten

Seamus – our kitten —20170104_1818031

 

Born on November 5th —

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Guy Fawkes Day —

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He sure is a bundle of fireworks —

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Not that we can expect anything else —

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From our Ginger Tabby —

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Luckily he does have his quiet moments —

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Sometimes in decorous disarry —

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Which can stop the Peeping-Tom deer in it’s tracks as it stares in the window —

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But our Seamus can also pose like a male model —

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when the mood takes him —

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Which isn’t very often —

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Three months old today —

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My how he has grown —

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But his jaikit is on a shaky nail if he thinks he can lay claim to the Sports Page before I read it 🙂

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2017 in Isle of Luing, out and about, Wildlife

 

Tenere in Toberonochy

Toberonochy – an exotic sounding name for a wee village on the former slate isle of Luing but with the sun shining and no vehicle ferry running cos it’s Sunday – Toberonochy at three to four miles distant was the furthest point I could aim for.

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I even stretched it out by running north to South Cuan ferry terminal and west to Blackmill Bay and still only managed to eke out about ten or twelve miles all told.

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With my normal daily ride being in the region of 150 miles I would need to do about fifteen laps of the island to hit that number.

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No worries – the Atlantic Centre was open over in Cullipool for coffee and after picking ‘H’ up from home we headed over that way.

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The Slate Feature has been completed to remind us of our heritage as a major slate producer – having roofed the houses of London – Bristol and Dublin to name but a few major cities. Coffee to go was the order for today and where better to take it than over on the shore by the slate-stone throne and a bonnie English rose posing by the Scottish Saltire.

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It pisses me off that the SNP have claimed the Saltire as their own when in actual fact it is the National flag of all Scots but I won’t lose any sleep over it. Political points of view – unlike our everyday view across Fladda Lighthouse can be such a transient thing.

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Coffee over and done with – it was up the dirt road and home to Bardrishaig – where – just as I crested the rise I saw the tail-end of a skein of wild geese looking as if they were following their leaders into a grassy stretch between the ridges at the back of the old steading.

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Helen was first off the mark and shot round the steading in an anti-clockwise direction with her camera in ready mode. The cunning old fox had different ideas and took the shorter clockwise approach – but – the nervous sheep gave him away —

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and the geese were on their toes —

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and ready for affski —

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by the time he got there.

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But –

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what a wonderful sight they made with Fladda Lightouse and the Garvellocks beyond.

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A cup of tea later we were enjoying just one of the many bunches of snowdrops in our garden —

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and the glow on the front of the house could mean only one thing —

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No point sending for the fire brigade —

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all the water in the world wouldn’t dim the fire of our setting sun tonight 🙂

 

 

 

Scallops Galore

Scallops galore – that’s what it feels like when you walk by the quayside in Kirkcudbright when the boats come in. But the truth is most of the shellfish landed are the smaller queenies.

Isle of Man queen scallops: A shellfish success story nicked from the Guardian and embellished by your Blogger – Don..

scallops-3With a shell that can grow up to 9cm, the species, aequipecten opercularis, provides a sweet button of flesh roughly a quarter of the size of the more widely celebrated king scallop. The queen scallop is found as far south as the Canary Islands and north as the Faroes, but it is most abundant in the sea around the Isle of Man, thanks to the Manx government’s progressive approach to conservation: setting aside protected areas for stocks to breed and imposing restrictions on the fishing season.

They have got even more to shout about this year. This season is the first that queenies – caught with nets within territorial waters (12 miles around its coastline) – can claim protected designation of origin (PDO) status. The PDO was , awarded by the EU last November. This is now the only seafood product in the British Isles recognised as being traditionally produced, prepared and processed in its entirety, within a specific region, to acquire unique properties. The method of otter net trawling used by fishermen gained Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification for sustainability in 2011, the first scallop fishery in western Europe to do so.scalloper-20

Scallops are more commonly dredged, which causes damage to the ocean bed. With king scallops, which spend most of their lives under the seabed, the only other option is hand diving, which is costly and doesn’t deliver high volumes. But with queen scallops there is an alternative. They are active swimmers, leaving the seabed to feed in the summer. So from June to October, fishermen, banned from dredging, trawl for them instead within 12 miles around the island’s coastline. (Today the Isle of Man has 28 boats that net queen scallops and only one that dredges for them outside of Manx territorial waters.)

