Nature Blog Network

Missing those Blue Tits?

As we get to the end of what has been a very busy year it’s only natural to look back at life at the beginning of the year and compare it with how it is now. I feel very, very lucky to be able to sit here and type this and look out of the window to see Beinn Mor  in the distance with it’s head in the clouds, ducks and swans on the loch over the road, and a Raven drifting over, cronking noisily. There’s nothing i enjoy more than being able to step outside my own back door and be able to hear the sea on the shore and smell the seaweed.

December has been a month with very little ringing – the snow we had in late November eventually cleared in early December but returned with a vengance mid December and didn’t thaw again until after Christmas. The temperatures were dropping quite low, we had -7.4′C that’s very cold for here on the islands – we are usually kept wet and mild by the influence of the Gulf Stream – the warm water current in the Atlantic that passes to the west of us.

The birds were finding it very tough and we didn’t ring from the 15th until the 30th December – the poor things had enough trouble just surviving without us hassling them!

Early in the month when the weather was better we were lucky enough to catch a Water Rail in the garden. The nets were open and Ian was in the shed, as he got to the doorway the Water Rail came out from under the nearby mound of montbretia. It saw Ian and flew slowly into the net! Nice :)

Water Rail

Water Rail

Even when the snow had gone from the lowlands and coast we very often woke up to see snow on Beinn Mor.

Askernish with Beinn Mor in the background

Askernish with Beinn Mor in the background

The days were cold but sunny. The lochs were frozen and we felt sorry for the geese who would still spend the night roosting on the loch even though it was solid, by the time morning came they were covered in frost. The cattle are all out on the machair and thanks to the bumper crop in 2010 have plenty to eat. Each day the crofters go out and spread the hay around. Not only do the cattle like this but the birds too – somedays there are huge flocks of Twite, Snow Bunting, Skylark and Rock Dove feeding on the hay seed.

Cattle on the machair (and golf course!)

Cattle on the machair (and golf course!)

The estate take all the fishing boats in off the loch during the winter.

The South Uist estate fishing boats stored for the winter

The South Uist estate fishing boats stored for the winter

Mid month and the snow was back – more than ever this time! I don’t know what the temperatures went down to at the beginning of the month but from the 11th December we were able to get our own weather station installed and up and running. As well as recording data for us it is also connected to the internet, see www.southuist-weather.info

Current conditions:-

Askernish weather

Our thoughts were now turning to Christmas – oh how lovely it’s been here on the island away from the shops and seasonal turmoil. The local Co-op only started getting Christmassy things in at the beginning of December. We weren’t sure whether we would be able to get a real Christmas tree but found some really decent ones at the supermarket in Balivanich – a fab tree and way cheaper than we’d paid on the mainland last year.

Love a real tree! It smelt beautiful!

Love a real tree! It smelt beautiful!

I can’t remember seeing so much snow here and for days the road outside was white over.

Sunny days but cold

Sunny days but cold

Even the beach and dunes were white over!

Snowy beach scene

Snowy beach scene

The walking was good but you had to make sure you were wrapped up warm because the wind could be fierce – the lowest wind chill temperature we recorded was -10.4′C

Wrapped up against the elements!

Wrapped up against the elements!

I know the otters hunt in the sea but they do like fresh water to wash the salt out of their fur – i don’t know how they got on when the lochs were frozen, i imagine they had a hard time. We saw the one that made these tracks, it crossed the beach and went up the dunes leaving only footprints in the snow behind.

Otter prints on the snowy beach

Otter prints on the snowy beach

I don’t think i have ever seen the seaweed frozen on the beach before.

Frozen seaweed

Frozen seaweed

Ah well plenty of time for sitting in the warm, knitting. The thing that might someday be an Eriskay jumper is growing well – as modelled by Ian…

but Ian keeps saying "it's too tight!"

but Ian keeps saying "it's too tight!"

We thought we were having harsh, cold weather but down in Shropshire mum and dad were having VERY cold weather. According to the news there were 10 nights in December 2010 when the temperature fell below -18′C somewhere in the UK and were saying that it was the coldest December in 120 years. Luckily mum and dad have plenty of logs to go on the burner and kept nice and toasty. I heard of friends down there whose mains water into their houses had frozen solid. Dad said his water butt in the garden had been full and had frozen solid! Mum and dad sent me some lovely pictures taken in  the village where they live.

Down the lane (Shropshire)

Down the lane (Shropshire)

Looking out across the frozen fields (Shropshire)

Looking out across the frozen fields (Shropshire)

And so we came to Christmas day, our first in South Uist with snow lying on the ground outside – it was a white Christmas to us never mind what the officials say.

Ian cooked the turkey, well he told me it was a turkey, although from the photo below it looks more like the alien from the Arny film Predator…

Turkey or alien?

Turkey or alien?

And so to the ringing totals for the month of December:-

Species New Retrap
Water Rail 1
Dunnock 1 9
Robin 2 1
Blackbird 8 22
Song Thrush 1 2
Starling 19 8
House Sparrow 6 9
Greenfinch 10 18
Totals 48 69

All that remains is to wish you and yours good health, plenty of happiness, good birding and ringing for 2011 :)

Missing those bread and butter birds the Blue Tits, na!

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