Review of the year 1999 from Clyde Birds 1999

Review of the year 1999 from Clyde Birds 1999

Winter-spring

An unusual first-foot in Lanarkshire was a female Black Redstart which roosted overnight in the reporter’s front porch!  It was present in Netherburn (near Stonehouse) from 18th December 1998 till at least 11th January. Winter ’98-99 was particularly notable for the number of Blackcaps coming to garden feeding stations – a total of 37 birds reported. This was a record figure for any winter, but presumably only a fraction of the true number visiting gardens throughout the area. Twice as many males as females were reported.

A well-watched flock of 34 Snow Buntings frequented a stubble field near Kilmacolm throughout January and February. Although quite confiding at times they were very restless, yet superbly camouflaged when settled, frustrating the efforts of several photographers as well as making the flock surprisingly difficult to count.

Other notable passerine flocks in stubble fields included 60 Yellowhammers at Kilsyth on 6th January, 60 of the same species at East Fulwood on 8th February, 1,100 Chaffinches at Blackstoun Farm in early February, and 1,000 Linnets at Cardyke on 4th March. Numbers of Tree Sparrows remain worryingly low, with 40 at Blackstoun Farm on 23rd April being the largest of very few flocks reported during the period.

Reports of a possible Marsh Tit in a Dolphinton garden were confirmed by some excellent photographs which convinced the Clyde Bird Records Panel that this was, indeed, the first authenticated record of the species in the Clyde area. Southern Lanarkshire is not far from the range of both Marsh Tit and Nuthatch in the Borders, and hopefully the expanding population of the latter will eventually colonise the Clyde area – watch this space!

One of the year’s rarities was a second-winter Ring-billed Gull which was at Strathclyde Loch from 29th November 1998 until 21st March. Remarkably, it was joined by an adult of the same species on New Year’s Day, the adult remaining till 7th February. Both birds were very popular with bird watchers and photographers, as they could be tempted close in to the lochside with bread. These were the first recorded occurrences of the species in Lanarkshire, and only the second and third records for the Clyde recording area.

Some observers took the opportunity to examine the gull roost on Strathclyde Loch, which held an impressive 20,000 gulls on 2nd January, including 12,000 Herring Gulls. This was the largest flock of Herring Gulls recorded in the Clyde area for many years. An adult Iceland Gull was there the same night, one of nine individuals seen in the Clyde area during the first quarter of the year.

At Baron’s Haugh, a drake Green-winged Teal (now recognised as a distinct species) was still present during the first week of the year. The long-staying drake Falcated Duck, a presumed escape from captivity, was last seen on 24th January. A redhead Smew at Baron’s Haugh was one of only four in the Clyde area, the others including a female which spent its fifth successive winter at Hogganfield Loch. That bird was last seen on 21st March, but did not return in the autumn. Ruddy Ducks, which sadly may never return some day, numbered 33 at Hogganfield Loch on 2nd January. Most of them had left the loch by 11th January after a brief freeze-up.

The Wetland Bird Survey (‘WeBS’, formerly the Wildfowl Counts) has been extended to cover over 150 waterbodies in the Clyde area, thanks to excellent local organisation by Jim and Val Wilson. Using considerable powers of persuasion, they have enlisted the help of a record fifty-eight counters, for the most part enthusiastic amateurs, but also including RSPB staff as well as Local Authority Ecologists and Countryside Rangers.

As a result we now have the best ever database of counts, and can make authoritative assessments of the status and importance of local wetland bird populations. Better coverage of geese and swans has led to the recognition of internationally important concentrations of Greylag Geese in the Kelvin Valley, and Whooper Swans in the Clyde Valley. Longer known populations of international importance are the Whooper Swans of the Black Cart Water, and the Redshank on the Clyde Estuary. A study of the Black Cart swans, conducted by WWT with SOC member and local expert George White helping out with the fieldwork, has resulted in an area along the river being designated a Special Protection Area under the EC Wild Birds Directive.

