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.
A White-throated Sparrow found by Richard Charlesworth in his garden in Harrapool on 20th May 2012, has been accepted by the BBRC. Recorded less than 20 times in Scotland, this rare North American vagrant was feeding in Richard's garden for only about 20 minutes, but he was able to take several images one of which is shown here, which were absolutely critical in identifying the bird, and ensuring that the record was accepted. It has proved once more that unusual birds occur on Skye and our island 'list' is steadily increasing through locals and visitors being on the alert. With the benefits of digital photography, the task can be made much easier. Though 250 is a local milestone, with several other records being scrutinised by committees, it will not last long! Congratulations to Richard for a super record.
A mild but drier winter appears to have left Skye’s Golden Eagles in better breeding condition than last year, hence the increase in nesting attempts, which rose back to the 2008 level.
The total number of fledged chicks also rose in 2013, reversing the breeding decline of the last few years, which was encouraging.
However, the high number of breeding attempts which ended in failure remains a disappointment. In some of these cases, failure may be partly due to immaturity or ageing in one or other of the breeding pair. However, a high number of golden eagle pairs suffer increasing levels of disturbance from wildlife tourism, walkers, birdwatchers, geologists and photographers. This year disturbance also included moor burning, which may have contributed to desertion in a few cases.
Please click on the graph to enlarge it.
Ken Crane & Kate Nellist
Last year's breeding season found a significant decline in breeding numbers from the normal 8-10 pairs to around 5 known pairs. The 2013 breeding season commenced with a number of pairs present, but again low numbers, and birds were slow to settle probably as a result of the cold spring and the slow arrival of passerines such as Meadow Pipits which form the main prey base. The first eggs were not laid until mid May, at least two weeks later than normal. Although up to 5 pairs may have been present, only three nests were found, all in the core breeding area and two of these nests were from females involved in a polygamous relationship with a single male. One of these nests subsequently failed on eggs. Another pair present appeared to consist of sub-adult birds and it is not thought that they made a breeding attempt. Of the two nests remaining, both were successful fledging a total of 5 young. Statistically it was therefore a successful season, and unlike previous years there was no evidence of predation by foxes. However, the continued decline in numbers is extremely worrying and a similar position has been recorded elsewhere, particularly in southern Scotland. RSPB issued a press release on 9th August reporting that the species was on the brink of extinction in England and putting the blame firmly at the door of persecution on sporting estates. Whilst there is little doubt that this is a primary cause of decline in some areas, in Skye, where there are no sporting estates, it would be difficult to blame persecution. The cause of decline is in my view much more complex. I am extremely grateful to the many observers who send me records through the website - these are invaluable in trying to piece together the breeding population.
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.