Caley latest, lapwings in trees, and the Sidewinder......

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Caley latest, lapwings in trees, and the Sidewinder......

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Caledonia is still N of Seville in the Rivera de Huelva area.  Most of the data points show her on the river but on 9 November she was 9 km E of the roost, 10 November 9 km ENE of roost near the same quarry as in the last report and on 11 November she was 1.5 km N of the roost near the town of La Algaba and still travelling. Not much more to report on her really.

So other news;

Ping-ping, off went my mobile phone in response to an incoming text. It was Julie S, of the seasonal Retail team at the Osprey Centre. Her message read, "A dozen or so lapwings in trees @ front of house over last few days!  Now, that really would be a sight to behold, to witness never before observed bird behaviour of waders in trees. Some waders do of course perch and even nest in trees, like both green and wood sandpipers for example, often utilising old thrush or crow nests. But lapwings in trees? Nah.

Whether Julie was confused, mistakenly pressed the wrong phone keys in her excitement or whether was it predictive-text kicking in, I'm not sure, but no matter, I knew exactly what she meant - waxwings in trees!  As reported previously, they are bird of the moment, all over the place, though last time I could only offer the one I had heard overhead as I walked to work. However, we now have a flock of 60, hanging around Nethybridge village, some of which were surely Julie's dozen.

On Saturday morning I popped into Nethy to search for them and found them lined up along branches at the top of a larch tree in the heart of the village. I wasn't tooled-up, with my 'scope, but bumped into a pal there who had his and through which we shared spectacular views of these extraordinarily beautiful birds. Too good to miss, and too good to miss showing & sharing them, so I couldn't help myself but slip into showing-people-birds mode, offering passing by villagers a peek at them through the 'scope. Who can fail to be impressed by these utter beauties? And people didn't.

In mitigation for Julie's unwitting "mis-identification", lapwings and waxwings do in fact share many features; they are both striking looking birds and somewhat exotic-looking, both have jaunty crests, both have black markings on the face, head and throat, both have a rich brown undertail, and what the lapwing lacks by way of the waxwing's bright wax-red wing feather appendages plus yellow & white wing markings, the lapwing's all-over plumage is just as colourful, an oily iridescent sheen of green, blue and purple. But beyond that, size and shape are the tell-tale distinctions of course, and the fact that you'll never see a lapwing in a tree!

(This waxwing was taken by our trusty osprey-tracking-data-download-chappy (how's that for a title), Mike, in Nethybridge, today Friday 16th Nov. Thanks Mike)

It felt like Spring this morning. Not in terms of weather, as it was cold, dark and miserable, but then again, our Springs up here in Hyperborea actually are like that!.  No, it was Spring-like for me this morning because I was up and out early before first light, and it felt like the getting up for the early morning Spring capercaillie lek watches (Caper-watch) at the Osprey Centre.  And my reason this morning?  Not dissimilar really. I drove 20 miles or so to go and see if any black grouse were lekking. Quite often in November-time, there is a resumption of this largely Springtime activity, especially if the weather is similar to that experienced in Spring, with a bit of frost for example, the cool, still, frosty conditions enabling the male's come-hither "song" to be heard over distance by any hen birds looking to check out the talent. So it is that in November, conditions appear to "remind" the male black grouse (so-called black cock) that they should be out there strutting their stuff, showing who's boss and who's top bloke-tottie for the ladies, the female black grouse, the so-called grey hens. 

It was dark when I arrived and the wind was biting, but as the grey-dark slowly but inexorably turned to light, I fleetingly saw three fly-by grey hens disappear off through the forest. As the light improved, scanning with my 'scope, I found them, six fine males doing their thing, strutting about, fanning their lyre-shaped tails, revealing their Daz-white bottoms, in twos, sparring with each other, as if they were attached by strings pulling each other to & fro. As one advanced, the other first drew back, then advanced himself sending the other into retreat this time, and repeat.

Alas, they were too distant to be able to hear their accompanying calls (song), surely one of the most evocative natural history sounds. Find it on-line and download it to experience it. Or alternatively, make that childhood playtime cowboys & Indians hollering sound of a brave on the warpath, by putting your index finger in your mouth and waggling it about. The sound is not dissimilar to that!


