Monday, 25 March 2013

Harlequin shows well in North Uist

Since the 1st winter male Harlequin was spotted bobbing about on the sea off Balranald on 18th February, I have made regular visits in an attempt to get a decent photo. The first visit left me with a dripping wet digiscoping camera after it shot out of my pocket and straight into a rock pool, thus limiting me to my SLR and 300mm lens. Every time I turned up this cracking duck was present although the resulting distant, dark blobs in a huge seascape left quite a lot to be desired and even more to the imagination. It was always just too far off-shore for me to produced anything of any use. Then I received some superb images from a visiting birder, Josh Jones which I gratefully posted on my site ( although I have to admit with a little envy of his obviously good views.

At last today the persistence paid off and we (John Kemp and I) had mega views; initially feeding a reasonable distance away at around 150 - 200ft I was firing off rounds of shots when this happened:

I was quite low to the water as the Harlequin alighted on the sea and could not actually see the bird at all although John was happily clicking away in his more elevated position. After a tortuous wait it eventually swam out and allowed me to take some more images although unfortunately against the light. Luckily for me it then came back around the rocky promontary I was on and clambered out of the water a mere 20 - 30 ft away.

It then continued to make up for all those distant views and slightly disappointing visits by swimming back and forth in front of us for the next 20 minutes whilst it fed quite contentedly.

Happy blowing bubbles

Add to that 3 Iceland Gulls (2 x 1st winter and an adult), a 1st winter Glaucous Gull, a female Ring-necked Duck and an immature White-tailed Eagle to make a good start to the week.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Muirburn havoc in North Uist

On returning home with a car load of trees and shrubs on the afternoon 10th March I noticed the south-east slope of Ben na Coille, North Uist ablaze. The wind was a south-east to easterly, force 7, gusting to force 8. Within the hour the whole western slope of hill was on fire and smoke was drifting over Carinish. By 17:30 all 3 fire crews from the Uists were out fighting the blaze; attempting to contain the fire and stop it from reaching the main road. At 19:30 it was still possible to see flames leaping into the air around the Carinish community woodland and further afield towards Loch Euphort. Why? because someone thought it was a good day to clear the heather from the hill of Ben na Coille for his sheep to have better grazing this year.

Below are the legal requirements for a muirburn:
  • By law, burning is only allowed between: 1st October - 15th April: extendable to 30th April by permission of the landowner.
  • Notice of your intention to burn in the coming muirburn season must be given in writing to the landowner, and occupiers of land within 1 km of the intended muirburn site, at least 7 days before burning.
  • Burning must not start between sunset and sunrise.
  • Sufficient people and equipment must be available to control the fire.
  • All reasonable precautions must be taken to prevent injury or damage.
  • The smoke from the fire must not cause a nuisance.
  • If the fire will be within a Site of Special Scientific Interest or other designated site, you must check whether consent for burning is required from Scottish Natural Heritage. Do not burn without such consent.
  • An appropriate Health & Safety Risk Assessment must be carried out before burning.

Golden Eagle, Hen Harrier and Merlin did nest in the area as well as Red Grouse and Stonechat, to name but a few. Greenshank could well have nested within the now burnt area in the past but it'll be a good few years before any of these birds nest here again.
Whilst I was photographing the blaze I noticed someone walking back from Loch Carabhat and Ben na Coille. They didn't look unduly concerned but I wanted to know what they had seen and went to meet the crofter. I asked him if he'd been to the back of the hill and he said not. I mentioned the disastorous hill fire and he said that it was all leggy heather that was neither good for man nor beast. I informed the fella that Golden Eagle (could be on eggs now) and various other birds nest there but he just shrugged it off. He said it was how you managed the moorland. MANAGE! The fire was totally uncontrolled and has ripped through Carinish community woodland. It's amazing that people get away with this flagrant vandalism and disregard for people and wildlife.

Maybe it's time for some tighter controls on muirburn.