Look out for turnstone in their breeding plumage

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Bird Notes by Jim Cassels

In breeding plumage, the correct name of the ruddy turnstone is apt.  These delightful shore birds have been reported in every month of the year on Arran, turning, not only, stones with their bill in their characteristic way, but seaweed and other items on the shore in the search of insects and other invertebrates.

These birds breed on the tundra all round the Arctic, usually starting to breed in their second year. They winter on the coasts of western Europe, Africa, southern Asia, Australasia including New Zealand, the west coast of North and South America, the Gulf of Mexico and can be seen on almost any coast in the world especially intertidal rocky shores.

On Arran, turnstones are passage migrants and winter visitors.  Most of the turnstones wintering in the UK breed in northeast Canada and northern Greenland. The first wintering birds arrive in July and the main influx lasts from late August to early October. Studies in Scotland have shown that individual birds are remarkably faithful to their wintering area, within and between winters, returning to the same shore year after year with around 86 per cent of adults surviving from one winter to the next.

A study in Australia tracked four birds for a year. In six days they flew from Victoria to Taiwan a distance of 4,700 miles, then on to northern Siberia, where they nested and reared young in six weeks, before heading through the Pacific back to Victoria, a total distance of 16,800 miles. As many of these birds live around 20 years their lifetime travel is huge.

The autumn months, when some returning adult birds are in their ruddy breeding plumage, is a good time to look for these remarkable birds turning stones on our shores

Enjoy your birding and keep safe.

Please send any bird notes with ‘what, when, where’ to me at Kilpatrick Kennels, Kilpatrick, Blackwaterfoot, KA27 8EY, or e mail me at jim@arranbirding.co.uk I look forward to hearing from you. For more information on birding on Arran purchase the Arran Bird Report, the first 40 years, which includes the annual report for 2019 and visit this website www.arranbirding.co.uk

A turnstone in its non-breeding plumage.

A turnstone in its ruddy coloured breeding plumage. NO_B42bird01

A turnstone in its non-breeding plumage. NO_B42bird02

Photos Simon Davies

Sidebar – with two photographs

Headline: White-headed finch sightings

In September, photographs of two unusual looking birds were sent to me. One was photographed in a garden in Lochranza and the other at the Wineport in Strabane. In both cases the photographers were not sure what these birds were.

The first one was with goldfinches and the second one was with chaffinches. That was a clue to their identity. The first was an unusual goldfinch and the second an unusual chaffinch. Both had unusual amounts of white feathers. Birds like this are said to be leucistic. They are not a separate species just individual birds with this condition.

Sometimes the condition makes the plumage entirely white and sometimes there are varying sizes of patches of white, as in these photographs.  It is thought to happen when the plumage lacks melanin pigment due to the cells responsible for making melanin being absent.

There is much more information on this link leucism and albinism | BTO – British Trust for Ornithology  https://www.bto.org/our-science/projects/gbw/gardens-wildlife/garden-birds/behaviour/plumage/leucism and within this link there is a place where these unusual birds can be reported.

20 years ago



The unusual goldfinch. Photo Douglas Coulter NO_B42finch01

The rare chaffinch. Photo Linda Walker NO_B42finch02