Welcome back, and a Happy New Year to all our readers!
It’s been a while since we updated the blog, what with the festive season and folks heading off on holiday, but now we’re back it’s time to look back at last year, and forward to this one – and what a year it’s going to be!
Male bearded tit – Brian Sandison
Bird-wise, December brought us the traditional bittern sighting on the 3rd, fieldfares in the hedgerows around the wild-bird cover fields, and continuing sightings of bearded tits, in quite large groups around the Tower, and from Fen Hide – always worth checking for them if the weather is calm! Three little egrets remained around the Savoch Low Ground, although I suspect they were (r)egretting being there when the weather got worse. A firecrest was a serendipitous find when one of our visitors was going through his photos from the boardwalk, and happily it remained around until about 17 December. Farmland birds continued to increase in numbers, with 130 linnets, 20 greenfinches, and 35 reed buntings, not to mention the resident tree sparrow gang around the farmyard, which are present all the time!
Little egret in flight – Brian Sandison
Duck numbers were low-to-reasonable; 1496 wigeon, 265 teal (probably an undercount on a windy day when they were all in the reeds), 8 shoveler, 12 pintail, 413 mallard, 29 goldeneye, a few gadwall, and one green-winged teal spotted on 7 December. Swan numbers were good, 104 mute swans and 195 whoopers on the WeBS count. Goose numbers were disappointingly low in December, with only 4462 pinkfeet recorded, 1 Greenland white-fronted goose and 77 greylags. (Goose numbers did recover somewhat after the turn of the year, with 12,129 pinkfeet seen on the WeBS count of 18 January). A jack snipe was a good spot during the farmland bird survey of the fields near Starnafin on 15 December.
So, all in all, 2014 wasn’t a bad year...four new Konik foals to add to the herd, breeding bearded tits, breeding snipe, the first on-reserve record of blue-winged teal back in June, the first ring-necked duck in 22 years, the third-ever record of barred warbler, and the second-ever of Savi’s warbler. The terns and black-headed gulls bred successfully for the first time in years, thanks to the otter-fencing and new tern rafts. A big thanks to all those involved in reshaping the island, digging the fence in and providing/launching the rafts! We said a sad farewell to Vicky Anderson (now enjoying life in the Outer Hebrides amongst the machair and the corncrakes) and a warm welcome to our new Habitats and Species warden Derren Fox. Ed Grace was promoted to Estate and Livestock warden. Our two volunteer interns, Paula Redman and Emma Parker have now left us, Paula to become a trainee with the Field Studies Council, and Emma to look for a job in conservation that actually pays her! (Good luck with the interviews, Em!) We also welcome our new intern, Isis Lake, to the team for 2015. Our regular volunteers Charlie, Pauline and Roger, continue to give their valuable time to all the odd jobs around the place; it’s thanks to them and to our residential volunteers that we can keep everything running smoothly.
The coming year presents us with quite a few challenges, notably the changes that will be happening at Starnafin. You may have seen on the RSPB main site or in the news that we have received a substantial grant from the Coastal Communities Fund, helping us to transform the visitor centre and volunteer accommodation, enabling us to have more residential volunteers and visiting researchers in better living quarters, making changes to the Visitor Centre and toilet block, and providing a new office for the staff. All this will inevitably have an effect on access to the reserve – the Loch hides and Tower Pool Hide will remain accessible, but there may be closures and changes to parking at various times; we’ll keep you posted on our Twitter feed and Facebook pages. We're not letting the changes stop us doing things though - we're planning another craft fair at Easter, and there will be a Beach Clean-up in the spring/summer. More events as plans are drawn together - they'll be listed on our Reserve Events page and on social media.
Thanks for all your support during 2014, and we hope to see you in 2015!
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Fit’s fleein’ aboot far in October?
Pink-fitted geese, ye say?
Fit else is fleein’ aboot in October?
Dukes, ye say?
Nae forty thoosan’ ‘n’ a’?
Mair than a puckle tho’?
Fit’s ‘at ene wi’ the pinty tail?
An ‘at boorach wi’ the shovel moos?
Weel, nae muckle imajinins ‘ere.
Fit’s at fleein’ aboot oot yonder?
Whooper swans, ye say?
Are they wise?
Ooh, a wee fechty!
“Bide awa’ fae ma wumman!”
Same the warld o’er.
Fit’s fleein’ aboot ahin ‘ere?
Tree sparraws, ye say?
Scarce, are they?
An’ ‘at wee crater forbye?
Bird o’ prey?
Mair like mait tae ene, I’d say.
So that’s fit’s fleein’ aboot far in October.
Ye wid hardly credit it -
a’ thon in oor wee neuk
fae oot ‘n’ aboot,
flockin’ tae oor dune loch.
Susan Miller, November 2014; inspired by a visit to Strathbeg.
Whooper swans on the Loch, Brian Sandison
Whooper swan – Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)
The autumn migration is in full swing as the birds continue to pour in to the Loch – 57 whooper swans on 3 October had increased to 292 seen during the WeBS count on the morning of Sunday 12 October, with 201 mute swans, 1046 wigeon, 444 teal, 72 goldeneye and 97 pochard also recorded. Three Slavonian grebes and one little grebe, three water rails, a smew and two scaup were also spotted on the loch. The pinkfooted goose count was down from the previous one, with only 34,213 recorded. This is not surprising, as it was a bright moonlit night prior to the count and the geese tend to stay out in the fields beyond the reserve, feeding in relative safety as they can see any potential predators. Count figures are always lower after clear, bright nights! A smattering of other goose species were also found – two snow geese, one Greenland white-fronted goose, three greylags and around 20 barnacle geese.
Dawn and dusk remain the best times to see the geese leaving and returning to the roost, and the carpark at Rattray Kirk is still a good place to see the big numbers; we’ll be starting our Dawn GooseWatch events on 2 November (see our webpage for more details) so why not book your place now!
Geese coming in to roost – Diana Spencer
Other species seen around include a gorgeous (ringtail) hen harrier, up to 10 bearded tits in the reedbeds around Fen Hide, and at least two little egrets around the Starnafin pools and Low Ground, best seen from either Tower Pool Hide or the Visitor Centre. Our Konik ponies continue to attract media attention and were featured in this report from Plantlife http://www.plantlife.org.uk/about_us/blog/ponies and on the BBC on Sunday 12 October – if you missed it, the clip can bee seen here http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-29442896 (Flash player required).
Hen harrier – Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
This weekend saw our Christmas Crafts and Goose Fair, which attracted a good number of visitors. For the rest of the month, in the Visitor Centre, we will have an exhibition of wildlife photography (mostly pictures taken around the reserve or in the local area) by Peter Lewis and Brian Sandison which will be well worth a visit – entry is free!