Loch of Strathbeg

Loch of Strathbeg

Loch of Strathbeg
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Loch of Strathbeg

  • They did it!

    After making history earlier this month by being the first little gull chicks ever proven to definitely hatch in Britain [listen to the story here or watch here and here], all eyes have been on the two youngsters to see if they would survive to take their first flight and they have, making their parents Britain’s first ever successfully breeding little gulls.

    The nest at Loch of Strathbeg has been monitored with growing excitement over the last three weeks as the tiny chicks grew larger and feathers replaced their down.

    Then on last Monday (25 July), the wait was over and one was seen as it took its first flight. This has developed from a story about the first little gulls ever to definitely nest in Scotland, to the first little gull chicks ever to hatch in Britain, to now the first to fledge, as these little birds smash record after record. (photo timeline below).

                              The pair getting ready to mate. Photo by Brian Sandison.

                              The photo where we first spotted the egg.

                              Photo of one of the chicks on the nest.

                              A juvenile little gull takes to the air for the first time. Photo by Morwenna Egan.

                              And then takes a well deserved rest. Photo by Tim Marshall.

    Richard Humpidge, RSPB Scotland Sites Manager, said: “We are delighted that they have taken to the air for the first time. It was exciting to have the first little gulls ever proven to hatch in Britain on the reserve, but seeing one take flight for the first time is really special. I’m sure their choice to make their home on the tern island has helped and we are thrilled that the terns seem to have had a good year too”.

    Four years ago, there were just 10 pairs of common terns nesting on the island at Loch of Strathbeg. This year, thanks to the addition of the predator fence and to hundreds of hours of help from volunteers to relevel the island and add 10 tons of shingle, there’s more than 130 pairs of terns along with Britain’s first ever successfully breeding little gulls [note 3].

    Before now the young birds had spent all of their time around the nest in deep vegetation and only the adult birds could be seen. Visitors to RSPB Scotland Loch of Strathbeg should now increasingly see the young birds as they fly around building up strength and improving their technique. You can still enjoy watching the adults too, with their characteristic smokey grey underwings.

                              Adult little gull flying. Photo by Graham White.

  • And the winners are....

    We're very excited to be able to announce the winners of our Doric Meadows Poetry Competition that we ran as part of the Save our Magnificent Meadows project. 

    There were three categories in the competition – 11 and under, 12 to 18 years, and 19 and over – which closed on 30 May. The esteemed judging panel of  Jean MacKinnon, Les Wheeler and Robbie Shepherd were tasked with selecting a first, second and third place in each category and  were really impressed with the quality of entries.  

    To hear some of the winning poems, come along to Loch of Strathbeg on Saturday, which is National Meadows Day, for our Meadows Celebration.

    Without further ado, here are the winners, in reverse order and starting in the youngest category:


    11 and under:

    In third place was Kacper Wisnieki with a poem titled Meadows

    In second place was Sarah Downie and Finlay White with a poem titled Afa Bonnie Meadow

    And in first place was with a poem called The Meadows was Martha Fowlie!

    This is Martha’s poem:


    12 to 18 years:

    In third place was Faye Addison with a poem titled Meadows

    In second place was Darya Ogston with a poem titled Colourful Poem

    And in first place was with a poem called The Meadow was Bruce Webster!

    The judges also chose to award a commendation in the 12 to 18 category for Monty Duncan’s poem The Meadow. It could not be judged as part of the main competition because it was not written in Doric, but the judges felt it should get a special mention.

    Here is Bruce’s winning poem:


    Last, but not least, 19 and over:

    In third place was Doug Hay with a poem titled Fit like wid it bi?

    In second place was Gordon M Hay with a poem titled Ley Grun

    And in first place was with a poem called Memories o a Meadow was Anne Groat!

    Here is Anne’s winning poem:


    For more information about the Meadows Celebration on Saturday visit rspb.org.uk/lochofstrathbeg.


  • Little Things Mean A Lot

    It’s summer festival season, and here at Strathbeg there’s a lot going on.


    Little gulls – Ian Francis (RSPB)

    Headline Act: As you may have seen from the main Scotland blog we are rather excited. We have little gulls confirmed as breeding on the island in front of the Visitor Centre, (and conveniently also in front of the new office windows)! It’s a first for Scotland, only the sixth time it’s happened in Britain, and a source of both delight and trepidation for the staff and volunteers; we’re on 24/7 watch keeping an eye on them, so you can imagine our feelings when the rain lashed down relentlessly for three days last week. The fields flooded, and the water levels continued to rise despite Richard taking out every sluice board he could; we were seriously worried that the water would reach the nest. Fortune smiled, however, and the gulls proved dedicated to their task and sat tight throughout, ensuring their soon-to-hatch eggs stayed warm. Now we wait for the next stage...from hatching to fledging. I think there will be a few sleepless nights.

    Little gull showing dark under-wing – Graham White

    Out on the Meadow Stage: The fen meadow at Mosstown is full of blossom and colour as the orchids come into bloom, with skylarks, meadow pipits and snipe all using the meadow, and the added glamour of both a little egret and a great white egret seen regularly. The ponies staged a small rebellion and decided that the electric fence wasn’t going to stop them from going where they wanted – the result is we now have a new, improved fence unit which might keep them under control. The three new foals are doing well, and growing almost visibly! We have schools visiting us almost every day during the week, keeping Roddy busy showing them the web of life on the reserve, particularly in the meadows, and from the great feedback we’re getting he’s doing a terrific job. The Doric Poetry competition received a lot of entries, and the judges including Robbie Shepherd were very impressed by the general standard – it’s great to see such an interest being taken in the local heritage. You’ll have to wait to know the results of the competition, which will be announced at our upcoming Meadows Celebration on Saturday 2 July. We have a packed programme for the whole afternoon starting at noon and running until 5.00 pm, with music, poetry, storytelling, guided walks and self-guided trails, hands-on craft activities, face painting, a bumblebee safari and of course the prize giving! Please come along and give us your support – it’s going to be a great day!

    Marsh orchid – Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

    Supporting acts: the common terns on Starnafin Island have chicks, as do the remaining black-headed gulls. Shelduck ducklings can be seen on the pools, with a lot of tufted ducks and gadwalls. Wigeon are grazing the islands, and we’ve had a few waders – dunlin, knot and a breeding-plumaged ruff. With our new office window, we have – of course – started a new ‘office window list’ for birds seen; at the moment it stands at 68 species (the reserve list is up to 141 for the year) with common crane, glossy ibis(18 May), marsh harrier, Arctic tern (19 June), a grey-headed yellow wagtail (17 May), osprey and the egrets being amongst the stand-out performers. We’ve also seen some mammals during our gull-watch, including brown hare just outside the window, badger, roe deer and pipistrelle bats. By the hordes of young tree sparrows chasing their parents around the feeders outside the window, they have also had a good year!

    Brown hare – Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)

    On the domestic front, the new office is almost sorted out, and the building inspector has been in to check things over. There are still one or two bits to be finished in the Visitor Centre, but we hope to be opening soon and definitely in time for the Meadows Celebration. We hope to see you there!