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 a wild mix of weather with severe gales, heavy rain, hail, and even a brief light sprinkling of snow, although it remained largely mild throughout. Rarest bird was a juvenile Kumlien’s Gull in the Balinoe / Sorobaidh Bay area (18th-21st), just the third record for Tiree of this rare gull from the Canadian High Arctic. The gales also brought an influx of up to 4 Iceland Gulls and 2 Glaucous Gulls around the island (from 11th), which joined up with massive feeding flocks of Common and Herring Gulls on the wet grasslands. A record total of 1,870 Common Gulls was counted on 20th and the very first returning Lesser Black-backed and Black-headed Gulls were at Sandaig (20th) and Sorobaidh Bay (21st) respectively. Several storm-wrecked auks and gulls were found across the island and dead Common Dolphins came ashore at Brock and Scarinish.
Other unusual mid-winter birds included a Barn Owl at Cornaigmore (21st), Little Auks off West Hynish (10th) and Aird (12th), a Jack Snipe at Heylipol (22nd) and a Slavonian Grebe at Loch a’ Phuill for much of the month. A Big Garden Birdwatch event at the Rural Centre assisted by the Tiree Community Trust on 30th was very well attended despite the gales! The island counts highlighted the value of putting food out for birds, particularly during bad weather, with larger than normal numbers of House Sparrows and Robins recorded from the island’s gardens.
The January goose count (19th-20th) found 3,893 Barnacle Geese, 707 Greenland White-fronts and 2,047 Greylags, plus 106 Whooper Swans on the lochs, a Pale-bellied Brent, 3 Pink-footed Geese and a lone Canada Goose, whilst numbers of Lapwing remained high in the mild conditions at 3,655 and Golden Plover at 3,020.
For the third spring in a row, April was unusually cold and changeable with northerly winds predominating and a truly surprising fall of 12cm of snow on 28th! The cold weather delayed the start of spring for much of our wildlife. The first Corncrake was back at Balinoe (19th) followed by a few scattered birds in West Tiree, with some 20 calling males back by the month-end.
The Barnacle Geese departed en masse on 11th-12th with most of the Greenland White-fronts leaving around the same time. Small flocks of Whooper Swans passed through in the first week with up 10 remaining at the month end. Wader passage was later than normal with only some 300 Black-tailed Godwits noted by the month-end, whilst Golden Plover numbers peaked at 5,500 on The Reef (18th). Island rarities included 2 Magpies near Scarinish (2nd) after one at Caoles in late March, a Great Tit at Balephuil (11th-12th), a wandering Sea Eagle, the long-staying Kumlien’s Gull at Loch an Eilein, Common Redpolls at Balephuil (from 15th) and a Tree Sparrow at Baugh (28th).
Many of the returning migrants were a little later than normal and included Sand Martin (2nd), Wheatear (5th), Great Skua (7th), Swallow (8th), Linnet (8th), Blackcap (10th), Willow Warbler (10th), Greenshank (14th), Whimbrel (17th), Little Tern (20th), Sandwich Tern (20th), over 70 White Wagtails (from 21st) and Common Sandpiper (28th), plus lots more Wheatears. There were still no reports of Cuckoo by the month-end. However our breeding birds managed to nest largely on time with the first Lapwing chicks appearing immediately after the snow melted on 29th and House Sparrows busy in their nesting holes.
Offshore, large numbers of feeding Gannets, auks and Manx Shearwaters close inshore indicated that plenty of prey-fish were present. Odd Belted Beauty moths were noted on the machair and the first Puss Moths were seen attracted to house-lights, although the unusually cold weather was generally not good for spring insects and bumblebees were only seen out and about on the very few warmer days.
Many Corncrakes arrived in May after the first arrivals in April, with good numbers back and calling all around the island by the month-end. Vegetation cover in the fields was taller than in 2015 as a result of better growing conditions, although many birds were also seen in gardens and crossing roads. The annual night-time census will be completed in June and this will reveal how numbers compare this year with the count of 333 calling males in 2015.
