With buses they say you wait for ages and then two come along at once. But special places for nature are scarce and becoming rarer.
In an exciting partnership with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, we've secured a special part of Scotland for nature and people.
Why is it so special?
Is it the stunning views with wetlands, woodlands and snow capped mountains (yes, they were still snow capped last week)? Or is it the wintering white-fronted geese that make a 3,000 mile round trip every year from Greenland?
Perhaps it's the 200+ species of flowering plant (an eighth of the species recorded in the whole of Britain)? Or maybe the lamprey, a primitive eel-like fish, which can be traced back to 200 million years before the dinosaurs existed? Possibly it's the vast range of small beasties that exist, often out of view.
Despite having only just got to know the site, I suspect it is all of the above and more. And that is at the centre of our plans.
We want to protect what we know is here, find what hasn't already been discovered and allow existing and new visitors more opportunities to enjoy the stories and experiences the landscape and wildlife has to offer.
Making it happen
Well, the first step has been taken.
Following support form the National Park Authority, SNH, the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the generous donations of our supporters through an appeal, we have secured purchase of the land. The next step will be to appoint a site manager (lucky devil!).
We have already started the important process of talking to the local communities, gathering information about the site and monitoring the wildlife. Next will be formulating a plan to improve the site over the coming years.
In the meantime, if you want to visit the reserve there is a path from the Millennium Hall in Gartocharn which will give you a flavour of the site and its potential.
Alistair Baxter is completing a PhD investigating the reasons behind Dotterel declines in Scotland. Read on to find out more about his exciting work...
Dotterel declines in Scotland: Out of sight out of mind?
Over the last thirty years, National Surveys led by the RSPB and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) have revealed dramatic declines in dotterel numbers across the UK. The most marked results have been the total disappearance of breeding dotterel from England, Wales, and many previously good breeding sites in Scotland. I am undertaking a PhD, aimed at identifying the factors leading to dotterel declines in Scotland over the last thirty years. It is easy to ignore bird species we rarely see or that are difficult to study, but I hope my work can shed some light on the reasons for declines in the dotterel and other montane bird species suffering a similar fate. Hopefully this project will be the catalyst to increasing interest and research in the uplands and I hope you enjoy reading about my experiences with dotterel and other montane bird species along the way.
Female dotterel singing on an early Cairngorm's morning.
Here’s a bit of background on all things dotterel (Charadrius morinellus for those who collect fancy Latin names). Dotterel are extremely charismatic migratory plovers (wading birds) not much bigger than a blackbird. They arrive into the UK in late March-early April from North Africa having spent the winter months basking in the Atlas Mountains and gorging themselves in preparation for their strenuous summer schedule. Some of these birds will choose to settle and breed in montane areas of Scotland, however; the main bulk will pass through the UK onto the main European breeding grounds in Norway. Dotterel can be seen on passage, most notably on several sites in East Anglia. Unfortunately, for those of you with memories long enough to recall commonly sighting large flocks (‘trips’), these occurrences are now few and far between; with dotterel declines in Norway thought to be at least as severe as those recorded in the UK.
Very snowy Cairngorms welcome the start of the field season.
After arriving in Scotland, dotterel head for mountain plateaus above 700m in altitude where they are to be found breeding until mid-August. Whatever the reasons for dotterel choosing to breed and spend their summers in some of the most inhospitable areas of the UK, this provides a researcher and outdoor enthusiast with the mouth-watering opportunity to carry out fieldwork in some truly breathtaking mountain surroundings!
A nice bright female dotterel.
The first fieldwork day dawned early and, through my inexperienced eyes, it was far too cold, misty, and ‘dreich’ for fieldwork....apparently not! I would soon find out this is actually an above average summer’s day on the Scottish tops. Unperturbed, James Gordon (my RSPB Research Assistant), Dr. Steven Ewing (RSPB supervisor), and I headed up one of the study sites I would be collecting the bulk of my data and intensively surveying over the next three field seasons. Predictably, having spent the previous month carrying out capercaillie surveys for the RSPB, James set the pace and as I puffed, cursed, and panted behind him I began to realise why the montane regions of Scotland remain so under-studied. However, as we emerged over the last rise, we were surrounded by mist and stood on a dense moss carpet which blanketed much of the summit plateau the effort became totally worthwhile and I felt privileged to have the chance to spend so much time in such a place.
