Signs of early autumn were evident on the reserve, the ever popular photographic competition (now finished) and second hand book sale (running from 14 -20 September with some great bargains to be had) being two examples of this.Other signs, on the bird front, were meadow pipits heard over-flying the Barr Loch and Aird Meadow, finches flocking up (including 40+ goldfinches on 29 August), wildfowl numbers increasing on the Barr Loch including good numbers of wigeon (also two gadwall were picked out there on 11 September, with a drake nearby on Aird Meadow on 14 September) and, amongst waders, small flocks of snipe were seen over the Aird Meadow and a greenshank was noted at the Lochall Channel on 31 August.
Wigeon by John Bridges (rspb-images.com)
Remarkably the mandarin ducks frequenting the Lochall Channel reached a peak of four birds on 29 August with also at the channel there were frequent sightings of kingfisher, mainly during early mornings.
Around the reserve the numbers of summer visitors started to dwindle noticeably e.g. the last sedge warblers reported were along the Dubb's Trail on September 2. Ospreys were recorded on four dates between 26-30 August including two birds on 28. It's been a good summer once again for osprey sightings on the reserve, hopefully local breeding may not be too far off.
Osprey by Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)
The highlight of the period was a slavonian grebe on the afternoon of September 13 on the Aird Meadow affording good telescope views from the visitor centre for the 10 or so visitors present at the time. Only the 12th record for the reserve though recorded for the third year running. Although there is a healthy wintering population in Scotland including the nearest ones to the reserve being as close as on the Clyde Estuary it is sadly declining as a breeding bird. There are now less than 30 pairs in the UK, all in the north of Scotland including at the RSPB reserve at Loch Ruthven to the SW of Inverness.
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!