Well, the first thing to say is that it really is beginning to feel like spring. There are lots of signs that wildlife is beginning to feel the same, with skylarks singing, a few half hearted displays from lapwing over the low ground and goldeneye doing their crazy head flicking thing. Of course, who will ever forget our bushnell camera footage of a couple of badgers feeling “spring like”. The weather too has hopefully taken a turn for the better.
Our latest sightings this week start with highlights from Fen Hide. Bearded tits were seen for the first time in 2014 on the 18th. Only one was actually seen but the many “pings” suggested a little flock was in the reeds and this was confirmed when 4 were seen on 1st March also from Fen Hide. It’s highly probable that they bred on the reserve last year and the sightings we have had over the autumn/winter are hopeful signs that we currently have a resident mini flock
This photo of a juvenile male Bearded tit was taken at Fen Hide last summer. (By Joseph Nicols) We’d like to think it bred on the reserve and it’s maybe one of the birds seen recently..but who knows?????
Red breasted mergansers peaked at three on the 21st. A woodcock was flushed from the path to Fen Hide on the 24th. A Slavonian grebe has been seen throughout the week, last seen on the 25th just a few metres in front of the hide. On the 27th a 1st winter little gull, 2 scaup, 2 long tailed duck, a Great crested grebe were also seen and 2 water rail were “sharming” in the reed bed to the left.
Sightings on the Low Ground from Tower Hide have been excellent. The redhead Smew was seen on the 23rd and the 25th in the large pool just left of the remains of the tower. Pintail peaked at 18 on the 28th and 6 shoveler were seen on the 23rd. Pink footed geese are using the dry fields more now as the grass begins to grow again and 2 white fronted geese (race unspecified) were picked out on the 23rd. Lapwing numbers peaked at 265 on the 22nd and 470 curlew were noted on the 19th. There were 620 common gull also recorded on the 19th. An occasional long tailed duck has been seen on the savoch pool to the left of the Tower Hide. 20 Golden plover were also seen on the 22nd. A couple of Water rail were also heard here too on the 20th.
Raptor of the week has to be sparrowhawk, with regular sightings all week, including an impressive flyby in front of the visitor centre with prey (still alive and squawking), on the 23rd. Peregrines were also seen..one feeding on a recent kill on the Low Ground on the 20th and another sighting from the visitor centre on the 27th.
Other highlights from the visitor centre include daily sightings of the resident Little egret. 170 lapwing were seen on the 28th along with 2 ringed plover, which were also seen on the 2nd March.
Rattray this week has thrown up regular sightings of up to 2 two white Snow geese. (in the fields on route to Rattray. Four pale bellied brent geese were using the Rattray fields on the 24th and a green winged teal was on the flooded pool between the Rattray Bed and Breakfast and the beach on the 28th.
Over half way through February and the reserve year list is up to 99 and ticking along nicely and Snowdrops are out in force. The highlight was a drake Ring-necked duck, which was first found on the silt trap to the left of Tower Pool hide on the 10th but is still showing well as I write. Pink-footed geese numbers roosting on the reserve is currently at 11,494 along with up to 5 European White-fronted geese and a single Tundra bean goose. Other Notable totals from the WeBS count undertaken on the 16th include:
Scaup – 3
Goldeneye – 76
Goosander – 3
Red breasted Merganser – 12
Long tailed Duck – 2
Water Rail – 3
Little Egret – 1
Golden Plover 68
Lapwing – 171
The low ground continues to be the busiest area on the reserve with the majority of the wildfowl seen from Tower Pool hide and high numbers of geese on the fields at the back for most of the day. Although a Great crested grebe (first for 2014) was seen from Fen hide on the 11th and 2 Goosander were seen from the south end of the Loch. To view the goose spectacular involves an early start before 7am and best viewed from Tower Hide. Farmland birds have been showing well recently as well with 20 Corn buntings and 11 Yellowhammers on the wires along the path to Tower pool on the 11th. Corn Bunting numbers peaked at 31 in along this path on 16th . Otters have been seen twice this month so far, the first was on the 10th from Bay hide and the second was from the south end of the Loch on the 17th.
Rattray has seem some good birds this week with the team noting the following during two visits on the 14th and 16th: The two white morph Snow geese remain as well as 4 pale-bellied Brent geese and 28 Barnacle geese. Other Rattray sightings include at 8 Grey partridge, 40 Twite, 25 Corn Bunting, 4 Great northern divers, 2 Red throated divers, 6 Sanderling, 1 Ringed Plover and 4 Common scoter. A badger was also seen during the day just before the old chapel on the 14th.
The end of January brought us a smew and a Slavonian grebe on the loch, and a little gull and 50 sanderling down on the beach, where the recent weather has certainly made some changes to the landscape. The smew and grebe lingered over the weekend, with a long-tailed duck and a couple of scaup also dropping in. The first great crested grebe of the year was seen on Monday 3rd, and a water rail was calling near Tower Pool Hide on Tuesday 4th. By Thursday 6th, there were two long-tailed ducks on the pools on the Low Ground, the smew and Slavonian grebe were seen from Bay Hide, and the great crested grebe was seen from Fen Hide. The long-staying little egret is still around, mostly seen from Tower Pool Hide.
On Friday 7th, at least six bean geese arrived on the fields at the north-west end of the loch, and were filmed (see below) by regular birder John Watt. At the south-east end, off the reserve and seen from Rattray, there are still two white-morph snow geese around, usually with the pinkfeet flocks, a small flock of barnacle geese, and two brent geese were also seen in the fields behind the lighthouse buildings on Sunday 9th. Mammal sightings for this week have included fox, otter and roe deer.
Thanks to everyone who turned out on a rather wet and cloudy night for our 'Stargazing at Strathbeg' event - a few glimpses of the moon between scudding clouds were about all the actual stargazing that could be achieved, but Aberdeen Astronomical Society kept everyone's interest with a great presentation on the sights that we could see in the skies above Aberdeenshire, and what to watch out for at this time of year, plus a virtual tour to the edge of the known universe!
Edited to add: As is often the way of these things, the more exciting news always comes in after you've pushed the 'Post Blog' button! A ring-necked duck (male) was seen in the silt trap (to the left of Tower Pool Hide) late on 10th, there were two pale-bellied brent geese on the reserve on the 5th (seen from Fen Hide) and five white-fronted geese on the Low Ground on 10th, all of which brings the reserve year list to 97!