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’s weather was unusually benign by the standards of recent winters. There were few periods of strong winds or heavy rain and it remained rather mild throughout with frequent sunny days. The most exciting bird of the period was a white-phase Gyrfalcon reported from Balephetrish Bay (4th) although sadly it was not seen again, whilst there were at least 2 long-staying drake Green-winged Teal from North America, one at Loch a’ Phuill and the other in the Loch Bhasapol / Clachan area. NW winds at the start of the month produced a small influx of 3 Glaucous Gulls around the island, which joined up with a high total of some 1,500 Common Gulls and a lingering Iceland Gull on the wet grasslands. 2 Linnets on the beach at Crossapol represented just the second January record on Tiree of this common breeding visitor in the last 100 years!
Other unusual mid-winter birds included a Scaup at Loch a’ Phuill all month, 2 Little Auks off Hynish (25th), very early Puffins in Gunna Sound (23rd) and off Hynish (26th), a Barn Owl at Barrapol (7th), a Mistle Thrush at Mannal and up to 2 Jackdaws in the Heylipol / Crossapol Farm area. The Big Garden Birdwatch weekend on 28-29 January found fairly low numbers of birds visiting garden feeders in the rather mild conditions but included a Dunnock at Baugh and an all-white House Sparrow at Balephuil
The January goose count (16th-17th) found 4,543 Barnacle Geese, 667 Greenland White-fronts and 1,948 Greylags, plus 136 Whooper Swans on the lochs, 8 Pink-footed Geese and 2,835 Lapwing. Dead Common Dolphins came ashore at Brock and Kirkapol.
The winter weather remained rather benign with fewer stormy spells than usual, although it became wetter towards the month-end. In the on-going mild conditions, the first returning migrants appeared back on cue including an obvious influx of adult Black-headed Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls in the last two weeks. 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 cliffs, widespread display by pairs of Lapwing and noisy groups of Oystercatchers including colour-ringed birds that had wintered in Ireland and Wales, plus occasional Skylark song-flights on the brighter 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. Up to 6 Glaucous Gulls appeared around the coast and were joined by up to 2 Iceland Gulls. A hardy band of volunteers searched Tiree’s beaches on the annual “Beached Bird Survey” over the weekend of 25-26 February and found less than half the number of dead seabirds found in 2016.
More unusual birds included the long-staying Green-winged Teal at Loch a’ Phuill (to 15th), a wandering Sea Eagle around West Tiree (10th-11th), an injured Long-eared Owl at Hough (17th), Lapland Buntings at Clachan (12th) and Barrapol (15th), Mistle Thrushes at Salum (14th) and Balephuil (27th), a Jackdaw all month at Crossapol and a Carrion Crow at Moss (23rd). A goose count (14th-15th) found 4674 Barnacle Geese, 1804 Greylags, 911 Greenland White-fronts, 3 Pinkfeet, 147 Whooper Swans, 2710 Golden Plover and 2970 Lapwing.
March brought a mix of weather including several gales and some wetter spells but also the odd calmer drier day, which gave the first real hints of spring. Typical spring migrants included some 20 Goldcrests (from 2nd), 4 Chiffchaffs (from 14th), the first Wheatears at Gott (25th) and Sandaig (26th) and an early Swallow at Barrapol (30th). There was also a steady increase in the numbers of Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls around the island and a big return of Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits, whilst late witer visitors included lingering Fieldfares (to 13th) and a drake Pochard at Loch a’ Phuill (3rd). Large noisy groups of Oystercatchers displayed on the machairs and included no less than 8 different colour-ringed birds, of which 6 had wintered in Dublin Bay and 2 in Wales, highlighting the importance of Irish Sea coasts as wintering areas for our breeding birds. The sounds of displaying Lapwing, Snipe and Skylark also rang out across the grasslands on calmer days with many birds starting to nest by the month-end.
Up to 10 immature Glaucous Gulls were scattered around the island all month, whilst visiting Sea Eagles were seen on various dates including 2 young birds together at Loch a’ Phuill (1st). At least two of the Glaucous Gulls fed on a dead 9m long Sperm Whale, that bobbed around on a beach just north of the Maze at the start of the month, whilst the first Harbour Porpoises and Bottle-nosed Dolphins were spotted offshore.