The national WeBS report for 1998-99 describes the Central Scotland Bean Goose flock as occurring at Slamannan in East Stirlingshire, overlooking the fact that this flock is at least equally associated with the Clyde area, and usually roosts on Easter Fannyside Loch. In fact the RSPB has now established a reserve there, essentially to protect the geese at their roost. Numbers have increased in recent years, with a maximum winter ’98-99 count of 168 birds. These birds leave earlier than most geese, and in 1999 the last reported were 88 on 19th February. Our flock is one of only two regular flocks in Britain, (the other being in Norfolk), containing approximately 35% of the national wintering population. In the Clyde area we also have a nationally important flock of Greenland White-fronted Geese, which peaked at 267 birds at the Endrick Mouth on Ne’erday.

The winter of 1998-99 saw an increase in the numbers of Lapwing inland, including a highly noteworthy flock of 450 at Strathclyde Country Park on 24th January. Seventy Snipe at Gartshore Moss in January was also a large number inland for the time of year. A very good count was obtained of 2,444 Redshank on the Clyde estuary in January, and ten Greenshank wintered at Finlaystone Point. A single Green Sandpiper, at the mouth of the River Leven at Dumbarton, was a surprise find on 10th January.

Some excellent counts were made of various wildfowl on freshwater sites, including up to 164 Pochard at Baron’s Haugh in January, 550 Teal there on 9th February, and 30 Shoveler at the end of March. Goldeneye numbers reached 63 at Hogganfield Loch in January, 129 at the Barr Loch in March, 77 on Balgray Reservoir in March, and 54 on Bardowie Loch in early April. Goosanders were somewhat scarcer than in some recent years, but reached a respectable peak of 150 at Strathclyde Loch in mid-February.

On the Clyde estuary, Red-throated Diver numbers were fairly modest during the winter, although the spring peak in early April consisted of 138 birds, 98 of which were off Ardmore Point. Two Red-necked Grebes appeared at Ardmore in early January, one remaining for the remainder of the month. Slavonian Grebes at Ardmore can be difficult to see during the normal windy weather and rough water, but conditions eased slightly on the last day of January when some 29 of these remarkably hardy small grebes were counted. As usual most of them were quite far out, off the south side of the peninsula. Less usually, one was inland at Balgray reservoir on 9th-10th January.

Most years see a few Long-tailed Ducks inland, and 1999 was no exception, with singles at Aird Meadow and at Lochend Loch during January. Few were seen on the Clyde estuary, although the appearance of a pair in Lunderston Bay during April has become an annual occurrence in recent years. The Velvet Scoter is a relatively rare seaduck on the Clyde – the only one of the year was at Ardmore Point on 9th January. Scaup were disappointingly scarce, peaking in spring with a count of 57 at West Ferry on 27th April.

Some good counts of geese were made during February and March – 7,000 Pink-footed Geese at Ravenstruther on 7th February, and an even higher count of 9,000 nearby at The Meetings on 10th March. Greylag Geese reached 1,000 at The Meetings on 9th February, 1,200 at Torrance on 7th March, and 475 in Strathgryfe on 25th March. A group of ten Barnacle Geese accompanied the Greylags at Millichen Flood between 27th February and 1st March, and a single Brent Goose was at Ardmore Point on 24th March.

As usual March produced the first signs of spring. Jack Snipe on passage reached a total of 39 reported during the month, including nine at Cathkin Marsh on the 16th. Two early Whimbrel passed through the Endrick Mouth on 19th, and two very early Common Sandpipers were at Lilly Loch near Caldercruix on 22nd March. It was suspected that one seen along the Black Cart Water at Renfrew on 21st March may have been an overwintering bird, as Common Sandpipers have wintered there in several previous years. Two other very early singles were at Baron’s Haugh and Glen Fruin on 3rd April.

The annual Capercaillie census of the Loch Lomond islands, organised by Chris Waltho and SNH, took place on 21st March. The early rising and hard working participants were rewarded with a total of 35 of these magnificent birds – 19 males and 16 females. This is now one of very few populations of Scottish Capercaillie maintaining their numbers, and it is intended to continue to monitor them annually.

The first Ruddy Ducks to return, after a brief winter absence, were back at Hogganfield Loch on 10th March. After the main arrival in April, the East Glasgow Lochs population reached a total of 22 males and 17 females at eight sites in mid-May. Numbers would appear to have levelled off since the main period of colonisation between 1993 and 1995.

