Monday, 18 April 2016

Small Bird News

There are now far fewer of the over-wintering small birds coming to our bird feeders. Most seem to have spread out across the landscape to focus on mating and nest-building and, rather like busy commuters, treat our offerings like a MacDonalds, a place to pop in for a quick snack.

However, there are several argumentative robins around and far too many blackbirds for the health of our summer soft fruit crop. This smart male seems to be watching CalMac's Clansman passing Tobermory on her way up the Sound of Mull.

Some of the male chaffinches have breasts which are almost bullfinch red, and others grade down to pale pink. Is it my imagination, or are the more brightly-coloured ones dominant? The same appears to be true for the yellowhammers, as some of the males look more like a canary than others.

We've seen goldfinches all winter, usually in small, chattering groups. Now they come to feed in pairs, stay for a few minutes, then hurry on their way. It's a pleasure to watch them in their spring finery, and easy to understand why the species was once prized as a cage bird.

The blue and great tits are always around, drawn by the constant supply of peanuts - though they're quick to get at the grain when it's put out as they love the hulled sunflower seeds. The expression on this blue tit's face is just like that of a grubby small boy who has been caught with his fingers in the sweet jar.

He's not beautiful, nor is his song anything to get excited about, but the dunnock is one of my favourite small birds. They tend to dash around on the ground, behaving like a cross between a small bird and a mouse, picking up the titbits scattered from the tables by the other, greedier birds.

Siskins seem to come and go. We've seen the occasional pair throughout the winter, but we're enjoying more frequent visits now. This is the duller female, the male, at this time of year, being yellow-green with a black hat.

There have been collared doves in Ormsaigbeg all winter, but they haven't been visiting us - until recently, when three started to pop in to see us. This resulted in some competition, and we're now down to two, a loving pair who sit on the chimney of the house next door coo-ing to each other.

Out in the fields, the male wheatears have been back for a couple of weeks, sorting out their territories ready for the arrival of the ladies. They allow one to approach to within fifty yards, and then fly off low across the grass, so getting a good shot of one has been difficult - but well worth it, as the males are so smart.

Small flocks of these birds - are they pipits? - are gathering in the croft fields, and the willow warblers are singing in the small stands of willow and birch above the road.

Larger birds are also arriving back - Kilchoan Early Bird reported a cuckoo calling on Saturday 16th April, which must be close to a record for an early arrival, but our Ormsaigbeg cuckoo isn't back: I was up walking along the common grazings fence this morning listening for him.


  1. I heard Corncrakes in Canna a few years ago. Do they ever breed in Ardnamurcan?

  2. We've heard one calling from the bramble area near the shop for the last few summers, but don't know whether it bred.

  3. Yes, Jon, the last bird is a pipit - Meadow Pipit.
    We'll be back in Ardnamurchan on Friday - have your Swallows arrived yet?


  4. Many thanks for the identification, Steve. No swallows yet. Jon