The Raven is the largest member of the crow family in Great Britain.
These birds are huge when compared to a crow. They thrive in mountain and moorland habitat, and the remote islands in and around this part of Scotland are ideal. Being cliff nesters, they are spoilt for choice as to where to build their nest. They are often seen flying over the coastal hills or hopping along a remote beach in search of a meal.
This bird is one of Britain’s rarest. It is confined to the far north and west, and this area is about as far south as they can be found. They are shy birds, and the remote location of their nest sites, often on very quiet, undisturbed fresh water lochs, means they can be very hard to see. They are also protected by stringent laws from being disturbed at or near the nest site, and so one of the best ways to see them is in early spring, when occasionally they are found in the sheltered inshore lochs in which we operate, as they move back towards their summer breeding grounds.
The Great Skua, or Bonxie as it is locally known, is a real pirate of the seas. They prey on other seabirds, chasing them until they regurgitate their most recent meal, which they catch and eat mid-air! They are frequently seen from our boat, and on several occasions we have watched them harassing birds as large as gannets, and on one occasion even murdering a herring gull.
Until recently the hooded crow was thought to be a relative of the carrion crow. Genetic research has now found them to be a separate species, although the two do inter-breed. Like most members of the crow family, hoodies are often regarded as pests be gamekeepers and farmers, and so are persecuted as a result. But these birds are quite resistant to this, and are a common site in the north and west of Scotland.
Curiously, the hoodie does not occur in southern Britain, but it does occur on the mainland of Europe.
The mute swan is a bird with which everyone is familiar. They are seldom seen at sea, but they are not at all uncommon in and around the Balvicar Harbour, as they often choose to feed and breed in these sheltered coastal waters.
The oystercatcher is another bird that is quite common in these parts. Their pied markings and long red bill make them unmistakable. They often nest on open ground near to the coast, and so we see several pairs on most excursions.
A relatively common bird in Britain, the Grey Heron positively thrives in Argyll. We are almost guaranteed sightings each time we take the boat out. Indeed, we sail past a long-established heronry on our way out to sea. Herons nest colonially, and have chosen a site high in a stand of beech trees. They are very wary birds, and some of the best chances for a close sighting can be had from a boat.
The male wheatear is a very distinctive bird. His chestnut coloured breast, black face patch and white eye stripe are unlike any other native bird. They thrive in open moorland, and are very much at home on the islands and around the Argyll mainland. In summer it is very unusual to not see at least one pair of these birds around the ruins of St. Brendans monastery, on the Garvellachs.
The Twite is a bird of farmland, that like many of its type has declined greatly in Britain. Nowadays it is quite uncommon, having suffered as farming methods have intensified. Happily this is not the case on Scotland’s west coast, and these sparrow-sized birds can be found flitting across meadows on the islands and the coastal mainland.