Throughout April a gathering of up to thirty Ravens occurred in roadside fields at Ladymuir Farm in Renfrewshire. These birds were attracted by lambing ewes, the Ravens feeding mainly on placentae and on a number of lambs and ewes which died during the month. It was noted during a cumulative total of twenty hours of watching that on no occasion did any of the Ravens attempt to harm any living lamb or ewe. There can be few better places to watch Ravens at such close quarters – from the car park at the Locher Community Woodland, just off the B786 road between Lochwinnoch and Kilmacolm.

Later in the summer, Ravens were watched nearby at a pre-roost gathering on Craig Minnan, near Muirshiel Country Park. For a species which was a Renfrewshire rarity until recently, it was remarkable to see as many as 97 gathered there on the evening of 25th June – a record count for the Clyde area. Five pairs nested in Renfrewshire, part of an impressive Clyde area total of 16 breeding pairs.

Spring-summer

Once again many summer visitors arrived early, helped along by southerly winds extending from North Africa to the British Isles during March. The pattern was similar to that of many recent years, with early arriving species such as Common Sandpiper and Willow Warbler being very early, but the main arrival of later species such as Wood Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher being not far removed from the usual period.

First arrival dates of spring/summer migrants in 1999

Gannet 21 Jan
Sand Martin 13 Mar
Wheatear 18 Mar
Whimbrel 19 Mar
Chiffchaff 21 Mar
Common Sandpiper 22 Mar
Osprey 29 Mar
Swallow 1 Apr
Willow Warbler 2 Apr
Blackcap 3 Apr
Ring Ouzel 4 Apr
Sandwich Tern 4 Apr
Tree Pipit 4 Apr
Grasshopper Warbler 11 Apr
White Wagtail 12 Apr
House Martin 13 Apr
Sedge Warbler 13 Apr
Swift 16 Apr
Garganey 18 Apr
Redstart 18 Apr
Marsh Harrier 19 Apr
Cuckoo 19 Apr
Common Tern 21 Apr
Arctic Tern 24 Apr
Whitethroat 24 Apr
Whinchat 25 Apr
Wood Warbler 25 Apr
Pied Flycatcher 25 Apr
Garden Warbler 28 Apr
Lesser Whitethroat 29 Apr
Dotterel 2 May
Ruff 7 May
Spotted Flycatcher 10 May
Spotted Crake 30 May
Quail 31 May
Manx Shearwater 19 June
Corncrake 28 June

Of note amongst scarce migrants during April were a Great Skua at Lunderston Bay on 7th, a Spotted Redshank at Newshot Island from 18th to 25th, and a Clyde area total of 121 Black-tailed Godwits, including 29 at Balgray Reservoir on the 18th, and 50 at Ardmore on the 24th. Single Marsh Harriers were seen at RSPB reserves – a male flying north over Aird Meadow at Lochwinnoch on 19th April, and another migrant, this time a female, at Easter Fannyside Loch on 27th May.

Golden Plovers on their northwards migration seem to favour certain fields where they stop off during April, examples being the flock of 127 at Netherton Farm, Renfrew on the 9th, 125 at Lamington on 18th, and 129 near Harelaw Dam on the same day. Hikes onto the Lowther Hills plateau at the beginning of May often produce sightings of migrant Dotterel, and this year a trip of 14 was reported on the 2nd of the month.

The year was a record one for Garganey, with an estimated 17 birds, including 11 males, reported during the period 18th April to 1st July. A pair at Millersneuk Marsh engaged in courtship behaviour, but unfortunately with no sign that they actually bred. Up to three birds were present there, and up to four were at the Endrick Mouth.

As usual the month of May turned up a number of scarce migrants, including a male Ruff at Walston on 7th, a Green Sandpiper at Linwood Pool on 11th, and a Wood Sandpiper at Newton Farm Pool on the 31st. This was the only Wood Sandpiper reported in 1999. In June we had a Little Gull at Balgray Reservoir on 4th, a Hobby at Merryton from 10th to 20th, and a rather unseasonal Iceland Gull flying over Duchal Moor on the 12th.

