This week, although there have still been some geese, (a couple of flocks of 300 or so flew over me on the reserve on the 18th) I got the feeling that most of them have headed off. This was confirmed this morning when we did a goose count, along with our WeBS count, which revealed that only about 1200 are still around.
Last Sunday we still had the two little egrets hanging around, and have been spotted on and off throughout the week, with one this morning on the Starnafin pools. A drake gargany was reported on the Pools in front of the visitor centre too, but on Monday, we decided it may well have been a mix up – being confused with a pintail, of which there have been two to three pairs hanging around recently. Down at Rattray, three common terns, five barnacle geese, and 30/40 common scoter were reported.
On Tuesday when we were out hunting for lapwings (of which we saw three at Starnakeppie), we drove passed a female merlin sitting in the grass, which is another year tick for the reserve.
On Wednesday, 50 golden plover and one of the little egrets were seen on the Lowground, along with four lapwings sitting around on the Tower Pools.
Thursday saw 48 black-tailed godwits and 32 redshank seen at Tower Pool Hide.
On a warbler survey on Sunday morning, reed warblers (same one moving, or two different ones – not sure) were heard in front of the Tower Pool Hide, and a wheatear was spotted nicely sitting on a fence on Mosstown Marsh.
Other highlights from this morning, apart from the lovely sunrise, were a couple of scaup on the loch, a distant and fleeting sight of an osprey, four water rails from Tower Pool hide, and a frustratingly just-off-the-reserve female ring ousel on the airfield by Bay hide!
It's been a couple of weeks since our last update and there is a fair bit to report.
Starting with a dawn goose count on 1st April..a very respectable 19,100 pink footed geese were recorded and the feeling is this was a probably an undercount. (several massive lifts causing panic amongst the counters!) As of today’s date there are still good numbers of pink footed geese roosting on the reserve. A visiting photographer was in Tower hide at dawn on the 12th and enjoyed a lift of several thousand. There are still two White-fronted geese here, one of which is a Greenland race. (not so sure on the other). The snow geese were last seen in the area (Rattray) on 5th April. Four greylag geese were briefly on starnafin pools on the 9th and a Canada goose was on the low ground on the 10th. Barnacle geese are still moving through with 14 recorded on the 9th April.
Moving onto other highlights, starting with Bay Hide. The top sighting has to be the Great White Egret which first appeared right in front of the hide on the 7th together with a redhead smew. The Great white egret was on the north/east shore of the loch the following day, but there have been no reports since.
Fen Hide has had some fantastic Water rail action, with 5 different birds seen on 29th March. A single drake scaup has been seen regularly, the most recent report from the 12th and a single pochard was seen on the 7th April. Seven pintail, 12 redshank, a single Red-breasted merganser and a single whooper swan were also seen today. Bearded tits were heard pinging in the reeds to the left on the 10th. Great crested grebes are seen most days from both Fen and Bay hides. Displaying birds were seen on the 10th. Two Little grebes, presumably a pair, were seen on the 7th. A short eared owl was flushed near the Loch Hides car park today
There was another pair of displaying Great crested grebes at the South end of the Loch on 9th April and there are at least 2 pairs of lapwing breeding in the Starnakeppie area (east of the loch)
In front of the Visitor centre on Starnafin pools, Black-headed gulls are settling into the breeding season on the revamped Starnafin Island (no eggs noted yet though). A pair of Oystercatchers are also showing some interest. There have been two whooper swans acting very suspiciously in the ditch to the left of the pools. They have now moved onto the low ground and are probably still here because one bird has what appears to be damaged wing. Nine Black-tailed godwits dropped in on 1st April. One was a coloured ringed bird and this individual is a female, ringed as an adult in Iceland in July 2012. It has spent all winter at Montrose basis, so had just dropped in here on route back to Iceland. Oystercatcher numbers peaked at 27 on the 1st April. Other sightings include 2 ringed plover on the 1st and 12th, 4 redshank on the 10th, 20 Golden plover on the 12th, 9 grey plover on the 10th and a single ruff on the 6th. There are good numbers of our usual wintering ducks using the pools at present, teal, wigeon, gadwall and a pair of pintail. Up to two goosanders have also been seen. The ever present little egret was joined by another on the 6th and both were still here as of the 12th, flitting between Starnafin Pools and the Low Ground.
