coquet nature lover

Monday, 29 January 2018

Winter wildlife on Islay

Whooper swan

The winter months may not be a popular time for tourists visiting Islay but it certainly is for waterfowl, with approximately 50,000 geese visiting in this season. Now the peak period for us humans is April to October - apparently due to the numerous distilleries' extended opening times and of course the longer daylight hours and warmer weather!

Greenland white-fronted geese

From the photos below, you will see on my recent visit, there were no problems with the crossing from the mainland to Islay - in fact the sea was as calm as a millpond (well, not quite!) and as we sailed passed the eye-catching snow-capped Paps of Jura, I knew it wouldn't be long before I heard the geese honking. If you are on the search for geese, my tip is to use your ears first, not your eyes!

West Loch Tarbert - taken from Kennacraig where the ferry leaves

 The ferry to Islay at Kennacraig on the west coast of Scotland

Blue skies with mainland in the distance

On the crossing from Kennacraig to Port Askaig, Islay, there were numerous black guillemots, shags and three species of divers (red-throated, black-throated and great-northern). It was also exciting to see otters and common seals swimming in the sea loch which the ferry travels down to reach the open sea. 

 Serene seas with the unmistakable conical snow-capped Paps of Jura

The Barnacle geese that are found wintering on Islay breed in Greenland. Take a look at my January 2017 post from The Solway Click here with photos of Barnacle geese which come from Svalbard.

Barnacle goose

Greenland white-fronted geese

The Greenland white-fronted goose in the photo above, known as ACC, has an orange neck collar and ring. After a bit of research, I found out it was caught at Aoradh farm on Islay in February 2017. It has returned this winter to the same small area with its mate and six young geese. Maybe I'll need to plan a trip up to Islay next winter!

I spotted this hen harrier (in the centre of the photo) hunting over RSPB Loch Gruinart. It certainly caused some alarm amongst the flocks of teal and wigeon!

Close-up of hen harrier
Despite the declines elsewhere in the UK, it was good to see this bird on Islay where there is still a healthy population.

I think these are roe deer although there are larger red deer found on Islay.

The cattle pictured here had climbed up a very steep slope in the field and were all huddled together.

These are red-billed choughs that breed on Islay. We don't see this bird on the the east coast of Britain and it was the first time I have ever seen one.

Earlier in the year I spotted lots of the smaller Alpine choughs in Switzerland. They have smaller yellow beaks but have the same bright red feet.

The next photo shows you the location of these choughs. As you can see, they enjoy the high altitude, the sun and the snow just as James Bond did on his visit here in the 007 film On Her Majesty's Secret Service!

Three famous mountains in Switzerland
 Eiger (3967 m), Mönch (4,107 m) and Jungfrau (4,158 m)

Close up of chough on the roof of the cafe in search of left overs!

These beautiful whooper swans have long thin necks with a large triangular patch of yellow on their black bills also winter on Islay. They breed in Iceland and travel south as a family group. 

Islay, also known as the 'The Queen of the Hebrides', has a relatively mild climate as it is quite sheltered from the open sea and has the advantage of the gulf stream warming its waters. Although it's unlikely you will get snow, it could be windy and quite wet but that wasn't the case on my recent visit. Don't let the weather put you off just check the forecast before you head off!

Apart from birds, the main thing Islay is famous for is its whisky - not a tipple of mine!

As I write this post, the latest series of Winterwatch is on the TV (BBC2) and coincidentally, Islay is being featured this week.  If you missed it tonight and have access to catch-up or iPlayer, you might want to watch it. I know I do!

Friday, 29 December 2017

Fieldfares arrive with the snowfall

A flock of fieldfares arrived in my garden today

What a lovely surprise to see these colourful winter thrushes perched on the snow laden-branches of the sweet chestnut tree. It's been a few years since fieldfares have visited my Northumberland garden - hopefully they will find some berries to eat!

The Fieldfare
by John Rickell

Lonely on a crab tree top
speckled breast and grey-blue head,
against the melting snow.
Have you lost your way....?
You are welcome to round red fruits,
pears I threw from the bedroom window.
Where are your friends, out in the fields?
Why not tell them of your luck...
sultanas on the lawn at eight
just as the sun was rising,
yew and ivy through frosty nights,
a bath to bathe or drink.
When you return to northern lands
tell your mates and families
there's a welcome waiting here
no matter what the weather.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Photo Scavenger Hunt: November

Inspired by the many beautiful photos on Hawthorn's 'Photo Scavenger Hunt' challenge in October, I've decided to join in with the challenge.

