royal troon’s breeding birds · 2016-04-07 · royal troon’s breeding birds royal troon golf...
Royal Troon’s Breeding BirdsRoyal Troon Golf Course boasts a wide range of breeding birds, many of them flourishing due to the care and attention paid to the management of the course by the staff. Links golf courses provide an almost unique opportunity for birds and Man to benefit from each others’ presence. The maintenance of short, closely cropped grass on the fairways along with the more tangled rough are ideal habitats for grassland specialists such as Skylark and Meadow Pipit, species which appear on the RSPB’s Red and Amber Lists of birds whose populations have declined sharply in parts of the UK in recent years. The almost impenetrable Gorse bushes, along with the small stands of trees on the course present ideal breeding sites for birds like Linnet (another Red List species), as well as a wide range of summering warblers.
The fact that the diversity and numbers of breeding species has been maintained on the course both before and after a major golfing tournament such as The Open in 2004 is a real tribute to the effort taken by the greens staff to protect and improve the environment here.
Spring on Royal Troon Golf Course
Humans tend to believe that Spring arrives somewhere around Easter. For birds, Springtime is, by then, well advanced. By February there is a noticeable upsurge of activity among the bird population on the golf course. Song Thrushes often return in numbers during late January if the weather is mild and many species such as Stonechat start to declare their territories. Occasional harsh barks announce the presence of Pheasant in or near the cover of Gorse bushes while, overhead, many different calls signal the passage of small birds such as Siskin and Goldfinch. Other finches like Greenfinch and Linnet will often remain in roaming flocks well into March, before starting to choose possible breeding sites among the scrub. One thing to remember is that many of the birds you will see during February to May are often not resident birds breeding on the course, but migrants on their way elsewhere, most often to the north.
The beach and Prestwick Bay are well worth a look in March since many seabirds have made their return by then. Red-throated Divers form into flocks prior to moving off to their breeding grounds, and are often joined by seaducks from the far north such as Common Scoter and Long-tailed Duck. The rocks of Meikle Craigs provide a stopover point for migrating wildfowl with a small party of Barnacle Goose having been seen there recently. Beyond the rocks you may catch a glimpse of Gannets diving into the sea, having come back from their West African wintering grounds during February.
Many of the shorebirds have gone by now and only a few Redshanks remain at the Pow Burn, but others are coming through in a steady stream as they push northwards. Golden Plovers, Ringed Plovers and Turnstone can always be found somewhere nearby during February to April. The most obvious arrival among the gulls is the return of the Lesser Black-backed Gull during February, and the very first Sandwich Terns can usually be heard giving their rasping cry towards the beginning of April.
Inland, Grey Herons will have been busy nest building in South Wood since February while, by March, the airspace above the trees becomes utterly congested with nest- building Rooks and Jackdaws. So much of Spring birdwatching depends on listening, and arriving Chiffchaffs can usually be heard calling their name from the woods before the end of March.
Back on the course, the action is only just warming up. Northern Wheatears usually grace the fairways from late March into early May, while the Gorse will play host to a wide range of transient species. During late April you may well hear the continuous reeling sound of Grasshopper Warbler, or the fast, scratchy song of Sedge Warbler. This will be added to by the sweet, descending song of Willow Warbler, the short, harsh Whitethroat song often embellished by a bouncing display flight and, in recent years, the brief rattle of Lesser Whitethroat. Surprises are frequent, with perhaps a migrant Short-eared Owl springing out of the rough or even an Osprey winging its way overhead. Add to these all of the breeding birds, and you’ll soon see why Royal Troon Golf Course is also a prime site for those looking for added value to their round of golf.
Grassland BirdsThis section will describe the main species which you might expect to see and hear on or near the fairways as you make your way round the course.