With dotterel habitat use and habitat changes the particular focus of this first year, we spent most of the day on hands and knees rooting around in moss and heather and discussing teething issues with what I thought I’d so elegantly (if not slightly optimistically) planned in my office in Aberdeen. The following inevitable scaling back of my grand plans also seemed a feature of the first few days as the realisation of scale in mountain fieldwork became apparent. Despite all the changes in plans, still revelling at the possibility of effectively living in the mountains for the next four months I felt it had been an incredibly productive first day. There was however still time to see the bird I’d be studying for the next three years and a distinctive metallic “peep” had us all scanning the horizon. A bright female stood seemingly unafraid only 40m away. Partly because of their tame nature (defence mechanism to draw predators away from eggs/chicks), the gaelic name for dotterel is 'amadan-mòintich' meaning ‘fool of the moor’; presumably due the ease with which they could be caught/hunted. Despite this, dotterel can in fact be incredibly inconspicuous and not least when incubating eggs; you can walk within a metre of some incubating males and be none the wiser. It is fortunate the Scottish summer days are so long as locating dotterel, let alone incubating male dotterel, can be a time consuming and patience testing business. I have of course been lucky enough to see dotterel almost every day since and as a result of the obligatory eight to ten miles walk each day and five Munros (3000ft hills) a week the fieldwork has thankfully got a lot easier.
Incubating male dotterel- notice how dull it is compared with the female in the first photo.
Much of this year’s fieldwork is repeating ecology studies carried out during the 1980s by SNH. By re-assessing habitat availability, habitat quality, and invertebrate abundance we hope to see if changes in these factors have caused the declines in dotterel numbers since the 1980s. Even after a difficult start to this season, with huge amounts of snow and sub-zero temperatures in May, the dotterel have begun to breed (better late than never!) and we are currently monitoring 11 nests across three sites. We focus nest searching on areas where only single male dotterel are present as this is taken as strong evidence of breeding. Unusually for a bird species it is only the males that incubate chicks. In fact, although on some sites females will contribute to incubating eggs there are no published records of females helping to rear chicks and they will usually leave the male about a day after laying the whole clutch of speckled brown eggs.
Male dotterel brooding three chicks.
Over the last three days we have had the first chicks of the season hatch and it seems all the nest finding effort early in the season is coming to fruition. The mountains seem thriving with life at the moment and I’ve found it amazing to see how the tops change over the dotterel breeding season, with dull grey moss turning to the deep pinky red of bilberry and the rich green of three-leaved rush. The birds are also at their noisiest and most vibrant at this time of year, with chicks of Golden plover, dunlin, and ptarmigan well on their way to fledging, parents are busy feeding hungry mouths and warding off those who get too close.
A “loafing” Ptarmigan – I’ve never seen a bird species that spends so much time sitting down!
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my first instalment of this blog and I’ll bring you an update of how the remainder of this first field season panned out in August. Until then, keep your fingers crossed the stay at home dotterel dads are working as hard as we are, if so we’ll soon have juvenile dotterel on the wing and preparing for the long migration South!
All photos by Alistair Baxter.
Introducing a brand new photography competition!
Are you inspired by nature and wildlife across Scotland? If so, why not enter RSPB Scotland’s photography competition? All donations received will go to support wildlife conservation in Scotland.
The competition is FREE to enter and you may choose up to 3 categories. There will be one winner and one runner up from each category.
If you would like to make a suggested donation of £5.00 towards our wildlife conservation work in Scotland, please visit:
All photographs will automatically be entered into the running to win the RSPB Scotland Photographer of the Year 2013!
Competition closing date 30 December 2013
Read on for details of judging panel, prizes, under-18s competition and full Terms & Conditions.
The winner from each category will win:
Under 18’s competition
If you are aged under 18 years old and a keen photographer enthused by the beauty of nature and wildlife, then this is the competition for you.
The theme for this competition is Giving Nature a Home and the winner will receive the title of RSPB Scotland’s Young Photographer of the Year 2013.
A runner up will also be chosen from this competition.
The runner up will also be featured in the RSPB Scotland Photography Competition calendar 2015
Winner/Runners up – will be asked to submit original image/size in CD
John Aitchison - Bafta winning BBC wildlife cameraman and photographer (Hebrides, Springwatch, Big Cat Diaries).
Dean Bricknell - Wildlife & landscape Photographer, a lifelong passion for inspirational nature photography
Andy Hay - RSPB photographer
How to enter
Please read the Competition Rules & Terms & Conditions
E-mail digital images to firstname.lastname@example.org
Ensure you tell us the following information:
No smaller than 5x7 – Please post hard copies to:
2 Lochside View,
Please note – winners will either be contacted by e-mail or phone, therefore it is vital that you provide this information
If you would like to make a suggested donation of £5.00 towards our wildlife conservation work in Scotland, please visit
Your donation will help towards the ongoing conservation work of the RSPB. If we all act together, we can save nature and ensure that there is beautiful areas of Scotland to photograph in the future. Nature is amazing, please help us keep it that way.
Competition closing date 30 December 2013
RSPB’s Scotland’s Photography Competition Rules
When submitting an image please follow the rules below, Thank you
Terms and Conditions
The RSPB’s rights in relation to your contribution