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.
January brought frequent gales and spells of heavy rain, although the island escaped the ice and snow that gripped parts of the mainland, whilst occasional drier spells meant that flooding was not as prolonged as that seen in the 2011-12 winter.
With a predominance of mild southerly and westerly winds, there was no repeat of the bumper influx of white-winged gulls from the Arctic that was associated with a prolonged spell of NW gales in January 2012, and indeed there was just one record of an adult Iceland Gull passing off West Hynish (6th). More unusual by far, was an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull at The Reef and Sorobaidh Bay (8th-9th). This is a summer visitor to Tiree and mid-winter records like this are very rare here. The rarest bird of the period however, was a long-staying 1st-winter male Velvet Scoter at Balephetrish Bay (10th-30th), just the fourth record of this distinctive sea-duck for the island. Scarce winter land-birds included Pied Wagtails at Traigh Bhi (11th) and Caoles (21st), a Mealy Redpoll at Balephuil (12th), a Jackdaw at Loch a’ Phuill (13th) and up to 15 wintering Goldfinches and 25 Fieldfares, whilst scarcer waterbirds included Grey Plovers at Balephetrish Bay (24th) and Sorobaidh Bay (30th), a Knot at Balephetrish Bay (25th), odd Water Rails, a Woodcock at Carnan Mor (2nd) and just a single Black-headed Gull at Gott Bay (9th). 8 Little Auks passed west off Aird in 2 hours during westerly gales (30th-31st) with 2 more off West Hynish (30th). The Big Garden Birdwatch on the last weekend of the month highlighted the value of putting food out in the winter for birds, with high numbers of House Sparrows, Starlings, Blackbirds and Greenfinches reported, plus smaller numbers of Chaffinches, Reed Buntings and Dunnocks.
The mid-January goose count (14th-15th) found 4,453 Barnacle Geese and 684 Greenland White-fronts around the island, with Greylags numbers up on counts earlier in the winter to 2,871 birds. The count also found 3 Pink-footed Geese and 131 Whooper Swans, whilst numbers of Lapwing remained high in the mild conditions at 3,520 and Golden Plover at 3,885. Scarce waterfowl included up to 4 Common Scoters and 13 Long-tailed Ducks around the coast, a high count of 21 Shoveler on the lochs (15th), plus a Pintail and a Little Grebe at Loch Riaghain (15th) and a Pochard at Loch a’ Phuill (17th). The very first signs of spring included the first Shelduck pairs turning up on the loch shores, pairs of Ravens in their tumbling display flights around their nest-sites, large numbers of Fulmars returning to their breeding colonies on calmer days and increasing numbers of Gannets offshore.
High pressure dominated for much of the month resulting in rather still and dry conditions following on from the severe gales at the end of January. The island had a chance to dry out and there was even some grass growth on the odd warmer sunny day.
The first obvious migrants to return to the island included adult Black-headed Gulls with their full dark brown hoods and adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls later in the month, whilst there was an unprecedented influx of at least 7 Mistle Thrushes (from 11th) including a record flock of 5 at Vaul. Other signs of spring included the first pairs of Shelducks back at inland sites, increased numbers of Pied Wagtails on the beaches, Skylark song-flights on brighter days and the eerie sounds of displaying Snipe on moonlit nights, plus widespread display by pairs of Lapwing and noisy groups of Oystercatchers. Also notable at the end of the month were large numbers of frogs crossing the roads at night once more as they headed towards their breeding pools. More unusual birds included 3 Lapland Buntings at Hough Bay (3rd) with 1 there (6th), up to 2 Velvet Scoters and 7 Common Scoters all month at Balephetrish Bay, a storm-wrecked Little Auk at Cornaigbeg (15th), a juvenile Glaucous Gull at Rubha Chraiginis (3rd), a Pochard and a Coot at Loch a’ Phuill (12th), 3 Woodcock and up to 5 wintering Dunnocks. An all-island goose count (11th-12th) found a high total of 4,567 Barnacle Geese, plus 2,640 Greylags, 666 Greenland White-fronts, 106 Whooper Swans, 2,235 Lapwing and 2,780 Golden Plovers.
