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.
January continued where December left off with frequent gales and spells of heavy rain, resulting in prolonged flooding around much of the island and heavy erosion of some of the dune-fronts. Southerly and westerly winds off the Atlantic predominated which kept temperatures relatively mild and there was no frost.
Rarest bird by far was the immature Glossy Ibis at Kirkapol (13th – see photo). This was just the third Tiree record of this long-billed waterbird from southern Europe and the first since 1958. Numbers of Glossy Ibises have increased recently at colonies in southern Spain and the Tiree bird was part of a wider influx that saw groups of ibises turning up all around the extremities of Briain and Ireland with some birds even making it as far north as the Faeroes. Unfortunately, the bird did not hang around and was present for just three hours before moving on. A drake Green-winged Teal from North America at Loch a’ Phuill on 14th and 20th was more predictable and may have been a returning bird from the previous winter, whilst 4 Velvet Scoters off Milton (1st) could have included the two birds that spent much of 2013 around the island. The westerly winds brought a fair influx of Glaucous Gulls to the island with at least four different juvenile birds and two different adults noted at various locations. A Ruff at Loch a’ Phuill (10th) and 2 Linnets at Balemartine (14th) were the first ever mid-winter records of either species for the island and highlighted the mildness of the month. Other scarcities included a Pied Wagtail at Balephetrish Bay (17th), at least 10 wintering Goldfinches, 2 Snow Buntings at Sandaig (4th), a Lapland Bunting at The Reef (20th), 2 Mistle Thrushes at Scarinish (27th), odd Water Rails, a Woodcock at Carnan Mor (4th) and up to 10 scattered Black-headed Gulls. The Big Garden Birdwatch on the last weekend of the month highlighted the value of putting food out for birds even during a mild winter, with high numbers of House Sparrows, Starlings, Blackbirds and Greenfinches reported, plus smaller numbers of Song Thrushes, Chaffinches, Reed Buntings, Robins, Dunnocks, Pheasants and Rock Doves.
The mid-January goose count (13th-14th) found 4,581 Barnacle Geese, 721 Greenland White-fronts and 2,380 Greylags plus 75 Whooper Swans and a lone Pink-footed Goose, whilst numbers of Lapwing remained high in the mild conditions at 3,490 and Golden Plover at 3,010. Scarce waterbirds included up to 20 Long-tailed Ducks and 3 Common Scoter around the coast, a high count of 24 Shoveler (20th), plus a drake Scaup at Loch a’ Phuill (8th), 2 Pintail at The Reef (10th), a Coot at Loch Bhasapol (20th) and a Little Grebe at Loch Riaghain (20th), whilst a Great Northern Diver inland at Loch Bhasapol (20th) was unusual.
It remained rather mild however and the first returning migrants appeared on cue during the month including an obvious influx of adult Black-headed Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls in the last two weeks and the very first Goldcrests at the end of the period. Numbers of Pied Wagtails also began to rise on the beaches as the one or two wintering birds were joined by early migrants. Other signs of spring included Shelducks returning to the lochs, large numbers of Fulmars back around the coast, widespread display by pairs of Lapwing and noisy groups of Oystercatchers, plus occasional Skylark song-flights on the rare brighter days. Big numbers of Frogs were on the move at the end of the month on damp nights as they headed towards their breeding pools. Spells of NW winds brought a further influx of at least 11 Glaucous Gulls (5 adults and 6 juveniles) between Sandaig and Hough Bay (21st), although one of these was latter found dead. The stormy conditions resulted in a major wreck of seabirds further south in the UK, particularly of auks, and this was reflected in the results of the annual “Beached Bird Survey” over the weekend of 22nd-23rd February. A hardy band of volunteers searched Tiree’ beaches and found higher than average numbers of dead seabirds including 4 Puffins and 20 larger auks, plus 2 Great Northern Divers.