Skylark (Alauda arvensis)
Renowned for its aerial song flight, as it rises vertically from the rough grass, the Skylark is a chunky, brown bird with more obvious dark streaking on a pale breast. Its high pitched, melodic song can be heard from as early as March, well into the Summer. Almost the size of a Starling, it can often be seen feeding in the early mornings on the greens and fairways. It may often raise the crest on its head when alarmed, but often remains quite still when approached, relying on its camouflaged plumage.
The UK population of this species has suffered a serious decline in recent years mostly due to changes in land use, and it has been placed on the RSPB’s Red List highlighting concern for its future. However, Royal Troon has a breeding population of nearly 30 pairs, the bird benefiting from the abundance of wide areas of rough grass cover as well as an extensive Marram Grass strip on the seaward edge of the course.
Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis)
Breeding alongside the Skylark, and making use of the same grassland habitat, the Meadow Pipit is a slightly smaller and more slender bird. It too rises from the grass in a song-flight, but does not sustain the period of flight shown by the Skylark, dropping after its ascent with wings held high and tail cocked, as its downward progress is accompanied by a sound similar to a helicopter “feathering” its main rotor. Its plumage follows the same basic pattern as that of Skylark, but it lacks the crest.
An Amber Listed species, it is numerous on the golf course, with over 40 pairs breeding among the rough and Marram Grass.
Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)
A distinctive, sparrow-sized bird with a relatively long tail, the Reed Bunting can often be seen perched in a favourite bush or on a stalk of Marram as it delivers its short, somewhat monotonous song. The handsome male has warm chestnut and straw tones to its upper parts, a white collar and breast, and a largely black head. The female is less well coloured. Reed Buntings can be difficult to observe, but will allow close approach on occasion.
Another Red Listed species, due to the disappearance of many wetland areas, Royal Troon supports at least 2 pairs of Reed Buntings and holds a small wintering flock of around a dozen birds which can be found in the Marram Grass zone.
Scrubland SpeciesThis section deals with the main species which you should see or hear in the parts of the course which are covered by scrub (principally Gorse) or among the small stands of trees close to them.
Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)
The strong, lively song of the Wren is perhaps the first indication you will have of its presence. Frequently perched on top of a prominent song-post on a Gorse bush, it will confidently deliver its song throughout the year, with its tail jauntily cocked in the air. A diminutive, brown bird, it is often just briefly seen as it scuttles low across areas of open ground between bushes before disappearing into their midst. This bird, often quoted as the commonest bird in Britain, thrives among scrub, and the main problem facing it is a prolonged, cold weather period during the winter months. At present over 30 pairs of Wren breed on Royal Troon, mostly distributed among the scrub of the southern half of the golf course.
Dunnock (Prunella modularis)
Another small, largely brown, sparrow-sized bird, the Dunnock or Hedge Accentor often creeps around the base of bushes like a mouse, and can easily evade your attention. Adult birds, when seen well, have a subtle dark blue wash to the face and breast, quite unlike younger birds which are much browner and frequently paler in colour.
Like the Wren, its song is often one which can be heard throughout the winter months, when small groups of birds may often gather near a good food source. In the breeding season it may be seen singing from the top of bushes but can disappear just as quickly as it appeared. Royal Troon has over 25 pairs of Dunnock, again more often encountered on the southern half of the course.
Robin (Erithacus rubecula)
With its bright red breast, the Robin is one of easiest birds to recognise on the course. Its song, a short, thin, slightly sad one, is most often heard at dawn and dusk, with the bird keeping long hours. Winter song is also a feature of this species as it defends its territory from other intruders which may well be over wintering individuals from the continental mainland of Europe. A confiding bird which allows close approach it can, nonetheless, become quite secretive during the breeding season.
There are about 12 pairs of Robins on the golf course, almost all of which can be found on its southern half, with birds appearing over a wider area during the winter.
Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus)
The arrival of Willow Warblers on Royal Troon’s course during early April is usually most obvious due to its beautiful song, which is a gentle, descending cadence delivered from both bush or tree. By contrast, the bird itself is a little drab: sparrow-sized, but not as heavily built, it has a greenish tone to its grey-brown upper-parts, while the pale off-white underparts are sometimes tinged a faint yellowish. By late April most of the breeding birds have arrived and the Gorse bushes will be filled with the bird’s lovely song. Over 15 pairs are normally present, mostly in the southern half where there is a lot of cover for it.