23rd-24th February was the weekend of the annual “Beached Bird Survey” when a hardy band of volunteers searched the beaches of Tiree for the bodies of dead or sick seabirds as part of a co-ordinated effort throughout the UK. This year, the smallest ever number of dead birds was found on the island and there was no sign of any oiling, although unusually one beach (Traigh nan Gilean) held both a dead Puffin and a dead Little Auk. Many more live birds were found over the weekend of 2nd-3rd February when a dedicated group surveyed the entire Tiree coastline for its internationally important assemblage of wintering waders. Numbers of most species appeared to be very similar to previous years and there were record coastal counts of 108 Great Northern Divers and 220 Rock Pipits.
March was unusually dry and cold, with high pressure over Scandinavian for much of the month resulting in near constant easterly or SE winds with frequent frosts at night. Migrants were slow to return to the island in the cold conditions and unlike in 2012, there were no March records of either Wheatear or Swallow. Numbers of Black-headed Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls however increased as usual throughout the month numbers and there was a steady return of Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits to the beaches and grasslands, although in lower numbers than usual. Goldcrests were also thin on the ground with the first at Balephuil (16th) followed by just 2 more there (31st). The first Manx Shearwater was in Gunna Sound (26th) but there were no Chiffchaffs, Linnets or Black-tailed Godwits by the end of the month. Skylarks singing on sunny days, Snipe drumming from the marshes and Lapwings on eggs however, proved that spring had indeed arrived.
Nationally the rarest bird of the period was a drake Green-winged Teal from North America at Loch a’ Phuill (11th-15th), although this is an increasingly regular vagrant to Tiree with some six records in the last three years alone. Far rarer for the island was a splendid male Yellowhammer that frequented a garden at Balephuil (23rd-26th). This is an increasingly scarce breeding bird in Argyll and this was the first Tiree record of the species since 1912! The two Velvet Scoters remained at Balephetrish Bay until 6th followed by a Common Scoter there (27th) plus up to 5 Long-tailed Ducks all month, whilst an adult Glaucous Gull graced Loch a’ Phuill (16th) and a first-winter Iceland Gull did the same (31st). Other scarce early spring migrants included a Short-eared Owl at Balephuil (14th), Mistle Thrushes at Carnan Mor (16th) and Gott (29th), a Woodpigeon at Balephuil (30th) and single Jack Snipe at Hynish (19th) and The Reef (27th). An all-island count (18th-19th) found 4,518 Barnacle Geese, 927 Greenland White-fronts and 2,638 Greylags plus 97 Whooper Swans, 4 Pink-footed Geese and 2,400 Golden Plovers. As always the March count of Greenland White-fronts was much higher than in the rest of the winter as a result of the wintering flock being joined by additional birds filtering up from wintering sites to the south, prior to departure in April, including a bird that had been neck-collared at Lough Swilly in County Donegal. Whooper Swans also began heading north once more with flocks noted flying north on several dates from 10th, whilst a flock of 12 Pink-footed Geese flew north over Balephuil (12th).
April continued where March left off, with cold dry easterly winds predominating, resulting in a late start to the growing season and unusually low sea temperatures around the island. The winds switched to the NW for much of the rest of the month, bringing much rain but little warmth. Many migratory birds were slower to arrive than normal and the breeding season was delayed for most species.
The most dramatic event of the month was the build up of unprecedented numbers of migratory waders in the last week as continuous strong NW winds prevented them from heading on north up to Iceland. Record totals of 11,520 Golden Plovers and 1,520 Black-tailed Godwits were recorded around West Tiree on 29th including an impressive flock of 7,200 of the former at The Reef and up to 530 of the latter in the Loch an Eilein / Heylipol area with most in stunning breeding dress (see photo). Some 28 different colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwits were identified with birds emanating from wintering sites in Portugal, France, The Netherlands and Southern England all converging on the island. Most departed on 30th although smaller numbers continued to pass through into May. The last week of the month also saw a record passage of some 990 Pale-bellied Brent Geese through the island with ringed birds identified from wintering sites in NW France, Anglesey, Eire and Northern Ireland. Most of the Barnacle Geese and Greenland White-fronts headed off early during a weather window on 7th-9th but small numbers of both were then stuck on the island for much of the month. Equally Whooper Swan passage occurred mostly in March but there were still late birds about including a group of 21 at Loch a’ Phuill (30th).
