Tag Archives: wildlife

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

A Trip To Lunga

puffin on the isle of lungaOn Saturday morning the sky was blue, the sea like glass… an ideal day for a sail.

A huddle of Tirisdich and members of the Oban & Lorne Strathspey and Reel Society clambered onto the good ship Islander (a catamaran actually) for a jaunt to the bonny Isle of Lunga. As we motored along at a not insubstantial pace, we were joined by a pod of around 100 dolphins. These curious and friendly creatures played beside our boat whilst cameras clicked, though they weren’t easy to photograph as they were so quick in the water!

Not to be outdone, a minky whale swam silently past, but was unmoved by the commotion and disappeared as quickly as it had arrived.

On arrival at Lunga we picked our way across the boulders on the shore and made for higher ground. It was a beautiful day for a picnic and having found a sunny spot amongst the bluebells we sat down to eat…. However the lure of sandwiches lost its appeal when puffins congregated around us. These brightly painted birds are so tame and charismatic, and seemed quite happy to strike a pose for the camera! Two hours seemed to pass so quickly and then we were back on our boat and homeward bound……..

Stephen Set To Safegaurd Tiree’s Environment

by Ian Sharp

 

stephen_nagyIntroducing Tiree’s new full time Ranger, Stephen Nagy, whose job is to safeguard and promote the island’s environment.

Although it’s the first time Tiree has enjoyed a full time Ranger, Stephen himself is not new to the island – he has been living and working on Tiree with his wife Tina for the past three years and is a ”well kent face.” His new post has been put in place after long and detailed applications made by John Bowler, a director of Tiree Rural Development Ltd, to Scottish Natural Heritage and various other organizations for funding. John’s laborious efforts paid off with the announcement that Tiree is to join other areas across Scotland that already have a Ranger service, including Orkney, North Harris, Rum, Mull & Iona, Isle of Bute, and many more.

Stephen’s many duties include welcoming and leafleting camper van and motor home drivers to make sure that they are informed of the need for the protection of sensitive machair. He will be based in the Rural Centre and will also have the task of producing heritage brochures and leaflets for Tiree Chapels, using Tiree roads, local birds, maps and wildlife and heritage guides. Stephen will also be responsible for evolving activities for children, including working with Tiree’s Beaver Scouts and youngsters at the school.Other areas of his workload includes disabled access, organizing guided walks, off road parking areas, and reporting his Ranger activities and news in An Tirisdeach.

Fortunately for Stephen his last job in the policy unit of the chief executive’s office in Northumberland Council involved him in some similar work.

He first came to Tiree as a kite surfer and moved three years ago, working as a qualified electrician until the job of Ranger came up. Stephen, 48, who lives with Tina and their dog Misty at Crossapol, said:

”I am excited about my new job. I will be just as happy working in the office as outside meeting people, although there is not opportunity for my other two hobbies, apart from kite surfing – rock climbing and mountain biking. I would like to thank John Bowler for all his hard work on the various applications, including those for grants for the funding, and for making the job a reality. I would also like thanks to be given to Discover Tiree who provided some of the funding and who helped out with lots of advice about graphics and logo items for our new van. They also gave advice on the tourist focus items in the project plan when we were applying for funding.”

Stephen’s three year contract is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund; Scottish Natural Heritage; Discover Tiree, and Tiree Trust. Ranger events and downloadable walks etc will also be publicized through the new Discover Tiree web-site an by way of the innovative new Tiree phone app, which will work on both phone and tablet.

Basking Shark tracked 2000 miles to Canaries

Basking Sharks

Basking Sharks off Tiree - Image:Wild Tiree

A Basking Shark has been tracked over 2,000 miles from its summer feeding and mating grounds off the west coast of Scotland to the Canary Islands off Africa.

Until recently scientists thought the world’s second largest fish headed to the deep Atlantic to breed, but an innovative tracking programme which began last year found that eight sharks swam south after leaving Scottish waters and one travelled as far as the island chain popular with holidaymakers. Some of the sharks tagged off islands such as Tiree and Canna lost their tags in less than a month but Cailleach – all the sharks were named by the public – managed to transmit for 138 days on its epic voyage.

Scientists on the project say the findings are important because they help identify marine areas in which the sharks need to be protected and also give clues to where they breed. The basking sharks were tagged in the Inner Hebrides, a hotspot for the species, with consistently large numbers sighted there during the summer months. In Gunna Sound, between the islands of Coll and Tiree four times as many basking sharks have been recorded per hour than anywhere else in the UK. In total, 20 sharks were tagged by scientists from Scottish Natural Heritage and the University of Exeter, as part of the £147,000 project to find out more about their life cycle. Eight were tagged for the public to follow online – and more than 40,000 logged on in the first few weeks alone. The other 12 were also fitted with the £1,500 devices, which will detach after 280 days and transmit all their data – including the diving behaviour of the sharks.