A new species for the Clyde area, a drake Lesser Scaup, appeared at Linwood Pool on 12th May. It was presumably the same bird which was at Munnoch Reservoir in Ayrshire two days previously. Accompanied by a flock of rather restless Tufted Ducks, it was gone the following day. Then on 29th of May the Lesser Scaup appeared at Balgray Reservoir, where it remained until the 4th of June. Some confusion occurred when an adult male ‘Greater’ Scaup arrived at the reservoir on 18th June – initially a few observers reported that the Lesser Scaup had returned! This was perhaps excusable, as the coincidence of the two species being at the same place in June seemed most unlikely.

Single Quail were calling at Balgray on 31st May, then later in the summer at West Millichen, Summerston on 25th July and at Portnauld, Inchinnan on 31st July. Two calling male Corncrakes were reported, at Broadwood Loch on 28th June and at Buchanan Castle Golf Course on 19th July. This was a fairly average showing for these species, in a year when no night-time searches took place.

Breeding season

Three pairs of Red-throated Divers were on breeding sites in spring, but unfortunately all were unsuccessful, as was the Clyde area’s only breeding pair of Black-throated Divers. A single Slavonian Grebe summered at Carron Valley Reservoir, apparently for its seventh successive year, but yet again failed to find a mate. The commoner grebes were well recorded, with 113 pairs of Little Grebe and 40 pairs of Great Crested Grebe reported. Four pairs of the latter species reared a remarkable total of 12 young at Frankfield Loch.

The Clyde area currently enjoys a high level of recording and monitoring of many breeding birds, especially wetland birds. As well as the local SOC Breeding Wetland Bird Survey, organised by Jim and Val Wilson, we also have the national Heronries Census, organised locally by James McMahon from 1996 to 1999. This year sixteen heronries were monitored, with a total of 153 active nests counted, the largest being the heronry at Finlaystone Estate which held 27 breeding pairs.

Record totals of 330 Mallard and 62 Tufted Duck broods were reported, and five pairs of Gadwall reared 36 young at Baron’s Haugh. Ten broods of Teal and twenty broods of Goosander were also good totals.

The second year of a breeding Hen Harrier study in Renfrewshire located 14 territories of this raptor which is heavily persecuted throughout most of its UK range. Although only nine young were fledged in Renfrewshire in 1999, this was still better than the average for southwest Scotland as a whole. A major success story in the local raptor world has been the phenomenal increase of our Buzzard population since the late 1980’s, and another milestone was reached this year with the occurrence of the first ever breeding within the City of Glasgow. The breeding Kestrel population throughout the Clyde area was somewhat depressed due to low vole numbers, but this is only part of a natural fluctuation. Peregrines are still doing reasonably well, but there are indications that persecution by pigeon fanciers may be on the increase.

By recent years’ standards, good numbers of Red Grouse were recorded in spring on the moors of West Renfrewshire. However breeding success was low in the wet and cool spring of 1999. Casual recording of Black Grouse produced a Clyde area total of 67 males and 18 females at 26 sites, including 15 males at the Glen Fruin lek.

One of the most exciting discoveries of the year arose as a result of the national survey of Spotted Crake organised by the RSPB. Although few sites in the Clyde area were checked, the one site that produced a positive result held at least five calling males! These were heard after dark on two census visits, one on 30th May and the other on 5th June. Hopefully this will inspire some observers to try the same census technique at other suitable sites – the upper Kelvin marshes must surely be prime candidates.

Water Rails were reasonably well recorded with a total of 49 pairs at 16 sites, but surprisingly, breeding Coots were well down on 1998, from 345 pairs at 98 sites to 252 pairs at 77 sites in 1999. There is no evidence of any significant reduction in recording effort, so it may well be that the breeding Coot population is subject to wide fluctuations, perhaps related to the amount of submerged aquatic plant growth.

Surveys of breeding waders in Lanarkshire contributed to enhanced totals for several species, with impressive Clyde area scores of 607 pairs of Lapwing at 82 sites, 132 pairs of Snipe at 31 sites, 459 pairs of Curlew at 64 sites, and 112 pairs of Redshank at 45 sites. Comparison with figures from the 1980’s revealed declines of all species with the possible exception of Curlew, and a particularly serious decline in breeding Redshank. Local Biodiversity Action Plans (LBAP’s) for both North and South Lanarkshire contain proposals to reverse the loss of suitable breeding wader habitat in the county.