Whitethroat (Sylvia communis)
Of all Royal Troon’s visiting warblers, this is the one which epitomises a scrub dweller. Indeed, the old Scots name of Nettle-creeper is fairly apt for a bird which spends much of its time foraging in deep cover. Arriving during early May, it’s not long before the Whitethroat’s fast, scratchy song can be heard from the top of Gorse bushes, or in a spectacular song-flight which the males perform to mark out their territory. Very slightly bigger than Willow Warbler, the Whitethroat has a much more attractive plumage with a pastel blue crown and side of head, a bright chestnut tone to the wings, a pinkish tinge to the breast and, of course, a white throat – very markedly so when the bird is singing and the feathers are puffed up. Breeding numbers remain strong with between 15 and 20 pairs most years, mostly on the southern part of the course.
Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus)
The best time to see this warbler well is during early May, when it sings noisily from the tops of grass stalks or from bushes. Once its territory is established it becomes much more skulking and can often only be detected by its hard, scolding “tek” alarm call although, like many other birds, it will often burst into song again towards the completion of its first brood, in this bird’s case during the midsummer period when it may often sing at night. A small, apparently unimpressive, brown bird, it is much more attractive when seen closely, with its black crown and cinnamon/brown rump amongst its more notable features. The distribution of the Sedge Warbler on Royal Troon varies each year but, with large clumps of Gorse and Rosa rugosa to choose from, there are rarely fewer than 7 or 8 pairs on the course.
Linnet (Acanthis cannabina)
A finch which enjoys company, the Linnet is frequently seen in flocks up to the end of March, before taking up its territory. Not many birds resemble the bird field guides illustrations and a male showing the pale bluish head, deep pink breast and red spot on the forecrown would be the exception rather than the rule. However, most birds do tend to display a slightly watered down version of this basic plumage. Characterised more readily by its twittering song and bouncing flight, the only other species present in a sim lar habitat which might confuse you would be the bulkier Greenfinch. Nesting in Gorse, Linnets are often very sociable and several pairs may share one large clump of Gorse. At least 30 pairs nest on the golf course, almost as far up the course as the clubhouse.
Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris)
Another finch which, like Linnet, can be seen during the winter months in flocks on either the golf course or in the Marram Grass zone, the Greenfinch can be recognised by its green (often grey/green) plumage and bright yellow wing and tail flashes. It also nests among the Gorse and will sing from the tops of these bushes or nearby trees. The song often contains a very nasal “zhweee” which should mark it out from the other, more typical finch twittering.
Royal Troon has over 12 pairs of Greenfinch, mostly on the southern half of the course.
Blackbird (Turdus merula)
Almost as well known nationally as the Robin, the Blackbird does, in fact, fill the role of the American Robin, being a common garden bird in the UK. Numbers may be augmented during the winter by continental immigrants but, by March, most breeding birds have settled into their territories on the course. The males plumage is black, with the adults having a strikingly orange/yellow bill, but the female is brown in colour, often with indistinct darker brown spots on the breast. The song is a beautifully mellow one, comprising slowly delivered, short phrases, and must rank as one of the most attractive in the country. Nearly 25 pairs are present on Royal Troon and nest throughout the course in bushes and other scrub.
Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos)
A species which derives its Red List status largely from population declines in the south of the UK, it continues to do well over much of Scotland. Slightly smaller than the Blackbird, it specialises in feeding on snails which it will crack open by hammering the shell on a stone – collections of shells can often be found at spots known as “anvils.” A brown upper plumage contrasts with a creamy white breast spotted heavily with black. Song Thrushes often arrive back on the course very early in the year (late January- February) after a short migration, and their strident, repetitive song can often be heard punching into the late winter air on clear, sunny days. With over 10 pairs, concentrated in the southern part of the course, Royal Troon has a very healthy local population of this bird.