Marine biologist Dr Lucy Hawkes, of the University of Exeter, said “Nobody’s had much luck in keeping a tag on a basking shark for very long before. There are problems tracking such an enigmatic species. They have thick skin and we used a surgical dart just below the surface of the skin – but due to the nature of their size etc there is no real opportunity to check how well the tags were on. But by quite a long way we have got more information about the behaviour of basking sharks than before. We now know they head due south from Scotland not due west. This is important because until 1994 basking sharks were hunted, so if they are heading to places like the Canaries we need to have conversations with other governments about conservation measures. We just don’t know much about basking sharks – we know nothing of their reproduction cycle, where they calve, their gestational period. Nobody’s even seen a juvenile basking shark. This project is telling us many new things but it’s principally about distribution of the species. It could give some clues to where they may calve, which could then be the subject of further research. We are now waiting for the other tags to be released after 280 days to analyse that data. For instance, we suspect that basking sharks perform extraordinarily long dives – we know nothing about their diving behaviour – and this should help us find out.”

Dr Matthew Witt, of the University of Exeter’s Environment and Sustainability Institute, said: “Although they have captured the public imagination, we actually know relatively little about how basking sharks live. This is a fantastic opportunity for us to find out more about the movements and lifestyles of these fascinating creatures. This is a hugely challenging project – not least because we are at the mercy of the weather and sea conditions, but the results will prove invaluable in our quest to uncover the secrets of these giants of the sea and help to protect them.”

The results may have significance for renewable energy developers who want to build windfarms off the Scottish coast. A £7 billion plan off Tiree is in a vital mating ground for basking sharks. Scottish Power Renewables is looking again at the scale of the scheme because it is inside the sharks’ mating area. Campaign group No Tiree Array want the area recognised as a marine nature reserve for basking sharks.

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

World’s rarest turtle washed ashore

Kemp's Ridley TurtleThis young turtle was found freshly dead on 9th December, the day after the big storm, and was originally identified as a Loggerhead. However, experts have now re-identified it as Britain’s 36th record of Kemp’s Ridley Turtle (Lepidochelys kempii). A few days later, a second individual was found on a beach in Ceredigion, West Wales.
Kemp’s Ridley Turtles are a warm water species, and the rarest of the marine turtles. They are considered critically endangered, nesting only on a few beaches in the Gulf of Mexico. Dr Peter Richardson of the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) says these recent turtle strandings suggest there may be more turtles out there that could wash up on UK beaches. “Our advice isthat under no circumstances should stranded turtlesbe thrown back in the sea. While they may appear to be dead, they may in fact be comatose due to the cold conditions, and can be nursed back to health if immediately rescued and given expert care. If they are dead, it is important that they are collected and stored for post-mortem examination.”
MCS has a produced a UK Turtle Code, which can be downloaded at www.mcsuk.org and gives information on how to identify turtle species found in the UK and who to call if you find one. In addition, all dead or alive stranded turtles should be reported to Marine Environmental Monitoring (MEM) on 01348 875000.
MEM organises the rescue and rehabilitation of live stranded turtles; collection and post-mortem of dead animals and maintains a national database of turtlereports.

RSPB information – September 2011

Hoopoe

photo courtesy of Jim Dickson

September is the month when large numbers of birds are on the move as they head south once more for the winter. Lying on the East Atlantic Flyway, Tiree is well placed to see migration in action as wildfowl and waders pass through from their Arctic breeding grounds, whilst strong winds from fast-moving Atlantic depressions often bring more unusual species to the island.

With a very active hurricane season off the eastern seaboard of America during the month, winds were predominantly from the west and these brought bumper numbers of American waders to the island, part of a record influx to Britain and Ireland. These included an adult White-rumped Sandpiper at The Reef (15th), just the second record for the island following the first at Gott Bay in August, a juvenile Baird’s Sandpiper at Sandaig (26th-27th), single juvenile Buff-breasted Sandpipers at Loch a’ Phuill (3rd) and Barrapol (29th), plus a scattering of up to 5 juvenile Pectoral Sandpipers (9th-27th).

Easterly winds on the back of the depressions however brought the rarest bird to the island when a Blyth’s Reed Warbler appeared at Balephuil (19th-26th). This small brown warbler is very similar to the more widespread Common Reed Warbler but is subtly different in shape and plumage. It breeds in Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe and normally winters in India, so it was well off course! Equally lost was an exotic-looking Hoopoe(pictured) at Balemartine in wet and windy conditions (30th), which quickly realised the error of its ways and moved on.

