Ah the dog days of summer, schools are going back and a glance outside your window for a large part of the week would have seen you greeted with wind and rain, a sure sign that autumn is not too far away. A glance outside the viewing windows at the reserve visitor centre recently would have had you wondering whether you were in China or the west of Scotland in late summer as a mandarin duck, a drake in eclipse plumage, fed alongside a male pheasant on the bank of the Lochall Channel.
The mandarin duck, present at the channel from the 10 August, is an introduced Asian species to western Europe and escapes from wildfowl collections have resulted in a population of c.3,000 pairs now nesting in the UK mainly in SE England. A few isolated populations of released and escaped birds breed in Scotland, the nearest to Lochwinnoch being in Borders and Argyll though a pair have bred successfully this year at Loch Lomond. Indeed with a world population of only c.66,000 birds, mainly in China and Korea, the 7,000 or so birds in the UK are around a tenth of this total World population of this delightful small duck.
The Barr Loch was the scene of a record breaking showing by osprey when no fewer than three were seen together over the loch on 9 August - unsurprisingly the highest ever count for the reserve and indeed for Renfrewshire. The fortunate observer, Marc Campbell, managed to capture an image of all three birds in the same photograph for posterity. This was the undoubted highlight in what was a good week for raptor sightings on the reserve with in addition peregrine, kestrel, sparrowhawk and buzzard all seen.
From scorching sunshine to pouring rain and wind, we’ve almost seen it all weather wise this month. It’s difficult to plan anything ahead of time because the weather is so changeable. Even in the same day! On one of the sunny, blue sky days a few of us were discussing the fact that it was perfect conditions for an osprey sighting. Sure enough we were right! Later that day we were treated to amazing views of an osprey hovering briefly over the Aird Meadow and then flying off towards the Barr Loch.
Ospreys are not the only birds getting us excited this month because we’ve had a couple of unusual visitors. The beginning of July brought with it a pair of mandarin ducks. They made themselves comfortable next to the Lochall channels on the Aird Meadow, giving us perfect views from the visitor centre. A few days later we were treated to a visit from 3 little ringed plovers including one juvenile. This is the first record in 4 years!
Little ringed plover by Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)
A grasshopper warbler has been heard around the reserve throughout this month as well. They are quite secretive birds and creep or hop through vegetation in a mouse like way which makes them difficult to see. You’re more likely to hear their distinctive insect-like reeling call than being able to catch a glimpse. Grasshopper warblers are in the Red category for conservation status due to their population decline since the 1960s. Let’s hope we continue to hear more and more of them calling from the reeds.
Other wildlife on the reserve recently includes a few otter sightings, a weasel putting on a show at the visitor centre windows and a mother and young roe deer prancing along the Aird Meadow trail. On the sunnier days we’ve seen some beautiful butterflies including a red admiral, lots of green veined whites, orange-tip and small tortoiseshells.
Weasel by Margaret Sweeny
The young animals are getting larger as the summer gets later including two great crested grebe families on the Barr Loch. A young coot has also decided to spend a lot of its time in one of our pond dipping areas. He doesn’t seen put off with all the families searching for pond creatures down there one bit!
Pond dipping by Zul Bhatia
We hope to see you at the reserve soon!
Well we have had an eventful month at RSPB Lochwinnoch. We celebrated our 40th Birthday on the 14 June and even with a power cut just as the festivities were kicking off we all had a great time.
40th Birthday Party at Lochwinnoch by Jason Verity
I have been playing the detective in our mute swan tragedy that occurred last week. Our mute swan family that had taken to our small pond right in front of our windows are no longer here to greet us everyday. The family consisted of two parents and three cygnets and it was lovely to watch them grow bigger and chubbier every day. However, last week the family lost one of the cygnets, which is sad but not unusual at this time of year. Then, on Saturday we arrived in to find the two cygnets all alone without any sign of the adults. This was very unusual because up until now, the family had been very close and the parents never left the young’s side. We found the female in the woodland and coaxed her back to her babies and in doing so she led us to the dead body of her mate! We were all very shocked as this had all happened metres from the centre.
Luckily we have CCTV at the reserve so I was able to become a detective for the day and look through the footage from the previous night. What we found shocked us all and it was not what any of us were expecting. At 4am a fox trots into view with something in its mouth. We thought that this must have been the culprit until we went further into the recordings and discovered a whooper swan was also involved! This whooper has been resident in the area for 5 years since injuring its wing and is unable to travel with the other whoopers back to Scandinavia in the summer months. The footage shows this swan violently harassing the male mute for around two hours early on Saturday morning and we believe it had to be involved in the death of the male mute. It is possible that the attack weakened the mute and then the fox actually killed him but we can’t be certain because they disappear out of view of the camera.
After consulting with our local wildlife rescue centre Hessilhead, we decided to remove the swan family and take them to safety at the rescue centre where they could be checked over and kept safe until they can be released again soon. This is not a decision we took lightly, however the whooper had already chased the female mute across the busy road beside the centre earlier in the day and was waiting around not far from the family when we were closing up for the night. The family are doing well at Hessilhead and they will be released in due course.
After all the drama of Saturday, it was an absolute treat to open the blinds the following morning to find a kingfisher sitting on one of our purpose built ‘kingfisher perches’! This beautiful bird sat for a few minutes, dived down to the water, then perched on the other post we have out on the channel. What a delight. We also had the pleasure later on in the afternoon and the two mornings after that so I’m hoping it’s a regular spot for this beauty. Other kingfisher sightings in June were over on Barr Loch on the 13 and 17 June and on Dubbs Water Trail on 19 June.
Kingfisher on Lochall Channel, Aird Meadow by Robert Trevis-Smith
Our swallows are now feeding chicks! Their nest is on the front of the visitor centre so people having a picnic or a little sit down on the bench underneath the nest have become accustomed to the parents swooping in and out. If you stand for a few minutes you can see the young peaking over the top!
Swallows by Zul Bhatia
Other highlights this past month include a nuthatch in woodland next to the Barr Loch on 17 June! There are reports of nuthatch in the area but it is unusual on the reserve. Very exciting. I just wish I had been the one to see it. Two common sandpipers have also been recorded on the new channels on 14, 15,16 and 18 June. We have had a few mammal sightings as well. The otter has been seen on a few occasions, a bank vole at the feeding station and roe deer out on the Aird Meadow on 4,9,13 and 14 June.
Nuthatch by John Bridges (rspb-images.com)
Other sightings include whitethroat, garden warbler, osprey, sedge warbler and a goosander with nine young in the Calder.
Let's hope this month is less dramatic but still as exciting!