So as soon as I hit the 'publish' button on the blog yesterday, the egrets proved me a liar - the great white egret is still around, visible from Fen Hide, and the little egrets - or at least one of them - are back on the Low Ground. In addition, a wood sandpiper was recorded from Fen Hide yesterday.
People sometimes ask 'Why don't you have such-and-such a bird on your year list, I had one here last week!' - the simple reason is that although they saw it, none of the staff did, and nobody told us! If you find a rarity, please let us know by one means or another; via ABZ, email, twitter, Facebook, put a record in the log-books (takes longer but we do collect the sheets in regularly) or just tell us! It makes keeping reserve records, and subsequently the Annual Bird Report (a copy is in the Visitor Centre, along with the Rarities of Strathbeg report), so much easier, and I speak as the one who wades through all the data trails to put it together!
On 5 May, the great white egret was still here. (thanks to Phil Day for the photo!) but hasn’t been seen recently. On 6 May, a curlew sandpiper in full breeding plumage was with a small flock of dunlins. A yellow wagtail was seen from the VC on 8 May, and there was also a whimbrel and a common sandpiper. Swifts have arrived and can usually be seen over the Loch. A flock of 30 black-tailed godwits was on Starnafin Pools on 11 May, and a small group of dotterel just off reserve, near the Tufted Duck Hotel on 15 May. Several little gulls are still around, and at least one osprey continues to turn up regularly over the silt trap, usually around 5.30 pm. The farmyard is full of swallows, often swooping so low that you feel the need to duck!
Konik yearlings Bilbo and Brambles had their final tetanus vaccinations on 14 May, and have been put to work on the Mosstown project area, boosting the grazing herd there to fourteen, all eating the Juncus and other coarse vegetation. Cuckoo flower is blooming, marsh cinquefoil is sprouting, marsh pennywort is coming up and it’s really starting to look good. Reeds and flag iris are also starting to show. We did our first wader transect recently, and in the cut and grazed area there seem to be more meadow pipits than before.
Two new members of the equine workforce - Cloud and Comfrey - arrived on 7 and 11 May respectively. At the moment, they’re out on the Low Ground with their mums, and can usually be seen from the Visitor Centre or Tower Pool Hide. More mouths to make more Magnificent Meadows! The ponies are looking a bit scruffy at the moment, as they're shedding their thick winter coats; I think every bird for miles must have a nest lined with beige hair!
(pictures by Richard Humpidge)
On the domestic front, I’m sure our regular visitors will join us in saying thanks to John Moir for resurfacing the access track! Work on the new office has been put back until the end of July to avoid disturbance to the nesting terns and gulls.
The next ‘Pick Out A Puffin’ walk at Fowlsheugh is on 26 May; give us a call to book your place! 01346 532017, or email Strathbeg@rspb.org.uk. If you’re visiting Fowlsheugh, please be a considerate parker; the car park is quite small, but please don’t use the passing places!
Looks like I spoke too soon regarding the weather – after some glorious sunshine, the winter returned with a vengeance and we had an unwelcome covering of snow, followed by some wet and windy outbreaks! What the returning migrants made of this, or if it has affected them in any way, we have yet to discover. Fortunately, it stayed reasonable for the last (eye-wateringly) early WeBS count of the season on 20 Apr, and we were treated to the sight of two common cranes leaving the reserve at 5.15 am! Goose numbers were down to around 1650, and have since declined to a few hundred; there were a couple of white-fronted geese in with the pinkfeet. It was nice to see lapwings displaying over several parts of the reserve, and 46 curlews feeding on Mosstown – we can only keep our fingers crossed for successful breeding this year. A pair of garganey were spotted on 19 April on Starnafin Pools, the common terns are back on the island in front of the Visitor Centre, and bearded tits have been seen around the Tower. Warblers are arriving every day – chiffchaffs, willow warblers, blackcaps, whitethroats, sedge warblers, and grasshopper warblers, all loudly setting up territory. A Slavonian grebe was also seen on the Loch on 28 April, and three or four little gulls are hanging about on Starnafin Pools.
Bigger birds are also around, with a cracking marsh harrier over the reedbeds.
Marsh harrier – Brian Sandison
There is evidently enough food around to support these birds; we have ospreys regularly seen fishing over the Savoch silt trap and the Loch – and not for small fish, as the photo below shows! Other visitors report quite a sizeable pike in the pond in front of the Centre, so watch out for that if you happen to be visiting!
Osprey with pike – Brian Sandison
Our long-staying little egrets seem to have disappeared after the WeBS count, but on Monday 4 May, a great white egret arrived. Best seen from Fen Hide, but visible at the top end of the Loch from the VC, it is quite an impressive bird. New photos would be appreciated!
Great white egret (photo from 2009, photographer unknown – please let us know if it was you!)
There is still time to sign up for the first of our Fowlsheugh ‘Pick out a Puffin’ walks on the evening of 12 May – details are on our events page. If you are visiting Fowlsheugh, please note that there is limited parking; please don’t park in the passing places as this creates significant problems to the people living nearby.