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March 2018

Bird Sightings
Spring is an exciting time of year, awaiting the arrival of our summer visitors and seeing the last of our winter visitors leaving.  The timing of the northerly spring migration is dependent on the weather, not just locally, but throughout the whole length of the migration route. This March with periods of cold easterly winds even towards the end of the month, it felt as if spring was on hold.  This March was colder than last March. March started the way that February had finished.  With most of mainland Scotland covered with snow and biting, freezing winds from the east, the low lying snow-free fields of Arran and the shore itself were areas that seemed to be alive with many species of birds foraging for food including  Blackbird, Fieldfare, Lapwing, Mistle Thrush, Redwing, Reed Bunting, Skylark and Song Thrush.  

Having said that, a few pioneer summer migrants did arrive, namely a Chiffchaff in Cnocan Wood 11th, a male Wheatear on Kildonan shore on 18th, a Manx Shearwater off the south end of Arran on 26th and a Sandwich Tern off Blackwaterfoot on 31st. But that was all the records and unlike last year there were no March records of Sand Martin, Swallow and House Martin.  April should see improving weather and the arrival of these species plus other migrants like White Wagtail, Willow Warbler, Whinchat, Common Sandpiper and Cuckoo – all signs of the approaching summer.  Please keep me posted.

In March, our winter visitors were to the fore.  The highlight was the Arctic breeding white-winged gulls which are usually uncommon winter visitors to Arran, not recorded every year. This year there were reports of Iceland Gull throughout the month from five locations including two off Pirnmill on 6th.  There was also a report of a first winter Glaucous Gull on Sliddery shore on 3rd.  Other wintering species included: a Brambling at Cordon on 4th, two hundred Greylag Geese in South Feorline also on 4th, one hundred Wigeon and eighty Teal in Cosyden on 5th, a Goldeneye in Lamlash Bay on 7th, four Purple Sandpiper on Silver Sands on 11th and sixty-nine Pink-footed Geese in Sliddery on 31st.  Towards the end of the month there were some signs of wildfowl preparing to head north to their breeding grounds including fourteen Whooper Swan flying off Kildonan and later across Whiting Bay on 25th.

In March there were signs of this ongoing migration including: on Cleats Shore on 3rd a Merlin, twelve Fieldfare, one hundred and thirty Redwing and two hundred Song Thrush; twenty-two Lapwing on Kilpatrick Farm on 5th; three Black-throated Diver off Corrie on 7th; twenty-five Turnstone on Silver Sands on 12th; twenty-seven Pied Wagtail also on Silver Sands on 18th; four Great Northern Diver off King’s Cave on 20th and two hundred and fifty Chaffinch at Sliddery on 25th.

In a month in which records were received on almost one hundred species, these are a small selection of other interesting records: a Snipe in a Shannochie garden on 2nd, two Grey Plover on Cleats Shore on 3rd    ( last recorded on Arran in April 2012), an immature White-tailed Eagle in Pirnmill on 13th, a Kingfisher on Fisherman’s Walk on 20th, eight Long-tailed Tit in Brodick on 22nd, four Common Crossbill on Kilbride Hill on 24th, Short-eared Owl in Glen Rosa on 27th and a Water Rail in Corriecravie on 31st,  In addition there were several reports of Magpie. Magpie, while common and widespread on the adjacent mainland, is a vagrant to Arran. In 2017 there was one short-staying bird and in 2016 none.  In March the first record was from Sannox on 19th, followed by one in Whiting Bay on 28th and then on 30th there were reports from Lochranza in the north and Dippen in the south at the same time. There were two Magpie on Arran. In my twelve years as bird recorder on Arran that is a first!

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.  In March the signs were there, including: two Starling nest building in Lochranza on 6th, twelve Black Guillemot displaying by Pladda on 8th, a Grey Heron carrying twigs into Whitehouse Woods on 24th, four Collared Dove on nests in Blackwaterfoot on 25th, three nest boxes occupied by House Sparrow in Kildonan on 26th and among many reports of birds singing, there was one of Yellowhammer in Sliddery on 31st.  If it stays to breed it will be the first confirmed breeding of this once widespread familiar farmland bird on Arran since 1999.

I am interested in all records of arriving summer migrants and any signs of breeding birds
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