More unusual birds included a juvenile Iceland Gull at Loch a’ Phuill (19th), Woodcocks at Balephuil (16th) and Cornaigbeg (18th), a Little Grebe at Loch Riaghain (18th), a pair of Gadwall at Loch Bhasapol (19th), at least 3 wintering Dunnocks and 4+ Water Rails, including 2 found dead on the roads. Wintering finches included at least 2 Goldfinches, 4 Greenfinches and up to 5 Chaffinches at Balephuil. A goose count (18th-19th) found 4410 Barnacle Geese, 2297 Greylags, 772 Greenland White-fronts, 2 Pinkfeet, 75 Whooper Swans, 1450 Golden Plover and 2220 Lapwing.
The winter’s stormy weather finally eased off in March with lighter winds and drier conditions predominating plus a hint of warmth on sunny days. As a result, migrants were quicker to return to the island than last year and there were early records of several species. The first Wheatear was at West Hynish (15th) with another at Crossapol (26th), followed by a Chiffchaff at Balephuil (24th) and three more by the end of the month. A Willow Warbler at Balephuil (31st) was the earliest yet recorded on the island. There was a good showing of at least 18 Goldcrests (from 1st), whilst other returning migrants included 2 Bonxies in Gunna Sound (22nd), a Manx Shearwater off Hynish (24th), the first 3 Linnets at Balephuil (27th) and a Black-tailed Godwit at Loch a’ Phuill (28th). Numbers of Black-headed Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls increased steadily throughout the month and there was a big return of Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits to the beaches and grasslands. Many of our resident birds such as Lapwing, Snipe, Mallard and Skylark were already getting down to nesting during the month.
Nationally the rarest bird of the period was a Kumlien’s Gull at Traigh nan Gilean (5th), just the third Tiree record of this Nearctic cousin of the Iceland Gull. Much more exciting in many ways, however, was a Chough, which circled over Balephuil calling loudly (30th) and slowly drifted off towards Sandaig. This was the first record of this rare Scottish breeding bird on Tiree since 1987 and followed records of a lone bird at Totronald, Coll in the preceding week. Numbers of Chough remain rather low on Islay and Colonsay, their only Scottish breeding haunts, so it may be another long wait before the next one appears here. Winter gulls included a juvenile Iceland Gull at Loch an Eilein (26th) plus a scattering of up to 2 adult and 6 juvenile Glaucous Gulls around the island all month. Spring scarcities included a Coot and a Pochard at Loch a’ Phuill (1st), 2 Scaup in Gunna Sound (22nd), single Jackdaws at Balemartine (7th) and Balephuil (31st), a Woodpigeon at Balephuil (12th) and Jack Snipe at Balephuil (4th) and Traigh nan Gilean (10th). Up to 16 Long-tailed Ducks remained at Hough Bay (25th), whilst there were 2 Common Scoters at Balephetrish Bay (4th) and a Black-throated Diver at West Hynish (15th).
An all-island count (17th-18th) found 4,369 Barnacle Geese, 739 Greenland White-fronts and 1,952 Greylags plus 89 Whooper Swans, 1 Pink-footed Goose and 3,150 Golden Plovers. Whooper Swans also began heading north once more with flocks noted flying north on several dates from 7th, including groups of 40 (9th) and 50 (30th) that stopped off to bathe in Balephetrish Bay before moving on again.
April was mostly rather settled and dry. Conditions were also generally warmer than in the late spring of 2013 and as a result migratory birds returned more quickly than normal with both Redstart and Whitethroat recorded on the earliest ever arrival dates for the island.
The first calling Corncrake was heard at Crossapol (18th), followed by scattered birds in West Tiree (19th-21st) and at Gott (24th), with some 50 calling males back by the month-end. There was plenty of well-developed early vegetation cover, so they are hopefully in for a better year than in 2013 – we shall see. The Greenland White-fronts and Barnacle Geese departed en masse on 15th, although a few small groups of Barnacle Geese continued to pass through all month. Goose passage brought an influx of 4 Canada Geese (3rd-25th), a Pink-footed Goose at Loch an Eilein (26th-27th) and a mobile Snow Goose around West Tiree (22nd-28th). The predominant SE winds allowed passage birds to pass through quickly, so numbers did not build up as high as they did in 2013. Black-tailed Godwits peaked at 117 (8th), Pale-bellied Brent Geese at 245 (17th) and Golden Plovers at 3,700 on The Reef (1st).
