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.
For several years Martin Carty has been coordinating searches for grounded Manx Shearwaters. When young Shearwaters leave their nests on Rum they can often be disorientated in darkness by ambient light. Systematic searches around Mallaig by Martin, Stephen MacDonald and other volunteers found 159 birds between August 29 and October 7. All birds were ringed and processed and returned to sea safely from the Mallaig - Armadale ferry. We reported previously that 21 birds were found by Martin Benson and returned to sea at Broadford. Without such help these birds would perish.
This species breeds across Russia in substantial numbers and normally winters in Southern Asia. Increasing numbers have occurred across Britain in Autumn and though numbers may be inflated by easterly winds, increasing records have also suggested a change to a more westerly migration. This has been exacerbated in the last week or so with a high pressure system over Scandinavia and easterly winds which has brought an unprecedented influx, particularly on the east coast but also throughout the country. The first record for Skye was long overdue and In my previous Blog I wrote about the first occurrence of this species in Skye. When tiny birds such as the Yellow-browed reach Skye there is lots of cover for them to get lost in so they can be extremely difficult to detect. The find by Neil and Martin in the middle of Broadford indicates that the species can occur in favourable conditions, virtually anywhere on the island. I've long thought that autumn migrants would 'trickle down' the island and that Point of Sleat was a likely spot for picking things up. Several visits in autumn have drawn a blank, but today in what were probably ideal conditions, two Yellow-browed were found, confirming my theory. In birding however, very little is ever predictable, and to pick up the unusual, there's every chance you will find it in the most unlikely place - just keep looking!
Though several species reports have still to be ratified by respective committees, we have now reached 260 species. Some 20 new species have been added in the last 12 years or so and there have already been 4 in 2016, the last of which is Yellow-browed Warbler found by Neil Bennet and Martin Benson (see image). The other recent record was Great White Egret and in some respect, both of these were predictable. Skye has never enjoyed too much observer coverage and it is probably as strong now as it ever has been. This has certainly helped our species list to grow as has the number of people happy to share their sightings. There is sometimes a concern that when a rare bird turns up, hoards of people will arrive to observe it. That is far from the case and might only happen in the event of a national rarity so please be assured that feeding information into the system, would not result in an invasion. The sharing of information amongst likeminded individuals, and the learning experience which follows can be of immense benefit to all. It is difficult to know what might be next as it is proving an exceptional autumn with American vagrants arriving on the west coast and far eastern ones arriving on the Northern Isles. It might even be just a Jay, never recorded on Skye but present in nearby mainland areas. We can all look forward to see the list grow.
Orkney is a fantastic area for birds and the temptation of a visit in the 3rd week of September was that some interesting migrants would turn up. In the end the weather was settled and warm, with winds mainly from the south, and therefore conditions a little benign for huge migrant falls. North Ronaldsay has become one of Scotland's migration hotspots but all I could manage was a day trip on a little 8 seater plane. Nonetheless it was good to see a number of warblers including Yellow-browed Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Garden Warbler and Blackcap. The highlight was probably several groups of Lapland Buntings and a wandering Osprey. On the return trip we landed at Papa Westray, an experience in itself. Back on mainland Orkney there were huge flocks of Golden Plover, Lapwing, Snipe and Curlew to enjoy. I managed to find another Yellow-Browed Warbler on South Ronaldsay and catch up with a Barred Warbler at Sandside on Deerness. A colour ringed Little Stint at Birsay Bay was another highlight and images of this and several other birds are in the UK Gallery. Orkney has much to offer apart from the sheer volume of birds, and we found the people very friendly, good quality local produce readily availabe, and in comparison to Skye, much more reasonably priced restaurants and better maintained roads!
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