Rarities included two different drake Green-winged Teal at Loch a’ Phuill (7th-20th) and at Loch an Eilein (9th-15th), an immature White-tailed Eagle at Loch Bhasapol (1st) and Loch a’ Phuill (2nd), the two long-staying Velvet Scoters at Balephetrish Bay (to 28th), a Tree Pipit at Carnan Mor (21st) and a Blue Tit at Balephuil (6th-9th). Other good spring birds included 1st summer Little Gulls at Balephetrish Bay (27th) and Loch a’ Phuill (28th), a Knot at Loch a’ Phuill (14th), Jack Snipe at Ceann a’ Mhara (5th) and The Reef (18th), Lapland Buntings at Balevullin (3rd) and The Reef (25th), up to 8 Jackdaws around West Tiree (15th-29th), 7 Siskins at Meningie (12th) and a Lesser Redpoll at Balephuil (5th). Some 120 Redwings arrived (14th) with odd birds remaining to the month-end, but passerine migrants were generally in short supply. Returning migrants were all a little later than normal but included 48 White Wagtails (from 5th), Greenshank (7th), Sandwich Tern (7th), Swallow (12th), Blackcap (13th), Arctic Tern (14th), Willow Warbler (16th), Whimbrel (17th), Little Tern (17th), Sand Martin (19th), Common Sandpiper (19th), Arctic Skua (21st), House Martin (21st) and Sedge Warbler (30th). Corncrakes returned from 23rd with 10+ back in by the month-end. Unlike in 2012, there were no records of Basking Sharks in the chilly April seas – hopefully they will arrive in May as the temperatures eventually increase.
May continued with the theme of cold northerly winds, whilst occasional spells of heavy rain kept the grasslands wet.Many migrant birds were late arriving in the unusually cold conditions and the breeding season was extensively delayed for many species.
After the first arrivals towards the end of April, the Corncrakes were slow to arrive with concentrations of calling birds in the few areas of taller cover. They did not return in any numbers until the third week of the month, when birds were reported more widely around the island. The annual night-time census will be completed in June and these will reveal how numbers compare this year with the count of 371 calling males in 2012.
The first small Lapwing chicks were noted on 17th, a full 6 weeks later than last year, although there seemed to be good numbers of broods around the island at the end of the month. The first Redshank and Ringed Plover broods were also noted later than normal towards the end of the month, whilst Oystercatcher broods had appeared by the month-end. The first Greylag broods appeared from 8th, but numbers and brood size appear low so far. Just one brood of Stonechats was noted from 3 pairs around the island – a poor showing compared to last year, whilst the synchronised mass fledging of young Starlings which normally occurs in the last week of May, is still awaited in June. Seabirds were also slow to get down to nesting with the cool seas presumably hampering foraging. Numbers of auks, Fulmars and Kittiwakes were all well down at Ceann a’ Mhara and many birds had still not laid eggs by the month-end. Similarly, the Arctic Terns had not yet got down to laying eggs in their scattered colonies around the island.
Should anyone out walking 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.
Unlike in May 2012, a lack of warm SE winds meant that scarcer migrants from the continent were at a premium. Bird of the month was a splendid Woodchat Shrike which appeared at Carnan Mor (19th) in a small fall of migrants there that also included a Wood Warbler and a Garden Warbler. From further north a Northern-race Eider was noted at Hough Bay (7th) and then at West Hynish (14th), whilst a late Iceland Gull at Balephuil (16th) and a Snow Bunting at Hough Bay (8th) both added to the wintry feel. A few southerly migrants did make it through from the mainland whenever the northerly winds eased off, including a drake Garganey at Ruaig (13th), 2 Golden Eagles briefly at Ben Hynish (3rd), a female Marsh Harrier at Loch Bhasapol (9th), a Little Gull at various sites (1st-9th), a Turtle Dove at Balemartine (13th), up to 4 Cuckoos calling around the island and male Pied Flycatchers at Balephuil (8th and 20th). Tiree also shared in a record-breaking passage of Long-tailed Skuas up the west coast of Scotland with 9 birds recorded heading north off West Hynish (23rd), whilst there were 2 Pomarine Skuas in Gunna Sound (24th).