An all-island count (13th-14th) found 4,644 Barnacle Geese, 951 Greenland White-fronts and 1,544 Greylags, plus 2,160 Golden Plover on the grasslands. The Whooper Swans began heading north once more with many flocks noted passing through the island from 10th including a high count of 316 on the island’s lochs (21st).
April was rather cool and dry with northerly winds predominating and very little rain. The cool weather delayed the start of spring for some of our wildlife. The first Corncrake was back at Hynish (21st), two days later than in 2016, followed by a few scattered birds in West Tiree and there were at least a dozen calling males back by the month-end.
The Barnacle Geese departed en masse on 10th-14th with most of the Greenland White-fronts leaving around the same time, but there were also many Barnacle Geese, presumably from Islay, passing over on 17th, plus at least 350 Pale-bellied Brent pausing briefly on the beaches. Small flocks of Whooper Swans passed through in the first week with up 12 remaining at the month end. Wader passage was heavy, with the northerly winds holding birds back on the island. Golden Plover numbers peaked at 7,500 on The Reef (13th) with a further 2,000 birds elsewhere on Tiree that day. A count of 2,270 Black-tailed Godwits (25th) was the highest ever in Scotland and included a single flock of 1,750 birds at Kilmoluaig. Island rarities included 9 Lapland Buntings (17th-29th) a Sea Eagle at Milton (19th), a Siskin at Balephuil (22nd) and 3 Woodpigeons (from 9th).
Further returning migrants included House Martin (1st), Sand Martin (1st), Great Skua (4th), Linnet (4th), Willow Warbler (8th), over 110 White Wagtails (from 9th), Whimbrel (12th), Blackcap (15th), Greenshank (18th), Little Tern (10th), Arctic Tern (23rd), Common Tern (24th) and Common Sandpiper (30th), plus lots more Wheatears. There were still no reports of Cuckoo by the month-end.
Offshore, several groups of Common Dolphins and Bottle-nosed Dolphins indicated that plenty of prey-fish were present, whilst the first Minke Whales were spotted from the ferry between Tiree and Coll. Odd Belted Beauty moths were noted on the machair and the first Green-veined White butterflies emerged at the month-end, although the cool breezy weather was generally not good for spring insects. A dead Red Deer at The Green had presumably floated south from Rum!
Many Corncrakes returned after the first arrivals in late April and were calling all around the island by the month-end. Vegetation cover in the fields was good as a result of reasonable 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 346 calling males in 2016.
The largely settled weather resulted in a good breeding season for many birds with large numbers of Lapwing, Oystercatcher and Redshank chicks around the island. Garden birds also did well with many early broods of Blackbird, Song Thrush and House Sparrow noted during the month, whilst the mass emergence of Starling fledglings took place from 25th. Numbers of seabirds nesting at Ceann a’ Mhara were either up or stable compared to 2016 for all species, with an encouraging increase in the number of breeding Kittiwakes. 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 Subalpine Warbler at Carnan Mor (7th) and a Red-rumped Swallow at Gott (24th), both spring overshoots from the Mediterranean region, whilst there was an intriguing report of a Gyrfalcon at the Airport (4th). Other spring migrants included a Ring Ouzel at Hynish (4th), 2 Lesser Whitethroats at Carnan Mor (6th and 14th), a Black Redstart at Heylipol Church (28th), a Pied Flycatcher and a Wood Warbler at Carnan Mor (22nd) and a Little Stint at Balephetrish Bay (29th). The last week of May saw the emergence of the first Four-spotted Chaser Dragonflies and Highland Darters. Green-veined White and Marsh Fritillary butterflies flew on warmer days, whilst three male Orange-tip Butterflies at Balephuil (27th) represented just the second ever record for Tiree. Moth trapping produced no fewer than seven new species for the island namely Early Tooth-striped, Clouded Drab, Ruddy Highflyer, Light Emerald, Grey Scalloped Bar, Common Marbled Carpet and Netted Pug. The first Basking Sharks appeared offshore as the coastal waters slowly warmed up.