I live, I love, I craft, I am me

A photograph inspired by a word, 
words inspired by the photograph.  
Remember to think laterally and interpret at you fancy, 
be it a current photo or one from your archives - Enjoy!

The words for November are:

Starts with a .....W
My own choice

Northumberland: I love the blue sea, the blue sky - simply beautiful


Or, perhaps for YOU as I'm allergic to chocolate! 

A magnificent display of assorted Lindt Lindor chocolates.

What a wonderful wedding cake - it was absolutely scrumptious too!

RAINBOW bums in Northumberland

You may wonder why these sheep have such colourful rear ends? Well, to assist the farmers in their planning, the tup (male) wears a harness in between his front legs with a chalk block. When it has mated, the ewe (female) is coloured on her rear. This way, they know who their 'top' tups are and also when the lambs will be due!

This photo was contributed to my blog early in 2017 by a local resident and should not be shared without permission. Thank you for respecting this.


Here we have numerous sunset coloured sandstone arches of a Romantic ruin - yes, it's quite dramatic don't you think? I took this photo of Heidelberg Castle's Powder Tower on a visit in August this year. It was blown apart by the French in 1689 and made famous by Mark Twain's description in his travel book, A Tramp Abroad:  

'A ruin must be rightly situated, to be effective. This one could not have been better placed. It stands upon a commanding elevation, it is buried in green woods, there is no level ground about it, but, on the contrary, there are wooden terraces upon terraces, and one looks down through shining leaves into profound chasms and abysses where twilight reigns and the sun cannot intrude'. 

'Final Days' by Kaws, an American artist, based in New York

This seven metre high wooden sculpture was part of the Frieze Sculpture exhibition in Regents Park, London this year. In total 25 exhibits, by leading 20th century and contemporary artists from around the world, were on display for the public to view at no charge.

'Final Days' actually references The Smurfs with one interpretation being that high quality wooden toys bring back memories, giving you a sense of satisfaction in that you want to hold, hug and touch them. With its size and the skull and crossbones, it may however convey a feeling of an evil-looking character.


Happy memories of a pleasant stroll along on the beach. With the tide coming in, we felt the water swirling around our feet!


Harvesting the sea salt into pyramid shaped piles

The photo I have chosen was taken at the salinas (saltpans) on the Ria Formosa in Portugal where salt production is achieved through traditional methods. The saltpans also provide an amazing habitat for wildlife including flamingoes.

The toes of most birds are protected by claws or flat nails. Different birds have different types of feet but perching birds, such as this stonechat, need to grip on to branches, twigs and wires. They have evolved to have three toes pointing forward and one pointing backward enabling them to clamp their toes around a branch to stop them from falling off! 

I thought you would enjoy this photo of a beautifully crafted piece of artwork on a wall I walked past. I think it was an enamelled ceramic tree but as I didn't know the owner and there wasn't a plaque, I'm just hazarding a guess.


Hope you enjoyed the photos and thanks for joining me on my hunt!

You can have a look at other contributors by clicking on this link

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Autumn arrivals

Watch out for waxwings!
Yes, it's that time of year and some waxwings have arrived - perhaps not an invasion.. but sightings of these beautiful birds that brighten up our day have been reported in Northumberland. In fact, two were seen at the local prison last Thursday. It looks as though they might not have got out as they haven't been seen since!!

With a huge population of blackbirds and woodpigeons feasting on the hawthorn and rowan berries in my garden, the waxwings will need to be quick! The photo above was taken from my living room window a few years back but somehow, I don't think I will be getting another garden shot this winter.

At this time of year, bramblings are usually found in the countryside eating beechmast but this one appeared on the feeder in my garden on November 7th. I don't normally see them until Christmas at the earliest. Perhaps it was the same bird that visited in March of this year? Well, you never know!


