Monday, 18 July 2016

Eilean Nan Ron

Our visit to Eileen Nan Ron is an annual trip we make to this most northerly island off Scotland where we spend three nights camping. It was inhabited until 6th December 1938 because life for the inhabitants of the Gaelic speaking community on the one mile long island had become just to difficult and when the final evacuation came there were 4 men and 5 women of 3 families left. All that remains now are the stone built houses and cottages that have fallen into decay and ruin. Nan Ron is just to the east of the mouth of Tongue bay in Sutherland.

The timing plan of our visit coincided with no moon, so night time mist netting for Stormies would be at its darkest. Also at this time of year the nights are very short and there is only a short window of darkness to catch them. We had 3hrs and the sun was starting to rise again.

We leave the mainland from a village called Skerry. The lady in the picture Jean takes us across in her little boat. It takes two journeys to do this for the seven of us and our equipment including the net poles as can be seen in the picture. She really is a good boats woman.

The plan of course ringing at night for Storm Petrels and then other activities during the day. This juvenile Snipe was caught in a 60ft mist net erected in a huge area of bracken. On previous trips to the island we have experienced on two occasions snipe going into the net but before being able to get to them they managed to fly out.

Scott enjoying the comforts of my tent whilst we pass away a few hours when the weather is inclement. A couple of the ruined houses can be seen in the background in this amazing landscape.

We had one Rock Dove which are only found along the west and north coasts of Scotland, also on off shore islands like Eileen Nan Ron and the coast line of Northern Island. This bird was frequenting one of the ruined building

One of the highlights for me were the 11 pulli of the Great Skuas also known as Bonxies. We locate the pulli by walking around the island until we found one usually lying amongst heather, the parents being not too far away. We then make a judgement on the size of the bird because a small bird has a small leg and foot and a ring applied could easily slide off.

This bird and the one above are different birds. The top one is more advanced as can be seen by the growth of the wing feathers

This little bird is probably only a day or so out of the egg and even at this age it can have attitude.  It still has its white egg tooth and at this age the parents are at their most aggressive. because of the youngsters vulnerability. Unlike the more mature pulli it is far to small to be ringed.

Bonxie is a Shetland name given to the bird and probably derived from a Norse word "bunki dumpy" it is famous for its aggressive behaviour and defends its territory especially against humans. They will eat carrion, sandeels and often kill gulls and other sea birds or neighbouring chicks when food is in short supply.
To give you some idea of the size of this aggressive bird: They are about 50-58cm long with a wingspan of 125-140cm and an average male weight of 1.27kg and females 1.41kgs. In the UK there are about 9600 pairs of birds. I have taken this information from the internet.

One evening we came across this insect. As far as I am aware this is a Common Sea Slater. It is a sea shore relative of the Common Woodlouse and grow to at least 3cm long. In the picture is a one penny to give some scale. 

Setting up the ringing station ready for the evening Storm Petrel session

The Storm Petrel above as you can see is not a big bird. Probably the smallest of the sea birds which feed on plankton crustaceans and small fish picked of the surface of the sea, usually whilst hovering above.

As in previous years we caught birds that had a leg missing and it is thought they lose their legs from attacks by fish. Every bird caught with a leg missing appeared to be very healthy and the leg stump was perfectly healed.
In the UK their breeding grounds are generally on the west coast and the northern isles. It only comes ashore to breed and at night. Their nests can be found in crevices and burrows.

The total birds for the trip were:

New birds = 468
Retraps = 101, one bird 20 yrs old
UK Controls = 24
Lisbon control = 1

Other birds
Bonxie = 11 pulli
Twite = 2
Meadow Pipit = 3
Rock Dove = 1


  1. Fascinating and good to read.

    1. Hi Sam, hope you ok. Thanks for commenting on my blog. The highlight for me was the 11 Bonxie, not sure just at the moment but it might be the highest number we have caught on this annual trip.

  2. Fascinating and good to read.

    1. Are still going to Skokholm I haven't been for 2 years.

  3. We've yet to trade any birds here from the north coast of Northern Ireland with yourselves; hopefully this time! The closest I can see is a couple of birds from Faraid Head which is probably 25km west of ENR.

    1. Hi Richard
      I am an Englishman living in Wales and lived In NI from 1979 - 1984, worked for Michelin in Ballymena lived in Broughshane had a girl friend in Ballymoney and fished in the upper and lower Bann as well as the Movangher canal. Love your country. As you have guessed I have been reading your great informative blog.
      Reference the ringing as far as we are concerned we only had 25 controls this year previous yrs we have had more from around Europe as opposed to the uk. I am sure sooner or later the exchange will happen with you guys.. You seem to be catching some nice birds, must be great to have the Bann in the back garden. Thanks for commenting my blog post.