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TITLE
Skuas, terns, and dunlin at Gress Moor, Lewis
EXTERNAL ID
GB1796_SINCLAIR_PETERCUNNINGHAM_01
PLACENAME
Gress
DISTRICT
Lewis
OLD COUNTY/PARISH
ROSS: Stornoway
PERIOD
1980s; 1990s
CREATOR
Peter Cunningham
SOURCE
Inverness Museum and Art Gallery
ASSET ID
2150
KEYWORDS
ornithology
bird watching
Outer Hebrides
audio

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In this audio extract, Hebridean ornithologist Peter Cunningham talks about some of Lewis's breeding birds including the Arctic skua and the great skua.

Well I'd like to take you further north to the other side of the village of Gress to the region called Druim Mòr where the skuas breed. [Sound of skuas calling]. Here we are now by the side of a loch on the Gress Moor, north of Stornoway, in the middle of the skua country.

Interviewer: In fact, you can hear the skuas there.

That's right. There's three of them flying over the loch at the moment - Arctic skuas; graceful, brown birds with a swallow-like flight. Very active flyers. They nest throughout the Hebrides and as far back as the first records go in the last century.

Interviewer: They're very, very fast as you say. They remind me a little bit of the flight of a tern, funnily enough.

Yes, yes. They're just as active as terns and, in fact, terns are their main prey because they're parasites and tend to harass terns which are carrying food until they drop the food and they catch the sand eels or whatever before it hits the water. The odd thing is that there are Arctic terns nesting inland from here and I've often watched terns carrying sand eels in their bills across the skua territory to the young and they're not touched by the local skuas. Since 1848, the first records, Arctic skuas have been found nesting. There's a dunlin calling.

Interviewer: Oh, that's it. You can hear the trilling sound.

They breed, of course, on the moorland here too, and that sound is one of the most delightful summer sounds I can think of. There are four or five of them just along the shore of the loch from us.

Interviewer: Getting back to the Arctic skua, are they here the whole year or do they, are they summer migrants?

No, they usually come along with the terns in the month of late April, or early May, and stay with us and breed throughout the summer and leave again in the early autumn. There's a great skua now. They also breed here. They're a much bigger, heavier bird, almost the size of a great black-backed gull, and the two white carpal patches on the wings are very distinctive. They also are parasites but harass, tend to harass bigger birds like gulls and so on.

Interviewer: I've never succeeded getting the great skua on tape really, except for perhaps when they, you know, they arrive and they're sort of pairing off.

Yes, or unless you happen to interfere with their - go near their nests and then they tend to grunt at you but compared with the beautiful mewing call of the Arctic skua they are relatively silent. In fact, the Arctic skua's one of the most evocative sounds of the summer.

Interviewer: Yes.

They resemble to my mind the mewing of a cat; that's what they bring to mind. [Arctic skua calling]

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Skuas, terns, and dunlin at Gress Moor, Lewis

ROSS: Stornoway

1980s; 1990s

ornithology; bird watching; Outer Hebrides; audio

Inverness Museum and Art Gallery

Bill Sinclair Audio: Bird Watching

In this audio extract, Hebridean ornithologist Peter Cunningham talks about some of Lewis's breeding birds including the Arctic skua and the great skua.<br /> <br /> Well I'd like to take you further north to the other side of the village of Gress to the region called Druim Mòr where the skuas breed. [Sound of skuas calling]. Here we are now by the side of a loch on the Gress Moor, north of Stornoway, in the middle of the skua country.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: In fact, you can hear the skuas there.<br /> <br /> That's right. There's three of them flying over the loch at the moment - Arctic skuas; graceful, brown birds with a swallow-like flight. Very active flyers. They nest throughout the Hebrides and as far back as the first records go in the last century.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: They're very, very fast as you say. They remind me a little bit of the flight of a tern, funnily enough.<br /> <br /> Yes, yes. They're just as active as terns and, in fact, terns are their main prey because they're parasites and tend to harass terns which are carrying food until they drop the food and they catch the sand eels or whatever before it hits the water. The odd thing is that there are Arctic terns nesting inland from here and I've often watched terns carrying sand eels in their bills across the skua territory to the young and they're not touched by the local skuas. Since 1848, the first records, Arctic skuas have been found nesting. There's a dunlin calling.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: Oh, that's it. You can hear the trilling sound.<br /> <br /> They breed, of course, on the moorland here too, and that sound is one of the most delightful summer sounds I can think of. There are four or five of them just along the shore of the loch from us.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: Getting back to the Arctic skua, are they here the whole year or do they, are they summer migrants?<br /> <br /> No, they usually come along with the terns in the month of late April, or early May, and stay with us and breed throughout the summer and leave again in the early autumn. There's a great skua now. They also breed here. They're a much bigger, heavier bird, almost the size of a great black-backed gull, and the two white carpal patches on the wings are very distinctive. They also are parasites but harass, tend to harass bigger birds like gulls and so on.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: I've never succeeded getting the great skua on tape really, except for perhaps when they, you know, they arrive and they're sort of pairing off.<br /> <br /> Yes, or unless you happen to interfere with their - go near their nests and then they tend to grunt at you but compared with the beautiful mewing call of the Arctic skua they are relatively silent. In fact, the Arctic skua's one of the most evocative sounds of the summer. <br /> <br /> Interviewer: Yes.<br /> <br /> They resemble to my mind the mewing of a cat; that's what they bring to mind. [Arctic skua calling]