Rarities from North America included a fine drake American Wigeon at Loch an Eilein (21st) and a Ring-billed Gull at Loch a’ Phuill (16th), although the Chough from March was sadly found dead at The Green (15th) and had been ringed on Islay in summer 2012. Other scarce spring birds included a male Ring Ouzel at Carnan Mor (1st), a female Black Redstart at Balinoe (29th), male Redstarts at Balephuil (15th) and Scarinish (23rd), 3 Siskins at Balephuil (28th), a female Marsh Harrier at Hough (25th) and up to 2 wandering immature White-tailed Eagles (15th-18th). Many of the returning migrants were earlier than normal and included at least 120 White Wagtails (from 2nd), Blackcap (2nd), Swallow (8th), Sand Martin (16th), Sandwich Tern (16th), Arctic Tern (17th), Little Tern (17th), Whitethroat (18th), Whimbrel (19th), Greenshank (20th), Cuckoo (21st), Grasshopper Warbler (24th), Sedge Warbler (28th) and Common Sandpiper (29th).
Large numbers of seabirds returned offshore as the seas warmed up with up to 6,000 Manx Shearwaters feeding between Tiree and Coll on the evening of 10th.There were no records of Basking Sharks by the month-end but there were several sightings of Common Dolphins and Harbour Porpoises in the calm seas and an early Minke Whale off Baugh (29th). Moths were much in evidence on warmer nights with Emperors recorded at Hough and Belted Beauties at Crossapol. Light-trapping at Balephuil produced five new moth species for the island including the first records of Chestnut and Brindled Pug for Tiree and Coll.
After the first arrivals in April, many more Corncrakes arrived in May, with good numbers back and calling all around the island by the month-end. Vegetation cover was in greater supply that in the late spring of 2013, so hopefully they will have an even better breeding year. The annual night-time census will be completed in June and this will reveal how numbers compare this year with the count of 348 calling males in 2013.
Most birds enjoyed a good breeding season in the settled conditions with large numbers of Lapwing and Oystercatcher chicks noted around the island, together with the first Redshank and Ringed Plover broods. The first Greylag broods appeared from 8th with many large broods noted thereafter. Small birds also did well with many broods of Blackbirds and Song Thrushes noted, together with the first brood of Stonechats (26th). Unfortunately, the Guillemots at Ceann a’ Mhara lost almost all of their eggs to heavy rain on 17th-18th, whilst most Little Tern nests at one site were flooded by high tides at the end of the month, although hopefully there is still time for both species to relay eggs. 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. On a different note, chicks in one Raven nest were found to have been deliberately killed with stones, the same nest that has been attacked in previous years. Please note it is an illegal act to target eggs and young in this way, whereas adult Ravens causing problems, for example at lambing, can be dealt with legally under licence.
Light easterly winds combined with bands of misty rain provided perfect conditions for continental migrants to drift west across the North Sea to Scotland this month as they attempted to migrate to Scandinavia and Tiree saw its best ever spring for such “drift” migrants. Most exciting was a splendid male Collared Flycatcher at Carnan Mor (27th) the first record of this rare bird for Argyll. Other scarcities included a Red-rumped Swallow at Ceann a’ Mhara (20th) – the first for Tiree and just the second for Argyll, a Rustic Bunting at Balephuil (21st), a male Red-backed Shrike at Carnan Mor (26th), a Marsh Warbler at Mannal (28th) and a Common Rosefinch at Balephuil (28th). Other good spring birds included a Sooty Shearwater off Hynish (6th), a mobile Little Egret around West Tiree (19th), the drake American Wigeon again in West Tiree (8th-19th), a drake Garganey at Loch a’ Phuill (18th), a Quail at Salum (27th), Turtle Doves at Kenovay (17th) and Balinoe (30th), 2 Lesser Whitethroats at Carnan Mor (11th and 27th), a Wood Warbler at Carnan Mor (18th) and up to 8 Common Redpolls (from 3rd), whilst a very late Redwing was in full song at Balephuil (28th). Basking Sharks were conspicuous by their near-absence with a peak of just four in Gunna Sound (31st), although there was a high count of four Minke Whales from the ferry between Tiree and Coll (26th).
