It is certainly starting to feel a bit more like spring these past few days as we leave behind an extremely damp and grey February. The snow drops along the trails and around the visitor centre are gorgeous, and brighten up some of the darker corners on a dull day.
Our wildfowl population has begun to shift into more spring-like behaviour, with goldeneye starting to display on the loch, throwing their heads back and forwards to attract a mate; they won’t actually breed here, but will head further north in April. We’ve had around 120 individuals roost on Castle Semple Loch on 3 February.
Goldeneye by Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)
The great crested grebes are also getting in the mood and coming into their full breeding plumage. At the end of the month a pair on the Aird Meadow Loch were doing some head bobbing and will be thinking about shifting into full display mode soon.
We’ve had excellent views of goosander from the visitor centre, as one or two have been using our new channels and flooded pond; there were up to 44 on the Barr Loch on 11 February. Lapwing have also been making use of our flooded pond, in the Aird Meadow, treating us to excellent views of up to 50 landing on the islands of the pond, and flocks of 100+ flying overhead. Other regular sightings have been whooper swans (up to 36 on pond in Aird Meadow), wigeon (up to 87 on Barr Loch), teal (up to 250 on Barr Loch), reed buntings (up to seven at visitor centre), tufted duck (up to 75), four separate kestrel sightings on 3, 11, 16 and 24 February, as well as regular views of sparrowhawks and buzzards.
Wigeon by John Bridges (rspb-images.com)
The feeders continue to be a hive of activity with continual visits from chaffinches, goldfinches, blue tits, great tits, long-tailed tits, coal tits, blackbirds, robins and great spotted woodpeckers.
Long-tailed tit by John Bridges (rspb-images.com)
For the more unusual sightings and the few and far between we had two gadwall on 8 February, four pintail on 16 February, three separate water rail sightings on 1, 16, and 20 February; a skylark on 24 February, a curlew on 23 February, a dipper on 11 and 12 February; and a hen harrier on 3, 13, and 16 February.
Pintail by Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)
Our species list for the year has been ticking upward steadily as we move into March. The total now stands at 82, with new additions in February being a Mediterranean Gull and of course a highlight for all of us, the return of the drake smew! He arrived on 21 February, which amazingly, is the same date as last year. It is a few people’s opinion that it may well be the same bird and I personally think that it is. What a delightful duck! Since his arrival we have had daily sightings of him on the Aird Meadow Loch and on Barr Loch as well. I wonder if a female will join him this year?
Smew by Mike Langman (rspb-images.com)
We were lucky enough to have two sightings of a barn owl on the 10 and 27 February; this beautiful owl would be such a treat to see at the reserve, but unfortunately I haven’t had the pleasure here yet.
Barn owl by John Bridges (rspb-images.com)
Other highlights at the reserve have been more otter sightings! The most exciting being two otters playing together on their usual spot on the western side of the Aird Meadow Loch on 28 February. From what we could see, we believe they could be an adult male and female, so here’s hoping some young might be visiting us in the not too distant future.
Here’s to more springtime sunshine, wildlife watching and less rain this month!
January at the reserve has been an example of sightings of regularly seen species mixed with a few unusual surprises. The most unusual has to be the kittiwake we had on 12 December on the Aird Meadow Loch. This marine gull must have been exhausted because of the terrible weather conditions at the time meaning it had to touch down and rest. Subsequently the bird was seen in a bad way over at Castle Semple where the ranger team contacted Hessilhead wildlife sanctuary who took the bird into care. Fingers crossed it makes a full recovery.
Sightings of Scaup continued during the first few weeks of the month both on Castle Semple and Aird Meadow Lochs proving that you often get out of bird watching what you put in, although I admit that from a distance it can be difficult sifting through the many tufted duck in the hope of catching a glimpse of something rather more unusual.
Requiring less effort in the way of straining one’s eyes have been the excellent and close views of great spotted woodpecker and sparrowhawk from the comfort of the visitor centre. There has been a male woodpecker consistently coming for fatty, high-energy treats in the tree stumps in front of the viewing window, and it has recently been joined in this habit by a treecreeper. All this action has played out under the watchful gaze of two separate sparrowhawks that have individually been ambushing small birds at the feeding station. One is clearly a male bird with a slate grey back and orange colouration to the breast, and a second all together browner bird which I think is a young male. Both equally beautiful and both equally deadly!
