Scottish Nature Notes

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Scottish Nature Notes

Keep up to date with the latest wildlife and nature news in Scotland. Regular blogs from RSPB Scotland's conservation teams across the country. Writing about Scotland's amazing wildlife & natural environment.
  • For the love of the next generation

    RSPB Scotland conservation manager Stuart Benn is back with a new blog - this time about bird watching in the Highlands and the For The Love Of campaign. 

    For the love of the next generation

    I've blogged before about A Focus on Nature – an absolutely brilliant organisation committed to encouraging young people to develop and then hold on to a love for the natural world. So, when I met young Ben Moyes and his family at the AFON Conference and they asked me if I would show them some Highland birds when they were up on holiday, I jumped at the chance.

    I spent a couple of days with them last week in the Cairngorms – we looked for and found golden eagles, crested tits, black grouse and ptarmigan.  All this in amongst glorious mountain scenery – quite a change from their home county of Suffolk!

    Ben just after he’d seen his first ever ptarmigan

    I was Ben’s age when I first came to the Highlands, though back in those days my mum and dad just packed me onto the train from Glasgow to Aviemore with no means of communication until I got home. I suspect there are precious few parents that would allow their 15 year old to do that now and the world has changed so massively in the last 40 years not just in the freedom we allow our children but with music, the internet, fashion (though I’m sure those flares will come back in one day) and in so many other ways.  But some changes are rather more insidious – every year since the mid-1970s has been warmer than the 20th Century average; not by huge amounts but the effect that this is having on us and our wildlife is slowly but surely being felt.

    Ben feeding coal tit, Colin Moyes

    On the face of it, East Anglia and the Scottish Highlands don’t seem to have too much in common but these two areas will probably see the continuing effects of climate change more dramatically than anywhere else in the UK. East Anglia as it gets smaller with land being lost to rising sea levels and for us here in the north as birds, animals and plants come under increasing pressures from a steadily warming climate.    

    Two teenagers happiest when they’re outside (well, Brin’s a teenager if you convert his dog-years into human-years).

    Who can say what the world will be like by the time Ben gets to my age but if the next generation wants to keep enjoying a walk at Minsmere or feel the cold wind on their faces or the scrunch of snow underfoot, we need to keep acting on climate change.  

    ‘What do you love and hold dear? It could be changed forever by climate change and not be there for the next generation. Add your love here and ask out First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, to act via the SCCS online petition

    Ben has been blogging about his trip to Scotland as well, you can read more here:

  • Showing the Love to Nicola Sturgeon

    Jim Densham, Senior Land Use Policy Officer with RSPB Scotland, is back with another blog on the For The Love Of...campaign that we are part of.

    Showing the Love to Nicola Sturgeon

    It was Valentine’s last Saturday. How did you show the love? I bought flowers for my wife but I also sent a Valentine’s message to Nicola Sturgeon the First Minister! Its no secret. I even spent Valentine’s day asking others to send her a message too. 

    I was at RSPB Scotland's Baron’s Haugh reserve on Saturday to talk to people about climate change, to explain that much of the nature that we all love is being affected by it, and that we all need to do something fast.

    In Scotland, the person who can do most about climate change is the First Minister, who can commit to action in Scotland so that we keep to our domestic GHG reduction targets but also champion our example to other countries. She has the power to make a real difference and show leadership to a watching world this year. 

    That’s why I was asking visitors to Baron’s Haugh what they love, and what they would ask Nicola Sturgeon to protect. Everyone I asked could think of something they love and either wrote a postcard or took one away. 

    You can also tell the FM via the online link  - its easy.

    At Baron’s Haugh we also had fun with a ‘For The Love Of Trees – tree identification walk’, a Love Wall of hearts drawn on by children and adults, Show the Love stickers, and the campaign postcards to sign. 

    Seven other RSPB Scotland reserves or teams also took part around Scotland, along with numerous other events organised by other members of the Stop Climate Chaos Scotland Coalition. Each one had a different theme, For The Love Of... nesting birds, wetlands, Islay depending on what nature they show. 