I've been out in the forest quite a bit this week, (a welcome break from the desk), marking trees.  We are about to embark on another phase of plantation re-structuring as part of our our on-going forest management programme.  In short, through management, we aim to change pine plantations from their current relatively poor value for nature conservation, into something better, not just in the short to medium term, but very much with a view to the long end-game too.

Basically, plantations are (most often) serried ranks of trees, all the same species, all the same age and size and all at the same spacing. I'm sure you will have been in a plantation and know what they are like, often so dense that very little light reaches the forest floor which is devoid of vegetation as a result. Whilst this level of density makes them efficient to manage commercially when felling is to take place, the plantations here at Abernethy Nature Reserve however, are viewed a little differently. Timber production is not our aim, but conservation objectives are. So our restructuring management involves differing prescriptions that will change & improve conditions for all manner of wildlife.

To enable light in so that both the forest floor field layer and forest understorey can flourish, the trees need to be thinned out, reduced in number. This not only allows light in, but gives the remaining trees more space and light to bulk-up, to grow laterally, to develop side branches, and develop canopy and become feature trees, as opposed to the toilet brush-like growth of dense plantation trees, all bolting for the light above. This of course produces nice straight lumber, in commercial plantations, but as I said, that's not our priority.

But yes, we too effectively conduct a thinning as part of our restructuring, but do so with as much irregularity as we can build in, to break-up the serried ranks of trees, to give the forest a more natural character. But it's not just about aesthetics. Our thinning, is by deadwood creation, instead of felling trees and removing them we kill some by a range of means, but leave the dead or dying trees in situ. From our point of view, the timber is of more value for nature conservation for all the saproxylic (deadwood-loving) wildlife it supports, than for sending to the mill. And it's not just the more obvious hole-nesting birds that will benefit from deadwood creation, but some of all other taxa - lichens, mosses, liverworts, fungi, some higher plants, as well as all the wee-beastie taxa too. Abernethy is highly ranked in the UK for its bewildering array of such saproxylic species.

How will we be doing our restructuring? Well, for those of a certain age, think Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds, and in particular, the Sidewinder episode. We'll be using a piece of kit not unlike it. It's proper name is a harvester. This awesome beast of a machine reaches out, grabs trees and the mechanical arm's head contains a chainsaw which cuts the tree and strips all the branches and can cut the tree length into pre-programmed product length. We however do not want forest products from this work, so the machine will reach up, cut the tree high, which leaves some standing deadwood habitat, and the cut piece will be brought to ground as laying deadwood habitat, an equally valuable but different deadwood commodity important for different, deadwood-loving critters.

The branches will not be stripped form the felled piece but the foliage canopy left intact to provide some ground cover (where currently there isn't very much), which is important for, among other things, ground nesting birds like capercaillie for example, from within which in future, hens and their broods might escape the attention of a watchful predator, or shelter from inclement weather.  Also, we hope the machine operator will be able where possible to bring down the cut pieces in such a way as to effectively create a corral of logs & canopy, which will help prevent, or at least make it awkward and less easy for browsing deer to get at future regenerating seedling trees. All these fringe benefits, on top of the aim of thinning the forest, to alter the light irradiance at forest floor level, optimal to enable a field layer of blaeberry to develop and flourish - an all important component plant of / for capercaillie habitat. So, I was selecting and marking trees ahead of the harvester's arrival next week.

Stop press: 100+ waxwings reported in Nethybridge on Tuesday and 120+ reported there yesterday, Wednesday.

(I have to say, the thought of you sat at your computers, reading this blog and having a go at making the noise of lekking black grouse using the hollering Indian-styley, (I bet you did, didn't you?) brought a wry smile to my face).

Addendum: Back to the matter of inaccurate bird calls in Bond films etc. Anyone watching BBC's Hunted thriller series? In last night's episode, in one scene common buzzard was to be heard, at night? Unlikely. Also, in a film last night, Valkyrie, I think I heard wryneck calling in one scene. It was summer and the habitat looked right, so perfectly plausible  ;-)

  • Thanks for latest blog Richard. Its great to hear about all that is going on. I hope one day your writings might find there way into book form.

    In Westhill in Aberdeenshire I woke to find the ornamental  Rowan tree (with pink berries and whose blossom has a dreadful stench)  was full of Waxwings.

    I counted about 50 in all. Within a couple of hours the tree was stripped of all its fruit and the birds moved on and  cleaned up another two trees just along the pathway. That was about three years ago just before some really stormy winter weather.

