September is off to a strong start with a number of interesting species seen around the reserve. We’re delighted to report that the nuthatch is still being seen regularly at the feeding station on the trail, giving visitors plenty of opportunity to get close to a species which is rare for Scotland.
We also had a charm of 20 goldfinch at the feeders in front of the visitor centre, and plenty of red admiral and peacock butterflies have been frequenting the wildlife garden.
Excitingly, a kingfisher was seen around the Barr Loch, which is always a thrill – another good place to spot these stunning birds nearby is the river Calder, where they can sometimes be seen flying down the channel, in a flash of metallic blue and orange.
If you follow the goings on at the reserve via our Facebook page you may well have seen that we had some very special visitors recently: we were very lucky to get some fantastic footage of otters using our camera traps. It’s great to be able to share some intimate views of these elusive animals, as they’re very shy creatures and generally are not seen by visitors to the reserve.
One species that you’re guaranteed to see when you visit RSPB Lochwinnoch is the mallard, but visitors – and staff – were not quite prepared for some behaviour recently witnessed. One particular mallard was observed eating a juvenile goldfinch! This rather gruesome behaviour happened not once, not twice, but three times over the course of an afternoon, to the astonishment of everyone in the visitor centre, who were able to watch each episode at close quarters through the viewing windows. A quick discussion ensued and it emerged that no one had seen or heard of this before, but a little search through the literature did find reference to this occurring, albeit rarely!
All photos © Joe Crossland
The mallard appears to have a juvenile goldfinch in its bill, and shakes it violently from side to side.
The mallard swallows the goldfinch.
The mallard with another, unidentified bird, legs clearly visible.
Again, the mallard shakes the bird before attempting to swallow it whole.
The bird is carried around for a few minutes, and other mallards attempt to take the bird...
...before the mallard retreats, keeping the bird for itself.
We’ve recently had a glut of fantastic bird sightings, with three significant species seen on the reserve, taking our annual species count up to 119 for the year – one more than last year!
Firstly, a male sub-adult marsh harrier was seen hunting on the Aird Meadow three days in a row, and was joined by a juvenile marsh harrier on the third day. We think this younger bird must have fledged this year. Visitors were treated to stunning displays from both birds as they quartered in front of the visitor centre – a rare treat seeing as we’ve not recorded a marsh harrier on the reserve for four years.
Marsh harrier – image © Claire Martin
We were also delighted to see a red kite on the reserve – again this is a very rare sighting at Lochwinnoch. A beautiful bird which, due to persecution, was once confined to Wales, but has successfully been reintroduced to Scotland and England. A good place nearby to see red kites is the feeding station at Ardgaty near Stirling, but Galloway and the Black Isle are also renowned for the numbers of kites that you can see gliding overhead.
Red kite – © RSPB images
Finally, a greenshank was observed on the channel in front of the visitor centre. Normally seen in northern Scotland in the summer, this migrant wader will have been on its way back to Africa for the winter, when it had a pitstop at Lochwinnoch.
Greenshank – © RSPB images
Other memorable sightings this summer have included little ringed plover on the channel, osprey flying over the Aird Meadow, a cuckoo in the carpark, male mandarin ducks in eclipse plumage, and a nuthatch at the trail feeding station, which is a rare sighting for Scotland.
Aside from the birds, we’ve also had some great mammal sightings, including a mole, a hedgehog, roe deer, foxes, badgers, bank voles and shrews. A recent camera trap video montage featuring some of these animals has had over 1,700 views on our Facebook page – have a look if you haven’t already!
Roe deer – image © Joe Crossland
As the summer months have approached, we’ve all been looking forward to getting outside a bit more and making the most of the summer weather. Many organisations have been encouraging the public to get involved with various campaigns and activities – whether it’s a two-minute beach clean, a survey of nesting birds, counting bees or the naming of Britain’s favourite fish!
You may have also seen various organisation promoting their own bioblitz – but what exactly is a bioblitz?