Fieldworkers surveying waders also censused breeding wetland passerines, resulting in record Clyde area totals of 931 pairs of Sedge Warbler and 533 pairs of Reed Bunting being logged. Some other totals indicate the current high recording level of breeding species, as can be seen in the following table.

Reported territories of selected species in 1999

Species Pairs
Barn Owl 13
Wren 499
Willow Warbler 1,237
Long-eared Owl 11
Robin 416
Goldcrest 183
Kingfisher 16
Stonechat 77
Pied Flycatcher 23
Green Woodpecker 10
Blackbird 359
Jay 26
Skylark 297
Song Thrush 266
Raven 16
Sand Martin 1,074
Sedge Warbler 931
Yellowhammer 157
Tree Pipit 124
Whitethroat 256
Reed Bunting 533

A total of 1,076 breeding pairs of Lesser Black-backed Gulls was counted at 35 rooftop colonies. Following an unconfirmed report in 1998, 19 pairs of Arctic Tern and two pairs of Common Tern were confirmed to be nesting on the pier blocks of the former Esso oil terminal at Bowling. This was the first breeding of either species on the Clyde estuary, and the first breeding in the Clyde area since 1984.

Jimmy Maxwell and Neil Darroch continued to search for the elusive Willow Tit, finding them at seven sites in 1999, including one site which held four singing males. Another species which can be difficult to record during the breeding season is Jay, and this year was better than usual with a reported 26 territories. However with no report from the RSPB at Inversnaid, Pied Flycatcher was poorly recorded with only 23 pairs reported.

During poor summer weather, Swifts tend to congregate at certain favoured sites, usually waterbodies, to feed on hatching flying insects. Strathclyde Loch is one such location,  supporting an amazing flock of 2,000 feeding Swifts on 10th July.

Late summer and autumn

Recent years have seen the reoccurrence of a summer build-up of Shelduck at Longhaugh Point, prior to the moult migration. This year they peaked at 415 full-grown birds on 7th July. Other notable wildfowl concentrations during the moult period included 206 Mute Swans on Hogganfield Loch, and 92 Red-breasted Mergansers and 106 Goosander on southern Loch Lomond, all in July. A count of 360 Tufted Ducks at Hogganfield Loch on 16th August was also noteworthy. Fifty Little Grebes there the same day built up to a Clyde area record count of 72 on 10th September, consolidating the status of Hogganfield Loch as one of the three most important sites for the species in Scotland.

An unexpectedly early ‘autumn’ flock of 15 breeding-plumaged Black-tailed Godwits visited Balgray Reservoir on 1st July, followed by 12 at Ardmore on 16th July and 9 at Baron’s Haugh on 21st July. Autumn wader passage at inland sites included an adult Grey Plover at Balgray on 3rd August, and seven Knots at the Endrick Mouth on 21st August.

A single Spotted Redshank appeared at Balgray Reservoir, along with an exceptionally large flock of 32 Redshank, on 30th August. The spotted one stayed till 8th September. Another Spotted Redshank was at Baron’s Haugh on 21st September, and a further two of these elegant waders were at the Endrick Mouth on 21st October. At least 14 Green Sandpipers passed through the Clyde area on autumn migration, including two at South Medwin Pool on 25th August, two by the River Endrick below Ballochruin Bridge on 30th-31st August, and two at Auchendores Reservoir, Kilmacolm on 1st September.

Small numbers of Little Stints and Curlew Sandpipers turned up, with single Little Stints at the Endrick Mouth and Balgray Reservoir, and three at Hillend Reservoir. Curlew Sandpipers were exclusively on the Clyde estuary, with a maximum count of 11 at Longhaugh Point on 27th August, and one still at Havoc on the 4th of October. Ruff were rather scarce, with only around 18 reported. A somewhat unusual occurrence was of two Ruff at the busy Heritage Park in East Kilbride from 19th September to the 1st of October.

Interesting seabirds began to edge into the Inner Clyde during July, the herald being a Storm Petrel off Craigendoran Pier on 18th July. This was followed soon afterwards by three Arctic Skuas flying east past Ardmore Point on 23rd July. Rather disappointingly there were no skuas at all reported in August, despite record numbers of Sandwich Terns in the estuary, which included 154 at Ardmore Point on 28th August. September brought an improvement, with two Pomarine Skuas passing Cloch Point on the 11th, including an adult being mobbed by an Arctic Skua. A juvenile Arctic Skua turned up inland at the Endrick Mouth on 13th September, feeding on dead gulls.

