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.
First I’d like to thank all Skye Birds contributors and those who gave me weekly reports of their local corncrakes. This information helps to protect corncrakes and promote their breeding success. Many of you will have heard that the overall count for corncrakes in Scotland has reached its highest figure since recording began in the 1990s - over 1280 calling males. On Skye, during the survey we counted 38 calling males which is on a par with last year. The season began about 10 days earlier than usual with the first males starting their repetitive calling on 22 April . Although the winter was very wet, it was unusually mild. This meant that grass growth was good in spring and there was plenty of tall vegetation available for corncrakes to hide in when returning from their migration in Africa. Most of the birds were on the west coast of Trotternish with Lionacro being a particular hot spot. There were a few birds around Uig in May but most had stopped calling by June. Waternish attracted at least 14 males with a good concentration around Trumpan. They could be heard throughout the season from early May until the end of July. Again the mowing contractors were very supportive of corncrake friendly mowing (starting from the inside of the crop out and moving outwards) in areas where birds were known to be calling. This important technique can mean the difference between life and death to corncrakes nesting in the silage meadows.
Please feel free to contact me if you would like any more information. My thanks again to all contributors and for the support of www.skye-birds.com – I look forward to hearing from you again next year!
In the language of twitching, a mega is an extremely rare bird. Though we have had a number of rare birds on Skye we have rarely had a mega. Just across the Minch the western isles collects megas every year, and with several top notch birders both resident and visiting in the autumn, the chances are increased. We had booked a holiday cottage in North Uist just as Hurricane Gonzalo was winging its way across the Atlantic. Extreme weather systems, especially during autumn migration, have a habit of bringing american rarities to our shores. Martin and Carol Benson joined us for a few days and with a little good fortune, another birder discovered a Hermit Thrush less than a mile from where we were staying. This small American thrush was only a 5th record for Scotland. It would normally be foraging on the woodland floor somewhere in Central America rather than in a sandy depression amidst the Balranald dune system. It showed extremely well as Martin's superb image shows and hit the national news. At the same time two other visitors from America turned up - a Grey-Cheeked Thrush on Barra and a Chimney Swift at Ness on Lewis. The swift is only the third record for Scotland. Martin and Carol just so happened to be heading to Lewis and caught up with the bird before they headed for the ferry home. A 2nd mega in two days for Martin but unfortunately he had left spare batteries for his camera in the back of my car, so missed the opportunity to get some pictures. During our week on the Uists, we endured some pretty horrendous weather but still managed to record over 70 species and of course the Hermit Thrush for me, was the big bonus. There is every chance that a mega will be lurking somewhere in Skye and Lochalsh.....always worthwhile checking everything out carefully. The likelihood is it may not be a small Song Thrush....but something entirely different.
North-west Sutherland is one of the most remote areas in Highland area and like most of the west highlands is rarely visited by birders. Peter Stronach has been visiting the area regularly this year on the basis, that its geographical position, and lack of woodland cover, would make it attractive to migrants. This extends the known pattern of drift migrants from Scandinavia, that in certain wind conditions, make landfall in Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles. With favourable easterly wind conditions this has proved to be the case and a small group of us joined Peter for a week-end of birding. There has been a huge fall of Yellow-browed Warblers in the Northern and Western Isles during the last week and North-West Sutherland has had its share with around 6 being recorded over the week-end. In addition there were large numbers of Blackcaps, Goldcrests and Brambling. Other highlights included a Reed Warbler at Kinlochbervie, and a Hawfinch and Yellow Wagtail at Balnakeil. There is a lack of woodland cover in the area so most of the species were found in a few sheltered gardens and patches of woodland cover. A species like Yellow-Browed Warblers move south they encounter bigger areas of suitable woodland habitat and can be much more difficult to locate. This explains why there is no record of this species for Skye but without doubt they will pass through - keep your eyes pealed for this delightful little warbler which is not much bigger than a Goldcrest.
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.