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.
After celebrating a day on Canna with eagles it is sadly a reflection of the times we live in, that our next blog brings news that the Police are appealing for information after a golden eagle was found dead near Morar, Lochaber in March. A post-mortem conducted by the Scottish Government laboratory of Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture showed that the eagle had been poisoned with banned pesticides. A multi-agency investigation continues, involving Northern Constabulary, National Wildlife Crime Unit and RSPB Scotland. This is the third known eagle poisoning incident in the area over the last ten years, with two white-tailed eagles previous victims. Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations for RSPB Scotland said: “Despite the hard work being done by the police and partner agencies, some individuals continue to disregard the law, and public opinion, by killing protected birds of prey. Sadly, this is just the latest in a long list of golden eagles found poisoned over the last few years, and that only represents those actually discovered. Who knows how many of these magnificent birds are killed but never found? We condemn the actions of those who continue to kill Scotland’s birds of prey, and hope that any one with information related to this or other wildlife crimes will step up and pass this to the police or contact Crimestoppers”. The eagle was fitted with a satellite transmitter in 2010 prior to fledging from a nest beside Beinn an Tuirc on the Kintyre peninsula. Chief Inspector Matthew Reiss, Northern Constabulary’s Wildlife Crime Coordinator said: “Wildlife tourism is an increasingly significant income generator in the highland economy, and particularly so in the West Lochaber area of the Highlands. Poisoning is indiscriminate - it could be your pet dog - or even a human - that could be killed simply by contact with such illegal poisons. This is a completely unacceptable and illegal practice. People who use illegal poisons are threatening the economy by killing the very wildlife that people visit the area to enjoy viewing. These visitors are contributing significant spending in the area, so crimes such as this are also threatening the jobs of people directly and indirectly reliant on the income derived from wildlife tourism.” Anyone with information relating to this case is urged to contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or Northern Constabulary on 01463 715555. An increasing number of large birds of prey are fitted with satellite tags and unfortunately an increasing number are failing to survive reflecting the fact that persecution remains a problem in rural areas. Unfortunately when several months elapse before such a high profile crime becomes public knowledge, the chances of new information being found decreases somewhat. Although RSPB suggest this is the third victim of poisoning in the area we are aware that a White-tailed Eagle was previously shot in the area and another found dead recently in suspicious circumstances. Unfortunately Morar is a classic example of a 'black hole' and it is unfortunate that no persons have yet been charged in relation to any of these incidents.
Living in Elgol on the south-west corner on Skye we are privileged to enjoy wonderful views of the Small Isles and over the years I’ve enjoyed several trips to Muck, Eigg, Rum and Canna, invariably in search of birds. An invitation from Martin Carty to join Justin Grant and a party to ring the White-tailed Eagle youngsters on Saturday past was not to be missed. Owned and managed by the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), Canna is the most remote of the islands but in wildlife terms is a bit of a jewel, sporting the largest seabird colonies in the area and also hosting Golden Eagles and White-tailed Eagles. Both species thrive as a result of the seabird colonies and also a healthy population of rabbits. There were two White-tailed Eagle chicks in the nest this year and these were ringed by Justin following an exposed cliff abseil, in what was a carefully planned and professionally executed operation with the welfare of the young birds a priority throughout. Both young were thriving and both will hopefully fledge next month. We then retreated along the cliff for an unforgettable encounter with a Golden Eagle. ‘Goldies’ are invariably shy and in 40 years of eagle watching I have occasionally known birds to come and have a look at me. However, this bird was positively inspecting us, providing unique views, terrific photographic opportunities, and an altogether memorable birding moment. Up to 1500 pairs of Manx Shearwaters previously bred on Canna but the population disappeared as a result of rat predation. Following the recent eradication programme numbers are slowly returning and we looked at some of the areas which NTS plan to survey over the coming months. A wonderful day in superb weather was capped by some superb food in Gille Brighde (the Oystercatcher) – the isle of Canna cafe and restaurant – well worth the visit in itself! The ferry trip back to Mallaig took us through rafts of Manx Shearwaters and several small pods of Common Dolphins. Many thanks to Martin, Justin, and all involved for making it such a memorable day. There are some images in the UK Birds part of our Gallery. Also have a look at http://cannawildlife.blogspot.co.uk/ and www.cannamousephotography.co.uk and of course for the foodies http://cannarestaurant.com.
The HBRG arranged a boat trip from Kyle to the Crowlin Islands on Saturday 9th June. The idea was to put the islands on the biological map by recording as much flora and fauna as possible. The number of passengers was limited to 12 people with a range of identification skills.
My own interests were the birds, butterflies and moths to be found on the islands. Although it was a fine day there was a fresh northerly breeze which meant that butterflies were conspicuous by their absence. A brief glimpse of a possible Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary was all that I achieved. It was a similar situation as far as day-flying moths were concerned but several Magpie Moth caterpillars were found plus a Common Wave. Luckily Jimmy McKellar is a whizz with a butterfly net and when we returned to the pick up point he presented me with a few moths that he had netted. One of these was a spectacular Wood Tiger for which there are only a handful of records in the West Ross recording area.
I was able to identify 19 bird species on the island plus a couple of passing Gannets. The main interest was the presence of at least three Great Skuas which were constantly in flight over the island. There was much interaction between the skuas and Great Black-backed Gulls, the most numerous of the gulls present. A pair of Red-throated Divers alternated between the freshwater Loch nan Leac and the sea where they could be heard making their wailing calls. A Red-breasted Merganser was the only duck species seen and Oystercatcher and Common Sandpiper the only waders recorded. The moorland produced the anticipated Meadow Pipits, Skylarks, Wheatears and a Cuckoo whilst the few patches of scrub woodland held at least six singing Willow Warblers. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the presence of Lesser Redpolls with their distinctive flight calls.
Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gull, Cormorant and Shag, Hooded Crow and Raven accounted for the rest of the recorded species. However during the sail to and from the islands Kittiwake, Guillemot, Razorbill and Puffin were added to the day's tally of birds seen.
A further visit is to be made in July and it will be interesting to see whether any other species can be added to the list.
The annual bird report for Highland for the year 2016 has just been published by Highland Branch SOC. Many of the records contained in this website are included in the report. Sean Morris from Rum wrote the Lochaber summary in the report and ‘yours truly’ wrote the Skye and Lochalsh summary. Several colour images have been reproduced and include several from Bob and Martin Benson. I have a small number of copies available at £9, otherwise contact Highland Branch SOC at www.highlandbirds.scot.