Notes on the birdlife of Dùn Coillich
- by Robin Hull -
The Observation & Educational Facility at the end of the wheelchair friendly path from the car park about 900 feet above sea level commands views over a heathland and woodland habitat with some water. The birds on Dùn Coillich are different in their numbers from in the valley below.
This is an exciting time for Dùn Coillich birds with migrants arriving from March to May.
The commonest bird is the Meadow Pipit - to most people a 'Little Brown Job' or LBJ but it is pretty when seen with binoculars, stripy golden brown sometimes with yellow touches. The related Pied and Grey Wagtails may be seen, especially near water. Chaffinches, Linnets and the uncommon Twite are seen. Wheatear appear as spring advances and flirt their white rumps from rocks and in late spring Whinchat sit on the rocks; Stonechat also sit up well and may be easily seen. Mistle Thrushes feed on the grass and sing from high trees.
Scrapes and Burn
This is where to look for Waders such as the Common Sandpiper, Redshank, Oystercatcher and Snipe. The latter is heard chipping and drumming more often than it is seen. The Curlew is another bird easily heard. Several Gulls including Common, Black-headed and lesser Black-backed visit Dùn Coillich and the former breed here. Mallard are common and Herons may visit the scrapes. Dippers bob along the burn.
At present, woodland is distant but many trees have been planted which will attract Robins and Wrens. Listen for Willow Warblers' falling cadence of song and watch out for Whitethroat. Blackbirds and Song Thrushes are common but Redstarts and Tree Pipits less so. Greenfinch and Siskin feed among trees and occasional Sparrowhawks hunt in the woods where Tawny Owls hoot.
You may hear Red and Black Grouse: the former with an angry "Go. Go back", the Black with an amorous cooing. Other game birds include Red-legged Partridge and occasional Pheasant which are less common at this altitude. If you are lucky you may spot a Merlin hunting low over the moor. The rare Ring Ousel has nested here and we welcome any reports of sightings. Feeders attract Blue, Great and Coal Tits and Great Spotted Woodpeckers come for fat and nuts.
In the Air
There will be Swallows, House and Sand Martins and rare Skylarks. Wood Pigeons are common. The Crow family are unusual apart from Ravens which croak high above Dùn Coillich's summit but there are occasional Jays, Jackdaws and 'Hoodies'. Buzzards and Kestrels hover and glide on thermals. Peregrine, Ospreys Hen Harriers and Golden Eagle fly over occasionally.
Summer has most of the birds of spring but in May Cuckoos often sit on the Pylons watching for nesting birds. Short Eared Owls fly low over the moor, hunting voles by day. Occasional Swifts may be seen. Goldfinches feed on the tops of thistles and flocks of Redpoll may feed with them. Spotted Flycatchers nest round Whitebridge Cottage and we even get a very occasional Starling. Sometimes we see Treecreepers in the woods.
Summer birds begin to migrate and the Fieldfares and Redwings arrive for a brief stay to strip the Rowans. An occasional Carrion Crow seeks dead animals. Woodcock migrate in from Scandinavia and Pink-foot Geese and Greylags come from the sub arctic. A surprise visitor was an autumn Guillemot on the scrapes. Rarely Dunnock may be seen and there has been a single sighting of a Barn Owl.
Some resident birds linger on and this may be the best time to see tiny Goldcrests among the conifers. Bullfinches sometimes come in flocks of as many as 50 and we see occasional Snow Buntings.