Tiree RSPB Info from April 2012

Snow Bunting - Image courtesy of Graham Todd

April was dominated by high pressure with light northerly winds, much sunshine and very little rain. The generally cool temperatures and northerly winds held many migrant birds back with most arriving a little later than normal, whilst many residents such as Lapwings and Greylags also started breeding later.

Thousands of birds were on the move despite the head-winds and for many species, the island represents an important stop-over for refuelling on their spring migration to breeding sites further north. Some 250 Pale-bellied Brent Geese stopped to feed around the coast (from 1st), including birds that had been ringed at their wintering sites in Ireland and on staging areas in Iceland. Whooper Swan passage was noted on several dates as flocks passed north over the island or dropped in to stop for a day or two on the lochs.

More unusual was a movement of some 410 Pink-footed Geese that headed NW past Urvaig (13th), presumably pushed further south and west from their traditional mainland spring route by strong NE winds. Sadly, two Common Cranes seen flying NW over the west end of Coll on the same date appear to have just missed Tiree!

There were scattered flocks of up to 100 Black-tailed Godwits in their brick-red breeding dress feeding around the lochs all month including colour-ringed birds from The Wash in southern England and from breeding sites in SW Iceland. Golden Plover numbers built up on their main staging area at The Reef to at least 4,500 birds (17th) and were joined briefly by a lone Dotterel (18th), whilst at least 23 Whimbrel arrived (23rd).

The wintering Greenland geese departed en masse (14th), although there were 11 late Barnacle Geese at Rubha Chraiginis (30th), plus a scattering of up to 8 Pink-footed Geese and at least 15 Whooper Swans still around the island at the end of the month.

The rarest bird in April was a drake Eider of the Northern borealis race at Traigh Bhi (7th) showing the classics back sails and orange-tinged bill of birds from Western Greenland. If accepted, this will be the first record of this race from Argyll. Other rarities included two different drake Green-winged Teal at Loch a’ Phuill (16th and 27th), with a drake Garganey there on the latter date and a Green Sandpiper at Balephuil (27th). Up to two different 1st winter Glaucous Gulls and four different Iceland Gulls were seen on and off throughout the month, whilst up to three Short-eared Owls included singing males at two sites.

Other notable birds included an adult Golden Eagle at Moss (14th), a pair of Scaup at Loch a’ Phuill (19th), a Knot at Gott Bay (17th), a Coot at Loch an Eilein (10th-17th), two Woodpigeons at Balephuil (24th) with another at West Hynish (29th), two Lapland Buntings at Gott (5th), single male Snow Buntings at Baugh (10th-12th) and West Hynish (29th), three Siskins at Crossapol (21st), 5 scattered Goldfinches and a Lesser Redpoll at Balephuil (24th). Some 140 Redwings arrived (13th) and there was an unusual fall of 10 Blackcaps, 6 Chiffchaffs and a Goldcrest at Balephuil / Carnan Mor (24th), but many species were in short supply, with just one Greenland Wheatear (30th).

Further returning migrants were all a little later than normal but included 40+ White Wagtails (from 2nd), Willow Warbler (11th), Sand Martin (17th), Little Tern (17th), Sandwich Tern (17th) and Grasshopper Warbler (30th).

Lapwing chicks were observed from mid-month and were widespread by the month end, whilst Corncrakes returned from 17th with some 50 scattered males back by 30th. Despite the rather cold conditions, the very first Basking Sharks were reported back feeding around the island with large sharks noted off Milton (12th) and the Green (15th) – hopefully a sign of another busy summer here for these amazing creatures.

Many thanks to those of you who have kept me posted with your latest observations. If anyone would like to report unusual sightings of birds or other wildlife on Tiree, please contact me at the address below:

John Bowler, Pairc na Coille, Balephuil, Isle of Tiree PA77 6UE. Tel: 220748

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