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.
Most of the larger islands off Skye such as Raasay, South Rona, Soay and Scalpay were surveyed for birds during the recent BTO Atlas. A number of the remote uninhabited islands were not visited and knowledge of what is there is extremely limited. Amongst these is the Ascribs, very much a Seton Gordon favourite, but difficult to access so a number of us set off on a rib from Uig on a fine day on June 10. The idea was to survey as much as possible of all the islands and the small party included specialists in mammals, botany and bryophytes. Some 30 species of birds were recorded, with the small colony of c50 pairs of Puffins an expected highlight. Historically, Greylag Goose has also bred on the islands so the large breeding and moulting population was predictable given recent population expansion. Most seabirds seemed late in breeding and only a handful of Arctic Terns were recorded, which was disappointing. Seton Gordon had recorded Storm Petrels breeding and the remains of a predated bird did suggest that they may still do so. Though there was no evidence of breeding, a pair of Peregrines was a welcome observation. With some natural regeneration of native woodland on South Ascrib the excellent cover was being used by Willow Warbler and Lesser Redpoll, and a number of pairs of Twite were breeding. All the records of birds, mammals, butterflies, moths, spiders, plants and bryophytes will be entered on national databases providing at least some benchmark observations. Other visits to some remoter islands are planned.
As part of a wider study by the BTO, four Cuckoos have recently been caught and fitted with solar-powered satellite tags at sites in Lochalsh and Skye. Transmitter packs were attached to two Cuckoos caught on the National Trust for Scotland’s Kintail Estate, and also to single birds caught at the Trust’s nearby Balmacara Estate and the Forestry Commission Scotland’s Kinloch property on Skye. This is the third year of the BTO’s project to better understand the migration routes and African wintering grounds Cuckoos use, with state-of-the-art light weight technology (less than 5 g) now making this possible in a way that eliminates impediment to the birds.
Cuckoos have undergone a steady long term decline in southern Britain. However, in Scotland, particularly in the north and west, numbers appear to have remained fairly stable and have even increased. BTO staff Chris Hewson, Phil Atkinson and John Calladine, who caught the birds and attached the transmitters, were pleasantly surprised at the numbers of Cuckoos attracted by their decoy bird and recorder calls. Indeed, the four tagged birds plus two females (which are generally too light to carry the tags safely) were caught in a single day.
Cuckoos are one of a number of bird species that used to be common and widespread across Britain but which have declined markedly, especially in the south and east. Being able to follow their individual movements to the Congo basin and back is inherently fascinating. Another important part of this work will be in identifying areas and habitats used by the birds throughout the year, even across years. It will help towards identifying reasons as to why the north and west has become a refuge for these and other species.
The movements of the Lochalsh and Skye birds, along with those from other parts of Britain can be followed at www.bto.org/cuckoos. The bird tagged at Kinloch is shown in the image.
Senior Research Ecologist
Exhibition and presentation at Talla Dearg, Isleornsay on Saturday 21 September 2019 - Migrations - a field study in adversity - in support of The Highlands Support Refugees