Three complete night-time counts around the island revealed a preliminary total of 391 calling male Corncrakes. This figure is nicely up on the total of 348 birds in 2013 and is only just below the record count of 408 birds in 2008. The thriving population on Tiree represents around a third of all the Corncrakes in Britain, making it increasingly important and is a vindication of all the Corncrake-friendly management put in over the years by the crofters and farmers of the island.
June was mostly settled and warm with odd spells of rain and several drizzly misty days. These conditions appeared to suit the breeding birds on the island with large numbers of young Lapwing and Oystercatchers produced, plus big broods of Starlings, House Sparrows and Blackbirds. Ducks also fare well, with odd broods of Shoveler, Gadwall, Pintail and Tufted Duck seen in amongst the more frequent broods of Mute Swan, Mallard, Shelduck and Eider. Seabird breeding success was more mixed with a modest increase in numbers of breeding Arctic Terns and Kittiwakes but a delayed start to nesting for most species with many still on eggs at the month-end.
The bumper run of spring rarities continued from May with highlights being a singing male Rustic Bunting at Balephuil (2nd-3rd) – the second of the spring and just the fourth for Argyll, followed by a female Red-breasted Flycatcher at Carnan Mor (6th) and a splendid male Red-breasted Flycatcher at Balephuil (19th) – the first spring records of this continental species for Argyll. The drake American Wigeon re-appeared at Loch a’ Phuill (8th-10th) and other scarcities included 2 adult Curlew Sandpipers on a pool near Heylipol Chruch (9th-12th), a Little Gull at Loch a’ Phuill (7th), a Pied Flycatcher at Carnan Mor (6th) and up to 4 Common Redpolls in the west of the island.
The month saw several wildlife experts visit the island. A team of botanist recorded plants in tetrads across the island, an entomologist logged spiders and insects including Great Yellow Bumblebees on The Reef, whilst a moth expert came out once more to assist with the recording of more difficult species on the island. A further 13 species of moth were added to the Tiree list during the month including the Beautiful China-mark, although even more dramatic was the rediscovery of the Marsh Fritillary Butterfly on Tiree after a gap of over 60 years! The first Marsh Fritillary was found during a wildlife field-trip to the sliabh by the P1-3 classes from the Tiree School and over 70 were found on subsequent searches. Basking Sharks remained oddly scarce offshore and were outnumbered by Minke Whales, Common Dolphins and Harbour Porpoises including a very confiding juvenile Porpoise at Hynish.
July was often very warm, although there were some cooler misty periods early on and some heavy rain from time to time. Most birds had a good breeding season in the settled conditions. Wildfowl did well with many broods of Mute Swan, Shelduck, Mallard, Pintail, Gadwall, Teal, Shoveler and Tufted Duck noted on the island’s wetlands. The number of Greylag broods was also up in the absence of egg-gelling this year and 115 geese were newly ringed at Loch an Eilein to find out more on these birds.
The seabirds also had reasonably good breeding success. Some 42 Little Terns and 100 Arctic Terns fledged from colonies around the island. The cliff-nesting seabirds at Ceann a’ Mhara generally fared quite well too: Shags produced 125 fledged young, whilst Guillemots fledged some 300 young, Kittiwakes fledged 116 young from 200 pairs and a pair of Puffins were present. Goldfinches bred for just the second time ever on the island and reared 4 young.
