RSPB Loch Gruinart took a head count of the birds on our floods today. These are mainly the areas to the front of our hides. While it wasn't our highest count it does give you a picture of the variety of wildfowl that over winter here.
6 mute swan, 5 whooper swan , 76 greylag geese, 91 wigeon duck, 215 teal duck, 140 mallard duck, 71 pintail duck, 31 shoveler duck, 1 grey heron, 3little grebe, 120 golden plover, 479 lapwing, 4 snipe, 1 black headed gull, 36 common gull, and 5 herring gull.
(the barnacle and whitefronted geese were not counted during this survey, they need a day to themselves!)
Female Shoveler duck, (Andy Robinson)
Wigeon pair, (Andy Robinson)
The flats of RSPB Loch Gruinart has a special history going back thousands of years. Once upon a time, the flats were under sea water, and Islay as we know it didn't exist. It was actually made up of two islands gradually pushed together over time. Going forward to a few hundred years ago, the flats was a large area of salt marsh and Islay was formed. Then, in the mid-1800's the Laird of Islay invited Dutch settlers to come and reclaim the land for agriculture in order to support Islay's growing population. A sea wall and hundreds of metres of drains later, the flats were dried out and the sea kept out. In 1984 when the RSPB bought the reserve they took on the flats, restored much of the drains, added further manipulation to allow flooding in certain areas for the benefit of ducks and waders.
And so: the rain fills the foot drains; these drains flow into the ditches; the ditches flow down to sluices which, depending on the time of year, allow a certain volume of water to go on to the sea wall, where specially designed 'gates' ensure fresh water flows out while salt water stays back. And that's how it all works. Usually. Very occasionally the system is put under pressure from heavy rain and high tides, meaning the water from the drains cannot flow out the sea gates. On Thursday last week 3 inches of rain fell in just 24 hours - this is the result.
The road was closed to most vehicles for days, you can just make out our landrover making it through.
As the tide fell, volunteer Tim Claye and I walked out to see the sea gates in action;
Salt marsh on Tims left.
It took until Sunday for the road to visitor centre to re-open.
Every October, some of the newly arrived barnacle geese are captured and rung. It's a great experience to be part of, as most of our job involves caring for wildlife from a safe and at times excessive distance. But more than that the data these rings can provide us would be impossible to gain in other ways. The birds are caught using a cannon net, which is remotely triggered. If a random breeze catches the net then it may mean no geese are caught, however yesterday was a success and over 40 birds were caught and ringed.
Now to put faces to names:
On day release from the Oa, warden Mark plus Dave-off-the-tv.
Liz demonstrating how best to aim your goose. Behind her you can see the captive geese awaiting ringing.
Emily with Mandy, waiting in line. Many hands make light work, but it can also make fast work. It's important to keep the geese moving through as quick as possible to minimize their stress.
The geese are released in the same field they were caught. Most fly off to join others, but some take a more casual departure. You can see here the large white ring which will have a unique 3 letter combination that can be read from afar. It also has a yellow colour ring which relates to the year the bird was caught.