Manx queen scallops are a success story but, as with much else in the slippery world of seafood sustainability, not an unqualified one. Scallops dredged outside Manx waters, including those caught by Irish and Scottish boats, can – although not MSC- and PDO-approved – still be called Isle of Man queenies if they are processed on the island, much in the same way that Manx kippers, made with herrings caught as far away as Denmark and Shetland, gain their name by being smoked there.
scalloper-21Dredged queen scallops fetch the same price as sustainably caught, and although they require more rinsing than those that have been trawled, there is little discernible difference in quality. “The trawled queenies actually cost less to land when you take into consideration fuel costs connected to dragging around heavy dredging gear,” explains Tim Croft of Island Fisheries, which supplies queen scallops to London restaurants such as Hix and Hawksmoor and is a co-founder of the Queenie Festival. “MSC has given us more credibility and public awareness of the product, but it hasn’t necessarily increased sales or the price we can fetch.”

Croft accepts that the situation isn’t perfect. “The market demands queen scallops in the winter when they can only be dredged. The bigger issue is to find a commercially viable way of fishing for king scallops that doesn’t involve dredging. There is a double standard at work, but at least there now is a standard that points out that we have a sustainable fishery.”

UK-caught queenies are still largely ignored at home and shipped abroad where the French, Spanish and Italians are enthusiastic consumers. British supermarkets prefer to sell smaller scallops from Asia and South America.

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The hope is that certification will help to change the situation. “PDO strengthens our story,” says Croft. “The UK consumer has never really been aware of queenies; they’re generally only aware of what retailers push their way. Gaining this status on top of the MSC will hopefully help everyone realise what a great product we have.”

Thank You – The Guardian – now back to your Blogger.

In some of the pics above I have shown the Beam Scalloper – King Challenger’ on which I have been ‘fortunate’ to sail as a guest on several occasions from the Solway – round the Mull of Galloway – up by the Mull of Kintyre  – through the inner Hebrides (passing by Fladda Lighthouse not a mile from my home here on the Isle of Luing) and round the top via the Pentland Firth to Fraserbrough and Macduff when she was off for a re-fit in the winter months. I use the term ‘fortunate’ loosely.

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The Challenger is a blunt instrument – designed with the sole purpose of harvesting by dredging – scallops and queenies from the seabed.

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She doesn’t glide through the water like your average yacht – she takes the big seas on the way up to Cape Wrath square on with a thump that goes right through the boat and your body. Once round the point her top weight has her rolling with the waves coming in a-beam and I freely admit I have been mightily seasick while aboard her.

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None-the-less I wouldn’t have missed the experience for the world. There is only one comfy seat in the whole boat and that is the Captain’s chair – where – with endless cups of tea from the galley – a course plotted by auto-pilot and eleven large screens showing every navigation aid a guy could need – I must admit I did look forward to my turn in the ‘Skipper’s Seat.’

 

And doesn’t she look resplendent in her new paint on the return journey —

 

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coming down between Harris and the mainland —

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with the occasional dolphin flashing across her bows —

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as she follows a sheltered course under the Skye Bridge.

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Makes me feel hungry – time for tea —

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Scallops –

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they do go down well with a glass of Guinness.

 

Don – 🙂

 
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Posted by on December 6, 2016 in Isle of Luing, out and about, Wildlife

 

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Another Load of Cobblers

20161118_102706Strictly speaking the dark rock formation centre/right of the opening pic are known as ‘the Cobblers of Lorn’ – strange really considering they overlook the Sound of Luing.

According to my official Chart showing the ‘Approaches to the Firth of Lorn’ – which to my surprise is a designated submarine exercise area – our Cobblers are t’other side of Fladda Lighthouse.

I reckon it’s all a load of cobblers really and I’m sticking with my Luing Cobblers moniker for those lumps of rock.

OK – it’s just an excuse – as if we needed one to visit Blackmill Bay with cameras after reading about the Cobblers of Lorn in a feature I found by Undiscovered Scotland,

We started with an atmospheric shot – but – we kin also do a moody shot as the weather can change here every five minutes.