July is generally a quiet month for migrants and best bird was an immature Mediterranean Gull at Crossapol (29th), a Little Gull at Loch a’ Phuill (27th) and a wandering juvenile Sea Eagle at the end of the month. Return wader passage picked up towards the end of the month with increasing numbers of Sanderling, Dunlin and Turnstones on the beaches and of Black-tailed Godwits, Curlew and Golden Plover on the wetlands and silage fields. Offshore, Basking Sharks were conspicuous by their absence, given the hundreds that were present in July 2012 but there were several sightings of Otter and Harbour Porpoise and some unusual jellyfish including an influx of Sea Gooseberries.
Moth trapping produced some large catches in the often calm conditions and included a further 10 new species for the island including the Welsh Wave and Bird-cherry Ermine, as well as two new species for the for the Vice County list: Single-dotted Wave and Barred Rivulet.
August saw the warmth of summer give way to stronger winds, rain and the first signs of autumn. The last Corncrakes stopped calling at the start of the month as they began their feather moult in preparation for their long flight to West Africa in September. The island’s Little Terns and Arctic Terns drifted away south after a good breeding season. Swallows too began flocking up in groups of up to 170 birds at the end of a good breeding season, whilst freshly cut silage fields provided rich foraging for large flocks of locally breeding Common Gulls, Lapwings, Rock Doves and Starlings. These were joined by the first autumn migrants including groups of Golden Plover, Curlew, Whimbrel and Black-tailed Godwit, plus a handful of Ruff. These flocks were smaller than in previous years and are a sign of a poor breeding season in Iceland and Scandinavia resulting from poor summer weather. The local Greylags on the other hand appear to have had a bumper breeding season with some 2,808 counted at the month-end including 35% goslings.
More unusual birds offshore included a Balearic Shearwater off Hynish (11th) and a couple of Sooty Shearwaters, whilst an unusually early influx of autumn migrants towards the end of the month such as Goldcrest, Chaffinch, Dunnock and Robin occurred during a spell of cool NE winds.
Other wildlife included a mass stranding at Balephetrish Bay of “By-the-wind Sailors” a highly distinctive floating oceanic hydrozoan (12th) and a long dead 5m long Minke Whale washed ashore at Hough. Basking Sharks remained scarce in comparison to recent years although SNH were able to satellite tag a further 10 sharks this month near the island. Brightly coloured Common Tiger and Burnished Brass moths were widely reported, whilst thousands of orange and black striped Cinnabar moth caterpillars helpfully fed on Ragwort around the island. Moth-trapping at Balephuil produced two more new species for Tiree: Ling Pug and Rusty-dot Pearl, whilst a spectacular Puss Moth caterpillar showed well there (9th).
September 2014 will long be remembered on Tiree as an unusually warm, calm and dry month, lacking the rain and gales of previous Septembers. As a result, many of our summer breeding birds such as Swallows and Wheatears remained later on the island than usual and odd Corncrakes were seen to the month-end. A brief spell of westerlies at the start of the month brought four species of North American wader to the island including Tiree’s fourth White-rumped Sandpiper at Gott Bay (1st). However, high pressure for the remainder of the month resulted in perfect conditions for continental drift migrants to reach Tiree, bringing us our first ever Melodious Warbler at The Glebe (from 18th), a Common Rosefinch at Balephuil, a Red-breasted Flycatcher at Greenhill and a record total of four Barred Warblers in amongst a host of commoner warblers, finches and flycatchers.
The warm conditions also affected the sea with further mass strandings of Lion’s-mane Jellyfish and By-the wind-sailors, whilst Mackerel were still being caught mid-month and these attracted pods of feeding Common Dolphins. A late Basking Shark was in Gunna Sound (27th) with a rare Risso’s Dolphin off Coll (18th). There was a large influx of Red Admiral butterflies all over the island in the third week of the month, whilst numerous caterpillar webs of Marsh Fritillaries were found on the central sliabh – the first proven breeding by this species on Tiree. Several plants including White Clover were tricked by the warm weather into flowering again. Equally, many moths were confused by the conditions, with record-breaking late emergences of species such as Elephant Hawk-moth, Campion, Flame Shoulder and Gold Spot. Light-trapping at Balephuil added a further six new moths to the Tiree list including Frosted Orange, which is a great rarity on the Scottish west coast and Grey Pine Carpet, which normally breeds in conifer plantations!
