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.
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