Familiar garden birds are flourishing

The first time a little egret on Arran has been photographed in breeding plumage. Photo Arthur Duncan

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Bird Notes – May by Jim Cassels

With over 30 per cent more rain than last May, this May seemed cool and wet.

Only towards the end of the month with the winds moving away from a northerly direction, was there a noticeable rise in temperature.


There was a feeling that while spring was arriving, it was late.

Conditions were generally good for birds trying to get on with breeding with, for example, familiar garden birds flourishing.

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

As last year, swallow and house martin seemed to be delaying nesting perhaps because of a shortage of flying insects.


Cuckoo seemed to be particularly widespread and noticeable this year with small groups being reported from some areas.

The numbers of tree pipit, spotted flycatcher and whinchat were only building up towards the end of the month.

In addition to the ‘firsts’ reported in the April notes, here are some further ‘firsts’ with the 2021 arrival dates in brackets for comparison: a garden warbler in Kildonan on 21st (7th) and a spotted flycatcher on Holy Isle on 17th (14th).

Perhaps reflecting the late arrival of spring, by the end of May, there had been no reports of Arctic tern, Manx shearwater, swift and wood warbler.

Unlike last year there have been no reports of scarce summer visitors like common redstart and lesser whitethroat. To date there have been no reports this year of corncrake, nightjar or common tern.

Species which breed further north continued to pass through including: 30 whimbrel at Porta Buidhe on 2nd, 20 turnstone and three sandwich tern in Machrie Bay also on 2nd, five dunlin at Porta Buidhe on 7th, seven sanderling at Drumadoon Point on 14th and two courting great northern diver off Blackwaterfoot on 15th. Great northern diver will feature in a future bird note.

In addition, there is a single whooper swan not heading north but over-summering again on Arran, mainly in the Lamlash Bay area.

In May, breeding was well underway for many species.

Encouraging signs included reports of golden eagle, golden plover, hen harrier, red-throated diver, short-eared owl and long-eared owl all 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 2018, 2019, 2020 or 2021 from any colony.

By contrast the black guillemot colonies seem to be thriving. Other breeding records included: 40 nesting common gull in Catacol Bay on 5th, four pairs of stonechat in Auchenhew Bay on 18th, a pheasant with 11 young in a Lamlash garden on 20th, two woodcock roding over Machrie Moor on 22nd , a crèche of five eider at Silver Sands on 27th, a pair of shelduck with four young at Kilpatrick Point on 28th and a pair of mallard with seven young at Corrie on 31st.

In May about 110 species were recorded.

Here are some other highlights: a pair of goosander at Machriewaterfoot on 7th, an osprey flying across Whiting Bay from Kingscross to Glenashdale on 10th and an adult white-tailed eagle near Beinn Lochain on 27th. This sighting was reported by a search and rescue helicopter pilot on an exercise.

Finally, after an absence of five weeks, a little egret returned and was reported in Lamlash Bay and Whiting Bay between 17th and 22nd. This bird was in breeding plumage.

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

Please take a moment to report any signs of breeding birds to me, but please also remember that 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 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 2021 and the Arran Bird Report, the first 40 years. Plus visit the website http://www.arranbirding.co.uk/index.html