The mostly settled weather resulted in a good breeding season for many birds with Lapwing, Oystercatcher and Greylag chicks all emerging two weeks earlier than in 2015, whilst the first Ringed Plover chicks had fledged by the end of the month. Garden birds also did well with many early broods of Blackbird, Song Thrush and House Sparrow noted during the month, together with the first brood of Stonechats (20th) and the mass emergence of Starling fledglings took place from 26th. There were also more Cuckoos than usual with up to 3 males noted at The Glebe and breeding seems likely this year. Numbers of seabirds nesting at Ceann a’ Mhara were either up or stable on numbers in 2015 for all species, with the first eggs seen amongst the Guillemots and Razorbills. The first 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 Pectoral Sandpiper at Sorobaidh Bay (27th) and a drake Green-winged Teal at Loch Bhasapol (1st), both from North America, whilst there was a Dotterel at Vaul (13th), a singing Reed Warbler at Balephuil (11th) and a Tree Sparrow at Baugh (to 2nd). Other spring migrants included a juvenile Iceland Gull all month in the west of the island, a Wood Sandpiper at Loch a’ Phuill (16th), 2 Coal Tits at Kenovay (3rd-4th), a Rook at Meningie (9th), single Wood Warblers at Meningie (11th) and Sandaig (16th), a Pied Flycatcher at Scarinish (7th), 3 Siskins (4th and 29th) and up to 8 Common Redpolls. The last week of May saw the emergence of the first Four-spotted Chaser Dragonflies, Large Red Damselflies and Common Blue Damselflies, whilst Green-veined White and Marsh Fritillary butterflies flew on warmer days. Moth trapping at Balephuil produced three new species for the island including Brown Silver-line, Light Knot Grass and Striped Twin-spot Carpet.
Three night-time counts around the island revealed a preliminary total of 342 calling male Corncrakes. This figure is up on the 333 birds recorded in 2015. 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 largely dry and settled although there was some much needed rain towards the month-end. Our breeding birds did well in the calm conditions with large numbers of young Lapwing and Oystercatchers produced. Many House Sparrows, Song Thrushes and Blackbirds produced their second broods, whilst the first broods emerged of Willow Warblers, Wheatears and Twite. Swallow numbers were down following the poor breeding season in 2015 so it was good to see the first broods emerge successfully late in the month. A young Robin at Balephuil (24th) is thought to have come from a nest on Coll unless anyone knows of Robins nesting on Tiree this year? Seabird breeding success also looks good so far with increased numbers of breeding Kittiwakes, Fulmars and Black-headed Gulls, whilst the first Little Terns fledged at the month-end. Hundreds of non-breeding Kittiwakes grazed the west coast in the latter half of the month.
Rarest bird of the month was a White-throated Sparrow at Vaul (10th) – the first Tiree record of this North American bird. Tiree’s second Icterine Warbler, a singing male, was at The Glebe (9th) and the same site held a singing Marsh Warbler (4th). Other good birds included a lingering juv Iceland Gull in West Tiree all month, an adult Curlew Sandpiper with an adult Little Stint at Loch a’ Phuill at Loch a’ Phuill (3rd), an immature male Marsh Harrier at Loch Bhasapol (5th), Turtle Doves at Hough (6th) and Balephuil (8th), a Tree Sparrow at Kirkapol (9th), a Barn Owl at Balephuil (23rd) and a Long-eared Owl at Baugh (25th).
Marsh Fritillaries and Six-spot Burnet Moths brightened the central sliabh on sunny days. Basking Sharks remained very scarce but 2 Orcas were just south of Coll (21st) and there were several sightings of Minke Whales, Common Dolphins and Harbour Porpoises.
July brought a mix of weather with some hot sunny days interspersed by longer spells of rain and wind. Most of our breeding birds did much better than last year having had a head start during the settled weather in May and June and large numbers of young Swallows, Pied Wagtails, Linnets, Starlings and House Sparrows in particular were conspicuous around the island. Wildfowl also did well with many broods noted of Eider around the coast, as well as smaller numbers of Mute Swan, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Gadwall and Shoveler on the lochs. Greylag broods were also much in evidence with larger broods than in last year’s cool wet conditions. It was also a good year for the cliff-nesting seabirds at Ceann a’ Mhara, which bred earlier than in 2015. Shags and Kittiwakes did well producing some 140 and 280 fledged young respectively, whilst the Guillemots fledged some 560 young and Arctic Terns around the coast got around 210 young away.
July is generally a quiet month for migrants and best birds were a lingering Iceland Gull in the Kilkenneth area and a Glaucous Gull at Loch a’ Phuill, plus the first Sooty Shearwaters and Storm Petrels offshore. Return wader passage was intermittent with increasing numbers of Sanderling, Dunlin and Turnstones on the beaches and of Black-tailed Godwits, Curlew and Golden Plover on the first cut-silage fields, which joined up with our local Lapwings and Oystercatchers. Basking Sharks finally appeared in moderate numbers late in the month, particularly in Gunna Sound, and there were several sightings of Minke Whales and Common Dolphins offshore. However, the cetacean highlight was a spectacular feeding pod of some 45 Risso’s Dolphins off The Green on 4th, the largest pod of this deepwater species to be seen in the Minch for many years.
