A change from bird monitoring today as a group of us headed out with Sarah Atkinson from the Scottish Mink Initiative to look for signs of Water Vole, Mink and other mammals on the reserve. We know there have been water voles sighted at Strathbeg in previous years, including one at St Combs and the reserve has a large amount of habitat for them around the burn and drainage channels. We found plenty of field vole signs but no water vole. There is a lot of shoreline at the reserve to cover though, and we'll let you know how our water vole surveys get on.
A quick check of our mink raft did however reveal one mustelid definitely living on the reserve- clear prints of a small otter. Our otter sightings are very few and far between so it's great to have proof that one has been on the reserve within the last week.
The bird highlight of the past few days has been a count of 8 pairs of Great Crested Grebe on the Loch. Despite being common in some parts of the country, this is a very large count for Strathbeg and this could be a very succesful year for them.
.. well not really but the undoubted highlight today was a superb, very pale rough legged buzzard that spent the early afternoon feeding in the dunes at the north end of the reserve. There had been an arrival of common buzzards as well as there were six loosely associating with the rough legged.
Waders are still a key feature at this time of the year and yet again there was a good selection on the Savoch Low Ground - best visible from Tower Pool Hide. Peak counts of note were two greenshank, four ruff, one each of black tailed and bar tailed godwits and a single wood sandpiper with a limp.
The first of our arable breeding bird survey visits was completed this morning, among the usual suspects was a singing grasshopper warbler in the wet field adjacent to the entrance track - always nice to hear.
a quick check off shore revealed good numbers of divers still present in the area with four great northern (three in summer and one in winter plumage) and a summer plumage red throated diver being close enough to identify with several more hidden by the swell too far offshore to be confident to identify.
It is amazing how the habits of some birds change over time - in my first couple of years here osprey were quite a scarce species on the reserve with just a handful of records each year. Then last summer something changed and they became an almost daily feature with upto four different individuals at any one time. This spring the run of records is continuing with up to two individuals being seen almost daily.
Our breeding seabirds continue to arrive in good numbers and there are now 16+ common terns on Starnafin pools and several more on the islands at the back of the Loch - at least something is looking like they are going to have a normal breeding season as lapwings certainly arent! At some locations, particularly upland sites many pairs already have chicks wheres as we still don't have any birds on nests yet!
There was a superb selection of waders on site today. Yesterdays wood sandpiper was joined by a second one and both showed well throughout the morning on Starnafin Pools, where they were joined by two greenshank, one black-tailed godwit, three ruff and a summer plumaged spotted redshank. The Savoch low ground was full with a nice selection of waders as well including three more ruff (at least four of the six birds are males moulting into their full glory) our resident bar tailed godwit (they are normaly a scarce visitor to the reserve but this bird has been around since the 4th April at least), another greenshank, eight summer plumaged dunlin, 26 redshank and a single little stint.
At this end of the season our twice weekly goose field counts can either be very quiet with just a handful of pinkies or as was the case today they throw up a great surprise in the shape of over 300 barnacle geese - these beautiful little geese are heading north to svarlbard to breed and often give their presence away by their distinctive barking calls.
The walk up to Tower Pool Hide is becoming more interesting as the farmland birds are starting to get into full song - today half drowned by the louder calls of yellowhammers, wren, dunnock and linnet the first whitethroat of the year was singing away steadily.
Heading out into wide open grasslands, under bright blue sky, in a 4x4, searching for wild animals... Okay so we can’t quite manage lions and zebras at Strathbeg but our wild pony safaris proved (almost!) as popular today. Wardens and volunteers got to be intrepid game rangers for the day and take groups of people out into the marsh to get up close with the Koniks that have been skulking in the gorse at the far end of the reserve. Typically the Koniks chose today to go exploring and headed out into open space, but we did manage to persuade them back to our viewing point and they eventually showed themselves off really well for those visitors brave enough to take a trip out into the wild!
We have managed to get some genuine African wildlife on the reserve this weekend... Our regular ospreys have been back from western Africa for a while now and are proving to be almost daily visitors. We’ve also been spoiled by migrating waders this weekend with greenshank, spotted redshank and a wood sandpiper all giving fantastic views from the visitor centre (far better than the digiscoped pictures show!) all day today.
Probably our most exciting African arrivals though are the common terns, which are getting gradually closer and closer to the island outside the visitor centre. A few more days and we may be starting to see our first terns stake out their nest sites in between the gulls. Live Terncam is ready and waiting for them...
Another of our key breeding species terned up today in the form of six common terns found by Vicky and our volunteers sitting on the mud at Starnafin - they really are the sound of summer to me. There were also several sandwich terns flying around calling over the Loch islands - are we going to get them breeding again I wonder?
Waders still continue to come through the reserve. Our resident group of six ruff are starting to get their breeding plumage - hopefully a couple will develop the full ruff after which they are named. Other wader highlights included bar tailed godwit, two dunlin resplendant with their black bellies and the first spotted redhsank of the year.
The young male marsh harrier was back hunting over the reserve again today - its a confusing individual if not seen well, from above it looks like a female and from below it looks like a male!
One additional bit of news - just off site (probably no more than 1000m at times) the male king eider has moved from the Ythan estuary and was hanging around the lighthouse at Rattray, with better viewing conditions and a slightly better scope I could have almost added it to the reserve list. It has drifted this far north lets hope it goes the last few metres and gets itself firmly added to the reserve list!