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.
Every summer a small group of us visit some of our remoter islands to try and carry out natural history recording and this year we managed a trip to Trodday and Flodigarry Islands led by Stephen Bungard. Similar to Isay, Trodday is a wintering site for Barnacle Geese. A total of 27 bird species were recorded and most were fairly predictable. Of particular interest was a small group of Puffins which we could not prove were breeding, but certainly appeared to be nest prospecting so perhaps a potential breeding colony for the future. On the trip to Flodigarry Island we hugged the spectacular basalt cliffs south of Balmacqueen. These held two colonies of Kittiwakes, good numbers of breeding Fulmars and several pairs of Guillemots and Razorbills. Flodigarry Island was almost completely burnt several springs ago and the vegetation is still recovering. Less diverse than Trodday we recorded 20 species including Wren and Reed Bunting. About 25 pairs of Arctic Terns were breeding on Sgeir na Eireann. Nick Hodgetts found a rare liverwort which made his day. Good numbers of Twite on both islands suggested that some young had managed to fledge despite the weather. There was a nice pod of Common Dolphins just offshore. Another superb day island hopping, always great exploring new areas and coastlines which are otherwise inaccessible.
I first started studying Hen Harriers on Skye in 2000, so now have 16 breeding seasons under my belt. Whilst my numbers have significantly declined since the number of pairs reached double figures a few years ago, the 2015 season looked reasonably promising with at least 6 pairs, and possibly 7 in my north Skye study area. It was a cold, wet spring and probably little surprise that only 4 pairs attempted to breed. It is not known what happened to one pair which were in a new site but they failed on eggs. Another two pairs hatched young but these were probably predated by foxes. I checked another nest today where the female was still sitting on eggs after 6/7 weeks so the eggs are clearly infertile, and will be uplifted under licence and sent for analysis. The female is pictured in the image - she does not have a yellow eye which is an indication that she is perhaps a first summer bird, which may explain the failure. For the first time in my 16 year study, no young have been produced in the study area. Social media is currently alive with debate about the threats facing Hen Harriers, almost exclusively targeted at gamekeepers and estates. There are no human threats to Hen Harriers on Skye. The threats are natural and the weather may also be a factor. Whilst there are threats elsewhere on grouse moors, Hen Harriers have bred in many areas in the west of Scotland not managed for shooting, and here their breeding success can be very mixed. Sometimes I wish the cyberspace experts would get off their arses and spend some time in the field. They might then appreciate that the problem is rather more complex. I am grateful to the many individuals who send me records which are all extremely helpful. Many hundreds of hours of effort go into this study every year and there have been many disappointments, although this is the first time I have drawn a blank. The only consolation is that with help from David Mason, a nest has been located in Lochalsh and that has fledged three young.
Isay is the largest in a group of three islands in outer Loch Bay, Waternish, the others being Mingay and Clett. It is the site of a planned fishing village dating from 1830 so has much historical interest. Highland Council Ranger Service organised an afternoon trip to Isay and we were blessed by fine weather. From a birding standpoint the island is best known for its wintering flock of Barnacles so this was an opportunity to look at its breeding birds. The biggest surprise was to find at least one calling Corncrake. There were two gull colonies holding over 100 pairs of Herring Gulls and 50 pairs of Lesser Black-backs. The small plantation held several pairs of Lesser Redpolls and the adjoining reedbed, a few singing Sedge Warblers. There were several pairs of Lapwings and a pair of breeding Redshanks was a real bonus, an extremely scarce breeding bird on Skye. Large numbers of summering Greylags have been counted in the area before and the totals probably exceeded 250 with many moulting adults as well as groups of goslings. A total of 30 species were recorded and thanks to Ellie and John for organising the trip.
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.