July is peak flight-time for moths and large numbers of the regular species were recorded along with a good showing of Six-spot Burnets, a colourful day-flying species that was first recorded on Tiree in 2015.
August saw some drier calm spells, although there were also gales and heavy rain at the month-end. Corncrakes finally stopped calling at the start of the month and several adults plus broods were seen during silage cutting. Swallows, House Sparrows and Blackbirds all set about producing their third broods of the summer in what has been a good breeding year for many species. The local Greylags also had a productive breeding season with 2,357 counted at the month-end including 35% goslings. Many birds made the most of the rich pickings left behind on the freshly cut silage fields including large flocks of island-reared gulls, Lapwings, Oystercatchers, Rock Doves and Starlings, and these were joined by groups of Golden Plover, Curlew, Whimbrel and Black-tailed Godwit from further north. There were also good numbers of young Ruff and Bar-tailed Godwits in amongst these feeding groups, plus a rare Pacific Golden Plover at Middleton (29th).
There were large numbers of passage Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Sanderling on the beaches and these were joined by smaller groups of Knot, a record influx of some 45 Curlew Sandpipers and a very early juvenile Spotted Sandpiper from North America at Balephetrish Bay (14th), just the second record for Tiree. Other unusual birds included an Osprey at Loch a’ Phuill (5th), a Hobby at Barrapol (28th), 3 juvenile Cuckoos and a wandering Mediterranean Gull (from 19th), whilst sea-watching produced a record count of 23,530 Manx Shearwaters in 2 hours off Aird (8th), 27 Sooty Shearwaters and 20 Storm Petrels. Migrant songbirds were earlier than in 2015, with a Pied Flycatcher and a Goldcrest at Carnan Mor (24th), several Robins back in the island’s gardens and a very early Redwing at Barrapol (30th).
Small numbers of Basking Sharks continued to be seen offshore, together with occasional pods of Common Dolphins, small numbers of Harbour Porpoises and up to 5 Minke Whales between Tiree and Coll. Painted Lady butterflies re-appeared on sunny days with small numbers of Red Admirals but Small Tortoiseshells were in very short supply. Black and Highland Darter dragonflies were widespread on sunny days with large gatherings in favoured sheltered spots.
September brought a mix of weather but this included some welcome settled drier spells after another wet summer. Westerly winds brought a range of American waders including 4 Buff-breasted Sandpipers at Loch a’ Phuill (4th) with another at Sandaig (2nd), an American Golden Plover at Crossapol (26th) and two Semipalmated Sandpipers at Vaul (30th). However, rarest bird by far was a Swainson’s Thrush at Balephuil (22nd), the first record for Argyll of this tiny North American thrush, which drew a small crowd of twitchers to the island the following day. High pressure for the much of the month resulted in good conditions for continental drift migrants to reach Tiree, bringing a Yellow-browed Warbler from Siberia to Carnan Mor (25th), a Common Rosefinch to Balephuil (12th), 3 Pied Flycatchers (4th-12th), a Redstart (24th), a Reed Warbler (3rd) and a Lesser Whitethroat (3rd) in amongst a host of commoner warblers and finches. Other good birds included a Dotterel at Balephuil (12th), a Hobby at Hynish (1st), a Turtle Dove at Balephuil (4th), a Snow Bunting at Balemartine and at least 12 Lapland Buntings (from 4th).
Southerlies at the month-end brought 2 Sabine’s Gulls, 2 Leach’s Petrels, 2 Grey Phalaropes and 28 Sooty Shearwaters off Hynish in amongst huge numbers of Gannets, auks and Man Shearwaters. Flocks of birds feeding in the cut silage fields included over 2,000 Golden Plovers and 3,500 Lapwings around the island, plus huge flocks of locally produced Starlings. Many of our summer migrants drifted away during the month with only small numbers of Swallows and Wheatears remaining at the month-end.
Large numbers of Highland Darter and Black Darter dragonflies were active on calmer days and there were some late flying Red Admiral and Painted Lady butterflies at the month-end. Less welcome was a small Portuguese Man-of-war washed ashore at Crossapol (3rd). This was part of a major influx to UK and Ireland waters of these stinging sea creatures that had drifted much further north than usual as a result of warm southerly winds.
