Skye Birds - A Birding Guide to the Isle of Skye

The Skye-Birds Blog

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.

North Skye Hen Harriers 2016

30th June 2016

I have now been studying Hen Harriers in north Skye for 16 years.  The population peaked at 12 pairs in 2010 then crashed to 5 pairs in 2012, and I have averaged 5 pairs since.  In 2005,16 young fledged and in 2011, 15 young fledged.  Because of fox predation, mainly of young, productivity has always been poor and in 2015 for the first time, no young fledged.  This year I was confident there were at least 5 pairs.  It is suspected that one pair may have abandoned their site early because of snow in early May.  The remaining four pairs all laid clutches though two failed early in incubation.  Having just returned from checking the other two I am depressed to report that the two remaining broods of four have been predated, probably by foxes.  It is difficult to know how long this small Skye population can sustain itself in the face of zero productivity.  Given the pressures of persecution facing the species when they move to shooting estates in autumn and winter, the overall prognosis is bleak.  All in all, given that I am a committed european it has been a pretty desparate week.  Some 20-30 field days of voluntary effort goes into each season, and it may prove difficult to sustain momentum in the coming years.  Hopefully there might just be birds out there which are breeding successfully, so if you see any birds please let me know.  There may still be a glimmer of hope in south Skye and Lochalsh, so lets be optimistic.  The image shown is of a young female which you can tell from the eye colour.  It built a nest in a new area and laid 6 eggs, 5 of which hatched.  The nest was predated by a fox in the last week - evidence fox scat in nest and chewed feathers of young nearby.


Staffin Island

24th June 2016

With favourable weather three of us embarked on a short dinghy trip to Staffin Island on 23rd June.  It had always looked good for birds and according to Stephen (Botanical recorder) and Nick (Bryophyte recorder), there were no known records in their fields, so it seemed like a first recording visit, and part of a collaborative effort to document findings from our offshore islands.  The island is grazed by cattle for most of the year and in winter regularly hosts a small flock of Barnacle Geese.  A total of 22 species were recorded on the visit with 18 of them suspected to be breeding. Redshank is an extremely rare breeding bird on Skye so to find two pairs was a real bonus, along with two pairs of Curlew, a pair of Lapwing, and probable breeding Snipe, Ringed Plover and Common Sandpiper.  As well as several non-breeding birds there were probably 6-7 pairs of Oystercatchers and a solitary Greenshank which could have been on passage. Common, Herring and Greater Black-backed Gulls were breeding, and probably 5/6 pairs of Arctic Terns.  The only passerines were Skylarks, Meadow and Rock Pipits with Swallows occupying the old fishing bothy.  Great Skuas have occupied the island for some years and there were 7 pairs, some of them non-breeders.  It was remarkable that the waders seemed able to breed and produce young despite the presence of so many potential predators.  In every other respect, the island seems to provide an attractive sanctuary, with a high density of breeding birds.


Turbine Strike on White-tailed Eagle

13th June 2016

When planning consent was granted for Edinbane and Ben Aketil windfarms environmental impact assessments recognised that a collision risk did exist for Golden Eagles.  However, no such risk existed for White-tailed Eagles, apparently based on the lack of observations, and despite predictions that the population was expanding.  With a growing White-tailed Eagle population it was not surprising that a bird was found below Turbine 4 on Edinbane windfarm a few weeks ago, the victim of a turbine strike.  A post mortem has been carried out by the SAC in Inverness but there are no other mitigating factors.  It transpires that the bird had been ringed by Jon Brain as one of twins in North Uist, and is seen on the attached image.   It is not known whether it was breeding but was of an age to breed.  White-tailed Eagles are susceptible to turbine strikes, with well established evidence from Norway, and there are now several cases in Scotland.  The perceived wisdom has always been that young inexperienced birds would be more susceptible to strikes, so the loss of an adult bird is a concern.  In the absence of independent and systematic searches taking place below wind turbines in Scotland,  strikes are likely to be much more common than we realise.  An Osprey was killed at a windfarm at Moy recently.  Though Scottish Natural Heritage monitor the number of strikes, it is unlikely to be accurate and reporting incidents is made on a voluntary basis.  It is to the credit of windfarm staff at Edinbane who drew attention to the matter, but that may not happen at every location.  It is unlikely to be the first strike locally, and sadly, it is unlikely to be the last with other windfarms approved and proposed.