Stonechat (Saxicola torquata)
The very distinctive sight and sound of the Stonechat makes an immediate impression on most people. A small, largely black and white bird with a gorgeous orange breast, sitting on top of a Gorse bush, flicking its tail and giving a scolding “whee-tsack-tsack” call can’t fail to attract your attention. Although present throughout the year, there is a limited migration, and it’s often possible to see more Stonechats on the course than are actually breeding on it. Starting early in the year, Stonechats are normally double-brooded, and the juveniles from the first brood disperse fairly quickly. Although the bird nests in Gorse or similar deep cover, it ranges over a wide area when feeding and can often be seen in the Marram Grass zone or along the strand line on the beach. Three pairs breed on Royal Troon, with the possibility of a fourth territory in some years.
Other breeding speciesPheasant (Phasianus colchicus) breeds on the golf course and the males can normally be seen in the early morning, especially during the months of March to May when the birds are displaying. The birds are never far from cover and will sneak quietly into this as you approach. Although 3 territories are maintained, only one pair breeds.
Woodpigeon (Columba palumba) can be seen in small numbers and up to 2 pairs will normally breed. A bulky bird which is reasonably timid, its basically grey blue plumage is marked with a white neck collar and white patches on the wings. The nest, a very makeshift affair, is usually in a large bush or tree, and can often be overlooked despite the fact that the bird is usually visible through the loose assemblage of twigs.
Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) is a summer visitor to the course. A small, grey warbler which breeds in the cover of Gorse and Bramble, the male is distinguished by its black “cap” while the female has a reddish-brown crown. Some birds spend the winter in Britain and it has been recorded on Royal Troon during this period. A peripheral breeder, more at home in South Wood, one pair did maintain a territory on the course during 2005.
Coal Tit (Parus ater), Great Tit (Parus major) and Blue Tit (Parus caeruleus) all breed on Royal Troon, although in very small numbers. These birds are much more often seen during the winter months when they form up, often with other species, into foraging flocks, working their way through the Gorse bushes in search of insect food. Each one is fairly distinctive: the Coal Tit being mostly a grey/fawn colour with a black bib and crown, white face and, most important, a white nape. The similarly sized Blue Tit is much more a yellow and blue/green bird with a white face and bright blue cap, giving rise to its old Scots name of Bluebonnet. The larger Great Tit is also yellow and green bird with a white face, but a black cap and bib. During 2005 4 pairs of each Coal Tit and Blue Tit were found, along with a single pair of Great Tits, all on the southern part of the course.
The black and white Magpie (Pica pica), with its long black tail and harsh chatter-ing call, can often be seen on the course, and has a bad reputation as a nest-robber. Fortunately, for Royal Troon’s small birds, only one pair nests, albeit in a fairly unusual situation – about 3 metres above ground level in a Sea Buckthorn bush.
Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) can be most easily seen on the southern part of the course, breeding in the scrub in that area. The handsome male, with its deep pink face and breast, blue crown and nape and clear white wingbars, can quickly be identified by its sharp “pink-pink” call. It is most often encountered in the tangle of bushes near the landing lights and 3 or 4 pairs may breed each year.
Autumn and winter on Royal Troon Golf CourseThe months of November and December, through to January are months during which late migrants may still arrive before things eventually quieten down. Early morning visitors to the course may notice much activity among the Gorse bushes and on the fairways, with small birds such as Robin, Blackbird, Blue Tit, Great Tit and Coal Tit all eagerly seeking food. On the fairways, Rooks, Carrion Crows and Magpies may be joined by foraging Oystercatchers and Curlews should the weather be mild enough to permit their long, probing bills to penetrate the sandy soil.
