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  • Recent Highlights and the Tragic Tale of our Mute Swan Family.

    Well we have had an eventful month at RSPB Lochwinnoch. We celebrated our 40th Birthday on the 14 June and even with a power cut just as the festivities were kicking off we all had a great time.

    40th Birthday Party at Lochwinnoch by Jason Verity

    I have been playing the detective in our mute swan tragedy that occurred last week. Our mute swan family that had taken to our small pond right in front of our windows are no longer here to greet us everyday. The family consisted of two parents and three cygnets and it was lovely to watch them grow bigger and chubbier every day. However, last week the family lost one of the cygnets, which is sad but not unusual at this time of year. Then, on Saturday we arrived in to find the two cygnets all alone without any sign of the adults. This was very unusual because up until now, the family had been very close and the parents never left the young’s side. We found the female in the woodland and coaxed her back to her babies and in doing so she led us to the dead body of her mate! We were all very shocked as this had all happened metres from the centre.  

    Luckily we have CCTV at the reserve so I was able to become a detective for the day and look through the footage from the previous night. What we found shocked us all and it was not what any of us were expecting. At 4am a fox trots into view with something in its mouth. We thought that this must have been the culprit until we went further into the recordings and discovered a whooper swan was also involved! This whooper has been resident in the area for 5 years since injuring its wing and is unable to travel with the other whoopers back to Scandinavia in the summer months. The footage shows this swan violently harassing the male mute for around two hours early on Saturday morning and we believe it had to be involved in the death of the male mute. It is possible that the attack weakened the mute and then the fox actually killed him but we can’t be certain because they disappear out of view of the camera.  

    After consulting with our local wildlife rescue centre Hessilhead, we decided to remove the swan family and take them to safety at the rescue centre where they could be checked over and kept safe until they can be released again soon. This is not a decision we took lightly, however the whooper had already chased the female mute across the busy road beside the centre earlier in the day and was waiting around not far from the family when we were closing up for the night. The family are doing well at Hessilhead and they will be released in due course.

    After all the drama of Saturday, it was an absolute treat to open the blinds the following morning to find a kingfisher sitting on one of our purpose built ‘kingfisher perches’! This beautiful bird sat for a few minutes, dived down to the water, then perched on the other post we have out on the channel. What a delight. We also had the pleasure later on in the afternoon and the two mornings after that so I’m hoping it’s a regular spot for this beauty. Other kingfisher sightings in June were over on Barr Loch on the 13 and 17 June and on Dubbs Water Trail on 19 June.

    Kingfisher on Lochall Channel, Aird Meadow by Robert Trevis-Smith

    Our swallows are now feeding chicks! Their nest is on the front of the visitor centre so people having a picnic or a little sit down on the bench underneath the nest have become accustomed to the parents swooping in and out. If you stand for a few minutes you can see the young peaking over the top!  

    Swallows by Zul Bhatia

    Other highlights this past month include a nuthatch in woodland next to the Barr Loch on 17 June! There are reports of nuthatch in the area but it is unusual on the reserve. Very exciting. I just wish I had been the one to see it. Two common sandpipers have also been recorded on the new channels on 14, 15,16 and 18 June. We have had a few mammal sightings as well. The otter has been seen on a few occasions, a bank vole at the feeding station and roe deer out on the Aird Meadow on 4,9,13 and 14 June.

    Nuthatch by John Bridges (rspb-images.com)

    Other sightings include whitethroat, garden warbler, osprey, sedge warbler and a goosander with nine young in the Calder.

    Let's hope this month is less dramatic but still as exciting!


  • Delightful chicks and a 40th birthday party!

    We are celebrating our 40th birthday this month! The RSPB established the reserve here in 1974 and have been protecting homes for wildlife ever since then. With Springwatch well under way at RSPB Minsmere it gives us the chance to highlight the wonderful wildlife that we have all over the country. Nature reserves are a great place to learn more about nature on our doorstep and even give you the opportunity to see something new. If you would like to join in our birthday celebrations, then come along to our party on Saturday 14 June (12-3). There will be everything you’d expect at a birthday party including cake, face painting, games and even a magician. As well as that, all our regular activities such as pond dipping, are free all day! Whether you’re new to the reserve or have been coming here for years, we would love to see you there!

    The visitor centre was built in the late 1970’s. Back then, water birds were best seen from the Aird Meadow trail. Last years habitat work has brought wildlife much closer and has already been delighting us with close up views of the reserves wildlife. This work started the process of restoring much of the reserve's wetland system to how it would have been before agricultural pressures led to dramatic changes in this landscape. We have future plans for both the reserve and a new, improved visitor centre, ultimately creating a perfect home for Scotland's nature. 

    Visitor centre in the 1970s

    Forty years ago, great spotted woodpeckers were a rare sight at the reserve. Today, they are a regular feature at our feeders. Throughout the country, their numbers have grown since the 1970s. This striking woodpecker is one of our special birthday Lochwinnoch pin badges! Together with an otter pin badge, they will be launched at our 40th birthday party.

