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 a national census of breeding Golden Eagles in 2015, but we are fortunate that on Skye the population is monitored annually by Ken Crane and Kate Nellist. This means checking 28-30 home ranges, a study which has lasted over 30 years, making knowledge of the Skye population as good as anywhere in the country. In 2014 only 12 young fledged reflecting continued low productivity during the last few years, with 12.4 being the average number of young fledged per annum between 2005-2014. Only 8 young fledged in 2012. By comparison, average productivity between 1995-2004 was 17.4 young per annum, so there is clearly a problem. An explanation might be in a succession of bad winters with extreme gales and heavy rain, which means that birds are in poor condition as spring approaches and therefore a number of pairs fail to breed. The decline in sheep numbers as a result of agricultural subsidy changes means less carrion on the hill, important to sustain Golden Eagles during the winter months. The growth in the White-tailed Eagle population also means there is increased competition for any carrion. Whilst the scientists will claim that there is little competition between the two species of Eagles for food and nest sites, some of our most experienced fieldworkers disagree, and White-tailed Eagle productivity on Skye, with only half the number of territories, now outstrips Golden Eagle productivity. Poor productivity is now a feature of a number of West Highland study areas so problems are not just confined to Skye. Two adult Golden Eagles were also found dead on Skye in autumn 2014. The first of these was a badly decomposed bird found at Gearymore at the end of September. Unfortunately the results of the post mortem and toxicology analysis were unable to determine a cause of death. This bird had been ringed as a chick on Canna in 2004 so was only 10 years old. Only six weeks later another adult bird was found dead at Heaste (see image) and the PM found evidence of haemorrhage subdurally and within both eyeballs. There was no evidence of trauma externally. Although the exact cause of death will never be known it is suspected that the bird was involved in a collision either in pursuit of prey or as a result of being chased by another territorial bird. The losses of mature birds from the population invariably means that their replacements will be sub-adults, not likely to breed successfully for several years. The problem of poor productivity may therefore be exascerbated. The Golden Eagle survey of 2015 may therefore be timely, and help focus attention on the problems facing our national bird in areas which were formerly exporters of surplus birds, but where annual productivity is now at such a long term low that the sustainability of the present population may be at risk.
With a total of only 127 species recorded, a full ten species less than last year, 2014 was the poorest year for bird recording on Eigg for some time. This low species total was almost entirely due to the lack of migrant species appearing in both the spring & autumn periods plus the absence of any prolonged cold spells during the winter months. In direct contrast to the low species list the number of proven breeders, 77 species, was exceptionally high, two species up on last year & the best total for many years. In general it was a very successful breeding season throughout the island with Eiders, waders & many passerines raising large numbers of young. Two pairs of Red Throated Divers successfully reared young whilst the high vole population produced a good season for Hen Harriers, Kestrels & owls. Arctic Terns had their best breeding season for many years & raised good numbers of young while Curlews bred for the second year running & Collared Doves bred successfully for the fourth time on the island. The House Sparrow population explosion continued unabated with numbers continuing to increase dramatically. There was also an unusual record of a Tree Sparrow which hybridized & hatched young with its House Sparrow mate. On the downside, the continuing disastrously low Rabbit population impacted badly on the large raptors that rely on them for food. Both Buzzards & Ravens suffered to a considerable degree & sadly Golden Eagles failed to raise young for the first time in 18 years. Other species that suffered a poor breeding season included Fulmars, Shags & several species of finch.
More noteable spring records included a Canada Goose (rare on Eigg), the islands 4th Velvet Scoter, a Corncrake in late May, a few Whimbrel, a Ring Ouzel in mid April, a Rook (scarce on Eigg) & a series of Yellowhammer sightings. Autumn was possibly even less productive than spring with even passage Fieldfares & Redwings very thin on the ground. Odd records included very regular sightings of a pair of imm White Tailed Eagles, a few Greenshanks, a Sandwich Tern, three records of Bramblings & a flock of 20 Common Crossbills in October. The winter periods were typically pretty quiet with the usual invasion of Woodcock, a few Jack Snipe, an Iceland Gull in January & several Glaucous Gulls the only records of any note.
(An extract from John’s summary)
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