Tag Archives: birding

Bird Hides Revamp

Bird Hide, Isle of Tiree

The public wildlife-viewing hides at Loch a’ Phuill and Loch Bhasapol were both installed as part of Nadairfunded community projects and are now over 13 and 18 years old respectively.

Constantly exposed to Tiree’s weather, they were both in need of a bit of TLC this summer. Much of the woodwork around the windows on the Loch a’ Phuill hide was rotten, and the roof was leaking, whilst the door handles on the Loch Bhasapol hide had rusted off completely, preventing entry! Coupled with broken slat hinges and swollen doors, there was a lot of work to be done.

New materials were obtained using monies donated to the Tiree Community Development Trust from last September’s Yellowbellied Flycatcher twitch and sterling repair work was conducted in July and August by volunteer David Clark, who gave his expert DIY time for free. A pair of Swallows had set up a nest in the Loch Bhasapol hide, as one of the window slats had fallen of, so the work had to be conducted around them and the window kept open to allow the fledglings to be fed and to leave the hide successfully (which they did).

There is still some work to be done to replace some rotting arm-rests in the Loch a’ Phuill hide, once we can get hold of some marine plywood, but both of the hides are now dry, in much better shape and are accessible to all once more. They are both well worth a look, with the bird autumn migration period just around the corner.

Many thanks are due to Tiree Community Development Trust and to David Clark for enabling this work to happen.

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher at Balephuil

On the morning of Tuesday 15 September 2020, a very rare bird was spotted in the gardens at Balephuil. This proved to be a young Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, a colourful migrant that breeds in the northern spruce forests of North America during the summer and winters in the tropical forests of Central America. This species has never been seen before in Europe, let along the UK, and had presumably been blown off course across the Atlantic by the fast-moving depression that hit the island on 13 September.

Knowing that such an exotic vagrant would attract much attention from other birders wishing to see it, and given the current Covid19 situation, we decided not to publicise the sighting. Unfortunately, one of the other birders present on the island at the time let the news slip to a friend of his and by midnight it was clear that the news had been broadcast widely. Together with Hayley Douglas, the Tiree Ranger, we therefore had no option but to manage the ensuing “twitch” following strict ScotGov Covid19 guidelines.

Some 120 people arrived over the following three days, car-parking was organised with help from neighbours, and a strict queuing system was put in place. Fortunately, everyone who came was well behaved and followed the advice given, such that they were all able to see the bird safely. Access to the gardens was closed on the Friday night to give everyone and the bird a rest.

A further 40 people arrived in much smaller groups over the following five days and most were able to view the bird from the adjacent track. After nine days of busily feeding up on insects, including many of our neighbours’ honey-bees, the bird finally departed on the night of 23 September. This was a cold clear night with a light northerly breeze, ideal for the bird to continue its journey south. Quite where it will end up is a mystery. Let’s hope it will refuel again in Spain and end up wintering in the tropical forests of sub-Saharan Africa.

As a thank-you gift, the visiting birders (and some who didn’t come) donated generously to the Tiree Community Trust via a bucket on the site and through a just-giving page. To date this has raised at least £1,800 so far for the island.

John Bowler & Hayley

Image courtesy of John Bowler

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

The annual RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch took place over the weekend of 24th and 25th January. Here, the RSPB ask the public to record the numbers and different species of birds they see in their garden or local park. These results are then logged and used to help the RSPB target specific areas of concern.

John Bowler, our local RSPB representative, teamed up with the Tiree Trust to hold a birdwatching session at the Rural Centre to mark this national event. Those who attended made bird feeders before heading outside to see what birds they could spot. John’s expertise was invaluable, and a wide variety of birds were spotted, including snipe, golden plover, song thrush and lapwing, as well as the more common starling and herring gull.

The afternoon was rounded off with hot-chocolate, biscuits, and lots of chat. There was a good turnout, and everyone enjoyed the afternoon’s activities.

The results will be posted on the RSPB website in due course, and for any further information on birds, unusual or otherwise, you can contact John Bowler on 220748 or by email john.bowler@rspb.org.uk


Woodchat Shrike at Carnan Mor (John Bowler)

Woodchat Shrike at Carnan Mor (John Bowler)

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.