    Great spotted woodpecker by Zul Bhatia

    Walking along the woodland trails at this time it would be difficult not to spot a blue tit or great tit nipping in and out of one of our many nest boxes. Starlings are also nesting along the trails and quite a special great spotted woodpecker has been raising young, high up in one of our trees. The chicks from the woodpecker nest have fledged now but not before we were able to watch the male and female popping in and out of the hole and listening to the noisy chicks inside. A swallow has also very kindly decided to call the top of our tower home. We are able to get amazing close up views of the parents swooping in and out of the nest.

    Blue tit juvenile by Ray Kennedy (rspb-images.com)

    Cue the oooooo’s and ahhhh’s for the ducklings and cygnets that have been seen plodding all over the reserve. Our channel in the Aird Meadow has been host to a mute swans nest and just a few days ago we were delighted to see three healthy (and very cute) cygnets swimming along it with their parents. They are now regular visitors up to the windows of the visitor centre and are quite happy to lounge around next to the small pond there for hours.

    Some other splendid summertime sightings include a white throat on 19 and 30 May and a garden warbler on 3 May. The distinctive call of a water rail was heard from the Dubbs Water Trail on 19 May, an osprey was seen flying over Barr Loch on the 11, a greenshank flew overhead on 5 May and a scaup was recorded on Castle Semple Loch on the 1. A pair of garganeys were also showing brilliantly in the Lochall Channels, in front of the visitor centre, from 1 to 8 May. They even returned on the 24 for a couple days before disappearing again so we are hoping they will return soon. Garganeys are quite secretive and scarce ducks so we were very lucky to get such amazing views of them from the visitor centre.

    Garganey by Mike Langman (rspb-images.com)


    A special sighting this month and a first for the year was a spotted flycatcher along the Aird Meadow trail on 27 May. Flycatcher by name, flycatcher by nature. These small brownish birds are experts at catching flying insects. They dart out from high perches, catch the insect in the air and then return to the same spot on the perch very quickly.

    Spotted flycatcher by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

    Here’s to another 40 years (and more) at RSPB Lochwinnoch!



  • April 2014

    This past month has seen our species list grow with the summer migrants arriving in the UK. It’s a great time of year to get out and about and listen to these birds singing as they arrive after their long journeys from Africa. Willow warblers were one of the first summer visitors to arrive at the reserve with the first being recorded along the Aird Meadow trail on the 1 April. These small birds are very similar to chiffchaffs which are slightly duller in colour than willow warblers. The best way to distinguish between the two is by their song. The chiffchaff’s is a two note, repeated song whereas the willow warbler’s is made up of short descending musical tones. Chiffchaffs are present in the UK throughout the winter but larger numbers arrive to breed here in the summer months. Chiffchaffs have been seen and heard on the reserve throughout April.

    Chiffchaff by John Bridges (rspb-images.com) 

    Other warblers to arrive in April are sedge warblers; two at the north end of Barr Loch on the 17 and then seen on the 23, 26, 27 April. Grasshopper warblers have been heard at Calder bridge on the 20 and then on the 23, 25, 26, 27 and 28 April around the reserve. Blackcaps have also started their lively singing all over the reserve but in particular next to the car park at the visitor centre. Male blackcaps have a distinctive black head compared to females who have a chestnut one.

    Blackcap by Paul Chesterfield (rspb-images.com)
    A highlight for this spring season and another new species for the year was the arrival of an osprey on the 12 April! The population of this beautiful bird drastically declined due to illegal killings and low breeding numbers in the past so it is always a pleasure to see one of these birds. This osprey flew over the Aird Meadow Loch towards Barr Loch and we’re hoping that this will be the first of many sightings over the summer months.

    Osprey by Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)

    The feeders along the Aird Meadow trail and outside the visitor centre have been busy with some colourful characters this month. Redpolls, siskins, goldfinches, great spotted woodpeckers, chaffinches and blue tits have all been recorded almost daily and there has been a lot of nest material collecting going on as well. Unfortunately our nest box camera hasn’t seen too much action yet, except for a few visits from a blue tit and a wasp. We are still hoping that a pair might like the look of our cosy box and let us get a glimpse into their secret world.

    Great spotted woodpecker by Tom Marshall (rspb.images.com)

    We have seen quite a variety of waders this month including greenshank on the island in the pond on Aird Meadow; redshank on the 10 April on the channels in Aird Meadow; a green sandpiper on the 4 April, up to 12 curlew on the Aird Meadow on the 8 April, two common sandpipers on Barr Loch on the 15 and 17 April and snipe on the 7, 15, and 22 April. They seem to be making the most of the muddy slopes on our new channels!

    Green sandpiper by Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)

    We haven’t had as many otter sightings as past months but we do know that there the male and female are still in the area and we’re hoping that they have pups this year! The two were seen in the Aird Meadow Loch on the 2 and 8 April and caused a bit of panic when they were seen playing near the main road at rush hour. Thankfully, they made it across the road safely!

    Our fabulous drake smew was joined by another male this month which caused quite a stir with visitors and staff alike. The two were on the Aird Meadow Loch on the 7, 8, 9, 10, 13, 14 and last seen on the 15 April. Let’s hope one, or even both of them return again next year!

    Other sightings in April include two pintail on the Aird Meadow Loch on the 9 April, three shelducks on Barr Loch on the 10 April, a dipper at Millbank burn on 15 April and 3 white wagtails on the channels in Aird Meadow on the 17 April.

    Dipper by Tom Marshall (rspb-images.com)

    I'm looking forward to seeing what May brings with it!