From cetaceans to cross-country birds

April 12th 2018

As Shorewatch volunteers with Whale and Dolphin Conservation we are frequently at Stoer Head Lighthouse, our designated Shorewatch Site.  A ’Shorewatch’ consists of a ten-minute effort based survey for cetaceans which is repeated an hour later, and so on, for as long as the tea lasts!

It was 29th March 2018 and we had completed a watch at 12.30 so went for a short walk around the lighthouse to warm up a bit before having our sandwiches.  As usual at this spot the rocks below and to the west of the lighthouse were being used as a low tide roost by Shags (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) and the occasional Cormorant (P. carbo).

We were having a look at these birds, and a small group of Purple Sandpiper (Calidris maritima), which were all looking superb in the sunlight and especially with the waves crashing over the rocks around them when we noticed one Shag with a blue ring with letters on its left leg.  It’s always exciting to spot a colour ringed bird as you know that you will be able to report it and obtain its history.

The best and quickest way to get details about a ringed bird, whether alive or dead, is to look at this website  This site contains details of all the ringing projects which are being or have been carried out across Europe along with the contact details of the ringer(s).

First thing identify your bird, then note the type and location the of ring(s) and any code inscribed on it.  This Shag had a dark-blue ring with white letters on its left leg, the letters read from the top down (the correct way to read them) DZS. It also carried a metal BTO ring on its right leg but it was too far away to read the code on it.

We tracked ‘our’ bird down to Mark Newell the Isle of May field Manager with the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology in Edinburgh. A couple of days later Mark got back to us and this was his reply –

“Many thanks for the email, I am trying to catch up with emails having been inundated with reports of dead seabirds so a delight to receive one alive and an incredible record too. 

To my knowledge this is only the second live record of an Isle of May Shag on the west coast (after one at Kinlochbervie about 20 years ago).  Your one was ringed as a chick (BTO ring: 1472259) on 10/6/15 and seen at Scotstown, Aberdeenshire 24/9/15.  It was again on the Isle of May on 12/5/17 but no further sightings.  It was one of a brood of two but its sibling has never been seen.

The intensive colour ringing scheme on the Isle of May first started in 1996 but birds had been metal ringed since the 1960’s.

The recent poor weather on the east coast has caused a lot of the shags which were back on their territories in late February to scatter down the east coast but many have failed to survive.  Maybe this one has been successful in finding sheltered feeding conditions.”

We are both originally from Fife but, despite several attempts, we never made it to the Isle of May which sits in the outer Forth estuary so, to record a bird from that Isle here in Assynt was quite special. Now we just need to keep looking for it and the whales and dolphins!

D and A Haines

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Recent Sightings


c100 adult and 1st-winter birds feeding off Clachtoll (DAH) (24/09)

Tufted Duck

two male birds on Loch Drumbeg (DAH) (22/09)


single bird near Stoer Village Hall (DAH) (21/09)

UPDATE on colour-ringed Oystercatcher

we have heard back from the Icelandic Wader Group regarding the colour-ringed Oystercatcher spotted at Bay of Culkein on Tuesday. It was ringed, as an adult, near its nest while it was territory-guarding on 19th May this year; the location was Eskifjorour which is on the east coast of Iceland. We will post a short article on the Field Club's website in the next few days regarding other sightings of colour-ringed birds recorded in Assynt (DAH) (20/09)

Pink-footed Goose

c225, in four skeins, heading east over Culkein Drumbeg (DAH). Oh boy, it's autumn! (20/09)


single male in eclipse plumage Loch Inver (DAH) (20/09)

Manx Shearwater

young bird rescued from a garden at Inchnadamph (Chris Rix/Andy Summers). The bird, which was well off-course, was successfully released at Stoer the next day. (18/09)


four birds resting on rocks Bay of Culkein (DAH). One of these birds, an adult, had a combination of coloured rings on its legs. The details have been submitted to the appropriate ringing scheme, which appears to be the International Wader Study Group, and we will report back once we hear from them. (18/09)