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It all started over breakfast when I took this next photo from my seat at the dining table. Helen decided she wanted a close-up of a snow-capped Scarba and didn’t really ‘get it’ when I suggested that close-ups wouldn’t work as all you are going to get across the water is a rock with snow on top.

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No worries – a detour on the way home took us to the water-splash on the burn where Jenny Wren lives.

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It’s a lovely spot. She must be a toughy to live here but she seems happy enough.

So is red cow Number J42 up the road who was busy with her head in a bucket —

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I asked ‘how are things going’ – and – ‘are you missing your calf’ – who left the island for pastures new a couple of weeks ago.

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She replied – ‘I can’t talk with my mouth full – bugger off with your daft questions!’

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I can take a hint – especially from a talking cow so I climbed to the top of the hill where I got a safe shot of our white house nestling in the trees – centre topmost – instead.

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The water – top left – is the Firth of Lorn. I don’t see any submarines exercising.

 

Don 🙂

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2016 in Isle of Luing, out and about, Wildlife

 

Hansel and Harem V our Apple Trees

It’s shaping up to be a ‘no contest’. Hansel turned up this morning with his harem — four dainty does would you believe. Hansel spent his time down the bank above the shop with his latest squeeze while the rest of his girls grazed quietly in the field above.

Who says wildlife can’t act civilised —

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I do! Especially after planting my fifth fruit tree this morning just over the fence from the cheeky beggars.

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If Hansel and his four doe’s make a herd – our five fruit trees make an orchard.

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M-mm – how do I get rid of ’em while H get’s her camera shots from her hiding place in the rowan tree up on the bank?

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I know what kind of shot I’d like to give the handsome brute! Here he is on an earlier visit to our patch when he only had one wife. But four – and I spotted another doe on the horizon above the road to Toberonochy yesterday!

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We have planted damson – Braeburn apple – cherry – pear and plum. Here is ‘H’ making sum minor adjustment to the base of the apple tree —it’s a woman thing —

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Torn between the devil and the deep blue sea — shooting the beggar seems a bit drastic. I know – I will sing to them – that has worked with girl friends in the past.

Have a bit of Fat’s Domino’s ‘Blueberry Hill’ —– at least the ladies are taking an interest —

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Let’s try a Frank Ifield yodel —

‘I Went Across to Switzerland Where All the Yodeller’s Be’ — that’s worked. They’re off!

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One down – two to to go —

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Time for an Elvis number – ‘You Ain’t Nuthin But a Houndog’ —

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She does look impressed! Hope that doesn’t mean she will be back.

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There is room for us all here on this hillside – guess I will just have to educate the little beggars 🙂

 

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2016 in Isle of Luing, out and about, Wildlife

 

The Famous Five – Fluff Feathers

We turned into the bottom of our farm lane this afternoon – and – there they were —

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Our five hen pheasants – decimated by the local thug of a sparrowhawk only one week ago were all back together. Even tail-end Charlene who we never expected to see again was limping along at the rear minus her tailfeathers.

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With the thump I heard when the sparrowhawk hit her on the bank – six or was it seven days ago – I was sure she was a gonner. But – here she is alive and well – sort of – even taking time to peck at fodder from the roadside – unperturbed by the big silver car only a metre from her bare butt.

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Charlie – you are a beauty. You fit so well into the dead bracken and old grass on the roadside that there is every chance your nemesis the brute of a sparrowhawk who I see hunting on the next ridge – may fail to spot you.

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But don’t take too many chances — only the village cat has nine lives and he hunts up here every morning too 🙂

 

Don

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2016 in Isle of Luing, out and about, Wildlife

 

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Hansel and Gretel on the Loose

hansel-2We had an earlier than usual start this morning.as we didn’t want to be caught in our PJ’s if the visiting electrician arrived on Luing by the first ferry.

First glimpse out the side window saw us catch a picture of Hansel and Gretel – our roe deer neighbours by the gate as they sauntered away ‘home’ after a nocturnal visit to our garden.

No doubt they see it as their garden as by all accounts the house lay empty for a considerable period while a massive refurbishment was carried out giving them free rein to browse as they saw fit.

Thumbnail shows Hansel at the bottom of our garden with one of three huge Simmental bulls in the background.

