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.
The United Kingdom is internationally important for its numbers of wintering waterbirds, and many of these are monitored annually by the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) counts. However, the WeBS counts are mostly made on estuaries and inland waterbodies, therefore leaving the majority of the coastline uncounted. The 2015/16 Non-Estuarine Waterbird Survey (NEWS) will focus coverage on these important and under-recorded habitats.
It is known that important populations of several species such as Purple Sandpipers and Turnstone occur around our shores outside of estuaries, and consequently are not monitored annually. Following the original Winter Shorebird Count carried out in 1985 and NEWS counts in 1997/98 and 2006/07, the third repeat of NEWS will be carried out this coming winter.
The non-estuarine coastline is broken up into count sectors approximately 2km long, though some are shorter and some longer. There are 10 priority sections which have been selected at random in each region. These priority sections will be allocated first and then the others will be available for allocation. The survey runs from 1st December 2015 to 31st January 2016 and just a single count is needed, with all birds and mammals using the section recorded.
Volunteers are presently required for substantial parts of the Skye coastline. For more information see www.bto.org/webs-news or email /span>
As always, a big thank you to all for the many reports of corncrakes that I received over the summer - not only do these reports help me with the survey, I learn a lot about the history of corncrakes and other wildlife on Skye. The first reports started coming in on 21st April and numbers built up quickly over the next three weeks as more birds arrived from their winter migration. After this good start I was expecting a bumper year for corncrakes! However, the total count for the island during the survey period was 32 calling males, down from 38 last year. This 20% drop in numbers and was seen across most of the corncrake areas with the exception of Islay, Iona and Durness. As with previous years, most of the birds were on the west coast of Trotternish, a good number were on Waternish and a scattering on other crofting areas of Skye. We will not know until next season how these birds fared regarding their breeding success.
To keep consistency from year to year and between areas around Scotland, the survey officially takes place between 20 May and 10 July and only counts birds that are calling between midnight and 3am. It provides us with a comparative figure rather than an absolute count of the birds but over the years will show trends of whether the population is increasing or decreasing. Ideally the surveyor chooses a still, balmy night to carry out the survey but Skye does not always produce many of those! Without doubt, 2015 was a difficult year for surveys and this may have contributed to the low count rather than a genuine drop in numbers. Weather wise, the spring was cold and the summer wet until well into August when things finally seemed to heat up. Corncrakes are famous for their ability to hide and they rely on vegetation of about 20cm in height to do this. With the slow growth this year they were very much reliant on nettles in particular early on. On the upside, the lack of tall vegetation to hide in meant that many people actually saw corncrakes – the downside is, of course, that the exposure also left them open to predation.
Through the summer I was monitoring corncrake activity with a trail camera and picked up some interesting footage. In particular, although the males had stopped calling, there was a mating pair on the 30th July which is relatively late. If the female successfully laid and incubated eggs they would only just be hatching out on 1st September demonstrating that even this late in the season, corncrake friendly cutting (starting from the inside of the crop and moving outwards) is really important. We are very fortunate as the mowing contractors and crofters here are very supportive of corncrake friendly mowing. This important technique can mean the difference between life and death to corncrakes nesting in the silage meadows.
I have been working on the corncrakes on Skye for 6 seasons now and every year is slightly different! Please feel free to contact me if you would like any more information. My thanks again to all contributors and for the support of this website – I look forward to hearing from you again next year!
Shelagh Parlane RSPB Corncrake Project Officer, Skye
Germany is not the most popular of birding destinations but we have visited the northern Baltic coast in previous years, and this was an opportunity to explore the Brandenburg area west of Berlin, an area of rich farmland and lakes. Less than two hours from Glasgow it is an easy destination to reach and though it was cold and occasionally misty we experienced no rain during our stay and little wind. The area is well known for its autumn roosts of Common Cranes (Kranich) some which overwinter, but the majority are passing through en route to winter in Spain. The noisy spectacle of Cranes going to roost on lakes draws the crowds and there are many hides specifically built so the public can enjoy the experience. Thousands of European White-fronted and Bean Geese join the Cranes and it proved to be a unique birding experience against a background of terrific sunsets. In all we recorded 85 species the highlight of which was Caspian Gull, a new species for me. Marsh and Willow Tits were abundant and one of the highlights was finding the northern white-headed form of the Long-tailed Tit and there are some images in the European Gallery. There are special protection areas for Great Bustard and we managed to find a feeding flock of over 50. Unfortunately there was no success in finding some of the scarcer woodpeckers. White-tailed Eagles are well established and there were also sightings of Hen Harrier, Goshawk and Rough-legged Buzzard. There are a number of images in the Gallery. For information, Roger White has written a couple of guidebooks for north and east Germany, available through his website germanybirding.com.
On our way back from Glasgow we stopped off at Pitlochry to see a nice drake Ring-necked Duck.
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.