Conservation Manager, Stuart Benn, has been out and about in the Monadhliaths searching for ring ouzels.
In praise of the Monadhliaths
Loch Ness and the Cairngorms are two of the most famous places in Scotland, yet sandwiched between them lie the largely unknown and unloved Monadhliaths (think Mona Lisa without the S). This range of hills hardly rates a mention in walking books and when they do they get universally panned and dismissed as dull, featureless, boring. But I love them; their solitude, their hidden corners, their sense of space – 30 minutes from Inverness and I can be amongst the quietest places in Britain. So, when the areas for this year’s national Ring ouzel survey were chosen and some fell within the Monadhliaths, I was first in line to volunteer.
photo: Andy Hay (RSPB-images.com)
Good survey days have been in short supply this topsy-turvy spring but last Saturday looked good and I was away up the glen bright and early. There’s a lot of suitable country out there and the ouzels can be elusive so we shorten the odds of finding them by playing a MP3 of their song – the male, thinking an intruder is in his territory, sings back or comes to check out the rival and allows us to mark it down.
Save for the white crescent on their breast, ring ouzels look very like Blackbirds and are really their upland equivalent. Their songs are similar too, though whilst a Blackbird’s strikes us as mellow and homely, the ouzel’s is wilder, more piercing, further carrying and this is no accident, they have to be to be heard over the winds that blow most of the time up in the hills.
Several hours of MP3 broadcasting, puffing up and down slopes resulted in a grand total of five ouzel territories - I could well have missed some but there’s another visit scheduled in a few week’s time so I’ll see how that compares. But, even five would have made it one of the best areas in the previous survey, in 1999, so at least in this part of the world Ring ouzels seem to be doing well though we’ll need to wait and see if that is borne out nationally.
Survey done, I ambled back down the glen on a lovely sunny afternoon – Oystercatchers yelped from a field, a Red squirrel ran across the track and Common sandpipers skittered away along the river. The sandpipers are really hyper and it doesn’t take much to set them off and, once they get going, they don’t stop – the Joe Pasquale of the bird world! All in all, a great way to spend a day.
And speaking of good days, no surveys for me this coming Saturday as I’ll be at the Scottish Birdfair – hope to see you there!
You can find out more about ring ouzel surveys here.
Good to hear there are still a few strong holds for the ring ousel.
Weekly blog from RSPB Conservation Officer, Stuart Benn. Golden eagles, ancient woodland, ring ouzel in the Monadhliaths.
Conservation Manager, Stuart Benn, with a roundup of his season on the hills.