Passage of migrant waders on their way north to their Arctic breeding grounds, was intermittent in the unusual conditions, but included some 230 Whimbrel through, peaks of 1,400 Sanderling (29th), 610 Dunlin (7th), 180 Ringed Plover at Hough machair (11th), 213 Black-tailed Godwits (3rd), 3 Knot, 2 Grey Plovers at Baugh (7th), a Ruff at Loch a’ Phuill (10th) and 1800 Golden Plover at the Reef (1st), whilst a nice aggregation of waders at Loch a’ Phuill (30th) included 4 adult Little Stints, 1 Curlew Sandpiper and 1 Wood Sandpiper. A high total of some 500 Pale-bellied Brent passed through (to 20th) and 76 late Barnacle Goose remained at Cornaigmore (6th), whilst up to 24 Whooper Swans lingered through the month. Basking Sharks were very late returning in the cold conditions, with the first noted off Hynish (28th), six weeks later than in 2012.
Three complete night-time counts around the island revealed a preliminary total of 350 calling male Corncrakes, with birds calling in good numbers from all the usual places. This figure is slightly down on the total of 371 birds in 2012 but remains high in the light of decreased figures this year from other Hebridean islands including Coll. The thriving population on Tiree represents around a third of all the Corncrakes in Britain, making it increasingly important. Once again, this success is down to all the hard work put in over the years by the crofters and farmers of the island, who manage their land in a Corncrake-friendly way.
June was largely dry and settled with some warmer days at last and some drizzly misty days towards the month-end. Despite the late start, the breeding waders appeared to do well with good numbers of young Lapwing and Oystercatchers produced in particular, with Redshank, Dunlin and Snipe in the wetlands. Ducks also seemed to fare well, with odd broods of Shoveler, Gadwall and Tufted Duck noted in amongst the more frequent broods of Mute Swan, Mallard, Shelduck and Eider.
The unusually cold sea temperatures persisted, which delayed breeding by most of the seabirds. Little Terns and Shags were fledging chicks by the end of the month, but many Arctic Terns had only just got down to nesting, whilst up on the cliffs, Guillemots, Razorbills and Fulmars were still mostly on eggs and many Kittiwakes failed to even complete their nests. This last species has declined by 90% here since 1999 in common with most other Scottish sites as a result of changing sea temperatures. A group of 470 loafing Arctic Terns at Loch a’ Phuill (30th) included an unprecedented count of at least 350 1st-summer birds - an indication of the bumper breeding season this species had in 2012 and of the poor season they are having this year. Gulls on the other hand fared well, with lots of fledged Black-headed and Common Gulls around the island and smaller numbers of fledged Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Garden birds also did well in the settled conditions, with many broods seen of most species, including very large numbers of young House Sparrows. Greenfinch broods were noted at Moss, Barrapol and Vaul, whilst a pair of Goldfinches nested at Balephuil for the second year running. Other interesting breeders included at least one pair of Common Redpolls, several calling Cuckoos, at least 4 reeling Grasshopper Warblers and a lone singing Spotted Crake. There were late singing Blackcaps (to 17th), a Robin (5th), a Redwing (6th), a Whinchat (6th) and Spotted Flycatchers (to 17th) but none of these birds appeared to stay on the island to nest.
Rarity of the month was a 1st summer Bonaparte’s Gull at Traigh nan Gilean (18th) just the second record of this vagrant North American gull for Tiree, whilst other rare gulls included a 2nd-summer Ring-billed Gull at Balephetrish Bay (5th-8th) and a long-staying 1st-summer Little Gull. Other good spring birds included a pair of Garganey at Loch a’ Phuill (4th), a Common Scoter at West Hynish (5th), a Short-eared Owl at Mannal/Hynish (5th-9th), 2 Turtle Doves at Crossapol (12th) with one at Mannal (19th), 6 Swifts (7th-12th), a Garden Warbler at Hough (9th) and a Crossbill at Carnan Mor (12th). It was hard to know where spring migration stopped and return migration started for some of the Arctic-nesting waders. These included a Buff-breasted Sandpiper (3rd), 2 Little Stints at Loch a’ Phuill (2nd) with 1 there (28th), a Ruff (4th-6th), 3 Black-tailed Godwits (10th), 6 Knot (10th), a Greenshank (20th), a Whimbrel (26th), a migrant male Red-necked Phalarope (28th) and a Green Sandpiper (30th).
