As the light slowly starts to fade on another fantastic and varied year at the Loch of Strathbeg it's time for everyone to remember their highlights of the last 12 months (why not leave your highlight as a comment below). I think mine would have to be the dusk walk with the flock of Waxwings overhead and the hundreds of Whoopers and thousands of geese coming into roost in front of the full moon. Or 'Ralf' the eagle, or the kids bat box building event, or the plantation full of flycatchers and warblers, or the basking sharks, or... you get the picture, it's been a good year! This Hogmanay will be ever so slightly tinged with sadness as I will very soon be writing my last blog post and locking the centre for the last time before I head north with my family to run the Fair Isle Bird Observatory.
However, before I get too sentimental here's some bird news. The year list finished on an amazing 206 species a new record for the reserve (beating last year's total of 202) and four species (White-billed Diver, Dipper, Sabine's Gull and Steppe Grey Shrike) were added to the reserve list taking it to 266 species (subject to acceptance by the relevant committees). The rare visitors are too many to mention here, but the annual report will have full details of them all and I'm determined to have it finished before I leave in mid-January, so drop me an email firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like it sending as a PDF when it's ready (paper copies will be available from the Visitor Centre for a small donation).
Will 2011 be able to beat it? It'll be tough, but I'm sure there'll be a good effort to at least break the 200 mark again. Although we recorded several great rarities this year we still managed the record without Black Redstart, Iceland Gull, Bean Goose, Long-eared Owl, Avocet or Quail, all of which are not that unusual in the area and I'm sure more seawatching could see rarer shearwaters, Leach's Petrel and perhaps a few other species turn up. We'll be making an effort to get things going as well as possible over the weekend and we've been potentially boosted by the arrival of a few scarce species in the last couple of days. A Canada Goose has been on the Low Ground and Loch since yesterday, a Brambling is at the feeders and, best of all, a female Smew appeared on the Low Ground this morning. After none since 2006, this is the second this year, hopefully it will hang around until tomorrow at least! So Happy Smew Year everyone, have a great night and I look forward to seeing you over the weekend at the reserve.
Great news, the snow has (mostly) gone the floodwater is not (very) high, so we are open again. I'll keep an eye on the entrance track during the day as it has some water on it and the Starnafin Burn looks a little bit angry, but for now we are open! YAY!
On the downside, there is thick fog so there isn't much visible, although there were several Whooper Swans roosting overnight on the pools, which is always a pleasant way to start the morning.
I'll have a check to see how the rest of the reserve is coping shortly, so hopefully there may be a few more birds to report later.
In the meantime, a quick reminder that the reserve is now (weather permitting) open again every day until 24th December 2011! We're open 9am - dusk (10am - dusk on January 1st & 2nd) and we're hoping a few of you will join us on 1st January to help us get the year list off to a cracking start!
Sorry about the abrupt title, the blog doesn't allow us to use the same headline more than once and I seem to have used up all the 'sorry, still closed' and snow puns possible. Basically, we are still closed today and tomorrow, but read on if you want to find out what I did with my morning...
I set off from home this morning with the roads cleared and the welcome dripping sound of a thaw. There was still six inches of snow in the garden, but I was hoping that the coastal location of the reserve may have meant that we could open after the Christmas break. As the car slithered down Starnafin Road I was less convinced and by the time I eventually ground to a halt on the little humpty-backed bridge just outside the reserve I realised that we weren't going to be open today. A quick wander up to the reserve saw that everything still seemed to be working (better than my house, where two burst pipes included one on Christmas Day and one at midnight last night!) and not many birds, with the few remaining ducks and swans crowded into the few unfrozen areas around the burns and on the Low Ground. Seventeen Pintail squeezed onto a small puddle were a sign of how hard the times were and one bird that didn't manage to hang on for the thaw was a young Grey Heron that was sadly found dead in the Starnafin Burn.
Getting back to the car I found it was still stuck in the snow (!) and, although I managed to get half way to the Rookery in about half an hour (that's about 200 yards from where I'd first got stuck) I again came to a snedgy halt. At times like this there is the tough decision as to whether it is best to slowly dig your way the mile or so to the main road or phone for help and risk a bit of mickey taking. That decision was taken out of my hands as Dominic appeared after having decided to come down to the reserve with his whole family to see how things were. Thankfully (with very little in the way of sarcastic comments - although I'm sure there'll be more to come!) Dominic and his wife got me moving again and so it was back home with soggy feet, cold hands and no working heating... This afternoon will be spent working on the Annual Report, so if you have any interesting records hidden in your notebook from the reserve, please forward them onto me as soon as possible.
One last pun: snow sign of the entrance track in the wintry scene this morning.