High flying birds in lockdown

Arctic tern numbers built up on Pladda during the month. Photo Dennis Morrison

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Bird Notes – May by Jim Cassels

The first half of May was dry with the little rain there was in the second half including a storm during the weekend of May 23.

In comparison to last May, this May had similar rainfall but was warmer, with a mean temperature one degree higher. The temperature range was large, from 24 degrees to minus 1.9 degrees. The lower range reflected the northerly wind direction this May, with temperatures gradually rising after the storm.

There was a feeling that while spring was arriving it was a little late. Conditions were generally good for birds trying to get on with breeding but swallow and house martin seemed to be delaying nesting, perhaps because of the dry conditions. In addition, the storm, with resulting high tides, swamped the nests of a number of breeding shore birds round the coast.

It was a good month with more than 110 species recorded, two of which had not been recorded on Arran for a number of years.

Corncrake had not been recorded on the island for 12 years and this year there were reports from two areas.

One called in a rashy field in Sannox throughout the first two weeks of the month. It was last heard on 13th.

The other was heard in the Rodden area of the Shiskine Valley on 14th. In addition there was a report of a pair of garganey on Sliddery Shore on 3rd. The only other record of this summer visitor on Arran was eight years ago in 2012.

Throughout the month, the numbers of familiar summer visitors like swallow, house martin, sand martin, willow warbler, whitethroat, sedge warbler and cuckoo continued to build up.

In addition to the ‘firsts’ reported in the April notes, here are more ‘firsts’ with the 2019 arrival dates in brackets for comparison: spotted flycatcher in North Newton on 8th (11th); wood warbler in High Kildonan on 9th (17th); Arctic tern on Silver Sands on 15th (14th) and two swift over Sliddery on 30th (10th).

To date, there have been no reports this year of lesser whitethroat, common redstart, nightjar or common tern.

Species who breed further north continued to pass through including: two great northern diver in Whiting Bay on 1st; 11 sandwich tern at Drumadoon Point, also on 1st; seven whimbrel on Sliddery Shore on 3rd; three white wagtail in Blackwaterfoot, also on 3rd; 10 turnstone and 26 dunlin on Blackwaterfoot shore on 11th; 10 sanderling at Drumadoon Point on 19th; one bar-tailed godwit at Cosyden on 24th and two black-throated diver in breeding plumage off Clauchlands on 27th.

In May, breeding was well under way for many species. Encouraging signs included reports of golden eagle, golden plover, hen harrier, red-throated diver and short-eared owl holding breeding territories. Activity was reported from all the monitored heronries on the island and four areas held small numbers of breeding lapwing.

A number of coastal cliffs held single figure numbers of nesting fulmar which seem to be in serious decline on Arran.

I would be interested to receive any reports of young birds. None were reported in 2017, 2018 or 2019 from any colony.

By contrast, black guillemot colonies seem to be thriving. Other breeding records included: 10 skylark singing in Doire Bhuide on 6th; two woodcock roding over Machrie Moor on 15th; pair of shelduck with nine young at Dhunan on 18th; pair of mute swan with six young at Machrie Bay on 26th and three pair of common sandpiper holding territories by the Fallen Rocks on 30th.

Towards the end of the month, there were lots of reports of garden birds carrying food and feeding recently fledged young, including young goldfinch without the red face colour of the adult birds.

Other highlights: a little grebe on Mossend Pond on 2nd; 40 gannet by the mouth of Loch Ranza on 16th; a leucistic herring gull in Blackwaterfoot on 18th – this ‘white’ herring gull was ringed on Arran in June 2018; three pair of goosander on Sliddery Shore on 19th; a pale-breasted brent goose, an occasional winter visitor, on the shore at Silver Sands on 27th and three moorhen on Mossend Pond on 30th.

There were a number of reports of a single magpie in May. Magpie, a familiar bird on the mainland, is a vagrant on Arran with no records some years. The records could all have been the same bird – Dippen Head on 2nd; Glenloig on 7th; Sannox on 26th; Marganaheglish on 28th and Sannox on 29th.

With the long daylight hours, it is a great time of year to be birding. Most birds are breeding.

Please take a moment to report any signs of breeding birds to me, but remember under the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 it is an offence to intentionally or recklessly damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while it is being built or used. Do not hesitate to report any criminal activity to the local police. Particularly take care on our shores and please keep dogs on their leads at this time of year.

Enjoy your birding.

Please send any bird notes with ‘what, when, where’ to me at Kilpatrick Kennels, Kilpatrick, Blackwaterfoot, KA27 8EY, or email jim@arranbirding.co.uk  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, the first 40 years, which includes the annual report for 2019, and visit this website www.arranbirding.co.uk


The corncrake’s last appearance on Arran 12 years ago. Photograph: Angela Cassels. NO_B25bird01

Arctic tern numbers built up on Pladda during the month. Photograph: Dennis Morrison. NO_B25bird02

Black-throated diver in breeding plumage heading north. Photograph: Colin Cowley. NO_B25bird03

Sanderling – an Arctic breeder heading north. Photograph: Simon Davies. NO_B25bird04

Leucistic herring gull, a ‘white’ herring gull first ringed on Arran two years ago. Photograph: Simon Davies. NO_B25bird05

Song thrush, one of many species feeding young in May. Photograph: Brian Couper. NO_B25bird06

Goldfinch, one of many young species in May. Unlike adult birds, young have no red colour on face. Photograph: Robert Lambie. NO_B25bird07