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.
There is only a single historic record of this species in Skye when one was sent to Harvie-Brown by Mr Ross from the Broadford Hotel on 6th February 1901. It is a winter visitor to Scotland from the high Arctic, with less than 100 records most of these from the Northern and Western Isles. The Uig bird was found by Bill Allan and Martin Lumb on 23rd December, and has remained in the area since. As I have been away for Christmas I only managed to catch up with the bird today, and we found it typically confiding. It only left to join a creel boat heading out to sea and we suspect it is being well fed, picking up discards, and bait scraps. This is a first winter bird and although there was a bird recently on Benbecula, from photographs taken, this looks altogether a different bird.
Bob and Martin
A major highlight in the 2014 birding season has been an unprecedented influx of small gulls to the east coast sea lochs of Skye. This has included well over a thousand Black-headed Gulls and several thousand Common Gulls. Whilst the origins of these birds has not been established they have no doubt been attracted by rich feeding in the form of sprats, fry and fish eggs. There has also been an influx of first winter Mediterranean Gulls, a species previous unrecorded in the area. However, as its range has been expanding it may have been overlooked, but remains a scarce bird in the Highland recording area. Martin Benson found the first bird on September 15 in Broadford Bay and the majority of sightings were subsequently in the Bay which is better watched than anywhere else on the island. Though Meds are distinctive, they can be difficult to locate in constantly moving flocks. Two other singles were reported in October then on November 1st, there was a single at Waterloo, one at Loch Ainort, and Sean Morris found a bird on Rum. A systematic search on November 2nd found six different birds, with three at Loch Sligachan. On November 12th there were three, with two at Loch Portree and a single at Loch Sligachan. Whilst the overall numbers of small gulls has declined there was still around 800 Common Gulls in Broadford Bay on December 19, and this included two Med Gulls. One of the Common Gulls has a colour ring which shows it was ringed as a chick in 2013 on the Shiants so some of the birds are at least local. However, there is still a big question of the origins of the Meds which have helped brighten up some dreich winter days.
On a local scale I suppose I now regard myself as a bit of a twitcher so as well as following up new birds in Skye and Lochalsh, I have been known to take trips to the Small Isles and to the Western Isles, in search of new species. According to my first Field Guide, in 1959 I had recorded 132 different species in Scotland by which time I was 12 years old and had reached 200 species by 1976. I honestly cannot tell you what my Scottish List stands at now because I'm of an age where I start to forget things. I have friends who have World Lists, Western Palearctic Lists, UK Lists, Scottish Lists, and Highland Lists. Twitching and Listing go together and it is all a bit excessive and obsessive. Wishing to avoid too much competition, I only have a Skye List which now stands at 192 species, or if I include Lochalsh, it would be193 with the Nuthatch at Dornie. Others might have local lists but they haven't admitted to it. My ambition is to reach 200 species before any medical condition intervenes. The Skye List now stands at 254 species, a considerable improvement on the 238 species recorded when Skye Birds was first published in 2005. My obsession, with considerable help from Martin Benson, and assistance from many others who follow the website, has been a factor in us adding several new species each year, the latest of which are American Golden Plover and Mediterranean Gull. There are some obvious gaps which I will endeavour to fill. There are also species whose local range is expanding.....such as Jay. Regular autumn migrants such as Yellow-browed Warbler has yet to be recorded in the area. Some of these rarities drop in for literally hours, whilst others will hang about for a few days. If you think there's a rarity near you, try and get a picture, and let us know as soon as possible. In the case of the Harrapool White-throated Sparrow in the image, Richard Charlesworth did all of these things, but I still 'dipped' (a twitching term for failure!) - and for long sleepless nights.
With family in Barcelona, we are regular visitors to Catalonia which has some exciting birding hotspots. Perhaps not so exciting, because of the noise from aircraft landings and take-offs, Llogrebrat delta reserves with a couple of nice hides, is a regular haunt for me and invariably turns up something interesting. Little Bitterns breed in the area but are very rare in winter, so I was very lucky to see one and get a couple of quick images. It was a bit late for migrants though I did manage to spot two late Swallows. Goshawk and Peregrine are regular in the reserve, and the pick of the wildfowl were some very smart looking Red-crested Pochard. Several days were spent in the Ebre delta where the water levels were higher than we had ever seen them. Many rice fields were being ploughed attracting hundreds of Egrets including many Great Whites. With lots of water about waders were widely dispersed, but included wintering Greenshank, Spotted Redshank, Ruff, Common and Green Sandpipers. A roost site near the River Ebre must have contained several thousand Glossy Ibis. Again with high water levels, Kingfishers could only be described as abundant. I was also able to enjoy a flypast by a Great Bittern. My birding had not been as intensive as in previous visits but I was still able to get over 100 species. There are a number of images in the Overseas Gallery. With temperatures hitting 17-20 daily, and rain only on our last two days, it was a very pleasant way to spend late November.
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.