Winter is definitely approaching at the reserve, and with all the recent rain the ducks are enjoying the newly flooded channels. Sightings of a Slavonian grebe on the Barr Loch on the 15 & 17 October have bumped our year list up to 119 species.
Slavonian grebe by Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)
Slavonian grebes are a fairly rare winter visitor, with around 1100 recorded in the UK each year, so it’s great to have a record of one on our reserve again this year. Another exciting highlight of the last two weeks has been 3 sightings of a ringtail hen harrier. Historically persecuted, hen harriers are very scarce in the UK, so it is great to see one here at Lochwinnoch.
Hen harrier by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
The Barr Loch continues to be a great site for wildfowl with excellent numbers of wigeon, tufted duck and coot, as well as the first few wintering whooper swans and several gadwall.
From the visitor centre we have had amazing sightings of up to 45 goldfinches, which frequent the feeders and are delighting visitors with their beautiful bright plumage.
Goldfinch by John Bridges (rspb-images.com)
Another highlight seen from the visitor centre was a ruff, which landed briefly in the channel on Sunday 5 October.
Ruff by Mike Richards (rspb-images.com)
Yet again it was another fantastic week for birdwatching on the reserve, the main focus continuing to be at the Barr Loch. An estimated total of 1000 waterfowl were present on the loch there on 30 Sept (attracted by the continuing waterweed bloom as mentioned in the previous blog). This got me rummaging through old bird reports and reserve records this week. These periodic waterweed blooms over the years on the Barr Loch have resulted in spikes in wildfowl numbers even in what are considered to be the "glory years" for wildfowl assemblege on there in the 1960s and early 1970s with e.g. annual peak counts in this period for wigeon fluctuating between counts of over 1000 birds (the last time this sort of number occurred was in 1972) and counts in the low 100s. This nosing around in records from pre and early reserve logs paid off with the discovery that the peak count in Sept for wigeon during the reserve's existence is 360 on 25 Sept 1976 so the 250 present on 28 Sept is the second highest Sept reserve count.
Barr Loch by Thomas Begg
Getting down to view this spectacle required you to negotiate the jungle that is the norm in early autumn for the vegetation cover state at the south end of the loch but it was certainly worth the effort. Of the fifteen species of wildfowl that were seen this week on the reserve the seven shoveler, four gadwall, three pintail, up to five whooper swans and six pochard were all to be found there amongst the throngs of wigeon, teal, mallard, tufted ducks and mute swans though many were still in their eclipse and immature garb so not always easy to pick out.
Pintail Pair by Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)
Elsewhere a drake scaup, first seen on Castle Semple Loch on 25 Sept, was then on Aird Meadow on 1 Oct with also there the first hen harrier of the autumn was found, a ringtail on 25-26 with then presumably the same bird at Barr Loch on 30 Sept.
Scaup by Mike Langman (rspb-images.com)
Despite this series of great records the yearlist stubbornly refused to budge from the 118 species mark that it reached last week.
The main bird interest this week was at the Barr Loch where wildfowl numbers were on the increase. A bloom of waterweed there is providing good feeding for grazing wildfowl, particularly wigeon with at least 200 birds present from Monday 22 September - the highest September numbers since reserve records began in 1974. Also picked out amongst them were four gadwall on the same day and three shoveler on the next. An early two returning whooper swans were seen amongst the good numbers of mute swans that were also on there on Wednesday and coot too were also enjoying this waterweed bonanza, 105 were counted on Sunday.
Shoveler by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
Whooper swans by Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)
The Aird Meadow was not an area devoid of birds though either this week aided in no small part by the annual autumn cutting of the meadow in preparation for the coming winter. This cutting had an almost immediate effect with two stonechats (one on Sunday and the other on Tuesday) taking advantage. The stonechats (along with the two juvenile gannets that flew over the Aird Meadow on 17 September) took the yearlist up to 118 species.
Stonechat by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
It's looking good in front of the visitor centre for waders and wildfowl so a repeat of last autumn's record snipe numbers amongst other things would be very welcome.