The month saw several invertebrate experts visit the island. Helen Dickinson from RSPB Scotland spent 4 days searching for queen Great Yellow Bumblebees mid month. This rare bumblebee appears to have undergone a significant decline on Tiree in the last 10 years for unknown reasons. It was therefore pleasing that Helen found queens at three sites around West Tiree, whilst Bill Welstead has recorded them at two more. Helen also mapped suitable forage habitat in an attempt to find out why some areas are being used by the bees and others are not. Later in the month, David Bryant set about moth-trapping on the island as Tiree’s moth fauna remains poorly known. David recorded some 360 moths of 31 species including two that had not previously been recorded on the island, namely the Knot Grass and Common Pug.
July was often very warm and largely dry, although there were cooler misty periods early on and some heavy rain at the month end. Most of our birds seem to have had a good breeding season in the largely settled conditions. Mute Swans reared five broods totalling 13 young from at least 10 nesting pairs in April. Other wildfowl also did well with many broods of Shelduck, Mallard, Pintail, Gadwall Teal, Shoveler and Tufted Duck noted on the island’s wetlands. The number of Greylag broods was a little down on previous years, presumably as a result of on-going goose management, and average brood size was also smaller than normal. The seabirds nested late in the cool conditions but breeding success was reasonably good. Some 36 Little Terns and 100 Arctic Terns fledged from colonies around the island. The cliff-nesting seabirds at Ceann a’ Mhara also generally fared quite well: Shags produced some 170 fledged young, whilst Guillemots fledged some 445 young, Kittiwakes fledged 80 young from just 160 pairs and a pair of Puffins nested for the second time. Numbers of nesting Fulmars in the study area were down by 100 on 2012 levels at 754 pairs and numbers of downy young remaining in their nests dropped steadily through the month. The waders, gulls and starlings also produced plenty of young, with large mixed flocks building up once more on the first cut silage fields. Smaller birds also appeared to breed well, with many scattered families seen around the island of Swallow, Linnet, Twite, Sedge Warbler and Wheatear, with smaller numbers of Willow Warblers and Stonechats. A pair of Common Redpolls fledged 3 young and at least 1 pair of Common Sandpipers bred, although the island’s second ever Goldfinch nest failed.
Rarest bird of the month was an adult Honey Buzzard at Balephuil (28th), just the second ever record for the island, whilst other good July birds included 2 Velvet Scoters off West Hynish (5th) and a Green Sandpiper at Loch a’ Phuill (13th). There were small influxes of at least 5 Crossbills including a long-staying juvenile at Balephuil (1st-13th) and at least 15 Swifts including a group of 8 at Balephuil (8th). Island scarcities included a male Lesser Redpoll at Balephuil (14th), a singing Whitethroat and 2 House Martins there (8th), a very early Robin (27th), 2 Common Terns at Gott Bay (8th), a Sandwich Tern at Loch a’ Phuill (15th) and an unseasonal female Scaup there (30th-31st).
Return wader passage was intermittent but included 5 Whimbrel (from 1st), 15 Black-tailed Godwits (from 13th), 400 Golden Plover (30th), 326 Sanderling (31st), 655 Dunlin (31st), 105 Ringed Plover at Loch a’ Phuill (30th) and a peak of 12 Greenshanks (31st). At least 7 Whooper Swans and 2 Great Northern Divers summered, whilst 3 Hen Harriers, including a fine male, returned (from 13th). Offshore, Basking Sharks were in very short supply compared to the bumper numbers in 2012, although there were plenty of Harbour Porpoises and regular sightings of Minke Whales, often with up to 1900 Manx Shearwaters and the odd Storm Petrel in attendance. Moth trapping produced some large catches in the still conditions and included 8 new species for the island including one, the Double Lobed, which was new for the Vice County list.
A handful of Corncrakes were still calling around the island in the first week of the month before going quiet during their moulting period. There were several reports of adult birds with late broods and here’s hoping they had another successful breeding season and that we will see and hear good numbers returning in 2014.