Flocks of finches still roam the course, with Linnets in evidence, but the numbers of both Skylark and Meadow Pipit are now much reduced, with some taking to searching out food along the strand line on the beach. At the northern end of the course Starlings often form into groups of up to 50 as they too probe the grass for invertebrate life. A wary eye cast skywards may send them hurtling for shelter though, since both Sparrowhawk and Peregrine are regular predators, joined on occasion by a visiting Merlin.
To the west of the course lies a long stretch of sandy beach, fringed by Marram Grass. This area can be useful for both insect and seed-eating species such as Wren, Linnet and Greenfinch. Look out for the small wintering flock of Reed Buntings to be found here in the winter months. Offshore, Prestwick Bay holds small numbers of wintering wildfowl such as Goldeneye along with the more common Eiders. Both Cormorants and Shags can easily be seen and, on calm days, Red-throated Divers, Razorbills and Guillemots are more easily picked up.
Arguably the most active part of the area is to be found along the course’s southern perimeter, where the Pow Burn enters the sea. Although the gulls on the shore may all look similar, with some merely larger than others, a close inspection may well turn up the occasional rarity such as Mediterranean Gull or Iceland Gull. The beach here has also played host to both Snow Bunting and Lapland Bunting, while there is always the chance of seeing a Kingfisher near the mouth of the burn. However, it is the waders which will catch your attention here, with Oystercatcher, Curlew and Redshank predominating while smaller numbers of Ringed Plover and Lapwing are present.
Turning inland, the fields lying towards South Wood and the A77 often hold flocks of Lapwings and Golden Plovers especially on freshly tilled soil, with Curlews joining them as the incoming tide pushes them off the beach. Over the wood itself you will see groups of both Jackdaws and Rooks, with the occasional Raven showing up at this time of year. Common Buzzard can also be seen, with the raucous cries of the Rooks often giving a clue to its presence. As you head back towards the clubhouse, the fairways and Gorse bushes will still hold plenty of birds as they use the shorter winter daylight to find what food they can. With a glimmer of sunlight, you may also hear the songs of Wren, Robin and Dunnock, break the silence of your winter visit.
Species Status When Where 3Sanderling U May-Jun, Jul-Nov Beach
Little Stint S September Beach
Curlew Sandpiper S September Beach
Dunlin C Aug-May Beach
Ruff U Sept-Oct Inland fields and Pow Burn
Jack Snipe U Oct-Mar Pow Burn
Common Snipe C Sep-Mar Pow Burn
Black-Tailed Godwit U May, July-Sept Pow Burn and Beach
Bar-Tailed Godwit U Sept-April Beach
Whimbrel U Apr-May, July-Sept Beach
Eurasian Curlew C All Year Beach, Golf Course and Inland Fields
Spotted Redshank S Aug-Oct Pow Burn and Offshore
Common Redshank C All Year Pow Burn and Beach
Green Sandpiper X September Recorded 1993 — Pow Burn
Common Sandpiper U April-August Pow Burn
Ruddy Turnstone C Aug-May Beach
Arctic Skua S Apr, Aug-Nov Offshore
Great Skua S June-October Offshore
Mediterranean Gull S All Year Beach - increasingly frequent
Laughing Gull X January Recorded 1983 — on beach
Little Gull S Jan, Aug-Nov Beach and Offshore
Black Headed Gull C All Year Beach
Mew Gull Common Gull C All Year Beach
Lesser Gull Common Gull C All Year Beach — scarce November - February
Herring Gull C All Year Beach
Iceland Gull S Nov-May Beach
Glaucous Gull S Oct-Mar Beach
Great Black-Backed Gull C All Year Beach
Black-legged Kittiwake U Mar-Nov Offshore
Sandwich Tern C Apr-Oct Beach and Offshore
Common Tern U Apr-Oct Offshore