The near-annual spectacle of large numbers of Manx Shearwater at Cloch Point was somewhat later than usual in 1999. After low numbers during July and August, a sudden influx took place in the first few days of September, peaking at just over 1,000 birds passing on the 2nd. Other seabirds there included 14 Fulmars and 247 Gannets on the 8th, and a remarkable flock of 18 Red-throated Divers flying past on the 11th. A Renfrewshire record flock of six Great Skuas flew past on 2nd October. Then on the 31st October a rather late Arctic Skua was seen, gales that day producing a record Renfrewshire count of 400 Kittiwakes heading into the estuary during the course of a one-hour seawatch.

An unusually long-staying juvenile Black Tern appeared at Gartloch Pool on 3rd August, being relocated at nearby Woodend Loch where it remained until 17th August. The only other report of this species was of one at Baron’s Haugh, very briefly, on 20th September.

Some of the usual large hirundine roosts failed to materialise in autumn 1999, with some indications of a poor breeding season for Sand Martin. The Swallow roost in the reedbed at Newshot Island peaked at 4,500 birds on 21st August, and the Aird Meadow, Lochwinnoch roost held 3,500 on 5th September. Late summer evenings are the best time to see Water Rails feeding out in the open at Newshot Island, and on 21st August as many as 18 were counted on the mud along the edge of the reedbeds in the main lagoon. The only Spotted Crake of the autumn was at Baron’s Haugh on 25-26th August.

Carron Valley Reservoir has become one of the best places to see migrant Ospreys in recent years, and on 11th August a pair was there with two juveniles. On 12th September two separate birds were watched fishing on the Clyde estuary, one catching a large flounder at Longhaugh Point. Two days later a migrant Osprey was seen at the Barr Loch, and a rather late bird flew west over Glen Fruin on 12th October.

Gadwall numbers were below recent years’ average at Baron’s Haugh, with a maximum count of only 44 on 10th August. The peak count at Gartloch Pool was of 20 Gadwall on 16th September, this site also supporting up to 25 Shoveler during the month. Hogganfield Loch achieved a count of 50 Shoveler on 12th October. Other autumn wildfowl counts included a record Clyde area total of 910 Mute Swans in September, more inland Scaup than usual, including up to ten at Baron’s Haugh, and 85 Ruddy Ducks on the East Glasgow Lochs on 14th October.

Two unusual waterfowl showed up on Strathclyde Loch on 12th September – a Red-necked Grebe and a female Common Scoter. On the same day a peak count of 115 Great Crested Grebes was made at Ardmore Point. This was also the day of the annual Eider census, organised by Chris Waltho. The resulting total of 4,011 Eiders on the Clyde estuary represents an impressive 5% of the British population.

The first record of Marsh Harrier in the Bishop Loch area has been long coming. An adult female was found at Gartloch Pool on 13th September, then over the next four days this grand bird hunted regularly over the rough grass and marshlands between Cardowan Moss and Bishop Loch. It was popular with birdwatchers, but not with the local Buzzards!

Autumn highlights on the Clyde estuary included an excellent count of 2,899 Redshank in October, which was the highest total on record since 1988. Curlew numbers peaked at 1,600 in September, and a total of 1,158 Dunlin the following month was an unusually high tally for October. Of the scarcer species, up to 12 Greenshank were at Finlaystone Point, and 21 Bar-tailed Godwits at West Ferry was somewhat more than usual on the Clyde. Two Black-tailed Godwits were rather late at Longhaugh Point on 23rd October, but none wintered on the estuary this year.

Autumn-winter

No arrival date was recorded for the Fannyside/Slamannan Bean Geese, which hit another record high of 188 at Fannyside on 12th November. As usual Pink-footed Geese were the first of the commoner grey geese to arrive, with 800 heading southeast over Helensburgh on 29th September, and 5,200 already in the Dunsyre valley by 3rd October. Later counts included 4,600 at Covington on 1st December. Greylag Geese arrived later in October, and at Millichen Flood reached a peak count of 1,870 on 4th December. Whooper Swans reached a good peak of 177 at the Black Cart Water on 7th November, and an excellent record count of 393 in the Clyde valley at Thankerton on 14th November.

