The cold weather in January continued into February, but around 10 February the wind started to come from a southerly direction and the temperature rose. With the persistence of the southerly winds, temperatures continued to rise with double figures being reached on several days. The contrast with the freezing blast of last February was marked. While the rainfall in February this year and last year was similar, the mean temperature this February was more than three degrees higher than last February.
February’s birding highlight was the first ever record of Water Pipit on Arran. Water Pipit breeds in the mountains of Southern Europe and Southern Asia eastwards to China. It is a short-distance migrant; many birds move to lower altitudes or wet open lowlands in winter and a few have been turning up in Scotland. In recent years one to three records in winter has been the norm, but this year there has been over thirty mainly on the coasts of Lothian and Ayrshire with eight this winter in Ayrshire. The first official record for Scotland was in 1968. At that time it was considered a sub-species in the Rock Pipit family but in 1987 it became a full species. On Saturday 23 February around noon a Water Pipit was seen on the shore at Machrie. To help confirm identification it was then legally trapped, ringed, photographed and released. For the rest of the month, many were able to enjoy good views of the bird feeding along the tide line, from the road without disturbing the bird on the shore.
In February reports of winter visitors included: eight Purple Sandpiper at Silver Sands on 1st, a Brambling in a garden in Kiscadale on 9th, twenty Redwing at Torr Righ Beag on 15th, two Rook at Corriecravie on 16th and, unusually, a solitary Rook in Lochranza from 16th to 24th. In contrast to last February when there were reports of both Iceland Gull and Glaucous Gull, species of uncommon white-winged gulls, none were reported this February. However a returning Lesser Black-backed Gull was reported from Torrylinnwater Foot on 17th, an early sign of approaching spring.
Wintering wildfowl continued to be present including: one hundred Wigeon at Torbeg on 7th, sixty Teal at Cosyden also on 7th, nine Whooper Swan at Torrylinnwater Foot on 16th, and over three hundred Greylag Geese with six Pink-footed Geese in the Shiskine Valley on 23rd. One of the Greylag Geese had an orange identifiable collar. When this data was passed onto EURING, the information came back that the collar had been fitted in Nordfjordur breeding grounds on the east coast of Iceland in July 2016 and while the bird had been reported again from there in the summer of 2018, the record from the Shiskine Valley was the first record from a wintering area.
Other wintering flocks included: one hundred and twenty Common Gull at Blackwaterfoot on 5th, thirty-one Woodpigeon at Glenkiln on 9th, twenty-five Lapwing on Cleats Shore on 11th, eighty Starling at Kilpatrick on 12th, twenty-four Turnstone at Drumadoon on 18th and fifty Curlew at Sandbraes on 20th. Some of these flocks may have included birds beginning to migrate north.
Calm days were ideal for sea watching. Reports included: six Great Northern Diver off Cleats Shore on 11th, five Black-throated Diver and one Red-throated Diver off Cosyden on 14th, two Gannet in Auchenhew Bay on 16th, sixty Guillemot off the Craw on 17th and a pair of Common Scoter at Machriewaterfoot on 27th. The last Arran record of this sea duck was four off Pirnmill in September 2017.
Other sightings included: one Kingfisher at Fisherman's Walk on 2nd, one Little Grebe in Loch Ranza on 10th, twenty Greenfinch in Shiskine on 11th, one Dipper at the mouth of Glenashdale Water on 15th, one Moorhen on Brodick Golf Course on 24th and ten reports of Goosander, often in pairs, from various locations round the island.
There were some signs of approaching spring including: six Grey Heron nest building in Lochranza on 20th, Greenfinch, Song Thrush and Wren all singing in Kilpatrick on 21st, Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming in Stronach Wood on 27th, twenty-six Eider displaying at Machriewaterfoot also on 27th, eight Red-breasted Merganser courting in Auchenhew Bay on 28th and a pair of Starling nest building in Catacol also on 28th. By the end of the month it felt that spring was on its way.
March could 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.