Arctic Tern C May-Sept Offshore
Little Tern S May-Aug Offshore
Common Guillemot C All Year Offshore
Razorbill C All Year Offshore
Black Guillemot C All Year Offshore
Feral Pigeon C All Year Inland Fields and Golf Course
Stock Dove Pigeon S All Year South Wood
Common Wood Pigeon C All Year Golf Course and South Wood
Eurasian Collared Dove C All Year South Wood and Golf Course
Tawny Owl C All Year South Wood
Short Eared Owl S Oct-Apr Golf Course
Common Swift C May-Aug Golf Course
Common Kingfisher U All Year Pow Burn
Green Woodpecker S All Year South Wood - Irregular
Great Spotted Woodpecker C All Year South Wood
Skylark C All Year Golf Course
Sand Martin C Mar-Sept Golf Course and Inland Fields
Barn Swallow Swallow C Apr-Oct Golf Course and Inland Fields
House Martin C Apr-Oct Golf Course
Meadow Pipit C All Year Golf Course
Rock Pipit C All Year Beach
Grey Wagtail C All Year Pow Burn — Scarce in Winter
Species Status When Where 3Pied Wigtail C All Year Golf course and beach - White Wigtail passage Apr-May and Sept-Oct
Winter Wren C All Year Golf Course
Hedge Accentor Dunnock C All Year Golf Course
Eurasian Robin C All Year Golf Course
Whinchat S May-Oct Golf Course & Pow Burn
Stonechat C All Year Golf Course
Northern Wheatear C Mar-Oct Golf Course and Beach
Common Blackbird C All Year Golf Course
Fieldfare C Oct-Mar South Wood and Inland Field
Song Thrush C All Year Golf Course
Redwing C Oct-Mar South Wood and Inland Fields
Mistle Thrush C All Year South Wood and Golf Course
Common Grasshopper Warbler S Apr-May Golf Course and Pow Burn
Sedge Warbler C Apr-Sep Golf Course
Blackcap C Mar-Sep South Wood and Golf Course - rare in winter
Lesser Whitethroat S Apr-Sep Golf Course and South Wood
Common Whitethroat C Apr-Sep Golf Course
Common Chiffchaff C Mar-Sep South Wood
Willow Warbler C Apr-Sep Golf Course
Goldcrest C All Year Golf Course and South Wood
Spotted Flycatcher U May-Aug South Wood
Long-tailed Tit C All Year South Wood
Coal Tit C All Year Golf Course and South Wood
Blue Tit C All Year Golf Course and South Wood
Great Tit C All Year South Wood and Golf Course
Eurasian Treecreeper C All Year South Wood
Black-billed Magpie C All Year Golf Course and South Wood
Eurasian Jacdaw C All Year Golf Course and South Wood
Rook C All Year Golf Course and South Wood
Carrion Crow C All Year Beach and Offshore
Hooded Crow X April Reported 2005 — Golf Course
Common Raven S Oct-Jan South Wood
Common Starling C All Year Golf Course
House Sparrow C All Year Golf Course
Chaffinch C All Year Golf Course and South Wood
European Greenfinch C All Year Golf Course and South Wood
European Goldfinch C All Year Golf Course and South Wood - scarce in Winter
Eurasian Siskin U Oct-Mar Golf Course and South Wood
Common Linnet C All Year Golf Course
Twite U Oct-Mar Beach
Lesser Redpoll U Mar-Oct South Wood and Golf Course - occasional Winter
Common Bullfinch C All Year South Wood and Golf Course
Lapland Bunting Longspur X Dec Recorded 2004 — Golf Course
Snow Bunting S Nov-Mar Beach
Yellowhammer S All Year Inland Fields
Reed Bunting C All Year Golf Course - Marram in Winter
Explanation of the terms used:The symbols used in the previous tables offer a guide to the frequency
with which each species has occured.
(All records relate to the period 1975—2005)
Status Symbols: C = common (you should expect to see or hear this species) U = uncommon (50% chance of seeing this species) S = Scarce (less than 10% chance of seeing this species) X = rare
When: this column offers a guide as to when species are most likely to occur.
Where: this column shows the most likely habitat for each species.
“new” names Some recently introduced names have begin to appear in field-guides. These are included in italics beside the more commonly used ones.