Sound of Gigha, 29th February 2014

Including those who joined us later in the day, at least 15 people turned up for this year’s Argyll Bird Club field trip to the Sound of Gigha. The weather was rather uncertain at first but at least it wasn’t raining at 10.00am and as the brisk breeze was from the east it didn’t cause too much trouble with conditions at sea.

We immediately caught sight of a winter plumage Great Northern Diver (the first of many seen during the day) close inshore, providing excellent views. When seen close too it’s always striking what bulky birds they are. However we were soon distracted from the birds by an Otter messing about on one of the small islets there. It soon caught a fish and landed on an islet to eat it. Not long afterwards a second otter appeared to entertain us.

Otherwise Rock Pipits were on the shore and Common, Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a few Shags, Common Eiders and Red-breasted Mergansers were around the offshore rocks. A pair of Greater Canada Geese flew over as well as a Common Raven and Pied Wagtail but the only waders noted were Oystercatchers. The most unexpected sighting was a Muscovy Duck just to the north.

When we first arrived at ‘West Coast Salmon’ there seemed to be little around but as always there patience paid off. We soon had good numbers of Common Scoters (in small groups) out in the Sound and several Great Northern Divers were recorded as well as a couple of Common Guillemots. Eventually we picked up at least 5 Slavonian Grebes bobbing about in the waves: most in almost complete breeding plumage. Two Razorbills were on the water, two Greylag Geese flew past and a Northern Gannet was spotted in the distance. At least two members present also picked up an unusual looking grebe with a longer neck and flattish head: could have been Great Crested Grebe but just too far away to be certain. Then the rain started and in view of the weather we decided to move on early to our next stop.

Many Greenland White-fronted Geese could be seen feeding in the fields to the west of the main road as we drove down to Tayinloan.
Although we arrived in good time for the 12:00 ferry to Gigha the wind and light rain made picking up birds tricky but a pair of Common Shelducks could be seen on the shore and few Greenland White-fronted Geese in the field. Sadly no sign of the two Snow Geese that have frequented the area since last autumn. A pair of Collared Doves were on the bird table at the farm.
The rain stooped once we were on the ferry and despite the slightly choppy conditions we picked up many more Great Northern Divers, some swimming close to the vessel. Also one or two Black Guillemots, a few Common Eiders and flocks of up to 30 Common Scoter.

With an easterly blowing the island was quite exposed to the wind and it was very difficult to hear any bird song on Gigha as we walked up to the hotel: just a few noisy House Sparrows. We all enjoyed the good conversation and food at the Gigha Hotel: not to mention the warmth and shelter from the wind!

Given the weather most of us decided to catch the 14:30 ferry back to the mainland, where it would be more sheltered. Three Common Snipe were picked up in the reeds opposite the Gigha Hotel. We just had time for a quick walk through the woods towards Achamore House in the hopes of finding some sheltering passerines and possibly an early migrant. More noisy House Sparrows were seen along the road and Chaffinches and Blue Tits near the fire station. In the shelter in the woods we picked up all the common tit species (Blue, Great, Coal and Long-tailed) as well as singing Dunnock, Song Thrush and Blackbird: but no migrants… As we walked back to the ferry two Common Buzzards were seen hanging in the wind. A cock and three hen Common Pheasants were seen on the island by those who stayed behind for the following ferry.

Walking, swiftly, back to the ferry we just had time to pick up a mixed gathering of thrushes in a field near the fire station including Blackbird, Song Thrushes and Mistle Thrushes. We just made it to the ferry in time and the crew kindly held it long enough for us to get on board. On the return ferry crossing we had close views of more Great Northern Divers, more Common Scoters and one or two Common Guillemots, Razorbills and Black Guillemots. Also a distant unidentified Shearwater (presumably Manx), a drake Goosander and two drake Long-tailed Duck which flew over the ferry and landed nearby.

The weather had brightened a good deal by then and we decided to walk north along the shore from the ferry landing instead of south as we usually do. This turned out to be a good decision as we added several extra species to the day’s list. An adult Mute Swan with three juvenile birds were near the landing and a little further north we came across a couple of Ringed Plovers on the shore with some Oystercatchers. On the flooded fields inshore we noted Wigeon, Teal, Common Shelduck, Curlew, Northern Lapwing and Grey Heron. On the fields above them were smallish flocks of Greenland White-fronted Goose and Greylag Goose as well as the odd Greater Canada Goose. Further along towards Rhunahaorine Point we came across our first Northern Wheatear and between us we’d soon picked up four or five. A single Common Redshank on the shore added to our list of waders, a Mallard flew over and a Sky Lark singing high overhead lifted our spirits and completed our species list. Sadly several sea bird corpses were found along the shore, including Common Gull and at least five Razorbills, presumably victims of the winter storms.

Despite the cold wind it was mostly dry and we enjoyed a varied list of birds (as well as the otters) and the good company. At least 59 species were seen in all – see list below.

Species List: Mute Swan, Greenland White-fronted Goose, Greylag Goose, Greater Canada Goose, Common Shelduck, Eurasian Wigeon, Eurasian Teal, Mallard, Common Eider, Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, Goosander, Common Pheasant, Black-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver, Manx Shearwater, Shag, Slavonian Grebe, Northern Gannet, Grey Heron, Common Buzzard, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Northern Lapwing, Common Snipe, Eurasian Curlew, Common Redshank, Common Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Common Guillemot, Razorbill, Black Guillemot, Feral Pigeon/Rock Dove, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Rook, Hooded Crow, Common Raven, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coat Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Wren, Sky Lark, Common Starling, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Robin, Northern Wheatear, Dunnock, House Sparrow, Pied Wagtail, Rock Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Common Chaffinch.

Paul Daw (with thanks for comments and additions from Mike Harrison and Steve Redwood.)