July has been a strange month, with much more rain than is normal for this time of year. We have however had a few sunny days scattered throughout the month, and also a few exciting bird sightings!
The highlight of the month for me was the brief appearance of a little egret on the Lochall channel on the 24th (a new bird for me!). It was spotted by Norman, one of our volunteers, as it flew in across the Aird Meadow. The bird landed on the edge of the channel and then flew off towards the Barr Loch after a few minutes. Although it was a brief visit, this was a very exciting sighting for us, as it was only the second sighting EVER for the reserve (the first being in 2013). Another interesting sighting on the 24th was a female shoveler, which was spotted swimming in the channel later in the afternoon.
On the 21st there was an unexpected visitor outside the centre – a young cuckoo landed on a post and gave staff and visitors great views before flying off.
During July we have had several water rail records, with individuals heard calling on the Aird Meadow on the 24th and 25th, and a juvenile was actually caught on one of our camera traps on the 18th. This was very exciting as water rails are such shy and secretive birds and so it is generally very difficult to definitively prove breeding – so it is fantastic to have confirmation that they have successfully bred on the reserve this year.
Other interesting sightings for the month include an osprey over the Aird Meadow loch on the 1st, and fishing over the Castle Semple loch on the 14th; a kestrel over the Barr Loch on the 4th; and a whitethroat singing along the River Calder on the 11th.
On the 5th a scaup was recorded on the Barr Loch within a group of tufted ducks, and 4 common sandpipers were also seen.
It has also been fantastic to see a variety of fledglings visiting the feeders outside the visitor centre, with young goldfinches, house sparrows, siskins and great spotted woodpeckers all enjoying the sunflower seeds on offer. It was a delight to see a family of woodpeckers visiting the feeders together, with a male, female and a juvenile.
Our year list is currently at 112, here’s hoping for some interesting species passing through the reserve next month as the breeding season comes to an end!
June began with the cool and wet weather that seems to have followed us throughout spring. This unseasonable weather has meant that June was a mixed month for breeding birds on the reserve. Some species such as blue tits seem to have struggled due to the lack of available food caused by the cold, damp weather. However some nests were successful so there are still plenty of small birds around the reserve! Mallards, however, seem to be thriving on the reserve and we have enjoyed watching several different family groups visit the feeders outside the visitor centre, giving us the chance to see them growing from tiny fluffy ducklings to almost adult-sized ducks.
The month was notable for bringing several osprey sightings around the reserve, both at the Barr Loch (1st & 12th) and over the Aird Meadow loch (5th, 19th, 28th & 30th). It is fantastic to get views of this stunning bird of prey, and it’s very encouraging that they continue to return to the reserve to fish.
Other interesting sightings during June included a water rail along the Dubbs trail on the 3rd, 4 gadwall on the pond on the 10th and a dipper feeding on the River Calder on the 13th.
June also brought plenty of sightings of our summer migrant species. Whitethroat was spotted in different areas of the reserve on the 8th, 13th & 20th, and on the 29th an adult with 3 juveniles was seen on the Aird Meadow. Garden warbler was recorded on the 13th, 14th & 20th around the reserve, and there was also a record of a spotted flycatcher on the Aird Meadow on the 30th. A willow warbler with 5 juveniles was spotted near the visitor centre on the 26th.
One final very unusual sighting for June was the appearance of 4 pink-footed geese on the Aird Meadow loch on the 5th. Generally a winter visitor to the UK, this was the first sighting on the reserve since 2013 and quite unusual as generally records are simply of birds flying over the reserve rather than stopping off here.
Here’s hoping for a drier and warmer July, giving us all the chance to get out and enjoy the beautiful wildflowers blooming around the reserve!
There have been many ‘highlights’ as there always are this time of year with spring migrants such as swallow and willow warbler arriving at the reserve at the beginning April, followed by grasshopper warbler, sedge warbler and whitethroat all arriving a couple of weeks after. Now another week has passed and the reserve is full of sedge warbler song!
Of course, one of the reasons this time of year is so special for birdwatchers is because whilst the spring arrivals are arriving, some of the ‘winter’ species are still holding on and haven’t moved to their more northerly breeding grounds yet. This has been the case once again, with smew and scaup both being recorded frequently throughout the period 28 February to 12 April. Two of my favourite species I have seen since working here at the reserve.
I’m a big fan of birds of prey and the last couple of months have been OK for raptors with peregrine seen 4 times between 2 March and 12 April. Kestrel has also been recorded a few times during this period, with the sightings being split between the Barr Loch and the Aird Meadow Loch. Always nice to see this species which has suffered decline in recent years.
Also notable were some large counts of birds – 170 goldeneye on Castle Semple Loch on 3 March and there was the great sight of 71 lapwing roosting on the Aird Meadow at the end of February. Alongside the lapwing there were frequently a small group of curlew – a peak count of 23 being the stand out record.
Two fantastic sightings this period has turned up are the osprey sightings both over the Aird Meadow Loch and the Barr Loch, and perhaps even more impressive – 4 records of nuthatch between 10 April and 26 April! Two of these records came from Garthland Woods, one from the Dubbs trail and the other was a bird seen on the feeders right outside the viewing window! On my day off of course...
A pair of garganey have also set up residence on the Aird Meadow, which have brought birders into the reserve in droves. A bird I have rarely seen, but having the quality of views we have had since 12 April has inspired me to seek this often elusive species more in the future.
Lastly, a great count of 28 white wagtails by our resident expert Angus Murray over at Castle Semple on 24 April – a great example of getting out of birding what you put in!
May has been rather dreich and disappointing weather-wise on the reserve, although we have had some lovely bird sightings to make up for the rain.
Garganey continued to show in the channel throughout most of May until the 25th – at the peak, we had an amazing 3 males and a female on the reserve. We have also continued to have occasional sightings of osprey fishing over the Aird Meadow and Barr Lochs, including a fantastic view of an individual hovering over the Aird Meadow before diving twice into the Lochall Channel outside the visitor centre.
One of the highlights of May was the appearance of a green-winged teal on the pond on the 14th. This North American species is a rare vagrant to the UK - this is only the second time this bird has EVER been recorded at RSPB Lochwinnoch. The first record was in April 1965, when one bird spent a week on the Barr Loch. At this time, the green-winged teal was considered a sub-species of the teal, although it is now recognised as a distinct species.
Other exciting visitors during May have included a whinchat on the Barr Loch on the 2nd, our first in 3 years, and 26 whimbrel flying over the Barr loch on the 7th, with another 4 seen over the Aird Meadow on the 15th.
May has been a great month for demonstrating the effectiveness of the habitat work we have undertaken at the reserve over the past few years – the Lochall channel was excavated in the hope that it would bring wildlife closer to the visitor centre, and also attract some different species not usually seen in that area of the reserve. We have therefore been thrilled that the garganey and osprey have both been spotted using the channel. We were also excited to have not one but 3 sightings of black-tailed godwit at the reserve during May. We think that we had 2 different individuals, which were both seen feeding extensively on the edge of the channel, and on the islands in the pond. It was great to have such close views of this beautiful bird. We also had a pair of gadwall feeding in the channel on the 21st.