Other birds

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.
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, Tiree PA77 6UE. Tel: 220748

RSPB Info From July 2011

common Redpoll

Common Redpoll at Carnan Mor

Corncrakes continued to call all over the island during the month. The finalised count total this year for the island was 385 calling males, which was very similar to the 2010 figure of 391 birds. The weather was mostly good throughout July, so hopefully breeding success will again be high, thanks once more to all the Corncrake friendly techniques employed by the island’s crofters and farmers.

Other birds

Most of our birds seem to have had a reasonably good breeding season, although numbers of young raised were no doubt knocked back by the gales in late May.

Mute Swans for example only managed to rear two broods totalling 7 young from at least 11 nesting pairs in April. The waders, gulls and starlings all appeared to produce plenty of young, with large mixed flocks building up once more on the first cut silage fields.

Wildfowl also did well given the wet spring and many broods of Mallard, Shelduck, Red-breasted Merganser, Pintail and Tufted Duck were noted on the island’s wetlands, as well as a Gadwall brood at Kilmoluaig and a fledged Shoveler brood at The Reef.

The total number of Greylag broods was down on previous years as a result of the on-going goose management scheme, although many broods were still to be seen at their favoured lochs.

As in 2010, seabirds benefited from an abundance of sand eels throughout the month and 32 Little Terns plus over 100 Arctic Terns fledged from colonies around the island. The other seabirds had mixed results: at Ceann a’ Mhara, Shags produced a fair number of young as always, as did the Razorbills, whilst Guillemots fledged some 260+ young. However, numbers of young Fulmars in their nests dropped steadily through the month, whilst the very low count of 200 pairs of Kittiwake at Ceann a’ Mhara managed to fledge a respectable total of 205 chicks.

Smaller birds also appeared to do well, with many scattered families seen around the island of Linnet, Twite, Sedge Warbler and Wheatear. Scarcer species also did well – a pair of Chiffchaffs fledged 4 young for the second year at Balephuil, Greenfinches fledged young at 4 sites and Common Redpolls fledged young at 2 sites.

July is not normally a good month for scarcer migrants, as birds are mostly still on their breeding grounds. However, failed breeders and younger birds started moving once more during the month and there were a few notable records. The most unusual sighting was that of a juvenile Blackcap at Balephuil (4th), the first mid-summer record of this species from the island and presumably a wandering youngster from the increasing population on the Argyll mainland.

Other good birds included an adult Sea Eagle at Traigh Bhi (12th), the long-staying Golden Eagle again at Ceann a’ Mhara (23rd) and an early Sooty Shearwater off the south of the island (20th). Return wader passage picked up during the month and included 5 Whimbrel (from 11th), 4 Common Sandpipers (from 13th), 13 Blacktailed Godwits (from 13th), 121 Sanderling at Gott Bay (18th), a Ruff at Loch a’ Phuill (28th) and up to 10 Greenshanks daily on the larger lochs (from 20th).

Up to 10 Whooper Swans, two Great Northern Divers, 2 Pink-footed Geese and a lone Barnacle Goose summered on the island, whilst 3 Hen Harriers, including a fine male, returned (from 19th). Offshore, there were moderate numbers of Basking Sharks all around the coast, regular pods of Harbour Porpoises and occasional exciting sightings of Orcas.

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

RSPB Information – April 2011

rare gull on Tiree

April was dominated by high pressure with light SE winds, much sunshine and very little rain. The warm temperatures encouraged many migrant birds to arrive a little earlier than normal, whilst others such as Lapwings and Greylags also started breeding earlier.

April is a very busy month for migration and Tiree is an important staging post for many species heading to breeding sites further north. Scattered flocks of up to 100 Black-tailed Godwits in their brick-red breeding dress stopped off for a few days to feed around the lochs (8th-27th) and included colour-ringed birds from both wintering sites in southern England and breeding sites in Iceland.

There was also an arrival of some 300 Pale-bellied Brent Geese around the coast (15th-21st), including birds that had been ringed at their wintering sites in Ireland and on staging areas in Iceland. Golden Plover numbers built up at their traditional staging area at The Reef to at least 5,000 birds (12th) and were joined briefly by a trip of 14 Dotterel (19th), the largest flock ever recorded in Argyll.

