Monthly Bird Information
by John Bowler RSPB
Many thanks to those of you who keep me posted with your latest observations. If anyone would like to report unusual sightings of birds or other wildlife on Tiree, please contact me on - email@example.com. All photographs in this section are by John Bowler, Tom Marshall, Graham Todd or Laurie Campbell.
began relatively mild and calm, with less rain than usual and some crisp sunny days followed by light snow and frost at the month-end. All of the rare birds from December remained as they were, including the Todd’s Canada Goose at Caoles, the Ring-billed Gull at Sandaig and the trio of Ring-necked Ducks at Loch Bhasapol. The drake Green-winged Teal reappeared at Loch a’ Phuill (2nd-17th). A lack of NW gales meant that unlike last January, there was no big influx of “white-winged” gulls from the Arctic and just 1 Glaucous Gull appeared at Loch a’ Phuill (11th). Other good birds included adult Sea Eagles at Milton (1st) and Loch a’ Phuill (17th), a Pale-bellied Brent Goose at Heylipol (15th), up to 18 Jackdaws at Heylipol/Crossapol all month and 2 lingering Scaup at Loch a’ Phuill with a high count of 8 Gadwall there (28th).
The Big Garden Birdwatch weekend on 26th-27th January found fairly high numbers of birds visiting garden feeders in the cold conditions, including good numbers of Chaffinches but Greenfinches were conspicuous by their absence and only one Dunnock was seen. The January goose count (14th-15th) found a total of 4,195 Barnacle Geese, as well as 765 Greenland White-fronts and 1,863 Greylags, plus 182 Whooper Swans on the lochs, 16 Pink-footed Geese 2,290 Golden Plover and 2,485 Lapwing. Dead Common Dolphins came ashore at Port Ban and the Green, and there was an unusual influx on the beaches of the alien-like barrel-riding parasite Phronima sedentaria.
The winter weather remained rather benign with unusually warm temperatures at the month-end. In the on-going mild conditions, the first returning migrants were early, including our earliest-ever Goldcrest at Balephuil (22nd) and a rare spring Brambling there (from 16th). There was an obvious influx of adult Black-headed Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls in the last two weeks, whilst numbers of Pied Wagtails also increased on the beaches, as the one or two wintering birds were joined by early migrants. Other signs of spring included Shelducks returning to the coasts, large numbers of Fulmars back around the cliffs, flocks of Redwings in sub-song and noisy groups of displaying Oystercatchers including colour-ringed birds that had wintered in Ireland and Wales, plus Skylark song-flights on the brighter calmer days. Big numbers of Frogs and Toads were on the move at the end of the month on damp nights as they headed towards their breeding pools, whilst early moths included two new species for the island. A hardy band of volunteers searched Tiree’s beaches on the annual “Beached Bird Survey” over the weekend of 23-24 February and found very few dead seabirds, although there were also two dead dolphins and a dead porpoise. A White Skate egg-case found at Traigh Bhagh on 17 February was the first for Tiree and was one of only a handful ever found away from Celtic Sea coasts.
More unusual birds included the long-staying Ring-billed Gull at Sandaig (to 14th), the three Ring-necked Ducks at Loch Bhasapol, wandering Sea Eagles around West Tiree (1st and 27th), the 18 Jackdaws all month at Heylipol/Crossapol and Glaucous Gulls at Balephetrish Bay (11th) and the Reef (14th). A goose count (11th-152th) found 4665 Barnacle Geese, 1992 Greylags, 867 Greenland White-fronts, 7 Pinkfeet, 123 Whooper Swans, 1910 Golden Plover and 2270 Lapwing.
April was very dry with mostly light SE winds and some warmer sunny days. The calm and relatively warm weather meant that spring came a little earlier than in 2018 for much of our wildlife. The first Corncrake returned to Sandaig (20th), four days earlier than in 2018, with at least 20 calling males reported around the island by the month-end, although grass growth in the fields was held back by the dry conditions.
The persistent SE winds allowed the Barnacle and Greenland White-fronted Geese to depart en masse for their staging grounds in Iceland very early on 6th-7th, although there were unusual influxes of Canada Geese and Pinkfeet later in the month. The favourable conditions for migration meant that many birds passed over Tiree without stopping. As a result, numbers of Black-tailed Godwits peaked at a modest 165 on 20th, whilst Golden Plover numbers peaked at just 4,350 on the Reef on 18th. However, the month was notable for rare migrants with no fewer than three new species recorded for the island. First up was a splendid Black-winged Stilt on roadside pools near Heylipol Church (16th-18th). This elegant wader is more at home on coastal lagoons around the Mediterranean, with only around a dozen previous Scottish records. This was followed by a female Mandarin Duck at Cornaigmore (20th), presumably from the small breeding population in mainland Argyll, and then a flighty Greater Yellowlegs from North America at Loch a’ Phuill (28th). Meanwhile the pair of Ring-necked Ducks remained at Loch Bhasapol all month and other unusual birds included a Great Tit at Balephuil (4th) with a Rook there (15th-16th), an Osprey at Loch a’ Phuill (19th), an adult Sea Eagle at Balevullin (5th) and an immature Sea Eagle at Hough (21st). An arrival of at least 1,000 Redwings at Balephuil (7th) included colour-ringed bird “426” from Höfn, SE Iceland. Further returning migrants included Manx Shearwater (2nd), Lesser Redpoll (3rd), Chiffchaff (4th), Blackcap, White Wagtail and Great Skua (5th), Sand Martin and Linnet (6th), Woodpigeon (8th), Whimbrel, Little Tern, Swallow, House Martin, Redstart and Willow Warbler (11th), Greenshank (13th), Whinchat, Grasshopper Warbler and Arctic Tern (20th), Common Sandpiper (21st), Sandwich Tern and Common Redpoll (22nd), Common Tern, Tree Pipit, Sedge Warbler and Whitethroat (23rd), plus lots more Wheatears and White Wagtails.
