April is the month when spring migration gets underway, with arrivals and departures of birds, all seeking their best breeding territories. This April was an interesting, almost “four season” month with a wide range of temperatures and other weather conditions but this April was much drier and colder than April of last year. There was less than a tenth of the rain of last April and the mean temperature was half that of last April. The last ten days saw mainly cold northerly winds. The impact on migrating birds heading north seemed to be to hold them up. While a number of the regular migrants did arrive in April, it seemed to be only the pioneers. Even by the end of the month the bulk of the migrants had still to arrive.
By the end of March the first Chiffchaff, Wheatear, Sand Martin, Swallow and House Martin had all been reported. Here are April “firsts” with the 2016 arrival date in brackets for comparison: Willow Warbler in High Kildonan on 4 ( 10 April), White Wagtail on Blackwaterfoot shore on 7 ( 17 April), Cuckoo in Brodick Country Park on 8 (18 April), Common Sandpiper on Sannox shore on 15 ( 14 April), Manx Shearwater in Brodick Bay on 15 ( 02 April), Grasshopper Warbler in Monyquil on 20 ( 01 May), Sedge Warbler in Porta Buidhe on 20 ( 04 May) and Tree Pipit on Torr Dubh on 22 (20 April). On 24 Swallows were reported flying in the falling sleet and snow in Whiting Bay!
Not surprisingly with the cold weather, some of our wintering birds were still around including: fifty Redwing in Glenree on 1, two Brambling in Sliddery on 5, one Purple Sandpiper in Kildonan also on 5 eleven Wigeon in Cosyden on 6, fifty Fieldfare in Sliddery also on 6, twelve Pink-footed Geese in Clachaig on 7, four Goldeneye in Loch Ranza on 19, two Whooper Swan off Pirnmill on 26 and the adult Iceland Gull that was first reported in March was at Slidderywaterfoot on 27. On the morning of 24 April there were two reports of Brent Geese feeding on the shore, twenty-three at South Feorline and thirty-one in Machrie Bay, refuelling before continuing their journey to their breeding grounds in Greenland.
April is an ideal time for watching migration. Other examples included: twenty-six House Martin over Mossend Pond on 6, one hundred Golden Plover at Machriewaterfoot on 8, thirty-four Redshank at Sandbraes on 11, one Great Skua off Brodick Bay on 15, one Black-throated Diver in breeding plumage off Pirnmill on 18, two hundred and fifty Meadow Pipit at Hazelburn also on 18, two Black-tailed Godwit at Fisherman's Walk on 19, two Great Northern Diver courting and calling off Kilpatrick Point also on 19, sixteen Sandwich Tern in Kildonan on 21, two Dunlin on Sliddery shore on 27 and thirty-three Whimbrel at Slidderywaterfoot also on 27.
Migration was also in evidence from the widespread reports received of Goldfinch, Siskin and Lesser Redpoll moving through people's gardens throughout the month. Larger garden numbers reported included; thirty Siskin in Gortonallister on 7, fifteen Goldfinch in Shannochie on 15 and five Lesser Redpoll in Kilpatrick on 28. Tens of thousands of birds seem to be moving through the island at this time of year.
In April there were one hundred and thirteen species recorded. Here is a further small selection from this list: two Little Grebe and two Moorhen at Mossend Pond on 5, three Yellowhammer in Sliddery on 7, a Merlin in Glenshant Hill on 8, five Common Crossbill Kilmory on 9, two Goosander at Machriewaterfoot on 16 and an Osprey over Sliddery on 18. Finally Magpie, while common on the adjacent mainland, is a vagrant to Arran. When it does appear it is regularly reported! The last report was in 2015 until April this year when one was reported on Shiskine Golf Course on 20 with a further report from Strathwillan on 22.
Did it fly through and keep going?
My thanks to the many people who have been in touch to share their sightings in what has been a remarkable month. Those of common birds are as welcome as those of rare ones. May should be an equally interesting month with the arrival of more summer visitors including Whinchat, Spotted Flycatcher, Garden Warbler, Wood Warbler, Swift, Arctic Tern, Common Tern and, hopefully, even Corncrake and Nightjar.
Finally, spring is a great time to be birding, as most birds are getting on with the business of breeding. The business of breeding involves attracting a mate by song, courtship display and ritual, defining a territory, nest building, and generally establishing relationships. Please take a moment to report any signs of breeding birds to me. Already there have been reports of Blue Tits nest building, Blackbirds carrying food, Grey Heron with young in the nest, Stonechat and Mallard with young out of the nest.
Please 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.
Take particular care on our shores and beaches and please keep your dogs on a lead at this time.