Kittiwake, Mike Langman, (rspb-images.com)
Further afield on the reserve there have been a few noteworthy records such as a dipper seen on the River Calder on 23 January, one of my favourite birds. I have been re-inspired to get out there and seek this species once again due to the fantastic feature on these charismatic birds on BBC winter watch recently.
Sparrowhawk, Mike Langman, (rspb-images.com)
Speaking of water-loving species, an otter was seen on the western corner of the reserve on 8 January. It is always great seeing otters in real life, but this sighting was made extra special as I was watching it whilst stood next to BBC Wildlife cameraman and filmmaker John Aitchison! He was judging a photography competition at the reserve and caused quite a stir among the wildlife enthusiasts!
Dipper, Mike Langman, (rspb-images.com)
When you think of Lochwinnoch reserve in the wintertime, species of birds such as whooper swan and hen harrier come to mind, and indeed both these species have featured heavily in our January sightings. The whoopers have gradually increased in number throughout the month reaching a peak of 44 birds on the pond in front of the visitor centre on 22 January. This week we have had one particular bird which had a yellow leg ring reading “VXL”. Our records tell us that this bird was ringed at Martin Mere on 15 February 1996 and has been seen all over the country since then including several visits to Lochwinnoch. Amazing stuff!
Whooper swan, Mike Langman, (rspb-images.com)
We believe the hen harrier seen throughout the month was a female bird which had previously been in the care of the team at Hessilhead wildlife sanctuary in Beith. It spent several days wowing visitors by flying incredibly close to the channel in front of the building but has not been sighted over the Aird Meadow since 21 January. Perhaps it has moved on.
My personal highlight of this month has to be the unbelievably close views we had of a red-breasted merganser in the closest corner of the pond in front of the centre on 25 January. The bird flew in, landed on the pond and dived under a few times before setting off and flying north over Castle Semple Loch. We presume this is the same bird sighted on Castle Semple Loch a few days previously; a male bird, and the first sighting at the reserve for a number of years.
Red-breasted merganser, Mike Langman, (rspb-images.com)
We hope to welcome you to the reserve over the next few weeks so you can have a chance of seeing some of this wonderful wildlife.
Well December certainly got off to a great start on the bird front – 145 goosander were recorded between the Aird Meadow Loch and the Barr Loch on 1 December which is the highest count we’ve had since back in the 1990’s! Fantastic stuff and a special thanks to Angus Murray for all his determination to get an accurate count in the gloom! Latterly we’ve been treated to great views of this gorgeous bird in the channel in front of the centre. Does this suggest there are fish in the channel? We hope so as this could be good news for kingfishers among other species!
Kingfishers have been seen sporadically this month – most recently on 15 December on the River Calder. This stretch between the reserve and Lochwinnoch village has also been good for seeing dipper on 15 December and wagtails throughout the month. Close by a tawny owl was seen roosting in a tree on the fringes of the Barr Loch on the same day, a fantastic sight and one that I haven’t had for some time now.
In the wooded areas of the reserve goldcrest, treecreeper and bullfinch continue to be seen regularly, mainly beyond the hide on the Aird Meadow trail. In addition on 16 December 2 jays were heard calling there; sightings of this species have certainly increased in recent months.
The meadow has provided lots of great action this month too with a jack snipe seen here on 10 December – a rarely seen species at the reserve, frequent sightings of up to 40 snipe being disturbed by a marauding buzzard and a count of 100+ lapwing flying overhead here as well as over at the Barr Loch – one of my favourite birds!
The most unusual sighting this month is surely the swallow that was seen flying over the Aird Meadow on 5 December – a very late record for this summer visitor to the UK.
The water bodies continue to attract many different species of wildfowl including good numbers of teal – 40 counted in the pond in front of the centre on 15 December, wigeon, pochard and a high count of 122 tufted duck on the Aird Meadow on 18 December.
Water rail, hen harrier and scaup sightings have continuously attracted attention from bird watchers throughout the month so far, as well as sporadic records of a brambling visiting the feeding station at the visitor centre, but the highlights this month for myself personally have been a very close sighting of 3 whooper swans on the Barr Loch on 15 December and a rather more distant glimpse of an otter in the Aird Meadow on 9 December.
So until the New Year’s blog, merry Christmas, take care and keep wildlife watching!