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.
The weather for the majority of the period certainly suggested that it was still very much winter but there were hints by the end of Feb that Spring may not be too far off. The star bird of the period was definitely the drake smew that graced the reserve from 17 Feb onwards, primarily showing on the Aird Meadow Loch but also making regular trips to the Barr Loch. This is presumably the same returning drake back for his sixth winter after first being noted on the reserve in 2010.There have only been around 12 smew reported in Scotland this winter and so this beautiful small black-masked white duck from Scandinavia and Russia certainly qualifies as a rarity.
Smew, Mike Langman (rspb-images.com)
After last month's very high numbers of brambling that were reported, small numbers remained mainly at Garthland Wood including four on 26 Feb with at least 50 fieldfare also noted there the same day. The next day a woodcock was seen at the Aird Meadow Trail. This was amongst a good showing by waders with the channel and pond areas in front of the Visitor Centre proving to be particularly attractive e.g. on 28 Feb a snipe, two oystercatchers, 51 lapwing and seven curlew were all recorded feeding there - definitely a sign of early Spring movement and a great sign too of what the "new" habitat here could produce this year in terms of wader passage.
Brambling, Mike Langman (rspb-images.com)
The 16 Feb was definitely a red letter day at the Barr Loch with two stonechats, two ringtail hen harriers and best of all a Greenland white-fronted goose all being recorded there. High numbers of waterfowl remained on there throughout including 2+ gadwall, 320 wigeon (on 14 Feb) and 200+ coot. Up to three scaup (a drake and two females) also remained throughout usually either on Castle Semple Loch or on the Aird Meadow Loch. The dead trees on the bund at the Aird Meadow attracted good numbers of roosting cormorants with a peak count of 30 birds on 20 Feb. This is the highest count on the reserve since 1990 with the highest ever number recorded being 37 in November 1989. All these records meant that by the end of February the year list had risen to 87 species!
Stonechat, Mike Langman (rspb-images.com)
The second half of January into February brought with it some beautiful days at the reserve so it has been even more fantastic than usual looking out of the centre for anything that might pop in to say hello.
We have, of course, been recording all sightings diligently with a view to bolster the ‘year list’ as much as possible in this bountiful time of the year and thankfully, the efforts of staff, volunteers and visitors have been rewarded with some great sightings.
Woodcock is a species that we see in winter more than other times of the year and we have had two sightings since the last blog, namely on 10 Jan at Lochlip road, on the way into the village, and secondly on 21 Jan flying over the visitor centre. It’s always a great sight to see – a bird I have only ever seen once up at Mugdock Country Park.
Woodcock, Mike Langman (rspb-images.com)
The Barr Loch has been as busy as ever with good numbers of waterfowl including 3 shoveler duck there on 17 Jan. In addition on that day there were 30 fieldfare seen in the reserve car park and a kestrel seen regularly over the road on 18 and 21 Jan, and then over the Aird Meadow on 25 and 31 Jan.
Shoveler, Mike Langman (rspb-images.com)
Scaup have frequented the reserve in the winter in recent years and specifically, Castle Semple Loch has been very fruitful for this species. Sightings were reported there on 19 Jan where there were 3 birds present. Thanks must go to Angus Murray, a stalwart of the reserve, who seems to see a scaup every time he sets up his scope! Well done Angus and thank you.
Scaup, Mike Langman (rspb-images.com)
One of the most exciting species to see ant the reserve at this time of the year is hen harrier and we are fortunate that often, at this time of year, we get a male bird hunting in front of the visitor centre over the Aird Meadow. This winter has been no different with male birds seen there on 19, 20, 26 Jan and 4 Feb over the Aird Meadow. On 21 Jan one was also reported over on the fringes of the Barr Loch.
It’s no great secret that stonechat is one of my favourite birds. I love their appearance, habits and call, and it is also one of my favourite RSPB pin badges (which I wear with pride!) Luckily, we tend to get more sightings of this charismatic species in the winter months too, and a male has been seen flitting from bulrush to bulrush on the Aird Meadow. I was fortunate enough to see the wee chap on 20 and 29 Jan, but I suppose chances are he has been there in between as well. Cracking bird.
One of the stand-out occurrences of this winter has been the good numbers of brambling seen on the reserve. 30 birds in Garthland Woods on 22 Jan was maintained on 24 Jan, with lots of visitors heading over to check out this beautiful Scandinavian migrant. The best was yet to come though with 130+ birds seen feeding on the Beech mast on the floor of the woods by the eagle-eyed Jason McManus. The woods provided another good sighting on 4 Feb in the shape of a nuthatch after we were treated to a real bonanza in the heavy snow on 29 Jan – notably 50 skylark and 40+ meadow pipit. A great day to be at the reserve.
So, that’s it for now folks, the year list is currently sitting on 84, let’s hope it has crept up significantly upon reading the next issue!