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. Like last April it was cold with a mean temperature half that of April 2016 but it was wetter than April 2017. There was a lot of easterly winds. The impact on migrating birds heading north seemed to be to initially hold them up. 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, Manx Shearwater and Sandwich Tern had been reported. Here are April “firsts” with the 2017 arrival date in brackets for comparison: Swallow in Brodick on 6th (26 March), Willow Warbler in Clauchlands on 7th (4 April), White Wagtail in Kildonan on 7th (7 April), Sand Martin in Sannox on 14th (28 March), Common Sandpiper in Clauchlands on 14th (15 April), House Martin in Blackwaterfoot on 15th (12March), Cuckoo in Glen Cloy on 16th (8 April), Grasshopper Warbler in Whitefarland on 20th (20 April), Tree Pipit in North Sannox on 24th (22 April), Whitethroat in Sliddery on 27th (30 April), Whinchat on Sliddery Shore on 28th (1 May), Arctic Tern at Dougarie on 29th (14 May), Ring Ouzel on Beinn Bharrain on 29th (2 May) and Spotted Flycatcher in High Kildonan on 30th (12May).
Not surprisingly with the cold weather, some of our wintering birds were still around including: twenty-seven Wigeon at Machrie Bay on 2nd, three hundred Greylag Geese in South Feorline on 4th, twenty-eight Redwing on High Kildonan on 9th, fifty Fieldfare on the top of the String on 14th and one Whooper Swan in Whiting Bat on 18th. In addition there were four further reports of Iceland Gull involving at least two birds. The last report was off Fairy Dell on 23rd.
April is an ideal time for watching migration. These are a few examples: eleven Turnstone on Silver Sands on 4th, a Merlin in Clachaig on 6th, five Great Northern Diver off Kildonan on 8th, fifty Song Thrush over the String on 14th, two Dunlin on Silver Sands on 19th, four Black-throated Diver at Machriewaterfoot on 24th and forty Golden Plover over Clachaig on 30th. In addition there was a much reported passage of Sandwich Tern, including seven at Cosyden on 27th, and Whimbrel, including fifteen at Auchenhew on 29th. One Whimbrel which had been ringed on a southern Arran shore twelve months ago was reported again almost on the same shore having spent the winter in Africa!
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; twenty-five Goldfinch in Kildonan on 13th, twenty Siskin in Brodick on 15th and four Lesser Redpoll in Lamlash on 24th. Tens of thousands of birds seem to be moving through the island at this time of year.
In April there were one hundred and ten species recorded. Here is a further small selection from this list: A Great Crested Grebe off Laggan on 1st, only one record last year, Puffin east of Holy Isle on 5th, Red Kite in Sannox on 12th, first record since May 2016 and a pair of Goosander in the Iorsa on 24th. The Magpie reports in March continued until 9th. While common on the adjacent mainland, Magpie is a vagrant to Arran. Finally it was good to see an increase in the reports of Greenfinch in April. They may be on the recovery.
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 Lesser Whitethroat, Garden Warbler, Wood Warbler, Swift, 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, Robins feeding young, Blackbirds carrying food, Grey Heron with young in the nest, Dipper carrying food and Greenfinch 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.