August remained relatively dry and calm, although there was more wind and rain at the month-end. The freshly cut silage fields provided rich foraging around the island for large flocks of Common Gulls, Lapwings, Rock Doves and Starlings. These in turn were joined by groups of Golden Plover, Curlew, Whimbrel and Black-tailed Godwit staging on Tiree from their breeding sites further north. Likewise, the island’s beaches attracted large mixed flocks of hundreds of Sanderling, Ringed Plover and Dunlin. In amongst all these flocks were a few scarcer waders including a Wood Sandpiper at Loch a’ Phuill (15th), an adult Little Stint at Gott Bay (10th-22nd), up to 9 Greenshanks, 4 Ruff, 5 Knot, 13 Whimbrel, 89 Black-tailed Godwits (21st) and 75 Snipe (30th). Rarest bird of the month was a Ring-billed Gull at Traigh Ghrianal (27th) and Loch a’ Phuill (30th). This North American gull seems to be appearing more regularly on Tiree and was possibly the same bird that was seen at Balephetrish Bay in June. Other scarcities included an immature Sea Eagle at Miodar (1st), a Balearic Shearwater off Hynish (2nd), a Swift at Barrapol (2nd), a Scaup at Loch a’ Phuill (4th) and a Little Gull in the Loch a’ Phuill area all month.
Most of the island’s breeding Wheatears departed during the month and were replaced by influxes of larger brighter birds from Iceland and Greenland. At least 5 Robins had returned by the month-end and there was a marked arrival of juvenile Willow warblers in the last week, following a spell of easterly winds across the North Sea, together with a Lesser Redpoll at Balephuil (25th) and 2 Pied Flycatchers at Carnan Mor (28th-29th). There was also the usual early autumn return of Merlins, Sparrowhawks and Hen Harriers, none of which breed on the island. The post-breeding goose count (26th-27th) found a relatively low total of 1,690 Greylags, possibly as a result of the goose management scheme causing more birds to lie up in remote areas of long grass during the day, and further counts this winter are required to verify the island total. The proportion of young remained high at 35%. The count also found high totals of 3,020 Lapwing and 1,135 Golden Plover.
There were increasingly regular sightings of Basking Sharks from all around the coast, with the larger shoals favouring the Skerryvore banks. A further 27 sharks were satellite-tagged by SNH in Scottish Waters and these appeared to spend most of the month in the waters around Tiree and Coll. A Sunfish washed ashore at Balephetrish Bay (7th) was a rare sight for the island, whilst a feeding group of 40 Common Dolphins showed nicely off Scarinish Pier (20th). Great Yellow Bumblebees seem to be having a very good year for once with good numbers of workers noted at several sites around the island, whilst moth-trapping on calmer nights at Balephuil produced over 50 species of moth, including two more new species for the island, namely the Snout and the Dark Marbled Carpet.
Once again September proved to be an exciting month on Tiree as visiting birdwatchers gathered on the island to watch migration at its peak. Westerly winds dominated the first half of the month and these brought a good selection of American waders to the islands, which had been blown across the Atlantic. These included a juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper at Gott Bay and Clachan (6th-12th), the fourth record of this rare bird for Tiree, as well as a juvenile Baird’s Sandpiper at Loch a’ Phuill (5th), a juvenile Buff-breasted Sandpiper at Loch a’ Phuill (17th), up to three different juvenile Pectoral Sandpipers around West Tiree (5th-25th) and no less than four different American Golden Plovers in amongst the flocks of up to 3,500 European Golden Plovers, including adults at Sandaig/Middleton/ Greenhill (5th-10th) and Ruaig/Vaul/Sandaig (12th-23rd), plus juveniles at Greenill/Loch a’ Phuill (9th-11th) and at Ruaig (9th-11th). Rarest bird however by far from points west, was a lone first-winter Cedar Waxwing (see photo), which somehow battled across the Atlantic from its North American birthplace to end up feasting on Cotoneaster berries in gardens at Vaul (21st-29th). If accepted this will be just the third British record of this American counterpart of the Bohemian Waxwing. Such an exotically rare bird would have attracted a large crowd of admiring birders to the island but owing to the sensitive and private nature of the garden it spent almost all of its time in, news of its presence could not be released until after it had moved on.