Most of the Greenland geese departed early in the first two weeks of April, although there were 4 late Barnacle Geese at Loch Bhasapol (21st) and two late Greenland White-fronts at The Reef (26th), plus a scattering of lone Pink-footed Geese and at least 13 Whooper Swans at the end of the month.

April rarities included a 1st-winter Bonaparte’s Gull at Gott Bay , the first record of this small North American Gull for the island and only the second for Argyll. Other good spring birds included two juvenile Glaucous Gulls together at Traigh Bhi (17th), a hybrid Glaucous x Herring Gull at Gott Bay (7th), a drake Garganey at Loch a’ Phuill (21st-24th), a female Redstart at Carnan Mor (16th), a male Ring Ouzel at The Reef (26th), a Brambling at Carnan Mor (30th), single Lapland Buntings at Balephetrish (11th) and Traigh nan Gilean (12th) plus 2 including a summer plumaged male at Loch a’ Phuill (24th), a male Ruff at The Reef (4th-5th), an early Woodpigeon at Balephuil (4th), a Barn Owl at Heylipol (5th-8th) and single Lesser Redpolls at Balephuil (10th and 21st) followed by 2 at Carnan Mor (24th).

There was an unprecedented spring influx of up to 12 Blackcaps (from 9th) and Sand Martins (record count of 550 on 27th) plus good numbers of both White Wagtails and Greenland Wheatears. A colour-ringed Pied Wagtail observed at Sandaig (12th) had been ringed at Slapton Ley, Devon in September 2009 and is believed to have wintered in Portugal.

Arrivals of spring visitors were mostly early and almost all of the regular breeding migrants were back by the end of the month. Following early arrivals of Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Wheatears in March, April arrivals included Swallow (2nd), Sand Martin (4th), White Wagtail (5th), Manx Shearwater (7th), Great Skua (7th), Willow Warbler (9th), House Martin (10th), Little Tern (11th), Whimbrel (18th), Arctic Tern (21st), Sedge Warbler (21st), Grasshopper Warbler (21st), Whitethroat (28th), Whinchat (30th) and Cuckoo (30th). Lapwing chicks were observed from mid-month and were widespread by the month end, whilst Corncrakes returned from 14th with some 50 scattered males back by 30th. Many smaller birds took advantage of the good weather with early nests seen of Blackbirds, Stonechats and Linnets.

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

A First For Tiree And Scotland

Parula twitchers

After another busy summer here on Tiree, visitor numbers are slowly decreasing – at least until the Wave Classic event in October – so it was unusual to hear a plane from Oban arriving on Sunday carrying eight passengers.

The reason for their sudden arrival was also unusual, they had arrived following a tip off from local RSPB Officer, John Bowler, that he had sighted a rare visitor to our shores.

The bird in question is a Northern Parula, a rather colourful wood warbler 11cms ( approx 4½inches) long, from North America. It has mainly grey upperparts, a greenish back patch and two white wing bars. There hasn’t been one of these in Britain for 15 years and this will be the first official record for Scotland!

Northern Parula

Northern Parulas breed in the woods and forests of eastern North America and normally winter in Central and South America. This one was presumably blown off course on migration and ended up on the wrong side of the Atlantic. Judging from its plumage details, it appears to be a female bird in its first winter i.e. born this summer.

John Says “ I found the bird in the little wood on the east side of Ben Hynish on Saturday. There are a few hawthorns and scattered willows there, which I check daily at this time of year for migrant birds. I normally expect to see a few Willow Warblers, Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs, so it was a great thrill to find this colourful and very rare bird instead. I took some photographs and then informed the birding grapevine. Normally migrants tend not to stay for long in these bushes but this one has stayed and allowed a steady stream of admirers or “twitchers” to come and see it

8 folk chartered a plane to come over from Oban on Sunday morning and today another chartered flight came up from Yorkshire. Some of the twitchers have come from as far afield as London and Sussex. The bird has showed well to all of them and they have all left Tiree very happy to date.”

The bird was still present on Monday the 27th September, but John expects it to have left by the time this issue is in the shops.