As I said at the end of the previous post, finding the Ringed plover’s nest seemed to get the ball rolling for our nesting…
As we were driving back to the cottage, happily discussing our find, we decided to delay our return by taking a quick drive down a side road that we hadn’t explored yet. It was a small road which led to some holiday cottages and went past a few lochans. We were driving past one of the lochans when I thought I spotted a gull sitting on a tiny island in the middle of the water. I told Dad to stop and reverse back a bit to bring it back into view, and sure enough there was a Common gull clearly sitting on a nest in among some heather on the tiny island (just big enough for a person to stand on). We pulled over, hopped over a fence and leapt from the shore to a little clump of vegetation, which served as a stepping stone to get to the island.
Dad and I have found a couple of Common gulls’ nests before but never in the UK, only on a birding trip to Finland. And despite the name, the Common gull is not a very common gull in the UK so we were very pleased with our second nest of the day, and the third of the trip.
Later that day we took a boat trip to Handa Island, which is home to nearly 100,000 seabirds during the breeding season and has some very pretty white-sand beaches with clear blue waters.
We saw thousands of Razorbills, Guillemots and Black guillemots nesting on an off-shore stack and along the cliffs. There were Puffins about too but they were too difficult to spot without a telescope. There were also good numbers of both Arctic and Great skua nesting on the island but visitors are, understandably, not allowed to approach the nests. However, as we were walking back to the beach to catch the last ferry back to mainland, I noticed a little fluffy thing hopping across the footpath. And all of a sudden there wasn’t just one, but seven, little Red grouse chicks crossing the path and generally bumbling around, with two anxious looking parents leading the way.
The chicks had clearly already fledged so no nest to be found but still a great little encounter, and also really surprising that the chicks hadn’t already been scoffed by one of the many Great skuas about!
The following day we thought we’d check another local beach and see if we could find ourselves a second Ringed plover nest, since we’d got the technique down. We strolled along the beach waiting for a Plover to run from under our feet to the shore, and it didn’t take long for one to oblige. This time we didn’t even bother with an initial search of the area where we thought the bird had flushed from, we simply retreated to a suitable distance and waited for the bird to, hopefully, return to a nest.
Luckily we had a good view of the beach from where we had parked the car, that made the waiting much more comfortable as it was a particularly windy day. It didn’t take long for the bird to return, and, as it settled in a suitable looking spot for a long while, we were pretty sure we were in luck.
On our penultimate day we decided to have a proper search of our cottage’s garden for nests. There was definitely a Wren and a Willow warbler nesting somewhere within the grounds, but both evaded us. Over the week we had seen Lesser redpoll flying over and often dropping down into the stunted pine trees that bordered the garden. We had poked our heads into the spiky trees a few times looking out for a tiny little cupped nest (about 7cm diameter), but thought it was probably a bit of a long-shot as the NRS get less than ten records a year for this species, which is on the red-list for conservation.
However, as I was searching around for the Wren’s nest Dad saw the Lesser redpoll go down, yet again, into the pines, and this time he had seen exactly which tree it had dropped into. He called me over, pointed out the tree, and we approached. After a few seconds of inspecting the tree dad exclaimed, ‘Got it!’ The bird was still incubating and didn’t flush until we were practically face-to-face with her.
A perfect last find for a wonderful holiday. The rarest nest we’ve ever found! The NRS got only five records for Lesser redpoll last year and none from the Highlands, and even though we weren’t able to monitor the nest over a long period the data will still be very valuable for such a vulnerable species.