Known as the Queen of the Hebrides, Islay boasts a wide variety of wonderful scenery and habitats, including wild open moorland and hills, unspoilt beaches and cliffs, mixed woodland and mudflats, all of which offer amazing birding 'over 100 species being present on the island all year round. There are so many habitats here that you will never get tired of seeking out and finding birds. You can bird for five minutes or five days whatever you fancy!
Islay attracts all sorts of people who want to look at birds and it is easy for others to generiacally call us 'Twitchers', dressed in anoraks touting lists and binoculars and dashing about the countryside collecting species; those who belong to a community of people that are obsessional about birds. Sacrificing time, plenty of money, amongst other things, purely to watch birds and collect 'ticks' in their notebooks. There are some folks that do just that.
However most of us are not that stereotype. We enjoy the countryside, ride bicycles, climb, walk and canoe/kayak, stopping at hostels to catch up with fellow travellers.. Bird watching enhances our experience of nature and place. Whether it is noticing a flock of Starlings heading to roost through the city, or marvelling at a Golden Eagle off a remote crag, catching a flock of Chough or admiring a Hen Harrier, we can all recall something of that experience if we dig deep enough. Families can get just as much enjoyment too! So it is something that all of us can do.
Why bother? Well, birds are amazing creatures, many travelling vast distances 'from Africa to visit us each year. Some such as Arctic Terns go right round the world visiting Islay to breed before heading back to the Southern Ocean for the winter. Or maybe it is a Robin just fussocking about the accommodation garden.
You do not need to go bird watching 'if you are anything like me you bird watch. This is an organic process 'by which I mean it just happens, whether I am riding my bike, sea kayaking or hill walking, or even sometimes just doing the washing up.
Winter brings thousands of Migrating geese from as far afield as arctic Canada, spending their time eating the plentiful grass and roosting at Bridgend and Gruinart. It is a magnificent sight watching them arrive each evening or witnessing their departure each morning to their choose grazing spots.
Spring is the time of year when bird watching gets really exciting. It brings the migration when thousands of southern avian visitors hit these shores. (In fact Scotland has just become a member of a handful of global countries that have 500 or more species of bird visit). The geese are still here so if you are out and about from March 'till May you will be able to masses of movements of birds and the sounds will change too: The winter noises change and disappear, and the air is full of the songs of love, when all birds start to call for a mate. You cannot help but notice it everywhere; Corncrakes, Chough, Lapwing, and Larks. The birds sing because they need to attract a partner and it seems the best singers get the girls! They will continue to sing to protect their domains so the sound of spring edges to summer, and the opportunity for breeding. Skylarks up high above the fields and hill, Blackbirds in the garden, Lapwings over meadows and Song Thrushes on branches, even the Sparrows put on extra chatter. If you happen to visit the coast you maybe lucky to see seabird colonies 'like massive blocks of flat dwellers high up the cliff sides. Then the summer moves on and for the birds the migration begins.
There is, of course, if you allow your eyes to be opened, always something to see, something avian to rejoice in. There is also the darker side...the time of the kill, when a raptor (that a bird of prey to you and me) storms into a flock of wee birds, hungry for a ready meal on the wing. The excitement is terrific, and if you happen to be in a hide and the shout goes up for a raptor, then all wait in anticipation for what may happen. It may only be less than a minute's action, but what action, nature in the raw, and memories of which will last for ever. Maybe if you are really lucky, you will see a Golden Eagle floating above the rocky out crops high in the sky looking for a day's feeding but you have to be here to see for yourself!
So here on Islay, enjoy the nature, be grateful for the farmers' skills at making this work and the local people who welcome you all.
If you really love wonderful nature and raw wilderness make sure you keep to the countryside code so that others afterwards can enjoy too!
Further links of interest and relevance