The end of November proved to be just as much a bird-filled period as the start of the month. The highlight was, like the bittern in early Nov, again only seen by two observers - a little egret that flew over towards the Barr Loch (viewed from the Aird Meadow hide) on 22nd. This is only the second record for the reserve and mirrors ,almost exactly, the first record - one seen very briefly at the Aird Meadow on Nov 6 2013.This took the yearlist up to 121 species.
Little egret by Mike Langman (rspb-images.com)
A chiffchaff seen briefly, though photographed, at the Dubbs Trail on the morning of the 30th was frustratingly not seen again. Frustratingly as the photographs obtained, and the description of the call, seem to indicate the bird could well be a siberian chiffchaff - a far eastern migrant to the UK and Western Europe and a potential bona fide rarity for the reserve. Hopefully it'll be refound in December.
More obliging was the slavonian grebe that remained throughout the period at the north end of the Barr Loch where large numbers of waterbirds generally were still to be found, mainly coot, wigeon, goosander and whooper and mute swans. Water rails were very prominent, though reports were largely of birds heard calling only. Potentially up to seven different birds were recorded during the period, from all areas of the recording area.
Water rail by Mike Richards (rspb-images.com)
Three woodcock were noted at the north end of the Barr Loch on Nov 28 with one then at the south end the next day. At least one ringtail hen harrier was recorded between the 19th-26th with reports from the Barr Loch and Aird Meadow, where very good views were obtained from the visitor centre.
The highlight of the week was definitely the Bittern that was seen by two fortunate observers by the Millbank Burn at the Barr Loch on 9 Nov. Since the formation of the reserve this is only the sixth ever record, the last being in 1994. In common with the rest of Britain the Bittern would once have been a common sight around Lochwinnoch but persecution led to its extinction in the UK by 1885. Amongst other things it was considered a delicacy at banquets and was popular with taxidermists. It recolonised at the start of the 20th century and breeding was confirmed in East Anglia in 1911. The population has gone up and down over the years since then (reaching a low point of only 11 "booming" males in 1997) but habitat creation and preservation by conservation bodies, including a prominent role played by the RSPB, has resulted in there now being around 100 pairs currently in Britain mainly in SE England though birds do breed as far north as Lancashire including at the RSPB reserve at Leighton Moss. Essentially they require wet reedbeds to live in - mud build up and litter within these habitats are the main problems faced. In winter this normally secretive bird can be more visible and turn up in a greater variety of habitats though almost always near water plus the UK population is swelled by migrants from the Continent.
Bittern by Mike Langman (rspb-images.com)
There was plenty of other birdlife to see this week once again too with a slavonian grebe noted on the Barr Loch on the 12th and 16th with up to 14 great crested grebes also on there this week (equaling the previous high Nov count for the reserve). The Barr Loch saw continuing high numbers of waterbirds yet again this week notably coot, wigeon and teal plus up to four gadwall. Add in sightings of ringtail hen harrier on 8th, 9th and 12th plus two stonechats on 16th at the south end of the loch there and it all added up to great early winter birdwatching there.
Hen harrier by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
Normally hard to see resident species on the reserve showed up well too this week with regular reports of kingfisher, dipper & water rail, a tawny owl was heard calling in the car park at the visitor centre on the 15th and goldcrest, skylark and bullfinch all became more evident.
With the clocks going back and the main organized events on the reserve in the period taking place in the hours of darkness (Fright Night and Astronomy Evening) you could be forgiven for thinking that it was close of play as regards any worthwhile birdwatching was concerned. As it turned out nothing could have been further from the truth with some great birdwatching to be had once again, indeed arguably we are now entering the period when the reserve, in terms of variety and numbers of birds, is at its most productive.
The prolonged bouts of heavy rain benefitted the new channel and pond area in front of the visitor centre greatly with large numbers of wildfowl and waders taking advantage. In the period good views of whooper swan (max. count of 14 on Nov 6), gadwall (up to eight), wigeon, teal, mallard, greylag goose and canada goose could all be enjoyed from the comfort of the visitor centre. Amongst waders, snipe were prominent including 50 on Oct 22 and over 100 on Nov 6, a curlew flew over on Oct 31, lapwing peaked at 134 birds on Nov 4 and best of all a redshank utilised the Lochall Channel on Oct 24. A former breeder on the reserve it is now sadly only an infrequent visitor, mirroring its decline as a breeding species Scotland wide. This was only the fifth ever occurrence in Oct on the reserve.
Lapwing by Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)
Hen harrier were recorded on four dates, at least two different ringtails being involved whilst the start of November saw numbers of redwing and fieldfare increase, at least 400 of the former were noted on the 1st with 200+ fieldfare the same day and at least 300 present on the 2nd, mainly at the Barr Loch.
Redwing by Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)
Also there a brambling was seen on Oct 28, the first of the autumn on the reserve and excitingly a redhead smew on Nov 5. Good numbers of wildfowl generally remained on there.
Smew by Mike Langman (rspb-images.com)