Ray Colliers Wildlife in the North – Birds in the Highlands

martins starling 003If you want to know more about birds in the Highlands   then there are plenty of ways in which this can  be achieved.  Computers now make it possible to go onto various websites to see, for example, birds that are live on the nests such as ospreys, goshawks and herons.   Television programmes such as the recent Winter Watch from Aigas Field Centre, west of Inverness,  are closer to home whereas other wildlife  programmes take the viewer all over the world.     Books and  magazines now abound and there are indoor meetings, or field trips, organised by such societies   as the RSPB or SOC.   Yet there is still a great deal to be said for the  old fashioned County or Regional  Bird Reports.   In its current format, I have the “Highland Bird Reports” dating from 2002 to 2010 and they are a mine of information  about  many aspects  of the bird world.

One section, for example, deals with “Bird Ringing in Highland Region” in the year covered by each report.  It reflects on that enthusiastic group of bird ringers whose work often goes unrecognized.  In 2010, for example, they ringed  37,510 birds, both adults and young.  What is  fascinating about this section is the analysis of  the “returns” of ringed birds.  The success of ringing birds  rests  on recoveries whether these are live birds or dead ones.   They all help to unravel the life histories of birds and the more we understand  that the more we are able to successfully manage the environment for them.    There are many intriguing stories such as the great skua ringed on Handa in Sutherland and recovered in Algeria, the common tern ringed in the Cromarty Firth and recovered in Namibia.  But they are not all the less common  birds and there are those such as the siskin ringed in Easter Ross and recovered in Finland, the swallow ringed at Ardross, Easter Ross and recovered in South Africa.  It also  works the other way such as a fieldfare ringed in  Norway and recovered in  Dulnain Bridge or the common gull ringed in Norway and recovered in Udale Bay.

The main  section  of the reports is the  extensive coverage of the “Systematic List “ where all the various species are covered, with notes on their  distribution, breeding,  winter  and summer records etc.   This is the  main body of the Report and the one that most people use.  One of my own  favourite sections of the reports is a tantalising one as it is the “First and last dates of common migrants”.  How appropriate this is at  this time of the year when everyone is looking forward to the first of the migrants back into their breeding grounds.  Some are as from far afield  as Africa such as swallows, sand martins and some of the warblers.    For me the  most tantalising part of this section  is to see if my early dates can match any of  those in the reports and so far this has just not been happening.  However early some of my records may be they are always more than matched by other birdwatchers.   The house martins are a good example as they actually nest under the eaves of the house, as in the photograph of one starting  to build.   No matter how early I see them someone else, somewhere, always manages to see them before  I ever do.   So look out for the first migrants of this spring and will it   be a willow warbler or an osprey?