October was rather dry, mild and settled for the time of year. Many summer migrants hung on late in the good conditions including odd Wheatears and Goldcrests to the month-end. Some insects were also active later than usual with several records of Red Admiral butterflies and Black Darter dragonflies on the calmest days.
Light easterly winds for much of the month brought a wide range of small migrant birds from the mainland and continental Europe. Rarest bird was a Blyth’s Reed Warbler from Russia (Tiree’s third) that shared a garden at Balephuil on 22nd with a Red-breasted Flycatcher. There were also 11 more Yellow-browed Warblers during the month, two Lesser Whitethroats, two Siberian Chiffchaffs , two Ring Ouzels and 25 Lapland Buntings, although almost as rare for Tiree were Great Tits at Kilmoluaig and Vaul, and Blue Tits at Balephuil and Vaul. There was the usual influx of hundreds of winter thrushes towards the end of the month peaking at 1,000 Redwings (30th) and 50 Fieldfares (17th), plus single Waxwings at Balephuil (20th) and Hynish (22nd). Winter finches included 15 Brambling (from 7th), 80+ Goldfinches, 3 Greenfinches and at least 12 Chaffinches.
Numbers of winter wildfowl such as Wigeon, Teal, Goldeneye and Tufted Duck built up steadily on the lochs during the month and these brought with them three Pochard, six Little Grebes and a Scaup. There were no Coot however, and this former regular winter visitor appears to have become locally extinct. Heavy passage of Barnacle Geese and Greenland White-fronts was noted on 19th-20th whilst Whooper Swans passed through all month with a big arrival on 31st, when 323 were counted on the lochs.
November was unusually settled and dry with only the occasional gale and some frost on calmer clear nights. Rarest birds of the month were two ducks from North America including a brief immature Ring-necked Duck which appeared briefly at Loch a’ Phuill (5th) after a westerly gale and a drake Green-winged Teal at Clachan (15th). Other good birds included a long-staying Yellow-browed Warbler at Balephuil (1st-7th), a Slavonian Grebe, a Sea Eagle and a Jackdaw all at Loch a’ Phuill (7th), a Waxwing at Balephuil (2nd and 11th), a Coal Tit at The Glebe (9th-24th), a Common Redpoll at Crossapol (21st), 6 Blackcaps (to 20th), 3 Chiffchaffs (to 25th) and 4 Snow Buntings (2nd and 8th). An immature Iceland Gull at Kilkenneth (20th) was likely to be the bird that over-summered there, but a juvenile Glaucous Gull at Loch a’ Phuill (26th) was new.
All-island surveys of our wintering birds (14th-15th) found 3,948 Barnacle Geese, 2,246 Greylags and 497 Greenland White-fronts plus 3 Pale-bellied Brent and a Pink-footed Goose, 2,800 Golden Plovers, 2,555 Lapwings and 117 Whooper Swans. Sea-watching in a southerly gale off Hynish (7th) produced a late Sooty Shearwater and a Pomarine Skua, as well as large numbers of Gannets, Kittiwakes and auks. The lack of storms meant that there were none of the typical early winter strandings of dead dolphins and whales, although very high tides associated with a “super moon” swept many Grey Seal pups off the skerries onto the island’s beaches. Some of the pups continued to be fed by their mothers returning under cover of night, so were best left where they had landed.
December brought some more typical winter weather with brief colder spells, several gales and some heavy rain, which caused localised flooding across the island. Hundreds of Wigeon, Teal, Lapwing and Golden Plover frequented the flooded grasslands along with large numbers of Common Gulls. The storms brought in the first Glaucous Gulls of the winter with juveniles at Hough Bay (2nd), Balephetrish Bay (8th) and Loch Bhasapol (19th), whilst the long-staying Iceland Gull remained in the Barrapol to Kilkenneth area. Rarest bird was a drake Green-winged Teal at Loch Bhasapol (2nd), probably the bird from Clachan in November, whilst other rarities included a very late Siberian Chiffchaff at Balephuil (2nd-9th) and an all-black Carrion Crow at Kilkenneth (14th). Offshore, regular sightings of Kittiwakes and Gannets indicated that there were still plenty of fish about in the mostly mild conditions, whilst hundreds of Fulmars returned to visit their nest ledges on calmer days.
The generally mild weather encouraged some smaller birds to stay on the island including our latest ever Goldcrest at the Glebe (19th) and the odd Pied Wagtail on the beaches, plus scattered groups of Goldfinches, Redwings and Fieldfares. The Big Garden Birdwatch event on 28-29 January will once again provide the opportunity to chart the continuing fortunes of birds in gardens across Scotland.