Three night-time counts around the island revealed a preliminary total of 316 calling male Corncrakes. This figure is slightly down on the 346 birds recorded in 2016. 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 brought some much needed rain after a dry spring, but it remained largely cool and unsettled. Our breeding birds appeared to do well with large numbers of young Lapwing and Oystercatchers produced and forming large flocks by the month-end. Many House Sparrows, Song Thrushes and Blackbirds produced their second broods, whilst the first broods emerged of Swallows, Willow Warblers, Wheatears and Twite. 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. Flocks of hundreds of 1st-summer Arctic Terns and non-breeding Kittiwakes arrived around the coast at the month-end.
Rarest bird of the month was an adult Rose-coloured Starling at The Green (3rd). Other good birds included a lingering Glaucous Gull in West Tiree all month, a Pectoral Sandpiper with a Little Stint at Loch a’ Phuill (1st) and three smart red Curlew Sandpipers (2nd-22nd). 2 Cuckoos remained to 15th but it was unclear if they managed to breed. A lone Pale-bellied Brent at Crossapol (8th) was most unexpected.
Marsh Fritillaries, Six-spot Burnet Moths, Four-spotted Chaser dragonflies and bumblebees were on the wing on sunny days including the very first Great Yellow Bumblebee of the year at Sandaig (30th). Basking Sharks were again scarce but a pod of 25 Risso’s Dolphins passed through Gunna Sound (20th) and there were several sightings of Minke Whales, Common Dolphins and Harbour Porpoises.
July brought a typical mix of summer weather with some warm sunny days interspersed with spells of rain and wind. Most of our breeding birds did well and large numbers of young Swallows, Pied Wagtails, Twite, Linnets, Starlings and House Sparrows were conspicuous around the island. A juvenile Cuckoo watched being fed by Meadow Pipits at Balephuil (25th) was the first confirmed successful breeding by the species on the island, whilst a Grasshopper Warbler continued to make it reeling song there early in the month. There were good numbers of Mute Swan broods on the lochs including 3 broods at Loch Bhasapol, as well as scattered broods of Tufted Duck, Mallard, Gadwall, Teal and Shoveler. Greylag broods on the other hand were smaller on average than in recent years. It was also a good year for the cliff-nesting seabirds at Ceann a’ Mhara, with Shags and Kittiwakes producing some 230 and 250 fledged young respectively, whilst the Guillemots fledged some 600 young and Arctic Terns around the coast got around 240 young away.
July is generally a quiet month for migrants and best birds were an early Wood Sandpiper at Vaul (28th), an unseasonal Siskin at Balephuil (8th), a small influx of Swifts (18th-21st), a Robin all month at Balephuil and a rare summering Pale-bellied Brent at Loch a’ Phuill. Return wader passage was intermittent but with increasing numbers of Black-tailed Godwits, Curlew and Golden Plover joining up with local Lapwings and Oystercatchers on the first cut-silage fields, and of Sanderling, Dunlin and Turnstones on the beaches. Basking Sharks arrived in moderate numbers late in the month around the east end of the island and there were several sightings of Minke Whales and Bottle-nosed Dolphins offshore, particularly from the ferry.
Large numbers of Bumblebees were out foraging on the sunnier days and this year a group of volunteers from the island will be helping to record the rare Great Yellow Bumblebee for which Tiree’s flower-rich machairs remain a vital stronghold.
August was unusually wet with extremely heavy rain overnight (23rd) causing extensive flooding across the island. Despite the rain, most of our breeding birds appeared to do well with Swallows, House Sparrows and Blackbirds all working on their third broods of the summer. A few Corncrakes were calling at the start of the month with the last at Hough (13th).The local Greylags also had a productive breeding season with 2,039 counted at the month-end including 38% goslings. Freshly cut silage fields attracted large flocks of island-reared gulls, Lapwings, Oystercatchers, Rock Doves and Starlings, and these were joined by returning migrant groups of Golden Plover, Curlew and Black-tailed Godwit. There were also good numbers of young Ruff and Bar-tailed Godwits in amongst these feeding groups towards the end of the month.