October brought a mixed bag of weather to the island. It remained very mild throughout but the calm conditions from September gave way to gales and very heavy rain later in the month, with extensive flooding by the month-end.
Predominantly easterly winds brought a wide range of small migrant birds from the Continent with highlights including 2 Yellow-browed Warblers from Siberia, a Red-breasted Flycatcher, a Siberian Lesser Whitethroat, a Common Rosefinch and a very confiding juvenile Rose-coloured Starling at Balephuil. Westerly gales brought North American ducks to Loch a’ Phuill in the shape of a Lesser Scaup and two female Ring-necked Ducks, plus a Greenland Redpoll. Other migrants, which are common on the mainland but very rare on Tiree, included a Great Tit at Mannal and a Bullfinch at Carnan Mor. There was the usual influx of hundreds of Redwings towards the end of the month but much more unusual was a record influx of Brambling which saw scattered groups around the island and up to 80 roosting at Balephuil (12th). There was also an unexpected flock of some 300 Jackdaws at Loch an Eilein (13th), part of an unprecedented invasion to the Inner Hebrides.
Winter wildfowl piled in during the month with a peak of 284 Whooper Swans at Loch a’ Phuill (23rd) and there were daily movements of swans over south. The first Goldeneyes returned to Loch a’ Phuill (14th) and Long-tailed Ducks to the bays (14th). Barnacle Geese began passing overhead from 6th with further heavy goose passage on the following days, which included Greenland White-fronts from 12th. An all-island count (13th-14th) found 1,065 Barnacle Geese, 46 Greenland White-fronts, 2,357 Greylags, 2,789 Golden Plovers and 2,325 Lapwing. Other wildlife included further large influxes of By-the-wind Sailors to the beaches and a scattering of dead Grey Seals washed ashore at the month-end, presumably as a result of the gales.
November remained very mild, and largely gale-free with occasional spells of heavy rain but also many clear days. Rarest birds of the month included an immature male Ring-necked Duck at Loch a’ Phuill (from 3rd), the third of this North American species this autumn. It was joined on the loch by a long-staying Slavonian Grebe from Iceland. A juvenile Sabines’ Gull in Gunna Sound (11th) was the latest ever record of this passage migrant from the High Arctic, but was a sign of the productive waters offshore with hundreds of feeding Kittiwakes all month attracting up to 4 Pomarine Skuas (to 15th). The mild conditions allowed some summer migrants to hang on late into the month including 5 Blackcaps (to 20th), 2 Goldcrests (4th), 4 Chiffchaffs to (30th) and 3 Siberian Chiffchaffs (to 30th). A Woodpigeon at Balephuil (20th) was only the second ever in November, whilst a juvenile Rook joined up with 4 Jackdaws at Loch an Eilein (27th). The first Glaucous Gull of the winter was at The Reef (26th), a Jack Snipe was at Whitehouse (22nd) and a Barn Owl was seen along the roadside at Kirkapol (16th). There was a big influx of winter thrushes with 300 Fieldfares at Milton (8th) and some 1,500 Redwing around the island (17th).
All-island surveys of our wintering birds (17th-18th) found 3,587 Barnacle Geese, 2,334 Greylags, 641 Greenland White-fronts, 134 Whooper Swans, 3,470 Golden Plovers and 4,540 Lapwings. Flocks of winter waterfowl built up during the month on the lochs and coasts. These included a high count of 20 Great Northern Divers off Hynish (16th), 350 Wigeon and 3 Coot at Loch a’ Phuill (30th), up to 20 Shoveler and the first Shelducks back around the coast (from 23rd).