Review of the year 1998 from Clyde Birds 1998

In another year with fewer rarities recorded, it was the numbers and level of reporting of the commoner species that made 1998 notable. Organised birdwatching in the form of projects such as the Wetland Bird Survey are giving us an increasingly complete picture of wildfowl and wader numbers throughout the year, while the Clyde SOC Breeding Waterbirds Survey supplements this data with vital information on breeding species and productivity.

Other than the BBS and the now annual Heronries Census, there were no other full scale breeding surveys, but this was more than made up for by the variety of projects undertaken at a local level. These ranged from annual events such as the Capercaillie census on Loch Lomond, the Pied Flycatcher nestbox schemes and the continued search for the true status of the Willow Tit in Lanarkshire, to “one off” events such as the extensive survey of the MOD Clyde Estate. With shorter days and less favourable weather fewer projects are undertaken outside the breeding season, but the Mute Swan moult census and the September Firth of Clyde Eider count seem to be fairly well established annual events. The Bean Geese continued to be regularly monitored and the mapping of Magpie roosts continues apace. Many individual efforts were extremely valuable, but mention must be made of the huge single-handed contribution by Alistair Van Beest, particularly his work on breeding Goosander, Buzzard and Sand Martin.

A glance through the 1998 Clyde Birds will show that it is not just ‘birdwatching with a purpose’ that provides the information to pack the species accounts. All records contribute to the bigger picture. Encouragingly record numbers were reported for many species, but on the other hand the declines become all the more concerning with Yellow Wagtail down to one sole record and only a small number of Tree Sparrows from a handful of sites, for example. Some habitats and areas still seem to be under-represented, with few records from the uplands at any season. Is this the reason for the lack of Golden Plover and Dunlin breeding records? Are Ring Ouzels really so scarce? What are Red Grouse numbers like in winter? Are there any Snow Buntings on the hills? Is anyone looking at streams and rivers for wintering Green Sandpiper? The woodlands of the Clyde Valley are still poorly covered, but the Loch Lomonside woodlands saw an upturn in records although Jays still seem to prove elusive. Are they really so scarce?

A brief chronological summary of some of the highlights follows.

A Puffin at Kilcreggan on the 12 January was the sole occurrence of this species, but Little Auks made a few appearances including four at Cloch Point on 14 January. Red-throated Divers, Great Crested and Slavonian Grebe numbers were high between January and March on the estuary, but few scarce grebes were recorded. A Mediterranean Gull was at Strathclyde Loch on 8 February with another or possibly the same seen flying past the SECC on 17 February. A Rough-legged Buzzard was discovered wintering in a young plantation at Brackenhirst near Luggiebank/Airdrie on 22 February and stayed until 5 March. Iceland Gulls made a good showing with about 18 individuals being reported over the winter-spring period, including a remarkable four at Strathclyde Loch on 9 March. The first of two Ring-billed Gulls of the year was noted at Possil Loch on 15 March. In the same general area a female Black Redstart turned up at Bardowie from 14-17 March. The Bean Geese peaked at a respectable 153, while up to 38 Ruddy Ducks were on Hogganfield Loch in January before being frozen out in early February. The Magpie roost counts included an incredible 538 at Pollok Country Park – possibly a Scottish record for this species?

The spring period saw a spate of scarcer species including a Crane near Law, a Little Egret at Ardmore, a White stork at Merryton and a Hobby near Douglas Estate, but the bird of the year had to be the Scops Owl, unfortunately struck by a car near Port Glasgow on 20 May, but nursed back to health and released at Kilmacolm on 12 June. There were few Dotterel around despite some searching. Migrants were later in arriving than they have been in recent years (see below) and some scarce visitors failed to make an appearance as there were no records of Quail or Little Ringed Plover for instance.

First Arrival Dates of Spring/Summer Migrants in 1998

Gannet 8 Feb
Chiffchaff 18 Mar
Sand Martin 22 Mar
Ring Ouzel 24 Mar
Wheatear 26 Mar
White Wagtail 28 Mar
Swallow 29 Mar
Common Sandpiper 30 Mar
Osprey 31 Mar
House Martin 2 Apr
Sandwich Tern 4 Apr
Willow Warbler 4 Apr
Whimbrel 11 Apr
Cuckoo 13 Apr
Redstart 14 Apr
Tree Pipit 16 Apr
Blackcap 18 Apr
Garganey 20 Apr
Grasshopper Warbler 23 Apr
Swift 24 Apr
Whinchat 24 Apr
Sedge Warbler 24 Apr
Garden Warbler 24 Apr
Whitethroat 25 Apr
Wood Warbler 25 Apr
Common Tern 26 Apr
Arctic Tern 27 Apr
Spotted Flycatcher 1 May
Lesser Whitethroat 2 May
Dotterel 3 May
Pied Flycatcher 10 May
Marsh Harrier 30 May
Manx Shearwater 25 Jun

The breeding season was notable for record totals of some species recorded – 110 singing male Cuckoos, 148 territories of Grasshopper Warblers and 367 of Reed Buntings to name but a few. Hen Harriers were well recorded with a record 29 territories reported. However most other raptors still suffer under-recording and reporting due to the Clyde area being split by three raptor study groups with their interests leaving the Clyde area marginal to their efforts. This issue should be resolved. It was good to see a return to breeding information being provided by the RSPB for the Lochwinnoch Reserve, as has always come from Baron’s Haugh, but it is disappointing to have none from Inversnaid, not even the Pied Flycatcher nest box scheme.

The late summer-early autumn period was relatively quiet. However later in the autumn, a few rarities appeared. First of all a very approachable juvenile Spotted Crake was discovered at the Black Cart Water on 21 September, staying until 3 October. While looking for this bird, a lucky observer came across three Lapland Buntings in a nearby stubble field on 28 September. On 1 October after strong easterly winds there was a massive passage of Pink-footed Geese from Iceland, with 15,000 resting in the North Bay at Ardmore. The most bizzare occurrence of the autumn was a migrant Purple Sandpiper on the summit of Ben Lomond on 2 October (perhaps affected by the same difficult weather conditions). However the most remarkable record was the Clyde area’s second Terek Sandpiper on 31 October, this time at Ardmore. Of our more common winter migrants, the thrushes were in unexceptional numbers and Jack Snipe, apart from 18-20 at Motherwell, were scarce – or were we not looking for them?

The remainder of the year, as always, turned up some surprises. A Loch Lomond record count of four Velvet Scoters flying north over Fraoch Isle on 6 December, and a Leach’s Petrel at Baron’s Haugh on 27 December, were perhaps the most unpredictable. Single Bitterns at Baron’s Haugh and Aber Bogs were somewhat more expected, but as always difficult to relocate. Close scrutiny of the gulls at Strathclyde Country Park produced a Mediterranean Gull on 13 December and a Ring-billed Gull from 15 November to the year end. Waxwings were represented by a sole individual in a Bothwell garden from 4-15 December.


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