Estonia Birds and Bears

4th June 2016

Although its almost a week since I returned from Estonia, it seems to have taken almost that long to get through all my images, a selection of which are now in the Overseas part of the Gallery with mammals in the Other Wildlife section.  The tour was led by Steve of ably assisted by Gary.  We flew to Tallinn and then spent three days in the Matsalu Bay area of the west coast, three days based at Tartu on the east side and the final night in a Bear Hide south of Pussi.  Estonia has become a major focus for british birders during the last 10 years and it is little wonder with over 180 species recorded in 7 days.  In addition we saw European Brown Bear, Beaver and Elk (Moose) with calves.  Biodiversity is extremely rich and the woodlands were full of birdsong.  Breeding passerines from Estonia often pass through Scotland as migrants so it was an opportunity to catch up with Blyth's Reed Warbler, Marsh Warbler, Greenish Warbler, River Warbler, Barred Warbler, Wryneck and Red-breasted Flycatcher in full song.  It was probably the wrong time to see Owls and Woodpeckers, but I did manage both Black and White-backed Woodpecker in breeding territories, both lifers for me.  The most memorable experience of the tour for me, well not the bears which were spectacular, but it goes to a confiding pair of Slavonian Grebes on a small lake in the middle of Haapsalu, which put on a superb show and ignored any disturbance from walkers, swimmers and visiting photographers!  The area caters well for birders with lots of reserves and observation towers.  The weather throughout was superb, and the skye midgies are timid by comparison with estonian mosquitos, which were thriving in some of the damper areas, though the locals seem to be immune from them.  Most of my trips abroad are on self-guided tours so this was my first guided trip - thanks to Steve and Garry for making it so worthwhile.


The Skye 200

2nd June 2016

As years pass I tend to forget some of the species I have seen, so could never be regarded as an obsessive lister.  However in recent years, I set myself the target of seeing 200 species on Skye.  Most listers are 'seen only' so this does not include heard.  Perched on 199 species I therefore found myself in north Skye last night trying to catch a fleeting glimpse of a Corncrake, a bird I have heard many times on the island, but had yet to see.  The bird obligingly showed so I have now achieved my goal of 200 species.  I had already seen 200 in Skye and Lochalsh where I had been lucky to see Nuthatch a few years ago.  Although I have also heard Spotted Crake it is even more difficult to see so remains as 'heard only' and officially does not count.  I narrowly missed the Glossy Ibis at Kyleakin recently, but thanks to recent sightings of White-billed Diver, Firecrest, Hawfinch, Redstart and Ring-necked Duck, 200 has been reached sooner than anticipated.  I am particularly grateful to Martin Benson, and also several other friends for helping me fulfil this rather wierd objective and to many people out there who have kindly sent in records, and in several instances allowed access to their homes to observe a rarity visiting garden feeders.  It has all been great fun and will no doubt continue as unusual vagrants continue to turn up.   The rarest bird was a Blackpoll Warbler, a vagrant from North America found at Glasnakille in 2005, only the 7th record for Scotland.  Lots of favourites but the Firecrest found by Andy Stables at Portree recently was an absolute delight.


Highland Bird Report 2017

Published by Highland Branch of the SOC, the 2017 report is now available at a cost of £9.  The report extends to 180 pages and contains a Skye and Lochalsh year summary provided by yours truly.  There are also several images in the publication from Martin Benson and myself. 

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