First signs spring is on the way

Three oystercatcher piping oblivious to the photographer. Photo Arthur Duncan

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Bird Notes for February by Jim Cassels

In comparison to last February,  this February was milder, the mean temperature was two degrees higher, and it was wetter with 15 per cent more rain … but the story of the month was the wind.

The last weekend in January there were two named storms. February continued in the same vein with three more named storms within a procession of unsettled weather.

While at times the weather was not conducive to being out of doors, nevertheless almost 100 species were reported.

Highlights included little egret. Continuing from December and January records, in February there were 40 records. Again, all of a single bird. All but four of the records were from locations round Lamlash Bay. The others were from Merkland to the north and Sandbraes to the south. It looks as if there is one little egret getting familiar with Lamlash Bay.

Another highlight was the reports of brambling. Brambling is an irruptive winter visitor not seen every year. Again, reports in December continued into January with widespread records throughout January but in February there were only four records. The last one was four in Sliddery on 25th.

Other wintering visitors included: a second winter glaucous gull flying up the west coast from Machrie through Whitefarland towards Lochranza on 6th, a female merlin in Strathwillan on 12th, a snow bunting on Caisteal Abhail on 15th, 40 redwing in Cloined on 23rd, 32 rook and 14 yellowhammer in Sliddery on 25th and 130 fieldfare in the Shiskine Valley on 27th. In addition, there were several reports of blackcap including a male ‘hoodlum’ dominating feeders in a garden in Lamlash.

Wintering wildfowl continued to be present including 21 Canada geese in Clachaig on 9th, four common scoter off Pirnmill on 10th, six goldeneye on Mossend Pond on 12th, 250 greylag geese in the Shiskine Valley on 14th, 120 pink-footed geese in Clachaig also on 14th, 32 wigeon and 26 teal at Kilpatrick Point on 19th, and 12 white-fronted geese in Feorline on 27th.

This is a large number for Arran. The numbers in the last three years have been around half of this figure. In addition, there were reports throughout the month of a single whooper swan in Lamlash Bay.

Other wintering flocks included: 11 blackbird in Pirnmill on 6th, 250 starling in Cloined on 7th, 287 common gull in Shannochie on 13th, 23 greenfinch in Kiscadale also on 13th, 250 herring gull on Pladda on 14th, 21 turnstone on Silver Sands on 17th, 43 curlew by Port na Lochan on 19th, 24 pied wagtail in Blackwaterfoot also on 19th, 34 lapwing on Cleats Shore on 21st, and 16 woodcock in Bennan also on 21st and 30 meadow pipit in Feorline on 27th.

Other interesting sightings included: six little grebe in Loch Ranza on 17th, a moorhen in Port na Lochan on 19th, a dipper at Machriewaterfoot on 27th and a kingfisher in Machrie on 28th.

In a previous edition of the Banner there was a report of a white-tailed eagle from the Isle of Wight passing over Arran on 4th. As well as this, there were two other white-tailed eagle reports in February – an immature off Pirnmill on 2nd and an adult over Corriecravie on 25th.

In February there were seven reports of returning gannet, the largest group being 10 off Newton on 10th. There were two records of returning lesser black-backed gull. The first of these was one at Kilpatrick Point on 19th.

Other signs of approaching spring included: grey heron nest building in Whitehouse Wood on 4th, 21 red-breasted merganser displaying off Thunderguy on 13th, four black guillemot displaying off Imachar on 14th, aggression between male eiders off Cordon on 18th, a pair of stonechat holding territory in Clauchlands on 21st, three oystercatchers excitedly piping in Lamlash on 27th, a song thrush singing in Blackwaterfoot on 28th and numerous reports of garden birds checking out nest boxes. By the end of the month there were signs that spring was on its way.

Siskin reports in February were increasing and are expected to build up in March as the birds move north.

March could also 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 and keep safe.

Please send any 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 purchase the Arran Bird Report 2020 and the Arran Bird Report, the first 40 years. Plus visit the website