This bullfinch came down to the feeder last weekend and enjoyed the sunflower seeds. I often see pairs in the spring as they spend a lot of time in the cherry trees at the top of the garden but over the summer months, they haven't been around. They could however be seen in the scrub along the path by the river Coquet in Rothbury and in woodlands further up the valley. Wallington Hall, owned by the National Trust, is also a good place to find this seed and bud loving finch as the habitat there is very suitable. If you are visiting this region, Wallington is definitely worth a visit with over 13,000 acres of woodland and moorland to explore!

I hadn't realised that until quite recently, it was legal to trap and kill bullfinches as pests. Even now, it is still permitted to kill them under licence under certain circumstances. And yes, I'm not too happy about that...  

Siskins tend to breed in woodlands and forestry plantations further up the Coquetdale valley but now that there is less natural food about, they are coming to the garden feeders for tasty sunflower seeds.

Here we have a dark-billed first winter blackbird - but... is it Scandinavian or British? I took this photo last month on Holy Island which is just off the coast of Northumberland.

There is a fair bit of scepticism about being able to identify Scandinavian blackbirds with dark beaks. First year male Scandinavian birds do however acquire yellow beaks later in the year than the British birds. As they tend to start breeding later in the spring for climatic reasons, perhaps this is why their beaks remain darker for longer?  What I can confirm is that a huge influx of dark beaked blackbirds arrived on the Northumberland coast last month and they are now turning up further inland in our gardens. So, perhaps this one is a migrant after all - maybe one I saw in Alnmouth or on Holy Island where there were numerous birds that seemed to have no fear of humans, possibly due to fatigue after crossing the North Sea.

Although toads are fairly common in and around the pond in my garden, it's not often I find one amongst the herbs or on the mossy wall by my back door. Yes, we both had quite a fright!

In winter, red-necked grebes head to the UK from colder regions in northern Europe, such as Russia and can be found on the sea off the east coast of  England. The bird pictured below paid a visit to a pool in Linton, Northumberland and happily stayed for a fortnight. The last reported sighting was on 8th November so it looks as though it has moved on now.

red-necked grebe

Little grebes are a much more common sight in Northumberland and can often be spotted on the pools at Wallington and the river Coquet in Rothbury.  I have also seen many in the estuary of the Coquet at Warkworth.

little grebe at Wallington

In January this year, I spotted some Slavonian grebes on the Coquet at Warkworth in Northumberland. They can be found around the coasts of the UK between October and March however I have to admit it is not a species I come across very often. I do have a photo of a Slavonian grebe, taken at Gullane Bay on the east coast of Scotland. Hopefully, I will be able to find it and include it in this blog post!

Yes, here it is - it's not great a great shot but I think you will like the photo of Gullane Bay which I decided to include too.

From Gullane Bay you can walk to the beautiful nature reserve of Aberlady Bay. There is a circular walk that heads through the reserve, taking you across paths, dunes and sandy beaches. In fact, you can start at either point and at Gullane, there is a large car park and public conveniences which is worth knowing.

Great crested grebes are a favourite of mine. They are very graceful with their long necks and bills. In the summer, they have beautiful reddish-orange crests with black tips. Although they are resident in the north-east of England, I find it much easier to spot them on gravel pits from the carriages of the East Coast Main Line train when I am travelling to London! If you are in London, head to Hyde Park as there are several families there that have bred successfully. They hang out near the boats you can hire.

Here are two of my favourite photos of great crested grebes, taken on Lake Maggiore in Switzerland. The parents carry their babies on their backs and you can see them in the photos with their black and white stripes.

great crested grebe with young on back

Autumn arrival in Portugal: common ringed plover - ring no. 895838

Yes, she's back safe and sound!

Finally, here are some recent photos of the common ringed plover I have been tracking for a few years. Once again, I spotted it in its usual location by the octopus fish market in Santa Luzia, Portugal. If you follow my blog, you will recall that this bird was bred in Iceland and rung as a chick in Sandasandar, Iceland in May 2010. 

Santa Luzia, on the Ria Formosa, seems to be the plover's favourite wintering location and it has now been seen on the sea shore there on consecutive years since 2013.

see previous post 13/04/2017: update on common ringed plover 895838

common ringed plover - 06/10/17

Here is an update of the sightings of this common ringed plover which the University of Iceland kindly sent me. Sorry it isn't very clear. 
If you would like a pdf, just let me know and I can email it to you.

Well, that's it for today... if you've seen any waxwings or had any interesting birds in your garden, I am all ears - just drop me a note in the comments!