The start of a new year is often viewed as a new start. While we may not be able to wipe all things from the past, here at the reserve we can at least clear the species list and look forward to compiling the new one.
By the end of last year we had recorded a total of 118 bird species for the reserve. Although slightly down on the previous years total of 123 this was still an impressive list.
As you know the weather during the last few months of 2015 has been somewhat unseasonable, to say the least, and the start of 2016 seems to be no different. However, this has not hindered our efforts to get this new year off to a good start.
There have been some notable highlights for this first month of the year. Many of the December highlights stayed with us, most notable being gadwall and shoveler. Both of these species are relatively scarce on the reserve so it was good to see up to 4 gadwall and 7 shoveler (including two drake) on the Aird Meadow, often as close as the Lochall Channel, with at least 2 females still present on the 31st. Lapwing have been present throughout the month, with a peak of 130 birds on the 23rd. Other notable counts were around 400 canada geese on the 19th, an impressive total of 142 goldeneye on the 10th, 55 wigeon on the 6th and 185 mallard on the 9th, most of which were on the pond and Lochall Channel.
Cormorant numbers have also been building up during the month, reaching a total of 32 on the 22nd. They are most often seen roosting in trees on the bund, the strip of land that marks the boundary of Aird Meadow and Castle Semple Lochs.
The first hen harrier of the year put in an appearance on the 7th when a ringtail (a juvenile/female bird) flew over the Aird Meadow, most likely the same bird that was spotted several times during the last few months of 2015. Hen harrier have also been seen at roost on the Barr Loch, where on the 7th of the month a short-eared owl was also observed. Sparrowhawk have been a daily sighting during the month with both male and female birds being seen. Buzzard have also been regularly sighted.
There have been a few sightings of grey geese on the reserve, most notable being 15 pink-footed geese on the Barr Loch on the 14th. Pink-footed have also been seen with greylag geese as they fly overhead. Whooper swan numbers, however, have been relatively slow in building up with only a few being seen on most occasions, the only exception being a count of 41 on the 19th of the month. This does not include our resident whooper swan "Whoopie" who can be seen throughout the year.
Despite the rather mild conditions the feeding areas have been pretty busy during the month. Chaffinch numbers peaked at 120 birds on the 16th, with rook numbers in the region of around 100 birds. Goldfinch numbers have been increasing in recent years with a maximum count of 32 individuals being seen at any one time. Great spotted woodpecker are a daily highlight with visitors to the centre, many of them expressing their delight on hear drumming birds along the Aird Meadow Trail towards the end of the month. Reed bunting have also been gracing the feeding area with up to 11 birds being seen. Up to 10 long-tailed tit have also been seen daily at the feeders.
Other highlights on the reserve this month were a redhead smew, first recorded on Castle Semple Loch on the 24th of the month and later seen on Aird Meadow (we wait with anticipation for the return of the male), a water rail on the Aird Meadow on the 30th and a kingfisher flying along Dubbs Water on the 16th.
By the end of the month around 75 species were recorded on the reserve. Many of these were seen from the comfort of the visitor centre or the Aird Meadow trail. You don't have to walk too far to see many of the highlights on the reserve. Why not come along and see for yourself? You don't need to be an expert. There will always be someone here to help you identify the difficult species.
By Eddie Williams
After a pretty dismal summer weather-wise, the better weather in August was a welcome relief! It was a great month for raptors, with osprey spotted hunting on both the Barr Loch and Aird Meadow throughout the month, a peregrine over the Aird Meadow on the 14th, frequent sightings of kestrel, and a male hen harrier over the Barr Loch on the 31st. However, the osprey wasn’t the only bird that the fish had to worry about, as a pair of kingfisher was seen in the Lochall Channels on the 25th. Common sandpiper on the edge of the channel on the 29th was another highlight.
The warm weather continued into September, and possibly our most surprising sighting of the month was the appearance of a ring-necked parakeet at the feeders on the 23rd. Although originally confined to central Asia and central Africa, the ring-necked parakeet has massively increased in its range due to escaped pet birds. It is well-known for its adaptability and resilience, with roughly 8,600 pairs living in London. Unfortunately, they are also known for forming large and very noisy flocks. Luckily the single bird who visited the reserve is just an escapee called “Elvis” who has been on the loose for several months and doesn’t seem keen to give up his new-found freedom to return to his owner! The parakeet has since been spotted several times out on the reserve – hopefully he doesn’t find a mate, but for now those of you with Suspicious Minds who are All Shook Up by our unusual visitor can rest easy.
As for native bird species seen during the month, there were numerous sightings of hen harrier, buzzard and sparrowhawk on the Aird Meadow. Our last osprey of the year was spotted on September 1st when it flew over the Aird Meadow and attempted fishing in the loch.
October proved to be a great month at the reserve for unusual birds. Gadwall were seen throughout the month on the Aird Meadow and Barr Loch, while a ringtail hen harrier infrequently appeared to hunt across the Aird Meadow. Continuing into mid-October, things began to get busier, with a male stonechat spotted at the Barr Loch, golden plover also seen flying over the Barr Loch on the 15th, and large flocks of redwing and fieldfare seen on the reserve from the 15th onwards. A little egret landed on the Aird Meadow on the 25th and spent some time there before flying off – this was our second sighting of the year, and only our 3rd record ever on the reserve. Sporadic sightings of kingfisher were a vibrant treat during the latter part of the month – they have taken to using our kingfisher perches on the edges of the pond, and have been successfully catching fish! A short-eared owl has also been spotted in October, hunting during the twilight hours of the 29th and 31st at the south end of the Barr Loch.
Now the days are shortening and winter is approaching - let’s hope the colder weather will be bring plenty more exciting bird species to round off the year!
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!