Easterly winds dominated the second half of the month and these brought a good selection of small migrant songbirds from the Continent including a Redstart at Balephuil (25th-29th), 3 Spotted Flycatchers (20th-30th), Barred Warblers at Vaul (6th) and Balephuil (26th), at least 5 different Yellow-browed Warblers (25th-30th), a Reed Warbler at Balephuil (24th-25th) and Garden Warblers at Balephuil (8th and 26th) in amongst good early totals of 10 Blackcaps (from 7th), 5 Chiffchaffs (from 28th), 11 Willow Warblers, 15 Sedge Warblers (to 28th), 170+ Wheatears and 25+ White Wagtails. Migrants from the north included up to 14 NW Redpolls, a Snow Bunting at Traigh Bhi (22nd) and 4 Lapland Buntings (from 7th), whilst there were late Sand Martins (11th) and Corncrakes (to 29th), although strong SE winds prevented the first Redwings and Fieldfares from arriving and the last Swallows from departing. Sea-watching off the north coast in the strong west winds produced a Common Scoter, 57 Sooty Shearwaters, 17 Leach’s Petrels, 1 Sabine’s Gull (21st), 8 Arctic Skuas, 135 Bonxies and 83 Arctic Terns, whilst wildfowl passage included 3 Pale-bellied Brent (from 1st), 120 Pinkfeet overhead (6th and 26th) and 14 Whooper Swans (from 18th). Wader passage saw large numbers of birds returning to the shores and wet grasslands and scarcer fare in amongst them included 5 Little Stints (8th-16th), 4 Curlew Sandpipers (6th-26th), up to 15 Ruff, 7 Whimbrel (to 15th),5 Greenshank, 6 Grey Plovers, 35 Knot, a Jack Snipe at Ceann a’ Mhara (27th), a Woodcock at Heylipol (26th) and a peak of 53 Black-tailed Godwits (5th).
The last Basking Sharks of the season were seen offshore before the seas roughed up, whilst a freshly dead female Striped Dolphin was washed ashore at Brock (3rd). Moth-trapping at Balephuil on calmer nights brought in good numbers of autumn-flying moths of which four were new species for the island. These included the bizarre Red Sword-grass moth, which mimics a dead twig at rest (see photo) and was very nearly missed!
October brought a mixed bag of weather to the island with frequent spells of easterly winds interspersed with strong westerlies. It remained relatively dry and warm until the last week of the month, when Atlantic systems began to dominate once more.
Easterly winds brought further small migrants from the Continent including at least seven more Yellow-browed Warblers, bringing the autumn’s tally of this formerly rare visitor from Siberia to a record 11 birds. This tiny bright-coloured warbler normally winters in the forests of SE Asia but in recent years, increasing numbers appear to be migrating in exactly the opposite direction and passing through western Europe instead. Rarer still however was a Treecreeper, just the third ever record for Tiree, which graced the bank manager’s garden at Scarinish (3rd,), although it found the walls there preferable to creep upon than the Olearia trees! Other unusual autumn birds included a Mediterranean Gull at Ruaig (1st), up to 3 different Turtle Doves (3rd-8th), a Greenland Redpoll at West Hynish (12th), 2 Lesser Whitethroats (19th and 22nd), 4 Mealy Redpolls (24th), a flock of 11 Long-tailed Tits at Baugh (30th) and a long-staying Siberian Chiffchaff at Balephuil (from 17th).
There was a massive influx of thrushes through West Tiree in the third week of the month peaking at 1900 Fieldfares and 800 Redwings on 22nd. In amongst these flocks were smaller numbers of continental Blackbirds and Song thrushes, as well as 3 Ring Ouzels (13th) and a lone Waxwing (26th). Other winter birds included some 50 Snow Buntings (from 14th) including a flock of 22 at Gott Bay, a Slavonian Grebe at Loch a’ Phuill (10th) and a confiding Jack Snipe in the middle of the road at Balephuil (30th). A few summer birds remained late in the mild conditions including a Swallow at Crossapol (28th), a Wheatear at Loch an Eilein (24th) and a handful of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs to the month end. Odd late Corncrakes were noted until at least 23rd, whilst Derek Wolstencroft, formerly of Milton, noted a male bird calling from meadows on the Rio Guadiana in Southern Portugal (3rd) - hopefully a Tiree bird on it way south!
The first Barnacle Geese were noted at Balephetrish on 8th with further heavy passage on the following days, which also included Whooper Swans and Greenland White-fronts. An all-island count (14th-15th) found 1,525 Barnacle Geese, 254 Greenland White-fronts, 2,353 Greylags, 3,810 Golden Plovers and 2,430 Lapwing. Other wildlife included further sightings of feeding pods of Common Dolphins including 30 off Gunna Sound (12th), Small Tortoiseshell and Red Admiral butterflies flying on sunny calmer days and most unexpected of all, a recently deceased Red Deer hind washed ashore at Crossapol (17th), which had presumably come from Mull and was the first Tiree record for a long time indeed!