Birding in lockdown

Thieving from the otter ... the birds stole its catch. Photo Arthur Duncan

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Bird Notes by Jim Cassels

We may be in lockdown, but for birds life goes on as normal.

In April migration continued and breeding got under way.

As the bird recorder for Arran Natural History Society, I rely on people sharing their bird observations with me and in lockdown I was heartened not just by the quantity of sightings I received in April but also by the quality of them.

I did wonder what impact the lockdown would have on the number of records received and the number of species seen. April with Easter can be a busy holiday period on the island but not this year. This April there would be no contributions from visiting birders. The contributions from resident birders were, as always, first class.

While the number of species reported was a few down on the average for the last three Aprils – 109 this year compared to average 118 – the number of records was a few hundred up on the average for the last three Aprils – 2,500 this year compared to average 2,100. A possible interpretation is resident birdwatchers, while more restricted in movement than normal, produced more records from their immediate area. This may have been influenced by people simply having more time to just ‘stand and stare’ – poem by W H Davies.

From the emails received, many people obviously enjoyed their birds during April’s lockdown. Here is just a small selection of extracts from the many observations shared with me:

‘This morning was a joy with four whimbrels right in front of our house on the beach, sandpipers, a heron gliding over the water, gannets diving and resident sparrows nesting – all from our window/garden and on such a beautiful day.’

‘I have about five starlings that come to my table for a bath most evenings. I have an old milk churn lid I put water in. It’s a joy to watch. Afterwards they sit on the hedge and preen themselves. I have never thought much about starlings but their colours up close are beautiful.’

‘While out on our permitted exercise this morning, about 200 metres along the path, we heard our first whitethroat. We also saw it. While we were watching it, we suddenly became aware a grasshopper warbler was reeling nearby. Very satisfactory.’

‘Upstream of the bridge and making a racket were five common sandpipers. A lot of displaying almost like vertically clapping wings.’

‘Bit of thieving from the otters today … was surprised the carrion crow went in first for a quick grab but was ably backed up with the great black-backed gull!’

From these shared observations, birds were a source of delight, wonder and solace for many people during these anxious times. Long may that continue.

If you are in a higher-risk group, want to self-isolate or are in lockdown there are many things you can do from the comfort of your own home to remain connected to nature. Here are just a few ideas taken from an excellent article by Dan Rouse on Bird Guides called ‘Enjoying wildlife from home: some self-isolation tips’.

Join the BTO Garden BirdWatch. It is free. This scheme monitors the amount of wildlife we see in our gardens, with the prime focus on birds. Sign up via their website. From the same organisation there is also the BTO Nest Recording Scheme. It is more time consuming, but we are not short of time.

Use your technology to find webcams across the world. There is no shortage of these. Here are three different ones: Cornell Lab Feeders in America, Poole Harbour in the UK and African Animals Camera – live video from Africa. The list is endless. In a similar vein, you can follow the progress of various satellite-tagged birds around the world. The BTO cuckoo project is just one example.

Finally, use this time to improve the organisation of your personal records of the birds you see by making use of online data-sharing sites like BirdTrack and remember to share these with me.

Enjoy your birding and keep safe.

Please send bird notes with ‘what, when, where’ to me at Kilpatrick Kennels, Kilpatrick, Blackwaterfoot, KA27 8EY, or email me at I look forward to hearing from you. For more information on birding on Arran buy the Arran Bird Report, The First 40 Years, which includes the annual report for 2019, and visit

Through the window. Photograph: Angela Cassels NO_B19bird01

Starling showing its iridescent colouring.  Photograph: Dennis Morrison NO_B19bird02

Thieving from the otter … the birds stole its catch. Photograph: Arthur Duncan NO_B19bird03