Essentially, it’s a survey of all the biological species found in a particular area, usually over a 24-hour period. RSPB Lochwinnoch held its own bioblitz on 11 June, enlisting the help of the public and an army of volunteers for pond dipping, bug netting and general spotting. Along with our own experts being on hand to help identify and record the different plants, animals and fungi found, we were joined by specialists from Butterfly Conservation Scotland, Glasgow Natural History Society, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Clyde Amphibian & Reptile Group, The Conservation Volunteers, Sustrans and the Field Studies Council who provided their in-depth knowledge and support on the day.
So, what did we find?
Let’s start with the birds – 41 species were seen on the reserve including a juvenile robin who unfortunately flew into a window and had to take a trip to Hessilhead Wildlife Rescue. Other birds included; a snipe; great crested grebe; cormorant; redpoll; sedge willow and garden warbler; and many other birds you’d expect to see out on the reserve, including our new family of mallards.
Sedge warbler by David Palmar
Mallard with ducklings by Claire Martin
Juvenile robin by David Palmar
By far the most numerous group was the plants and wildflowers, with 77 species identified. Some interesting species found include common wintergreen, which is a fairly scarce plant in Renfrewshire county. Marsh cinquefoil was also recorded – a pretty and slightly unusual-looking flower which grows in marshy areas. Another interesting species found was yellow-rattle – the dry fruit pod contains hard seeds which make the distinctive rattle sound that gives this flower it’s name. Yellow rattle is a hemiparasite, meaning that it can live independently but can also gain nutrients from the roots of other plant species – so much so that it has been found to increase biodiversity in grassland habitats by controlling grass growth and allowing other species to flourish!
Common wintergreen by Claire Martin
Yellow-rattle by Andy Hay
Examining pond creatures by David Palmar
Our pond dipping volunteers dredged up a number of fascinating species, and the Field Studies Council were able to give us a close-up look with their microscope. The large freshwater mite was an unexpected and welcome finding – bright red, fast-swimming and devilishly hard to photograph! Also a number of palmate newts were found by visitors – beautifully patterned, the males can be identified by their large back feet. Those with a squeamish disposition may not like the sound of the great diving beetle larvae. This ferocious-looking beast roamed the observation tank looking for prey, settling on a freshwater hog louse for a light snack.
Water mite by David Palmar
Great diving beetle larva by David Palmar
Family enjoying pond dipping by David Palmar
Away for the pond, and despite the damp weather, we still managed to identify over 30 insects, including four bees (buff-tailed bumblebee, red-tailed bumblebee, common carder and honey), a large number of beetles, including the stunning iridescent dock leaf and dead nettle leaf beetles, five types of hoverfly, and our Butterfly Conservation colleagues pointed out amongst the nettles a large writhing mass of small tortoiseshell butterfly caterpillars, that gradually dispersed throughout the day.
Dock leaf beetle by Joe Crossland
Small tortoiseshell caterpillars by David Palmar
This way for intrigue! by Claire Martin
The night before the bioblitz, staff set up a moth trap which yielded some fantastic results, with the spectacular elephant hawkmoth proving to be the star attraction – how often do you see this vivid combination of green and pink in nature? The moth trap, being a specialist piece of equipment, provided a fantastic opportunity for our visitors to have a close up view of these fascinating species – illustrating a wide variety, of colours, shapes and sizes. Being mostly nocturnal, and generally less showy than their butterfly cousins, moths are often overlooked, but here was a chance to do a bit of moth PR and inspire a new wave of moth enthusiasts!
Elephant hawkmoth by David Palmar
Moth enthusiasts by David Palmar
So all in all, a pretty successful day! If you didn't make it along to our Bioblitz, don't worry - every day is a perfect day to discover the wonderful wildlife of Lochwinnoch, so come on down for a visit soon!
Photographs by: David Palmar (www.photoscot.co.uk); Joe Crossland, RSPB volunteer; Claire Martin (RSPB Lochwinnoch); Andy Hay (RSPB Images)
Joe Crossland is RSPB Lochwinnoch's media volunteer, assisting the team with various tasks including press releases, blogs and running our Twitter page.