A small influx of inland Long-tailed Ducks involved two on Aird Meadow and three on Bardowie Loch. Other notable wildfowl records during the period included a record Renfrewshire count of 234 Canada Geese on farmland near Rowbank Reservoir, and on the Clyde estuary totals of 305 Shelduck, 822 Wigeon and 814 Teal, all in November. The following month there were 443 Teal at Baron’s Haugh, 110 Pochard at the Heritage Loch, East Kilbride, and 245 Pochard on Strathclyde Loch. Fifteen Pintail were in Ardmore North Bay on 10th December. A Clyde area total of 4,778 Mallard in December was the highest in recent years, and a cold snap during the month produced a build-up to 658 Mallard at Baron’s Haugh, as well as 287 Wigeon.

The abundance of rabbits in the South Medwin valley may explain the high count of ten Buzzards between Walston and Dunsyre on 3rd October. Few Hen Harriers were reported in the Clyde area at the end of the year. A ‘ringtail’ hunting at Cardowan Moss on 10th November, like the male seen there in March, was unusually close to a built-up area.

Small birds had mixed fortunes in 1999, but some had obviously enjoyed a successful breeding season, indicated by good autumn flock sizes. Goldfinches did well, with many large flocks including 85 at Balgray Reservoir on 3rd October, and 75 at the Bishop Loch LNR on 6th October. A Chaffinch flock at Blackstoun Farm in December was estimated to hold around 1,500 birds. Crossbills were at a low ebb, with 15 at Burncrooks on 20th October being the best count. Among the species which continue to give cause for concern, 60 Reed Buntings were counted at Palacerigg Country Park on 10th November, 50 Tree Sparrows were at Netherton Farm, Renfrew during November and December, and 35 Tree Sparrows were in a flock at Newton Farm, Cambuslang on 6th December.

Winter thrushes were slow to arrive, and unusually, Fieldfares were more numerous than Redwings during late October. The largest concentration of Fieldfares reported consisted of 1,600 between Bishop Loch and Commonhead Moss on 22nd October. Redwings picked up slightly during November, but were still scarce with no flocks of more than two hundred birds reported. They were particularly noticeable by their absence in most areas during December.

The most unexpected passerine to be seen in December was an exceptionally late House Martin in Dumbarton on the 3rd. This may well be the latest ever recorded.

Jack Snipe were scarce or poorly recorded during the autumn and early winter period, with no site exceeding the seven counted at Motherwell on 14th November. Inland wintering Lapwings were more abundant than usual, for the second consecutive winter, with particularly good flocks of 500 in the South Medwin valley, 425 at Strathclyde Country Park, and 380 at Merryton, all in December. The wintering Curlews at Merryton would appear to be unique in forming the only inland wintering Curlew flock in Scotland. There were still 180 there on 12th December.

Unusual wintering waders included a Green Sandpiper at Castle Semple Loch. A Greenshank which wintered on the banks of the Black Cart Water at Renfrew was accompanied to the end of the year by a more unusual wintering wader – a Common Sandpiper. This species has a history of wintering at this spot, going back as far as 1969, although presumably not the same bird!

The regular flock of Greenshank at Finlaystone Point numbered 12 birds in December. This is a considerable proportion of the winter population in Scotland, and the Clyde is now considered to be a nationally important site for wintering Greenshank. The Clyde estuary is also of national importance for Oystercatcher, which numbered 4,878 in December, the highest count for eighteen years.

During good weather on 12th December, 81 Red-throated Divers and 14 Slavonian Grebes were counted around Ardmore Point. In a less usual locality, two Slavonian Grebes were in Cardwell Bay, Gourock on 26th December – the first of the species ever recorded there.

A Bittern at the Endrick Mouth on 20th December provided a good end to 1999 for one fortunate observer. The year also ended with the first signs of what was to become a minor Waxwing invasion. Following one caught by a cat in Johnstone on 8th November, the next to turn up were six in Helensburgh on 25th November. Then there were 15 in Cumbernauld and 11 in Balloch at the end of December. With six of the last twelve winters having produced good numbers of Waxwings, it is hard to believe that there was no invasion at all during the preceding thirteen years, from 1975 to 1987.