Other wanderers from Continental Europe included a Nightingale at Vaul (3rd-8th), juvenile Common Rosefinches at Balephuil (19th-24th and 30th), a juvenile Dotterel at Ruaig (25th-26th) and an Osprey at Moss (13th). There was no replay of the Lapland Bunting invasion that occurred last autumn and instead there was a more typical showing of just 3 birds (from 19th), whilst the first 4 Snow Buntings were seen (from 25th).

NW gales on 7th-14th brought high numbers of seabirds off the north coast including 6 juvenile Sabine’s Gulls, 46 Sooty Shearwaters, 28 Leach’s Petrels, 8 Storm Petrels, 2 Pomarine Skuas, 48 Arctic Skuas and some 94 Great Skuas in amongst hundreds of Gannets, Kittiwakes, Manx Shearwaters, auks and Arctic Terns, whilst there was a Grey Phalarope off Soa (28th).

Wader interest included an influx of at least 45 Curlew Sandpipers, 5 Little Stints, 10 Whimbrel, 31 Black-tailed Godwits and a record influx of Ruff including a group of 33 at Loch a’ Phuill (18th). Large numbers of smaller birds were also on the move, with the gardens and other areas of cover attracting common migrants such as Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Sedge Warbler, Goldcrest and Greenfinch, plus the first Robins and the odd Dunnock. Less common migrants included a very late Grasshopper Warbler at Balephuil (15th), Garden Warblers at Balephuil (2nd) and Vaul (4th), a late Whitethroat at Balephuil (24th-25th) and up to 4 Common Redpolls. Small numbers of Corncrakes, Sand Martins and Swallows hung on to the end of the month whilst winter migrants passing through included the first 12 Pale-bellied Brent (from 18th) and 13 Whooper Swans at Loch a’ Phuill (16th), although no Redwings had been seen by the month-end.

Winter raptors such as Hen Harrier, Merlin and Kestrel were also back in force, whilst the lone sub-adult Golden Eagle lingered around West Tiree. 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 Info

Corncrake

A few Corncrakes continued to call at various places around the island with the last calling birds later than normal well into the second week of the month. There were several reports of adult birds and broods so hopefully they should have had another good breeding season.

White rumped SandpiperOther birds

August was largely warm with mostly light winds and moderate rainfall which kept the grassland green and the machairs full of flowers.

As the breeding season came to a close once more, flocks of adults and juvenile birds of many species began building up prior to migrating south.

Big flocks of Lapwings, gulls and Starlings feasted on invertebrates in the freshly cut silage fields, and these were joined by Golden Plovers, Curlews, Whimbrel, Black-tailed Godwits and Ruff migrating to the island from their breeding sites further north.

Feeding groups of up to 100 Swallows gathered over longer grassland and flocks of up to 60 Sand Martins hawked over the lochs on wetter days as the birds focussed on storing up food for their migrations to Africa. Large flocks of migrant waders also built up on the beaches with hundreds of Sanderling, Ringed Plover and Dunlin passing through.

In amongst them were a few scarcer waders including groups of up to 10 Knot, a Spotted Redshank at Hynish (8th), plus the odd Greenshank and Common Sandpiper, but more unexpected was an adult White-rumped Sandpiper at Gott Bay (4th – see photo). This was the first ever record of this North American wader from Tiree. Checks of the Sanderling revealed seven different colour-ringed birds, including six, which had been ringed on spring migration in SW Iceland and one from the island of Jersey in the Channel Islands.

There were also increasing numbers of smaller birds on the move including obvious influxes of wagtails and wheatears, a couple of late Swifts (10th and 13th), a Crossbill at Carnan Mor (11th) plus a Wood Warbler at Balephuil (30th), which proved to be the latest ever record of this species from Argyll.

Offshore, there were regular sightings of small numbers of Basking Sharks from all around the coast, whilst a small pod of Bottle-nosed Dolphins frequented Crossapol Bay for a couple of days. There was the usual late summer influx of Merlins, Kestrels, Sparrowhawks and Hen Harriers, none of which breed on the island, but which come here to feed on the abundant birdlife over the winter, whilst an adult Sea Eagle was reported from Gott (28th). The post-breeding goose count (31st-1st) found the Greylag total a little down in numbers at 2,236 birds although the proportion of young remained high at 33%. The count also found 2 Pink-footed Geese, 1 Canada Goose and 4 Canada x Greylag Goose hybrids in West Tiree, plus totals of 2,235 Lapwing and 405 Golden Plover.

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

Birding News

December began where November left off, being rather mild, wet and windy but it became increasingly colder (and drier) and by the end of the month, an unusually prolonged spell of sub-zero temperatures set in as it did across the whole of Scotland.

