This page features current news and views from Skye and elsewhere. It will also provide an opportunity for others working locally to report research and results.
The ‘roller-coaster’ of the summer corncrake survey approaches! The following months bring a series of highs (we have a corncrake!) and lows (where are all the corncrakes?) but it’s a trip of continual fun and interest as we discover what our summer visitors are up to this year – see Morar bird!. The corncrake is an extremely rare bird, particularly on Skye, and the survey allows us to monitor numbers from year to year. So far we have heard around 10 calling males between Waternish and Trotternish but I’m hoping that a few more will turn up so am very keen for your reports.
Famously, corncrakes are heard but seldom seen as they spend most of their time hiding in tall vegetation – a good adaptation to avoid predation. Females usually produce two broods, the first in May/June, in rougher areas along ditches and field margins where flag iris, nettle and other ‘weeds’ have grown sufficiently for a corncrake to hide in. The second nest (June/July) is likely to be in hay and silage meadows. The crofters and farmers of Skye often delay their mowing until the corncrakes have finished nesting to protect these rare birds. The repetitive, rasping call of the male is best heard late at night but they do call through the day too. They are found mainly on croft land but please don’t go into the meadows. It is best to listen for them from the roadside to avoid damaging the hay and silage.
If you hear a corncrake (day or night!) I would really appreciate a call, email, text or Skye Birds report saying where you heard it and when. All reports from Skye Birds visitors are extremely helpful with the summer survey and if you would like to know more about the work RSPB is doing on Skye for corncrakes please get in touch. Thanks and have a great summer!
Shelagh RSPB Corncrake Project Officer, Isle of Skye
I've been trying to find Garden Warbler on Skye for several years. Though they breed in neighbouring Lochalsh there are only a handful of records on Skye, and though they are reported annually, a number of these have turned out to be Blackcaps. In contrast the Blackcap populations seems to have exploded with birds now recorded throughout the island. I was therefore delighted to find my first singing Garden Warbler in a woodland at Armadale today, and be able to photograph it. This is the first new bird I have recorded on the island in 2017 and brings my Skye list to 204.
The Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) is funded by the BTO, JNCC and RSPB and data collected is used in research as well as trend production for 111 species across the UK. Around 3,700 randomly allocated 1-km squares are surveyed each year across the UK. Volunteers visit their allocated squares just twice a year between April and June, four weeks apart to walk two 1-km transect routes and count the birds seen and heard either side of the transect route. Bird and basic habitat data from the square is then entered online or submitted on paper to the Regional Organiser.
In Scotland, the Breeding Bird Survey has revealed species such as Willow Warbler (see image), Cuckoo and Whitethroat are faring better than in England, species such as Chiffchaff and Blackcap have increased by 550% and 465% respectively since 1994. Unfortunately, it is not all good news; both Curlew and Lapwing down by 57% since 1994. This illustrates the importance of collecting information on bird populations, so that we have the relevant information for decision makers, researchers and those setting conservation priorities.
On Skye there are now a total of 26 randomly allocated 1km BBS squares, and 11 are not currently being surveyed. We are looking for more volunteers to take part in this incredibly valuable survey and contribute to our knowledge of the species living and breeding in Skye. The free squares are listed below. If you live close to, or can visit, one of these squares and can spare two mornings between now and the end of June please contact Carol Hawley /a> (Regional Representative and Organiser of BBS on Skye). More information on the survey is available online at http://www.bto.org/bbs">www.bto.org/bbs and anyone taking part will receive a full information pack with instructions and recording forms included, records can also be submitted on paper to Carol if needed.
NG1649 – Glendale
NG2364 – NE of Trumpan
NG3625 – N of Loch Eynort
NG3932– Drynoch, near Loch Harport
NG4025 – Glen Brittle Forest
NG4473 – Kendram, Trotternish
NG4539 – Glenmore, near Portree
NG4618 – Remote: Cuillins (for a hill walker)
NG5022 – Remote: Cuillins (for a hill walker)
NG6209 – Sleat, N of Kilbeg, S of Tokavaig
NG7323 – S of Kyleakin, N of Glen Arroch
Having reached a significant milestone in life it was decided to celebrate in Barcelona and rent a villa on the Costa Brava, not too far from the Aiguamolls Nature Reserve which is one of my favourites. I have to admit the emphasis was on family and with young grandchildren birding tended to be snatched at appropriate times. However, spring is always exciting and migration in Spain can be tremendous. It was warmer than normal and many of our summer visitors were passing through. Though I recorded over 100 species and added several to my spanish list, the highlight was probably seeing Spotted Crake and managing to take some outstanding images. Though I have heard this species previously on Skye, it is extremely elusive. Several members of the Crake family pass through Spain and can be seen at regular stopping off points where it is just a matter of time and patience. The bird in the image was extremely confiding and I managed to see it on four successive days. Spare a thought for a birder from Arizona who came over especially to add it to his life list but as far as I know failed. Collared Pratincoles were also arriving and to photograph one with a Barnacle Goose was somewhat bizarre - to catalan birders it was the Barnacle Goose which was the rarity. There are some images in the Overseas section of the Gallery.
The Highland Bird Report 2014, published by Highland Branch of the SOC has just been published. The majority of the records submitted to this website are forwarded for compilation into this report, which represents all the records which have been accepted as occurring in the Highland recording area. Skye and Lochalsh district is part of this region and the report contains a summary of the highlights for the district. There is also a summary of records from Lochaber which includes the Small Isles. Sean Morris from Rum has compiled this summary and we regularly carry records from the Small Isles and Morar. Please contact me if you need a copy as I have a few available at £9 or £11 including postage.