First water pipit recorded on Arran

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Bird Notes for February by Jim Cassels

The cold weather in January continued into February, but around 10 February the wind started to come from a southerly direction and the temperature rose.  With the persistence of the southerly winds, temperatures continued to rise with double figures being reached on several days.  The contrast with the freezing blast of last February was marked. While the rainfall in February this year and last year was similar, the mean temperature this February was more than three degrees higher than last February.

February’s birding highlight was the first ever record of water pipit on Arran. Water pipit breeds in the mountains of Southern Europe and Southern Asia eastwards to China. It is a short-distance migrant; many birds move to lower altitudes or wet open lowlands in winter and a few have been turning up in Scotland. In recent years one to three records in winter has been the norm, but this year there has been over 30 mainly on the coasts of Lothian and Ayrshire with eight this winter in Ayrshire. The first official record for Scotland was in 1968. At that time it was considered a sub-species in the rock pipit family but in 1987 it became a full species.

On Saturday 23 February around noon a water pipit was seen on the shore at Machrie. To help confirm identification it was then legally trapped, ringed, photographed and released. For the rest of the month, many were able to enjoy good views of the bird feeding along the tide line, from the road without disturbing the bird on the shore.

In February reports of winter visitors included: eight purple sandpiper at Silver Sands on 1st, a brambling in a garden in Kiscadale on 9th, 20 redwing at Torr Righ Beag on 15th, two rook at Corriecravie on 16th and, unusually, a solitary rook in Lochranza from 16th to 24th.  In contrast to last February when there were reports of both Iceland gull and glaucous gull, species of uncommon white-winged gulls, none were reported this February. However a returning lesser black-backed gull was reported from Torrylinnwater Foot on 17th, an early sign of approaching spring.

Wintering wildfowl continued to be present including: 100 wigeon at Torbeg on 7th, 60 teal at Cosyden also on 7th, nine whooper swan at Torrylinnwater Foot on 16th, and over 300  greylag geese with six pink-footed geese in the Shiskine Valley on 23rd. One of the greylag geese had an orange identifiable collar. When this data was passed onto EURING, the information came back that the collar had been fitted in Nordfjordur breeding grounds on the east coast of Iceland in July 2016 and while the bird had been reported again from there in the summer of 2018, the record from the Shiskine Valley was the first record from a wintering area.

Other wintering flocks included: 120 common gull at Blackwaterfoot on 5th, 31 woodpigeon at Glenkiln on 9th, 25 lapwing on Cleats Shore on 11th, 80  starling at Kilpatrick on 12th,  24 turnstone at Drumadoon on 18th and 50 curlew at Sandbraes on 20th.  Some of these flocks may have included birds beginning to migrate north.

Calm days were ideal for sea watching.  Reports included: six great northern diver off Cleats Shore on 11th, five black-throated diver and one red-throated diver off Cosyden on 14th, two gannet in Auchenhew Bay on 16th, 60 guillemot off the Craw on 17th and a pair of common scoter at Machriewaterfoot on 27th.  The last Arran record of this sea duck was four off Pirnmill in September 2017.

Other sightings included: one kingfisher at Fisherman’s Walk on 2nd, one little grebe in Loch Ranza on 10th, 20 greenfinch in Shiskine on 11th, one dipper at the mouth of Glenashdale Water on 15th, one moorhen on Brodick Golf Course on 24th and 10 reports of goosander, often in pairs, from various locations round the island.

There were some signs of approaching spring including: six grey heron nest building in Lochranza on 20th, greenfinch, song thrush and wren all singing in Kilpatrick on 21st, great spotted woodpecker drumming in Stronach Wood on 27th, 26 eider displaying at Machriewaterfoot also on 27th, eight red-breasted merganser courting in Auchenhew Bay on 28th and a pair of starling nest building in Catacol also on 28th. By the end of the month it felt that spring was on its way.

March could see the arrival of some of our summer visitors like wheatear, chiffchaff, willow warbler, sand martin, even swallow and house martin, but their arrival will be dependent on the weather. Keep an eye out for these migrants and let me know when you first see them.

Enjoy your birding.

Please send any bird notes with ‘what, when, where’ to me at Kilpatrick Kennels, Kilpatrick, Blackwaterfoot, KA27 8EY, or e mail me at  I look forward to hearing from you. For more information on birding on Arran purchase the Arran Bird Atlas 2007-2012 as well as the Arran Bird Report 2018 and visit this website


Water pipit, this is the first ever Arran record of this species. Photo Alex Penn NO_B11bird01

Greylag Goose with collar showing that this bird breeds on Iceland and this year it is wintering in the Shiskine Valley. Photo by Dennis Morrison NO_B11bird02

Last Arran record of this common scoter sea duck was September 2017. Photo Robert Lambie. NO_B11bird03

A group of male eider displaying to the solitary female. Photo Colin Cowley. NO_B11bird04