RSPB Conservation Manager, Stuart Benn, is back to tell us about his work with the stunning Slavonian grebe.
The weather has taken a real upturn since the weekend and the Highlands have come to life – ring ouzels piping from corries, divers wailing across lonely lochans and crested tits purring in the old Scots pines. But, for me, the sight and sound of Slavonian grebes chittering softly to each other before pumping up their gorgeous orange-yellow ear tufts to show themselves at their best, eclipses them all.
Slavs are one of those birds, like goldeneye or red-throated divers that occur in a band right round the northern hemisphere and, whilst common in world terms, are restricted as breeders in the UK to small parts of Scotland. And Slavs are more restricted than most – last year there were just 29 pairs on a handful of lochs round Inverness and the recent counts give little room for optimism, plummeting like the FTSE 100 on a bad day. But they are still with us and, by far the best place to see them is at the RSPB’s Loch Ruthven reserve, the single best site in Britain. I popped in there early on Saturday – the birds are back and looking absolutely splendid (so much so that even Beyoncé has copied the look!!).
I’ve been lucky enough to work with Slavs for the past 20 years and much as I love my days with eagles and dotterels, the times I have with the grebes stand out. But, for much of that time, we’ve been trying to work out why they have such a restricted distribution and quite why they have declined so much. To be honest, the answer has eluded us so far but a new collaboration is giving us hope that we won’t be in the dark for much longer.
In early March I spent a few days in Reykjavik talking to Icelandic and Norwegian Slav grebe workers. Interestingly, Slavs in Iceland are increasing rapidly whilst northern Norway is doing the exact opposite and, by pooling our knowledge, we’re beginning to get a clearer picture of what might be going on across their range and not just our wee bit of it. And, of course, once you know what the problems are you can start doing something about them.
It’s early days yet and we’ve still a lot of work to do but I’ll be giving a talk about what we know about the Slavs and where we’re going next at the Scottish Birdfair. Why not come along – it’ll be great to see you and there will be loads of other things to do too!
Well I hope you're successful in catching them and that your buddies in Iceland can be helpful as well :)
Give my regards to Sarah!
Hoping to catch more this year but that one is an old photo.
Have you been catching them this year or is that an old photo? I miss seeing the Slavs :( Hope you're all having a great time though! Sarah West