    For the love of...nesting birds; shag on nest, Andy Hay

    That’s the disaster of climate change, that so many elements of our world will be affected; but also the beauty of the campaign, that we can use the many different things that we love to highlight why we need action now.

    There’s still time to get involved and show the love.

  • First Impressions of eagle surveying on the Isle of Lewis

    Ronan Dugan is a research assistant at the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science and is one of 6 full time fieldworkers on the RSPB/SNH National Golden Eagle Survey 2015. The six-month survey of golden eagles, which started in January, is co-funded by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the RSPB. Surveys will be carried out by licensed surveyors from the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science in collaboration with those from the Scottish Raptor Study Group.

    First Impressions of eagle surveying on the Isle of Lewis

    Isle of Lewis. Late January. The cold grey clouds form a low ceiling over the peatlands. The lower flanks of the mountains of North Harris are just visible and painted a dirty white with wet windblown snow. The many small lochans that cover this landscape would be better placed on the Arctic tundra.

    The wind is relentless; part vandal, part thief, smashing the ice as it passes through the landscape and trying to take winters’ grip on the land away. The rain and hail travel across the land in waves, just like the water of the north Atlantic a few miles away. You can see the squalls approaching, one after another. They are armed and loaded, ready to do battle with the land. But still the golden eagles will fly.

    Slowly I walk across the peatlands, dodging the lochans and bogs. My distance is probably double to what the eagle would fly. The walking is far from easy. Tussocks and the energy sapping soft ground slow my progress. The cold northerly wind numbs my face and the brief hail showers force me to stop and turn my back to the elements of the north Atlantic. Perhaps I should have packed my ski goggles. Maybe I should have swapped my camera for an extra layer of warm clothing?

    However, for now I am well equipped with my wax-proof jacket - gore-tex doesn’t last in these conditions. I continue on towards a hill where I suspect an eagle might fly. It’s a lone hill protruding out of the peatlands with crags on the northern side. Ideal for golden eagles.

    From a distance of about two kilometres and in between the showers I watch this hill and sure enough I am rewarded with views of a pair of golden eagles. They are hanging in the wind some 200ft above the northern side of the hill. They are an adult pair. This is exactly where I expected them to be.

    In the winter when there’s no strong thermals (hot air rising) the eagles and other raptors will select the side of the hill where there is an updraft. In this case the wind is from the north so they were above the northern face. Occasionally they dropped below the hill but soon reappeared. I didn’t see them flap their wings once. They were able to hang above that hill effortlessly and watch out over their territory.

    The sky behind the eagles is darkening. A squall is approaching. I expect the eagles to take shelter on the crags but instead they fly north west, one after another. They drop low to the ground but I’m able to follow them in my telescope. They quarter the ground, rising and falling but only occasionally flapping their wings. The squalls suddenly hits and I am forced to take shelter and lose sight of the eagles. I think to myself that they must have flown straight through that squall. Perhaps they were hunting together as eagles can often ambush prey more easily in poor weather.

    I head home content with what I have seen and with the wind on my back. I will return to this area in a few months and hope to find a nest site on the northern side of the hill. Cold and tired and on my walk home across the bogs I keep thinking about the eagles. Did they catch something? Did they find a sheltered crag or are they still soaring above their territory? I am in envy at their ease to cope with the weather. They must be used to it, or very hungry.

    Once more I turn to the now distant hill and the eagles are soaring above it again in the late afternoon sun. From dawn to dusk on these short winter days the eagles seem to fly. They are relentless, just like the wind that helps them fly.

    For more information:

    1. Three national golden eagle surveys have taken place previously producing the following national population estimates:
    • 1982/3: 424 pairs
    • 1992: 422 pairs
    • 2003: 442 pairs
    1. The 2003 survey report can be viewed here:
    2. SNH Commissioned Report: A Golden Eagle Conservation Framework
    3. SNH Commissioned Report: Golden Eagles in the South of Scotland


    Scottish Natural Heritage ( & Scottish Raptor Study Group (