June was the driest month with the highest temperatures of the year so far. There was less than half the rain that there had been in June last year and the mean temperature was three degrees warmer than May. The predominantly warm settled spell was disrupted when Storm Hector came through on the 14 June.
The warm settled spell benefitted many breeding birds. There were many reports of fledged birds in gardens including unfamiliar looking young birds, like Goldfinch without the red face of the adult birds and Robin with spots and no red breast. As well as the more familiar birds like Blackbird, Song Thrush, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit and Chaffinch all with young, there were reports of a family of Bullfinch in Sannox on 13th, young Great Spotted Woodpecker with its distinctive red cap in Lamlash on 21st, a family of Long-tailed Tit in Strathwillan on 23rd and five active House Martin nests on one house in Kildonan on 27th. Most prolific of all seemed be to House Sparrow with twenty in Dippin on 28th being one of the larger numbers and also lots of reports of numbers of Siskin and Goldfinch with young around homes across the island. It was particularly encouraging to get reports of young Greenfinch from widespread locations. This species had been decimated by the parasitic disease, trichomonas.
Away from gardens there were many signs of breeding including: Moorhen with five young in Machrie on 12th, a family of Whinchat in Glen Rosa on 21st, Raven with three young in Kilpatrick on 22nd, around one hundred Sand Martin nest holes in Glen Catacol on 22nd, a family of Stonechat also in Glen Catacol on 22nd, Hen Harriers passing food on Machrie Moor on 23rd, young Curlew on Machrie Moor also on 23rd and activity at the Grey Heron heronries in Stronach Wood, Brodick, Lagg and Whitehouse Wood, Lamlash by the end of the month. There was also encouraging reports of young Lapwing from three areas. This once widespread farmland breeder is just hanging-on.
Around the coast there were further signs of breeding including: Eider with six young Porta Buidhe on 4th, Mute Swan with seven young Glenashdalewaterfoot on 10th, forty Shag and fourteen Arctic Tern on Pladda also on 10th, seven pairs of nesting Fulmar on Drumadoon Cliff on 21st, Shelduck with six young at Kilpatrick Point on 22nd and Red-breasted Merganser with five young in Sannox Bay on 24th.
But it was not all good news. When Storm Hector came through on the 14th there were particularly high tides that swept away nests of Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover and Common Gull from a number of shores. There was also a sad report of a Common Sandpiper, who having travelled from south of the Sahara to breed, had chosen to nest in a garden in Blackwaterfoot, presumably trying to avoid disturbance on the shore from human activity including dog walkers with dogs roaming freely. The pair incubated their eggs for three weeks, only to have their hatched young taken by a cat.
The birding highlight of the month was a male Red-backed Shrike by Port na Lochan on 13 June. Interestingly on 16 June last year there had been an identical report from Kingscross. The previous record before that of this rare vagrant to Arran had been twenty years ago when a male was reported in Kildonan on 27 September 1997.
Other highlights included the following: four Red-throated Diver in Whiting Bay on 6th, a Lesser Whitethroat by Cleats Shore also on 6th, a Puffin off the Cock of Arran on 11th and numerous reports of Spotted Flycatcher.
Cuckoos, whose decreasing numbers are a cause for concern nationally, seem to be thriving on Arran. Throughout May and June there have been many widespread reports. People need no prompting to report the first Cuckoo. How about reporting when you hear or see the last Cuckoo this year? Most adult Cuckoos, taking no part in rearing their young, leave around mid to late July. Juveniles leave breeding areas soon after they fledge, quickly becoming independent of their hosts before also migrating south, usually in late July and early August. These young Cuckoos have a white patch on the back of the head.
Finally in July, look out for early signs of breeding being over for some birds this year. These could include the return of some Arctic breeding species to our shores. Remember July is the time when many birds, having raised their young, go about the process of renewing their feathers by moulting them. As birds are vulnerable when they are shedding flight feathers they literally make themselves scarce. On any birding walk you may see fewer birds but they are still around.