Tag Archives: ornithology

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.

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

RSPB information – September 2011


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 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.

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.


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).


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: