On a wing with Machrihanish Seabird Observatory

A Rock Pipit spotted at Machrihanish Seabird Observatory.

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As the 2018 season starts at Machrihanish Seabirds Observatory (MSBO) warden Eddie Maguire reports on the past season.

The most extraordinary event of 2017 was a June fly-by Sooty Tern usually found in Tropical waters. This is a new species for Argyll, the first since the Observatory was established on September 11 1993.

It was the third Scottish occurrence and the first appearance of this vagrant in UK/Irish waters for 12 years.

The most recently accepted British record was an adult bird found at Rhosneigr, Anglesey, on  July 5 2005.

This bird was re-found at a number of different sites over that summer, on The Skerries (Anglesey) as well as off Skerries (Co.Dublin) on the opposite side of the Irish Sea.

The first migrant of the year was a male Northern Wheatear on March 15 2017 followed by a Manx Shearwater and an Osprey the next day, two White Wagtail on March 23 with five on March 27th, and two Sandwich Terns and two Sand Martins on March 29.

An adult White-tailed Eagle soaring over the point on March 11 was being chased by Herring Gulls and was seen by many of the staff at Stirling university marine research laboratory including Simon Barnett.

The Argyll Bird Club organised a census of all rookeries in Argyll last spring.

The last complete county census took place in 1975 when 3,217 nests were found in 78 rookeries.

While the population in Scotland has subsequently declined, localised
increases have occurred in parts of Argyll, so it is important to check what is
happening to the whole population.

Eddie Maguire and Rab Morton completed the census for south Kintyre during between April 14 and 18 2017, before leaf-burst. The total number of active rookeries located was 26 with a total of 1,471 nests.

Excitement this month was centred on the discovery of not one, but two
Rock Pipits showing strong plumage features of the Scandinavian race littoralis in transition to summer plumage.

The birds were photographed on April 2 and 8 2017. These records were accepted by Argyll Bird Records Committee and become the 4th and 5th occurrences of this race for the county.

The second accepted county record was one photographed at MSBO on May 18 2014.

An adult Little Egret in breeding plumage arrived in-off-sea on May 22; it came from the direction of Islay/Jura and pitched down briefly right in front of MSBO.
It appears likely that this is the individual that was at Loch Gruinart, Islay the previous evening.

From March to June 2017 a total of 282 adult Northern Gannets crossed overland on 76 / 116 days of surveillance.

MSBO voluntary assistant Charlie Robertson was the key man at Campbeltown and witnessed an unprecedented record flock of 10 adults ‘confidently vanishing high to the west’ on June 23.

The July total of 274 Norther Gannets is also the highest number seen crossing during any month since this project was initiated in August 2016.

August was a record-breaking month for Northern Gannet crossing Kintyre; when more than 400 birds crossed over and around half of these (197) crossed on only five dates when the wind direction was WNW, force two to six.

September produced some notable species over the sea including a Leach’s Petrel, a juvenile Long-tailed Skua and a juvenile Sabine’s Gull.

A juvenile Sabine’s Gull (High Arctic Canada) was photographed going south at 3.11pm on September 8 in a NW force five squall.

A Sparrowhawk was pursuing Twite on October 1 and one was present on October 29.

Two Kestrels going south together – high over the sea on October 9 – was the first MSBO record last year. Three singles were spotted on the A83 on October 22 at Putechan, Muasdale and Ballure by Jim Dickson.

A Merlin appeared on three dates in between October 23 and 31s, an adult Peregrine Falcon passed going south on October 1 and one was over Lossit Estate uplands on October 27.

It is free to visit the MSBO and warden Eddie Maguire is there most days to give hints and point out wildlife to visitors.

MSBO watchers do not just observe birds and on August 12 an American Mink appeared. NO_c14msbo02_American_MinK_Aug_12

The Sooty Tern spotted last June. NO_c14msbo01_Sooty_Tern_June

A Red Knott observed on August 4. NO_c14msbo03_Red_Knott_Aug_4

A Purple Sandpiper on October 22. NO_c14msbo04_Purple_Sandpiper_October22

A European Stonechat at Campbeltown Airport. NO_c14msbo07_European_Stonechat_Airport_DEc11

Three Whooper swans in November at Laggan Farm. NO_c14msbo05_Whooper_Swans_November5_Laggan_Farm