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!
Recent sightings blog Lochwinnoch 15 Dec 2014 - 7 Jan 2015
The old year finished up on the reserve with some nice sightings though there were no additions to the yearlist, the total for 2014 thus ending on 122 species. The slavonian grebe was seen again on the Barr Loch on 23 - 28 Dec with a ringtail hen harrier also there on 27 - 28 Dec, a woodcock by the River Calder on 28 Dec and 34 whooper swans were at Aird Meadow on 20 Dec.
Slavonian grebe, image by Mike Langman (rspb-images.com)
By the 7 January the yearlist for 2015 had already reached 63 species. The Barr Loch was to the fore with continuing high numbers of waterfowl still present there as had been the case at the end of 2014. Counts included 310 wigeon on 6 Jan, 216 coot and 118 teal both on 2 Jan with at least four gadwall on the same day, three shoveler on 5 Jan, 180 lapwing on 3 Jan and eight great crested grebes and three water rails both on 6 Jan. Two scaup were seen on there on 2 Jan with then presumably the same two birds on Aird Meadow on 3 Jan and Castle Semple Loch on 6 Jan. The counts for both wigeon and coot are the highest in Jan for both species on the reserve since 2007.
Scaup, image by Mike Langman (rspb-images.com)
Other noteworthy sightings this year so far include Kingfisher, dipper, kestrel, stock dove (with two by the Barr Loch on 6 Jan) and linnet (with six also by the Barr Loch also on 6 Jan).
Kingfisher, image by Mike Langman (rspb-images.com)