Otters were widely reported including several sightings of new cubs. Offshore, groups of Harbour Porpoises and the odd Bottle-nosed Dolphin were seen on calmer days, whilst a young Sperm Whale washed ashore at Traigh nan Gilean. The first Small Tortoiseshell butterflies emerged at the month-end, together with the first queen bumblebees.
Corncrakes returned in good numbers and were calling all around the island by the month-end. Vegetation cover for them was slow to get going in the rather cool dry conditions but improved with rains in the last week of the month. The annual night time census will be completed in June and this will reveal how numbers compare this year with the count of 322 calling males in 2018.
The breeding season was in full swing for many of our birds with many Lapwing broods seen, although Oystercatcher and Redshank broods appeared a little later than normal at the very end of the month. Garden birds also did well with many broods of Blackbird, Song Thrush, Stonechat and House Sparrow noted, whilst the mass emergence of Starling fledglings occurred on 31st, the same day as in 2018. There were also at least 7 Cuckoos on the island and possible breeding pairs of Dunnock, Whitethroat and House Martin, none of which normally breed here. Numbers of seabirds nesting at Ceann a’ Mhara were either up or stable compared to 2018 for all species, whilst the Arctic Terns also got down to egg-laying at the month-end. Should anyone out walking / running find themselves being mobbed by waders or crowds of terns and gulls, please bid a hasty retreat. The eggs and young broods are very vulnerable to attack by gulls and crows, which can sneak in while the parent birds are busy trying to drive you away. Please also watch out for young birds crossing the roads at this time.
Best birds were a Gull-billed Tern at Loch a’ Phuill (17th) and then at Loch Riaghain (20th-27th), followed by a female Red-backed Shrike at Balephuil (21st), whilst other island rarities included a wandering Little Egret (from 8th), a Wood Warbler at Balephuil (5th), a Yellow Wagtail at Loch a’ Phuill (8th-10th), a Black Redstart at Balemartine (12th), 3 Tree Sparrows at Hynish (28th) and Sea Eagles on three dates. Other spring migrants included up to 7 passage Ruff, 5 Dotterel (8th-9th), a Little Gull at Loch a’ Phuill (29th), a Curlew Sandpiper at Sorobaidh Bay (10th), 3 Whinchats, some 14 Spotted Flycatchers (from 14th) and at least 13 Woodpigeons. The last week of May saw the emergence of the first Four-spotted Chaser Dragonflies and all three of our damselfly species. Green-veined White, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell and Marsh Fritillary butterflies all flew on warmer days. Moths were slow to show in the cool conditions but included a new micro moth Glyphipteris simpliciella at Kenovay. The first Basking Sharks appeared offshore as the coastal waters slowly warmed up with some 15 noted off the south coast on 27th and there were frequent sightings of Common Dolphins, Bottle-nosed Dolphins and Minke Whales, plus Otters on the lochs.
Three night-time counts around the island revealed a preliminary total of 298 calling male Corncrakes. This figure is slightly down on the 322 birds recorded in 2018. The thriving population on Tiree represents around a third of all the Corncrakes in Britain and is a result of all the Corncrake-friendly management put in over the years by the islands’ crofters and farmers.
June was rather cool and dry, although there were some heavier showers from mid-month. Our breeding birds appeared to have mixed results in the cool dry conditions. Numbers of Lapwing and Black-headed Gull chicks in particular were well down, whilst Redshanks, Oystercatchers and Common Gulls did a little better but still had fewer chicks than in 2018. Smaller birds on the other hand, such as House Sparrow, Starling, Stonechat, Song Thrush and Blackbird, seemed to have a bumper breeding season, whilst the first broods emerged of Wren, Willow Warbler, Wheatear and Twite. Seabird breeding success looked reasonably good so far with increased numbers of breeding Kittiwakes and Fulmars, although several Arctic Tern colonies failed mid-month, whilst the first Little Terns fledged at the month-end.
Best birds were a Hobby at Milton (6th), a Turtle Dove at Heylipol (8th), 2 Little Gulls at Loch Bhasapol (4th), a Quail at Crossapol (18th) and a female Bullfinch at Scarinish (3rd), plus 4 nesting pairs of House Martin and up to 3 nesting pairs of Whitethroat. Some 6 Whooper Swans summered on the island, as did at least 2 Black-tailed Godwits and up to six Golden Plovers.
The cool breezy conditions did not favour our bumblebees, but our resident Marsh Fritillaries, Six-spot Burnet Moths, Highland Darters and Four-spotted Chaser dragonflies were all on the wing on sunny days. Migrant Painted Lady butterflies, Red Admirals and Silver Y moths all arrived in good numbers from mid-month. Tiree’s own micro-moth the Tiree Twist, found nowhere else in the UK, was relocated at its main site on 26 June 2019 in a joint search by folk from Butterfly Conservation Scotland and the Tiree Ranger Service joined by local volunteers. Basking Sharks were again scarce but there were several sightings of Bottle-nosed Dolphins, Common Dolphins and Harbour Porpoises, as well as a dead Risso’s Dolphin that came ashore at Sorobaidh Bay.