Pluvialis_apricaria

The freezing weather made conditions very tough for many of our wintering birds. With the ground frozen hard, birds of the wet grasslands such as Lapwing and Golden Plover found it difficult to probe for food, and by the end of the month, numbers had dropped from around 3,800 Lapwing and 4,300 Golden Plover to just a few hundred of each.

Many other smaller birds also left the Island late in the month to search for better foraging conditions elsewhere and only a handful of Redwings and Meadow Pipits, for example, remained by the month end.

Shorebirds were less affected, as although the tops of the beaches froze hard at times, the lower portions remained ice-free, enabling birds to continue to probe in the sediments at low tide for worms and other invertebrates.
High counts included 193 Dunlinand, 131 Ringed Plovers at Sorobaidh Bay (9th), 216 Sanderling at Balephetrish Bay (17th) and 70 Turnstone at Gott Bay (14th).

Some wildfowl also moved to the coast as the lochs froze up, whilst the remainder made use of small holes kept free of ice on the larger lochs by feeding swans.

A goose count (14th- 15th) found 3,460 Greylags, 3,438 Barnacle Geese, 769 Greenland White-fronted Geese, 5 Pale-bellied Brent and 3 Pink-footed Geese, together with 138 Whooper Swans.

It is always hard to be accurate with numbers of raptors as these are normally seen scattered singly around the island and are very mobile so could be counted more than once. However, on 2nd, three female-type Hen Harriers were watched at dusk coming in to a roost together, whilst a male was seen at Balephetrish that afternoon, so at least 4 birds were present at the start of the month.
There were also at least 5 Merlins, 2 Kestrels, 2 Sparrowhawks, 25 Buzzards and 4 Peregrine Falcons around the island.

Rare birds seen during the month included the wintering female Surf Scoter at Hough Bay, two vagrant Lesser Canada Geese in with the Barnies including a tiny “Richardson’s” Canada Goose at Balephetrish and a European Whitefronted Goose – all of which remained from November, but new in was a juvenile Sea Eagle, which soared around Ben Hynish (30th).

Rallus_aquaticus

Other winter scarcities included up to 10 Goldfinches and 2 Pied Wagtails, a Jackdaw at Balephuil (1st), a Dunnock at Crossapol (7th) and increasing numbers of Woodcock as the weather worsened.
Most unusually, Water Rails (pic.) were reported visiting gardens at Mannal and Balephuil – this normally most elusive of species was presumably tempted out of cover in the wetlands by a combination of the cold weather and the lure of provisioned food.

Food for small birds is always in short supply by midwinter and this problem is exacerbated by freezing weather, which renders the ground too hard to probe for worms and insects. Regular feeding with seeds and bread, plus provision of fresh water, can be a lifeline for regular garden birds such as House Sparrows, Blackbirds, Robins and Song Thrushes. During cold snaps, such as the recent one, more wary birds such as Greenfinches, Chaffinches, Reed Buntings and even Water Rails may also put in an appearance on island bird tables.

The Big Garden Birdwatch event on 30-31 January will provide the opportunity to chart the continuing fortunes of birds in gardens across Scotland.
Thank you to everyone who has reported their sightings of wildlife to me during the year and here’s hoping 2010 will be another wildlife rich one for Tiree.

John Bowler

Bird images copied with permission:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Pluvialis_apricaria2.jpg
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Rallus_aquaticus_1_(Marek_Szczepanek).jpg

RSPB Info – April

corncrake

April brought some warmer dry spells interspersed with periods of wetter southerly and westerly winds, which kept the lochs and wetlands topped up, but also kept many fields wetter than normal. In general, spring migration was a little earlier than last year with the Barnacle Geese departing en masse from Ruaig on the evening of 12th – three days earlier than in 2008, with the bulk of the Greenland White-fronts setting off northwards the day before. Some spring arrivals were also early with the earliest ever record for the island of a Blackcap at Balephuil (11th) and the earliest ever Cuckoo at Carnan Mor (17th). By the end of the month, most of the regular breeding migrants were back, albeit in small numbers so far, including Willow Warbler (from 10th), Little Tern (from 14th), Arctic Tern (from 25th), Sedge Warbler (from 28th) and Common Sandpiper (from 29th). The first Corncrake was also early (9th) and some 30 or so calling males had been widely reported around the island by the month-end. Co-ordinated night time counts of calling male Corncrakes will start later in May to see how numbers compare to last year. With numbers of birds dropping on both Coll and the Outer Hebrides in 2008, Tiree’s currently thriving Corncrake population has become even more important.

The preceding was extracted from the paper version of An Tirisdeach.