    What a wonderful sight.

  • A bit late with my comment, but nevertheless am overawed by all this knowledge....  Your blogs are SO enjoyable, Richard - keep them coming.

    Yes, I did the finger in the mouth thing (first time for 50 years....) then went off googling to see how well I did compared with the real thing.  A mighty enjoyable ten minutes, I must say.

  • Thanks Richard for Caledonian's update.

    I then got confused with lapwings in trees, cowboys and Indians in Abernethy forest with Thunderbird  whirling around stripping trees.

    Seriously though, it all makes a fantastic read, thank you.

    I do so admire your recogniton of all bird calls but feel you may not be the best company when watching a film or TV :-)

  • Dyfi chick fine, now we have the Lady of the Lochs chick to wonder about until its next data despite being photographed looking well the day before. Roy thinks wet weather or problem with transmitter, fingers crossed again.

  • AAAGGHH I missed the waxwings by days, typical!

  • Thank you for your blog.  Great as usual!!!  I live in Northern Ireland and usually have waxwings around January on the tree in my neighbours front garden so I can watch them from my living room.  A beautiful site.

  • Great to hear Cally is safe and well and hopefully remains there.    

    I live in Ireland and about 3 years we saw waxwings for the first time in years - that was around April.    We had 8 feeding on the coteanaster tree at the front and they cleaned it within hours.    Sadly the next day hundreds of waxwings dropped dead literally from the skies in the Dublin area.     Surely the early arrival of these birds means that food is short in Scandinavia?

  • Thank you very much, Richard, for teaching us so many things. I love learning about any aspect of wildlife conservation. Next time I go walking in a forest I'll pay attention to all those details you have mentioned.

    Wendy, me too I've to look up several words in the dictionary! A very enjoyable way of learning English for me :-) Btw, I'll name my next cat 'saproxylic'!

    Now, what's with vaxwings? 600+ waxwings have been seen in my area since last Friday. Every single day I've been walking around for hours with my binoculars and camera in the exact places they were seen and I haven't spotted any! Everyone seems to see them, except me. Am I doing something wrong?! If I go on like this, I will be fired for spending more time walking around than at work, and I might also be arrested for looking in the binoculars in town...

  • Oh Richard what a blog - superb , thank you for taking the time to do it . So pleased Caley is still happy in her surroundings , hopefully she stays there as maybe a visit is being planned to see her in January . Will see the fruits of your labours in the forest in June - no doubt on a wonderful and informative Richard walk around the rez , love the walks !!! now you have had the waxwings please send them on their way south

  • I so enjoyed your Blog Richard. Fascinating - all that interesting info about taking such great care of the forest for all the inhabitants of the forest.

    Loved your post ALAN

  • Great blog, thank you Richard. Yes, I did try the finger in the mouth---I won't tell you how long it's been since I tried that---got a few odd looks and some rude comments from the OH!!!

    Glad to know our Cally is fine.

  • Thanks for the update Richard. We have had waxwings not too far away from here in Huntingdonshire but not seen any so far this year. Last saw them in 2010. Do Tracy Island know you have borrowed their Sidewinder. FAB

  • I should have said 'leave the fallen trees' or 'wind blown' trees on the ground once they fall....!

  • Now that is what I call a great blog Richard, thank you for all that information..... I may just have to read it again so that some of it, at least, sinks in.  Here on Vancouver Island they leave the trees in parts of the forests that are protected and call them 'nurse' trees..... not just for the wildlife that use, shelter and live in them but for the young seedlings that throw their roots in there and begin to grow.  Nearby here we have 'Cathedral Grove' an area of old growth Forest that visitors from all over the world visit and admire.  It is quite the place to wander through, on designated pathways of course, there is a river wandering along there too which spills into nearby deep water Cameron Lake. You might enjoy finding it on Google.  Loved all the news about the waxwings (or lapwings too!) I remember seeing a flock of them eating the apples from a tree in Aviemore, they were beautiful to see.  As for hoopin' and hollerin' as in the days of playing Cowboys and Indians.... well the the next door neigbours just dropped by to ask me to quit, LOL.

  • Thank you for a great blog Richard.  I was lucky enough to be in Nethybridge with Ian and Kenny on Wednesday and yes we did see those waxwings :-)