There were increasing numbers of passage Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Sanderling on the beaches and loch-sides. These were joined by a couple of Knot, at least 16 Whimbrel, a Wood Sandpiper at Loch Bhasapol (28th) and an early Pectoral Sandpiper from North America at Loch a’ Phuill (20th). Other unusual birds included a European White-fronted Goose at Ruaig (28th), 2 Black-throated Divers off Mannal (28th), and a summering Pale-bellied Brent Goose at Loch a’ Phuill. Sea-watching was patchy but included a Balearic Shearwater and 3 Sooty Shearwaters off Hynish (16th) plus 12 Storm Petrels. Migrant songbirds began trickling through with the first White Wagtails (from 12th), Greenland Wheatears (from 22nd), Willow Warblers, a Redstart at The Reef (29th), at least 5 Robins back in the island’s gardens and an early Goldcrest at Balephuil (28th).
Small numbers of Basking Sharks were seen offshore all month, together with a small family group of Bottlenose Dolphins, which took up residence along our southern coast. There was an unprecedented arrival of some 50 Violet Sea-snails to the beaches on the back of a very large invasion of By-the-wind Sailors, whilst a Blue Fire jellyfish at Salum (20th) was the first confirmed record for the island. Painted Lady butterflies re-appeared towards the month-end with good numbers of Red Admirals, but Small Tortoiseshells were once again in very short supply. Common Hawker dragonflies, Emerald Damselflies and Dark Green Fritillaries were all noted on a visit to neighbouring Coll, three species that have yet to establish themselves on Tiree.
September continued with the mostly wet and windy weather from August, although there was the odd calmer and drier spell. Westerly winds brought a small number of American migrants including 4 juvenile Buff-breasted Sandpipers involving 1 at Greenhill (6th), 2 at Loch a’ Phuill (11th) and another at Kilmoluaig (16th), plus an American Golden Plover and a young male Ring-necked Duck, which arrived together at Loch a’ Phuill (28th). Occasional spells of easterly winds allowed some continental drift migrants to reach Tiree, including a Golden Oriole at Vaul (2nd-4th) - our first ever autumn record of this species, an early Red-breasted Flycatcher at Balephuil (10th-12th), a Yellow-browed Warbler at Balephuil (22nd-24th), 2 Pied Flycatchers (9th-22nd), a Redstart (10th), 2 Coal Tits (30th) and a Lesser Whitethroat at the Manse (17th-25th), in amongst moderate numbers of commoner warblers, Goldcrests and finches. Other good birds included only our second-ever record of a Kingfisher at Loch a’ Phuill (2nd), a Snow Bunting at The Reef (19th) and at least 4 Lapland Buntings (from 4th).
Strong onshore winds brought large numbers of seabirds inshore including 2 Sabine’s Gulls, 10 Leach’s Petrels, 3 Storm Petrels, 2 Grey Phalaropes, 2 Pomarine Skuas and a Balearic Shearwater in amongst huge numbers of Gannets, auks, Kittiwakes and Manx Shearwaters. Some 75 Ruff dropped in to join the flocks of birds feeding in the cut silage fields, which included over 2,000 Golden Plovers and 4,000 Lapwings around the island, plus hundreds of locally produced Starlings and a Bar-tailed Godwit that had been colour-ringed in Norway. Many of our summer migrants departed during the month with only small numbers of Swallows and Wheatears remaining at the month-end. The first 4 returning Redwings were at Balephuil (28th) and some 65 Pale-bellied Brent Geese pass through (from 4th).
Small numbers of Black Darter dragonflies were active on calmer days and there were some late flying Red Admiral and Painted Lady butterflies towards the month-end. Bumblebees remained on the wing during calmer spells including small numbers of Great Yellow Bumblebees in the first three weeks of the month. Pods of up to 200 Common Dolphins fed offshore and the last of the Basking Sharks slipped away towards the end of the month.