Other Sightings from the Tower hide include 122 curlew on the 8th, 2 Ruff on the 11th 2 grey plover on the 11th and 6 ringed plover on the 12th. A pair of shoveler were seen today and 25 Shelduck on the 5th. Small numbers of pintail are still here too, with 3 pairs seen on Savoch water on the 3rd April. Ospreys are back using the reserve with birds on and over the Low Ground on 6th and 7th.
A merlin was seen over the low ground on the 6th April (Pic: Andy painting)
We have been checking the mink raft near the Savoch road bridge and were rewarded with a nice sighting of a pair of Grey wagtails on the 7th (reserve year tick) and a singing chiffchaff (just off reserve) on the 8th. Other common summer migrants seen or heard for the first time in this period include Swallow, House martin (6th) and Willow warbler (11th)
Rattray Highlights in this period (in addition to the snow geese) were a Black redstart on 1st and 2nd April, a Northern Wheatear on 1st April, 25 plus Great northern diver, 30 ish common scoter and 2 arctic terns on the 7th.
The Strathbeg otters continue to entertain..a member of staff stumbled on 2 copulating near the Savoch Burn on the 5th and now knows what noises a dog otter makes when disturbed mid-copulation! We hosted a class from Crimond primary here on the 3rd April who helped launch new terns rafts and we had amazing views of an otter fighting with a pike. It was a struggle, but the otter won!
Report by Matthew Smith & Christine Hall.
Visit to the hides on Monday 17th for the weekly clean included sightings of Great Crested Grebe (2), Red Breasted Merganser (4), Goosander (2), Bean Goose, Scaup (2) Hooded Crow, Whitefronted Goose and a surprised Ermine on the broadwalk to Fen Hide.
5.30am start on Tues 18th for early morning goose count got 21, 700 pink footed geese currently roosting on the reserve. WeBs highlights included:
1 White fronted goose
54 Barnacle Geese
3 Great crested grebes (two in breeding plumage)
1 Bar tailed godwit
8 Grey herons
5 Water Rail (heard)
61 Whooper Swans
81 Tufted Duck
1 Long tailed duck
2 Snow geese
4 Red breasted merganser
Whitefronted Goose was still around on 19th along with a Black Tailed Godwit seen from Visitor Centre.
Great views of a female goosander ‘snorkelling’ in front of the visitor centre wed 19th morning and a count of 750 jackdaws/rooks from rookery woods. Later in the day a Snipe was spotted on the low ground with 10 Greylags flying down on to the loch at dusk.
First Ruff of the year was seen from VC on 21st (and is still here) along with 2 Ringed Plover. By the weekend another 5 had joined them making a total of 7. Number of Redshank have increased and can be seen from every hide.
A lot going around at the weekend, including a White Tailed Sea Eagle from Bay Hide (thanks to Tony Davis for the photo!) Little Grebe in front of Fen Hide. A quick touch down of 3 Garganey in front of the VC before taking off again. Also from VC a Little Gull in amongst 440 Black Headed Gulls and of course daily sightings of the Little Egret.
10 Snipe and 4 Jack Snipe flushed when going out on the marsh to check on the reserve ponies this week.
Two trips down to Rattray last week included sighting of at least 45 Great Northern Divers and 20 Red Throated Divers. And from the pool a Ruff, 2 Grey Plovers and a flock of 1500 Golden Plover . A single Snow Bunting in the dunes.
(Thanks go to Matt and Christine, who reach the end of their time as residential volunteers this weekend; it's been a pleasure working with you both!)