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 - firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.