RSPB Report for December 2011

Snow Goose at Cornaigmore

The extremely wet and windy weather continued unabated through December with a hurricane strength storm on 8th causing widespread damage across the island. A few birds got into trouble in the high winds and there were reports of a swan in a garden at Scarinish and a Cormorant on the road at Balephetrish. Unlike in the previous two freezing winters however, conditions remained generally mild with an absence of any prolonged frost.As a result, grassland waders and wildfowl found it easier to find food in the wet fields and marshes, with some 2,990 Lapwing and 3,150 Golden Plover counted around the island mid-month.

There were also hundreds of Wigeon and Teal scattered on the floods across the island, whilst many of the shorebirds such as Ringed Plover and Turnstone came in off the beaches to make the most of the rich feeding inland.

Offshore, gulls and auks found good feeding in more sheltered areas and there were fewer stormbound birds on the beaches than might have been expected given the stormy conditions. Hundreds of Fulmars returned to visit their nest ledges on rare calmer days, a sure sign that they were not feeding far from shore, whilst odd Gannets were present offshore throughout.

Winter scarcities were few and far between but included the long-staying blue-phase Snow Goose, which remained all month with Greylags in the Cornaigmore area. The Black Swan was last seen at Loch a’ Phuill on 2nd and presumably headed off to winter further south, whilst a Barn Owl was a rare find hunting along the road at Loch an Eilein (11th).

Scarcer waterbirds included 3 Pochard at Loch a’ Phuill (2nd) with a Scaup there (11th), a Little Grebe at Loch Riaghain (12th and 20th), 5 Common Scoter at Hough Bay (17th) with 3 more off Mannal (31st) and a Moorhen at Loch Bhasapol (20th).

Far rarer however was a Kemp’s Ridley Turtle that was found freshly dead on the shore at Baugh (9th) by Bill and Moira Welstead – a victim of the hurricane. An Iceland Gull near Loch an Eilein at the end of the month was the fore-runner of an unprecedented invasion of this all-white gull from Greenland in the New Year, together with smaller number of Glaucous Gulls.

A goose count (12th+15th) found lower totals than in November totaling 2,153 Greylags and 566 Greenland White-fronted Geese, although Barnacle Geese increased to 2,934 and there were also 3 Pink-footed Geese, a large-race Canada Goose with two hybrid young at Greenhill and a lone Pale-bellied Brent Goose at Balephetrish.

Prolonged windy weather can cause problems for smaller birds as they struggle to find shelter in which to feed and roost. Regular feeding with seeds and bread, plus provision of fresh water, provides a lifeline for regular garden birds such as House Sparrow, Blackbird, Robin and Song Thrush and may attract usually more wary birds such as Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Reed Bunting and even Water Rail.

The Big Garden Birdwatch Event on 28th – 29th 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 for a wildlife-rich 2012 on Tiree.

John Bowler

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