October was dominated by westerly winds which kept the island mild and wet. Many summer migrants hung on late in the relatively warm conditions including odd Wheatears, Swallows, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests to the month-end. Rarest bird of the month was the long staying Ring-necked Duck from North America at Loch a’ Phuill, although the lack of easterly winds meant that migrants from mainland Europe were scarcer than normal. Rarer birds included a Yellow-browed Warbler at the Glebe (2nd), a Lesser Whitethroat at Kenovay (6th), two Siberian Chiffchaffs at Balephuil (27th) and a Ring Ouzel at Carnan Mor (29th). Little Egrets are an increasing feature of late autumn as their breeding range slowly spreads northwards in the UK, and a small influx to Argyll late in the month included a bird at Milton (31st). There was the usual influx of hundreds of winter thrushes towards the end of the month peaking at 900 Redwings (25th) and 43 Fieldfares (from 25th), plus single Mistle Thrushes at Caoles (15th) and Balephuil (16th). Winter finches included 16 Brambling (from 16th), 50+ Goldfinches, 2 Siskins (31st), 4 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 2 Gadwall, 5 Little Grebes, a Scaup and a lone Coot. Heavy passage of Barnacle Geese and Greenland White-fronts was noted from 4th, whilst Whooper Swans passed through all month with over 300 noted on 15th-16th. Strong onshore winds brought hundreds of auks, Gannets and Kittiwakes streaming past offshore and spotted in amongst these were scarcer fare including 3 Sabine’s Gulls, a Grey Phalarope, 4 Leach’s Petrels, 5 Pomarine Skuas, a Long-tailed Skua and 22 Arctic Skuas.
November remained rather mild and wet but there were also some more settled and drier spells. Rarest birds of the month were 4 different Hawfinches at Balephuil (3rd-25th), which doubled the number of these stocky heavy-billed finches that has ever been recorded on Tiree. Our birds (2 males and 2 females) were part of an unprecedented invasion to the UK involving low thousands of Hawfinches, caused by a failure of the beech-mast crop in Central Europe and mirrored similar records on Shetland and Barra. Other good birds included an immature male Ring-necked Duck from North America at Loch a’ Phuill (1st-5th), a Little Egret at Milton (2nd), a Slavonian Grebe at Loch Riaghain (21st), an Iceland Gull at West Hynish (14th), 6 Blackcaps (to 24th), 4 late Chiffchaffs (to 28th), 7 Bramblings (to 6th), 11 Siskins (1st-2nd), single Lapland Buntings at The Reef (1st) and at Balephetrish Hill (16th), plus an influx of 41 Snow Buntings to the beaches (27th-29th).
All-island surveys of our wintering birds (20th-21st) found 4,308 Barnacle Geese, 1,959 Greylags and 630 Greenland White-fronts, plus 4 Pink-footed Geese, 3,800 Golden Plovers, 3,180 Lapwings and 125 Whooper Swans. A NW gale (16th) brought 6 Little Auks, a Pomarine Skua and 2 Leach’s Petrels off Aird, whilst there was a late Sooty Shearwater off Hynish (8th). The gales also brought in two recently dead Harbour Porpoises to Sandaig and Caoles.
December remained rather wet, windy and mild but with a few colder, calmer spells later on. The most exciting bird of the month was a Glossy Ibis (see photo), which appeared at Cornaigmore on Christmas Eve and remained there into the New Year. This was just the fourth ever record of this southern European species but was part of an influx to Argyll that included at least six birds on Mull. Other scarce birds included a Green-winged Teal from North America at Loch a’ Phuill (from 10th), possibly the same individual that has returned annually to Tiree since at least 2010, a very late Great Skua off Aird (7th) and a Slavonian Grebe at Loch a’ Phuill (10th) with up to 3 Scaup there all month. Hundreds of Lapwing and Golden Plover frequented the flooded grasslands along with large numbers of Common Gulls and Starlings.
The generally mild weather encouraged some smaller birds to stay on the island including a late Common Redpoll at Balephuil (3rd), a late Chiffchaff there (5th) and the odd Pied Wagtail on the beaches, plus scattered groups of Goldfinches, Chaffinches and Redwings. The Big Garden Birdwatch event on 27-28 January will once again provide the opportunity to chart the continuing fortunes of birds in gardens across Scotland.
An all-island count (18th-19th) found a record total of 5,042 Barnacle Geese, as well as 597 Greenland White-fronts, 1,671 Greylags and 5 Pink-footed Geese, plus 107 Whooper Swans, 3,550 Golden Plover and 3,350 Lapwing.