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Sorry about the poor quality photos but I had just dashed around looking for my camera – picked up my phone and crept up the bank trying not to scare them. I have been spotted despite my best efforts to creep up on them and they are soon off in the direction of Fladda Lighthouse. Hansel couldn’t resist a last ‘standoff’ once he was a safe distance away and gave me the ‘hard eye’ for a couple of minutes at least  —

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Isn’t he a cocky beggar but I do admire his gallus ways 🙂

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2016 in Isle of Luing, out and about, Wildlife

 

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Things you didn’t know about Blackbirds

Our winter visitors to our gardens aren’t all that they seem – for instance around 12% of those familiar blackbirds are immigrants from Eastern Europe or Scandinavia according to research by my friends at BTO.

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October 2016

It is easy to dismiss the Blackbird as just another common, year-round, garden resident. But to do so would overlook some fascinating behaviours. Research, for example, has revealed that at least 12% of the Blackbirds present in Britain and Ireland during the winter are immigrants from elsewhere in Europe and, far from just feeding on fruit and earthworms, Blackbirds have even been observed to take tadpoles and newts from the shallows of garden ponds.

Blackbird nest. Photograph by Moss Taylor

Making the most of gardens

The Blackbird is a species of woodland and woodland edge, but one that has adapted very well to the urban environment. In fact, it is thought that urban Blackbird populations may even act as a source for less productive woodland populations, which face significantly greater levels of nest predation. The most serious threat to urban-nesting Blackbirds is probably prolonged periods of dry weather, which restricts access to earthworms living within parched garden lawns and puts Blackbird chicks at risk of starvation.

Much of our understanding of these urban and suburban Blackbird populations comes from a small number of intensive studies. These demonstrate that traditional breeding territories and feeding sites may be used year after year, particularly by socially dominant individuals. The availability of food throughout the year – Blackbirds are catholic in their dietary tastes – enables the birds to maintain compact, tightly packed territories, sometimes with individuals also using ‘communal’ feeding areas outside of their established territories.

Interestingly, information from the weekly BTO Garden BirdWatch reveals an underlying seasonal pattern of garden use, with a drop in garden use from August through until the end of October. This ‘autumn trough’ is probably linked to the availability of fruits and berries in local hedgerows and more widely to the post-breeding moult – when moulting individuals become rather shy and retiring in their habits.

Blackbird. Photograph by Wyn Anderton

Night-time singing and early arrivals

The Blackbird is one of a small number of species that sometimes sing during the night, a behaviour that occurs more often in the presence of street-lighting. Blackbirds have large eyes, relative to their body size, and BTO research has revealed them to be the first species to arrive at garden feeding stations on dark winter mornings. Visual capability at low light levels influences when a species is first able to move around and find food.

BTO research has also demonstrated that Blackbirds living within urbanised landscapes arrive at garden feeding stations later than those living in rural gardens. This finding seems to run counter to the influence of light levels on arrival times – since urban areas have more street lights – and suggests that temperature may also play a role. Urban habitats have higher levels of heat pollution, which raises local temperature above that in the surrounding countryside; since small birds have to burn energy reserves to keep warm overnight, you might expect rural birds to expend more of their reserves overnight, this increasing the urgency for finding food in the morning.

Blackbird (Time to Fly migration map)

Winter arrivals

The arrival of many thousands of Blackbirds during the autumn months goes largely unnoticed, primarily because they look the same as those birds that are here all year round. However, an early morning visit to some berry-laden coastal scrub and hedgerows will reveal these immigrants, feeding alongside newly arrived Redwing and Fieldfare. The efforts of BTO bird ringers have revealed that our winter immigrants originate in Finland, Sweden and Denmark, with others arriving from the Netherlands and Germany. Some of these birds are only passing through, and will continue south to winter in Spain, France and Portugal.

Windfall apples and berry-laden hedgerows may draw wintering Blackbirds into our gardens, with the numbers using gardens increasing during periods of poor weather. Being able to watch several Blackbirds together should help you to recognise the different plumages, separating the brown females from the black-plumaged males, and young birds (with some juvenile wing feathers still retained) from older individuals. Occasional individuals showing one or more white feathers, may also be noticed in a garden setting. These are birds, most likely, with a plumage abnormality called ‘leucism’ or ‘progressive greying’, both linked to an absence of pigment cells.

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Posted by on November 5, 2016 in Isle of Luing, out and about, Wildlife

 

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